Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The dog and the rhinoceros

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A.E. Housman

Textual criticism is not a branch of mathematics, nor indeed an exact science at all. It deals with a matter not rigid and constant, like lines and numbers, but fluid and variable; namely the frailties and aberrations of the human mind, and of its insubordinate servants, the human fingers…A textual critic engaged upon his business is not at all like Newton investigating the motions of the planets: he is much more like a dog hunting for fleas. If a dog hunted for fleas on mathematical principles, basing his researches on statistics of area and population, he would never catch a flea except by accident…

If a dog is to hunt for fleas successfully he must be quick and he must be sensitive. It is no good for a rhinoceros to hunt for fleas: he does not know where they are, and he could not catch them if he did.

A.E. Housman, “The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism”

Written by nevalalee

February 11, 2017 at 7:30 am

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