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Proust and Sheep

Posted 5/26/2013 2:43pm by Eugene Wyatt.

A comment to the Goodreads discussion list, 2013: The Year of Reading Proust,

Phillida quotes Proust writing as Norpois: But we must not be afraid to enlighten public opinion; and if a few sheep...should dash headlong into the water, it would be well to point out to them that the water in question is troubled water, that it has been troubled by an agency not within our borders, in order to conceal the dangers lurking in its depths.

Having 850 Saxon Merino sheep I must tell you that sheep are good swimmers, as most animals are, they dog paddle keeping their heads above water moving their legs as if they were running. 

I had a group of ewes who had become temporarily blind from Pink Eye (a viral infection), their corneas had clouded over, a tetracycline salve administered to the eye will help them recover faster. Objects were but shadows to them at best. They were quartered next to a pond and spooked into it by my Kelpie, Poem, a herding dog. Four ewes swam to the other side but one continued to swim in circles in the middle of the pond unable to see the bank. The water temperature was about 35F as the ice had just melted from the pond in late February; my lifeguarding abilities were of no use, having been certified at 16 by the American Red Cross, the water was too cold to enter. I felt helpless. I watched her, waiting for her to sink: round and round she swam, 15 minutes or longer, but with each revolution she got closer to dry ground, finally she got close enough for me to lasso her with a halter. 

I drug her up through brush—she was exhausted—I dried her off with towels and let her rest then go join her mates. She had a good swim, recovered her sight and had a lamb in the Spring.

Norpois is talking to Bloch about the Dreyfus case in the quote above. From my studies of rhetoric, long before I'd read Proust or about him, I see this is an example of Proust's wit: Bloch almost always speaks in a mock Homeric way; he imitates, or imagines, classical Greek rhetoric using adjectives to modify nouns in the Homeric fashion. To see the wit of this passage you must understand that Norpois speaks to Bloch with real classical Greek rhetoric, as if spoken by Giorgias (485–380 BC), a sophistry as much to explicate as to conceal, that he honed while speaking in his career as an ambassador. 

Proust knew the classical rhetoric that was taught in French schools of the 19th century.