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Ma cos’è mai la storia, diceva spesso don Ferrante, senza la politica? Una guida che cammina, cammina, con nessuno dietro che impari la strada, e per conseguenza butta via i suoi passi; come la politica senza la storia è uno che cammina senza guida. C’era dunque ne’ suoi scaffali un palchetto assegnato agli statisti; dove, tra molti di piccola mole, e di fama secondaria, spiccavano il Bodino, il Cavalcanti, il Sansovino, il Paruta, il Boccalini. Due però erano i libri che don Ferrante anteponeva a tutti, e di gran lunga, in questa materia; due che, fino a un certo tempo, fu solito di chiamare i primi, senza mai potersi risolvere a qual de’ due convenisse unicamente quel grado: l’uno, il Principe e i Discorsi del celebre segretario fiorentino; mariolo sì, diceva don Ferrante, ma profondo: l’altro, la Ragion di Stato del non men celebre Giovanni Botero; galantuomo sì, diceva pure, ma acuto.
“But what is history,” said Don Ferrante, frequently, “without politics? – A guide who walks on and on, with no one following to learn the road, and who consequently throws away his steps; as politics without history is one who walks without a guide.” There was therefore a place assigned to statistics on his shelves; where, among many of humbler rank and less renown, appeared, in all their glory, Bedino, Cavalcanti, Sansovino, Paruta, and Boccalini. There were two books, however, which Don Ferrante infinitely preferred above all others on this subject; two which, up to a certain time, he used to call the first, without ever being able to decide to which of the two this rank should exclusively belong: one was the Principe and Discorsi of the celebrated Florentine secretary; “a great rascal, certainly,” said Don Ferrante, “but profound”: the other, the Ragion di Stato of the no less celebrated Giovanni Botero; “an honest man, certainly,” said he again, “but shrewd.”
–Alessandro Manzoni, I promessi sposi cap xxvii (1827)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”