possible citation of possible interest

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Mon Aug 14 13:37:03 UTC 2000

On Fri, 11 Aug 2000, Laurence Horn wrote:

> This question came up on another list--
> ============
> I'm trying to trace an authoritative source for the remark, alleged to
> have been made by that King [James I] when he first saw St Paul's Cathedral:
> "How monstrous, awful, and artificial" - all terms then used in a
> favourable way (for an impressively large, awe-inspiring, work of art)
> but now derogatory.

Clearly it couldn't have been James I who said this.  Nigel Rees covers
it in the June 1996 issue of his "Quote...Unquote" newsletter.  Rees
says that King James II, among others, is said to have praised St. Paul's
as "amusing, awful, and artificial."  Rees writes:  "Simeon Potter
mentioned in Our Language (1976) that 'When King James II observed that
the new St. Paul's Catherdral was amusing, awful, and artificial, he
implied that Sir Christopher Wren's creation was 'pleasing, awe-inspiring,
and skillfully achieved.' ... A request to the Librarian of St. Paul's
(the aptly-named J. Joseph Wisdom) failed ... to turn up an original
source for the remark."

Personally, I find this anecdote puzzling, since one-third of it seems to
depend on the word "amusing" being a negative word in contemporary speech,
whereas, as far as I know, to call a building "amusing" would be a
compliment nowadays.  Another way to put my point is that I don't think
"amusing" is a word that has changed its meaning much over the centuries.
Or, if it has changed its meaning, it has changed in the opposite
direction, from a negative signification (see OED, sense 1) to a positive

Fred Shapiro

Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
Associate Librarian for Public Services     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
  and Lecturer in Legal Research            Yale University Press,
Yale Law School                             forthcoming
e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu

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