LIDDELL AND SCOTT
The Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon is one of the masterpieces of the Victorian era. The complete single volume is the original “weighty tome”. It contains, fully referenced, every word ever used in Ancient Greek literature. Not only is it a masterpiece of scholarship; it is a masterpiece of proof reading and typesetting, since all the latter had to be done manually, including accents grave, acute and circumflex, diaereses, iotas subscript, and rough and smooth breathing indicators.
Liddell was the father of Alice Liddell, best known as Alice in Wonderland. Scott was the contemporary and competitor of one William Ewart Gladstone for the Newdigate Prize for Greek verse composition. Scott won, so Gladstone had to settle for his second choice of career and entered Parliament. Whatever happened to him?
The Lexicon was subsequently published in a Concise Edition, designed to be capable of being carried by a normally fit person over short distances. Later, a Pocket Edition was made available, suitable for poachers and shoplifters. My own Liddell and Scott is the 1909 reprint of the 1871 Pocket Edition.
(A Digression. A lady recorded in the Times how she had been groped on the train by a railway official, and had sent him packing by clobbering him with her Liddell and Scott. One wishes to know more. The Pocket Edition, stuffed into a large handbag or a satchel and swung vigorously and accurately, might be as effective as the traditional house brick and cause comparable contusions. The Concise Edition would break bones, though there cannot be many young women who could wield it as a weapon, and if they could, they wouldn't need to. As for the Complete Edition, any groper struck by that would be permanently disabled and there would be no point in making him sign the Sex Offenders' Register.)
Now my classics master at school was a very strange man even by conventional expectations of classics masters. For a start, he had such a long nose that he could grasp it in his fist and still leave an inch or so protruding. He would constantly suck little licorice pills, and every so often he would splutter or dribble black juice. His trouser turn-ups were almost detached from the rest of his trousers and would follow him like a faithful terrier. His hat brim bore a similar relationship to the crown of his hat. Lessons with Ben could be very tense. He might twist his nose so that his nostrils pointed skywards and make trumpeting noises, while scrutinising your face to detect the slightest sign of amusement. He was also a clumsy man, so that he might get his foot wedged in the waste paper basket; he might then stamp around the room holding a book in front of his face, declaiming “O Bright Apollo What God Man Or Hero Placed This Receptacle In My Path Shall I Crown With Laurel?”
It is necessary, to develop this story, to inform the reader that Ben, as the boys referred to him, was also in charge of the school library. In this capacity he collected Liddell and Scotts. There was no need for this: one copy of the Concise Edition would have met all the school's needs, given that only a very few boys studied the classics. Nevertheless, Ben was very proud of his collection. The Complete Edition he called “Daddy Bear Liddell and Scott”; the Concise Edition was “Mummy Bear”, and the Pocket Edition “Baby Bear”.
Well, it came to pass that my friend JO found a copy of the Concise Edition in a junk shop; since it was bereft of all its pages, it was, to be honest, just the cover of a Liddell and Scott. Scenting the opportunity for mischief, JO purchased this apparently useless book without any leaves for the outlay of one penny, and brought it to to school.
Another friend at school, NH, had the job, under the irregular supervision of the art master, of operating the school's offset-litho machine. With it, he developed appropriate ancillary crafts such as bookbinding. NH was an interesting person in his own right. He was quiet, but clever in all sorts of ways; for instance he had a mastery of seven languages by the time he left school. He used the school press for forging entry tickets and other documents. His best effort was to forge a German student's pass entitling him to free rail travel between the Federal Republic and the United Kingdom. Another side to his nature was demonstrated when he broke into the local Naughty Girls' Hostel on a Friday night. By the time he was discovered, on the following Monday morning, the Naughty Girls had reduced him to the mere shell of a human being and he had to spend a fortnight in hospital to recover. NH went on to work for H.M. Customs and Immigration, where he gained some status among his colleagues by his aptitude for fencing confiscated contraband material, to the benefit of himself and his fellow officials. It was not long until his skills at languages, forgery, deception, black-marketeering and fornication came to the notice of the Secret State, so he was allocated his Double-O number and disappeared from public view.
The story now starts to become predictable. The boy who sat behind me, one JV, was the son of a couple who ran, masquerading as a newsagents, the town's leading pornography store. He was commissioned to acquire suitable literature, which he brought to school in his cricket bag. (That a boy who showed absolutely no interest in cricket should even possess a cricket bag never attracted any notice whatever.) This literature, if that is the right word, plus the Liddell and Scott cover, were passed to NH, who expertly bound them, and then the finished article was placed on the library shelf among all the other copies of Liddell and Scott Concise Edition. From this point on, an intense interest in Ancient Greek vocabulary was taken by such boys who were in on the secret.
Eventually it just had to happen.
“I must confess that I cannot remember whether the accent on the word for a Macedonian Sausage Seller falls on the penultimate or the antepenultimate. I cannot rest until the lacuna in my memory has been repaired. D-, betake yourself to the library and bring back a Liddell and Scott. Mummy Bear will contain the requisite information.” Of course, D- was not party to the secret, and of course out of the dozens of Liddell and Scotts that he could have selected, he had to choose THAT one. He struggled back into the classroom, placed the volume gingerly in front of Ben, then regained his seat. The engine of the V1 Flying Bomb cut out.
“WAAAH! O Sacrilege! What is the meaning of this?” Fingers clawed at the upper atmosphere. “O Shame! WAAAH!”
That is still one of the absolute funniest experiences of my entire life. It has to be said that D- got a lot of disapprobation for ruining boys' innocent library studies.