Friday, April 27, 2018


When Wittgenstein talks about the right way to Grantchester in his Lecture on Ethics, presumably he just picked a destination more or less at random. But it's an appropriate place for him to have chosen in the light of Rupert Brooke's poem "The Old Vicarage, Grantchester" (written in 1912). I won't quote the whole thing, but here's a bit, describing Grantchester as a (dubious) kind of heaven on earth:
In Grantchester their skins are white;
They bathe by day, they bathe by night;
The women there do all they ought;
The men observe the Rules of Thought.
They love the Good; they worship Truth;
They laugh uproariously in youth;
(And when they get to feeling old,
They up and shoot themselves, I’m told) . . . 
Perhaps anyone in Berlin, where Brooke was when he wrote the poem, would head to Grantchester or else feel ashamed for not doing so. 


  1. The line, "The women there do all they ought;" is interesting for what it focuses: there is a list of obligations, all of which they fulfill, there is a list of responsibilities, all of which they faithfully perform, but beyond that what they do with their lives is open-ended; as opposed to "The women there do [only] what they ought;", where their life is "virtuous" and they don't misbehave, in conformity to social conventions. In other words, they are not really free, and so the place is not as attractive. And the former situation is ethically preferable.

    Outside of Grantchester, men typically use the notion of "the rules of thought" to browbeat women, but they don't observe them themselves. So yes, one must head to Grantchester to observe the wonder. The last line seems out of character. Do old people laugh as uproariously as youth, or do they exchange amusement for something else? "Their utterances are clear and bold." perhaps.


    1. Yes, that last line comes as bit of a shock. But then the whole thing's jokey. Just before the end he asks, "yet/ Stands the clock at ten to three?" Of course not, unless it's broken. He seems to both idealize his home and ridicule the idealization. And parts of it are just ridiculous, like the commentary on all the places around Cambridge other than Grantchester, where everyone is dreadful in one way or another. Not a poem to take too seriously, in other words. I like it though.