26 August 2016

The Great Man Theory

Frederic Harrison, The Meaning of History (New York: Macmillan, 1900) pp. 22-23:
There is one mode in which history may be most easily, perhaps most usefully, approached. Let him who desires to find profit in it, begin by knowing something of the lives of great men. Not of those most talked about, not of names chosen at hazard; but of the real great ones who can be shown to have left their mark upon distant ages. Know their lives, not merely as interesting studies of character, or as persons seen in a drama, but as they represent and influence their age. Not for themselves only must we know them, but as the expression and types of all that is noblest around them. Let us know those whom all men cannot fail to recognise as great —the Caesars, the Charlemagnes, the Alfreds, the Cromwells, great in themselves, but greater as the centre of the efforts of thousands.

We have done much towards understanding the past when we have learned to value and to honour such men. It is almost better to know nothing of history than to know with the narrow coldness of a pedant a record which ought to fill us with emotion and reverence. Our closest friends, our earliest teachers, our parents themselves, are not more truly our benefactors than they. To them we owe what we prize most — country, freedom, peace, knowledge, art, thought, and higher sense of right and wrong. What a tale of patience, courage, sacrifice, and martyrdom is the history of human progress! It affects us as if we were reading in the diary of a parent the record of his struggles for his children. For us they toiled, endured, bled, and died; that we by their labour might have rest, by their thoughts might know, by their death might live happily. For whom did these men work, if not for us?
I dedicate this post to the mandarins at Princeton University, who recently decreed that "gender-neutral terms" should be used instead of the generic term "man".

23 August 2016

A Country Walk

Arnold Haultain, Of Walks and Walking Tours (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1914), p. 214:
There comes a time when nothing seems worth while; when gaiety palls, and even sorrow dulls instead of stirs; when nothing seems of any use, and one feels inclined to give up, to give up. — To such I would say, pull on thick boots, clutch a stout stick, and go for a country walk — rain or shine. — It sounds a preposterous remedy, but try it. Nature never gives up. Not a pygmy weed, trodden under foot of man, and covered up and overwhelmed with rival growths, but battles for its life with vim. Nor does it ask for what it battles. Neither does it question why more favoured plants are so carefully nurtured, and it, poor thing, is dragged up by the roots. — Take a country walk, and look at the weeds if at nothing else.
Related Posts:

19 August 2016

Don't Write a Novel

Paul Fussell, Bad; The Dumbing of America (New York: Touchstone Books, 1991) p. 55:
If you want to be remembered as a clever person and even as a benefactor of humanity, don't write a novel, or even talk about it: instead, compile tables of compound interest, assemble weather data running back seventy-five years, or develop in tabular form improved actuarial information. All more useful than anything "creative" most people could come up with, and less likely to subject the author to neglect, if not ridicule and contempt. In addition, it will be found that most people who seek attention and regard by announcing that they're writing a novel are actually so devoid of narrative talent that they can't hold the attention of a dinner table for thirty seconds, even with a dirty joke.

16 August 2016

Practical Philosophers Among the Mice

James Thomson (1834-1882), "On the Worth of Metaphysical Systems," Essays and Phantasies (London: Reeves and Turner, 1881), p. 301:
Let us imagine a small colony of mice in a great cathedral, getting a poor livelihood out of Communion crumbs and taper-droppings. Could any of them by much deep speculation comprehend the origin, the plan, the purpose of the cathedral, the meaning of the altar, the significance of the ritual, the clashing of the bells, the ringing of the chants, the thunderous trepidations of the organ? Yet a mouse explaining the final causes of all these things would be incomparably less absurd than is a divine or sage expounding the mysteries of Nature or God. The discreeter mice would limit themselves to noticing and remembering that certain periods and ceremonies were marked by more numerous tapers burning, whence came more grease on the floor, and by noting the spots where grease did more abound. These would be the practical philosophers among the mice, positivists or utilitarians; and if while grease was to be had, other mice lost their time in demonstrating that the final cause of a great Church festival was to increase the harvest of taper-droppings for their species, these shrewder mice would not stay to dispute the point with them, but would be off to their jolly feast of Candlemas.

10 August 2016

A Higher Being

Richard Whately, Selections From the Writings of Dr. Whately  (London: Richard Bentley, 1856), p. 65:
He who knows two languages is a higher being than he who knows but one; and the more dissimilar the better.
A related post: An Exquisite Mistress 

9 August 2016

This Rare Species of Human Beings

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Joyful Wisdom (§ 42), in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, tr. Thomas Common (New York: Macmillan, 1911), pp. 78-79:
Work and Ennui. — In respect to seeking work for the sake of the pay, almost all men are alike at present in civilised countries; to all of them work is a means, and not itself the end; on which account they are not very select in the choice of the work, provided it yields an abundant profit. But still there are rarer men who would rather perish than work without delight in their labour: the fastidious people, difficult to satisfy, whose object is not served by an abundant profit, unless the work itself be the reward of all rewards. Artists and contemplative men of all kinds belong to this rare species of human beings; and also the idlers who spend their life in hunting and travelling, or in love-affairs and adventures. They all seek toil and trouble in so far as these are associated with pleasure, and they want the severest and hardest labour, if it be necessary. In other respects, however, they have a resolute indolence, even should impoverishment, dishonour, and danger to health and life be associated therewith. They are not so much afraid of ennui as of labour without pleasure; indeed they require much ennui, if their work is to succeed with them. For the thinker and for all inventive spirits ennui is the unpleasant "calm" of the soul which precedes the happy voyage and the dancing breezes; he must endure it, he must await the effect it has on him: — it is precisely this which lesser natures cannot at all experience!
Die fröhliche Wissenschaft  is in Vol. 12 of the Musarion edition of Nietzsche's works but it is one of the volumes I have yet to find online. So for the original, see Vol. 5 of Alfred Kröner's edition (Stuttgart, 1921), pp. 78-79.

Related posts:

4 August 2016

Seek Not Your Fortune in the Dark, Dreary Mine

Gustave Abel, Le labeur de la prose (Paris: P.-V. Stock, 1902), pp. 42-43:
Ce qui est vraiment indispensable [when writing], c'est d'avoir à sa disposition un arsenal de mots assez fourni pour que l'on puisse y trouver, à point nommé, l'expression la plus appropriée à sa pensée et traduire les nuances les plus délicates du sentiment. L'écrivain qui sait tirer le meilleur parti de sa langue est celui qui en a dévoilé tous les secrets. Elle ressemble à une mine qui ne consent à livrer ses richesses qu'au prix des plus grands efforts. Mais dès qu'on a trouvé le filon et extrait le métal précieux, dès que les trésors s'offrent à profusion, l'Art sort triomphant des luttes qu'il a fallu soutenir. Le lecteur se doute rarement des fatigues intellectuelles qui sont cachées dans chaque ligne, dans chaque mot des œuvres qu'il admire le plus. Il n'a pas assisté au labeur déployé, à la lente préparation, à la ciselure patiente! Il ignore les veilles et les insomnies que ces pages ont parfois coûtées à leur auteur. Mais qu'importent les déboires et les souffrances qu'entraîne cette culture intensive de l'esprit si l'on sent en soi les forces voulues pour créer une belle floraison littéraire?

2 August 2016

The Enemies of Books

Edmond Werdet, Histoire du livre en France (Paris: E. Dentu, 1851), translated and quoted by William Blades in The Enemies of Books (London: Trübner & Co., 1880), pp. 43-44:
The Poet Boccacio, when travelling in Apulia, was anxious to visit the celebrated Convent of Mount Cassin, especially to see its library of which he had heard much. He accosted, with great courtesy, one of the Monks whose countenance attracted him, and begged him to have the kindness to show him the library.

'See for yourself,' said the Monk, brusquely, pointing at the same time to an old stone staircase, broken with age. Boccace hastily mounted in great joy at the prospect of a grand bibliographical treat. Soon he reached the room which was without key or even door as a protection to its treasures. What was his astonishment to see that the grass growing in the window sills actually darkened the room, and that all the books and seats were an inch thick in dust. In utter astonishment he lifted one book after another. All were manuscripts of extreme antiquity, but all were dreadfully dilapidated. Many had lost whole sections which had been violently extracted, and in many all the blank margins of the vellum had been cut away. In fact, the mutilation was thorough.

Grieved at seeing the work and the wisdom of so many illustrious men fallen into the hands of custodians so unworthy, Boccace descended with tears in his eyes. In the cloisters he met another Monk, and enquired of him how the MSS. had become so mutilated. 'Oh!' he replied, 'we are obliged, you know, to earn a few sous for our needs, so we cut away the blank margins of the Manuscripts for writing upon, and make of them small books of devotion which we sell to women and children.'

26 July 2016

The Worm Hole

Joseph Kaspar Sattler (1867-1931), "Der Wurmstich," Ein moderner Totentanz  (Berlin: J.A. Stargardt, 1912), p. 9:

21 July 2016

Translations Must Be Attempted

Arthur Jerome Eddy, Delight, the Soul of Art (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1902), pp. 35-36:
Translations must be attempted; they have their uses, but their value must not be over-estimated. In scientific, historical, and philosophical works their value is in proportion to the faithfulness with which they translate the exact language and intention of the original; and there are literal translations of poems, the sole aim of which is to render as exactly and literally as possible the words and meanings of the originals, but such translations are not in themselves works of art. The translator may delight in what he is so ploddingly and accurately and conscientiously accomplishing, but he delights not in either the thought or the manner of expressing the thought. There are, however, translations which are works of art, translations in which the translator delighted in both the thought and its expression, in which his own individuality is given full play. Such a translation is Fitzgerald's rendering of the "Rubaiyat" of Omar Khayyam. That Khayyam lived at Nishapur in the beginning of the twelfth century is known; that he was a tent-maker and an astronomer is also known; but what he really believed no man knows, and whether he belonged to this sect or that sect no man can tell; according to some, his poems contain mystic allusions to the Deity; according to others, he meant simply what he said and sang, the Epicurean philosophy, eat, drink, for to-morrow ye die. But what the Persian tent-maker really thought was of less importance to Fitzgerald than his own reflections suggested by the original. The original appealed to him; he accepted the old tent-maker at his word, and took delight in rendering in his own manner the original as he understood it; and yet with his translation he took infinite pains. He himself said, "I suppose very few people have ever taken such pains in translation as I have, though certainly not to be literal."

Edmund Dulac
Illustration for quatrain XII of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
(New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1909)