Caveat Venditor

In which The Author promises not to laugh

I’m not a Latin scholar by any means. Our generation’s last-remaining Classics teacher retired when the grammar school system ended, at the end of 1977. The precious few scraps of Greek and Latin I’ve picked up over the years are a ragbag of word roots (always handy when you’re doing things like the AZED crossword), useful warnings such as cave canem (beware of the dog), and the odd motto from classical literature (second-hand, I’m afraid.) That’s just about as far as it goes.
When Mother and I were in Brecon Cathedral a couple of years ago, I managed a (very) approximate translation of a 16th century memorial, rather like one of the pupils in the classic film Goodbye Mr, Chips stammering his way through Caesar’s War Commentaries. Even though it’s one of my favourite films, I’ve never been able to translate the last words of Chips’ retirement speech. Having said that, I’m sure it must be hiding somewhere in Benham’s Book of Quotations.
I inherited this gem from Dad, along with a number of his other books, after he passed away in 2006. I don’t know when he bought it, but it’s the 1958 reprint of the 1948 edition, with a Supplement to take account of quotable contemporaries such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Sir Harry Lauder. Published by George G. Harrap & Co Ltd, it sits cheek-by-jowl with new paperbacks on my shelves. Contained between its hard black cloth covers are nearly 1400 heavily foxed and faintly tobacco-scented pages encompassing the collected wisdom of the great and the good, the famous and the infamous, the unjustly forgotten, and the forever anonymous. The Publishers’ Note to the 1958 reprint tells its readers that ‘Sir William Gurney Benham began to collect quotations as a young journalist in Colchester some sixty years ago, and until his death in 1944 the BOOK OF QUOTATIONS was a primary interest in his life.’ He sounds like a forerunner of Eric Partridge, Nigel Rees, Adrian Room, and other compilers of books of quotations which proliferate these days. I thought I’d have a little look through it tonight, with a particular errand in mind.
The first chapter is devoted to ‘British and American Authors’, all the way from Wenonah Stevens Abbott (Who she? Ed.) to the Reverend Foster Barham Zincke (1827-93.) Unlike Ms Abbott, Rev Zincke at least merits an entry in Wikipedia, where he is described as ‘an antiquary.’ He sounds like a fascinating character, who who probably deserves to be better known today, judging from a quick read of his entry:
Zincke was born on 5 January 1817 at Eardley, a sugar estate in Jamaica. He was the third son of Frederick Burt Zincke, of Jamaica, by his wife, Miss Lawrence, a descendant of Henry Lawrence, president of Oliver Cromwell’s council. He was fourth in descent from Christian Friedrich Zincke, the miniature and enamel painter. He entered Bedford Grammar School in 1828 and matriculated from Wadham College, Oxford, on 5 March 1835, graduating B.A. on 18 May 1839. He rowed in the Oxford boat at Henley in the same year. In 1840 he was ordained by Charles Richard Sumner, bishop of Winchester, to the curacy of Andover, and in 1841 he became curate of Wherstead and Freston, near Ipswich. In 1847, on the death of the vicar, George Capper, he was appointed vicar of Wherstead on the presentation of the crown. Soon afterwards he began to contribute to Fraser’s Magazine and the Quarterly Review, and in 1852 published Some Thoughts about the School of the Future (London, 8vo), in which he criticised with some severity the system of education pursued in the universities and public schools. Shortly afterwards he was appointed one of the queen’s chaplains.
Zincke was a lover of travel. Immediately after leaving Oxford he visited France, and traversed a large part of Switzerland on foot. In September 1853 he went to Ireland, and convinced himself that the distressed state of the country was largely owing to past misrule. He spent the greater part of 1867 and 1868 in the United States of America, travelled eight thousand miles, and recorded his impressions and observations in Last Winter in the United States, being Table Talk collected during a Tour through the late Southern Confederation (London, 1868, 8vo). In 1871 he visited Egypt, and published The Egypt of the Pharaohs and of the Khedive (London, 8vo), which reached a second edition in 1873.
On 30 May 1865 Zincke was married at St Mary’s, Bryanston Square, London, to Caroline Octavia, lady Stevenson, daughter of Joseph Seymour Biscoe, and widow of Sir William Stevenson, K.C.B., governor of Mauritius. When in 1885 his stepson, Mr. Francis Seymour Stevenson, became liberal candidate for the Eye division of Suffolk (for which he sat till 1906), Zincke, who took a keen interest in politics, assisted in his victory. From that time until his death he continued to take an active part in local politics, and wrote a large number of pamphlets and addresses in support of his opinions, which were those of an advanced radical. He died at Wherstead on 23 August 1893, and was buried in the churchyard on 26 August. He left no children.
Besides the works already mentioned Zincke was author of:

  • The Duty and Discipline of Extempore Preaching, London, 1866, 8vo; 2nd ed. 1866; American edition, New York, 1867, 8vo.
  • A Month in Switzerland, London, 1873, 8vo.
  • The Swiss Allmends … being a second Month in Switzerland, London, 1874, 8vo.
  • A Walk in the Grisons, being a third Month in Switzerland, London, 1875, 8vo.
  • The Plough and the Dollar, or the Englishry of a Century hence, London, 1883, 8vo.
  • Materials for the History of Wherstead, Ipswich, 1887, 8vo; 2nd enlarged edit. London, 1893, 8vo; originally published in the Suffolk Chronicle.
  • The Days of my Years, an autobiography, London, 1891, 8vo.
Of Rev Zincke’s prolific output, Sir Gurney Benham offers just two brief samples. Allow me to share this short extract from his Last Winter in the United States (1868) with you:
It is a remarkable fact that the English spoken in America is not only very pure, but also is spoken with equal purity by all classes … They are, almost to a man, a nation of readers.’
I wonder what Rev Zincke would think if he found himself suddenly resurrected in the year 2013. Maybe it’s best not to speculate, eh? Personally, I think his life sounds like fascinating background material for a half-hour documentary on Radio 4 – I wonder if any commissioning producer will read this and offer me the brief to research and present it. (I’d have to travel in his footsteps, of course.) Stranger things have happened, after all.
There’s a whole chapter of verses from The Bible (although a lot fewer than you might expect), followed by some extracts from The Book of Common Prayer. They’re in the King James translation, of course. There’s something comforting about the centuries-old rhythms of the words. It’s just not the same in modern English.
After these first two obvious sections, there’s an odd chapter called ‘Waifs and Strays.’ There are some fascinating odds and ends within these pages, ranging from folk-songs such as ‘Sumer is y-cumen in; Loude sing cuckoo!’ (Song, c. 1250) famously heard at the end of the classic horror film The Wicker Man, through such oddities as ‘A little nonsense now and then / Is relished by the wisest men’ (Anon), to the fantastic and downright bizarre, like ‘Twopence more, and up goes the donkey!’ (not dated.) Your guess is as good as mine!
Just a glance at the subheadings of this chapter give you a taste of what’s in store:
  • Medieval and 16TH Century
  • 17TH Century; 18TH Century
  • 19TH and 20TH Centuries
  • Epitaphs
  • Nursery Songs and Rhymes
  • Naturalised Phrases and Quotations (Including Classical Quotations not given under “Greek” and “Latin” or “Modern Languages.”)
  • Phrases and Household Words
  • Historical and Traditional
  • Political Phrases and Allusions
  • Forensic †
  • Toasts
  • Folk-lore and Weather Rhymes
  • Famous Words from Punch, or, The London Charivari (Established 1841)
  • London Street Sayings
  • The Koran *
  • Book Inscriptions
  • Bell Inscriptions
  • Chimney-piece Inscriptions
  • Sundial Inscriptions

† ‘Forensic’ is used in its sense of ‘pertaining to the court of law.’
* The section on The Koran runs to a whole fourteen verses!

The next two chapters take us straight back into Mr Chips territory – the first batch are translations from Greek literature, the second from Latin. Here we find the thinkers and writers who laid the foundations for Western literature: Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus, Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Thucydides, Hesiod, Aristophanes, Plautus, Ovid, Terence, Virgil, Seneca, Horace, Tacitus… Am I being elitist in wishing we’d had the opportunity to study their works in the original languages, back when we were young? Or did I just spend too much time reading stories about Jennings and Billy Bunter, and wondering what on Earth the vocative case was? I don’t know.
Sir Gurney Benham did provide me with one unexpected gem about three decades ago, mind you. I was very impressed by Cicero’s stern instruction Aut bibe aut abi – Either drink or depart. Never mind Ne sufficit orbis; if ever there was a family motto waiting to happen, I think that’s mine.
Immediately after the Classical World, we move abruptly to the Modern Languages. There are progressively shorter sections of translations from French, German, Italian, Spanish and Dutch. Spanish is represented by fewer than two dozen snippets from Cervantes and Calderon; Dutch by only four proverbs, a traditional saying (I’m not quite sure what the difference is!) and an ‘old rhyme.’
The next chapter is called ‘Proverbs’, and runs to hundreds and hundreds of pithy sayings, both well-known (‘Still waters run deep’) and completely obscure (‘It is natural to a greyhound to have a long tail’.)
The Index alone runs to over 300 pages, and after that comes the Supplement (with its own Index.) The Supplement is a baby version of the parent volume, with the same chapter titles. Here, under the deceptive heading of London Street Sayings, popular culture finally breaks cover, with, of all things, ‘Who’s afeard of the Big Bad Wolf?’ c. 1936. Title of song by Frank Churchill, U.S.A. (d, 1942).
Sadly, though, the best collecting efforts of Sir Gurney Benham notwithstanding, I needed to resort to online translation software tonight. That’s where the title of this entry comes from. You might be familiar with the Latin saying caveat emptor, which means ‘let the buyer beware.’ Well, I needed to translate the other side of the denarius – let the seller beware. That’s what caveat venditor means, according to the translation software.
You see, a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) used to work as a part-time barbint in Kitty Flynn’s in Cardiff. That was where we met, when she was studying at the University of Glamorgan and living in Cardiff, and the Dillons/Waterstone’s gang were regulars in the pub. She was small, a bit chunky, very pretty, a bit crazy, and had some nice tattoos. She ticked all my boxes, in short. If she hadn’t been young enough to be my daughter, I’d probably have asked her out.
Anwyay, after she graduated, she returned to the West Midlands and entered the teaching profession. We stayed friends on Facebook, of course, and since she’s a massive Doctor Who fan we often exchange silly comments about the show and related matters. I knew she’d started a diet, but I had no idea just what a transformation would occur as a result.
She started a blog some time ago, entitled Diary of a Former Fat Girl, and posted some pictures of herself on Facebook. She looked bloody amazing, to be honest, and I told her as much. And it’s her dramatic weight loss that’s indirectly inspired tonight’s blog.
She’s decided to try and sell some of her old clothes on eBay. This evening she shared a screengrab of one of her listings and a query from a potential buyer. The item was described as ‘Ann Summers black PVC coated bikini top 34D.’ The query read:
Hiya there, I LUV the PVC bra and panties. WOW :p was wondering if it’s possible to get them worn/used??? As I’d be interested if so 🙂 Thanks x
Anyway, to spare her blushes I won’t name her on here. But there’s a cautionary tale for anyone wanting to sell second-hand clothes online, isn’t there? As the Romans said: caveat venditor!
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