Archive for the ‘John Stammers Page’ Category

TURTON TOWER, Turton District, Bolton, Lancashire, UK

tt2

The tower itself was modelled on the Scots Border pele towers. It was built in 1420.
This was the same period as the Scottish pele towers. They were fortified farmhouses, built for defence in the centuries-old feuds and political claim-and-reclaim of territory between Scotland and England that was the Scottish Borders.

Why Turton should have a defensive tower, and built by whom, are questions for which we do not know the answers. The setting is that of dominant position between two high land areas: the Winter Hill region to the west, and the Holcombe Hill region to the east. To the south is Bolton, and the north Blackburn.
Bolton was settled by Flemish weavers in the 14th century.
A centre for weaving denotes the area had ideal conditions for, at this period, wool weaving, that is, of continual damp. Bolton and close by Bury were both important towns which came into importance at this period.
Blackburn similarly owed its founding to Flemish weavers in the 13th century.
James Hargreaves, inventor of the spinning jenny, came from Oswaldtwistle, a very near neighbour town, later.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinning_jenny

Why Flemish weavers? This is a fascinating history in itself. See as an introduction:
 https://www.englandsimmigrants.com/page/individual-studies/fourteenth-century-england-a-place-flemish-rebels-called-home

An Elizabethan house was built onto the pele tower, and further extensions were early Stuart period.
The Orrell family built the Tower up, but bankrupted themselves in the process. They had to sell. The purchaser in 1628 was Humphrey Chetham.

Chetham College House in Manchester

chethams

was also built around the same time as the Tower: 1421. It was part of the founding of Manchester Cathedral, and was built as a college for priests.
It was here in Elizabethan times that Dr John Dee and family were quietly settled out-of-the-way. His wife and family died of plague and were buried here.He returned to Mortlake, London.

drdee


Humphrey Chetham rescued the ruined buildings and built up and restored them to house a school and free library.The Chetham’s School was founded in 1653, in the period of Cromwell’s Protectorate.

Speaking of which:

Back at the Tower, the Orrell family rented their Tower from Chetham. Chetham, however, as many major Manchester-based families, were supporters of Cromwell’s cause. The Orrell family were not.
Humphrey Chetham stationed Roundheads in the Tower grounds as their base for the whole district. The Orrell family would indeed have had to ‘put up and shut up’ as a local phrase has it.

1835 brought a mock gothic building program to the Tower under new owners. In 1929 it was given to the Turton Urban District Council.

The tower was originally two stories, but a third was added later, along with the crenellations. The top story used to house a museum of sorts
One exhibit was the skull of a local man, hanged for some heinous crime.
The middle floor was used for Council Meetings

http://www.turtontower.co.uk/a-brief-history.html

What I remember especially about the place, and called me back several times, is the Tower itself.
The ground floor is the homeliest place I have ever found. Amidst all the Do Not Touch displays, old paintings, antique furniture, there is a feeling of great peace, and belonging. I think it comes from this: look out of the ground floor windows and what you see…

… are almost floor-level views of the grounds. The ground floor is built into the earth. As you stand you are up to your waist, higher, underground.
That feeling of being bedded-in is wonderful, unique, and very, very appealing.

The Tower has its ghost, of course, the Lady of Turton Tower, and its dead-man’s footprint on the stone stairs of the Elizabethan part.
Even the Chetham School’s Dr Dee room has its own distinctive mark: a burn on a desk supposedly belonging to him, and supposedly due to his conjurings.

It was the summer of 1618, and the poet and, yes, dramatist, Ben Jonson, was at the height of his fame and powers.
I emphasise dramatist, because shortly before this date Ben Jonson had published his Works, in which he included his dramatic works. This was not done – at that time dramatic scripts were not considered ‘works’ but throw-away pieces. He received a lot of criticism for this; he was by then inured to the extremes that criticism could reach, his part in the ‘War of the Theatres’ had been bloody, hard, and he had had to concede defeat. For Ben Jonson’s character, defeat was not easily admitted, or lived with, and yet he had swallowed it the best he could.

So, in 1618, July 8th, Ben Jonson set out on an epic journey; it was well-advertised to interested parties.

He was to walk from London to Edinburgh. 450 miles.

He took the Great North Road out of London, up country, meeting the coast near Alnwick, Northumberland, whereon he followed the coast road twisting and turning right around to Edinburgh, coming in from Leith, on September 6th.

– A friend of my son’s walked to London from Cambridge one day: it took a punishing 12 hours. Ben Jonson’s walk took him 60 days.
The friend was fit and young; Ben Jonson had acquired his legendary girth of 20 stone in weight. He was also 46 years old, rather older than middle-age, for those times.
At the beginning of his career Ben Jonson was nick-named ‘the anatomy,’ due to his lean-ness: tall and thin.
How time was to change him.

What was the purpose of this walk? It can be considered a huge publicity stunt: he was, as all were, constantly on the look out for patronage, and Royal patronage was the best paid. He was, in effect, purposely celebrating the journey made by King James I/VI of Scotland – in reverse. The name Jonson, was also, through his father’s side, a Scottish Border name, from Johnstone, of Annandale. By acknowledging the Scottish name, he was therefore cementing his link, and also his credentials, to further a further suit with King James.

He stayed in Edinburgh six months, and then undertook the return journey, following the same route.

His journey has been tracked, and meticulously noted: see the map: http://www.blogs.hss.ed.ac.uk/ben-jonsons-walk/map/

It was thought for a long time he undertook the journey alone. Rather recently, though, papers have been unearthed in the Cheshire Archives, which give detailed notes on the journey, in another’s hand.
The paper was not signed, and describes the walk as a Foot Voyage.

For much of the way, then, he had a travelling companion, a member of the Aldersley (sic) Family perhaps, among whose effects the notes were found. Was this a relative of the 1st Baronet, John Thomas Stanley, 1597–1672? The family are connected to the Earl of Derby, and the Baron Sheffield.
The Stanleys came in for some criticism in Alan Garners’ 1976 novella, The Stone Book.

The Alderleys, called, confusingly, the Stanley Family, are connected with what is now the affluent dormitory town of Alderley, properly known as Alderley Edge, and a place well known the readers of young adult fiction, and general fiction writer, Alan Garner. His earliest, and latest book are set there: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath, and the latest, Boneland, (2012).

*

Ben Jonson noted that his shoes gave out by the time he had reached Darlington, near Newcastle. That was not bad going, actually. He had another pair made, and suffered them for the next few days, until he wore them in.

What we know of Jacobean male footwear is scanty, and restricted to court fashions, and further, to what was depicted in portraits from the period.
During the late Elizabethan era, however,  pamphletting was taking off. One such practitioner was Philip Stubbes, a puritan. He inveighed against  ‘unchristian’ workplace practices. We have to thank him for the details he provides of such practices of the time. One of which was, shoe making.
http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/elizabethan-shoes.

He tells us the leather was soaked in liquor for hardening, then well greased. The fraudulence was in the use of, for example, the more thinner, fragile, calf instead of cow hide and, controversially, horse skin instead of ox-hides. They were always, he insisted, cat-skin lined.
The sewing was done with hot needles and twine. He says the shoes were then heated by the fire to harden them. We can only presume this was a fraudulent practice.

What of the soles? He does not mention soles. Heeled boots for men became fashionable in the late Elizabethan  period; the heels were of wood. Would workmen’s – brick-layers, as with Ben Jonson’s early life – also use wooden soles? Wooden pattens were still in use in the period.

*

Ben Jonson’s stay in Edinburgh reached its summit in his long sojourn with William Drummond, of Hawthornden Castle. This lasted from December, 1618, until early Spring, 1619, and his return journey. What eased the familiarity of their company was that William Drummond owned, and continually added to, one of the best libraries in Britain, at that time. Both men were avid bibliophiles.
We also have William Drummonds’ notes on the sojourn: a commentary on Ben Jonson’s conversation, but without his own input.

One incident particularly spoiled Ben Jonson’s epic of his walk and sojourn in Scotland. That was the arrival, a few week’s after himself, of ‘self-styled… poet’ (Ben Jonson, His Life and Work, by Rosalind Miles, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986), John Taylor, the ‘sculler’, or water, poet. The name derives from his previous occupation as a Thames waterman. He was born in Gloucestershire, and became a boatman/ferryman in Kent – the Sheppey region.
I am always surprised at the mobility of people in those times: Shakespeare’s travels from Warwickshire to possibly Lancashire, but definitely to London, was seen as no big step.

King James applauded John Taylor’s writing, preferring him above Sir Philip Sidney (perhaps out of a sense of mischief?). Ben Jonson was indeed put out by his arrival, having walked all the way, the same route, as he himself had. He became convinced his London rivals had put John Taylor up to this, to mock his own feat. It was vigorously denied, and to a believable extent. Although John Taylor did indulge later in spectacular stunts, such as manning and sailing a real paper boat into London.
http://theshakespeareblog.com/2012/07/john-taylor-the-water-poet/
also see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Taylor_(poet).

Ah, but John Taylor had not the high connections of Ben Jonson, in Edinburgh; nor was he made Freeman of the City, as Jonson was.

On his return to London he found several things had changed. For one, the Queen had died. This was soon followed by the death of principle Elizabethan actor Richard Burbage. A national loss, and a more localised one; but the public stage had lost two important players.
The Queen’s death put his own suit with King James on a back burner.

If any reader is looking for an introduction, way in, to Ben Jonson’s poetic works, I would heartily recommend the Thom Gunn selection, on Penguin:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ben-Jonson-Selected-Thom-Gunn/dp/0571226795/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1509452382&sr=1-1&keywords=ben+jonson%2C+thom+gunn

Birds etc

Posted: April 17, 2020 in John Stammers Page

I came across it again the other day: birds have a greater range of sight than we humans; the wavelengths they can detect are so much wider than ours.

Of course, the implication is that we poor humans are so badly adapted to the world. Dogs have a keener sense of smell, animals as a rule have a better range of hearing, sensory awareness is much keener.
We are such poor forked creatures.

And so:
breakfasting a while ago, our bantam hen came asking for food. We gave cooled porridge on a plate.
Porrage on a white plate.
She could not see it. Nor could her sense of smell guide her. and this was in normal daylight.

Take twilight, putting birds to bed – they cannot see a thing by then. We can see quite well, but they, no.
Owls, of course, are the exception. But in bright daylight? No.
We can.

So then:
That we are so badly adapted to the world… so we construct artificial worlds to live in: cities, urban environments.
But we cannot live in those, either. They quickly turn into congested, stinking chaos.

And so:
Our problem is, and this is particularly noticeable in politics, and philosophies, is that what we imagine, conceive, for and of ourselves, is so many times less than what we are.
We have never made anything commensurate with our natures.
We always think, mentate, whether solely or in group-making, so much less than ourselves.

Only the arts, I would suggest
– well, I would wouldn’t I, since I know so little of higher mathematics, theoretical sciences –
to be released from the constraints of utility and social conforms… that only the reaching out and conceiving of something other, greater, than this image of us –
I guess I am arguing against the current fad of ’embodied’ discourse –
that to reach out
beyond what we know….

I happened to catch sight of a rescued pigeon – road casualty, now restored to health again – a male, and isolated because he is dominant and fights everyone else… he lives happily within sight of the others…
he was in his nest box and burbling away to himself, and doing his ‘dance’, and it struck me: there is imagining going on there, and play.
Remarkable.

There is so much more than we give credit for.
So, so much, more.

Swanline Offering Because of the coronavirus pandemic, more and more artistic material is appearing online. The BBC’s hastily published response, Culture in Quarantine, is now beginning to bear fruit and its latest presentation comes courtesy of Birmingham Royal Ballet. The Dying Swan (as it’s usually called) was originally created by Mikhail Fokine in 1905 for […]

The Swan – Birmingham Royal Ballet: BBC Arts – Culture in Quarantine, 8 April 2020 — Dancing Review

Alfred Giraud’s ‘Pierrot Lunaire’, translated by Gregory C Richter. Published by Truman State University Press, Kirksville, Missouri, 2001.
ISBN  1931112029

This is the first full translation into English of this seminal book of poems, originally published in France, in 1884.
The translation, ‘renderings’ he terms them, is by Gregory C Richter, professor of linguistics at Truman state University, Missouri.
He presents here a bilingual, at times trilingual publication of the complete book, Pierrot Lunaire.
He gives the original French text with English ‘render’ per poem per page. As a selection of the poems were early-on translated into German, he also publishes the German version of the poems selected. The German translator Otto Erich Hartleben, he points out, did not stick to straight translation but gave ‘versions’ that at times vary from the the originals.
For those readers with German, this is a special for you. There are translations of several poems by other German writers here also.

1

Alfred Giraud was a Belgian writer. Alfred Giraud was the pen name of Alfred Kayenbergh, from Louvain, Belgium. He was born in 1860, and died in 1929.

Originally a law student, literature was his obsession, and he happily embraced the role of Decadent writer, after Baudelaire, and owned influences by contemporary Symbolists such as Paul Verlaine, Stephen Mallarme, Leconte de Lisle.

Pierrot Lunaire was, surprisingly, his first major publication, in 1884, when he was aged 24. It was a success, and continued to attract attention and influence the European art scene for decades.
He continued to write poetry, plays and critical articles throughout his life.

The German writer Otto Erich Hartleben translated a selection from the work not long after publication, in 1893. He translated the whole book eventually, but it was the selection that became the main source for other artists.

And, yes, I am thinking of Arnold Schoenberg, here. He used Otto Hartleben’s translation of twenty one selected verses for his magnificent sprechstimme Pierrot Lunaire Op21, in 1912. 

Alfred Giraud’s Pierrot Lunaire is based on characters from the traditional Italian commedia dell’arte. As well as Pierrot himself, we find here also arch-rival Harlequin. Columbine, though, plays a minor role. We find another, unfamiliar character, the elderly Cassander.

The commedia was experiencing one of its periodic returns to popularity: witness Pablo Picasso’s use of the troupe in his Rose period (1904-6) paintings. Of course, connected with this is Rainer Maria Rilke basing one of his Duino Elegies on the painting, circa 1912-22.
Paul Verlaine’s Claire de Lune, after Theodore de Banville (1842), captures some of the essence of the period, and, of course, Claude Debussy made the essence more concrete, so to speak with his Pierrot song (1881) and the Suite bergamesque.

The commedia was a key cultural element throughout the period.

2
The poems were written in a very strict rhyme pattern, adapting the French syllabic basis of a strict syllabic line of seven syllables.
The rhyme scheme with one or two variations only, is as follows:

A
B
b
a

a
b
A
B

a
b
b
a
A

A thirteen-line poem.

Within this scheme, though, there are other disciplines: the first line is repeated in line seven, and line thirteen. Lines one and two of the poem are repeated in lines seven and eight.

The structure is like that of a Rondel. In poem 50, Bohemian Crystal, the poem’s narrator speaks of rhyming in roundelays/rondels.

Le serenade de Pierrot (poem 6)

D’un grotesque archet dissonant
Agacant sa viole plate,
A la heron, sur une patte.
Il pince un air inconvenant.

Soudain Cassandre, intervevant,
Blame ce nocturne acrobate,
D’un grotesque archet dissonant
Agacant sa viole platte.

Pierrot la rejette, et presenant
D’un poigne tres delicate
Le vieux par sa roide cravate.
Zebre le bedon du genant
D’un grotesque archet dissonant.

(I give the repeating lines in bold.)

Gregory C Richter’s ‘rendering’ is as follows:

Tormenting his viol
With grotesque, discordant bow –
Like a heron standing on one claw –
He pinches out a painful air.

Suddenly Cassander intervenes
And scolds the nightly acrobat
Tormenting his viol
With grotesque, discordant bow.

Throwing aside the viol,
With ultradelicate grace
Pierrot now takes him by his tie
And zebra-stripes the oldster’s paunch
With grotesque, discordant bow.

Rhyme scheme nor syllabic count could be saved, but sense and intent have been. Whatever you think of these translations/renderings they do convey theme and line-sense throughout.
It is also interesting to see this Pierrot not averse to taking the upper hand.

The Introduction notes how the book divides into three parts. The opening poems and last poems are more peaceful in mood, whilst the central section, poems 17-30, veer into the grotesque. Think of Belioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. Here we find poems on Absinthe, Suicide, Decapitation.
Poem 23, Begging for Heads has some wonderfully grotesque imagery:

A bucket, red and full of sawdust
Lies within your clenched embrace,
O Guillotine, mad escapee,
Wandering before the prison!

Could we say of the form, that the first stanza establishes the scene, the second one examines the scene, and the third one explores it further?

3

I was so looking forward to this book; it has been prohibitively expensive.

You could say the tone, rather than the characters, capture that period when Romanticism blended into Aestheticism. There is also the influence of more classical attitudes here, the Parnassian writing the younger Alfred Girauld admired.
Pierrot, himself, although quite a ‘dandy’, does not have the effete quality that later works delimit for him.

How would you characterise the work?
It is not a psychodrama, except in the most basic sense: the author plays lightly with personal themes, but more robustly with cultural elements and atmospheres of his place and period.
There is no main narrative, or through-line as such; each poem encapsulates the ‘mood’ of the theme. Some veer off into different directions: there are several boat-based poems.
The Ménage à trois of the commedia story: Pierrot-Columbine-Harlequin, is alluded to (poem 11) but not central to the book.
In its way it is a very Roman Catholic book: Pierrot’s suicide, whether real or emotional appears in poem 18, but this is followed by the increasingly diabolical poems of the central section.
Poem 31 returns to images – decor – of the opening poems, and the chance to begin anew, but not necessarily changed by the experience: we still have Cruel Pierrot, poem 45, a mocking moon, poem 43. In poem 50, Bohemian Crystal the author has done with the character Pierrot, and steps forward; or another narrator does.
The image of the Bohemian crystal – symbol, he calls it – is an interesting re-take on the crystal flagons of poem 3’s Dandy from Bergamo.

There is a suggested circling of structure, but it is unproductive to look for paralleling as in chiasmic structures. Although poem 6, Pierrot’s Serenade (above) where Pierrot thrashes Cassender, does hold a close position in the structure of the book to poem 45, Cruel Pierrot, where once again Cassender is pummelled.

Tacitly acknowledging the classic commedia storylines, Alfred Giraud here produces an original work.

I place the book with Federico Garcia Lorca’s Gypsy Ballads, in that they both create their own landscapes out of the known world, and fictionally explore characters and events occurring there. These landscapes are part based on known, ‘real’ times and places, just as, say, Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor, was a created place based on a number of Border Ballads, and his real environment, including his time’s current themes and attitudes.

And yet, I find myself disappointed by the book.
I expected, that is, wanted, something harder, something more realised and concrete, like in the Gypsy Ballads, the moon glinting like tin, perhaps.
Pierrot’s moon is of another kind: Moonstruck is translated

The wine we drink with our eyes
Flows from the Moon in green waves…

an absinthe moon perhaps – but there is not the passion of Green, how I want you green of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Somnabular Ballad.

Pierrot The Dandy, poem 3, begins:
A fantastic Moonbeam
Lights up the crystal flagons

Of the sandalwood washstand
Of the pale dandy from Bergamo.

And I have to admit, I love the detail.


But perhaps it is the cumulative effect of the verse form, that it is limiting the emotional and imaginative ranges possible.

There are very welcome footnotes throughout – many references are no longer current. The opening poems refer to Breughel, but it is Jan, Breughel The Younger, known as Paradise Breughel, more famed for his flower and landscape pantings.

Alfred Giraud’s images are literary, whereas Federico Garcia Lorca’s are more tactile, drawn from oral sources and then transposed through surrealist techniques married to his own idiosyncratic responses.

There are many gems to be found in Pierrot Lunaire, make no mistake. It is a book to keep going back to again and again.

4

And now here’s my challenge to readers: have a go at the verse form, see how it works for you.

Here’s mine, one for the present times:

A Man From Wuhan

A man stands at his window
I wave, he does not wave back.
We chatted a day back;
He stands at his window.

The street is quiet down below
only TVs answer back.
The man is at his window,
I wave. He does not wave back.

That lull after they all go;
They cleared our block an hour back.
My wife, he‘d said… bad attack.
None come, one by one they go.
A man stands at his window.

There is a lot to be learned through imitation: compare the effects of my use of static verb-structures and tenses, and Alfred Giraud’s active, moving ones, for example.
Try it.

Keep well, my friends, and stay safe.

Blackbird Song

Posted: March 13, 2020 in John Stammers Page

Like mown grass, could the odour of this rose
carry the signature of its sufferings?
Degrees of sweetness a measuring-out of pain?

Like the revelling surges of a blackbird’s song
to a crow’s ear, is there always this fear
our best works register as ugliest, somewhere?

What Was It?

Posted: February 24, 2020 in John Stammers Page
Tags: , ,

‘Venetian ‘merchants’, besieging Athens’
their artillery scoring Acropolis hits. 
Imagine it.
                       Sneering; 
we were always good at that.
Commerce and culture, ‘Bean-counters, 
and creators, makers.
’ 
Both bear our scrutiny.

How these thin columns hold their lintel
of argument. The frieze of warriors
that overlays bare stone, chisel marks,
the industries of art – overlaying
the sophist’s forgotten blind alleys,
with only the successful, useful
remaining.

                    What was my argument, again?
I forget, my concentration overlaid 
by an artillery of marketing 
and contemporary concerns, moments.

The Nib:
/https://thenib.com/she-dared-to-be-herself-shirley-chisholm-s-legacy/

Kate Beaton just has to be a Canadian national treasure. Did I just write that? That is scary.
No, but her work does have this effect on you, making you feel among a privileged crowd of well-wishers in the comics world.

Her first published collection, Hark! A Vagrant (Montréal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2011, ISBN 978-1770460607), was a great success. And followed up with equal success, with her Step Aside, Pops!(Montréal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2015, ISBN 978-1770462083)


30 best Hark A Vagrant! – Kate Beaton images on Pinterest …


She has a gently barbed subject matter; the hissing feminist snake-women sneaking into your children’s bedrooms at night and tempting them, are very funny indeed.
http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=401
There is vicarious learning here too: Canadian historical hotspots are tackled, and gently parodied. She ranges throughout history and literature, on both sides of the Atlantic, and has a fine medieval archive of material as well.

http://www.harkavagrant.com

There is more dangerous territory out there in Canada, though.
Underground Comix brings you French-Canadian…

Julie Doucet.


She too has her own Wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julie_Doucet

Julie Doucet rambled onto New York streets on her art course, coming down from Quebec, to find there a kind of human zoo. The zoo was inhabited by chancers, losers, dreamers, and downright lost souls. And sometimes all in the one body at the same time. Her earliest (1980s onwards) comix were the Dirty Plotte series. And please do not ask what a ‘plotte’ is.

Her images can have an iconic stature. Unforgettable. This is woman’s territory, and it is as wayward as it goes.
What would I do if I had a penis? she wonders. I can unscrew the end and… keep things in it. Sure!
On her wilder days she uses the image of the old B-film Revenge of the 40 Foot Woman, to produce a truly memorable 40 Foot mentrual woman, half crazed, barely dressed, towering over the cramped streets of downtown, her pants drooling menstrual blood everywhere.
Something of Goya’s Colossus, there.

Fantastic Plotte! | mRb

mtlreviewofbooks.ca



The comics, and comix, world is a hard place for women.
Still.
In this day n age.
Why? What the… is the matter with people?

Money, and prestige.

If it’s to be made, you can bet the old primitive male drive got them there first. And they are holding those doors shut.
Comix? says Julie Doucet. There’s no living in it for a woman.

She, like Kate Beaton in her own way, has moved out from that earlier territory and is working out her way to new fields of creativity.

The Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi in Early Modern Europe, by Richard Scholar, Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 9780199274406

Richard Scholar is Fellow and Tutor in French, at Oriel College, Oxford.

The Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi in Early Modern Europe : Richard ...

In the realm of Philosophy ours has been called the age of the method. That is, method as the chosen vehicle with which we locate and explore our understanding of our position in the world.

What is the je ne sais quois? It is the inexpressible, the ‘I do not know what’ of a situation, event, and even, as Richard Scholar shows with Montaigne, of a relationship. Or, if you prefer, it is the ‘I know not what.’ In English there is the phrase he uses as subtitle of the book: a certain something – The Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi – Encounters with a Certain Something. This phrase pales against the French, though.

How can we know the je ne sais quoi? We can hunt out its provenance… this, after all, is accepted method. The phrase can be traced back to origins in the Cicero’s example of his use of the expression nescio quid: I do not know what. Richard Scholar qualifies, however: It owns its literary prestige partly to its Latin ancestor and its Romance cousins, but, unlike them, it goes on to establish itself as a vogue-word and an organising topic. (Page 25)

And there we have the tone and tenor of the book. We can trace the literary prestige of the phrase more easily than the vernacular usage. How prevalent was the phrase in ordinary/everyday usage? We would need to see how and if it was used in each and every instance in context, time, speech, manuscript, and print. And so he restricts his search to early modern Europe, examining its use in Montaigne, Corneille, Moliere, Descartes, Pascal, even Shakespeare.

Take those Englishings, above: the ‘I do not know what…’, and the ‘I know not what.’ The second is more succinct, comfortable; is more self-contained-seeming through its use of form. To our ears it has a sound-bite quality to it. The first seems more exploratory, more open, questing. The first expresses a vulnerability towards knowledge, self-knowledge – therefore a vulnerability before a greater, omniscient knowledge. In this way can we extrapolate therefore, a more theistic quality to it, whereas the latter has a more renaissance quality: more au-fait with classical rhetorical forms?
For me this gets to the heart of the question. I use the phrase ‘sound-bite’ etc – it is a contemporary journalistic phrase. Hopefully it will not be known in ten year’s time, as it was not say, twenty years’ ago. It limits. My worry is: do we limit our thinking to what we can only express in words, language? That would be a grievous error. I posit thought as experienced event, full of multiplying connections, and not as ordered and expressible formulation of the event.

Read the excerpt I gave above again; take, for instance, the need of the super-defining Latin writers of the phrase, nescio quid. Something even escapes their forensic practice. In fact, quite a lot did, And this is the fate of so much of our, Europe’s, early heritage, circumscribed by Latin thought, expression, and the vicissitudes of transmission.

In the sixteenth century France, Richard Scholar comments, the phrase became vogue; as with the later vogue for conversatione (see Peter Burke, The Art of Conversation, Cornell University paperbacks,1993:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Art-Conversation-Peter-Burke/)
it spread throughout Western Europe. It changed costume, definition, commercial value, as it crossed cultures.

David M Possner, Chicago University: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/212681, writes: The first part of the book presents itself as a word history: using Starobinski’s notion of the tripartite life cycle of a word — from its emergence as a lexical entity, through a period of currency, to its demise in what Merleau-Ponty calls sedimentation….

And so we have the burgeoning of the great dictionaries at the turn of the seventeenth century. The phrase cannot be so restricted, we find: it retains its ability to disturb, disrupt, by remaining indefinable. And so ‘society’ fights back. We have what is called a parlour game of polite conversation, where the new philosophical writing becomes a polite topic. The game is of nescioquiddity, of applying the phrase to ‘cultured’ phenomena, the world of gentility.

The move from ‘I know not what’, to ‘a certain something’ is a very definite, provocative one. Kant and the Age of Reason are taken wholesale, you might say, and produce their own particular paradigms for conceptualising the essence of the relationship of self and the world.

The phrase throws into relief our relationship with knowledge of the world, of self knowledge, and the relationship between: our basic epistemology.

With this book, and his next, Montaigne and the Art of Free-Thinking (Past in the Present): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Montaigne-Art-Free-Thinking-Past-Present/
Scholar enrolled himself in the realm of histoire des mentalites, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_mentalities
of cultural history’s  investigations.