24 June 2016

Walking

Arthur Hugh Sidgwick, Walking Essays (London: Edward Arnold, 1912), pp. 177-178:
There is no human relation which walking cannot promote: with whomsoever you would be friends, you must first do the things in which walking so conspicuously assists — that is, you must clear the brain of feathers and fireworks, settle the mind well back on itself, and link the present firmly on to the past. For some, maybe, the aged and infirm, the walking days are over; and to these you can only talk. But you will find, if you are fortunate, that you are not debarred from their friendship. It is not only that they may speak to you of the walks of their youth, enlarging the distances and diminishing the times, for the abasement of the present generation, while you sit admiring the kindly law of nature by which memory passes so easily into imagination. Even if they have not been walkers, there is still a kinship between you; for the sixtieth year is like the eighteenth mile — the point at which you settle into your stride for the last stage, and the essence of the preceding miles begins to distil itself in your brain, emerging clear and translucent from the turbid mass of experience. Remember the metaphor which Socrates used to Cephalus. 'I love,' he said, 'talking to the very old; for, it seems to me, we ought to ask them, as men far advanced on a track which we too may have to walk, what it is like, rough and difficult or easy and smooth.' 

21 June 2016

L'honnête homme

Émile Amiel in the preface to his biography of Erasmus (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1889), pp. vi-vii (my translation):
In our utilitarian age people have said and repeated in every way that higher education, as it has been constituted since the sixteenth century, no longer meets the needs of democracy, which lives, they say, upon industry, trade, and agriculture. This is only true up to a point; it has not been demonstrated that the study of letters, properly understood, is inappropriate for these three sources of wealth. Nor has it been shown that a scholar, blessed with a sharp mind, is unsuited to business. However, these are two ways of misunderstanding the question. Besides the fact that man does not live by bread alone, our opponents forget the paramount thing, namely that college does not and should not claim to prepare students to take up lucrative careers immediately. This is the job of technical schools. College only seeks to accomplish one thing, namely the regular and concurrent development of all the faculties. For the mind as for the body it should be a plain gymnasium in the Greek sense of the word, where the wrestler prepares himself for the struggle of life. In the simplest terms, it is a training ground where the mind learns to learn. It need not be concerned about the immediate application of knowledge, which is the responsibility of graduate or professional schools. The humanities are intended to form what in the seventeenth century was known as l'honnête homme, which is to say a gentleman in the literary and moral sense, one able to take his place in a society he is called to serve according to his own lights. Let us ask no more of them.
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18 June 2016

Hallmark Holidays

Roland Jaccard, La tentation nihiliste (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1989), my translation:
Wanting to have have children is wanting to take revenge for one's past. For a woman it is to make a gift of her hate to her own mother and for a man it is to compete with his father or with God in the idiotic fantasy of posterity. And for each couple it is a remedy for despair. When life has failed to live up to our expectations, when we have given up on our own self-creation, when we have the foreboding thought that everything is fucked, instead of heading off to the morgue we gather our family and those who are close to us in a place that is even more sinister because it is more vulgar: motherhood.

Vouloir des enfants, c'est vouloir se venger de son passé. C'est pour la femme faire don à sa propre mère de sa haine et pour l'homme rivaliser avec son père ou avec Dieu dans le fantasme imbécile d'une postérité. Et c'est pour chaque couple un remède au désespoir. Quand la vie a trompé nos attentes, quand on a renoncé à se créer soi-même, quand on pressent que tout est foutu, alors plutôt que de se rendre à la morgue, on convie sa famille et ses proches dans un lieu plus sinistre encore, parce que plus kitsch : la maternité. 

Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son (c. 1821)

15 June 2016

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Jeremy Taylor, The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying (London: Bickers and Son, 1873), p. 45:
But if we could from one of the battlements of Heaven espy how many men and women at this time lie fainting and dying for want of bread, how many young men are hewn down by the sword of War, how many poor Orphans are now weeping over the graves of their father, by whose life they were enabled to eat; if we could but hear how many Mariners and Passengers are at this present in a storm, and shriek out because their keel dashes against a Rock or bulges under them, how many people there are that weep with want, and are mad with oppression, or are desperate by too quick a sense of a constant infelicity; in all reason we should be glad to be out of the noise and participation of so many evils. This is a place of sorrows and tears, of great evils and a constant calamity: let us remove from hence, at least in affections and preparation of mind.
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13 June 2016

An Occasional Bitterness of the Spirit

Herbert Read, "The Artist's Dilemma," The Contrary Experience  (London: Secker & Warburg, 1973), pp. 269-270:
Each artist must find an individual solution to the dilemma which is implicit in his acceptance of society. To a few who are favoured by tradition and wealth the solution may come easily; they have probably nothing to fear but the uneasy conscience of the rentier and the envy of their colleagues. But for most artists some form of sacrifice or renunciation is involved: they must surrender their isolation; they must  subordinate their artistic ideals to the baser demands of entertainment. Or they may prefer to keep their ideals and curtail their ambitions. But this alternative is apt to bring with it an occasional bitterness of the spirit. One willingly throws ballast overboard so long as it consists of replaceable things; but when we come to the children of our imagination, then the hand is reluctant.

7 June 2016

The Sea

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1923):
Why do we love the sea? It is because it has some potent power to make us think things we like to think.
Robert Henri, Girl Seated by the Sea (1893)

For more on this subject, visit First Known When Lost.

6 June 2016

No Mere Elegant Trifling

John Morley, "On the Study of Literature," Studies in Literature  (London: Macmillan, 1901), pp. 218-219:
Literature consists of all the books — and they are not so many — where moral truth and human passion are touched with a certain largeness, sanity, and attraction of form. My notion of the literary student is one who through books explores the strange voyages of man's moral reason, the impulses of the human heart, the chances and changes that have overtaken human ideals of virtue and happiness, of conduct and manners, and the shifting fortunes of great conceptions of truth and virtue. Poets, dramatists, humorists, satirists, masters of fiction, the great preachers, the character-writers, the maxim-writers, the great political orators — they are all literature in so far as they teach us to know what makes literature, rightly sifted and selected and rightly studied, not the mere elegant trifling that it is so often and so erroneously supposed to be, but a proper instrument for a systematic training of the imagination and sympathies, and of a genial and varied moral sensibility.

3 June 2016

High Among the Wise Masters of Life

John Morley, "Aphorisms," Studies in Literature (London: Macmillan, 1901), pp. 68-69
Horace's Epistles are a mine of genial, friendly, humane observation. Then there is none of the ancient moralists to whom the modern, from Montaigne, Charron, Ralegh, Bacon, downwards, owe more than to Seneca. Seneca has no spark of the kindly warmth of Horace; he has not the animation of Plutarch; he abounds too much in the artificial and extravagant paradoxes of the Stoics. But, for all that, he touches the great and eternal commonplaces of human occasion — friendship, health, bereavement, riches, poverty, death — with a hand that places him high among the wise masters of life. All through the ages men tossed in the beating waves of circumstance have found more abundantly in the essays and letters of Seneca than in any other secular writer words of good counsel and comfort. And let this fact not pass, without notice of the light that it sheds on the fact of the unity of literature, and of the absurdity of setting a wide gulf between ancient or classical literature and modern, as if under all dialects the partakers in Graeco-Roman civilisation, whether in Athens, Rome, Paris, Weimar, Edinburgh, London, Dublin, were not the heirs of a great common stock of thought as well as of speech.
A note to myself: The UofT has digitized the 1601 edition of Pierre Charron's De la sagesse.

1 June 2016

Fame in a Footnote

Arthur Helps, Brevia (London: Bell and Daldy, 1871), pp. 77-78:
In a company of learned men there was talk about posthumous fame. Some said that it was a strong motive to exertion with many persons. Others maintained that its potency as a motive was very small indeed, except with a few half-crazy people, like Alexander the Great. All agreed that it was a foolish motive as applied to the mass of men, because anything that was worthy of the name of "fame" was unattainable for them.

A man writes an elaborate work upon a learned subject. In a few years' time, another man writes an elaborate work upon the same learned subject, and is kind enough to allude to the former author in a foot-note. Twenty or thirty years afterwards, this second man's work is also absorbed in a similar manner; and his labours, too, are chronicled in a foot-note. Now, the first man's fame, if you come to look at it carefully, is but small. His labours are kindly alluded to in a foot-note of a work which is also kindly alluded to in a foot-note of a work published forty or fifty years hence.

Surely this fame in a foot-note is not much worth having.

30 May 2016

A Lesson of Profound Humility

Arthur Helps, Thoughts in the Cloister and the Crowd  (London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1901), pp. 15-16:
When we consider the incidents of former days, and perceive, while reviewing the long line of causes, how the most important events of our lives originated in the most trifling circumstances; how the beginning of our greatest happiness or greatest misery is to be attributed to a delay, to an accident, to a mistake; we learn a lesson of profound humility.
A related post: A Line of Incidents