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Document number: 5914
Date: 23 Dec 1839
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: THIRLWALL Newell Connop
Collection: British Library, London, Manuscripts - Fox Talbot Collection
Last updated: 15th July 2010

Kirby Underdale
Decr 23. 1839

My dear Sir

I am almost afraid that you will think me pertinacious when you find me replying to a letter which contains so many incontrovertible propositions as your last. But the more I am obliged to assent to them the more strongly I am tempted to remark that they seem to me not at all to affect the opinions which I have advanced. That true history begins somewhere is a principle to which I most readily subscribe, and it is because I hold it that I object to the conclusion which you would draw from the story of Arion <1> with regard to Periander: <2> for if that conclusion is adopted I do not see how true history ever can begin anywhere not only because each generation is in part contemporary with that which immediately precedes it, but because there never yet has been an age of the world without such marvellous stories connected with the names and history of real persons. I am however not quite sure whether I understood your meaning when you spoke of the suspicion which the story about Arion threw on the history of Periander. No doubt if everything related by Herodotus <3> about Arion is fabulous, that part of his story in which the name of Periander occurs must be so too. I presume that you meant something more than this which would be a mere truism. But still I do not know whether you may have meant anything more than that the story of Arion is a proof that fiction might have been mixt up with the history of Periander. And this I should not deny nor indeed should I have wanted the story of Arion to prove it. But what if I recollect right I asserted in my last letter was that the falshood [sic] of this story cannot throw the slightest shade of suspicion on any part of the history of Periander which would otherwise have been credible: and I must still maintain that if it could, there would be an end of all historical certainty. What a number of marvellous stories are told of many of the sophists who were patronised by the emperor Julian? <4> [sic] It was the fame of the miracles wrought by S. Francesco de Paola <5> that induced Louis XI <6> to send for him to his court. No one I should think would say that this throws any suspicion on the history of these two princes. If it did, then it would be equally impossible to rely on the history of Napoleon: for we know how many transactions he had with Pope Pius VII, <7> of whom things no less marvellous than the story of Arion were related in his life time. I remember that during his Pontificate I saw at Rome in a shopwindow a print which represented the Pope during his confinement at Savona <8> as lifted up from the ground in an ecstasy while he prayed before the altar a marvel by the bye which occurs in the life of at least one of Julians sophists. The story of Arion may prove that there was a great deal of ignorance and credulity in his age and country: but I am not at all sure that there was more I mean to say grosser, ignorance and credulity than may be found at this day in the same land. Perhaps the chief difference between our views as to the story of Arion may be this. You appear to consider it as a mythical story, and so as characteristic of a mythical or partially mythical age. To me it does not appear in any such light. It rested indeed on the basis of the Greek religious belief: but I see no reason whatever for supposing that it sprang out of it. According to Welckers <9> hypothesis it would have been merely a product of poetical invention: but in whatever way it arose it might certainly have been formed and have gained credit many centuries later. Pausanias <10> not only professed to believe it, but attested one equally incredible as having come within his own knowledge (iii. 25.7)

As to the affinity between and , I do not dispute it: the only question is whether this general fact is sufficient to render your conjecture as to the derivation of probable. To me it seems utterly inadequate to that purpose. If I had occasion to examine the instances you have collected, I should observe that you do not seem to discriminate between cases which are totally unlike one another. E.g. those of depend upon the principle of euphony which rendered it necessary to avoid an accumulation of aspirates. Then again I certainly know no reason why there should not in the same language be several forms of one word differing only by a single letter or the omission of an aspirate. But the question is whether I am to believe that the word , which, in all its numerous derivations, and even in the Ionic dialect, preserves its aspirate, should in one single instance have dropped it, and thus have given rise to the word , which likewise came into general use in a totally different sense. This appears to me so improbable that I could only be induced to admit it for the sake of escaping from some greater difficulty, which could be shewn to arise from the received opinion on the subject

Believe me My dear Sir Very truly yours
C Thirlwall

H. F. Talbot Esqe
Lacock Abbey


1. Semilegendary Greek poet and musician ( fl.c.625BC). See Doc. No: 05899.

2. The 2nd tyrant of Corinth (625585BC), often represented as a despot but under whose successful rule the citystate flourished. He invited Arion to Corinth. See Encycl. Brit.

3. Greek historian (c.484425BC). See Encycl. Brit.

4. Flavius Claudius Julianus (c.332363).

5. San Francesco de Paola (1416-1507) was later appointed the patron saint of Italian seamen.

6. Louis XI (14231483), king of France.

7. Luigi Barnaba Chiaramonti (17401823), Pope Pius VII

8. by Napoleon Buonaparte (17691821).

9. Friedrich Gottlieb Welcker (17841868); pioneer archaeologist who insisted that study of Greek religion and art should be coordinated with that of philology.

10. Greek geographer ( fl.2ndcentury AD), who included history/mythology in his Description of Greece.

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