In one of the very earliest versions of this classic story, published in by Giambattista Basile as Sun, Moon, and Talia , the princess does not prick her finger on a spindle, but rather gets a sliver of flax stuck under her fingernail. She falls down, apparently dead, but her father cannot face the idea of losing her, so he lays her body on a bed in one of his estates.
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Some time after that, still unconscious, she gives birth to two children, and one of them accidentally sucks the splinter out of her finger, so she wakes up. The king who raped her is already married, but he burns his wife alive so he and Talia can be together. If you can believe it, the Brothers Grimm actually made this story a lot nicer than it was when they got their hands on it.
Little Red simply strips naked, gets in bed, and then dies, eaten up by the big bad wolf, with no miraculous relief in another version, she eats her own grandmother first, her flesh cooked up and her blood poured into a wine glass by our wolfish friend. Instead, Perrault gives us a little rhyming verse reminding us that not all wolves are wild beasts — some seduce with gentleness, sneak into our beds, and get us there.
A little man appears to her, and spins it for her, but says that he will take her child in payment unless she can guess his name. The Devil told you that! Then he took hold of his left foot with both hands and tore himself in two. Here, Perrault is much nicer than Grimm — in his version, the two cruel stepsisters get married off to members of the royal court after Cinderella is properly married to the prince. There is no doubt, but that study is an occasion of exciting lust, and of giving rise to many obscene actions Hence, as I suppose it is, that we find, in Euripides and Juvenal, that the learned women of antiquity were accused of immodesty.
Of course, all such wholesome reasonings have now been hopelessly compromised by today's politically-correct nostrums of human rights, democracy and feminism. That is why it is so important for me to get across the true dangers: the medical ones. Reading is, quite literally, disastrous for your health. Now that T-bone steaks have been banned in Britain, I look to government action.
Let me explain. Every occupation has its maladies: housewife's knee, athlete's foot. Authors too have their afflictions. One of course is writer's block. Joseph Conrad despaired:. I sit down religiously every morning, I sit down for eight hours every day In the course of that working day of eight hours I write three sentences which I erase before leaving the table in despair It takes all my resolution and power of self-control to refrain from butting my head against the wall. I want to howl and foam at the mouth but I daren't do it for fear of waking the baby and alarming the wife.
The diametrically opposite disorder is writer's itch. Linked to the libido sciendi, this cacoethes scribendi had already reached epidemic proportions by the Renaissance.
Robert Burton confirms in his Anatomy of Melancholy :. Overall, however, the perils of writing were judged but a fleabite compared with those of reading. Having your nose in a book, as any Renaissance doctor would inform you, was bad for the humours. Poring over books moreover ruined the posture. That risk was poetically expressed by William Wordsworth:. Or surely you'll grow double. To forestall such physical troubles, the nineteenth-century German doctor and pedagogue Moritz Schreber developed a variety of orthopaedic devices to force children to sit straight and keep their chins up.
Take his 'straightener' Geradehalter , a device that prevented its wearer from bending forward while writing, which he claimed had done the trick with his own offspring. Or the 'headholder', meant to promote proper posture by pulling the wearer's hair as soon as the head began to droop.
The evils of enforced book-learning had long been stressed. Samuel Johnson's friend, Mrs Thrale, told the tale of a fourteen-year-old who had been bashed over the head by his Master with a dictionary,. Physicians of course were called in, who blistered, bled and vomited him; but the Complaint continuing obstinate he was actually Trepanned.
Only the sublimely witless would escape unscathed. One such was Gargantua. Then the sophist read to him Donatus, Facetus, Theodolus, and Alanus in Parabolis, which took thirteen years six months and a fortnight He studied for a miserable half-hour, his eyes fixed on his book, but — as the comic poet says — his soul was in the kitchen. Gargantua was fortunate, because clever pupils had their wits warped by the nonsense the pedants dinned into them, as his own son Pantagruel was to discover from his fellow students:.
At which Pantagruel exclaimed: 'What devilish language is this?follow url
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By God, you must be a heretic'. That other Rabelaisian hero, Panurge, was to note a further hazard of reading hard matter: constipation. I happened to read a chapter of the stuff once, at Poitiers, at the Scotch Decretalipotent doctor's, and devil take me if I wasn't constipated for more than four, indeed for five days afterwards. I only shat one little turd. The rectum was thus at risk, but that was not the only vulnerable part of the anatomy.
His Life is despair'd of'. The price of learning can be high indeed. Above all, reading, as everyone knows, was murder on the eyes — Milton blamed it for his blindness, and Samuel Pepys too thought he was going the same way. Alongside the physical damage, psychiatrists have long urged upon the harm reading could also do to your mind. For one thing, it encouraged hypochondria.
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In his Treatise of the Hypochondriack and Hysterick Diseases , the aformentioned Bernard Mandeville laid bare the psychopathology of print through a dialogue between a physician, Philopirio, and his patient, Misomedon. Misomedon relates his sad history.
A well-bred gentleman, he ruined his constitution by 'good living'. He then consulted a gaggle of learned physicians but none of their treatments worked. Convinced he was sinking from every sickness known to scholars, he developed 'a mind to study Physick' himself — but his studies merely made bad worse, until finally he persuaded himself that he had the pox — 'when I grew better, I found that all this had been occasion'd by reading of the Lues, when I began to be ill; which has made me resolve since never to look in any Book of Physick again, but when my head is in very good order'.
If not hypochondria, too much reading would certainly induce exhaustion or what would today be called ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome — a condition versified by that eminent Victorian, Matthew Arnold:. But so many books thou readest But so many schemes thou breedest But so many wishes feedst That thy poor head almost turns. Reading addled the brain, a situation exacerbated as books multiplied.
Anxious about that 'horrible mass of books which keeps on growing', Leibniz called for a moratorium back in To no avail.
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According to the late eighteenth-century Bristol physician, Thomas Beddoes, his era was suffering from chronic information overload — all those pamphlets and periodicals, novels and newspapers befuddling the brain! Have you read the new play — the new poem — the new pamphlet — the last novel? If socialism is worse, it is because it also presumes that experts know how to organize life for the best and socialism not only denies but actively removes choice for a supposedly higher good.
At best, this view leads to the Grand Inquisitor, at worst to the nightmarish plans of Pyotr Stepanovich. Tolstoy speaks more to the 21st century. At every moment, however small and ordinary, something happens that cannot entirely be accounted for by previous moments. If we once acknowledge that we will never have a social science, then we will, like General Kutuzov, learn to make decisions differently. We intellectuals would be more cautious, more modest, and ready to correct our errors by constant tinkering.
I inclined first to Tolstoy.
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