27 February 2015

Scripta Manent

From the cover of Le Livre, ed. Octave Uzanne (Paris:  A. Quantin, 1881):

26 February 2015

Socially Bankrupt

W. Compton Leith (pseudonym of Ormonde Maddock Dalton, 1866-1945), Apologia Diffidentis (London: John Lane, 1917), p. 178:
I have abandoned social obligations because I am unfitted to perform them well, and society high and low exists by their cheerful fulfilment. But I no longer rail at social law or decline to see anything but evil in conventions devised by the wisdom and refinement of centuries. If I refuse invitations and leave calls unpaid, it is because I am socially bankrupt: were I solvent I should redeem all debts.

22 February 2015

Life Is a Debt, Not a Gift

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, tr. R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, Vol. III (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1909), pp. 390-391:
Life is given out to be a gift, while it is evident that every one would have declined such a gift if he could have seen it and tested it beforehand; just as Lessing admired the understanding of his son, who, because he had absolutely declined to enter life, had to be forcibly brought into it with the forceps, but was scarcely there when he hurried away from it again. On the other hand, it is then well said that life should be, from one end to the other, only a lesson; to which, however, any one might reply: “For this very reason I wish I had been left in the peace of the all-sufficient nothing, where I would have had no need of lessons or of anything else.” If indeed it should now be added that he must one day give an account of every hour of his life, he would be more justified in himself demanding an account of why he had been transferred from that rest into such a questionable, dark, anxious, and painful situation. To this, then, we are led by false views. For human existence, far from bearing the character of a gift, has entirely the character of a debt that has been contracted. The calling in of this debt appears in the form of the pressing wants, tormenting desires, and endless misery established through this existence. As a rule, the whole lifetime is devoted to the paying off of this debt; but this only meets the interest. The payment of the capital takes place through death. And when was this debt contracted? At the begetting.
cf. Life Is a Loan, Death the Repayment

19 February 2015

Making Interest

Henry James, letter to H. G. Wells (July 10, 1915), The Letters of Henry James, ed. Percy Lubbock, Vol. II (London:  Macmillian & Co., 1920), p. 508:
It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance, for our consideration and application of these things, and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.
Adam Phillips, "On Interest," London Review of Books (June 20, 1996):
People come for psychoanalysis when they are feeling under-nourished; and this – depending on one’s psychoanalytic preference – is either because what they have been given wasn’t good enough or because there is something wrong with their capacity for transformation. In [Henry] James’s terms, they are the failed artists of their own lives. They have been unable for whatever reason to make something sufficiently sustaining out of what was supposed to nourish them. They cannot make interest; the kind of interest, James intimates, that might make one love life.

17 February 2015

Valuable Property

George Haven Putnam, Books and Their Makers During the Middle Ages, Vol. I (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1896), p. 212:
The purchase of a manuscript during the fourteenth century was attended with almost as many formalities and precautions as are to-day considered necessary for the transfer of a piece of real estate. The dealer making the sale was obliged to give to the purchaser guarantees to the effect, first, that he was himself the owner or the duly authorised representative of the owner of the work; and, secondly, that the text of this was complete and correct, and as security for these guarantees he pledged his goods, and sometimes even his person. As a single example of a transaction illustrating this practice, I quote a contract cited by Du Breuil [1]. This bears date November, 1332, and sets forth that a certain Geoffrey de Saint Léger, a duly qualified clerc libraire, acknowledges and confesses that he has sold, ceded, and transferred to the noble gentleman Messire Gérard de Montagu, Avocat du Roi au Parlement (counsellor at the royal court), all right, title, and interest in a work entitled Speculum Historiale in consuetudines Parisienses, contained in four volumes bound in red leather. The consideration named is forty livres Parisian, the equivalent, according to the tables of de Wailly, of 1013 francs. The vendor pledges as security for the obligation under the contract all his worldly goods, together with his own person (tous et chacun de ses biens, et guarantie de son corps même), and the contract is attested before two notaries.

[1] Jacques Du Breuil, Le Théâtre des antiquités de Paris (Paris: Claude de la Tour, 1612), p. 608.

12 February 2015

As Stupid an Operation as Can Be Imagined

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life (London: Macmillan, 1887), p. 186:
To advance from a hundred pounds to a thousand is not an intellectual advance, and there is no intellectual interest in the addition of a cipher at the bankers'. Simply to accumulate money that you are never to use is, from the intellectual point of view, as stupid an operation as can be imagined. We observe, too, that the great accumulators, the men who are gifted by nature with the true instinct, are not usually such persons as we feel any ambition to become. Their faculties are concentrated on one point, and that point, as it seems to us, of infinitely little importance. We cannot see that it signifies much to the intellectual well-being of humanity that John Smith should be worth his million when he dies, since we know quite well that John Smith's mind will be just as ill-furnished then as it is now. In places where much money is made we easily acquire a positive disgust for it, and the curate seems the most distinguished gentleman in the community, with his old black coat and his seventy pounds a year. We come to hate money-matters when we find that they exclude all thoughtful and disinterested conversation, and we fly to the society of people with fixed incomes, not large enough for much saving, to escape the perpetual talk about investments. Our happiest hours have been spent with poor scholars, and artists, and men of science, whose words remain in the memory and make us rich indeed.
Related posts:

11 February 2015

The White Birds of Recollections

George Moore, Hail and Farewell, Vol. I (London: William Heinemann, 1919), p. 321:
Death is in such strange contradiction to life that it is no matter for wonder that we recoil from it, and turn to remembrances, and find recompense in perceiving that those we have loved live in our memories as intensely as if they were still before our eyes; and it would seem, therefore, that we should garner and treasure our past and forbear to regret partings with too much grief, however dear our friends may be; for by parting from them all their imperfections will pass out of sight, and they will become dearer and nearer to us. The present is no more than a little arid sand dribbling through the neck of an hour-glass; but the past may be compared to a shrine in the coigne of some sea-cliff, whither the white birds of recollections come to roost and rest awhile, and fly away again into the darkness. But the shrine is never deserted. Far away up from the horizon's line other white birds come, wheeling and circling, to take the place of those that have left and are leaving.
A related post: A Sure Investment

10 February 2015


Anthony Daniels, "France's 'Submission'," New Criterion (February 15, 2015):
Bravery and excitement have given way to comfort and convenience; degeneration is the inevitable and unavoidable result.
Hat tip: Laudator Temporis Acti

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Land of Cockaigne (1567)

A related post: The Melancholy Truth

6 February 2015

Ars Longa Vita Brevis

Alex Colville (1920-2013), quoted in Mark Cheetham, Alex Colville; The Observer Observed (Toronto: ECW Press, 1994), p. 18:
I want to live thousands of miles away from other artists. I hate the idea of artists meeting and talking. I don't care what they are doing, I just don't care.
Ibid., p. 21:
If you don't like Detroit, get out of Detroit, I would say. People should exercise their wills in these terms more fully perhaps than they do.
Ibid., p. 33 (concerning his time as a war artist):
In a certain sense I was writing letters home for these people, depicting their lives, the dugouts, the tanks, where they lived. I was making a kind of record. There is always this element in art. 'Life is short, but art is long.' A lot of these people were killed. They would be very interested in what I was doing, kind of astonished at it in a way.
Ibid., p. 37:
Normally people who are in the arts slot themselves in with what I would call the proletariat, and I don't. People find this baffling, and maybe irritating.
Ibid., p. 39 (on his time in Berlin):
I didn't really know what to think about the Germans... But I have a feeling they've faced certain things that other people haven't... They were the first to find out how terrible people — I mean they and others — can be. The Germans have this feeling, and I think they are right, that things can go to hell in a minute. Canadians are unbelievably naive about their capacity for evil.
Ibid., p. 47 (on leaving his job at Mount Allison):
I decided in February 1963 that I could not stay in a university because I found some of my colleagues literally intolerable. 
Ibid., p. 59:
Life is characterised by its lack of permanence. Art, I think, tries to compensate for this. Art tries to be permanent, tries to extract from the transitory, that which is durably meaningful.
Ibid., p. 76:
Painting should neither be fun nor primarily a means of self-expression. I regard paintings as things produced not to relieve the artist, not to serve him, but to serve other people who will look at them.
Ibid., p. 96:
'What's it all about?'; 'What's happening?'; 'What is life like?' Of course there are no specific answers to these questions, perhaps no answers at all, but people who work with this sort of question in mind do tend, I suggest, to produce work which is more interesting to some people who do not have a special interest in the visual arts.

Alex Colville, Main Street (1979)

Some video and audio clips of Colville:

4 February 2015


Paul Charles Dubois, L'Éducation de soi-même (Paris: Masson, 1909), p. 62 (my translation):
Freedom is not possible in a finite being, called into being without having desired it, limited in the length of his days, incapable of achieving perfection, always dependent on the environment in which he lives, and on the numerous influences that act on his body and his mind and which one might call educative.
La liberté n'est pas possible dans un être fini, appelé à l'existence sans l'avoir désiré, borné dans la durée de ses jours, incapable d'arriver à la perfection, toujours dépendant du milieu où il vit, de ces influences multiples qui agissent sur son corps et sur son esprit et qu'on peut qualifier d'éducatives.