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Friday, 22 August 2008

Blog number 1 ½

Hello everyone, I’m picking up my ‘walking to work’ story that I started a few weeks ago. The first thing I should say is that I’m still doing it, and enjoying it. I thought I was going to write two blogs, one about the route I walk to work in the morning, and another about the route I walk to get home in the evening. Today I should talk about going home… but I’ve changed my plan a little. This is not Blog Number 2, it seems to be Blog number 1 ½!

Let me explain. I’ve still got something to say about the morning walk. To get to work I have been walking from London Bridge railway station, along the northern bank of the River Thames, heading west. I showed you the pictures last time. But I have since discovered I can also get to work walking along the southern bank of the Thames, also heading West. And I can’t resist showing you two things. First, there is a steel barrier between me and the river, and there is something very interesting written on it. The problem is, I am not a good photographer, and I was too close to get the whole phrase in my photograph. So let’s see if you can solve the puzzle:

It is difficult to see, but what it says is MEN’S EVIL MANNERS LIVE IN BR… (and the complete missing word there is BRASS). The rest of the sentence continues…

..their virtues we wr(ite in)

… water. So the entire phrase is

‘Men’s evil manners live in brass; their virtues we write in water’.

I’m really fascinated by this, it has kept me thinking about it all day! The first thing I should say is that there is a gigantic clue right behind me, which I haven’t told you about – Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. Actually, the building is a reproduction of the original Globe, which is where William Shakespeare’s plays were performed in 1599 -1613, before it was destroyed in a fire. The current Globe was rebuilt in 1997. And, as you probably guessed, the phrase I photographed comes from one of Shakespeare’s plays, which is Henry VIII, Act 4, Scene 2.

But what does it mean? I think the key word is ‘manners’. If you ask an English speaker today what the word ‘manners’ means, I think he or she would say it is to do with behaviour, whether you are polite and considerate, and whether you think about other people. They might even think about ‘table manners’ – how you hold your knife and fork at a formal dinner and so-on. But there is another wider meaning of ‘manners’ that was probably more in use in Shakespeare’s time – simply meaning ‘the way you live your life’. So in my mind the phrase is telling us that the bad things people do are ‘written in brass’ – in other words, fixed and remembered for a long, long time, while the good things people do – their ‘virtues’ are only written in water – meaning they easily wash away and are not remembered at all. By the way, brass is a metal, a mixture of copper and zinc. Actually, there is another little twist to the meaning: the phrase says ‘their virtues we write in water’. So I think it means that we – you and me – only remember the bad things people do, and we easily forget the good things, we write them in water.

What a dark and depressing thought! But maybe it is true? What do you think?
I think ‘writing in water’ is a really interesting image, a way of saying that what you write does not last. It reminds me of something someone else once said. I may need the help of any Latin American or Spanish readers of this blog to check if I have my facts right. You will of course know about Simón Bolivar, one of the great heroes of Latin America, who in the nineteenth century fought for the independence of Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia (Bolivia is named after him). Like many of the great figures of history, at the end of his life and after a long story of wars and revolutions, glory and despair, he questioned whether it had all been worth it. And I think the phrase he used to express his despair was ‘I have ploughed in the sea’. In other words, rather than ploughing and planting on fertile soil, he had tried to plough and plant in water, and of course his work had been in vain.

Strangely, perhaps, as I carry on walking and thinking about these things I am not depressed at all. I hope I haven’t depressed you! The sun is shining, and despite Shakespearean and Bolivarian gloom, everyone seems to be smiling. And the second thing I wanted to slip in about getting to work is this view, as I walk across the Millennium Bridge to cross back to the northern bank of the Thames, I am walking straight towards St Paul’s Cathedral.

I promise that my next blog will really be number 2, and be about my afternoon walk! Good bye until then!



Thank you Andrew for explaining Shakepeare's wonderful phrase. Before reading the explanation I tried to understand it myself. I needed to looked up "brass" and "virtue". I understood first part as something like "Men's (true face) evil behavior appears when issue is about money".(LOL Soooo wrong.) But I could not relate any meaning to the 2nd part. Now I understand and satisfied. Maybe I'll also think about it all day today. Bianca, Mongolia

Hello Andrew, just like you, the words have fsacinated me too. That's true the bad deeds that we do are remembered for decades but the good, especially if our evil works are more, in that case it is hardly remembered. Maybe that's why it is said by one of the Urdu poets that do something here which is remembered even after the end of your life. Best wishes, Naheed

Hello! Sad but so true! Isn't human nature kind of backbiting and doesn't it take delight in repeating, making too much of others' mistakes? Don't we tend to criticize whereas we have some difficulties to congratulate someone? Unfair isn't it? We 're somewhat twisted in our mind! or it's a need to compete. It's useless even if modern life leads us a bit to this way. What do you think about media overkill and why their papers are so popular? (Entertainment:Julie Christie). Isn't mistake human? and we are so sad when we do bad aren't we? I'm happy because I live with kind people. In fact I try to stand away from gossip people or underhand, mean ones. Are they a lot of them? anyway not around me! I came across an English saying a few times ago :"people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones". In French, "one see the straw in one's neighbour's eye and not in one's onw one. Your shots give us a nice insight ..

Very interesting your complete explanation about the Shakespeare phrase. Thank you and also for the photos.

Hi Andrew, I've loved your philosophical blog number 1 ½. By the way, you haven't depressed me at all. At least I'm not planning to jump over a bridge after reading your blog. So, there's no harm except for some smoke coming out of my brain. It's good that you are enjoying every moment of your daily journey. The most important thing is that you are so gently sharing it with us. Thank you for that. Good night. I wish a nice week for you all Adri

Hello andrew! When you were saying, "everyone seems to be smiling", I thought you are talking about us readers, because I caught myself smiling while reading your interesting blog! What you people in BBC do, may be written in water, but this water we always keep in our heart and listed to its music! Regards, Maryam

hello Andrew, I think you go to work to have your fascinating walk not the other way round;:)Happy on you!!!

Hi Andrew I am a regular reader butI am writing first time. I like very much your blog. You made me think. we have the same expression "writing in water" It is used it for the things which is forgotten easily, especially for unfaithfulness. Thank you.You have readers who follows you. keep writing please.:))

Oh Andrew! What a lovely and interesting blog you wrote. This walk to work is as nice as the previous you mentioned in blog number 1. About Shakespeare's saying I must admit that sometimes we tend to criticize people for the bad things they do and don't take into consideration their good ones. This is a phrase to think of and remember. By the way, I've never heard about Simón Bolívar phrase. I'm learning it just now from your blog. Thank you Andrew. Looking forward blog nr 2. Best wishes, Cris

Thank you very much for such an intersting piece of information on British culture.

Hello Andrew! Nothing smaller I have expected. Nothing depressing could have come from the words of Shakespeare, just the oposit. To discover small things on an everyday route is positive and delightfull manner of life. Crossing berserk the globe from one site to another give us little time to find that art. Rembrandt knew that. No need of big money for doing job well. If I´d ever studied literature I would have wished listening to such good lessons. Those words reflect our behaviour and it´s really symbolic they are written just on the place above the Thames´ water. Excelent the Blog 1 and a half. I didn´t know the new Globe was rebuilt recently. Marianna

This entry is so fantastic and I love your research about this simple sentence! I feel your idea and real meaning this sentence!

I think we shall be more happy if we remember the good things people do

Hi from Pakistan, what a philosophical walk you had. And thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. I think, one can interpreter Shakespeare’s phrase in various ways. I don’t know in what context, Shakespeare wrote this phrase but one thing is obvious that men’s virtues are also live in brass if these are really memorable. Sometimes it dose happen that an upright person becomes infamous just because of few mistakes, but good deeds also stay back, and do not go with the flow. And those, who write virtue in water (see negative side), they do not consider those deeds as good one (no complain, they may need more time to distinguish between good and bad). And if, in case, the evil manners are really evil in nature and by all standards, then there is no harm to keep them in brass so that no one repeat them, if possible. The point is that we should see both sides of a person – appreciate good deeds and criticize the bad one, especially if those are harming others. Similarly, if someone criticizes great figures because of his/her ideas, initiatives and actions; one should not consider it as blasphemy. Certain people, in certain time and space, think differently. When someone tries hard to bring about a change but those for whom he is struggling ask, “Whether it had all been worth it”, then one should admit that the struggle may bear fruit in future. Another thing, generally, contemporaries rarely consider great figures as change agents because they barley see the desired results but coming generation pick their virtues from the river of the history and write it in brass ….. As you have just done it. I think, we cannot generalize Shakespeare’s phrase. May be it is true in certain situation but not always. Yes it takes time but virtues do not go in vain, I believe.

that was really impressive phrase! thx for explaining elaborately! i'm lttle negative person on every single things. i easily forget sth good, thanksful that i got from other and alway think bad stuff i experince from other, i should think myself again, thx ! ! !

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