16 February 2018

Forgiveness Is Not Always a Virtue

Jeffrie G. Murphy, ‎Forgiveness and Mercy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 17-18 (footnotes omitted):
Forgiveness is not always a virtue, however. Indeed, if I am correct in linking resentment to self-respect, a too ready tendency to forgive may properly be regarded as a vice because it may be a sign that one lacks respect for oneself. Not to have what Peter Strawson calls the "reactive attitude" of resentment when our rights are violated is to convey — emotionally — either that we do not think we have rights or that we do not take our rights very seriously. Forgiveness may indeed restore relationships, but to seek restoration at all cost — even at the cost of one's very human dignity — can hardly be a virtue. And, in intimate relationships, it can hardly be true love or friendship either — the kind of love and friendship that Aristotle claimed is an essential part of the virtuous life. When we are willing to be doormats for others, we have, not love, but rather what the psychiatrist Karen Horney calls "morbid dependency." If I count morally as much as anyone else (as surely I do), a failure to resent moral injuries done to me is a failure to care about the moral value incarnate in my own person (that I am, in Kantian language, an end in myself) and thus a failure to care about the very rules of morality. To put the point in yet another way: If it is proper to feel indignation when I see third parties morally wronged, must it not be equally proper to feel resentment when I experience the moral wrong done to myself? Morality is not simply something to be believed in; it is something to be cared about. This caring includes concern about those persons (including oneself) who are the proper objects of moral attention.

Interestingly enough, a hasty readiness to forgive — or even a refusal to display resentment initially — may reveal a lack of respect, not just for oneself, but for others as well. The Nietzschean view, for example, is sometimes portrayed (perhaps unfairly) as this: There is no need for forgiveness, because a truly strong person will never feel resentment in the first place. Why? Because he is not so weak as to think that other people — even those who harm him — matter enough to have any impact on his self-respect. We do not resent the insect that stings us (we simply deal with it), and neither should we resent the human who wrongs us.

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15 February 2018

Improved Fabrics, but Deteriorated Men

William Ellery Channing, "Spiritual Freedom," The Works of William Ellery Channing, Vol. IV (Boston : American Unitarian Association, 1903), pp. 83-84:
An important benefit of civilization, of which we hear much from the political economist, is the division of labor, by which arts are perfected. But this, by confining the mind to an unceasing round of petty operations, tends to break it into littleness. We possess improved fabrics, but deteriorated men. Another advantage of civilization is, that manners are refined, and accomplishments multiplied; but these are continually seen to supplant simplicity of character, strength of feeling, the love of nature, the love of inward beauty and glory. Under outward courtesy, we see a cold selfishness, a spirit of calculation, and little energy of love.
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9 February 2018

Gussied Up

Pierre Daniel Huet (1630–1721), "De optimo genere interpretandi," [On the Best Way of Translating] tr. André Lefevere, from Translation/History/Culture; A Sourcebook (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 88:
The best possible likeness is that which renders the lines of the mouth, the color, the eyes, the shape of the face, and the way in which the body moves in such a manner that the absent man who is portrayed can be thought of as present. But a bad likeness pictures a thing in a manner different from what it is, more beautiful and with a happier countenance. We do not like translations that eat up the author’s fat or put more fat on him, nor do we like translations that clear up obscure passages, correct mistakes, or sort out bad syntax. We would rather have a translation that shows us the whole author, closely copied in our native style, and one that makes it possible for us to either praise his virtues, should they be deserving of praise, or scoff at his vices. For who, except a young girl who loves herself too much and wants to please herself too much would praise a mirror that so disfigures the face that it reflects a rosy forehead, or a forehead full of vigor, or even a forehead tempered with decent splendor when shown a face of ghastly pallor, or a face that is shrivelled and emaciated, or even a face that shines with too much red color. Who would not mock a woman made up in such a way that she displays an unbecoming face, false teeth, false hair, and simulated height? Indeed, we might even wish her dead.
For the original, see book one of Huet's De Interpretatione Libri Duo (The Hague: Arnold Leers, 1683), pp. 16-17.

8 February 2018

The Courage to Be Ignorant

Sydney Smith, "On the Conduct of the Understanding," Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy (London: Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1855), p. 99:
Then there is another piece of foppery which is to be cautiously guarded against — the foppery of universality, — of knowing all sciences and excelling in all arts, — chemistry, mathematics, algebra, dancing, history, reasoning, riding, fencing, Low Dutch, High Dutch, natural philosophy, and enough Spanish to talk about Lope de Vega : in short, the modern precept of education very often is, "Take the Admirable Crichton for your model ; I would have you ignorant of nothing!" Now my advice, on the contrary, is, to have the courage to be ignorant of a great number of things, in order to avoid the calamity of being ignorant of every thing.

5 February 2018

Rather Impressionist Than Pre-Raphaelite

Sir Thomas Herbert Warren, "The Art of Translation," Essays of Poets and Poetry (London: John Murray, 1909), pp. 85-133 (at pp. 105-106):
A good translation should read like an original. Why? Because the original reads like an original....

And to read like an original, a translation must be idiomatic in the language in which it is written. Thus, as Jowett says, "The first requisite of an English translation is that it be English." This is the canon which is most frequently transgressed by translators. It is the non-observance of it which at once separates off and condemns the mass of inferior translations. All who have any large acquaintance with translations are familiar with what may be called "translation English," a language which is neither English nor Greek nor Latin, French nor German, but something between the two. The grosser forms of it do not need to be pointed out. "Pigeon English," "English as she is spoke," these we all know; as again all teachers know the "translation English" of the fourth-form boy. The subtler, less obvious forms of it are just those which distinguish inferior translations. How often, when we read a translation, do we not feel that no one could write thus unless he had been translating? — a feeling which at once pro tanto, if our canon be good, condemns the work.

Now, if a translation is to be idiomatic, since the idioms of different languages differ, it is obvious that a literal translation is at once condemned. Here, as elsewhere, the letter killeth, the spirit giveth life. A really good translation should be not so much exact as faithful. It should not be free, but it should be, what is the same thing with a difference, liberal. It should be, in the language of Painting, not perhaps exactly Impressionist, but rather Impressionist than Pre-Raphaelite.
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1 February 2018

Deutsche Sprache, Schöne Sprache

Enoch Powell, "Sentimental Journey," in Reflections of a Statesman (London: Bellew, 1991), p. 104:
I remember, as sharply as Keats recalled first looking into Chapman's Homer, the moment — it must have been in 1927 — when I opened my first German book. Here was the language I had dreamt of but never knew existed: sharp, hard, strict but with words which were romance in themselves, words in which poetry and music vibrated together. 

Ibid., p. 108:
[O]ne dived in and out of the mighty river of German nineteenth-century philosophy — itself, despite the often less than sensuous language clothing it, as much poetry as pure reason. In particular, for one torn between myth and reality, poetry and prose, Schopenhauer was unavoidable. His World as Will and Imagination was consumed in half-hour stretches day by day on Sydney tramcars that clanged their way through the hot Australian sunlight.

Ibid., p. 109 (on Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen):
Siegfried's was also the voice which proclaimed one of the great moral discoveries of humanity: that it is better to die than to live in fear. The moment when Siegfried, about to restore the ring to the Rhinemaidens, thrusts it back onto his finger because, once he knows that the curse attaches to it, his act would be tainted with fear, from which he can only regain freedom by deliberately incurring he curse, is one of the supreme moments in literature — the pagan counterpart of the Crucifixion itself. 
When Powell was a guest on BBC Radio's Desert Island Disks, he chose four pieces by Wagner, three by Beethoven, and one by Haydn. He discussed his fondness for Wagner at some length.

30 January 2018


J. F. Dickie, Germany (London: A. C. Black, 1912), p. 72:
Ratisbon, or Regensburg as it is called by the Germans, is an ancient city with a most remarkable history. It has many Roman remains, the most conspicuous of which is the massive Porta Pretoria, whose foundations lie far below the level of the street. The splendour of the past is crystallised in many monumental buildings of all periods of the Christian era, and belonging to many styles of architecture. Regensburg is a historical jewel, and is one of the most interesting cities in the land.
Ibid., p. 74:
There is a charm about this old town that is indefinable. No one seems to be in a hurry. After the strenuous life of sight-seeing the tourist has pursued amid the art galleries of Munich, the restfulness of Ratisbon is delightful.

Moreover, it is a paradise for the student of architecture, and has hundreds of sermons in stones for those who know how to read.

E. T. Compton's painting of the nearby Walhalla, from the same book

I have fond memories of the time I spent studying in Regensburg. The university, however, is not worth visiting: it was built in the 1960s and is made entirely of cement.

Hat tip: Henry Sotheran's Bookshop, via zmkc.

29 January 2018

A Lazy Task for Second-Rate Minds

Sir Thomas Herbert Warren, "The Art of Translation," Essays of Poets and Poetry (London: John Murray, 1909), pp. 85-133 (at p. 89):
There is a common view of translation which regards it as naturally and necessarily a task for inferior minds, capable of being performed adequately by them and unworthy of any great or good ability, a fit employment for those who are essaying or those who have failed in literature. Much translation doubtless is produced by hacks, and it is obviously poor enough. But such production is in reality only like the other hack or journeyman work which fringes true and living literature. Translation worthy of the name has its proper place, and that no mean one, in the hierarchy of letters. Nay, rather what is noteworthy is not that so much translation is done by inferior writers for gain and as a trade, but that so much is done by men of ability for love and for little hire.
Ibid., p. 101:
So far from translation being a lazy task for second-rate minds, it is a task which tries the best powers of the best. It is only the best ages of literature, and the best writers, that can produce really excellent translations. The reason why they do not oftener give themselves to the task is partly that they are naturally preoccupied with their own creative effort, partly the difficulty, the insuperable difficulty, of the task; and therefore its inherently unsatisfactory character.
This is an interesting essay. I'll quote more from it later.

25 January 2018

Natural Inclinations

Henry Bulwer, "James Mackintosh," Historical Characters, Vol. II (London: Richard Bentley, 1868), p. 95:
I cannot repeat too often that no man struggles perpetually and victoriously against his own character; and one of the first principles of success in life, is so to regulate our career as rather to turn our physical constitution and natural inclinations to good account, than to endeavour to counteract the one or oppose the other.
Mosaic found beneath San Gregorio Magno al Celio in Rome

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23 January 2018

Counsel Upon the Reading of Books

Henry Van Dyke, "A Preface on Reading and Books," Counsel Upon the Reading of Books (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1901), pp. 21-22:
Read the preface first. It was probably written last. But the author put it at the beginning because he wanted to say something particular to you before you entered the book. Go in through the front door.

Read plenty of books about people and things, but not too many books about books. Literature is not to be taken in emulsion. The only way to know a great author is to read his works for yourself. That will give you knowledge at first-hand.

Read one book at a time, but never one book alone. Well-born books always have relatives. Follow them up. Learn something about the family if you want to understand the individual. If you have been reading the "Idylls of the King" go back to Sir Thomas Malory: if you have been keeping company with Stevenson, travel for a while with Scott, Dumas, and Defoe.

Read the old books, — those that have stood the test of time. Read them slowly, carefully, thoroughly. They will help you to discriminate among the new ones.

Read no book with which the author has not taken pains enough to write it in a clean, sound, lucid style. Life is short. If he thought so little of his work that he left it in the rough, it is not likely to be worth your pains in reading it.

Read over again the ten best books that you have already read. The result of this experiment will test your taste, measure your advance, and fit you for progress in the art of reading.
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