Back in the forties and fifties [and maybe even in the thirties] the secretary of the Harvard Philosophy Department was a lovely woman named Ruth Allen who seemed to be the embodiment of the collective memory of the department. At a department meeting during my brief stint as a lowly Instructor in Philosophy and General Education a question came up about whether something or other could be done in conformity with Harvard's rules. No one knew the answer, and a question was dispatched to Ruth Allen to see whether she knew. Back came the answer, Yes, that could be done. When one sceptical member of the department asked on what precedent she based this judgment, her answer was, Something she had decided to do in an earlier year! Shades of the U. S. Supreme Court.
Earlier today I was turning over in my mind an idea for a blog post. I wanted to use as a title the lovely phrase, "shit to airy fineness spun," which I recalled as coming from Alexander Pope's great eighteenth century attack on his fellow poets, The Dunciad. "I had better check exactly where it appears in The Dunciad," I thought to myself, so I googled the phrase. Only one site popped up: My own blog from 2010, where I used the phrase in my rumination on leftwing cant, "Macros and PC's."
A trifle panicked, I found an online edition of The Dunciad and did a search. Nothing for "shit to airy fineness spun." Nothing for "airy fineness." "Nothing even for "spun!" Now I know that I did not make up the phrase. I really did not. But no amount of Googling ever turns up anything but my own blog.
I have turned into Ruth Allen.