Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Life is too short to learn German"

The latest issue of Books & Culture arrived in my mailbox today, and I immediately turned to p. 14 and started reading Timothy Larsen's "Academic Divisions" (requires subscription for full access), a very positive review of the new book by James Turner, Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities (Princeton). This book is sitting on my desk, though I haven't done more than study the table of contents.

I found this passage by Larsen especially entertaining:
Alas for the advance of scholarship in the English-speaking world, German was a fashion that was slow to be adopted. At one point in the early 19th century, there was not a single member of the faculty of the University of Cambridge who could read it. England's greatest philologist at the start of that century, Richard Porson--languages being his expertise notwithstanding--reputedly pronounced: "Life is too short to learn German."

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