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member that I ever knew the meaning of it, though of course I must, for I was supposed to have learned conic sections once. Why any one should be expected to learn conic sections I cannot guess.
As far as I can now recall, they are the study of certain possible systems and schemes of lines in a wholly unnecessary figure. I believe the cone was invented by some one who had conic sections up his sleeve, and devised the miserable spinning of the triangle merely to gratify his lust of cruelty to the young. The only one use to which cones are put, as far as I am aware, is for a weather signal on the sea coast. The only section of a cone put to any pleasant use is a frustum when it appears in the bark of the cork tree; and even this conic section is not of much use to pleasure until it is removed from the bottle. Conic sections are reprehensible in another way. They are, in the matter of difficulty, nothing better than impostors. They are really "childlike and bland,” and will, when you have conquered your schoolboy terror of them, be found agreeable after-dinner reading.
But I must return to Nuttall. The systematic study of the book is to be deplored. It is, like the Essays of Elia, not to be read through at a sitting, but to be dipped into curiously when one is in the vein. The charm of Lamb is in the flavour; and one cannot reach the more remote and finer joys of taste if one eats quickly. There is no cohesion, and but little thought in Nuttall. It is as a spur, an incentive, to thought I worship the book, and as a storehouse for elemental lore. You have known a thing all your life, let us say, and have called it by a makeshift name. You feel in your
heart and soul there must be a more close-fitting appellation than you employ for it, and you endure a sense of feebleness and dispersion of mind. One day you are idly glancing through your Nuttall, and suddenly the clouds, the nebulous mists of a generalized term, roll away, and out shines, clear and sharply defined, the particular definition of the thing. From childhood I bave, for example, known a pile-driver, and called it a pile-driver for years and years. All along something told me pile
driver was no better than a loose and off-hand way of describing the machine.
It partook of the barbarous nature of a hieroglyphic. You drew, as it were, the figure of a post, and of a weight descending upon it. The device was much too pictorial and crude. Moreover, it was, so described, a thing without a history. To call a pile-driver a pile-driver is no more than to describe a barn-door cock onomatopoetically as cock-a-doodle-doo-a thing repellent to a pensive mind. But in looking over Nuttall I accidentally alighted on this: “Fistuca, fis'-tu-ka, s. A machine which is raised to a given height by pulleys, and then allowed suddenly to fall on the head of a pile; & monkey (L. a rammer).” Henceforth there is, in my mind, no need of a picture for the machine. So to speak, the abstract has become concrete. I would not, of course, dream of using the word fistuca, but it is a great source of internal consolation to me. Besides, I attain with it to other eminences of curiosity, which show me fields of inquiry I never dreamed of before.
I have not met the word monkey in this sense until now. I look out monkey in my book, and find one of the meanings “ a pile-driver," and that the word is derived from the Italian " monna, contraction for madonna." Up to this moment I did not know from what monkey was derived, although I had heard that from monkey man was derived.
All this sets one off into a delicious doze of thought and keeps one carefully apart from his work. For “who would fardels bear to groan and sweat under a weary” load of even pens, when he might lie back and close his eyes, and drift off to the Rome of Augustus or the Venice of to-day? Philology as mere philology is colourless, but if one uses the records of verbal changes as glasses to the past and present, what panchromatic hues sweep into the pale field of the dictionary! What myriads of dead men stand up out of their graves, and move once more through scenes of their former activities! What reimpositions of old times on old earth take place! What bravery of arms and beauty of women are renewed; what glowing argosies, long moul
dered, sparkle once more in the sun! What brazen trumpets blare of conquest, and dust of battle roll along the plain! What plenitude of life, of movement, of man is revealed! A dictionary is to me the key-note in the orchestra where mankind sit tuning their reeds for the overture to the final cataclysm of the world.
My second book would be Whitaker's Almanack. . Owing to miserable ill-luck I have not been able to get a copy of the almanac for this year.
I offered fair round coin of the realm for it before the Jubilee plague of ugliness fell upon the broad pieces of her most gracious Majesty. But, alas ! no copy was to be had. I was too late in the race. All the issue had been sold. The last edition of which I have a copy is that for 1886. I have one for each year of the ten preceding, and I cannot tell how crippled and humiliated I feel in being without one for 1887.
This is another of the books that Charles Lamb classes among the no-books. As in the case of Nuttall, there was no Whitaker in his