The gods are dead? Perhaps they are! Who knows?Lemprière: John Lemprière's Bibliotheca Classica
Living at least in Lemprière undeleted,
The wise, the fair, the awful, the jocose,
Are one and all, I like to think, retreated
In some still land of lilacs and the rose.
Once high they sat, and high o'er earthly shows
With sacrificial dance and song were greeted.
Once ... long ago. But now, the story goes,
The gods are dead.
It must be true. The world, a world of prose,
Full-crammed with facts, in science swathed and sheeted,
Nods in a stertorous after-dinner doze!
Plangent and sad, in every wind that blows
Who will may hear the sorry words repeated:
'The Gods are Dead!'
23 May 2013
William Ernest Henley, "The Gods Are Dead," in Poems (London: David Nutt, 1898), p. 106:
22 May 2013
Søren Kierkegaard, Selections From the Writings of Kierkegaard, tr. L. M. Hollander (Austin: University of Texas, 1923), p. 44:
cf. Hank on being burnt
Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work. Therefore, whenever I see a fly settling, in the decisive moment, on the nose of such a person of affairs; or if he is spattered with mud from a carriage which drives past him in still greater haste; or the drawbridge opens up before him; or a tile falls down and knocks him dead, then I laugh heartily. And who, indeed, could help laughing? What, I wonder, do these busy folks get done? Are they not to be classed with the woman who in her confusion about the house being on fire carried out the fire-tongs? What things of greater account, do you suppose, will they rescue from life's great conflagration?This is the only English translation of Kierkegaard I could find on Archive.org. However, I did come across this edition of Either/Or in German.
cf. Hank on being burnt
20 May 2013
Thomas de Quincey, "The Household Wreck," in The Collected Writings of Thomas de Quincey, ed. David Masson, Vol. XII (London: A & C Black, 1896), p. 158:
What is life? Darkness and formless vacancy for a beginning, or something beyond all beginning; then next a dim lotos of human consciousness, finding itself afloat upon the bosom of waters without a shore; then a few sunny smiles and many tears; a little love and infinite strife; whisperings from paradise and fierce mockeries from the anarchy of chaos; dust and ashes; and once more darkness circling round, as if from the beginning, and in this way rounding or making an island of our fantastic existence; that is human life; that the inevitable amount of man's laughter and his tears — of what he suffers and he does — of his motions this way and that way, to the right or to the left, backwards or forwards — of all his seeming realities and all his absolute negations — his shadowy pomps and his pompous shadows — of whatsoever he thinks, finds, makes or mars, creates or animates, loves, hates, or in dread hope anticipates. So it is, so it has been, so it will be, for ever and ever.Thomas Carlyle answers the same question in verse.
16 May 2013
Claude Tillier (1801-1844), My Uncle Benjamin, tr. by Adele Szold Seltzer (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1917), pp. 4-5:
[M]y opinion is that a man is a machine made expressly for suffering. He has only five senses through the whole surface of his body. In whatever spot he is pricked, he bleeds; in whatever spot he is burned, he gets a blister. The lungs, the liver, the bowels can give him no pleasure. But the lungs become inflamed and make him cough; the liver becomes obstructed and throws him into a fever; the bowels gripe and give him the colic. There is not a nerve, a muscle, a sinew under your skin that cannot make you howl with pain.
Your machinery is thrown out of gear every moment like a bad pendulum. You raise your eyes to heaven to invoke it, and a swallow's dung falls into them and sears them. You go to a ball, and you sprain your ankle and have to be carried home on a stretcher. To-day you are a great writer, a great philosopher, a great poet; a thread in your brain snaps; they bleed you, put ice on your head – in vain – to-morrow you will be only a poor madman.
Sorrow lurks behind all your pleasures; you are greedy rats whom it attracts with a bit of savory bacon. You are in your shady garden, and cry out, "Oh! what a beautiful rose!" and the rose pricks you; "Oh! what a beautiful pear!" there is a wasp on it, and the pear stings you.
You say, "God has made us to serve and to love him." It is not true. He has made us to suffer. The man who does not suffer is a badly-made machine, a defective creature, a moral cripple, one of nature's abortions. Death is not only the end of life, it is its cure. One is nowhere so well off as in the grave. If you believe me, you will order a coffin instead of a new overcoat. It is the only garment that does not make you feel uncomfortable.French copy here.
15 May 2013
Robert Louis Stevenson, "An Apology for Idlers," in Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. William Lyon Phelps (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906), pp. 27-28:
There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. Bring these fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you will see how they pine for their desk or their study. They have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk: they cannot be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-mill. When they do not require to go to the office, when they are not hungry and have no mind to drink, the whole breathing world is a blank to them. If they have to wait an hour or so for a train, they fall into a stupid trance with their eyes open. To see them, you would suppose there was nothing to look at and no one to speak with; you would imagine they were paralysed or alienated; and yet very possibly they are hard workers in their own way, and have good eyesight for a flaw in a deed or a turn of the market. They have been to school and college, but all the time they had their eye on the medal; they have gone about in the world and mixed with clever people, but all the time they were thinking of their own affairs. As if a man's soul were not too small to begin with, they have dwarfed and narrowed theirs by a life of all work and no play; until here they are at forty, with a listless attention, a mind vacant of all material of amusement, and not one thought to rub against another, while they wait for the train. Before he was breeched, he might have clambered on the boxes; when he was twenty, he would have stared at the girls; but now the pipe is smoked out, the snuffbox empty, and my gentleman sits bolt upright upon a bench, with lamentable eyes. This does not appeal to me as being Success in Life.
14 May 2013
Thomas Fuller (1608-1661), "Mixt Contemplations in These Times," in Good Thoughts in Bad Times and Other Papers (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1863), pp. 198-199:
XIII. NO TITTLE OF TITLE
Two young gentlemen were comparing their revenues together, vying which of them were the best. My demesnes, saith the one, is worth two; but mine, saith the other, is worth four hundred pounds a year. My farms, saith the one, are worth four; but mine, saith the other, are worth eight hundred pounds a year.
My estate, saith the one, is my own; to which the other returned no answer, as conscious to himself that he kept what lawfully belonged to another.
I care not how small my means be, so they be my means; I mean my own, without any injury to others. What is truly gotten may be comfortably kept. What is otherwise may be possessed, but not enjoyed.
Upon the question, What is the worst bread which is eaten? One answered. In respect of the coarseness thereof, bread made of beans. Another said, Bread made of acorns. But the third hit the truth, who said, Bread taken out of other men's mouths, who are the true proprietaries thereof. Such bread may be sweet in the mouth to taste, but is not wholesome in the stomach to digest.
13 May 2013
Havelock Ellis, Impressions and Comments (London: Constable, 1914), pp. 248-249:
The vast and complex machines to which our civilisation devotes its best energy are no doubt worthy of all admiration. Yet when one seeks to look broadly at human activity they only seem to be part of the scaffolding and material. They are not the Life itself.
To whatever sphere of human activity one turns one's attention to-day, one is constantly met by the same depressing spectacle of pale, lean, nervous, dyspeptic human creatures, restlessly engaged in building up marvellously complex machines and elaborate social organisations, all of which, they tell us, will make for the improvement of Life. But what do they suppose "Life" to be?
A giant's task demands a giant. When one watches this puny modern civilised Man engaged on tasks which do so much credit to his imagination and invention, one is reminded of the little boy who was employed to fill a large modern vat. He nearly completed the task. One day he disappeared. They found him at last with only his feet visible above the rim of the vat.
9 May 2013
H. M. Tomlinson, Old Junk (London: Andrew Melrose, 1918), pp. 223-224:
The best books for refuge in times of stress are of the "notebook" and "table-talk" kind. Poetry I have tried, but could not approach it. It is too distant. Romance, which many found good, would never hold my attention. But I had Samuel Butler's Note Books with me for two years in France [i.e., during the First World War], and found that the right sort of thing. You may begin anywhere. There are no threads to look for. And you may stop for a time, while some strange notion of the author's is in contest for the command of the intelligence with your dark, resurgent thoughts; but Butler always won. His mental activity is too fibrous, masculine, and unexpected for any nonsense. But I had to keep a sharp eye on Butler. His singular merits were discovered by others who had no more than heard of him, but found he was exactly what they wanted. If his volume of Note Books is not the best example of its sort we have, then I should be glad to learn the name of the best.
8 May 2013
Louise-Victorine Ackermann (1813-1890), Pensées d'une solitaire [Thoughts of a Recluse] (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1882), pp. 44-45. My translation:
Agricultural pursuits have a particular virtue: they calm, and they mollify. They are especially good after great pains or great disappointments. In those moments, it is as if the earth is offering man a foretaste of the definitive rest that it will give him one day.The French:
Les occupations agricoles ont une vertu particulière : elles calment, elles émoussent. Elles sont surtout bonnes après de grandes douleurs ou de grands mécomptes. Il semble que la terre communique dès lors à l'homme un avant-goût de ce repos définitif qu'elle lui donnera quelque jour.
6 May 2013
Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (London: Taylor & Hessey, 1823), pp. 53-54:
I do not often weep: for not only do my thoughts on subjects connected with the chief interests of man daily, nay hourly, descend a thousand fathoms “too deep for tears;” not only does the sternness of my habits of thought present an antagonism to the feelings which prompt tears — wanting of necessity to those who, being protected usually by their levity from any tendency to meditative sorrow, would by that same levity be made incapable of resisting it on any casual access of such feelings; but also, I believe that all minds which have contemplated such objects as deeply as I have done, must, for their own protection from utter despondency, have early encouraged and cherished some tranquillising belief as to the future balances and the hieroglyphic meanings of human sufferings. On these accounts I am cheerful to this hour, and, as I have said, I do not often weep.