19 September 2014

The Twelfth Century

Arnold Bennett, "The Secret of Content," The Reasonable Life (London: A.C. Fifield, 1907), p. 57:
The mind can only be conquered by regular meditation, by deciding beforehand what direction its activity ought to take, and insisting that its activity takes that direction; also by never leaving it idle, undirected, masterless, to play at random like a child in the streets after dark. This is extremely difficult, but it can be done, and it is marvellously well worth doing. The fault of the epoch is the absence of meditativeness. A sagacious man will strive to correct in himself the faults of his epoch. In some deep ways the twelfth century had advantages over the twentieth. It practised meditation.
Eugène Grasset, Méditation (1897)

18 September 2014

Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus

Arnold Bennett, How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day (Garden City: Doubleday, 1910), pp. 65-67:
By the regular practice of concentration (as to which there is no secret — save the secret of perseverance) you can tyrannise over your mind (which is not the highest part of you) every hour of the day, and in no matter what place. The exercise is a very convenient one. If you got into your morning train with a pair of dumb-bells for your muscles or an encyclopaedia in ten volumes for your learning, you would probably excite remark. But as you walk in the street, or sit in the corner of the compartment behind a pipe, or "strap-hang" on the Subterranean, who is to know that you are engaged in the most important of daily acts? What asinine boor can laugh at you?

I do not care what you concentrate on, so long as you concentrate. It is the mere disciplining of the thinking machine that counts. But still, you may as well kill two birds with one stone, and concentrate on something useful. I suggest — it is only a suggestion — a little chapter of Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus.

Do not, I beg, shy at their names. For myself, I know nothing more "actual," more bursting with plain common-sense, applicable to the daily life of plain persons like you and me (who hate airs, pose, and nonsense) than Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus. Read a chapter — and so short they are, the chapters! — in the evening and concentrate on it the next morning. You will see. 

17 September 2014

We Search Out Dead Men's Words

Matthew Arnold, "Empedocles on Etna" (lines 317-341), The Poems of Matthew Arnold (London: Oxford University Press, 1922), pp. 108-109:
   Look, the world tempts our eye,
   And we would know it all!
   We map the starry sky,
   We mine this earthen ball,
We measure the sea-tides, we number the sea-sands ;

   We scrutinize the dates
   Of long-past human things,
   The bounds of effac'd states,
   The lines of deceas'd kings ;
We search out dead men's words, and works of dead men's hands;

   We shut our eyes, and muse
   How our own minds are made,
   What springs of thought they use,
   How righten'd, how betray'd;
And spend our wit to name what most employ unnam'd;

   But still, as we proceed,
   The mass swells more and more
   Of volumes yet to read,
   Of secrets yet to explore.
Our hair grows grey, our eyes are dimm'd, our heat is tamed.

   We rest our faculties,
   And thus address the Gods:
   'True science if there is,
   It stays in your abodes;
Man's measures cannot mete the immeasurable All;

15 September 2014

They Do Take It All So Seriously

Lucian of Samosata, "Charon," The Works of Lucian, tr. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler, Vol. I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), pp. 178-179:
Charon: [observing humanity] How absurd it all is!

Hermes: My dear Charon, there is no word for the absurdity of it. They do take it all so seriously, that is the best of it; and then, long before they have finished scheming, up comes good old Death, and whisks them off, and all is over! You observe that he has a fine staff of assistants at his command; — agues, consumptions, fevers, inflammations, swords, robbers, hemlock, juries, tyrants, — not one of which gives them a moment's concern so long as they are prosperous; but when they come to grief, then it is Alack! and Well-a-day! and Oh dear me! If only they would start with a clear understanding that they are mortal, that after a brief sojourn on the earth they will wake from the dream of life, and leave all behind them, — they would live more sensibly, and not mind dying so much. As it is, they get it into their heads that what they possess they possess for good and all; the consequence is, that when Death's officer calls for them, and claps on a fever or a consumption, they take it amiss; the parting is so wholly unexpected.

12 September 2014

Empty Garrulousness

David Bentley Hart in the May issue of First Things:
Journalism is the art of translating abysmal ignorance into execrable prose. At least, that is its purest and most minimal essence. There are, of course, practitioners of the trade who possess talents of a higher order — the rare ability, say, to produce complex sentences and coherent paragraphs — and they tend to occupy the more elevated caste of “intellectual journalists.” These, however, are rather like “whores with hearts of gold”: more misty figments of tender fantasy than concrete objects of empirical experience. Most journalism of ideas is little more than a form of empty garrulousness, incessant gossip about half-heard rumors and half-formed opinions, an intense specialization in diffuse generalizations. It is something we all do at social gatherings — creating ephemeral connections with strangers by chattering vacuously about things of which we know nothing — miraculously transformed into a vocation.

10 September 2014

Photographs and Paintings

Bliss Carman, "Realism in Letters," The Friendship of Art (Boston: L.C. Page & Co., 1904), pp. 120-121:
As we go about this lovely world, scenes and incidents attract us and enchant us for a moment or for longer. And these scenes we delight to recall. We travel, and we bring home photographs of the places we have visited, reminders of our happy hours. It would seem that nothing could be more faithful than these mechanically accurate reproductions of the face of nature. And yet they are not wholly satisfying; a fleeting glimpse preserved in a sketch in pencil or water-colour may be far more satisfactory. The photograph reproduces a hundred details which the eye missed when it first came upon the scene; and at the same time misses the charm and the atmosphere with which we ourselves may have endowed the place as we gazed upon it. The sketch, on the other hand, omits these details, just as our eye omitted them originally, and yet preserves the atmosphere of our first delighted vision. Can it be said then that the photograph is more true than the painting? More true to the object, yes; but not more true to our experience of the object. And that is the important thing; that is what art must always aim at.
A related post: A Nice Day

8 September 2014

Philanthropists

James Elroy Flecker, "Philanthropists," Collected Prose (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1920), pp. 79-80:
My heart goes black with fury and horror when I read their Wills. The only consolation one has is that there is another of them dead. Ten thousand pounds to the Wigan Home for Cats, five thousand to the Society for the Suppression of Sunday Amusements, a thousand for the Syrian Lunatic Asylum on Mount Lebanon, and fifty pounds a year (altered by a pencil-stroke to twenty-five) for their old and faithful clerk, Mr. Jinks.

One knows that the philanthropist himself, for all his riches, got nothing out of life but a sense of his own importance. It was he who once prevented Maud Allan* dancing in Manchester, and it was he who made Manchester. He never travelled except to Lucerne or Nice. Yet he had enough money to have wandered round the world. He might have stood on the slope of Tanagra, and seen the reflection of the snow-topped mountains of Euboea glide like swans on the still blue waters of the Euripus. He might have floated down the Tigris from Mosul to Bagdad in a raft of skins and been potted by Arabs from the bank. He might have walked beneath heavy Indian skies and understood in a flash, standing in the monstrous shadow of an ancient god, the secret of all Empires. He might have smoked opium with dim Chinese and travelled in his dreams right out of the world to starry isles and planetary oceans. He did none of these things.
* Maud Allan in The Vision of Salomé, c. 1906

4 September 2014

The Translator and the Children

James Elroy Flecker, "The Translator and the Children," The Collected Poems of James Elroy Flecker, ed. J.C. Squire (New York: Doubleday, 1916), p. 45:
While I translated Baudelaire,
Children were playing out in the air.
Turning to watch, I saw the light
That made their clothes and faces bright.
I heard the tune they meant to sing
As they kept dancing in a ring;
But I could not forget my book,
And thought of men whose faces shook
When babies passed them with a look.

They are as terrible as death,
Those children in the road beneath.
Their witless chatter is more dread
Than voices in a madman's head:
Their dance more awful and inspired,
Because their feet are never tired,
Than silent revel with soft sound
Of pipes, on consecrated ground,
When all the ghosts go round and round.

2 September 2014

Unmerited Prosperity

Lucian of Samosata, "Timon the Misanthrope," The Works of Lucian, tr. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler, Vol. I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), p. 33:
Thus in disgrace with fortune, I have betaken me to this corner of the earth, where I wear the smock-frock and dig for sixpence a day, with solitude and my spade to assist meditation. So much gain I reckon upon here — to be exempt from contemplating unmerited prosperity; no sight so offends the eye as that.

29 August 2014

The Life of Benvenuto Cellini

The cover, title page, and first page of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini, edited and translated by John Addington Symonds (New York: Brentano's, 1906):


Is the earthly paradise for bibliophiles at hand? There are a few sets of this handsome two volume edition on Abebooks for less than $25.