28 December 2012

In the Affirmative

Robin Maugham, Somerset and All the Maughams (New York: New American Library, 1966), pp. 40-41:
There was a large party up at the big house on New Year's Eve, and Willie [i.e., W. Somerset Maugham] and I were invited. A minute or so before midnight someone gaily suggested that we should all sing Auld Lang Syne. Immediately Willie's face froze with dismay -- not because he was afraid that the hackneyed tune would remind him of Gerald [Haxton, recently deceased]: by now he could cope with the misery. I could see from his hectic glances to right and to left that the reason for his consternation was more superficial and immediate. From childhood Willie had had a morbid dread of physical contact with strangers, and he was now suddenly confronted with the prospect of his hands being crossed and then clasped in the sticky palms of two unknown females who had come in late and who were now standing on either side of him. Into his eyes came the frantic look of a hunted animal. I was wondering how Willie would get out of his predicament when he spoke. 
"When on New Year's Eve," Willie said, "I hear people singing that song in which they ask themselves the question 'should old acquaintance be forgot,' I can only tell you that my own answer is in the affirmative." 
That did the trick. Hands that had been crossed and outstretched to clasp Willie's fell down in limp despondency. Mouths that had been opened to chant merrily closed with a snap. And Willie had saved himself.

24 December 2012

Forget, Don't Forgive

P. E. Digeser, Political Forgiveness (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), p. 15:
Friedrich Nietzsche found the whole idea of forgiveness objectionable. From his perspective, forgiving is a matter of the weak making a virtue out of necessity. Because they cannot avenge themselves, they call their weakness "forgiveness". In contrast, more noble types have no need to forgive. They see the resentment that is connected to forgiveness as a poison that they must purge as quickly as possible through an instantaneous, perhaps violent reaction. Nietzsche recommends forgetting instead of forgiving. As an example, he presents Mirabeau, "who lacked all memory for insults and meanness done him, and who was unable to forgive because he had forgotten". Forgiveness that is linked to resentment is either a form of weakness or is unnecessary. Far from trying to recover an alternative vision of forgiveness, Nietzsche calls for its abandonment.

21 December 2012

A Sad Parody

Orison Swett Marden, The Young Man Entering Business (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1907), pp. 31-32:
It is a sad parody on life to see a man earning his living by a vocation which has never received his approval. It is pitiable to see a youth, with the image of power and destiny stamped upon him, trying to support himself in a mean, contemptible occupation, which dwarfs his nature and makes him despise himself; an occupation which is constantly condemning him, ostracizing him from all that is best and truest in life. Dig trenches, shovel coal, carry a hod; do anything rather than sacrifice your self-respect, blunt your sense of right and wrong, and shut yourself off forever from the true joy of living, which comes only from the consciousness of doing one's best.

19 December 2012

God Be Thanked for Books

William Channing (1780-1842), "Self Culture," in The Works of William Ellery Channing (Glasgow: Richard Griffin & Co., 1840), pp. 252-253:
It is chiefly through books that we enjoy intercourse with superior minds, and these invaluable means of communication are in the reach of all. In the best books, great men talk to us, give us their most precious thoughts, and pour their souls into ours. God be thanked for books. They are the voices of the distant and the dead, and make us heirs of the spiritual life of past ages. Books are the true levellers. They give to all, who will faithfully use them, the society, the spiritual presence, of the best and greatest of our race. No matter how poor I am. No matter though the prosperous of my own time will not enter my obscure dwelling. If the Sacred Writers will enter and take up their abode under my roof, if Milton will cross my threshold to sing to me of Paradise, and Shakspeare to open to me the worlds of imagination and the workings of the human heart, and Franklin to enrich me with his practical wisdom, I shall not pine for want of intellectual companionship, and I may become a cultivated man though excluded from what is called the best society in the place where I live.

18 December 2012

The Miserable Banality of Old Age

C. P. Cavafy (1863-1933), Collected Poems, tr. Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992):
An Old Man 
At the noisy end of the café, head bent
over the table, an old man sits alone,
a newspaper in front of him. 
And in the miserable banality of old age
he thinks how little he enjoyed the years
when he had strength, eloquence, and looks. 
He knows he's aged a lot: he sees it, feels it.
Yet it seems he was young just yesterday.
So brief an interval, so very brief. 
And he thinks of Prudence, how it fooled him,
how he always believed -- what madness --
that cheat who said: "Tomorrow. You have plenty of time." 
He remembers impulses bridled, the joy
he sacrificed. Every chance he lost
now mocks his senseless caution. 
But so much thinking, so much remembering
makes the old man dizzy. He falls asleep,
his head resting on the café table.

17 December 2012

Three Copies

From Richard Heber's obituary in The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. 155 (January 1834), p. 107:
He has been known seriously to say to his friends, on their remarking on his many duplicates, "Why, you see, Sir, no man can comfortably do without three copies of a book. One he must have for his show copy, and he will probably keep it at his country house. Another he will require for his own use and reference; and unless he is inclined to part with this, which is very inconvenient, or risk the injury of his best copy, he must needs have a third at the service of his friends.
The same obituary quotes from Sir Walter Scott's Christmas-themed introduction to Canto 6 in Marmion:
How just that, at this time of glee,
My thoughts should, Heber, turn to thee!
For many a merry hour we've known,                      
And heard the chimes of midnight's tone.
Cease, then, my friend! a moment cease,
And leave these classic tomes in peace!
Of Roman and of Grecian lore,
Sure mortal brain can hold no more.

14 December 2012

The Necessity of Solitude

Johann Georg Zimmermann, Solitude (London: Thomas Tegg, 1827), pp. 148-149:
Solitude is not merely desirable, but absolutely necessary, to those characters who possess sensibilities too quick, and imaginations too ardent, to live quietly in the world; and who are incessantly inveighing against men and things. Those who suffer their minds to be subdued by circumstances which would scarcely produce an emotion in other bosoms, who complain of the severity of their misfortunes on occasions which others would not feel, who are dispirited by every occurrence which does not produce immediate satisfaction and pleasure, who are incessantly tormented by the illusions of fancy, who are unhinged and dejected the moment prosperity is out of their view, repine at what they possess from an ignorance of what they really want; whose minds are for ever veering from one vain wish to another; who are alarmed at every thing and enjoy nothing; are not formed for society, and, if solitude have no power to heal their wounded spirits, are certainly incurable.
Men who in other respects possess rational minds and pious dispositions frequently fall into low spirits and despair; but it is in general, almost entirely, their own fault. If it proceed, as is generally the case, from unfounded fears; if they love to torment themselves and others on every trivial disappointment or slight indisposition; if they constantly resort to medicine for that relief which reason alone can bestow; if they fondly indulge instead of repressing these idle fancies; if, after having endured the most excruciating pains with patience, and supported the greatest misfortunes with fortitude, they neither can nor will learn to bear the puncture of the smallest pin, or those trifling adversities to which human life is unavoidably subject, they can only attribute their unhappy condition to their own misconduct; and, although they might, by no very irksome effort of their understandings, look with an eye of composure and tranquillity on the multiplied and fatal fires issuing from the dreadful cannon's mouth, will continue shamefully subdued by the idle apprehensions of being fired at by popguns.
All these qualities of the soul, fortitude, firmness, and stoic inflexibility, are much sooner acquired by silent meditation than amidst the noisy intercourses of mankind, where innumerable difficulties continually oppose us; where ceremony, servility, flattery, and fear, contaminate our dispositions; where every occurrence opposes our endeavours; and where, for this reason, men of the weakest minds and most contracted notions become more active and popular, gain more attention, and are better received, than men of feeling hearts and liberal understandings.
As I've mentioned in earlier posts from this book, a search for a digital version of the original Über die Einsamkeit turns up a mess of jumbled editions and misnumbered volumes in both Archive.org and Google Books. There is a complete scanned edition (Troppau: s.n., 1785) in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

13 December 2012

The Thunder Tome

Via Bibliophilie I discover this 18th century portable (emergency?) toilet hidden inside of a book. Presumably one slips a chamber pot underneath. Or perhaps not, depending on the circumstances.

According to the description the book measures 47 x 33 x 8 centimetres (18.5 x 13 x 3 inches) and consists of two hinged folding shelves; one of wood which functions as a support, while the hemstiched seat is covered with marbled sheepskin. The title of the book is Voyage aux Pays Bas [Journey to the Netherlands] -- I'd have that changed to something more appropriate, say Modern Literary Theory.

It will be sold by auction on December 19th, and the estimated value is 200 to 400 euros. See the Pierre Bergé & Associés web site for more information.

12 December 2012

Anywhere Out of the World

Charles Baudelaire, "Anywhere Out of the World," translated by Arthur Symons, Baudelaire: His Prose and Poetry (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919), pp. 51-53:
Life is a hospital, in which every patient is possessed by the desire of changing his bed. One would prefer to suffer near the fire, and another is certain that he would get well if he were by the window. It seems to me that I should always be happy if I were somewhere else, and this question of moving house is one that I am continually talking over with my soul.
"Tell me, my soul, poor chilly soul, what do you say to living in Lisbon? It must be very warm there, and you would bask merrily, like a lizard. It is by the sea; they say that it is built of marble, and that the people have such a horror of vegetation that they tear up all the trees. There is a country after your own soul; a country made up of light and mineral, and with liquid to reflect them."
My soul makes no answer.
"Since you love rest, and to see moving things, will you come and live in that heavenly land, Holland? Perhaps you would be happy in a country which you have so often admired in pictures. What do you say to Rotterdam, you who love forests of masts, and ships anchored at the doors of houses?"
My soul remains silent.
"Or perhaps Java seems to you more attractive? Well, there we shall find the mind of Europe married to tropical beauty."
Not a word. Can my soul be dead?
"Have you sunk then into so deep a stupor that only your own pain gives you pleasure? If that be so, let us go to the lands that are made in the likeness of Death. I know exactly the place for us, poor soul! We will book our passage to Torneo. We will go still further, to the last limits of the Baltic; and, if it be possible, further still from life; we will make our abode at the Pole. There the sun only grazes the earth, and the slow alternations of light and night put out variety and bring in the half of nothingness, monotony. There we can take great baths of darkness, while, from time to time, for our pleasure, the Aurora Borealis shall scatter its rosy sheaves before us, like reflections of fireworks in hell!" 
At last my soul bursts into speech, and wisely she cries to me: "Anywhere, anywhere, out of the world!" 

11 December 2012

A Disease Everyone Would Like to Catch

George Moore, Memoirs of My Dead Life (London: Heinemann, 1906), p. 140:
You ask me why I like the landscape? Because it carries me back into past times when men believed in nymphs and in satyrs. I have always thought it must be a wonderful thing to believe in the dryad. Do you know that men wandering in the woods sometimes used to catch sight of a white breast between the leaves, and henceforth they could love no mortal woman? The beautiful name of their malady was nympholepsy. A disease that every one would like to catch.

10 December 2012

O Grab, du bist das Paradies

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), The Complete Poems of Heinrich Heine, tr. Hal Draper, (Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1982), p. 699:
Longing for Rest
Oh, let your wounds bleed on unchecked,
And let your tears flow wild or calm --
In pain there burns a secret joy,
And weeping is a kindly balm.
Had others' hands not wounded you,
Yourself would have to deal the hurt;
So give your gracious thanks to God
When down your cheeks the teardrops spurt.
The noise of day is hushed; the night
Falls veiled with crape upon her breast;
And in her lap no knave or fool
Will come by to disturb your rest.
You're safe from music's bluster there,
From torment by pianos clanging,
From operatic tinsel pomp
And din of dread bravura banging.
You won't be dogged or plagued there by
The peacock virtuoso pack,
By Giacomo's great genius and
His worldwide advertising claque.
O grave, you're paradise for ears
That shun the rabble's brawl with scorn --
Death's good, but it were better still
If we had never yet been born.
The German:
Laß bluten deine Wunden, laß
Die Tränen fließen unaufhaltsam -
Geheime Wollust schwelgt im Schmerz,
Und Weinen ist ein süßer Balsam. 
Verwundet dich nicht fremde Hand,
So mußt du selber dich verletzen;
Auch danke hübsch dem lieben Gott,
Wenn Zähren deine Wangen netzen.
Des Tages Lärm verhallt, es steigt
Die Nacht herab mit langen Flören.
In ihrem Schoße wird kein Schelm,
Kein Tölpel deine Ruhe stören.
Hier bist du sicher vor Musik,
Vor des Piano-Fortes Folter,
Und vor der großen Oper Pracht
Und schrecklichem Bravourgepolter.
Hier wirst du nicht verfolgt, geplagt
Vom eitlen Virtuosenpacke
Und vom Genie Giacomos
Und seiner Weltberühmtheitsclaque.
O Grab, du bist das Paradies
Für pöbelscheue, zarte Ohren -
Der Tod ist gut, doch besser wärs,
Die Mutter hätt uns nie geboren.
A related post: The Kingdom of Chance and Error

6 December 2012

The Courage of Their Convictions

Coventry Patmore (1823-1896), The Rod, the Root, and the Flower (London: George Bell & Sons, 1895), p. 38:
Fortunately for themselves and the world, nearly all men are cowards and dare not act on what they believe. Nearly all our disasters come of a few fools having the "courage of their convictions."

5 December 2012

Tomate de merde

The Collectif des 451 is made up of people who work in, and are concerned about the future of, the book trade in France. The following is from the footnotes to their call to action. My translation:
A country friend told us: "In the beginning there was the tomato. Then they created the shitty tomato. And instead of calling it the 'shitty tomato', they called it a 'tomato', while the tomato that tasted like one and was cultivated like one became the 'organic tomato'. From that moment on, we were screwed."
Likewise, we reject the term "digital book" out of hand: a computer data file downloaded onto a tablet will never be a book.
The French:
Un ami paysan nous racontait : « Avant, il y avait la tomate. Puis, ils ont fabriqué la tomate de merde. Et au lieu d’appeler la tomate de merde “tomate de merde”, ils l’ont appelée “tomate”, tandis que la tomate, celle qui avait un goût de tomate et qui était cultivée en tant que telle, est devenue “tomate bio”. À partir de là, c’était foutu. »
Aussi nous refusons d’emblée le terme de « livre numérique » : un fichier de données informatiques téléchargées sur une tablette ne sera jamais un livre.

4 December 2012

Advice for Bibliophiles

Jules Janin, L'Amour des livres [The Love of Books] (Paris: J. Miard, 1866), pp. 14-15. My translation:
Do not buy a book today unless you have read the one you bought two months ago, or six weeks ago, from cover to cover. One day [Antoine] Furetière asked his father to lend him money to buy a book. "Now then," replied the old man, "do you really know everything contained in the one you bought last week?" That was a good response. A gourmet is not a glutton... Read well, read little. In your reading become attached to this philosopher, to that poet; grow fond of both of them, and when you place them triumphantly on your bookshelf, bound in fragrant Russian leather, make sure that you can say: "Until next time. I know you well now, and I share the opinion of those great souls to whom you were a role model and a source of counsel!"
If someone is obliged to read everything he has bought in its entirety, he thinks twice before making a purchase; he is a little more wary of things that are rare and strange and sticks to the masterpieces mankind holds in esteem. And so you will begin by acquiring -- not haggling for -- good and beautiful copies of those few, essential books that one reads and rereads again and again.
The French:
N'achetez aujourd'hui, que si vous avez lu, d'un bout à l'autre, le livre acheté il y a deux mois, il y a six semaines. Furetière demandait un jour à son père de l'argent pour acheter un livre. «Or ça, répondait le bonhomme , il est donc vrai que tu sais tout ce qu'il y avait dans l'autre, acheté la semaine passée?» C'était bien répondre. Un gourmet n'est pas un glouton... Lisez bien, lisez peu: attachez-vous, par la lecture, à ce philosophe, à ce poëte ; aimez-vous l'un et l'autre, et quand vous le placerez triomphalement sur vos tablettes garnies d'un cuir de Russie odorant, faites que vous puissiez lui dire : Au revoir, je te connais bien, à cette heure, et me voilà tout à fait de l'avis des grands esprits dont tu fus l'exemple et le conseil! 
Avec cette nécessité de lire entièrement ce qu'on achète, on y regarde à deux fois, avant d'acheter; on se méfie un peu plus de ce qui est rare et curieux, pour se tenir aux chefs-d'oeuvre honorés de l'assentiment du humain. Vous commencerez donc par vous procurer, sans marchander, de beaux et bons exemplaires de ces quelques livres nécessaires qu'on lit et qu'on relit toujours. 
This is an amusing little book. It was republished by Les Bibliolâtres de France in 1937 but has never appeared in English. I am tempted to translate it myself.

3 December 2012

A Quiet Mind

Edward Dyer (1543-1607), "My Mind a Kingdom," from The Book of Elizabethan Verse (London: Chatto & Windus, 1908), pp. 511-513:
My mind to me a kingdom is;
   Such present joys therein I find,
That it excels all other bliss
   That earth affords or grows by kind:
Though much I want that most would have,
Yet still my mind forbids to crave.  
No princely pomp, no wealthy store,
   No force to win the victory,
No wily wit to salve a sore,
   No shape to feed a loving eye;
To none of these I yield as thrall;
For why? my mind doth serve for all. 
I see how plenty surfeits oft,
   And hasty climbers soon do fall;
I see that those which are aloft
   Mishap doth threaten most of all:
They get with toil, they keep with fear;
Such cares my mind could never bear. 
Content I live, this is my stay;
   I seek no more than may suffice;
I press to bear no haughty sway;
   Look, what I lack my mind supplies.
Lo, thus I triumph like a king,
Content with that my mind doth bring.
Some have too much, yet still do crave;
   I little have, and seek no more.
They are but poor, though much they have,
   And I am rich with little store;
They poor, I rich; they beg, I give;
They lack, I leave; they pine, I live. 
I laugh not at another's loss,
   I grudge not at another's gain;
No worldly waves my mind can toss;
   My state at one doth still remain:
I fear no foe, I fawn no friend;
I loathe not life, nor dread my end. 
Some weigh their pleasure by their lust,
   Their wisdom by their rage of will;
Their treasure is their only trust,
   A cloaked craft their store of skill
But all the pleasure that I find
Is to maintain a quiet mind. 
My wealth is health and perfect ease,
   My conscience clear my chief defence;
I neither seek by bribes to please,
   Nor by deceit to breed offence:
Thus do I live; thus will I die;
Would all did so as well as I! 

30 November 2012

Beasts of Prey

Coventry Patmore (1823-1896), The Rod, the Root, and the Flower (London: George Bell & Sons, 1895), p. 174:
Ninety-nine men in a hundred are natural men, that is, beasts of prey; and it is mere insanity, in business matters, to deal with a stranger upon any other assumption than that he is a natural man, though we should veil our knowledge of the actual fact by a courteous recognition in words and manners of his better possibilities. No one ought to be disappointed or angry at finding a man to be what good sense was bound to expect him to be. We should rather wonder and give great thanks to God whenever we come across His greatest miracle, a supernatural, or honest and just man. 

29 November 2012

Souvarine Plays Powerball

Émile Zola, Germinal (Paris: Charpentier, 1885), pp. 124-125, in which the anarchist Souvarine learns that a couple of workers have won the lottery and plan to spend the rest of their lives doing nothing. My translation:
"Yes, that's the way all of you French workers think. Dig up a treasure and then head off into a corner of egotism and idleness to eat it by yourselves. Why bother crying out against the rich when you lack the courage to give the money that fortune sends you to the poor... you will never be worthy of happiness so long as you have something of your own, and when your hatred of the middle class springs solely from your angry desire to be middle class in their place."
Rasseneur broke out laughing. The idea that the two workers from Marseille should hand over their lottery winnings seemed stupid to him. But Souvarine turned pale and his distorted face became terrifying. It was like one of those religious furores in which nations are exterminated. He shouted:
"All of you will be cut down, knocked over, and left to rot. One day a man will be born who will annihilate you race of cowards and hedonists. And look, do you see my hands? If my hands could, they would take the earth like this and shake it until it broke into little pieces, so that all of you would lie beneath the rubble."
The French:
-- Oui, c'est votre idée, à vous tous, les ouvriers français, déterrer un trésor, pour le manger seul ensuite, dans un coin d'égoïsme et de fainéantise. Vous avez beau crier contre les riches, le courage vous manque de rendre aux pauvres l'argent que la fortune vous envoie… Jamais vous ne serez dignes du bonheur, tant que vous aurez quelque chose à vous, et que votre haine des bourgeois viendra uniquement de votre besoin enragé d'être des bourgeois à leur place.

Rasseneur éclata de rire, l'idée que les deux ouvriers de Marseille auraient dû renoncer au gros lot lui semblait stupide. Mais Souvarine blêmissait, son visage décomposé devenait effrayant, dans une de ces colères religieuses qui exterminent les peuples. Il cria:

-- Vous serez tous fauchés, culbutés, jetés à la pourriture. Il naîtra, celui qui anéantira votre race de poltrons et de jouisseurs. Et, tenez! vous voyez mes mains, si mes mains le pouvaient, elles prendraient la terre comme ça, elles la secoueraient jusqu'à la casser en miettes, pour que vous restiez tous sous les décombres.

28 November 2012

This Is Your Brain on Drugs

Wigged out on laughing gas, William James says he has a better understanding of Hegel's philosophy. From the endnote to his essay "On Some Hegelisms" in Mind, No. 26 (1882), pp. 187-208:
The immense emotional sense of reconciliation which characterizes the "maudlin" stage of alcoholic drunkenness -- a stage which seems silly to lookers-on, but the subjective rapture of which probably constitutes a chief part of the temptation to the vice -- is well known. The centre and periphery of things seem to come together. The ego and its objects, the meum and tuum, are one. Now this, only a thousandfold enhanced, was the effect upon me of the [nitrous oxide] gas: and its first result was to make peal through me with unutterable power the conviction that Hegelism was true after all, and that the deepest convictions of my intellect hitherto were wrong.
A related post: Best Observed in the Nude

27 November 2012

Means and Ends

Erich Fromm, Man for Himself  (London: Routledge, 1999), pp. 194-195:
One of the most outstanding psychological features of modern life is the fact that activities which are means to ends have more and more usurped the position of ends, while the ends themselves have a shadowy and unreal existence. People work in order to make money; they make money in order to do enjoyable things with it. The work is the means, and the enjoyment is the end. But what happens actually? People work in order to make more money, and the end -- the enjoyment of life -- is lost sight of. People are in a hurry and invent things in order to have more time. Then they use the time saved to rush about again to save more time until they are so exhausted that they can not use the time they saved. We have become enmeshed in a net of means and have lost sight of ends. We have radios which can bring to everybody the best in music and literature. What we hear instead is, to a large extent, trash at the pulp magazine level or advertising which is an insult to intelligence and taste. We have the most wonderful instruments and means man has ever had, but we do not stop and ask what are they for.

26 November 2012

The Opposite of Happiness

Erich Fromm, Man for Himself (London: Routledge, 1999), pp. 189-90:
Happiness is often considered the logical opposite of grief or pain. Physical or mental suffering is part of human existence and to experience them is unavoidable. To spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness. The opposite of happiness thus is not grief or pain but depression which results from inner sterility and unproductiveness.

20 November 2012

Posted on Ahead

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, Letter 99, Sections 7-8, tr. Richard M. Gummere, Vol. 3 (London: William Heinemann, 1917), pp. 133-5:
Note the rapidity of Time -- that swiftest of things; consider the shortness of the course along which we hasten at top speed; mark this throng of humanity, all straining toward the same point with briefest intervals between them -- even when they seem longest; he whom you count as passed away has simply posted on ahead. And what is more irrational than to bewail your predecessor, when you yourself must travel on the same journey? Does a man bewail an event which he knew would take place? Or, if he did not think of death as man's lot, he has but cheated himself. Does a man bewail an event which he has been admitting to be unavoidable? Whoever complains about the death of anyone, is complaining that he was a man.
The Latin:
Respice celeritatem rapidissimi temporis, cogita brevitatem huius spatii per quod citatissimi currimus, observa hunc comitatum generis humani eodem tendentis, minimis intervallis distinctum etiam ubi maxima videntur: quem putas perisse praemissus est. Quid autem dementius quam, cum idem tibi iter emetiendum sit, flere eum qui antecessit? Flet aliquis factum quod non ignoravit futurum? Aut si mortem in homine non cogitavit, sibi inposuit. Flet aliquis factum quod aiebat non posse non fieri? quisquis aliquem queritur mortuum esse, queritur hominem fuisse.
I will not be posting for the next few days. I hope to resume next week.

19 November 2012

Gruß vom Krampus

The Toronto Santa Claus parade took place on Saturday. I'd rather have a Krampuslauf, where hairy Krampus beasts threaten children with ruten (bundles of birch sticks) and remind them that they will be taken away and eaten if they misbehave during the year.

It used to be fairly common for people in lower Bavaria and upper Austria to send Krampus cards like the one below, but I'm not sure how popular the custom is today.

16 November 2012

Live Dangerously

Philip Larkin to his friend Jim Sutton on October 3rd, 1949, from the Selected Letters of Philip Larkin (London: Faber and Faber, 1992):
Little happens: life seems to have pushed a steamroller up against the door and nailed the windows and stuffed something down the chimney. It is now dancing up and down outside the glass shouting 'Live dangerously!' I turn round and show it my bum.

14 November 2012

It Is Wrong

Irvin Yalom, When Nietzsche Wept (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), p. 262:
It is wrong to bear children out of need, wrong to use a child to alleviate loneliness, wrong to provide purpose in life by reproducing another copy of oneself. It is wrong also to seek immortality by spewing one's germ into the future as though sperm contains your consciousness!

13 November 2012

Afraid to Be Poor

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Longmans, Green & Co, 1902), pp. 368-9:
Among us English-speaking peoples especially do the praises of poverty need once more to be boldly sung. We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise any one who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join the general scramble and pant with the money-making street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition. We have lost the power even of imagining what the ancient idealization of poverty could have meant: the liberation from material attachments, the unbribed soul, the manlier indifference, the paying our way by what we are or do and not by what we have, the right to fling away our life at any moment irresponsibly -- the more athletic trim, in short, the moral fighting shape. When we of the so-called better classes are scared as men were never scared in history at material ugliness and hardship; when we put off marriage until our house can be artistic, and quake at the thought of having a child without a bank-account and doomed to manual labor, it is time for thinking men to protest against so unmanly and irreligious a state of opinion.
It is true that so far as wealth gives time for ideal ends and exercise to ideal energies, wealth is better than poverty and ought to be chosen. But wealth does this in only a portion of the actual cases. Elsewhere the desire to gain wealth and the fear to lose it are our chief breeders of cowardice and propagators of corruption. There are thousands of conjunctures in which a wealth-bound man must be a slave, whilst a man for whom poverty has no terrors becomes a freeman. Think of the strength which personal indifference to poverty would give us if we were devoted to unpopular causes. We need no longer hold our tongues or fear to vote the revolutionary or reformatory ticket. Our stocks might fall, our hopes of promotion vanish, our salaries stop, our club doors close in our faces; yet, while we lived, we would imperturbably bear witness to the spirit, and our example would help to set free our generation. The cause would need its funds, but we its servants would be potent in proportion as we personally were contented with our poverty.
I recommend this matter to your serious pondering, for it is certain that the prevalent fear of poverty among the educated classes is the worst moral disease from which our civilization suffers.

9 November 2012

The Infantile Society

Edo Reents, "Die infantile Gesellschaft," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (November 3, 2012). My translation:
These devices [i.e., cell phones and other techno-gewgaws] are turning us into disjointed and often rude people. Even conservative people who receive calls on their mobile phones during a meal no longer consider it necessary to leave the table while speaking: everyone should quietly listen in on the whole conversation. That toys should be put away while one is eating, that there is an appropriate time and place for every task, these ideas no longer seem to apply. There are, literally, no more discrete areas of life.
The German:
Diese Geräte machen uns zu sprunghaften und oft auch unhöflichen Menschen. Selbst konservative Menschen, die bei Tische am Mobiltelefon angerufen werden, halten es oft nicht mehr für nötig, sich für die Dauer des Gesprächs zurück zu ziehen, jeder soll ruhig alles mithören. Dass Spielzeug beim Essen nichts verloren, dass jede Verrichtung ihre Zeit und ihren Ort hat, scheint nicht mehr zu gelten. Es gibt keine, im Wortsinne, diskreten Lebensbereiche mehr. 
A related post: Facebook Is a Kind of Self-Prostitution

8 November 2012

Nothing More Secure

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, Letter 99, Sections 4-5, tr. Richard M. Gummere, Vol. 3 (London: William Heinemann, 1917), pp. 131-132:
The past is ours, and there is nothing more secure for us than that which has been. We are ungrateful for past gains, because we hope for the future, as if the future -- if so be that any future is ours -- will not be quickly blended with the past. People set a narrow limit to their enjoyments if they take pleasure only in the present; both the future and the past serve for our delight -- the one with anticipation, and the other with memories but the one is contingent and may not come to pass, while the other must have been.
What madness it is, therefore, to lose our grip on that which is the surest thing of all? Let us rest content with the pleasures we have quaffed in past days, if only, while we quaffed them, the soul was not pierced like a sieve, only to lose again whatever it had received.
The Latin:
Nostrum est, quod praeteriit, tempus nec quicquam est loco tutiore quam quod fuit. Ingrati adversus percepta spe futuri sumus, quasi non quod futurum est, si modo successerit nobis, cito in praeterita transiturum sit. Anguste fructus rerum determinat, qui tantum praesentibus laetus est; et futura et praeterita delectant, haec exspectatione, illa memoria, sed alterum pendet et non fieri potest, alterum non potest non fuisse.
Quis ergo furor est certissimo excidere? Adquiescamus iis, quae iam hausimus, si modo non perforate animo hauriebamus et transmittente quicquid acceperat.

7 November 2012

A Merciful Provision in Nature

Sir Thomas Browne, Hydriotaphia (London: Chiswick Press, 1893), pp. 78-9:
Darknesse and light divide the course of time, and oblivion shares with memory a great part even of our living beings; we slightly remember our felicities, and the smartest strokes of affliction leave but short smart upon us. Sense endureth no extremities, and sorrows destroy us or themselves. To weep into stones are fables. Afflictions induce callosities; miseries are slippery, or fall like snow upon us, which notwithstanding is no unhappy stupidity. To be ignorant of evils to come, and forgetful of evils past, is a merciful provision in nature, whereby we digest the mixture of our few and evil days, and, our delivered senses not relapsing into cutting remembrances, our sorrows are not kept raw by the edge of repetitions.
In her review of the Golden Cockerel edition of Browne's Works, Virginia Woolf described this book as "a temple which we can only enter by leaving our muddy boots on the threshold."

6 November 2012

Tolle, Lege

Lev Grossman, "From Scroll to Screen," The New York Times (September 2, 2011):
In his "Confessions," which dates from the end of the fourth century, St. Augustine famously hears a voice telling him to "pick up and read." He interprets this as a command from God to pick up the Bible, open it at random and read the first passage he sees. He does so, the scales fall from his eyes and he becomes a Christian. Then he bookmarks the page. You could never do that with a scroll.
But so far the great e-book debate has barely touched on the most important feature that the codex introduced: the nonlinear reading that so impressed St. Augustine. If the fable of the scroll and codex has a moral, this is it. We usually associate digital technology with nonlinearity, the forking paths that Web surfers beat through the Internet's underbrush as they click from link to link. But e-books and nonlinearity don't turn out to be very compatible. Trying to jump from place to place in a long document like a novel is painfully awkward on an e-reader, like trying to play the piano with numb fingers. You either creep through the book incrementally, page by page, or leap wildly from point to point and search term to search term. It's no wonder that the rise of e-reading has revived two words for classical-era reading technologies: scroll and tablet. That's the kind of reading you do in an e-book.

5 November 2012

What a Poor Ape

Hermann Hesse, "Rainy Weather," in Wandering, trans. James Wright (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972), p. 67:
There is no escape. You can't be a vagabond and an artist and still be a solid citizen, a wholesome, upstanding man. You want to get drunk, so you have to accept the hangover. You say yes to the sunlight and your pure fantasies, so you have to say yes to the filth and the nausea. Everything is within you, gold and mud, happiness and pain, the laughter of childhood and the apprehension of death. Say yes to everything, shirk nothing, don't try to lie to yourself. You are not a solid citizen, you are not a Greek, you are not harmonious, or the master of yourself, you are a bird in the storm. Let it storm! Let it drive you! How much you have lied! A thousand times, even in your poems and books, you have played the harmonious man, the wise man, the happy, the enlightened man. In the same way, men attacking in war have played heroes, while their bowels twitched. My God, what a poor ape, what a fencer in the mirror, man is -- particularly the artist -- particularly the poet -- particularly myself!

2 November 2012

The Right Reaction

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York, Longmans, Green & Co, 1902), pp. 163-4:
The normal process of life contains moments as bad as any of those which insane melancholy is filled with, moments in which radical evil gets its innings and takes its solid turn. The lunatic's visions of horror are all drawn from the material of daily fact. Our civilization is founded on the shambles, and every individual existence goes out in a lonely spasm of helpless agony. If you protest, my friend, wait till you arrive there yourself! To believe in the carnivorous reptiles of geologic times is hard for our imagination -- they seem too much like mere museum specimens. Yet there is no tooth in any one of those museum-skulls that did not daily through long years of the foretime hold fast to the body struggling in despair of some fated living victim. Forms of horror just as dreadful to the victims, if on a smaller spatial scale, fill the world about us to-day. Here on our very hearths and in our gardens the infernal cat plays with the panting mouse, or holds the hot bird fluttering in her jaws. Crocodiles and rattlesnakes and pythons are at this moment vessels of life as real as we are; their loathsome existence fills every minute of every day that drags its length along; and whenever they or other wild beasts clutch their living prey, the deadly horror which an agitated melancholiac feels is the literally right reaction on the situation.

1 November 2012

An Extraordinary Thing

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft  (London: Archibald Constable, 1912). From page 180:
Blackberries hanging thick upon the hedge bring to my memory something of long ago. I had somehow escaped into the country, and on a long walk began to feel mid-day hunger. The wayside brambles were fruiting; I picked and ate, and ate on, until I had come within sight of an inn where I might have made a meal. But my hunger was satisfied; I had no need of anything more, and, as I thought of it, a strange feeling of surprise, a sort of bewilderment, came upon me. What! Could it be that I had eaten, and eaten sufficiently, without paying? It struck me as an extraordinary thing. At that time, my ceaseless preoccupation was how to obtain money to keep myself alive. Many a day I had suffered hunger because I durst not spend the few coins I possessed; the food I could buy was in any case unsatisfactory, unvaried. But here Nature had given me a feast, which seemed delicious, and I had eaten all I wanted. The wonder held me for a long time, and to this day I can recall it, understand it.
The book was first published in 1903. I have linked to the 1912 edition because it's a very clean copy, and because I have a weakness for rubricated initials.

30 October 2012

The Deepest Degradation of Man

Richard Wagner, "Art and Revolution," in Richard Wagner's Prose Works, trans. William Ashton Ellis, Vol. I (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd., 1895), pp. 48-49:
The true artist finds delight not only in the aim of his creation, but also in the very process of creation, in the handling and moulding of his material. The very act of production is to him a gladsome, satisfying activity: no toil. The journeyman reckons only the goal of his labour, the profit which his toil shall bring him; the energy which he expends, gives him no pleasure; it is but a fatigue, an inevitable task, a burden which he would gladly give over to a machine; his toil is but a fettering chain. For this reason he is never present with his work in spirit, but always looking beyond it to its goal, which he fain would reach as quickly as he may. Yet, if the immediate aim of the journeyman is the satisfaction of an impulse of his own, such as the preparing of his own dwelling, his chattels, his raiment, etc.: then, together with his prospective pleasure in the hasting value of these objects, there also enters by degrees a bent to such a fashioning of the material as shall agree with his individual tastes. After he has fulfilled the demands of bare necessity, the creation of that which answers to less pressing needs will elevate itself to the rank of artistic production. But if he bargains away the product of his toil, all that remains to him is its mere money-worth; and thus his energy can never rise above the character of the busy strokes of a machine; in his eyes it is but weariness, and bitter, sorrowful toil. The latter is the lot of the Slave of Industry; and our modern factories afford us the sad picture of the deepest degradation of man, -- constant labour, killing both body and soul, without joy or love, often almost without aim.

26 October 2012

Must I Whine as Well?

Irvin Yalom, Existential Psychotherapy (New York: Basic Books, 1980), pp. 271-2:
But even immersed to the neck, a human being has freedom: he or she chooses how to feel about the situation, what attitudes to adopt, whether to be courageous, stoic, fatalistic, cunning, or panicked. There is no limit to the range of psychological options available. Almost two thousand years ago Epictetus said:
I must die. I must be imprisoned. I must suffer exile. But must I die groaning? Must I whine as well? Can anyone hinder me from going into exile with a smile? The master threatens to chain me: what say you? Chain me? My leg you will chain -- yes, but not my will -- no, not even Zeus can conquer that.
This is no minor quibble. Even though the image of a drowning man's possessing freedom may appear ludicrous, the principle behind the image is of great significance. One's attitude toward one's situation is the very crux of being human, and conclusions about human nature based solely on measurable behavior are distortions of that nature. It cannot be denied that environment, genetics, or chance plays a role in one's life. The limiting circumstances are obvious: Sartre speaks of a "coefficient of adversity." All of us face natural adversities that influence our lives. For example, contingencies may hinder any one of us from finding a job or a mate -- physical handicaps, inadequate education, poor health, and so forth -- but that does not mean that we have no responsibility (or choice) in the situation. We are responsible still for what we make out of our handicaps; for our attitudes toward them; for the bitterness, anger, or depression that act synergistically with the original "coefficient of adversity" to ensure that a handicap will defeat the individual.
In Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus's Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior (available here for free), James Stockdale refers to the same passage from Epictetus, and says the Enchiridion helped him endure the seven and a half years he spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. From page 7:
On September 9, 1965, I flew at 500 knots right into a flak trap, at tree-top level, in a little A-4 airplane -- the cockpit walls not even three feet apart -- which I couldn't steer after it was on fire, its control system shot out. After ejection I had about thirty seconds to make my last statement in freedom before I landed in the main street of a little village right ahead. And so help me, I whispered to myself: "Five years down there, at least. I'm leaving the world of technology and entering the world of Epictetus."

Like Dishes of Meat Twice Drest

Samuel Butler (1613-1680), Characters and Passages from Note Books, ed. A. R. Waller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908), pp. 170-1:
A Translator
Dyes an Author, like an old Stuff, into a new Colour, but can never give it the Beauty and Lustre of the first Tincture; as Silks that are twice died lose their Glosses, and never receive a fair Colour. He is a small Factor, that imports Books of the Growth of one Language into another, but it seldom turns to Accompt; for the Commodity is perishable, and the finer it is the worse it endures Transportation; as the most delicate of Indian Fruits are by no Art to be brought over. Nevertheless he seldom fails of his Purpose, which is to please himself, and give the World notice that he understands one Language more than it was aware of; and that done he makes a saving Return. He is a Truch-Man that interprets between learned Writers and gentle Readers, and uses both how he pleases; for he commonly mistakes the one, and misinforms the other. If he does not perfectly understand the full Meaning of his Author as well as he did himself, he is but a Copier, and therefore never comes near the Mastery of the Original; and his Labours are like Dishes of Meat twice drest, that become insipid, and lose the pleasant Taste they had at first. He differs from an Author as a Fidler does from a Musician, that plays other Men's Compositions, but is not able to make any of his own. All his Studies tend to the Ruin of the Interests of Linguists; for by making those Books common, that were understood but by few in the Original, he endeavours to make the Rabble as wise as himself without taking Pains, and prevents others from studying Languages, to understand that which they may know as well without them. The Ancients, who never writ any Thing but what they stole and borrowed from others (and who was the first Inventor nobody knows) never used this Way; but what they found for their Purposes in other Authors they disguised, so that it past for their own: but to take whole Books and render them, as our Translators do, they always forbore, out of more or less Ingenuity is a Question; for they shewed more in making what they liked their own, and less in not acknowledging from whence they had it. And though the Romans by the Laws of War laid claim to all Things, both sacred and profane, of those Nations whom they conquered; yet they never extended that Privilege to their Wit, but made that their own by another Title of the same Kind, and over-came their Wit with Wit. 

25 October 2012

A Pharisaic Rite

Reinhold Niebuhr, from an entry for 1927 in Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1957), pp. 173-4:
I wonder if it is really possible to have an honest Thanksgiving celebration in an industrial civilization. Harvest festivals were natural enough in peasant communities. The agrarian feels himself dependent upon nature's beneficence and anxious about nature's caprices. When the autumnal harvest is finally safe in the barns there arise, with the sigh of relief, natural emotions of gratitude that must express themselves religiously, since the bounty is actually created by the mysterious forces of nature which man may guide but never quite control.
All that is different in an industrial civilization in which so much wealth is piled up by the ingenuity of the machine, and, at least seemingly, by the diligence of man. Thanksgiving becomes increasingly the business of congratulating the Almighty upon his most excellent coworkers, ourselves. I have had that feeling about the Thanksgiving proclamations of our Presidents for some years. An individual, living in an industrial community might still celebrate a Thanksgiving day uncorrupted by pride, because he does benefit from processes and forces which he does not create or even guide. But a national Thanksgiving, particularly if it is meant to express gratitude for material bounty, becomes increasingly a pharisaic rite.

24 October 2012


From an article in the New York Times Book Review, October 9, 1921, p. 41:
"Valutastark" means, literally translated, exchange-strong. It is a word coined in Germany to describe a person sojourning today in lands where the currency is depreciated, whose funds come from a land where the currency is not depreciated at all, or, even if below normal, is, nevertheless, better than that of the country where that person is staying.
The author describes in some detail how comfortably an American could live in Berlin during the Weimar hyperinflation.

23 October 2012

A Melancholy and Disconcerting Business

A. C. Benson, Where No Fear Was (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1914), pp. 94-5:
[A]s a man grows older, as his work stiffens and weakens, he falls out of the race, and he must be content to do so; and he is well advised if he puts his failure down to his own deficiencies, and not to the malice of others. The world is really very much on the look out for anything which amuses, delights, impresses, moves, or helps it; it is quick and generous in recognition of originality and force; and if a writer, as he gets older, finds his books neglected and his opinions disdained, he may be fairly sure that he has said his say, and that men are preoccupied with new ideas and new personalities. Of course this is a melancholy and disconcerting business, especially if one has been more concerned with personal prominence than with the worth and weight of one's ideas; mortified vanity is a sore trial.

20 October 2012

A Beautiful, Strong Tree

Hermann Hesse, "Trees," in Wandering, trans. James Wright (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972), p. 57:
For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.
 The original, from Wanderung (Berlin: S. Fischer, 1920), p. 61:
Bäume sind für mich immer die eindringlichsten Prediger gewesen. Ich verehre sie, wenn sie in Völkern und Familien leben, in Wäldern und Hainen. Und noch mehr verehre ich sie, wenn sie einzeln stehen. Sie sind wie Einsame. Nicht wie Einsiedler, welche aus irgendeiner Schwäche sich davongestohlen haben, sondern wie große, vereinsamte Menschen, wie Beethoven und Nietzsche. In ihren Wipfeln rauscht die Welt, ihre Wurzeln ruhen im Unendlichen; allein sie verlieren sich nicht darin, sondern erstreben mit aller Kraft ihres Lebens nur das Eine: ihr eigenes, in ihnen wohnendes Gesetz zu erfüllen, ihre eigene Gestalt auszubauen, sich selbst darzustellen. Nichts ist heiliger, nichts ist vorbildlicher als ein schöner, starker Baum.
 Insel published a collection of Hesse's tree texts in 1984.

18 October 2012

Simple Pleasures

R. C. Trevelyan, "Simple Pleasures," in Horizon (November 1941), pp. 304-313:
To lie on a sofa looking at the varied decorations of one's bookshelves. But this may easily become a complex emotion of pleasure or regret; the pleasure and pride of a collector and possessor, or regret at having read so few of the books, or the thought that so many are not worth the trouble of reading.
Félix Vallotton, Le Bibliophile (1911)

17 October 2012

Gambler's Luck

Reinhold Niebuhr, from an entry for 1927 in Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1957), p. 159:
I fell in with a gentleman on the Pullman smoker today (Pullman smokers are perfect institutes for plumbing the depths and shallows of the American mind) who had made a killing on the stock exchange. His luck appeared like success from his perspective, and he was full of the confidence with which success endows mortals. He spoke oracularly on any and all subjects. He knew why the farmers were not making any money and why the Europeans were not as prosperous as we. Isn't it strange how gambler's luck gives men the assurance of wisdom for which philosophers search in vain? I pity this man's wife. But she probably regards a new fur coat as adequate compensation for the task of appearing convinced by his obiter dicta.

15 October 2012

Some Misty Autumn Morning

John Cowper Powys, Suspended Judgments (New York: G. Arnold Shaw, 1916), pp. 37-39:
I sometimes think that the wisdom of Montaigne, with its essential roots in physiological well-being, is best realised and understood when on some misty autumn morning, full of the smell of leaves, one lies, just newly awakened out of pleasant dreams, and watches the sunshine on wall and window and floor, and listens to the traffic of the town or the noises of the village. It is then, with the sweet languor of awakening, that one seems conscious of some ineffable spiritual secret to be drawn from the material sensations of the nerves of one's body.
Montaigne, with all his gravity, is quite shameless in the assumption that the details of his bodily habits form an important part, not by any means to be neglected, of the picture he sets out to give of himself.
And those who read Montaigne with sympathetic affinity will find themselves growing into the habit of making much of the sensations of their bodies. They will not rush foolishly and stupidly, like dull economic machines, from bedroom to "lunch counter" and from "lunch counter" to office. They will savour every moment which can be called their own and they will endeavour to enlarge such moments by any sort of economic or domestic change.
They will make much of the sensations of waking and bathing and eating and drinking and going to sleep; just as they make much of the sensations of reading admirable books. They will cross the road to the sunny side of the street; they will pause by the toy-shops and the flower-shops. They will go out into the fields, before breakfast, to look for mushrooms.

12 October 2012

Philosophical Melancholy

David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, Part IV, Section VII (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1888), p. 269:
Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron'd with the deepest darkness, and utterly depriv'd of the use of every member and faculty. 
Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours' amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

11 October 2012

The Elimination of Concrete Evils

Karl Popper, "Utopia and Violence," in The Hibbert Journal 46 (January 1948), pp. 109-116:
If I were to give a simple formula or recipe for distinguishing between what I consider to be admissible plans for social reform and inadmissible Utopian blueprints, I might say:
Work for the elimination of concrete evils rather than for the realization of abstract goods. Do not aim at establishing happiness by political means. Rather aim at the elimination of concrete miseries. Or, in more practical terms: fight for the elimination of poverty by direct means ‐‐ for example, by making sure that everybody has a minimum income. Or fight against epidemics and disease by erecting hospitals and schools of medicine. Fight illiteracy as you fight criminality. But do all this by direct means. Choose what you consider the most urgent evil of the society in which you live, and try patiently to convince people that we can get rid of it.
But do not try to realize these aims indirectly by designing and working for a distant ideal of a society which is wholly good. However deeply you may feel indebted to its inspiring vision, do not think that you are obliged to work for its realization, or that it is your mission to open the eyes of others to its beauty. Do not allow your dreams of a beautiful world to lure you away from the claims of men who suffer here and now. Our fellow men have a claim to our help; no generation must be sacrificed for the sake of future generations, for the sake of an ideal of happiness that may never be realized. In brief, it is my thesis that human misery is the most urgent problem of a rational public policy and that happiness is not such a problem. The attainment of happiness should be left to our private endeavours.

10 October 2012

A Torrent of Waste-Matter

Denis de Rougemont, quoted by Laurence Durrell in a letter to Henry Miller on October 24th, 1958, from The Durrell-Miller Letters; 1935-1980 (New York: New Directions, 1988), p. 330:
When under the pretence of destroying whatever is artificial -- idealizing rhetoric, the mystical ethics of 'perfection' -- people seek to swamp themselves in the primitive flood of instinct, in whatever is primeval, formless and foul, they may imagine they are recapturing real life but actually they are being swept away by a torrent of waste-matter pouring from the disintegration of the ancient culture and its myths.

9 October 2012

Art as Raiser of the Dead

Friedrich Nietzsche in Human, All Too Human, trans. Helen Zimmern, from The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Vol. VI (New York: Macmillan, 1915), pp. 154-5:
Art also fulfils the task of preservation and even of brightening up extinguished and faded memories; when it accomplishes this task it weaves a rope round the ages and causes their spirits to return. It is, certainly, only a phantom-life that results therefrom, as out of graves, or like the return in dreams of our beloved dead, but for some moments, at least, the old sensation lives again and the heart beats to an almost forgotten time. Hence, for the sake of the general usefulness of art, the artist himself must be excused if he does not stand in the front rank of the enlightenment and progressive civilisation of humanity; all his life long he has remained a child or a youth, and has stood still at the point where he was overcome by his artistic impulse; the feelings of the first years of life, however, are acknowledged to be nearer to those of earlier times than to those of the present century.

8 October 2012

Not More Stuffed Chairs

William Morris, "The Beauty of Life," Hopes and Fears for Art (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1908), pp. 106-7:
When you hear of the luxuries of the ancients, you must remember that they were not like our luxuries, they were rather indulgence in pieces of extravagant folly than what we to-day call luxury; which perhaps you would rather call comfort: well, I accept the word, and say that a Greek or Roman of the luxurious time would stare astonished could he be brought back again, and shown the comforts of a well-to-do middle-class house. 
But some, I know, think that the attainment of these very comforts is what makes the difference between civilization and uncivilization, that they are the essence of civilization. Is it so indeed? Farewell my hope then! -- I had thought that civilization meant the attainment of peace and order and freedom, of goodwill between man and man, of the love of truth, and the hatred of injustice, and by consequence the attainment of the good life which these things breed, a life free from craven fear, but full of incident: that was what I thought it meant, not more stuffed chairs and more cushions, and more carpets and gas, and more dainty meat and drink -- and therewithal more and sharper differences between class and class. 
If that be what it is, I for my part wish I were well out of it, and living in a tent in the Persian desert, or a turf hut on the Iceland hill-side.

4 October 2012

Something Very Repugnant

A. C. Benson, Where No Fear Was (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1914), pp. 96-7:
There is something very repugnant in an elderly person who is bent on proving his importance and dignity, in laying claim to force and influence, in affecting to play a large part in the world. But there is something even more afflicting in the people who drop all decent pretence of dignity, and pour the product of an acrid and disappointed spirit into all conversations.

3 October 2012

You Must Have Rules

George Moore, Confessions of a Young Man (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1904), p. 128:
You must have rules in poetry, if it is only for the pleasure of breaking them, just as you must have women dressed, if it is only for the pleasure of undressing them. 

2 October 2012

More or Less Ennuyé

From Byron's diary entry for January 6, 1821 in Life of Lord Byron, ed. Thomas Moore, Vol. V (London: John Murray, 1854), pp. 60-1:
What is the reason that I have been, all my lifetime, more or less ennuyé? and that, if any thing, I am rather less so now than I was at twenty, as far as my recollection serves? I do not know how to answer this, but presume that it is constitutional, -- as well as the waking in low spirits, which I have invariably done for many years. Temperance and exercise, which I have practised at times, and for a long time together vigorously and violently, made little or no difference. Violent passions did; -- when under their immediate influence -- it is odd, but -- I was in agitated, but not in depressed, spirits.
A dose of salts has the effect of a temporary inebriation, like light champagne, upon me. But wine and spirits make me sullen and savage to ferocity -- silent, however, and retiring, and not quarrelsome, if not spoken to. Swimming also raises my spirits, -- but in general they are low, and get daily lower. That is hopeless; for I do not think I am so much ennuyé as I was at nineteen. The proof is, that then I must game, or drink, or be in motion of some kind, or I was miserable. At present, I can mope in quietness; and like being alone better than any company -- except the lady's whom I serve. But I feel a something, which makes me think that, if I ever reach near to old age, like Swift, 'I shall die at top' first. Only I do not dread idiotism or madness so much as he did. On the contrary, I think some quieter stages of both must be preferable to much of what men think the possession of their senses.

1 October 2012

One of the Essential Endowments

Mary Watts, George Frederick Watts; The Annals of an Artist's Life, Vol. I (New York: George H. Doran, 1913), pp. 14-5:
Endowed by nature with a fine ear, and answering as he must to everything that was great in any art, [George Frederick Watts] would sometimes speak so enthusiastically of music as to express regret that he had not in early life turned his whole attention to it, rather than to the sister art [of painting]. Lord Holland liked to tell a story of some one much the senior of Watts, a man of the world, and one who very much believed in himself, who, standing among a group of listeners one day at Casa Feroni, and rather boasting of his contempt for music, turned to those about him -- Lord Holland being of their number -- and said, "It has not the slightest effect upon me, pleasurable or otherwise -- what does that mean, I ask you ?" "It means a defective organisation," answered the young painter hotly, obliged, in defence of the divine art, to drop his habit of never putting himself forward. Lord Holland was as much delighted as the boaster was furious.
Though half a lifetime lies between the two utterances, the conviction that brought the quick rebuke to his lips was clearly explained when he wrote the following passage: "'All beauty,' said the devout mystic, 'is the face of God'; therefore to make acquaintance with beauty, in and through every form, is the cultivation of religious feeling. This while it is the noblest aspect of art, it is also the most primitive. Nothing can be more important to remember than that in the cultivation of the artistic perceptions we are developing one of the essential endowments of the human creature -- one in which that difference between him and the lower creation is most distinctly marked. It seems to me to be the duty of every one to answer to every such call."

G. F. Watts, Petraia

29 September 2012

Books and Buttered Muffins

Charles Lamb to S. T. Coleridge on 11 October 1802, quoted in Holbrook Jackson's Bookman's Holiday (London: Faber & Faber, 1945), p. 192:
A book reads the better, which is our own, and has been so long known to us, that we know the topography of its blots, and dog's-ears, and can trace the dirt in it to having read it at tea with buttered muffins, or over a pipe, which I think is the maximum.

27 September 2012

A Mere Article of the World's Furniture

Henri Frédéric Amiel, Journal Intime, trans. Mrs. Humphry Ward (New York: A. L. Burt, c. 1895), pp. 144-5:
The man who has no refuge in himself, who lives, so to speak, in his front rooms, in the outer whirlwind of things and opinions, is not properly a personality at all; he is not distinct, free, original, a cause -- in a word, some one. He is one of a crowd, a taxpayer, an elector, an anonymity, but not a man. He helps to make up the mass -- to fill up the number of human consumers or producers; but he interests nobody but the economist and the statistician, who take the heap of sand as a whole into consideration, without troubling themselves about the uninteresting uniformity of the individual grains. The crowd counts only as a massive elementary force -- why? because its constituent parts are individually insignificant: they are all like each other, and we add them up like the molecules of water in a river, gauging them by the fathom instead of appreciating them as individuals. Such men are reckoned and weighed merely as so many bodies: they have never been individualized by conscience, after the manner of souls.
He who floats with the current, who does not guide himself according to higher principles, who has no ideal, no convictions -- such a man is a mere article of the world's furniture -- a thing moved, instead of a living and moving being -- an echo, not a voice. The man who has no inner life is the slave of his surroundings, as the barometer is the obedient servant of the air at rest, and the weathercock the humble servant of the air in motion. 

26 September 2012

The Sons of Joy

Robert Louis Stevenson, "A Letter to a Young Gentleman Who Proposes to Embrace the Career of Art," Scribner's Magazine, Vol. IV, No. 3, September 1888, p. 379:
The first duty in this world is for a man to pay his way; when that is quite accomplished, he may plunge into what eccentricity he likes; but emphatically not till then. Till then, he must pay assiduous court to the bourgeois who carries the purse. And if in the course of these capitulations he shall falsify his talent, it can never have been a strong one, and he will have preserved a better thing than talent -- character. Or if he be of a mind so independent that he cannot stoop to this necessity, one course is yet open: he can desist from art, and follow some more manly way of life.
I speak of a more manly way of life, it is a point on which I must be frank. To live by a pleasure is not a high calling; it involves patronage, however veiled; it numbers the artist, however ambitious, along with dancing girls and billiard markers. The French have a romantic evasion for one employment, and call its practitioners the Daughters of Joy. The artist is of the same family, he is of the Sons of Joy, chose his trade to please himself, gains his livelihood by pleasing others, and has parted with something of the sterner dignity of man.
Ibid., p. 380:
If you adopt an art to be your trade, weed your mind at the outset of all desire of money. What you may decently expect, if you have some talent and much industry, is such an income as a clerk will earn with a tenth or perhaps a twentieth of your nervous output. Nor have you the right to look for more; in the wages of the life, not in the wages of the trade, lies your reward; the work is here the wages. It will be seen I have little sympathy with the common lamentations of the artist class. Perhaps they do not remember the hire of the field labourer; or do they think no parallel will lie? Perhaps they have never observed what is the retiring allowance of a field officer; or do they suppose their contributions to the arts of pleasing more important than the services of a colonel? Perhaps they forget on how little [Jean-François] Millet was content to live; or do they think, because they have less genius, they stand excused from the display of equal virtues?

25 September 2012

Don't Make Your House in My Mind

Percy Lubbock in the introduction to A. C. Benson's Diary (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1926), p. 18:
"Don't make your house in my mind" -- that was a phrase [Benson] used to quote from Aristophanes, and one could see how instinctively he put out his hands and warded off the danger of encroachment. Nobody must invade his mind, force his inclination, "hustle" him -- it was a frequent word of his, he ruffled and bristled at the suggestion. He clutched his liberty; he never surrendered a jot of it -- and not only that, but if ever on any pretext it was threatened, in love or strife, he lost all scruple in protecting himself, he thought of nothing but to rout and disable the intruder. Why should people desire to press in upon him, when he was always so ready to meet them in the doorway and talk agreeably on the threshold? It was not as though he was stiff with them out there, or distant in his greeting; far from it indeed -- he talked with the utmost freedom, he would frankly answer any question they liked to ask. Less than anybody was he disposed to make a secret of his privacy; it was for all who cared to hear him tell about it. But that must suffice -- and why should it not? He thought it might suffice, as in the lives of others it was all he dreamed ot demanding for himself. Anyhow he could not admit the kind of interference which asks for more than can be told upon the threshold; and if more was insisted on, if a place and a lodging was required in the seclusion of his mind -- then there was likely to be trouble. 

24 September 2012

Honest Diversion

Michel de Montaigne, "On Books," Essays, trans. Charles Cotton, Vol. II (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1913), p. 87:
I seek, in the reading of books, only to please myself by an honest diversion; or, if I study, 'tis for no other science than what treats of the knowledge of myself, and instructs me how to die and how to live well.  
The original:
Je ne cherche aux livres qu'à m'y donner du plaisir par un honnête amusement : ou si j'étudie, je n'y cherche que la science qui traite de la connaissance de moi-même, et qui m'instruise à bien mourir et à bien vivre.

20 September 2012

Cui Bono

Thomas Carlyle, Critical and Miscellaneous EssaysVol. I (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1881), p. 471:
What is Hope? A smiling rainbow
Children follow through the wet;
’Tis not here, still yonder, yonder:
Never urchin found it yet.

What is Life? A thawing iceboard
On a sea with sunny shore; --
Gay we sail; it melts beneath us;
We are sunk, and seen no more.

What is Man? A foolish baby,
Vainly strives, and fights, and frets;
Demanding all, deserving nothing; --
One small grave is what he gets.

19 September 2012

Peculiarly Attractive to a Half-Baked Mind

E. M. Forster, Howards End (New York: Vintage Books, 1921), pp. 50-51:
And the voice [of John Ruskin] rolled on, piping melodiously of Effort and Self-Sacrifice, full of high purpose, full of beauty, full even of sympathy and the love of men, yet somehow eluding all that was actual and insistent in Leonard's life. For it was the voice of one who had never been dirty or hungry, and had not guessed successfully what dirt and hunger are.
Leonard listened to it with reverence. He felt that he was being done good to, and that if he kept on with Ruskin, and the Queen's Hall Concerts, and some pictures by Watts, he would one day push his head out of the grey waters and see the universe. He believed in sudden conversion, a belief which may be right, but which is peculiarly attractive to a half-baked mind. It is the bias of much popular religion: in the domain of business it dominates the Stock Exchange, and becomes that "bit of luck" by which all successes and failures are explained. "If only I had a bit of luck, the whole thing would come straight. . . . He's got a most magnificent place down at Streatham and a 20 h.p. Fiat, but then, mind you, he's had luck. . . . I'm sorry the wife's so late, but she never has any luck over catching trains." Leonard was superior to these people; he did believe in effort and in a steady preparation for the change that he desired. But of a heritage that may expand gradually, he had no conception: he hoped to come to Culture suddenly, much as the Revivalist hopes to come to Jesus.

18 September 2012

Washing Vegetables

Diogenes Laërtius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, tr. Robert Drew Hicks, Vol. I (London: Heinemann, 1925):
Diogenes, washing the dirt from his vegetables, saw [Aristippus] passing and jeered at him in these terms, "If you had learnt to make these your diet, you would not have paid court to kings," to which his rejoinder was, "And if you knew how to associate with men, you would not be washing vegetables."

17 September 2012

The Kingdom of Chance and Error

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, tr. E. F. J. Payne, Vol. I (New York: Dover Publications, 1969), p. 324:
Anyone who has awakened from the first dreams of youth; who has considered his own and others' experience; who has looked at life in the history of the past and of his own time, and finally in the works of the great poets, will certainly acknowledge the result, if his judgement is not paralysed by some indelibly imprinted prejudice, that this world of humanity is the kingdom of chance and error. These rule in it without mercy in great things as in small; and along with them folly and wickedness also wield the scourge. Hence arises the fact that everything better struggles through only with difficulty; what is noble and wise very rarely makes its appearance, becomes effective, or meets with a hearing, but the absurd and perverse in the realm of thought, the dull and tasteless in the sphere of art, and the wicked and fraudulent in the sphere of action, really assert a supremacy that is disturbed only by brief interruptions. On the other hand, everything excellent or admirable is always only an exception, one case in millions; therefore, if it has shown itself in a lasting work, this subsequently exists in isolation, after it has outlived the rancour of its contemporaries. It is preserved like a meteorite, sprung from an order of things different from that which prevails here. But as regards the life of the individual, every life-history is a history of suffering, for, as a rule, every life is a continual series of mishaps great and small, concealed as much as possible by everyone, because he knows that others are almost always bound to feel satisfaction at the spectacle of annoyances from which they are for the moment exempt; rarely will they feel sympathy or compassion. But perhaps at the end of his life, no man, if he be sincere and at the same time in possession of his faculties, will ever wish to go through it again. Rather than this, he will much prefer to choose complete non-existence.

14 September 2012

Sic tu recoli merearis!

by A. C. Benson

O soul, my soul, before thou comst to die,
  Set one deep mark upon the face of time,
  Let one absorbing laughter, one grave rhyme
Ring in the heedless wind that hurries by.

Yon smooth-limbed beech, that hangs upon the slope
  With branching spray, with firm and shapely arm,
  Hath, could'st thou write it, a bewildering charm
Would gild thy name beyond thy utmost hope!

O soul, my soul, be true, laborious, just, --
  And some chance word, some penetrating smile,
    Flashed with no purpose, no impulsive aim,
Shall live, and breed strong thoughts, when thou art dust;
    And mount, and gather strength, and roll in flame
  Beyond the utmost Orient's utmost isle!

From The Yellow Book, VII (January, 1895), p.191.

13 September 2012

Everything Was Different

Eileen Power, Medieval People (London: Methuen, 1924), pp. 15-6:
The fact is that the Romans were blinded to what was happening to them [i.e., that the empire was collapsing] by the very perfection of the material culture which they had created. All around them was solidity and comfort, a material existence which was the very antithesis of barbarism. How could they foresee the day when the Norman chronicler would marvel over the broken hypocausts of Caerleon? How could they imagine that anything so solid might conceivably disappear? Their roads grew better as their statesmanship grew worse and central heating triumphed as civilization fell.
But still more responsible for their unawareness was the educational system in which they were reared. Ausonius and Sidonius and their friends were highly educated men and Gaul was famous for its schools and universities. The education which these gave consisted in the study of grammar and rhetoric, which was necessary alike for the civil service and for polite society; and it would be difficult to imagine an education more entirely out of touch with contemporary life, or less suited to inculcate the qualities which might have enabled men to deal with it. The fatal study of rhetoric, its links with reality long since severed, concentrated the whole attention of men of intellect on form rather than on matter. The things they learned in their schools had no relation to the things that were going on in the world outside and bred in them the fatal illusion that tomorrow would be as yesterday, that everything was the same, whereas everything was different.

12 September 2012

Perfectly Contented

Johann Georg Zimmermann, Solitude (London: Thomas Tegg, 1827), p. 37:
Solitude, indeed, affords a pleasure to an author of which no one can deprive him, and which far exceeds all the honours of the world. He not only anticipates the effect his work will produce, but while it advances towards completion, feels the delicious enjoyment of those hours of serenity and composure which his labours procure. What continued and tranquil delight flows from successive composition! Sorrows fly from this elegant occupation. Oh! I would not exchange one single hour of such private tranquility and content for all those flattering illusions of public fame with which the mind of Tully was so incessantly intoxicated. A difficulty surmounted, a happy moment seized, a proposition elucidated, a sentence neatly and elegantly turned, or a thought happily expressed, are salutary and healing balms, counter-poisons to melancholy, and belong exclusively to a wise and well formed Solitude.
To enjoy himself without being dependent on the aid of others ; to devote to employments, not perhaps entirely useless, those hours which sorrow and chagrin would otherwise steal from the sum of life, is the great advantage of an author: and with this advantage alone I am perfectly contented.

11 September 2012

The Course of Obvious Wisdom

William Wallace, Epicureanism (New York: Pott, Young & Co., 1880), pp. 163-4:
The Epicurean accepts the existence of an orderly society as a condition of a satisfactory life, but he does not admit that it has a right to demand his services. "When safety on the side of man has been tolerably secured, it is by quiet and by withdrawing from the multitude that the most complete tranquillity is to be found." "A wise man will not enter upon political life unless something extraordinary should occur." "The free man," says Metrodorus, "will laugh his free laugh over those who are fain to be reckoned in the list with Lycurgus and Solon." A man ought not to make it his aim to save his country, or to win a crown from them for his abilities. Political life, which in all ages has been impossible for those who had not wealth, and who were unwilling to mix themselves with vile and impure associates, was not to the mind of Epicurus. If he be condemned for this, there are many nobler and deeper natures in the records of humanity who must be condemned on the same account. But it is hard to see why he should be charged with that as a fault which is the common practice of mankind, and which in a period of despotism, of absolute monarchy, is the course of obvious wisdom. And, above all, it is not the duty of a philosopher to become a political partisan, and spend his life in the atmosphere of avaricious and malignant passions.

10 September 2012

The Winds of Folly and Desolation

George Moore, Celibates (London: Walter Scott, 1895), pp. 364-5:
His happiness and ambitions appeared to him less than the scattering of a little sand on the sea-shore. Joy is passion, passion is suffering; we cannot desire what we possess; therefore desire is rebellion prolonged indefinitely against the realities of existence; when we attain the object of our desire, we must perforce neglect it in favour of something still unknown, and so we progress from illusion to illusion. The winds of folly and desolation howl about us; the sorrows of happiness are the worst to bear, and the wise soon learn that there is nothing to dream of but the end of desire.

7 September 2012

Dreadfully Vulnerable

Joseph Wood Krutch, Human Nature and the Human Condition (New York: Random House, 1959), p. 145:
Within a generation, our way of life was revolutionized so completely that we can hardly imagine how existence was possible before the automobile and the telephone. What is more ominous is the fact that, by now, we actually could not do without them. Technology made large populations possible; large populations now make technology indispensable. A really drastic breakdown anywhere in the chain of mutually dependent machines would soon bring the whole complex to a halt. And by comparison with the consequences of cities deprived of power and unable either to bring in the goods they consume to get rid of rubbish they discard, the Black Death would be merely an unfortunate incident. Our very power, or rather our dependence upon it, has made us dreadfully vulnerable.
Alex Colville, Horse and Train (1954)