28 October 2016

Sterilization of the Unfit

Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1938), pp. 100-101:
Somewhere in our adult life, our sentimental nature is killed, strangled, chilled or atrophied by an unkind surrounding, largely through our own fault in neglecting to keep it alive, or our failure to keep clear of such surroundings. In the process of learning "world experience," there is many a violence done to our original nature, when we learn to harden ourselves, to be artificial, and often to be cold-hearted and cruel, so that as one prides oneself upon gaining more and more worldly experience, his nerves become more and more insensitive and benumbed — especially in the world of politics and commerce. As a result, we get the great "go-getter" pushing himself forward to the top and brushing everybody aside; we get the man of iron will and strong determination, with the last embers of sentiment, which he calls foolish idealism or sentimentality, gradually dying out in his breast. It is that sort of person who is beneath my contempt. The world has too many cold-hearted people. If sterilization of the unfit should be carried out as a state policy, it should begin with sterilizing the morally insensible, the artistically stale, the heavy of heart, the ruthlessly successful, the cold-heartedly determined and all those people who have lost the sense of fun in life — rather than the insane and the victims of tuberculosis. For it seems to me that while a man with passion and sentiment may do many foolish and precipitate things, a man without passion or sentiment is a joke and a caricature. Compared with Daudet's Sappho, he is a worm, a machine, an automaton, a blot upon this earth. Many a prostitute lives a nobler life than a successful business man.

26 October 2016

The Gentle Art of Tramping

Stephen Graham, The Gentle Art of Tramping (London: Robert Holden & Co., 1927), pp. 73-74:
The virtue to be envied in tramping is that of being able to live by the way. In that indeed does the gentle art of tramping consist. If you do not live by the way, there is nothing gentle about it. It is then a stunt, a something done to make a dull person ornamental. I listen with pained reluctance to those who claim to have walked forty or fifty miles a day. But it is a pleasure to meet the man who has learned the art of going slowly, the man who disdained not to linger in the happy morning hours, to listen, to watch, to exist. Life is like a road; you hurry, and the end of it is grave. There is no grand crescendo from hour to hour, day to day, year to year; life's quality is in moments, not in distance run.

25 October 2016

A Picture Frame

Douglas McMurtrie, The Golden Book (New York: Covici · Friede, 1934), pp. 380-381:
The object of any work of art is to evoke an emotion. Does a poem of real moment run a better chance of gaining its object if it comes to us in the crowded columns of a newspaper or on a page not only clear typographically but beautiful as well? We react to art not through one sense only at a time. It is on rare occasions that we can see a work of art in any medium independent of its environment. We sense unconsciously other impressions than that of the object nominally holding our attention. This is certainly true of books, or so many people would not appreciate finely made books. And it is worthy of note that the modern books most in demand by present-day connoisseurs are those, not of the severely plain school, but those in which the creative fancy of the designer has made his contribution to the book as a work of art, helping — in only a small degree perhaps — to present it in the manner best calculated to gain the appreciation of the individual of good taste. As a picture frame executed by a master of the framing art can help present a great oil painting in a more favorable way to those who view it than to show the canvas stretched bare over its frame, so can the artist in bookmaking present to the reader an opus in the literary field in a way favorable to its esthetic appreciation.
Related posts:

21 October 2016

The Ugliest of All Civilizations

William Inge, The Idea of Progress (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1920), pp. 13-14:
It is also an unproved assumption that the domination of the planet by our own species is a desirable thing, which must give satisfaction to its Creator. We have devastated the loveliness of the world; we have exterminated several species more beautiful and less vicious than ourselves; we have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form. If it is progress to turn the fields and woods of Essex into East and West Ham, we may be thankful that progress is a sporadic and transient phenomenon in history. It is a pity that our biologists, instead of singing paeans to Progress and thereby stultifying their own speculations, have not preached us sermons on the sin of racial self-idolatry, a topic which really does arise out of their studies. 'L'anthropolatrie, voilà l'ennemi ' is the real ethical motto of biological science, and a valuable contribution to morals.
Ibid., pp. 30-31:
There is much to support the belief that there is a struggle for existence among ideas, and that those tend to prevail which correspond with the changing needs of humanity. It does not necessarily follow that the ideas which prevail are better morally, or even truer to the laws of Nature, than those which fail. Life is so chaotic, and development so sporadic and one-sided, that a brief and brilliant success may carry with it the seeds of its own early ruin. The great triumphs of humanity have not come all at once. Architecture reached its climax in an age otherwise barbarous; Roman Law was perfected in a dismal age of decline; and the nineteenth century, with its marvels of applied science, has produced the ugliest of all civilizations. 

20 October 2016

Beats Getting Your Hands Dirty

Edward Carpenter, My Days and Dreams; Being Autobiographical Notes (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1921), pp. 284-285:
Talking about the gulf fixed between the Old and the New, and especially between the mentality of the downright manual worker and that of the artist — at one time we had an artist friend staying with us who was rather down on his luck and making only a poor living. He was working on a landscape picture, and every morning used to sit in one of my fields and close to the wall which divided it from the high-road. An old road-mender (the same who had told me years before how he remembered the Commons "going in" i.e. being enclosed) — a good old man but bowed with age and labour — used to come that way every morning to his work; and every morning, as sure as Fate, made some patronizing remark to the painter, which at last enraged the latter beyond endurance. "That's a nice pastime for you, young man." And then the next morning, "I see you're amusin' yoursen again, young man"; and so on. ("Pastime, indeed! amusing myself! I wish the old fool had to do it instead of me. But I'll be even with him yet!") So the next morning the artist inveigled the old man into conversation, and after submitting meekly to more patronage, said:
"Well you see I have to do this for my living."

"Do it for your livin', do ye?"


"Do you sell them paintin's, then?"

"Of course I do."

Old Man (a little taken aback) : "And how much might you get for a thing like that?"

Artist (stretching a point) : "Well I might get ten pounds."

Old Man (astonished) : "Ten pun! well I never!"

Artist (following up) : "Or I might get more of course."

Old Man (thoughtfully and with deep respect) : "Ten pun! Well, I never and sittin' down to it too!"

16 October 2016

Not Yet Rich Enough

Agnes Repplier, Essays in Idleness (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1893), pp. 101-103:
It can hardly be denied that the lack of scholarship — of classical scholarship especially — at our universities is due primarily to the labor-worship which is the prevalent superstition of our day, and which, like all superstitions, has gradually degraded its god into an idol, and lost sight of the higher powers and attributes beyond. The student who is pleased to think a knowledge of German "more useful" than a knowledge of Greek; the parent who deliberately declares that his boys have "no time to waste" over Homer; the man who closes the doors of his mind to everything that does not bear directly on mathematics, or chemistry, or engineering, or whatever he calls "work;" all these plead in excuse the exigencies of life, the absolute and imperative necessity of labor.

It would appear, then, that we have no fortunati, that we are not yet rich enough to afford the greatest of all luxuries — leisure to cultivate and enjoy "the best that has been known and thought in the world." This is a pity, because there seems to be money in plenty for so many less valuable things. The yearly taxes of the United States sound to innocent ears like the fabled wealth of the Orient; the yearly expenditures of the people are on no rigid scale; yet we are too poor to harbor the priceless literature of the past because it is not a paying investment, because it will not put bread in our mouths nor clothes on our shivering nakedness. "Poverty is a most odious calling," sighed Burton many years ago, and we have good cause to echo his lament. Until we are able to believe, with that enthusiastic Greek scholar, Mr. Butcher, that "intellectual training is an end in itself, and not a mere preparation for a trade or a profession;" until we begin to understand that there is a leisure which does not mean an easy sauntering through life, but a special form of activity, employing all our faculties, and training us to the adequate reception of whatever is most valuable in literature and art; until we learn to estimate the fruits of self-culture at their proper worth, we are still far from reaping the harvest of three centuries of toil and struggle; we are still as remote as ever from the serenity of intellectual accomplishment.

13 October 2016

Let the Trees Remind Us

Iain Crichton Smith, "As Time Draws Near ," New Collected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 2011):
As time draws near
the end of our days
and the plates fall

away from our knees,
let us not be afraid
of the unsponsored dark.

Heavy grave sin
is weighing your head.
There are shining in darkness

panoramas of terror.
Each nightly picture
is God in his ire.

But for us in autumn
let the trees remind us
of our reasonable sequence,

that like birds we travel
from darkness to darkness
briefly through the hall,

where there remains
the clinking of glasses,
the redness of wine,

though we lie starkly
in our effigies
which will not rise,

pen or sword in hand.
It is an achieved grand
tableau that we leave,

say, turning at the door,
putting on a glove,
and entering the sunset’s

enormous concert.
Surely that is better
than on stumbling feet

in the warmth of wetness
squalidly survive.
Live O live,

all you young ones
who take our places
in this hypothesis

of sun and cloud.
May it be with pride
we applaud your litheness

in this panorama,
this drama of our days.
O yes with pride

that we step outwards
into the darkness
closing our eyes

on the last flickering page.

It is time to let the birds migrate without anguish
through the skies of the immediate
towards a fated destination.

It is time to turn the blow lamp on dogma
and inhabit this blue. 

I assume that "like birds we travel" refers to the sparrow in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People. See First Known When Lost for an interesting post on the subject.

12 October 2016

The Poorest Way to Face Life

Theodore Roosevelt, "Citizenship in a Republic," History as Literature and Other Essays (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913), pp. 142-4:
Let the man of learning, the man of lettered leisure, beware of that queer and cheap temptation to pose to himself and to others as the cynic, as the man who has outgrown emotions and beliefs, the man to whom good and evil are as one. The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twisted pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt.

There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering disbelief toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes second to achievement. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticise work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life's realities — all these are marks, not, as the possessor would fain think, of superiority, but of weakness. They mark the men unfit to bear their part manfully in the stern strife of living, who seek, in the affectation of contempt for the achievements of others, to hide from others and from themselves their own weakness. The rôle is easy; there is none easier, save only the rôle of the man who sneers alike at both criticism and performance.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into a fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world.

11 October 2016

6 October 2016

A New Sahara

Stephen Graham, "The Message From the Hermit," A Tramp's Sketches (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1912), pp. 363-364:
The great fact of the human world to-day is the tremendous commercial machine which is grinding out at a marvellous acceleration the smaller and meaner sort of man, the middle class, the average man, "the damned, compact, liberal majority," to use the words of Ibsen, and the world daily becomes "more Chinese." The rocks are fraying one another down to desert sand, and mankind becomes a new Sahara.