By Force or Guile

We'll move right past the amount of time it's been since I last posted as it will only recall to me how much time has gone by since I've done anything the least bit substantive.

This won't be substantive either, as it's a call for help. I expect that once the semester's Job Market michigas has ended, I will have plenty of time to pursue this line of inquiry myself (time that would be better spent preparing to go on the the Job Market again the following year, though we'll jump off that bridge when we come to it), but I'm feeling twitchy and frustrated so I thought I would do as many have done before me and turn to the internet to solve all of my problems.

I'm sure there's an easy way I could do this myself, but I'm too flustered to find it, and I want answers, so I'm asking you. I might soon put the question to the C-18L list as well, but for the moment I lack the nerve, and it's not really an 18th century question.

I'm intersted in pursuing the origins and history of the phrase that I've taken for this entry's title. Most likely, you know it from Paradise Lost, specifically Book I, lines 121-22, as spoken by Captain Hubris himself:

"We may with more successful hope resolve
To wage by force or guile eternal war..."

Google (surprisingly) returns (via Bartleby.com) Wordsworth's sonnet "Malham Cove" in the first position*:

"Was the aim frustrated by force or guile,
When giants scooped from out the rocky ground..."

For the most part, though, Google gives Milton and his Satan ownership of the phrase, and while there were many subsquent users, I'm more interested in Milton's predecessors. Dryden came after, but he retroactively gave it to Virgil in his translation of the Aeneid:

"But truly tell, was it for Force or Guile,
or some Religious end, you rais'd the Pile? (ll. 201-02).

I'm guessing he got it from Milton. A likely (or at least reasonable, or at very least possible) source for Milton is Spenser's The Faerie Queene, V.IV.XXI:

"For all those Knights, the which by force or guile
she doth subdue, she fowly doth entreate..."

A variation also occurs in Sir Thomas Wyatt's "Complaint Upon Love to Reason, with Love's Answer," and it's the earliest occasion of it I have come across thus far:

"Since I was his, hour rested I never,
Nor look to do; and eke the wakey nights
The banished sleep may in no wise recover
By guile and force, over my thralled sprites."

It's likely, then, that it was already current and colloquial by Milton's time and that he simply plucked it from the air. Those I have talked to about it have suggested this or that translation of the bible for a source; one has offered Machiavelli as a possible point of origin, and I must say The Prince does seem a likely candidate given Satan's political business in Paradise Lost (talk about entering a new Principality--that joke will make sense in just a second), but I'd have to find the right contemporary English translation to verify it. Obviously Wyatt knew his Italian fairly well, but I don't know the precise date he composed the above. The Prince, for what it's, appeared in 1532, and Wyatt died ten years later.

The 1910 Harvard Classics translation of The Prince contains the closest corollary phrase to that made (more) famous by Milton:

"Whoever, therefore, on entering a new Princedom, judges it necessary to rid himself of enemies, to conciliate friends, to prevail by force or fraud, to make himself feared yet not hated by his subjects..." (29).

"Force or fraud" is or was, a very superficial search suggests, no less common a construction or pairing as "force or guile." That said, Edward Dacres' 1640 English translation of The Prince renders the above lines as follows:

"Whoever therefore deemes it necessary in his entrance into a new Principality, to secure himself of his enemies, and gain friends, to overcome either by force, or by cunning, to make himself belovd or feard of his people..." (56).

So here we have force and cunning. Not quite force and guile, which is really what I'm after. And this is the earliest traslation of The Prince available to me through EEBO.

I don't have an argument to make about this phrase--at least, not yet--and if it's simply one of those stock phrases that enjoyed (and is still enjoying something of a) vogue, there probably isn't an argument to make. I'm guessing it predates Machiavelli by a fair bit, but I'm already well out of my element. Has anyone out there come across this phrase, and precisely this phrase, before the mid-sixteenth century? I feel certain it must be out there somewhere.

So--to borrow from Jerome K. Jerome--these are just the idle thoughts of an idle fellow. But any tips or leads would be very much appreciated, if for no other reason than to satisfy my undirected and unfruitful curiosity.

*This post is now the first return in a Google search for "by force or guile." How odd!


The Angel and the Algorithm(s)

For this most part this post is about not having posted recently. It'll therefore be largely free of anything approaching in-depth analysis, discussion, quotation, or purposefulness.

Also I want to finish it before Lost comes on.

I've spent the last few weeks bogged down by an examination of Paradise Lost that I now feel fairly certain will end up being thoroughly redundant. A wiser scholar than I might say there's no shame in not having anything new to say about Paradise Lost; few do. A crueler scholar than I might say I was a fool to have stuck my more than postlapsarian nose into Milton's rather fully explicated Eden in the first place. Not that Milton scholarship is a matter of nil dictum quod non dictum prius, as so many seventeenth-century authors insisted was also not true of whatever it was about which they thought they had something more to say. Rather that (in keeping with my larger and no less painfully self-evident arguments) there's so much that has been said that figuring out what hasn't demands more years of dedicated scholarship than I currently possess or can conveniently acquire. This of course is a typical frustration. I'd have been much better off, as we all surely would, by reaching down to the very dregs of the archive for some all-but-lost scrap of sui-generis something-or-other the very discovery of which would garner me the full range of literary prizes and qualify me for high government office. But I didn't do that. I did this instead. May the sin lie heavy on my head.

Ah; I needed that.

My re-reading of Paradise Lost was quite coincidentally paired with a bit of pop-technocultural non-fiction in the form of Randall Stross's interesting (but mostly underwhelming) Planet Google: One Company's Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know. The subtitle is what drew me in--my interest in encyclopedias and encyclopedism made it seem a nice way to wet my feet in that sea of technobabble I will have to navigate in the final chapter of this my self-created Sisyphean nightmare. I'm one of those who has managed to use the internet quite happily and effectively without at all understanding it, and as I'm attempting to take the diachronic view of those genres of Enlightenment that specifically involved themselves in the work of information organization it seemed to me a little pre-google-as-verb history of search engines and other forms of web-based mediation would one day serve me well. I didn't start using the internet with any regularity until well after the first-generation consumer ISPs had gone the way of my Apple IIC and AOL's web-within-the-web had been more or less dismissed as the internet's answer to the kiddie-pool. In other words, I didn't really know what was happening until after everything had already changed.

Stross's book helped to fill in the space around my memories of people sneering at AOL's early services and in so doing I noticed some connections to, of all things, Paradise Lost. Some of these are happy accidents of metaphor; others are, I think, more interesting similarities involving genre, technology, and how the fundamental change in both spheres revolves around the problem of information management.

I'm going to set aside Milton's strident Protestantism for the moment and consider the poem from a more secular epistemological perspective. Recent scholarship has amply covered Milton's Baconian leanings and the presence of a divinely authorized version of experimentalism in his Eden. Like many things that to Milton defined the postlapsarian experience -- division of labor, strife between the sexes, the hunger for knowledge -- it would seem that the empiricism and experimentation that were redefining human learning in seventeenth century England also had some purchase in the garden, albeit in a more refined, more perfect, or otherwise crucially different state. That said, the principal means by which Adam learns what he does not know inherently is through the archangelic mediation of Raphael, whom God sends down to provide about four books' worth of expert tutorials on the creation of the universe, the war in heaven, and celestial mechanics. Raphael articulates the proper boundaries of human learning and determines on our first parents' behalf what counts as the knowledge truly worth having and what they should consider irrelevant.

When Eve gets a bit too peckish and ruins it for the rest of us, the pair are turned out of the garden and we lose that wonderfully supernatural means of mediation. In the ghastly postlapsarian world occupied by Milton, which was busily being peered at, picked apart, set ablaze and vivisected by Bacon's followers in the Royal Society, the way back to a complete understanding of God's Creation -- complete knowledge -- was via the diligent collection of epistemic fragments. Whereas Raphael once told us what was essential to forming a perfect understanding the universe, we now had to take the comprehensive approach -- learning as we went and determining for ourselves as best we could the good from the bad, the true from the false, the relevant from the irrelevant. Progress now depended on mediators of our own making, whether in the form of scientific methods that produced a better class of knowledge, instruments that extended the power of our limited corporeal faculties, or textual compendia that collected the knowledge worth keeping and preserved it for the benefit of posterity.

Now back to AOL. In its earliest days, AOL customers who logged on to the service accessed what technocrats refer to as "the walled garden" model of the internet. AOL employed a staff of people whose job it was to identify the best sources of information online and point users to the relevant sources when search inquiries were made. Ideally, then, all of the information contained within AOL's walled garden would be good--relevant, reliable, what have you. Beyond the wall was chaos--a realm of information good and bad, useful and useless, present but not organized. No sense troubling one's self with that.

The problem, of course, is that human mediation of the kind that made the garden such a safe place is not efficiently scalable. We're no angels; humans can only read so much, and once the amount of information through which AOL's staffers had to crawl in search of good value became too large, they could no longer provide the same quality of service. Users, moreover--in their unending desire for more and better--began to consider the garden more hindrance than haven. It was only a matter of time before the walls came down.

The web, to a greater extent than any other entity in human history, represents the comprehensive--the place where everything can be recorded, transmitted, preserved (preservation is a sticky subject here -- consult your local archivist about the foolhardiness of relying on digital technologies for long-term durability). The amount of knowledge available online far surpasses the ability of any individual to find what's useful. Enter Google and their (in)famous Algorithm, which acts as the digital answer to Milton's Raphael. The algorithm now identifies the essential from within the comprehensive: it mediates the masses of information and returns to users a list of sources theoretically organized by relevance.

Obviously, the algorithm is not as perfect as the angel, though perhaps to most people they're almost equally incomprehensible. I'm not entirely sure how the algorithm works in conjunction with crawlers, loggers, indices, etc., and for the most part Google is happy to keep it that way. I will say that I frequently treat its results with as much innocence as Adam did Raphael--a phenomenon that concerns Google's detractors and competitors in the world of seach engines.
Not everything Google points one to is good -- Wikipedia (another institution that conflates the comprehensive with the complete and has experienced its fair share of credibility concerns) frequently turns up at the top of search results -- and those in the know can work the system to their advantage.

And of course Raphael did not attempt to profit from click-through ads.

I have more to say about all this, but I don't (alas) know enough about it yet to do so.

Lost was excellent tonight, I thought.