Last Updated 10/13/97

The Nock Challenge

Nock's works pose a formidable challenge to modern readers because, obviously, they were not among his intended audience. His prose bursts with what were contemporary references when he was alive fifty, sixty, and even one hundred years ago. To follow his line of argument you must sometimes go to a Who's Whoof the 1920's and find a Mr. Vervet or coax an Encyclopedia to reveal who Ward McAllister and his Four Hundred were. However, the reasons go beyond this as he never supposed that a mass audience would care to hear what he had to say, or in hearing it, that it would have any effect on them. Hence, when writing he shunted their literary needs and desires. As a consequnce, you'll find extended passages, long or pithy phrases, presumably profound or quaint stanzas, and seemingly beautiful couplets in the Latin and French languages sprinkled throughout his oeuvre. As if all this were not enough, he remains deliberately cryptic. To get a flavor of this particular quirk of character and his motives behind it, let's take a look at an excerpt from the preface of Henry George: An Essay.Keep in mind, Nock would usually keep such a gloss to himself or otherwise keep it buried in the subtext.

"If the title leads you to expect a biography of George, you will be disappointed; my work is only a critical essay...The official biography of George, written by his son, is still in print and easily available...No more should you expect to find here any exposition of George's philosophy. This can be got in the very best way at first hand from George's own works...You will notice that I have carried exclusiveness so far as occasionally to use technical economic terms and phrases without pausing to define or explain them, even in a footnote...I have also once or twice criticized by bare statement some matter which might seem to demand that I should show cause; as, for instance, where I criticize George's proposals for a national confiscation of rent. If one were ever so little intent on converting one's readers, or prepossessing them toward George's economic doctrine, one would perhaps not do this; but this essay has no such ulterior motive."

In a futile attempt to make Nock more approchable, this page will be dedicated to providing 1) brief historical information on Nock's contemporaries as well as figures from antiquity and American history who haven't yet achieved any measure of lasting fame but to whom he refers anyway, 2) translations of passages out of Latin, French, Greek, and German into English, 3) sketches of fictional characters to whom he refers, and 4) miscellaneous curiosities and mysteries that inevitably crop up. Part of the challenge will of course be extended to you, the fair browser, who will be solicited for information that will help Fulton build this page.


Historical Information and literature

Mr. Gradgrind In Charles Dickens's novel Hard Times, one of the less attractive characters is the school owner Mr. Gradgrind, who admonishes his teachers to teach the children "facts, facts, facts, nothing but facts", and sternly instructs the children to "never wonder".


Translations of Foreign Phrases

beau ideal (from "Artemus Ward")

corpus vile (from "On Making Low People Interesting")

Gott soll huten — God shall heed (?) (from "On Making Low People Interesting")

Goyim (from "On Making Low People Interesting")

Intelligenz (from "Artemus Ward")

mansueti possidebunt terram (from "Artemus Ward")

Malo libertatem periculosam quam quietam servitutem (from "Free Speech and Plain Language")

pars magna fui (from "Artemus Ward")

quand les Americains se mettent a etre nerveux, ils depassent tout commentaire (from "Free Speech and Plain Language")

Malo libertatem periculosam quam quietam servitutem (from "The Value of Useless Knowledge")

schochetim (from "Biographical Sketch")

sotnias (from "On Making Low People Interesting"

sobald er reflektirt ist er ein Kind — when he contemplates, he becomes a child (from "American Education")

sub specie aeternitatis (from "Artemus Ward")

vi et armis (from "Study in Paradoxes")

vis inertiae (from "American Education")

was uns alle bandigt, das Gemeine — what binds us all together, the shared (from "On Making Low People Interesting")

Wanderjahre — years of wandering (from "Artemus Ward")


Sketches of Fictional Characters


Curiosities and Mysteries

In the essay "On Making Low People Interesting" from September 1927, Nock makes the following comments about two nameless novels. Can you help to identify them?

"Some of these novels were British, some American, and all were recent, several being of the current crop and none more than a couple of years old, I think... One novel, for instance, which dealt with the progress of a hard-fisted, bull-headed English farmer-girl on her way to properity, culminated in her acquisition of an illegitimate child... [Another] was rather literally the inside story of the development, if one may call it that, of a young girl of the period, a flapper. This flapper was a filthy little trollop—which I hasten to say is no objection to her, for many great characters in fiction are shocking trollops. A trollop is a first rate literary property, plenty good enough for anybody as far as she goes; but qua trollop, she does not go very far, and a good artist knows it."

Resurrection — This Tolstoy novel was Nixon's favorite in college.


Introducing Nock ||| Biography ||| Bibliography ||| Selected Essays
Challenge ||| Divagations ||| Nockian Society ||| Books in Print

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