26 May 2016

That Explains Everything

Evelyn Waugh in a review of Henry Green's novel Living, from Graphic magazine (14 June, 1930), reprinted in A Little Order, ed. Donat Gallagher (London: Eyre Methuen, 1977), p. 81:
A few days ago I came upon an illuminating paragraph in a Sunday newspaper. It was in the column where a lady of fashion dispenses advice to those who consult her about their private concerns. A correspondent wrote "... I am not outstandingly brilliant at anything. I can't leave home as my mother is delicate, but I want to do something to earn not less than £3 a week. I've tried chicken farming and it doesn't pay." The answer was, "You might get a job as a reader to a publisher ... that or book reviewing."

That explains everything about our literary critics: they are young ladies, not outstandingly brilliant at anything, who have failed to make a success with poultry.

25 May 2016

Shoulder the Sky and Drink Your Ale

A. E. Housman, "IX," Last Poems (London: Grant Richards, 1922), pp. 24-25:
The chestnut casts his flambeaux, and the flowers
Stream from the hawthorn on the wind away,
The doors clap to, the pane is blind with showers.
Pass me the can, lad; there's an end of May.

There's one spoilt spring to scant our mortal lot,
One season ruined of our little store.
May will be fine next year as like as not:
Oh ay, but then we shall be twenty-four.

We for a certainty are not the first
Have sat in taverns while the tempest hurled
Their hopeful plans to emptiness, and cursed
Whatever brute and blackguard made the world.

It is in truth iniquity on high
To cheat our sentenced souls of aught they crave,
And mar the merriment as you and I
Fare on our long fool's-errand to the grave.

Iniquity it is; but pass the can.
My lad, no pair of kings our mothers bore;
Our only portion is the estate of man:
We want the moon, but we shall get no more.

If here to-day the cloud of thunder lours
To-morrow it will hie on far behests;
The flesh will grieve on other bones than ours
Soon, and the soul will mourn in other breasts.

The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.
An unpaid endorsement: Muskoka Brewery's Detour  India Pale Ale is glorious.

20 May 2016

Creatures of Time and Space

R. S. Thomas, "The Making of a Poem," Selected Prose, ed. Sandra Anstey (Bridgend: Seren, 1995), p. 87:
But creatures of time and space as we all are, we are yet haunted by dreams of eternity and we have a conception of ourselves as arresting the flow of time. When we love somebody, or we see something beautiful, or when we are experiencing something very wonderful or very strange which has a dreamlike quality about it, there is on that occasion something within us which wants to arrest this and keep it for ever, and we know that in so far as we are creatures of time and space this does not seem to be possible. Almost before we have really had our attention drawn to it either we have passed on or it has gone in the slip-stream and is no more. Most of us would feel that if only we had the gift of language, or if only we had the hand of the painter, or if only we were musicians, we should try to formalize and crystallize or trap this evanescent experience, and arrest it and take it out of the time-flow. And this is surely what the better poets are able to do.
Related posts:

18 May 2016

The Spectacle of Human Folly

Auguste-Barthélemy Glaize, Le spectacle de la folie humaine (1873):

Painting at the Musée des beaux-arts d'Arras, image from Gregory Lejeune

16 May 2016

Resort to Books or Memory

Charles Horton Cooley, Human Nature and the Social Order (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1902), p. 208:
No one can permanently maintain a standard of honor in his own mind if he does not conceive of some other mind or minds as sharing and corroborating this standard. If his immediate environment is degrading he may have resort to books or memory in order that his imagination may construct a better environment of nobler people to sustain his standard; but if he cannot do this it is sure to fall. Sentiments of higher good or right, like other sentiments, find source and renewal in intercourse. On the other hand, we cannot separate the idea of honor from that of a sincere and stable private character. We cannot form a habit of thought about what is admirable, though it be derived from others, without creating a mental standard. A healthy mind cannot strive for outward honor without, in some measure, developing an inward conscience training himself from the outside in, as Goethe says.

13 May 2016

Fifteenth-Century People

Peter Ackroyd, The Life of Thomas More  (London: Vintage, 1999), pp. 33-34:
The 'frankness' of fifteenth-century people about the body and its functions has often been observed; if you believe human nature is to be fallen from grace, and irredeemably flawed, then there is no reason to be discreet or fastidious about its natural properties. It might be useful, even beneficial, to exploit or parody them.
Related posts:

10 May 2016

The Vowing Age

V. S. Pritchett, Midnight Oil (London: Chatto & Windus, 1971), p. 14:
My earliest pleasure was therefore in being alone; and to be alone in Paris, knowing nobody, was an intoxication; it was like being on the dizzy brink of knowing everybody. I felt I was drinking the lights of the city and the words I heard spoken by passers-by... I walked to the Place de la Concorde and there by the bridge in the shade of the warm trees looked over the stone wall into the river. I was instantly under a spell. The water looked still yet it rustled like a dress. I had never seen water and stone in such pleasant conversation, the stone moonish, shading to saffron like the cheese of Brie, the water womanish and velvet. My solemn young eyes were seeing order and feeling united. I was so moved that I could feel myself grow into a new being. I repeated to myself my vow — for I was at the vowing age — never to leave France and I was so entranced that tears came to my eyes.

6 May 2016

Mother's Day

Roland Jaccard, L'âme est un vaste pays  (Paris: Grasset, 1984), my translation:
A mother and her little girl are beside me. The mother constantly devalues her child, criticizing her, humiliating her. It is something I have often observed: a daughter has no worse enemy than her mother. Across the generations, each one takes revenge for the harm her own mother inflicted.

A côté de moi, une mère et sa fillette. La mère ne cesse de dévaloriser son enfant, de la critiquer, de l’humilier. Je l’ai souvent observé : il n’y a pas de pire ennemi pour une fille que sa mère. A travers les générations, chacune se venge de ce que sa propre mère lui a infligé.
A related post: Women Who Procreate

5 May 2016

Forget the Lusitania

Melville Hastings, Lieutenant in the 52nd Battalion (Manitoba Regiment), Canadian Expeditionary Force, quoted in The War Letters of Fallen Englishmen, ed. Laurence Housman (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1930), pp. 123-124:
I write this outside a German dug-out wrecked by one of our sixty-pounders. The explosion has thrown five men lifeless down the stairway. Their boy officer, a young Absalom, is suspended head downwards by one of his Bluchers from two viced beams in the roof. Get the harrowing details out of the mind; remember only the faithful service.

It seems to me that so many of our journals urge the remembering of the worthless, the forgetting of the worth remembering. "Remember the Lusitania, remember Nurse Cavell." Rather keep them out of the mind. Heaven consists largely in thinking of mothers and wives and children and other things that are thus beautiful. Get the habit. Increase Heaven by thinking of the homely, fat but selfless Frau and the lad who hangs from the ceiling by his foot. Hell consists largely in thinking of our own nastiness. We cannot forget them even when forgiven, and so this Hell survives, but other people's nastiness we can forget quite easily. Forget the Lusitanias, the Louvains — there are paid servants of the State who will attend to these....

German food and British food, examine them closely, they are the same. The same in terms of stomach, of ears, of eyes or of the immortal soul. A week since I was lying out in no man's land. A little German dog trotted up and licked my British face. I pulled his German ears and stroked his German back. He wagged his German tail. My little friend abolished no man's land, and so in time can we.

According to the Queen's University archives,
 Hastings died of wounds on 3 October 1918.
He is buried in the Etaples Military Cemetery.

3 May 2016

The Importance of Style

John Mortimer, Clinging to the Wreckage (London: Penguin Books, 2010), p. 79:
And the  writers I admired, an ill-assorted gallery now peopled by Dickens, Chekhov, Firbank (for the dialogue), Evelyn Waugh, P. G. Wodehouse, Raymond Chandler and Lytton Strachey (who still seems to me to have had the best prose style of any writer this century, and to be the only true genius of the Bloomsbury Group), could hardly be said to have had the documentary approach. What they all had in common, I suppose, apart from an admirable determination to entertain, was a belief in the importance of style and a preference for trying to catch some fleeting truth in a web of artifice, rather than bashing it on the head with a camera and a tape-recorder.