21 October 2017

The Wise Man Stays at Home

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self Reliance," Emerson's Complete Works, Vol. II (London: The Waverley Book Company Ltd., 1898), pp. 79-80:
It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for ail educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.

I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples; and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.
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19 October 2017

Original Sin

Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 248:
In our ignorance and complacency, we deride ancient stories about the nature of evil – equate them half-consciously with childish things best put away. This is an exceedingly arrogant position. There is no evidence whatsoever that we understand the nature of evil any better than our forebears, despite our psychology, even though our expanded technological power has made us much more dangerous when we are possessed. Our ancestors were at least constantly concerned with the problem of evil. Acceptance of the harsh Christian dogma of Original Sin, for example (despite its pessimism and apparent inequity) at least meant recognition of evil; meant some comprehension of the tendency towards evil as an intrinsic, heritable aspect of human nature. From the perspective informed by belief in Original Sin, individual actions and motivations must always be carefully scrutinized and considered – even when apparently benevolent – lest the ever-present adversarial tendencies “accidentally” gain the upper hand. The dogma of Original Sin forces every individual to regard himself as the (potential) immediate source of evil – to locate the terrible underworld of mythology and its denizens in intrapsychic space. It is no wonder that this idea has become unpopular: nonetheless, evil exists somewhere. It remains difficult not to see hypocrisy in the souls of those who wish to localize it somewhere else.

16 October 2017

Faithful Obedience to a Natural Vocation

J. R. Seeley, "Wilhelm Meister," Goethe; Reviewed After Sixty Years (London: Seeley and Co. Ltd., 1894), pp. 127-128:
What was Goethe's vocation? Or, since happiness consists in faithful obedience to a natural vocation, what was Goethe's happiness? His happiness is a kind of religion, a perpetual rapt contemplation, a beatific vision. The object of this contemplation is Nature, the laws or order of the Universe to which we belong. Of such contemplation he recognizes two kinds, one of which he calls Art and the other Science. He was in the habit of thinking that in Art and Science taken together he possessed an equivalent for what other men call their religion.

12 October 2017

German Scholarship

H. Ogram Matuce, pseudonym of Charles Francis Keary (1848–1917), A Wanderer (London: Keegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1888), pp. 94-95:
A German student takes up some object of study in the same spirit in which a commonplace man takes up the collection of birds and butterflies. His object is to get together all that has been said or written upon that pin-point of a subject. Whether it is useful or useless it is all fish for his net. It goes to swell the appearance of learning in his pamphlet. One can imagine the fascination of this sort of specimen hunting; and as, so far as I can see, it involves no great exercise of thought or criticism, it can be laid down and taken up again at any moment. I can fancy the professor going through his piles of books and indexes in search of, say, any mention of knucklebones from Greek days downwards. I day say it requires an ingenuity, a practised scent, to detect the traces of your quarry. And in order to make the sport the better, German writers rarely indulge in indexes. But at day's end the student can lay aside his task with as much ease as the bottle-maker can leave off his blowing, and can turn to his beer and Kegelspiel with an even mind.

Yet, as companions in the daytime, as mute figures, I mean, grouped about the University Library, you could not have desired better. I grew to love them less for their individual qualities than as you may grow to love the furniture of a room for its associations and suggestiveness.

Georg Mühlberg, Cantus (c. 1900)
The bandage? Mensur.

10 October 2017

The Loneliness of the Soul in Adolescence

Julian Barnes, Levels of Life (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2013), p. 111:
There are two essential kinds of loneliness: that of not having found someone to love, and that of having been deprived of the one you did love. The first kind is worse. Nothing can compare to the loneliness of the soul in adolescence. 

3 October 2017

A Charming and Interesting Task

Arthur Conan Doyle, Through the Magic Door  (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1907), pp. 240-241:
What a charming and interesting task there is for some critic of catholic tastes and sympathetic judgment to undertake rescue work among the lost books which would repay salvage! A small volume setting forth their names and their claims to attention would be interesting in itself, and more interesting in the material to which it would serve as an introduction. I am sure there are many good books, possibly there are some great ones, which have been swept away for a time in the rush. What chance, for example, has any book by an unknown author which is published at a moment of great national excitement, when some public crisis arrests the popular mind? Hundreds have been still-born in this fashion, and are there none which should have lived among them?
A related post: Maugham on Posterity

26 September 2017

Bad Art and Bad Manners

Norman MacCaig, at about the 7 minute mark in the film A Man in My Position:
Interviewer: Lucidity, is this an important word for you?

MacCaig: I think it is, very much so. I don't mind a poem being difficult, if the poem is about a thing that is difficult to say. But if a poem seems to me willfully obscure, or obscure because the man has not got his mind clear about what he is writing about, then, to use a phrase I have used before, I consider it to be not only bad art, but bad manners, because poetry is surely a communication.
A related post: A Fool's Trick

21 September 2017

Witnesses to Destruction

Camille Mauclair, Henri Le Sidaner (Paris: Georges Petit & Henri Floury, 1928), pp. 174-175 (from the draft of my soon-to-be-published translation):
Mechanization requires intrusive changes, and every day it destroys irreplaceable cultural landmarks. We watch as a sly vandalism spoils and deadens everything with the exasperating consent of an indifferent public. Speculators lay waste to the forests, and where there was once a cluster of trees worthy of the painter Théodore Rousseau we now find a sawmill in the midst of an empty plain. The heirs to the old country estates are unable to keep up with the crushing taxes and are selling up and parcelling off their land: housing developers will use it to erect twenty ridiculous and commonplace boxes. The factory's chimney and turbines disgrace and defile the lovely river. The village church falls into disrepair, and the local wiseacres look forward to the day this “temple of superstition” collapses. Every day, somewhere, a porch or an arch is pulled down. The soft, thatched roof is proscribed. Cement and corrugated steel, convenient and hideous, take the place of stone and slate. The merchant cartel plunders the countryside, removing its furnishings and period ornaments and replacing them with modern junk. Provincial talent creates masterpieces, but it is pushed aside in favour of trends from Paris that are Parisian in name alone. Thanks to poor regional education, it will be impossible to rebuild things once people realize the terrible mistake they made when they threw it all away. The decent and sensible French have resisted tenaciously, but the domestic and religious attitudes that were suited to this old way of life are still under harsh attack. We are indeed witnesses to destruction: it will continue for a long while yet, but it is only a matter of time. Whatever regret or disgust we may feel, it is our right and duty as artists to struggle for these places and this society as our forefathers did for theirs: to preserve them in pictures, to honour their beauty, and to show how much we loved them.
Henri Le Sidaner, Clair de lune à Gerberoy (1904)

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20 September 2017

A Fart in the Wind

Atticus Greene Haygood,  Jack-Knife and Brambles (Nashville: Publishing House of the M. E. Church, South: 1894), pp. 144-145:
No writer makes the world shake; but an egotist thinks he can, and the anticipation makes him delirious with delight. And he believes it does shake; to borrow a characterization of a panic-hunting person from a witty friend, "he mistakes the rumblings of his own bowels for the premonitions of an earthquake."