31 March 2015

Portrait of the Artist as a Snail

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, A Painter's Camp (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1882), p. 244:
In my opinion, a snail is the perfect type of what an artist upon his travels ought to be. The snail goes alone and slowly, at quite a rational pace; stops wherever he feels inclined, and carries his house with him. Only I fear that the snail does not give that active attention to the aspects of nature which ought to be the constant habit of the artist. 

27 March 2015

The Heaviest of Responsibilities

D. H. Lawrence, The White Peacock (London: William Heinemann, 1911), pp. 432-433:
Having reached that point in a woman's career when most, perhaps all of the things in life seem worthless and insipid, she had determined to put up with it, to ignore her own self, to empty her own potentialities into the vessel of another or others, and to live her life at second hand. This peculiar abnegation of self is the resource of a woman for the escaping of the responsibilities of her own development. Like a nun, she puts over her living face a veil, as a sign that the woman no longer exists for herself: she is the servant of God, of some man, of her children, or may be of some cause. As a servant, she is no longer responsible for her self, which would make her terrified and lonely. Service is light and easy. To be responsible for the good progress of one's life is terrifying. It is the most insufferable form of loneliness, and the heaviest of responsibilities.

26 March 2015

Regime Change

Adam Phillips, "Against Self-Criticism", London Review of Books, Vol. 37, No. 5 (March, 2015) 13-16:
The books we read in adolescence often have an extraordinary effect on our lives. They are, among other things, an attempt at regime change. In Freud’s language we could say that we free ourselves of our parents’ ideals for us by using the available culture to make up our own ego-ideals, to evolve a sense of our own affinities beyond the family, to speak a language that is more our own. In the self-fashioning of adolescence, books (or music or films) begin really to take, to acquire a subtle but far-reaching effect that lasts throughout a person’s life.

24 March 2015

A Scholar's Deathbed

Samuel Warren (1807-1877), "A Scholar's Deathbed," The Diary of a Late Physician, ed. Charles Wells (New York: Saalfield Publishing, 1905), p. 51:
"I have indulged in wild ambitious hopes — lived in absurd dreams of future greatness — been educated beyond my fortunes — and formed tastes and cherished feelings, incompatible with the station it seems I was born to — beggary or daily labour!"
Ibid, p. 54:
"The objects of my ambition," he said, "have been vague and general; I never knew exactly where, or what, I would be. Had my powers, such as they are, been concentrated on one point — had I formed a more just and modest estimate of my abilities — I might possibly have become something. Besides, doctor, I had no money — no solid substratum to build upon; there was the rotten point!"
Ibid, p. 56:
I on one occasion asked him, how it came to pass that a person of his superior classical attainments had not obtained some tolerably lucrative engagement as an usher or tutor? He answered, with rather a haughty air, that he would rather have broken stones on the highway. "To hear," said he, "the magnificent language of Greece, the harmonious cadences of the Romans, mangled and disfigured by stupid lads and duller ushers — oh! it would have been such a profanation as the sacred groves of old suffered, when their solemn silence was disturbed by a rude unhallowed throng of Bacchanalians. I should have expired, doctor!"

23 March 2015

Enthusiasm in the Sacred Fire

Mrs. Russell Barrington, The Life, Letters and Work of Frederic Leighton, Vol. I (London: George Allen, 1906), p. 203:
Many of us remember the days when enthusiastic disciples of the wonderful new art of photography prophesied that no other would soon be needed, and that the draughtsman's craft would before long cease to exist. And further, they maintained it only required the discovery of a means to photograph colour for the painter's art also to be demolished. Artists, however, knew better. What was valuable in the records of photography, and what was of most intrinsic worth in the records created through means of the human hand and eye, were absolutely incomparable quantities. The treatment of nature in a photographic picture, however admirable and complete, must always be lacking in the evidence of any preference, reverence, or enthusiasm in the sacred fire, in fact, which inspires the draughtsman's pencil and the painter's brush. Photography is indiscriminate; human art is selective, and is precious as it evinces and secures a choiceness in selection. However truthfully a photograph may record beauty of line and form in nature, it inevitably also records in its want of discrimination any facts which may exist in the view photographed; these counterbalance the effect of such beauty, and mar the subtle impression of charm which scenes in nature produce on a mind sensitive to beauty.
Vol. II here.

A related post: Photographs and Paintings

Not unrelated: a song in praise of opiates, filmed in Leighton House.

Frederic Leighton, Idyll (c. 1880)

19 March 2015

Light Reading

Herbert Spencer, "The Coming Slavery," The Man Versus the State (London: Williams & Norgate, 1902), p. 31:
Table-talk proves that nine out of ten people read what amuses them or interests them rather than what instructs them; and that the last thing they read is something which tells them disagreeable truths or dispels groundless hopes. That popular education results in an extensive reading of publications which foster pleasant illusions rather than of those which insist on hard realities, is beyond question.

17 March 2015

What Is Man?

Alcuin of York, "The Disputation of Pepin the most Noble and Royal Youth with Albinus the Scholastic," quoted in E. M. Wilmot-Buxton, Alcuin (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1922), p. 112:
What is Language?
   The Betrayer of the Soul.

What generates language?
   The tongue.

What is the tongue?
   The Whip of the Air.

What is Air?
   The Guardian of Life.

What is Life?
   The joy of the happy; the expectation of Death.

What is Death?
   An inevitable event; an uncertain journey; tears for the living; the proving of wills; the Stealer of men.

What is Man?
   The Slave of Death; a passing Traveller; a Stranger in his place.

13 March 2015

Volumes Without a Preface, an Index, or a Moral

George Gilfillan in the introduction to The Poetical Works of George Herbert; With Life, Critical Dissertation, and Explanatory Notes (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1853), p. v:
"Life," it has been said, "is a Poem." This is true, probably, of the life of the human race as a whole, if we could see its beginning and end, as well as its middle. But it is not true of all lives. It is only a life here and there, which equals the dignity and aspires to the completeness of a genuine and great Poem. Most lives are fragmentary, even when they are not foul — they disappoint, even when they do not disgust — they are volumes without a preface, an index, or a moral. It is delightful to turn from such apologies for life to the rare but real lives which God-gifted men, like Milton or Herbert, have been enabled to spend even on this dark and melancholy foot-breadth for immortal spirits, called the earth.
Hat tip: Anecdotal Evidence

12 March 2015

Common Fellows

William Morris, Hopes and Fears for Art (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1908), pp. 55-57:
I began by saying that part of the common and necessary advice given to Art students was to study antiquity; and no doubt many of you, like me, have done so; have wandered, for instance, through the galleries of the admirable museum of South Kensington, and, like me, have been filled with wonder and gratitude at the beauty which has been born from the brain of man. Now, consider, I pray you, what these wonderful works are, and how they were made; and indeed, it is neither in extravagance nor without due meaning that I use the word ‘wonderful’ in speaking of them. Well, these things are just the common household goods of those past days, and that is one reason why they are so few and so carefully treasured. They were common things in their own day, used without fear of breaking or spoiling — no rarities then — and yet we have called them ‘wonderful.’

And how were they made? Did a great artist draw the designs for them — a man of cultivation, highly paid, daintily fed, carefully housed, wrapped up in cotton wool, in short, when he was not at work? By no means. Wonderful as these works are, they were made by ‘common fellows,’ as the phrase goes, in the common course of their daily labour. Such were the men we honour in honouring those works. And their labour — do you think it was irksome to them? Those of you who are artists know very well that it was not; that it could not be. Many a grin of pleasure, I’ll be bound — and you will not contradict me — went to the carrying through of those mazes of mysterious beauty, to the invention of those strange beasts and birds and flowers that we ourselves have chuckled over at South Kensington. While they were at work, at least, these men were not unhappy, and I suppose they worked most days, and the most part of the day, as we do.

11 March 2015

Mad Swine

Haldane Macfall (1860-1928), The Splendid Wayfaring (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1913), pp. 191-192:
Live your life full — do not rush through a sordid day, threading your way through the vulgarities, to mean goals. Let no man crouch in dark corners fearful of forward-living, lest he fail to reach the heights.

The man who is merely rich in gold may be but a prisoner in a gilded cage, poorer in the splendid Emotions of life than the poorest of the poor. For, that man who accounts himself rich, and has no sympathy with the poor and the suffering about him; who knows naught of the wounds and the sorrows and the hunger and the agonies that vex his race, nor of the aspirations and high hopes that are the beacon-light to his fellow-men, is utterly poor — as he is wholly beneath contempt.

Is it riches to sit within the four walls of a narrow counting-house, day in day out, for seventy years, and know that you but possess gold?

Even the mightiest poet can at best but write a poem; it is the birthright of every man to live one.

They that grub for wealth as an end are like mad swine that bury their eyes in noisome swill, unsuspecting that life is a glorious pageant — and goes by.