More highly evolved

BROOKLYN—Peanut, the chewtoy monkey, took steps this morning to reassure friends of his liberal credentials, after a photograph appeared in the New York Times of a similar monkey involved in a protest action against gay marriage in Missouri.

Peanut denies any contact with the Missouri monkey, who is thought to be a hand puppet.

A chihuahua close to Peanut said she accepted Peanut’s explanation. The chihuahua asked not to be named. A mixed-breed dog seemed at first to welcome Peanut’s statement, but then threatened to rend and disembowel the plushy monkey, removing his squeaky and stuffing. Analysts suggest, however, that this threat may not be related to the mixed-breed’s sociopolitical beliefs.

Be still, my throbbing heart

In John Augustus Stone’s melodrama Metamora; or, the Last of the Wampanoags, first performed in 1829, the heroine Oceana is so concerned about her lover, Walter, that she indulges in an aside: “Be still my throbbing heart.” Today a variant of the line—“Be still, my beating heart”—is a well circulated cliché. Was Metamora the coining of it? After a quick check of Bartlett’s and a brief poke through the database Literature Online, I suspect that it was. Of course, to prove that a phrase has no antecedent is to prove an absolute negative, which is awfully hard; a single counterexample will topple my hypothesis.

But if I’m right, then the turn of phrase permeated the culture without the assistance of print, because the play was never published while it was popular. The star of Metamora, Edwin Forrest, awarded a prize to the play’s author, and he considered that by paying the prize money he had purchased the play’s copyright. To ensure that it would not serve as a star vehicle for anyone else, Forrest prevented publication, and he prevented it so well that the play didn’t appear in print until 1941. In fact, act 4—the one that contains the line “Be still my throbbing heart”—didn’t appear in print until 1962.

In The Name of War, scholar Jill Lepore notes that lines from Metamora “became household words,” quoted by boys playing Indian and sentimental Americans of all ages. So it seems plausible, if exceptional, that the beating-heart line might have entered the popular linguistic subconscious by no other means than being spoken from stage.

Iraqi fauna

Pictures taken today in Al Hillah, Iraq, by T. R. Klysa, USMC, while in search of electrical equipment and plumbers for the repair of an elementary school. (Since I posted much starker images from Iraq ten days ago, I think it would be karmically imbalanced of me if I didn’t post these milder ones now. But it’s evident from the number of hits to this blog, then vs. now, that people are more interested in the fallout of battle than in facilities for schoolchildren.)

Left: “Boy with turkey, near the Al Hillah covered market.” April 29, 2003. Right:“Street sign, Al Hillah. Telephone/electrical wires obscuring view.” April 29, 2003.