24 April 2018

Mere Treasures of Words

Isaac Watts, Improvement of the Mind (New York : A. S. Barnes & Co., 1849), p. 73:
When you have learned one or many languages ever so perfectly, take heed of priding yourself in these acquisitions: they are but mere treasures of words, or instruments of true and solid knowledge, and whose chief design is to lead us into an acquaintance with things, or to enable us the more easily to convey those ideas or that knowledge to others. An acquaintance with the various tongues is nothing else but a relief against the mischief which the building of Babel introduced: and were I master of as many languages as were spoken at Babel, I should make but a poor pretense to true learning or knowledge, if I had not clear and distinct ideas, and useful notions in my head under the words which my tongue could pronounce. Yet so unhappy a thing is human nature, that this sort of knowledge of sounds and syllables is ready to puff up the mind with vanity, more than the most valuable and solid improvements of it. The pride of a grammarian, or a critic, generally exceeds that of a philosopher.

20 April 2018

A Troublesome Companion

Maurice Rollinat, Ruminations: prose d'un solitaire (Paris: Eugène Fasquelle, 1904), pp. 20-21 (my translation):
Hate is a troublesome companion who awakens in solitude, gives soliloquies in complete silence, and is never more agitated than when you are in peaceful places.

La haine est une inquiétante compagne qui se réveille dans la solitude, soliloque dans le  plein silence, n'est jamais plus agitée que dans les endroits paisibles.

Maurice Rollinat, photographed by Félix Nadar

18 April 2018

Empfindsamkeit

Marie-Louise von Franz, Puer Aeternus (Santa Monica: Sigo Press, 1980), p. 8:
In general, where there is sentimentality there is also a certain amount of brutality. Göring was a wonderful example, for without a qualm he could sign the death sentence for three hundred people, but if one of his birds died, then that fat old man would cry. He was a classic example! Cold brutality is very often covered up by sentimentality.

16 April 2018

Why Soldiers Read

Edward Earle Purinton, Personal Efficiency in Business (New York: Robert M. McBride, 1920), pp. 258-261:
When a man is training to meet death, literary tastes undergo transformation; he ceases to care for the latest news of the sporting circle or the social set or the political grab-bag or the local gossip manufacturers; he has no time to waste on the petty, foul, superficial or trite in literature. But death is no more serious than life, and a man training to meet life should learn to read as wisely and effectively as a soldier. From the statements of military authorities and the records of camp and field librarians we have noted a few of the main reasons and purposes that American soldiers have in mind when they take up a certain book or periodical. They do not always analyze their own mental process, but the results of their instinctive choice of books reveal their subconscious choice, whether analyzed or not.
They read to prepare themselves for new tasks, opportunities and responsibilities.

They read to learn the trend of current events in their line of action the world over.

They read to be able to forecast probabilities and rise to the top in emergencies.

They read to broaden their minds and equip themselves with knowledge that was lacking in their early education.

They read to take their minds off the dangers and difficulties of their work.

They read to soften the pain of wounds and the memory of scars.

They read to conquer loneliness by the mental and moral companionship a good book affords.

They read to shorten the suspense of waiting for only God knows what to happen to them.

They read to overcome physical fatigue with mental refreshment.

They read to understand and remember more clearly what they are fighting for.

They read to think harder and thus to fight better.

They read to get in line for a commission and other chances for promotion.

They read to avoid wasting time and strength in dangerous or vicious amusements.

They read to improve themselves in matters of dress, morals and military conduct.

They read to learn the exact truth in case of argument.

They read to help solve personal and professional problems of all kinds.

They read to break up the depressing monotony of mechanical routine.

They read to develop the free imagination that must offset compulsory action.

They read to learn how to handle their minds and bodies more effectively.

They read to renew their courage, faith, optimism, endurance.

They read to grasp more firmly the basic truths of life and to ground themselves in principles on which they stand immovable.

13 April 2018

A Vaudeville of Despair

Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York: Free Press, 1973), p. 149:
The uncontrolled emotional outpouring, the dazed masses standing huddled in the city squares sometimes for days on end, grown people groveling hysterically and tearing at themselves, being trampled in the surge toward the coffin or funeral pyre — how to make sense out of such a massive, neurotic "vaudeville of despair"? In one way only: it shows a profound state of shock at losing one's bulwark against death. The people apprehend, at some dumb level of their personality: "Our locus of power to control life and death can himself die; therefore our own immortality is in doubt." All the tears and all the tearing is after all for oneself, not for the passing of a great soul but for one's own imminent passing.

11 April 2018

Courage

Ernst Jünger, "Mut," in Sämtliche Werke, Vol. 7 (Stuttgart: Ernst Klett Verlag, 1980), p. 52 (my translation):
Courage is the wind that drives ships to far shores, the key to all treasures, the hammer that forges great empires, and the shield without which no culture survives. Courage is the individual's commitment to inevitable consequences, the hurtling of an idea against matter without regard for the outcome. Courage is allowing yourself to be nailed to the cross, alone, for your cause. Courage is to affirm, in the final nervous spasm and with your dying breath, the principles for which you stood and fell. To hell with an age that wants to take courage and men from us!

Everyone has experienced this feeling too, no matter how dull he may be. There is something about courage that cannot be resisted, something which jumps from one heart to other hearts at the moment of action. Unless one's character is utterly depraved and ignoble, the feeling for the heroic is not so easy to escape. Struggle is certainly sanctified by its cause; and a cause is even more sanctified by struggle. How else could you respect an enemy? Only the brave can fully understand this.

Struggle is always a holy thing, God's judgement over two ideas. It is up to us to support our cause with greater and greater determination, and so to fight is our ultimate reason and what we have fought for and won is our only true possession. No fruit will ripen for us unless it has endured storms of iron, and the best and the most beautiful also demand that they be won through earnest struggle.
Rudolf Schlichter, Ernst Jünger (c. 1929)
Image via Verlag Antaios

9 April 2018

The Difference Between Civilized and Savage Man

A. Hyatt Verrill, Knots, Splices and Rope Work (New York: Norman W. Henley Pub. Co., 1912), p. 8:
Few realize the importance that knots and cordage have played in the world's history, but if it had not been for these simple and every-day things, which as a rule are given far too little consideration, the human race could never have developed beyond savages. Indeed, I am not sure but it would be safe to state that the real difference between civilized and savage man consists largely in the knowledge of knots and rope work. No cloth could be woven, no net or seine knitted, no bow strung and no craft sailed on lake or sea without numerous knots and proper lines or ropes; and Columbus himself would have been far more handicapped without knots than without a compass. 

5 April 2018

Bitter Recollections

Charles Wagner, The Better Way, tr. Mary Louise Hendee (Toronto: William Briggs, 1903), p. 50:
Do not condemn yourself to bitter recollections. Why so honor the offence as to write it on the tablets of your memory? Is your heart so large that you can afford to give so much place to resentment? What a pity that the little man saves from the wreck of forgetfulness should consist first of all in the wrongs which have been done him! There are deeds that are unpardonable; people who merit neither excuse, nor good-will, nor forbearance. Is this sufficient reason for remembering them forever? Let the injury fall to the ground and do not stoop to recover it. Stoop rather to pick the flower, however humble, that smiles up at you here in this valley.
For the original, see  L'ami: dialogues intérieurs (Paris: Fischbacher, 1902), p. 66.

Related posts:

2 April 2018

Paul Cézanne's Prayer

Henri de Régnier, "La Prière de Paul Cézanne," Vestigia Flammae (Paris: Mercure de France, 1921), pp. 223-224 (my translation):
Lord of light, air, and cloud,
You to Whom I have called so often,
Look on the hard and weary features of my poor face,
The mouth beneath the beard and the stubborn forehead;

Consider the eyes which have gazed on things
With such determination to know the truth of them,
And see these hands, gnarled and weakened
By the painful effort of their sincerity;

And now, Lord, in Your mercy,
Hear me and let me be, tomorrow, by Your grace,
The faithful servant whom the master grants
A simple tomb in a corner of the garden.

I have spent long days in honest labour,
And I made the most of the little I received.
No deceit ever soiled my palette,
And my eyes never betrayed what they saw.

Others sought tumult and glory,
But I only wanted the humble laurel
Whose leaves, almost black, grow somberly
At the doorstep of the true artist and good workman.

And this is why, Lord, having lived my life,
To the moment of my death, in the place were I was born,
I offer You these bright eyes in a poor face,
And this forehead, and these hands, and this willful stare.

Accept them, and take also these round apples,
These grapes, and these fruits which I painted as best as I was able,
For to me their contour was the shape of the world
And all eternal light is in them.

Paul Cézanne, Nature morte au crâne (c. 1897)

Seigneur de la clarté, de l’air et du nuage,
Toi vers qui si souvent mon appel s’est tourné,
Vois les traits durs et las de mon pauvre visage,
Sa bouche sous la barbe et son front obstiné ;

Considère ces yeux qui fixèrent les choses
Avec un tel désir de voir leur vérité
Et regarde ces mains noueuses, et moroses
Du douloureux effort de leur sincérité ;

Et maintenant, Seigneur, en ta miséricorde,
Ecoute et que je sois, par ta grâce, demain,
Le serviteur fidèle à qui le maître accorde
Une tombe rustique en un coin du jardin.

J’ai passé de longs jours en un labeur honnête
Et j’ai tiré parti du peu que j’ai reçu,
Nulle fraude jamais n’a souillé ma palette
Et mes yeux n’ont jamais menti ce qu’ils ont vu ;

D’autres ont recherché le tumulte et la gloire,
Mais moi je n’ai voulu que cet humble laurier
Qui pousse sobrement sa feuille presque noire
Au seuil du probe artiste et du bon ouvrier,

Et c’est pourquoi, Seigneur, ayant vécu mon âge,
Au moment de mourir aux lieux où je suis né,
Je t’offre ces yeux clairs en un pauvre visage
Et ce front et ces mains et cet œil obstiné.

Accepte-les et prends aussi ces pommes rondes,
Ces grappes et ces fruits que j’ai peints de mon mieux,
Car leur contour pour moi fut la forme du monde
Et toute la lumière éternelle est en eux.

29 March 2018

That Roving Habit

William Ellery Channing, Memoir of William Ellery Channing, Vol. I (Boston: Wm. Crosby and H. P. Nichols, 1850), p. 155:
There are periods, when the mind is indisposed to serious study, when it sympathizes with a suffering body, when its tone is destroyed, and its powers require relaxation. But we should distinguish natural infirmity from that indolence which grows by indulgence, and which one vigorous exertion would drive away. It is desirable, and I think it possible, to acquire a conquest over the former weaknesses of nature. May we not form a habit of attention which pain itself cannot distract? Do I not too often apologize for indolence, by attributing it to bodily indisposition? Let me check that roving habit, which I have indulged, of reading a thousand trifles, — a habit by which the tone of the mind is destroyed, until we turn with loathing from wholesome studies. Regularity and order are essential; and when I have formed a plan, let me submit to many inconveniences rather than swerve from it.