27 September 2016

Best of Any Song

Wendell Berry, "Sabbath Poem I," A Timbered Choir  (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1998):
Best of any song
is bird song
in the quiet, but first
you must have the quiet.
Hat tip: Timberdrifter

20 September 2016

Like Some Dishonourable Insect

Frederick William Faber, Kindness (London: R. & T. Washbourne, 1901), p. 104:
What can be more unkind than to communicate our low spirits to others, to go about the world like demons, poisoning the fountains of joy? Have I more light because I have managed to involve those I love in the same gloom as myself? Is it not pleasant to see the sun shining on the mountains, even though we have none of it down in our valley? Oh the littleness and the meanness of that sickly appetite for sympathy which will not let us keep our tiny Lilliputian sorrows to ourselves! Why must we go sneaking about, like some dishonourable insect, and feed our darkness on other people's light?
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17 September 2016

The Irresistible Temptation to Say Clever Things

Frederick William Faber, Kindness (London: R. & T. Washbourne, 1901), p. 77:
In some respects a clever man is more likely to be kind than a man who is not clever, because his mind is wider, and takes in a broader range, and is more capable of looking at things from different points of view. But there are other respects in which it is harder for a clever man to be kind, especially in his words. He has a temptation, and it is one of those temptations which appear sometimes to border on the irresistible, to say clever things; and, somehow, clever things are hardly ever kind things. There is a drop either of acid or of bitter in them, and it seems as if that drop was exactly what genius had insinuated. I believe, if we were to make an honest resolution never to say a clever thing, we should advance much more rapidly on the road to heaven.

12 September 2016

Law and Medicine

Plato, The Republic, Book III, tr. H. Spens (London: J. M. Dent, 1919), pp. 92-93:
But can you pitch upon any greater mark of an ill and base education in a city than that there should be need of physicians and supreme magistrates, and that not only for the contemptible and low handicrafts, but for those who boast of having been educated in a liberal manner? Or doth it not appear to be base, and a great sign of want of education, to be obliged to observe justice pronounced on us by others, as our masters and judges, and to have no sense of it in ourselves?

Of all things, this, reply'd he, is the most base.

And do you not, said I, deem this to be more base still, when one not only spends a great part of life in courts of justice, as defendant and plaintiff, but from his ignorance of the beautiful imagines that he becomes renowned for this very thing, as being dextrous in doing injustice, and able to turn himself through all sorts of windings, and using every sort of subterfuge, thinks to get off, so as to evade justice, and all this for the sake of small and contemptible things, being ignorant how much better and more handsome it were so to regulate his life as not to stand in need of a sleepy judge?

This, reply'd he, is still more base than the other.

And to stand in need of the medicinal art, said I, not on account of wounds, or some epidemical distempers incident, but through sloth and such a diet as we mentioned, filled with rheums and wind, like lakes, obliging the skilful sons of Esculapius to invent new names to diseases, such as dropsies and catarrhs — do not you think this abominable?

8 September 2016

The Deepest and Most Accurate

Samuel Egerton Brydges, "The Heart," Gnomica (Geneva: W. Fick, 1824), pp. 36-37:
It may be safely observed, that no writer whose thoughts and sentiments the experience of mankind has found to be incorrect, — much less which the experience of mankind has disproved — has retained his seat in the temple of Fame. All the moral matter, which forms the basis of the works of Homer, Virgil, Cicero, etc. has been proved to be the deepest and most accurate, at which mere human wisdom could arrive.

These is a factitious or momentary enthusiasm, under which those who labour, may feel gratified by exaggerated representations consonant to their own prevailing temperament: but a more general and enlarged taste dissipates or rejects these partial colourings. Calm musing and sedate consideration break the clouds of error, and strip delusive coruscations of their brilliance. That, which vanishes before prolonged reflection, is of little value.

1 September 2016

The Object of Reading

Arnold Bennett, Things That Have Interested Me (New York: George H. Doran, 1921), pp. 55-65:
Study is not an end, but a means. I should blush to write down such a platitude, did I not know by experience that the majority of readers constantly ignore it. The man who pores over a manual of carpentry and does naught else is a fool. But every book is a manual of carpentry, and every man who pores over any book whatever and does naught else with it is deserving of an abusive epithet. What is the object of reading unless something definite comes of it? You would be better advised to play billiards. Where is the sense of reading history if you do not obtain from it a clearer insight into actual politics and render yourself less liable to be duped by the rhetoric of party propaganda? Where is the sense of reading philosophy if your own attitude towards the phenomena of the universe does not become more philosophical? Where is the sense of reading morals unless your own are improved? Where is the sense of reading biography unless it is going to affect what people will say about you after your funeral? Where is the sense of reading poetry or fiction unless you see more beauty, more passion, more scope for your sympathy, than you saw before?
Second volume here.

30 August 2016

Not a Problem to Be Solved

L. P. Jacks, The Alchemy of Thought (London: Williams and Norgate,) p. 54:
Like a picture by a great artist, like a flower by the wayside, our life is given, our experience is found. The world stands in its own right; it waits for no passport from the intelligence. As, on the one hand, we have not earned it by a price paid down, neither, on the other, do we receive it on condition of our own ability to understand or explain it. It is a free gift, given like the picture, neither to be sold for money nor harnessed to a purpose of whatsoever kind, but to be received on its own terms. To treat life as a conundrum, to regard the world as a problem, to withhold our full acceptance of things till their why and wherefore has been made clear, to value any moment of experience only so far forth as we can make it pay in the markets of thought, or submit to the shackles of descriptive speech — this is to reject the donum Dei, and therewithal to deprive ourselves of everything that makes it good to live. Waiting till we can "make something" of the world, the life of the world passes us by; waiting till we can explain experience, we experience nothing; the music sounds and we, preoccupied with desire to say what it is, as though its value hung on the interpretation it will receive from us, miss the music no less completely than if we heard it not at all.
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26 August 2016

The Great Man Theory

Frederic Harrison, The Meaning of History (New York: Macmillan, 1900) pp. 22-23:
There is one mode in which history may be most easily, perhaps most usefully, approached. Let him who desires to find profit in it, begin by knowing something of the lives of great men. Not of those most talked about, not of names chosen at hazard; but of the real great ones who can be shown to have left their mark upon distant ages. Know their lives, not merely as interesting studies of character, or as persons seen in a drama, but as they represent and influence their age. Not for themselves only must we know them, but as the expression and types of all that is noblest around them. Let us know those whom all men cannot fail to recognise as great —the Caesars, the Charlemagnes, the Alfreds, the Cromwells, great in themselves, but greater as the centre of the efforts of thousands.

We have done much towards understanding the past when we have learned to value and to honour such men. It is almost better to know nothing of history than to know with the narrow coldness of a pedant a record which ought to fill us with emotion and reverence. Our closest friends, our earliest teachers, our parents themselves, are not more truly our benefactors than they. To them we owe what we prize most — country, freedom, peace, knowledge, art, thought, and higher sense of right and wrong. What a tale of patience, courage, sacrifice, and martyrdom is the history of human progress! It affects us as if we were reading in the diary of a parent the record of his struggles for his children. For us they toiled, endured, bled, and died; that we by their labour might have rest, by their thoughts might know, by their death might live happily. For whom did these men work, if not for us?

23 August 2016

A Country Walk

Arnold Haultain, Of Walks and Walking Tours (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1914), p. 214:
There comes a time when nothing seems worth while; when gaiety palls, and even sorrow dulls instead of stirs; when nothing seems of any use, and one feels inclined to give up, to give up. — To such I would say, pull on thick boots, clutch a stout stick, and go for a country walk — rain or shine. — It sounds a preposterous remedy, but try it. Nature never gives up. Not a pygmy weed, trodden under foot of man, and covered up and overwhelmed with rival growths, but battles for its life with vim. Nor does it ask for what it battles. Neither does it question why more favoured plants are so carefully nurtured, and it, poor thing, is dragged up by the roots. — Take a country walk, and look at the weeds if at nothing else.
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19 August 2016

Don't Write a Novel

Paul Fussell, Bad; The Dumbing of America (New York: Touchstone Books, 1991) p. 55:
If you want to be remembered as a clever person and even as a benefactor of humanity, don't write a novel, or even talk about it: instead, compile tables of compound interest, assemble weather data running back seventy-five years, or develop in tabular form improved actuarial information. All more useful than anything "creative" most people could come up with, and less likely to subject the author to neglect, if not ridicule and contempt. In addition, it will be found that most people who seek attention and regard by announcing that they're writing a novel are actually so devoid of narrative talent that they can't hold the attention of a dinner table for thirty seconds, even with a dirty joke.