17 January 2017

A Thick and Stifling Curtain

William James Dawson, "What It Is That Endures," The Threshold of Manhood (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1889), pp. 87-88:
Men who spend many solitary hours with nature — men whose calling is in the great waters or the open fields — cannot help feeling something of the ghostly side of nature. For them there are presences on the solitary hills; there are voices in the wind; and there is the sense of unseen life touching them on all sides, to which the imagination is sensitive and conscious. But when men come to live in cities, they are like little children who crowd round the bright fire in a little room, and do their best to forget the illimitable mystery of the wide night that reigns without. There is no solitude; there is no time for silent communing; there is no chance for nature to find us. The veil between us and the angel-world seemed very thin in the days when the rushing of the wind over the wide moor at night seemed like the passing of many wings, and when the shimmering of the moonlight in the shadow of the trees was like the white gliding of heavenly presences. But here it is a thick and stifling curtain, and the sense of wonder slowly perishes within us. We have no sense that we are passing away.

13 January 2017

These Are Great Poems

R. S. Thomas, "Unposted," Collected Poems: 1945-1990  (London: J. M. Dent, 1993):
Dear friend unknown,
why send me your poems?
We are brothers, I admit;
but they are no good.
I see why you wrote them,
but why send them? Why not
bury them, as a cat its fæces?
You confuse charity and art.
They have not equal claims,
though the absence of either
will smell more or less the same.

I use my imagination:
I see a cramped hand gripping
a bent pen, or, worse perhaps,
it was with your foot you wrote.
You wait in an iron bed
for my reply. My letter
could be the purse of gold
you pay your way with past
the giant. Despair.

                     I lower my standards
and let truth hit me squarely
between the eyes. ‘These are great
poems,’ I write, and see heaven’s
slums with their rags flying,
cripples brandishing their crutches,
and the one, innocent of scansion,
who knows charity is short
and the poem for ever, suffering
my dark lie with all the blandness
with which the round moon suffers an eclipse.

R. S. Thomas, always ready with a kind word and a friendly smile

10 January 2017

It's Not a Race

Edward Everett Hale, "How to Travel," How to Do It (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1882), pp. 166-167:
Four or five hours [walking] on the road is all you want in each day. Even resolute idlers, as it is to be hoped you all are on such occasions, can get eight miles a day out of that, and that is enough for a true walking party. Remember all along, that you are not running a race with the railway train. If you were, you would be beaten certainly; and the less you think you are the better. You are travelling in a method of which the merit is that it is not fast, and that you see every separate detail of the glory of the world. What a fool you are, then, if you tire yourself to death, merely that you may say that you did in ten hours what the locomotive would gladly have finished in one, if by that effort you have lost exactly the enjoyment of nature and society that you started for.
A related post: A Country Walk

5 January 2017

Accepting the Worst

Lin Yutang, "The Importance of Loafing," The Importance of Living (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1938), p. 158:
Belief in our mortality, the sense that we are eventually going to crack up and be extinguished like the flame of a candle, I say, is a gloriously fine thing. It makes us sober; it makes us a little sad; and many of us it makes poetic. But above all, it makes it possible for us to make up our mind and arrange to live sensibly, truthfully and always with a sense of our own limitations. It gives peace also, because true peace of mind comes from accepting the worst. Psychologically, I think, it means a release of energy.
A related post: The Absolute Hopelessness of Everything

3 January 2017

He Is Born to Trouble

William James Dawson, "Job on Pessimism," The Threshold of Manhood (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1889), p. 184:
The old man is like a traveller who started long ago with a jocund company upon the mountain path; but as day wanes one by one his friends drop behind, and fall out of sight or hearing. One is lame and one is weary; the cloud rolls up and covers one, and the snowstorm blows and hides another: one sleeps beside some flowery hollow on the way, and one was smitten by the lightning or the avalanche: he alone is left, pressing on with failing heart to the solemn inn of death, which crowns the mountain summit, and where in awful solitude he lies down to die. He is born to trouble, and cannot escape trouble. Neither fame, nor honour, nor length of days can teach him any secret whereby he may elude that awful presence. The coin in which life pays itself to him may differ, as gold differs from silver or copper, but the mintage and superscription are the same.

19 December 2016

He Hears the Tumult, and Is Still

William Hazlitt, "On Living to One's-Self," Table Talk (London: J. M. Dent, 1908), p. 91:
He who lives wisely to himself and to his own heart, looks at the busy world through the loop-holes of retreat, and does not want to mingle in the fray. 'He hears the tumult, and is still.' He is not able to mend it, nor willing to mar it. He sees enough in the universe to interest him without putting himself forward to try what he can do to fix the eyes of the universe upon him. Vain the attempt! He reads the clouds, he looks at the stars, he watches the return of the seasons, the falling leaves of autumn, the perfumed breath of spring, starts with delight at the note of a thrush in a copse near him, sits by the fire, listens to the moaning of the wind, pores upon a book, or discourses the freezing hours away, or melts down hours to minutes in pleasing thought. All this while he is taken up with other things, forgetting himself. He relishes an author's style, without thinking of turning author. He is fond of looking at a print from an old picture in the room, without teasing himself to copy it. He does not fret himself to death with trying to be what he is not, or to do what he cannot. He hardly knows what he is capable of, and is not in the least concerned whether he shall ever make a figure in the world.

15 December 2016

An Ill-Natured Comfort

Thomas Gray to Thomas Wharton (11 December 1746), The Letters of Thomas Gray, Vol. I (London: George Bell and Sons, 1900), p. 150:
It is a foolish Thing, that one can't only not live as one pleases, but where & with whom one pleases, without Money. Swift somewhere says, that Money is Liberty; & I fear money is Friendship too & Society, and almost every external Blessing. It is a great, tho' ill-natured, Comfort to see most of those, who have it in Plenty, without Pleasure, without Liberty, & without Friends.

14 December 2016

Of Worms and the Man I Sing

A song attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, from a 15th century manuscript in the Cambridge University Library (MS Ee, vi.29, fol. 17v [s. XVI]), tr. Robert Kinsman, The Darker Vision of the Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), p. 54:
Tell me, o mortal man, tell me about the putridity of the worm;
Tell me o flesh, o dust, what good is the glory of flesh?
O mad wretch, why do you take pride in putridity?
Learn what you are, what you will be; remember that you will die.

First you were sperm, then stench, then food for worms,
Then dust, and thence nothing; what then, does a man have to be proud about?
As the rose pales when it feels the sun draw near,
So man will vanish: now he is, now he has ceased to be.
The original:
Dic homo mortalis, dic de putredine vermis;
Dic caro, dic pulvis, quid prodest gloria carnis?
Cur miser insanis, quare putredo superbis?
Disce quod es, quod eris; memor esto quod morieris.

Sperma prius, post factus olens, post vermibus esca,
Post cinis, inde nichil; unde superbit homo?
Ut rosa pallescit cum solem sentit adesse,
Sic homo vanescit: nunc est, nunc defuit esse.

Harmen Steenwijck, Vanitas (c. 1640)

12 December 2016

Not My Idea of Honourable Action

S. P. B. Mais, Why We Should Read (London: Grant Richards, 1921), p. 10:
It is extremely easy to pick holes, to adopt a negative attitude, to call down fire from heaven and make a show with the fists when your enemy is merely an author. That is not my idea of honourable action. If a book is bad (and I agree that most books are), let it die by itself. Professional critics only too frequently remind me of vultures: they crowd round the weak and the dying ready to devour.

The object of any man who enjoys life is to share his enjoyment with others. If a book appeals to me I want as many people as possible to derive the pleasure that I derived from it.
A related post: Deserving Oblivion

9 December 2016

Cold and Wet in Expensive Long Johns

Brian Farnworth, Some Practical Advice on Cold Weather Clothing; Technical Note 89-21 (Ottawa: Canadian Defence Research Establishment, 1989), p. 2:
There is a lot of hoopla in advertisements and newspaper articles about some types of materials being better than others. It is usually claimed that because a certain fibre is very fine, or hollow, or natural, or the product of space age technology, that it does the best job of keeping air still. None of this is true. Pretty well all clothing materials do a very good job of keeping air still (as long as the wind doesn't blow through them). A 10 mm thick layer of clothing creates a 10 mm thick layer of still air no matter what the fibres are made of or what shape they are.
Ibid., pp. 8-9:
No one has ever demonstrated that wicking fabrics next to the skin have any significant effect on warmth, coolness, wetness or dryness. Many people claim that they feel more comfortable in polypropylene than in cotton.... But then anyone who pays $50 for a set of underwear is not likely to admit he's been taken. The scientific evidence to date says that if you sweat into cotton underwear, you have wet cotton underwear. If you sweat into polypropylene underwear, you have wet polypropylene underwear. The water will not wick away. It may be that you'll find one more comfortable than the other, but neither one will be insulating if it's wet. 
Hat tip: WoodTrekker