24 April 2015

A More Refined Race

Angelica Garnett, Deceived With Kindness (London: Pimlico, 1995), p. 69:
Vanessa [Bell] was an ardent Francophile and believed that the French were vastly superior to the English in all departments of practical life: better mechanics, electricians, dressmakers, cooks, better at inventing domestic gadgets, at making easels, stretchers, canvases, and paints. So sensible to have paperback books, to dress their children in black pinafores and allow them to stay up late, to have invented the siesta and go to market every day returning with such delicious bread, to have invented champagne, Petit Larousse and mayonnaise. She could not say their plumbing was as good as that of the English (those were the days when there was often no more than a hole in the ground and usually a smell of human excrement near one's picnic site), but in every other way they were a more refined race, not least in their sympathy for artists.
A related post: The French

22 April 2015

A Barbaric Act

Theodore Dalrymple, The Pleasure of Thinking (London: Gibson Square Books, 2012), pp. 36-37:
Because of the importance, one might almost say the sacred quality, of books in the development and transmission of our civilisation, the wilful destruction of books has always appeared a barbaric act. If we saw a man deliberately tearing a book to shreds, even one without any great value, a trashy novel say, we would think him a brute. But the destruction of books en masse by the public authorities has never augured well for civilization, let alone for freedom.
I am reminded of the federal government's purge of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries last year. See here and here.

17 April 2015

Don't Look Back

William Osler, A Way of Life (London: Constable, 1913), pp. 27-28
As a vaccine against all morbid poisons left in the system by the infections of yesterday, I offer "a way of life." "Undress," as George Herbert says, "your soul at night," not by self-examination, but by shedding, as you do your garments, the daily sins whether of omission or of commission, and you will wake a free man, with a new life. To look back, except on rare occasions for stock-taking, is to risk the fate of Lot's wife. Many a man is handicapped in his course by a cursed combination of retro- and intro-spection, the mistakes of yesterday paralysing the efforts of to-day, the worries of the past hugged to his destruction, and the worm Regret allowed to canker the very heart of his life.
Thomas Eakins, Retrospection (1880)
A related post: Forget, Don't Forgive

14 April 2015

Systematically Ascetic or Heroic

William James, Principles Of Psychology, Vol. 1 (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1918), pp. 126-127:
Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically ascetic or heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than that you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. Asceticism of this sort is like the insurance which a man pays on his house and goods. The tax does him no good at the time, and possibly may never bring him a return. But if the fire does come, his having paid it will be his salvation from ruin. So with the man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things. He will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and when his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.

10 April 2015

Depressingly Scientific

Barbara Pym, Excellent Women (London: Penguin Classics, 2006), p. 78:
'These are quite obviously the books that nobody reads,' said Rocky, studying their titles. 'But it's a comfort to know that they are here if you ever should want to read them. I'm sure I should find them more entertaining than the more up-to-date ones. Wild Beasts and their Ways; Five Years with the Congo Cannibals; With Camera and Pen in Northern Nigeria; Sunshine and Storm in Rhodesia. I wish people still wrote books with titles like that. Nowadays I believe it simply isn't done to show a photograph of "The Author with his Pygmy Friends" — we have become too depressingly scientific.'

9 April 2015

A Brief Parenthesis

Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Fragment XXIX, "Insignificance of the World," Poems (London: William Pickering, 1851) p. 116:
Why what's the world and time? a fleeting thought
In the great meditating universe,
A brief parenthesis in chaos.

7 April 2015

Sadder and Wiser

Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism (New York: Vintage Books, 2006), pp. 108-109:
It's a disturbing idea, that depressed people see reality correctly while non-depressed people distort reality in a self-serving way. As a therapist I was trained to believe that it was my job to help depressed patients both to feel happier and to see the world more clearly. I was supposed to be the agent of happiness and of truth. But maybe truth and happiness antagonize each other. Perhaps what we have considered good therapy for a depressed patient merely nurtures benign illusions, making the patient think his world is better than it actually is. There is considerable evidence that depressed people, though sadder, are wiser.
A related post: Enivrez-Vous

2 April 2015

The Cup of Life

A. C. Benson, The Joyous Gard, (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1913), pp. 211-212:
One must not use life like the Passover feast, to be eaten with loins girded and staff in hand. It is there to be lived, and what we have to do is to make the quality of it as fine as we can.
We must provide then, if we can, a certain setting for life, a sufficiency of work and sustenance, and even leisure; and then we must give that no further thought. How many men do I not know, whose thought seems to be "when I have made enough money, when I have found my place, when I have arranged the apparatus of life about me, then I will live as I should wish to live." But the stream of desires broadens and thickens, and the leisure hour never comes!
We must not thus deceive ourselves. What we have to do is to make life, instantly and without delay, worthy to be lived. We must try to enjoy all that we have to do, and take care that we do not do what we do not enjoy, unless the hard task we set ourselves is sure to bring us something that we really need. It is useless thus to elaborate the cup of life, if we find, when we have made it, that the wine which should have filled it has long ago evaporated.
A related post: Retirement Planning

31 March 2015

Portrait of the Artist as a Snail

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, A Painter's Camp (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1882), p. 244:
In my opinion, a snail is the perfect type of what an artist upon his travels ought to be. The snail goes alone and slowly, at quite a rational pace; stops wherever he feels inclined, and carries his house with him. Only I fear that the snail does not give that active attention to the aspects of nature which ought to be the constant habit of the artist. 

27 March 2015

The Heaviest of Responsibilities

D. H. Lawrence, The White Peacock (London: William Heinemann, 1911), pp. 432-433:
Having reached that point in a woman's career when most, perhaps all of the things in life seem worthless and insipid, she had determined to put up with it, to ignore her own self, to empty her own potentialities into the vessel of another or others, and to live her life at second hand. This peculiar abnegation of self is the resource of a woman for the escaping of the responsibilities of her own development. Like a nun, she puts over her living face a veil, as a sign that the woman no longer exists for herself: she is the servant of God, of some man, of her children, or may be of some cause. As a servant, she is no longer responsible for her self, which would make her terrified and lonely. Service is light and easy. To be responsible for the good progress of one's life is terrifying. It is the most insufferable form of loneliness, and the heaviest of responsibilities.