Misquoted Housman: God's Will?
Yesterday was Korea's Memorial Day, a holiday somewhat free from work, so my wife and I decided on a brief vacation and cycled off early in the morning up the bike path along Jungnang Stream some ten kilometers or more upstream to our favorite pathside food-and-beer spot and enjoyed an early meal there garnished by a pleasant, two-and-a-half-hour conversation.
Though we'd left before 8:30 in the morning, we didn't return home until about 1:30 in the afternoon, but we had work facing us here, editorial proofreading of a children's story that we'd translated from German into English, Monika Feth's Der Gedankensammler (illustrated by Antoni Boratyński), which we've tentatively rendered The Collector of Thoughts. We finished around 4:00 p.m., but I then had editing to do alone on abstracts for the Trans-Humanities Journal published by Ewha Womans University, not finishing with that until after 6:00 in the evening.
Only then did I have an opportunity to read the day's newspapers, and I discovered there a gift -- the topic of today's lazy-man blog entry -- an article by Bogdan Kipling, a Canadian journalist stationed in Washington, DC, who had written a memorial column honoring the late, great, head bartender of the National Press Club, Jack Kujawski. Titled "Legendary press club bartender poured on as his best customers dwindled," it appeared in my Korea Herald, but I'm citing this article from the online issue of the Canada Free Press (June 2, 2011).
Now, let me just state up front that Jack Kujawski and Bogdan Kipling both seem to me like fine individuals -- no problem there. But one of the two has misquoted A. E. Housman's poetic quip on John Milton. The embarrassment ensues when Mr. Kipling praises Mr. Kujawski's erudition:
A well-read man, Jack could toss out adept literary references and quotes at the drop of bar rag -- often citing such greats as Plutarch, Napoleon, Ambrose Bierce and Dorothy Parker in a single hour.This is the misquote, which might or might not grasp the essence of what Milton was up to -- and I'll get to that in a minute -- but what Housman literally penned was the following:
Among his favorites was A.E. Housman's line from A Shropshire Lad: "And malt does more than Milton can; To justify God's will to man."
And malt does more than Milton canHousman himself was paraphrasing Milton's epic poem, Paradise Lost 1.26, which expresses Milton's desire to "justifie the wayes of God to men." I suspect that Milton would not have entirely liked the expression "justifie the will of God to men," for God's ways are not reducible to 'Will' alone, in Milton's thought, but include -- as that which informs His Will -- "Divine Reason," for Milton's God is a fully rational rather than arbitrarily willful deity.
To justify God's ways to man.
I'd be interested, by the way, in the views of others on this point, which might prove to be a contested one, though I don't recall any scholarly debate over the subjunctive question as to why Milton didn't seek to "justifie the will of God to men."
But thanks to either Mr. Kujawski or Mr. Kipling for the gift of something that even a lazy man can blog on . . .