Monday, December 09, 2002

Walter Headlam
I have been wanting to copy out here a passage from a book by E.F. Benson, named "As We Were: A Victorian Peepshow." Benson was an early twenieth-century writer who is best known for a series of comic novels about two women, Lucia and Mapp, who hate each other. But he also wrote a memoir, "As We Were." There is a chapter about Cambridge, where Benson went to college, and when you went to college in England in the nineteenth century, you studied a lot of Greek. Benson wrote a wonderful passage about a professor there named Walter Headlam, who was of the absent-minded variety, but Benson wrote that where other professors' knowledge of Greek ended, Headlam's began. The passage describes a typical episode from Headlam's life. He is reading and comes across a Greek word, and he knows he has seen that word somewhere before, and he starts hunting through his study for the book he saw the word in. There are books everywhere, stacked on all the tables and the floor. Headlam instead finds the book he was looking for the day before, and writes himself a note to finish that string of research, and immediately sticks the note into the lamp, and uses it to light his pipe.