19 April 2014

No Securer Box

George Mackenzie (1636-1691), Essays Upon Several Moral Subjects (London: Printed for Brown et al., 1713), pp. 139-140:
The World is a Comedy, where every Man acts that Part which Providence hath assigned him; and as it is esteemed more noble to look on than to act; so really I known no securer Box from which to behold it than a safe Solitude; and it is easier to feel than to express the Pleasure which may be taken in standing aloof, and in contemplating the Reelings of the Multitude, the Excentrick Motions of Great Men, and how Fate recreates itself in their Ruin; as if it fed them with Success, as the Romans fed their Gladiators, who served for nothing else, but in beating one another to recreate disinterested Beholders.

17 April 2014


Roger Scruton, The Uses of Pessimism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 133-134:
It is inherently questionably to believe that there is a continuous moral progress, moving forward with the speed of science, still more questionable to believe that there is artistic or spiritual progress marching beside it. Virtually no poet since Homer has surpassed him, and in the arts, in religious thought and in philosophical speculation, we are as likely to encounter a decline from one generation to the next as an improvement. Even if there is knowledge of a sort contained in high culture, it is not knowledge that accumulates in an orderly or linear way. It is a matter of wisdom, not expertise, of an imaginative grasp of the human condition rather than the search for theories with which to explain it.

16 April 2014


Roger Scruton, The Uses of Pessimism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 185-186:
Professors in the humanities learned from their French mentors [Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida] that there is a way of writing that will always be considered 'profound', provided only that it is (a) subversive and (b) unintelligible. As long as a text can be read as in some way against the status quo of Western culture and society, undermining its claim to authority or truth, it does not matter that it is gibberish. On the contrary, that is merely a proof that its argument operates at a level of profundity that makes it immune to criticism.

It is, of course, not only modern leftism that has had recourse to the hermetic strategy by way of protecting its illusions. The original discipline of theology was prodigal of nonsense, and the hermetic science of alchemy provided a more secular version of it, which Ben Johnson adequately satirized in The Alchemist. Whenever impossible aims and unbelievable doctrines take up position in the human psyche, offering spurious hopes and factitious solutions, gobbledygook assembles in the wings, awaiting its moment.
Related posts:

14 April 2014

He Nothing Shall Fulfil

Harold Monro, "He meditates in silence all the day," Before Dawn (London: Constable & Co., 1911), p. 120:
He meditates in silence all the day,
Reclining in an atmosphere of dreams:
Meanwhile the bravest moments slip away,
And life is wasted in its crystal streams.

Out of his lips the smoke curls dreamily
Upward, and wreathes about his careless hair;
If you may speak by chance, still silent, he
But gazes at you with a vacant stare.

Thus dwelling in a world where shadows seem
Reality, what succour shall he give?
What value may be set upon his dream.
Who has not learnt, and cannot learn -- to live?

Though he may prate of Purpose and of Will,
Propounding many schemes with perfect art,
I know he nothing, nothing shall fulfil --
Because he lacks a true and valiant heart.

11 April 2014

The Ancients Sang Their Solo in Peace

Joseph Joubert, Joubert; A Selection from his Thoughts, tr. Katharine Lyttelton (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1899), p. 143:
In writing, the ancients had a mind more at ease than we. They were not embarrassed by a thousand considerations that are forced upon us, concerning a crowd of books already known to our readers, which we cannot help perpetually combating or recalling. Being obliged thus to be either in harmony or in discord with all existing books, we sing our part in the midst of clamour; whilst the ancients sang their solo in peace.
Colour scans of Pensées, essais et maximes de J. Joubert, suivis de Lettres à ses amis et précédés d'une notice sur sa vie, son caractère et ses travaux (Paris: Charles Gosselin, 1842) on Gallica:
Volume I
Volume II

10 April 2014

A Magnificent but Painful Hippopotamus

H. G. Wells, Boon (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1915), pp. 107-108:
Having first made sure that he has scarcely anything left to express, [Henry James] then sets to work to express it, with an industry, a wealth of intellectual stuff that dwarfs Newton. He spares no resource in the telling of his dead inventions. He brings up every device of language to state and define. Bare verbs he rarely tolerates. He splits his infinitives and fills them up with adverbial stuffing. He presses the passing colloquialism  into his service. His vast paragraphs sweat and struggle; they could not sweat and elbow and struggle more if God Himself was the processional meaning to which they sought to come. And all for tales of nothingness.... It is leviathan retrieving pebbles. It is a magnificent but painful hippopotamus resolved at any cost, even at the cost of its dignity, upon picking up a pea which has got into a corner of its den. Most things, it insists, are beyond it, but it can, at any rate, modestly, and with an artistic singleness of mind, pick up that pea....

8 April 2014

The Virtues and Loves of Dying Creatures

Roger Scruton, The Uses of Pessimism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 11-12:
Poetry, drama, portraiture and music show us that mortality is inextricably woven into the human scheme of things: that our virtues and our loves are the virtues and loves of dying creatures; that everything that leads us to cherish one another, to sacrifice ourselves, to make sublime and heroic gestures, is predicated on the assumption that we are vulnerable and transient, with only a fleeting claim on the things of this world.

7 April 2014

So the Days Pass and Nothing Is Done

Joseph Conrad to Edward Garnett (29 March 1898), Letters from Joseph Conrad, 1895-1924 (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1928), pp. 134-135:
I sit down religiously every morning, I sit down for eight hours every day — and the sitting down is all. In the course of that working day of 8 hours I write 3 sentences which I erase before leaving the table in despair. There's not a single word to send you. Not one! And time passes — and McClure [Conrad's publisher] waits — not to speak of Eternity for which I don't care a damn. Of McClure however I am afraid.

I ask myself sometimes whether I am bewitched, whether I am the victim of an evil eye? But there is no "jettatura" in England — is there? I assure you — speaking soberly and on my word of honour — that sometimes it takes all my resolution and power of self control to refrain from butting my head against the wall. I want to howl and foam at the mouth but I daren't do it for fear of waking that baby and alarming my wife. It's no joking matter. After such crises of despair I doze for hours still half conscious that there is that story I am unable to write. Then I wake up, try again — and at last go to bed completely done-up. So the days pass and nothing is done. At night I sleep. In the morning I get up with the horror of that powerlessness I must face through a day of vain efforts.
Hat tip: Stephen Pentz at First Known When Lost

4 April 2014

The Great Lazar House of Society

John Southey to John May (26 June 1797), The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1849), pp. 98-99:
There was a time when I believed in the persuadibility of man, and had the mania of man-mending. Experience has taught me better. After a certain age the organs of voice cannot accommodate themselves to the utterance of a foreign pronunciation; so it is with the mind, it grows stiff and unyielding, like our sinews, as we grow older. The ablest physician can do little in the great lazar house of society; it is a pest-house that infects all within its atmosphere. He acts the wisest part who retires from the contagion; nor is that part either a selfish or a cowardly one; it is ascending the ark, like Noah, to preserve a remnant which may become the whole.

3 April 2014

The Ugly and the Stupid

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (London: Ward, Lock & Co., 1891), p. 5:
There is a fatality about all physical and intellectual distinction, the sort of fatality that seems to dog through history the faltering steps of kings. It is better not to be different from one's fellows. The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world. They can sit at their ease and gape at the play. If they know nothing of victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat. They live as we all should live — undisturbed, indifferent, and without disquiet. They neither bring ruin upon others, nor ever receive it from alien hands.