Today I have an astonishing treat for you! If you haven't read Frank Key before, you will want to after this! I've known him years and years, and he has only increased in wordy madness and hair fuffliness. He put this essay in excellence up on Monday at Hooting Yard, and look at my BlogList for a link to his whole site, where you will probably end up the rest of the day, reading, chortling, sniggering and generally Smiling in Joy. This sort of writing is the antidote to all that ails us. Enjoy!!!
Perhaps the most neglected work of the Renaissance scholar Gabbitas Hatpinne, the thousand-plus pages of Fons de luxuria (1549) have been newly translated as The Wellspring Of Debauchery. This is a significant academic achievement, and one which should rescue Hatpinne from the oblivion that beckoned. Few read him in his lifetime, and in the four hundred years since his death those few have dwindled still further. Indeed, his new translator, Desdemona Snodgrass, suggests she may be the only person alive to have read Fons de luxuria in its entirety, and even she admits there were several occasions when she nodded off and had to go on a brisk hiking expedition in order to wake herself up so she could continue with her important task.
The Wellspring Of Debauchery attempts, at great length, to answer the question “does salacious knavery, untrammelled sauciness, and inappropriate hobnobbing in sinks of vice lead, inescapably, to the excesses of high debauch?” I will not give away Hatpinne’s conclusion here, for fear you would use that as an excuse not to read the book yourself, and in the time thus saved, you may be tempted to acts of salacious knavery and untrammelled sauciness and inappropriate hobnobbing in sinks of vice. It is much better for your moral fibre, and indeed for the fate of your immortal soul, that you have your head stuck in a very fat book. It will keep you out of mischief.
But though I do not wish to divulge the contents of this lengthy and by no means untedious work, it is perhaps worth recalling the circumstances in which it came to be written. If we have but world enough and time, we may even look into the circumstances in which it came to be translated, here in the twenty-first century space age, but let us not jump too far ahead of ourselves. In any case, Desdemona Snodgrass may not want her motives to be inquired into too pointedly. She is a sensitive soul, with many a skeleton stacked up in her closet, or so I have been told by perfidious rumour-mongers and her rivals in the groves of academe. So even if we do have time, we are not going to be discussing that episode with the siphon and the pastry cases and the Chris De Burhg [sic] bootleg tape. I have taken legal advice and I shall not be swayed.
Unlike his translator, Gabbitas Hatpinne himself is safely dead, and can be impugned without fear of litigation. Shall I therefore impugn him? It would be easy enough to do, not because he lived a life of high debauch and naughtiness, but because the likelihood is that you know nothing about him. I could thus make up all sorts of stories about his salacious knavery and untrammelled sauciness and inappropriate hobnobbing in sinks of vice, and you would soak them all up, o! credulous reader. Tempting though it may be to wend my way down that particular path to perdition, lined as it is by lightning-blasted pine trees and shrivelled lupins and blighted potato patches, swept by fearsome gales and battered by hailstones, patrolled by ravening wolves and stampeding half-starved bison, it is a path I shall turn away from, in my prissy mincing morally upright manner, I shall turn my eyes instead upon the glorious light shining atop the mountain of saintliness and piety, and begin to clamber up towards the summit, there to grasp in my unworthy paws the halo of virtue.
You see how, even without reading The Wellspring Of Debauchery, I am become a model of sanctity? For it is indeed the case that I have not been able to concentrate my mind on this hefty doorstopper of a book, with its seemingly endless paragraphs of hectoring prose. I have better things to do with my time, and, no, they do not involve salacious knavery and untrammelled sauciness and inappropriate hobnobbing in sinks of vice. Would that they did! I have occasionally wondered if I might abandon myself to a life of high debauch. Though perhaps when I say “occasionally” I ought truthfully say “often”. Indeed, just before sitting down at my escritoire to pen these timeless words, I was weighing up in my overheated brain whether to contact Desdemona Snodgrass and, under the guise of academic rigour, to seek an assignation with her, in some leafy arbour, far from prying eyes, bent on sin. Fortunate indeed that I averted the besmirchment of my soul by leaping from my escritoire and plunging my head into a pail of icy water, and then embarking on a hike through the hills in wind and rain, until such time as I had cooled my phantasmal ardour, and was ready once more to sit, and to write, and to banish all thought of Desdemona Snodgrass from my brain.
Now, with regard to the circumstances in which The Wellspring Of Debauchery was written, as I seem to recall that is what I was intending to write about before I got carried away. We have only fragmentary details of the biography of Gabbitas Hatpinne. We know neither the year of his birth nor the year of his death. We do not know where he lived, nor what he lived on, and we know nothing of his forebears or any progeny he may or may not have had. The sole traces of him that survive are a few widely-dispersed and unreliable references in fusty musty damp and dog-eared unauthorised documents found wedged in the walls of crumbling parish churches. And such references as there are may well relate to several different Gabbitases, several different Hatpinnes, and have nothing whatsoever to do with our man.
It is all a great historical conundrum. The only way it might be solved is if someone were to devote themselves to the research required to write a proper biography. It is the sort of job ideally suited to, let us pluck a name at random, Desdemona Snodgrass.
I think I shall contact her to suggest this course of action. I will arrange for us to meet, in a leafy arbour, far from prying eyes, bent on scholarship, bent on sin.