Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027716, Mon, 16 Apr 2018 18:25:21 +0000

Another SKORAMIS source
Dear Listees,

A decade ago (!) I sent the following to the list:

1. PF: Book reviewers being mentioned, he said: "I have never acknowledged printed praise though sometimes I longed to embrace the glowing image of this or that paragon of discernment; and I have never bothered to lean out of my window and empty my skoramis on some poor hack's pate. I regard both the demolishment and the rave with like detachment." (n.172, 155)

2. Boyd's footnote in the LoA: skoramis] From the ancient Greek word for "closet stool" found only in Aristophanes. Vera Nabokov wrote to Reuben Abel (Jan 31, 1968). "says VN, was used for chamber pot by English dons in the past."

3. In Browning's "Of Pachiarotto, and How He Worked in Distemper," the speaker, a painter, casts his critics as chimney sweeps who have come to clean his chimney (the neighbors were complaining). He addresses them directly:

Long after the last of your number
Has ceased my front-court to encumber
While, treading down rose and ranunculus,
You Tommy-make-room-for-your-Uncle us!
Troop, all of you--man or homunculus,
Quick march! for Xanthippe, my housemaid,
If once on your pates she a souse made
With what, pan or pot, bowl or skoramis
First comes to her hand--things were more amiss!

In a subsequent article on the composition of PF, I noted that on the galley proofs, next to skoramis, VN had written “see Browning’s letters and Classic. Dict.” I was unable at the time to find the reference to skoramis in Browning’s letters, but I just discovered it. The volume in question is New Letters of Robert Browning, edited by DeVane and Knickerbocker, 1950. In a footnote on page 97, speaking of the poem above, the editors say that Browning wrote “verses assaulting with the contents of a bed pot (skoramis) all the critical night men who stood within range of his displeasure.” Since VN used the word “pate” and the image of a chamberpot being emptied onto passersby, we know that he was referencing Browning’s poem, but his note on the galleys also shows that he encountered the word (perhaps first encountered it) in this volume of Browning’s letters.

Matt Roth

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