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读书笔记 Chapter Three - I. Terra Incognita

The very process of writing triggered in Gray a mechanism that conjured in his mind familiar sayings, phrases, or amplifications which were then passed on to his correspondent. An isolated phrase or even a single word was enough to signify to his thought an entire, recollected passage. So, for example, as he began with his pen to write “as well natured”, his head appears already to have resonated with familiar Shakespearean echoes and near-literary relatives beginning “as proper” or “as honest”. Such a trait of recollection was not, of course, peculiar to Gray alone. Eric Rothstein has commented that when it came to classical allusions, at least, “for most people the great quantities of Latin devoured in school lingered in the memory like the picked carcass of a holiday goose; the shape was there, and scraps of meat, but with most of the mourishment already assimilated and the taste a recollection.” For writers such as Gray, however, the recollection could be particularly strong, and the metaphor held true not only for the Greek and Latin he had learned at Eton, but for his other, wide-ranging reading as well. It was a trait that had been reinforced by his close, continued contact with a small tightly-knit group of friends – friends who themselves not only called one another by familiar nicknames, but who together memorized certain passages from poetry and plays that they had then endowed with a special and peculiar significance that was now second-nature to them. Smile of complicity and surreptitious winks signaling a secrect, valued understanding would have passed between the four members of the Quadruple Alliance when any individual who was not a member of their little coterie unknowingly made a reference to their arcane and idiosyncratic language. Similarly, their own identities only just being formed, they delighed in their almost schizophrenic ability fluidly to slide in and out of other personalities. The classical notion of decorum or propriety that they had imbibed at Eton – the notion that language ought itself to be the suitable dress or garment of one’s thoughts – served practically and unintentionally to provide them with and outrageous wardrobe of styles and identities. Their transformations and disguises could be accomplished with remarkable economy. One or two words would have set the entire labyrinthine process of playful recollection in motion.
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