Monday, April 07, 2014


On 23 February, 2009 I asked readers of Lost Legacy a question which had stumped me regarding an obscure phrase:
A Query for Wordsmiths
Does anybody know what William Magee, Bishop of Dublin, may have meant in 1809 by the words ‘scolists and whitlings’?”
I didn’t receive an answer and the quesiton faded from my mind. Last Month, out of the blue so to speak, a reader (Michael Horn)  answered my query and I post his answer below:
I think Magee's title was Archbishop of Dublin.
Being intellectually arrogant, I had to have a crack at the question that you posed five years ago, so I may as well submit it, belatedly.
Scolist” is a typographical error for “Scotist”, the name given to the philosophical and theological system or school named after John Duns Scotus, a Catholic priest (c.1265-1308). The error probably arises via faulty character recognition of scanned pages of old books.
If you Google the words “Scolists and Thomists” you will see many examples where “Scolist” is obviously intended to be “Scotist” – for example”
“Dominicans, the Franciscans, the Benedictines, the Scolists, the Thomists, the monks . . .”
“His opposition to Thomas gave rise to the parties called Thomists and Scolists (q. v.), whose controversies became peculiarly warm, when Scotus declared ...”
These documents were originally printed in a font type that character recognition software misinterprets. In many cases where the print is an image of the original, although the search engine finds the word “Scolist, the image of the word is “Scotists”. Look at, for example:
A History of the Church: From Its Establishment to the Present Century Charles Constantine Pise - 1830 - Church history... surnamed the subtle doctor, whose speculative opinions were opposed to those of S. Thomas : and hence the origin of the Scolists and Thomists. (2) Spondan ..
On the matter of “whitling”, I am unsure, but I will venture a possible meaning – it should be "witeling", one tormented in hell.  It is sometimes used by computer-gamers and writers of other-world fantasies to mean a devil.
The words “wight, white and “wite” are easily confused.  One of the number of related meanings for the word “wite” is “Punishment, penalty; pain inflicted in punishment or torture, especially the torments of hell. If you take the meaning “punishment in hell”, then adding the suffix “ling” would mean souls consigned to be punished in hell, as the suffix is used in the sense that it is used in words like “Earthling”and “sibling” (“sib” means family in Old English).  As an aside, in Dutch the word for "white" is "wit" pronounced "vit" and the adjective is "witte" pronounced vitta, so a "witteling" means an albino. 
Here again, character recognition software may throw up a word that a spellchecker flags as wrong, and then an earthling with indifferent language skill decides what the word should be. As with “Scolism”, Archbishop Magee may not have written “whitling”.  If you can find a scanned image of those words, it may be worth checking what was actually printed originally.
Michael Horn
PS I enjoyed reading Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations when I was in my early 20s, and I have in the intervening fifty years read it twice again. I have only read about a hundred books in my 60-year reading life, so to have read a weighty tome thrice says something about the quality of the author. I have never read any of Friedrich Hayek's writing, but I listened to two lectures that he gave, which seemed to put him in the Adam Smith camp. Hayek had experienced much officious interference in Austria in his younger days where he witnessed the negative effects of rent controll, and unlike Keynes, he did not favour an economic system run by officials. Via the Adelsaufhebungsgesetz of 1919 (Law on the Abolition of Nobility) Von Hyek and Von Mises last the “Von” in their surnames – so much for officiousness. I have not thought much about it, but I think the most meaningful difference between Hayek and Keynes was that the latter had a naive trust in the goodwill of officialdom, as one may expect from an Etonian whose Civil Service career started in the India Office, whereas Hayek mistrusted them.”
The response speaks for itself and I am most grateful for the effort of my correspondent, Michael Horn.  At this distance, I am red-faced ashamed to admit, that I have forgotten why I was searching for the meaning of ‘scolists and whitlings’ in 2009.  It was important to me at the time but some memory loss is both annoying and inconvenient.
Nevertheless, I am most obliged for the answer and for the short biographical history of Michael Horn, my correspondent.  Such erudition and interesting commentary on Friedrich Hayek and Mises (and a footnote on Keyne’s attitude to ‘officialdom’ suggests a rich life in the Republic of Letters in his “60 year reading life” for a man in his “early 70s”.  
Behind the veil of his modesty is someone whom I would be pleased to meet for a long conversation …



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