7 July 2015

Blessed Is He That Expecteth Nothing

G. K. Chesterton, Heretics (New York: Garden City Publishing, 1905) p. 65:
The truth is, that all genuine appreciation rests on a certain mystery of humility and almost of darkness. The man who said, "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed," put the eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely. The truth is "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised." The man who expects nothing sees redder roses than common men can see, and greener grass, and a more startling sun. Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall possess the cities and the mountains; blessed is the meek, for he shall inherit the earth. Until we realize that things might not be we cannot realize that things are. Until we see the background of darkness we cannot admire the light as a single and created thing.

3 July 2015

A Bottle of the Best

R. L. Stevenson, An Inland Voyage (London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1878), pp. 106-107:
If a man knows he will sooner or later be robbed upon a journey, he will have a bottle of the best in every inn, and look upon all his extravagances as so much gained upon the thieves. And, above all, where instead of simply spending, he makes a profitable investment for some of his money, when it will be out of risk of loss. So every bit of brisk living, and, above all, when it is healthful, is just so much gained upon the wholesale filcher, death. We shall have the less in our pockets, the more in our stomach, when he cries stand and deliver.

1 July 2015

A Library of One's Own

Augustine Birrell, "Book Buying," Collected Essays, Vol. I (London: Elliot Stock, 1899), pp. 324-325:
It is no doubt a pleasant thing to have a library left you. The present writer will disclaim no such legacy, but hereby undertakes to accept it, however dusty. But good as it is to inherit a library, it is better to collect one. Each volume then, however lightly a stranger's eye may roam from shelf to shelf, has its own individuality, a history of its own. You remember where you got it, and how much you gave for it; and your word may safely be taken for the first of these facts, but not for the second.

The man who has a library of his own collection is able to contemplate himself objectively, and is justified in believing in his own existence. No other man but he would have made precisely such a combination as his. Had he been in any single respect different from what he is, his library, as it exists, never would have existed. Therefore, surely he may exclaim, as in the gloaming he contemplates the backs of his loved ones, 'They are mine, and I am theirs.'

26 June 2015

By Still and Depopulated Waters

R. L. Stevenson, "On the Willebroek Canal," An Inland Voyage (London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1878), pp. 17-18:
Crop-headed children spat upon us from the bridges as we went below, with a true conservative feeling. But even more conservative were the fishermen, intent upon their floats, who let us go by without one glance. They perched upon sterlings and buttresses and along the slope of the embankment, gently occupied. They were indifferent like pieces of dead nature. They did not move any more than if they had been fishing in an old Dutch print. The leaves fluttered, the water lapped, but they continued in one stay, like so many churches established by law. You might have trepanned every one of their innocent heads and found no more than so much coiled fishing line below their skulls. I do not care for your stalwart fellows in india-rubber stockings breasting up mountain torrents with a salmon rod; but I do dearly love the class of man who plies his unfruitful art forever and a day by still and depopulated waters.

23 June 2015

A Routine Occupation

Herbert Read on the practicality of Coleridge's three hours of leisure, The Contrary Experience (London: Secker & Warburg, 1973), pp. 258-259:
A routine occupation imposes a rhythm on life, if only the repetition of regular hours, regular meals and constant movement. With such a rhythm it is comparatively easy to add, like an additional gear to a machine, a subordinate activity of two hours' daily application to a writing-desk. In short, such a life favours productivity of some sort; but it is more than doubtful whether such a productivity is more 'truly genial' than the irregular spurts of inspiration upon which a comparatively idle writer will depend. An eye on the clock is already a leakage in the forces of concentration. Neither continuous logical thought nor long imaginative flights are possible under such a condition. If to one's routine duties one adds a normal measure of sociability, more than twenty-four hours will often intervene between the periods given over to composition. I have known days, and sometimes weeks, lie between the beginning and the completion of a sentence!

21 June 2015


adj. belonging to or constituting a style of Latin writing that probably originated in Ireland in the 6th century and that is characterized by extreme obscurity intentionally produced by periphrasis, coinage of new words, and very liberal use of loanwords to express quite ordinary meanings.
Also the name of an interesting new blog.

17 June 2015

Father's Day

Gustave Flaubert, letter to Louise Colet (11 December 1852), Oeuvres complètes de Gustave Flaubert, Correspondance, Troisième série (Paris: Louis Conard, 1927), p. 63 (my translation):
The idea of bringing someone into life horrifies me. I would curse myself I were a father. — A son of mine, oh no, no, no! May all my flesh perish. I do not wish to transmit the difficulties and ignominies of existence to anyone.

L'idée de donner le jour à quelqu'un me fait horreur. Je me maudirais si j'étais père. — Un fils de moi, oh non, non, non ! que toute ma chair périsse, et que je ne transmette à personne l'embêtement et les ignominies de l'existence.
Related posts:

15 June 2015

My Little Difficulty

Theodore Dalrymple, The Pleasure of Thinking (London: Gibson Square Books, 2012), pp. 85-86:
Even now, affection embarrasses me, not the thing itself but the expression of it, physical or verbal as the case may be. Many are the people for whom I would gladly and unhesitatingly lay down my life; but not for anything would I hug them, or express any feeling for them. As to the suggestion that I should be able to overcome my little difficulty, because I have some inkling from whence it came, I can only refer him who makes it to Sonnet 129:
All this world well knows, yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
Of course Shakespeare was speaking of lust, not of the lower grades of human passion, such as mere affection; but that knowledge of the origin of any undesirable characteristic — an apparent coldness of heart in my case — is equivalent to overcoming it, and replacing it by something better is, I am afraid, a shallow modern superstition.

12 June 2015


George Macaulay Trevelyan, "Walking," Clio, a Muse, and Other Essays Literary and Pedestrian (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1914), p. 56:
I have two doctors, my left leg and my right. When body and mind are out of gear (and those twin parts of me live at such close quarters that the one always catches melancholy from the other) I know that I have only to call in my doctors and I shall be well again. 

10 June 2015

Making Our Ancestors Live Again

George Macaulay Trevelyan, "Clio, a Muse," Clio, a Muse, and Other Essays Literary and Pedestrian (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1914), p. 17:
To recover some of our ancestors' real thoughts and feelings is the hardest, subtlest and most educative function that the historian can perform. It is much more difficult than to spin guesswork generalisations, the reflex of passing phases of thought or opinion in our own day. To give a true picture of any country, or man or group of men in the past requires industry and knowledge, for only the documents can tell us the truth, but it requires also insight, sympathy and imagination of the finest, and last but not least the art of making our ancestors live again in modern narrative.