More Barely-Burlesqued Quotations and Paraphrases from a Reputedly Great History of Western Culture (Part 3)

From Jacques Barzun’s Dawn to Decadence:  500 Years of Western Cultural Life (c. 2000).  See posts from May 24th and May 30th for Parts I and II.  Annotations are printed in italics.

• When the world gets Romanticist, and becomes less Classicist, that’s when we get Tacitus back at us (pp. 9, 247, 295, and 503).

• England has not had an English king since 1066 (p. 240).

Stupid gits

• Modern manners are an amalgam of the ideals of chivalry and mercantile rigor (p. 245).

Take sneezing for instance:  the “God bless you” part is chivalrous; the failure to offer a cloth handkerchief is mercantile.

• The reasserted Divine Right of Kings in the 17th Century led to the political marginalization of divine institutions (p. 247-248).

So if we just remove the Sanctity from marriage, divorce rates would plummet.

• Absolute power is never really absolute (p. 250).

And yet so many are absolutely corrupt

• Rimbaud, like Rambo, was bent on utter destruction (p. 618-620).

• Sexual liberation and women’s emancipation were parallel and intertwined (p. 626-627).

Men just used women’s lib. to get their freak on.

• There was no such thing as antiques until the 1890’s (p. 600).

• By the 1890’s “there was no such thing as the leisure class” because “everybody is now busy at all times, even on holiday” (p. 595).

Yeah, I feel so sorry for those bastards every time I see them sweating over their I-Phones on Cape Cod.

• History is not really a science (pp. 299, 568-570, and 578). And neither is anthropology (p. 578).

• Nurses were rightly associated with drunkenness and loose morals before Florence Nightingale (p. 580).

‘Reminds me of what old Radical Bill told me back in Gainesville:  “In my vast experience, the liveliest women in bed were nurses and Jewish women.”  If only there were more Jewish nurses…

• Some Westerners became Communist for the sex (p. 747).

• One should not read beyond one’s intelligence (p. 770)

Now he tells me–on page 770!

• Hasty intellectual judgments about scholars from the past are as deplorable as hasty moral judgments about other people in the present (p. 253).


What an asshole…

• Hamlet never vacillated, nor was he indecisive (p. 254).

And Lady MacBeth didn’t have a guilty conscience–she was just OCD.

• Machiavelli was not Machiavellian given his Italian origins (p. 256).

The enz justify the meanness when you’re waist-deep in guidos. Barzun anticipated The Jersey Shore by 10 years.

• The Puritans in England and America were not dour killjoys. They only shut down the theaters because of all the whores and hook-ups (pp. 261-262, and 278).

• Modern democracy originated with the Puritans (pp. 265 and 277).

Shit, that means that Romney’s a shoe-in!

• John Lilburne had prison-glow (p. 268-269). Defoe, the father of modern journalism, also had it (p. 310).

Jesus still has prison-glow…and Cross-glow… and grave-glow…

• It was the Libertarian ideas of the Puritans that led them to persecute each other and everyone else (p. 271)

So vote for Ron Paul!  

And kill everyone else!

• Just because Fundamentalists suppress free thought does not mean that they’re anti-intellectual–persecuting ideas and speech shows that you really care (p. 272).

• Both Ceaser and Cromwell were full of clemency (pp. 274 and 276).

Mao and Stalin were veritable push-overs.

• Converting to Calvinism causes deep psychological depression–e.g. Cromwell and Bunyan (p. 275).

• The old Calvinist/Protestant Head-Trip:

Step 1:  get depressed about your moral salvation

Step 2:  feel morally justified and act semi-evil

  The new Calvinist/Protestant Head-Trip:

Skip step 1  (p. 275).

• Like anti-Communism during the Cold War, “anti-Popery” in England was justified at least until the early 19th Century (p. 276).

I never realized that fragrant flowers and leaves in an open bowl could be so offensive or dangerous.

• The Puritans were big fans of dry-humping, which they called “bundling” (p. 279-281).

• The 13th Century was the real Age of Enlightenment (p. 281).

• The reason the Puritans were so uptight was because they foresaw the modern condition of materialism, atheism and Hobbesianism that so disquiets our current age (p. 282).

• Louis XIV was raised by a single mom (p. 285-286).

Shit, that means Obama’s a shoe-in!

• Nobles used to be rebels, but Louis XIV kept them in line with etiquette and entertainment.  Versailles was so polite and entertaining that “everyone was on tenterhooks” (pp. 286-288, and 296).

• Versailles was constructed to get away from the mobs and intellectuals of Paris (p. 287-288).

They could have just moved to Florida, I mean, he was the Sun King after all…

• Louis XIV could scan the crowd at Versailles and tell at a glance who was absent (p. 287).

He missed his true calling as a leader of one of those so-called “Million-man marches.”

• Louis XIV only lost his temper twice. His most severe rebuke (besides “Hey, where’s so-and-so?”) was “I was almost kept waiting!” (p. 281-291).

And that’s why he never bothered to get a driver’s license. Or vote. Or shop. Or go out on a second date.

(p. 290:  “He obtained a succession of mistresses without the use of tactics.”)

• Louis XIV’s best mistress (Athenais de Mortemart) was a Satanist. When he shacked up with a truly pious woman (Mme. de Maintenon), his kingdom went to Hell (pp. 291, and 300-301).

• The aristocrats of pre-Revolutionary France were too Germanic (p. 295).

• Modern societies have “recklessly prolonged life” (p. 525)

This from a guy who was born in 1907 and still isn’t dead.

• Regarding the disappearance of court jesters:  the increase in Rationalism at the onset of the Monarchical Age (1648–1789) meant the end of the role of “the inspired idiot” (p. 302).


Alan Brech, 2012


Surprising Facts about Western Culture

Paraphrased nuggets from a really big book people say is great (From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life by Jacques Barzun, 2000) with occasional annotations:

• Dante was a nickname. His real name was Durante. (p. 113)

As in Jimmy?

Faust was a puppet show in England when Goethe saw it and got inspired. (p. 112)

Now if only we could make a puppet show out of Goethe’s writings, imagine what it might inspire!

• Virgil was a magician. (p. 47)

He sure pulled The Aeneid out of his ass! 

• The French Protestants provoked their own massacres. (p. 86, 113, etc.)

I’m not getting involved.

• Amerigo Vespucci really does deserve all the credit. Because he knew. (p. 104)

Don Quixote is not a novel. (p. 111)

• Da Vinci was not a “Renaissance Man.” (p. 79)

• Tolstoy proved that opera is absurd. (p. 176)

• Italians used to be considered smart. (p. 149)

• Academia started as writers workshops. In Italy! (ibid)

• Germans were once peaceful and doltish. (p. 178)  Part of being a Renaissance Person was being anti-German, euphemistically referred to as Gothic. But everyone knew you meant them.

• The Counter-Reformation was really just reform. Every society has its Inquisition, they just don’t call it that. (p. 38)

• Luther : Calvin : : Marx : Lenin  (p. 34, 37)

Ok, so then Vespucci : Columbus : : Ben Franklin : Everyone who got struck by lightning before Franklin?

• Thomas Aquinas was almost excommunicated–twice! (p. 40)

Three times could be a charm Benedictus!

And yeah, I’ve only gotten to page 200–about a quarter way in.

©2012 Alan Brech–no one can steal from Barzun the way I just did