Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2020: EPIDEMIC – Pt. 1 – Overview

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[L.Q. cover, quotes, and images are from Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2020: EPIDEMIC, except where noted.]
[Click or right-click on a photo may give the option to open it separately.]
[NEW to Lapham’s Quarterly? See the standard notes at the end of this review. After 45+ LQ summaries I jump right in.]

[This is a READING section, for those who may stumble in looking for photography. My summaries of the L.Q. historical journal continue.]

EPIDEMIC is here, finally. My digital, online reproduction, at least. Print copy should not be far behind.

Publication has been delayed three months, likely due to the pandemic/epidemic, which theme this issue explores. I’ve embarked on reading Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, in which I’m engrossed and enjoying. I will multi-task.

Let’s take a virtual leaf through the issue.

COVER: St. Martin Brings a Dead Man to Life, Flemish roundel, c. 1430. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975.

St. Martin art, per The Met:
“This roundel is a rare and splendid example of early fifteenth-century Franco-Flemish embroidery. The detailed pictorial design and luminous palette, created by colored silk and metallic threads, highlight the sophistication of this medium, which was so highly prized during this period.”

“In the year 361, Martin founded the monastery of Ligugé outside of Poitiers in France, one of the earliest monastic institutions in Europe. The present roundel depicts the saint having returned to the monastery from a journey, when he learned that a man, whom he was instructing in the Christian faith, had died unbaptized. According to a contemporary source, Martin “had the body brought to his cell and prostrated himself upon it, and by his prayer recalled the man to life.” The naked, decrepit, and outstretched body of the deceased man has parallels in contemporary Franco-Flemish painting and manuscript illumination. Martin’s miracle, the first of many performed by him, brought him widespread acclaim, and several years later, he was consecrated Bishop of Tours.”

As there are thousands of Catholic saints, and I believe we are in the Catholic realm here, I had a bit of difficulty pinpointing St. Martin, but it appears he is Martin of Toursthe specific miracle being described in this obscure, hard-to-load, outpost of the internet here, where it says “CHAPTER VII. Martin restores a Catechumen to Life.” 


The Voices In Time sections this issue are Outbreak, Containment, and Recovery. The parallels of the issue to the current global pandemic of COVID-19 need no explanation. I trust the world will stumble into Containment and Recovery as soon as possible.

A sampling of authors, just from the first ten extracts, shows the breadth of sources for L.Q. There is Ai Fen (Wuhan, 2019, notably), Lucretius, Friedrich Engels, Ibn al-Wardi, Samuel Pepys, Annals of the Kaqchikel, Jack London, Shi Daonan, and Willa Cather.

L.Q. p. 92

AMONG THE CONTRIBUTORS has comments, under a picture of each, on 19 authors in the issue. Vitruvius, Paul Klee, and Willa Cather are among the mentioned, though none of the notes explain their relation to epidemics.

This is followed, as always, by THE MAP, a two-page graphic representation of a theme-related topic. This issue it is ‘The Name Blame Game’, by long-time artist Haisam Hussein.

It notes, as COVID-19 has been called the Wuhan Flu and Chinese virus, influenza was called  Russian flu (1889) and Spanish flu (1918-19), yellow fever was called Barbados distemper (c. 1640) and Palatine fever (1793), and others. The map also traces the name blame for venereal disease from 1495-1530, “based on whoever was presumed to have introduced it”. “…evidence suggests it was brought back from the New World by returning conquistadors.” (p. 11)

THE PREAMBLE this issue is by guest writer Francine Prose, instead of, as usual, founder/editor Lewis Lapham. I trust he is well, as his seniority on the planet surpasses even my own.

Ms. Prose (her father’s surname, only coincidental that it denotes writing) wrote The Preamble in Lapham’s Quarterly Winter 2019: Night (on which I comment here ) and the extended essay Original Sin in Lapham’s Quarterly Winter 2010: Religion (discussing the suffering and subjugation of women since Eve was the temptress with the apple, a noteworthy essay in my opinion.)

For the uber-inquisitive, insights into Ms. Prose and her work can be found in Wikipedia and this obscure blog. Among her many acclaimed publications, What to Read and Why looks captivating:

‘In this brilliant collection, the follow-up to her New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer, the distinguished novelist, literary critic, and essayist celebrates the pleasures of reading and pays homage to the works and writers she admires above all others, from Jane Austen and Charles Dickens to Jennifer Egan and Roberto Bolaño.” (source)

The Preamble: Signs and Wonders, I will comment on next time.

L.Q. p. 43

SIDE-QUOTES proliferate throughout the entire issue. Examples:

“A dry cough is the trumpeter of death.” –English proverb (p. 17)

“What timid man does not avoid contact with the sick, fearing lest he contract a disease so near.” —Ovid, c. 10 (p. 26)

“Plagues are as certain as death and taxes.” –Richard Krause, c. 1982 (p. 31)

“‘Tis a portentous sign
When a man sweats and at the same time shivers.” –Plautus, c. 180BC (p. 48)


Quality reproductions of quality art and photos also proliferate. Essays and art are meticulously indexed at the end of the issue.

[As an aside, m’lady and I are are now six months into self-isolation to prevent catching COVID-19. We mingle a bit, we mask a lot. ‘Prisoner’ allusions come to mind. The Prisoner of Zenda. The Man In The Iron Mask. The Count of Monte Cristo? Epidemic.]


Considering the immediacy of current circumstances (COVID-19 in 2020), this issue should be enlightening.

We shall see.

The standard notes:
1. Since L.Q.’s inception with the Winter 2008 issue its size is always 7″ x 10″ x 1/2-17/32″. It is white-covered, printed on high quality paper throughout, with richly printed reproductions of fine art from time immemorial, and 221 pages up to a page or two of addenda at the back.
2. Each issue contains extracts about the title topic from great authors and thinkers spanning all recorded history. It begins with an eloquent, to a fault, preamble/introduction by editor Lewis Lapham. The main body is called Voices In Time and contains 3 or 4 subcategories of the topic with about 25 extracts per section. Noteworthy sidebars, side quotes, and depictions of appropriate art from the ages are liberally distributed throughout. Several extended contemporary essays bring up the rear. There are several other small sections every issue (Among the Contributors, Conversations, Miscellany, ‘The Graphic’).
3. Per the L.Q. website:
“Lapham’s Quarterly embodies the belief that history is the root of all education, scientific and literary as well as political and economic. Each issue addresses a topic of current interest and concern—war, religion, money, medicine, nature, crime—by bringing up to the microphone of the present the advice and counsel of the past.”
4. I encourage all to subscribe to this fine publication. It is a rich supplement to anyone’s reading.

2 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2020: EPIDEMIC – Pt. 1 – Overview

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