Monday, October 24, 2005

Missing Masterpieces

Stuart Kelly has written a book about books you'll never have a chance to read.

Here is an article adapted from the book on works by Homer, Confucius, Hemingway, Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Flaubert, Aechylus, Gogol, Rimbaud, and Plath that will probably never see the light of day.

And, here is a review.

Fascinating.

Here is a mere glimpse at a few:

Homer, Margites

In the fourth chapter of his On the Art of Poetry, Aristotle wrote: "Homer was the supreme poet in the serious style ... the first to indicate forms that comedy was to assume, for his Margites has the same relationship to our comedies as his Iliad and Odyssey bear to our tragedies."

The Margites, it is claimed, was Homer's first work. The name of the hero, Margites, derives from the Greek margos, meaning madman. All that is left of Homer's comic epic are a few lines, pickled in other works. The Scholiast, writing on Aeschines, gives a thumbnail sketch that fits with his etymologically unfortunate name: "Margites ... a man who, though fully grown, did not know if his mother or father had given birth to him and who would not sleep with his wife, saying he was afraid she would give a bad account of him to his mother."

Plato and Aristotle each record a snippet of the poem. From Plato's fragmentary Alcibiades we learn that "he knew many things, but all badly". Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics, offers a different hint: "The gods taught him neither to dig nor to plough, nor any other skill; he failed in every craft."

Confucius, Book of Music

Philosopher K'ung Fu-tzu, known in the West as Confucius, distilled his vision in six written works: The Book of Poetry, The Book of Rituals, The Book of History, The Book of Changes, The Spring and Autumn Annals and The Book of Music. This last book is lost.

In 3BC - 300 years after Confucius - Emperor Shih-huang-ti developed a desire to ensure that Chinese history would begin with himself. This culminated in the burning of books. Except for a single copy of each work, to be stored in the emperor's personal library, it became a crime to harbour books, and town squares were soon choked with the smoke of massive pyres.


Ernest Hemingway, First War Novel

In 1922, Hadley Hemingway (the first of Hemingway's four wives) was travelling to Switzerland with her husband's effects. At the time Hemingway had written much, but little had been published. He had managed "six perfect sentences", and was already well advanced in a novel about his experiences in World War I. Among the baggage Hadley was transporting was a case with everything Ernest had written to date. Somehow, it was stolen.

William Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Won

In 1598, Francis Meres wrote in his Palladis Tamia: Wit's Treasury, the first panegyric on Shakespeare: "As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for comedy and tragedy among the Latins, so Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage. For comedy witness his Gentlemen of Verona, his Errors, his Love's Labour's Lost, his Love's Labour's Won, his Midsummer Night's Dream, and his Merchant of Venice for tragedy, his Richard the 2, Richard the 3, Henry the 4, King John, Titus Andronicus and his Romeo and Juliet."

Lord Byron, Memoirs

That Lord Byron's Memoirs were burned by his publisher, executor and biographer has not deprived them of an afterlife. According to critic William Gifford, they were "fit only for the brothel and would have damned Lord Byron to everlasting infamy".

Gustave Flaubert, Letters

1871, with the Prussian army sweeping across France, a wary Gustave Flaubert buried a box full of letters and, it was said, "perhaps, other papers" in the garden of his house at Croisset, Normandy. In 1880, he died. The year after, the house was demolished. The box, as far as anyone knows, remained, and remains, beneath the soil. Flaubert was notorious for hoarding his manuscripts, unable to discard the slightest inked scrap. What might he have buried in the box?

Aeschylus, The Lost Plays

AESCHYLUS wrote more than 80 plays. Only seven have survived, although copious fragments persist on papyrus or in commentaries.

Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls (Part Two)

In 1842, Nikolai Gogol's masterpiece, Dead Souls, was published to thunderous applause. But it was, he revealed, "no more than the portico of a palace rising within me". The sequel, he suggested, would describe the moral redemption of the work's hero, Chichikov, and, in so doing, save his nation. Part three "would precipitate a total religious transformation of Russia"...In 1845, in the grip of religious fanaticism, Gogol burned the manuscript of part two for the first time..."It was hard to burn the work of five years, achieved at the price of such morbid tension, every line of which cost me a nervous disorder," he wrote...Yet "the moment the flames had consumed the last sheet of my book, its contents were reborn, luminous and purified, as the phoenix from the ashes".

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