Saturday, February 4, 2017

No mayonnaise in Ireland*

*attributed to an author named Will Stanton in a 1971 article in Reader's Digest.

I hope this post won't be too esoteric for you, dear reader, but if it is, it simply can't be helped.

If the title alone seems pretty esoteric, let me explain. It is one of the most famous lines the English poet John Donne ever wrote, expressed in our old friend Anguish Languish.

I'll prove it to you. In 1623, in an essay we know as Meditation XVII, Donne wrote:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

You see what Will Stanton did there. No mayonnaise in Ireland. This is where you laugh politely or groan and roll your eyes, whichever you feel is more appropriate.

Which brings us to Yorkshire Pudding's riddle.

In his spare time my cyberfriend Yorkshire Pudding likes to take long walks in his native Yorkshire and then blog about them afterward. He recently posted the following:

"On the edge of Low Bradfield I came across [a] disused building. I thought it was an old barn but then I spotted an early nineteenth century plaque above one of the doors. It reads like this "1826/ Rebuilt at the Curate's sole cost./Nemo soli sibi natus". Translated, the Latin phrase means "Nobody is born alone". Why would such a plaque appear on a barn? I have been unable to solve this riddle."

I shall now attempt to solve Yorkshire Pudding's riddle, "Why would such a plaque appear on a barn?"

The phrase "Nobody is born alone" had a familiar ring. It reminded me of a somewhat similar statement in the fourteenth chapter of the book of Romans in the New Testament:

7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.

Here it is in the Vulgate, the fourth-century Latin version of the Bible:

7 Nemo enim nostrum sibi vivit, et nemo sibi moritur.

In context, the passage turns out to be all about the Lord (surprise, surprise!) as the next verse says, "Whoever lives lives unto the Lord, and whoever dies dies unto the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's." Since many who read this blog are atheist, however, we will not go down this road any further.

I do definitely think, however, that the sentiment on the barn plaque has its roots in the passage from Romans.

In my research I discovered that the same quotation, Nemo soli sibi natus (Nobody is born alone), was also placed over the church door in Ecclesfield in 1695. The following is from page 202 of The History of the Parish of Ecclesfield: In the County of York:

"[Vicar Edward Mansel] also rebuilt the parsonage-house in 1695, over the door of which he placed this inscription, which, or a copy of it, is still just within the entrance of the present Vicarage:

Edward Mansel. Vicar 1695.
Nemo Soli Sibi Natus.
Vivat Rex.
Floreat Ecclesia.

He also gave 50£ towards building a parsonage at Bradfield, and left a still more substantial bequest of about fifteen acres of land to his successors,...."

Of course the vicar in 1695 in Ecclesfield and the curate in 1826 who had the plaque affixed to the barn in Bradfield cannot possibly be the same person, but the quotation from The History Of Ecclesfield does reveal a connection between Ecclesfield and Bradfield, especially where curates (or vicars) are concerned.

The Bradfield structure with the 1826 plaque was very likely once a barn. Interestingly enough, I also found the following on p. 247 of Topographical and Statistical Description of the County of Devon, a book by G.A. Cooke, Esq., in 1825:

"A tablet in the [Brixton] churchyard wall records the planting of an ancient grove of lofty elms, in 1677, by Edmund Fortesque, Esq., of Spriddlestone, who ordained that they should be sold, when mature, and the products applied to the relief of the parochial poor. The motto on this stone, "Nemo sibi soli natus;" "No man is born alone for himself," is most appropriate to every planter; and should be remembered by all, as an antidote to selfishness, and an incentive to benevolence." (emphasis mine)

The plaques in Bradfield and Ecclesfield and Brixton are meant to remind us all that we should not keep our blessings (our produce, our grain, our lumber) to ourselves but share them with others for the benefit of the whole community. Perhaps we are meant for neither dependence nor independence but for a mutually recognized inter-dependence.

John Donne was right. No man is an island. Or as you can still find in certain parts of England, Nemo sibi soli natum.

P.S. -- It is also true literally and cannot be denied that no one is born alone. A mother is always somewhere in the vicinity.


  1. We must take care of each other. At the same time I do not believe in sacrificing myself for someone else. If I want to keep the ability to share I must be in a position to do so. I was not born alone and I will not live alone but I alone take responsibility for me.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful reflections on the plaque and for your research. If you appear in Bradfield (not Bradford) I will be happy to show you the plaque and then lead you to either "The Plough" or "The Old Horns Inn" for lunch and to quaff foaming pints of English beer. I will also arrange a private visit to St Nicholas's - Bradfield's parish church - which enjoys a lovely position overlooking The Loxley Valley. There you can play on the church organ and chat with the vicar about biblical matters and suchlike.

  3. Thank you, Emma, for your excellent comment. You are correct in that wanting to share requires the wherewithal to do so. Wishing will not make it so.

    Yorkshire Pudding, I don't know how Bradfield transmogrified itself into Bradford in my post, but thank you for calling it to my attention! I have made the corrections and all is well once again in rhymeswithplagueland.

  4. P.S. to Lord Pudding: You are a gentleman and a scholar and an undoubtedly gracious host. If and when I ever make another trip to your green and pleasant land I will happily accept your very kind offer, and though it may never happen it's the thought that counts.

  5. Great post, I love some of John Donne's work, and that tickled me some. The rest is as fascinating as you get which is quite a lot. I so enjoy your posts about words, oddities with them. Well done to Mr Pudding for finding and telling us about the odd sign as well.

  6. An apposite if somewhat esoteric post. Apposite not because of the import of the original reference which I had always taken to mean that everyone is born with God but because no man can live without affecting or being affected by others. Nowadays this is a truth more than ever.