Monday, December 26, 2011

A mathematical woman

As in an earlier posting (20 December 2011), today's feature includes verse by Lord Byron (1788-1824). This time the source is Byron's satiric poem Don Juan. In Canto I, the poet describes Don Juan's mother, Donna Inez, as learned and "mathematical." Here are several stanzas about her -- sagely seasoned with words like "theorem," "proof," and "calculation."

from Don Juan, Canto I     by Lord Byron

His mother was a learned lady, famed
  For every branch of every science known
In every Christian language ever named,
  With virtues equall'd by her wit alone,
She made the cleverest people quite ashamed,
  And even the good with inward envy groan,
Finding themselves so very much exceeded
In their own way by all the things that she did.

Her memory was a mine: she knew by heart
  All Calderon and greater part of Lope,
So that if any actor miss'd his part
  She could have served him for the prompter's copy;
For her Feinagle's were an useless art,
  And he himself obliged to shut up shop—he
Could never make a memory so fine as
That which adorn'd the brain of Donna Inez.

Her favourite science was the mathematical,
  Her noblest virtue was her magnanimity,
Her wit (she sometimes tried at wit) was Attic all,
  Her serious sayings darken'd to sublimity;
In short, in all things she was fairly what I call
  A prodigy—her morning dress was dimity,
Her evening silk, or, in the summer, muslin,
And other stuffs, with which I won't stay puzzling.

She knew the Latin—that is, 'the Lord's prayer,'
  And Greek—the alphabet—I 'm nearly sure;
She read some French romances here and there,
  Although her mode of speaking was not pure;
For native Spanish she had no great care,
  At least her conversation was obscure;
Her thoughts were theorems, her words a problem,
As if she deem'd that mystery would ennoble 'em.

She liked the English and the Hebrew tongue,
  And said there was analogy between 'em;
She proved it somehow out of sacred song,
  But I must leave the proofs to those who 've seen 'em;
But this I heard her say, and can't be wrong
  And all may think which way their judgments lean 'em,
'''T is strange—the Hebrew noun which means "I am,"
The English always use to govern d--n.'

Some women use their tongues—she look'd a lecture,
  Each eye a sermon, and her brow a homily,
An all-in-all sufficient self-director,
  Like the lamented late Sir Samuel Romilly,
The Law's expounder, and the State's corrector,
  Whose suicide was almost an anomaly—
One sad example more, that 'All is vanity'
(The jury brought their verdict in 'Insanity').

In short, she was a walking calculation,
  Miss Edgeworth's novels stepping from their covers,
Or Mrs. Trimmer's books on education,
  Or 'Coelebs' Wife' set out in quest of lovers,
Morality's prim personification,
  In which not Envy's self a flaw discovers;
To others' share let 'female errors fall,'
For she had not even one—the worst of all.

O! she was perfect past all parallel—
  Of any modern female saint's comparison;
So far above the cunning powers of hell,
  Her guardian angel had given up his garrison;
Even her minutest motions went as well
  As those of the best time-piece made by Harrison:
In virtues nothing earthly could surpass her,
Save thine 'incomparable oil,' Macassar!

The entire text of Don Juan is available online here -- from Project Gutenberg.

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