31 January 2012

It Was Bliss

From an interview with the British artist Kathleen Hale (1898-2000) in Virginia Nicholson's Among the Bohemians (New York: Harper Collins, 2002), p. 30:
I found Kathleen living in a small basement room in an old people's home on the outskirts of Bristol. The walls of her room were adorned with her own drawings, lino cuts and metal compositions. Though rather deaf, she was vigorous and somewhat formidable. Her springy iron-grey hair was cropped short, and she wore a blue caftan top with a silver necklace. She talked about the past, but also about the present, and her relationships with other 'greyheads' in the home, who to her surprise had turned out to be fascinating individuals. Halfway through our interview she mischievously produced an illicit bottle of gin which we drank from plastic cups. Encouraged, I said I thought that despite the extreme hardship of her early life, I was under the impression that she had enjoyed it: 
'Oh yes, it was absolutely wonderful, and not hard all the time by any means, and the difficult parts like having to stay indoors because you couldn't face going past a bun shop, well, that was all part of it, part of the general plan I had of how to live. But oh, my dear, it was freedom, it really was, it was bliss.'

30 January 2012

A Travelling Library

Ottoline Morrell describes the travelling library she devised for her European tour in 1896. From Memoirs of Lady Ottoline Morrell: A Study in Friendship, 1873-1915 (New York: Knopf, 1964), p. 45:
I had also another brilliant idea, which was to put strong pockets all around the thick, full, red cape I wore, into which I packed a rampart of books. It made my cape extraordinarily heavy, and I had to walk with the utmost balance and care not to fall over. It was surprising and rather hard to anyone whom I happened to knock against. 
In Ottoline; The Life of Lady Ottoline Morrell (London: Chatto & Windus, 1976), p. 29, Sandra Jobson Darroch says that these pockets were crammed with volumes of Ruskin.

28 January 2012

Closing a Good Book

George Gissing to Edith Sichel, July 20th, 1889:
Up to a year ago I used to give a great deal of time to the Greeks and Romans; for whatever reason, I am now seldom disposed for them. Yet I know very well that, if I put modern thoughts aside and sat down to some of the old men for a fortnight, I should be (for the time) the most contented of pedants. Do you not sometimes experience this trouble in giving each taste and faculty its reasonable opportunities? It is so hard to renounce pleasures of the intellect. Sometimes I say, in closing a good book, "That I shall never again read," and the thought is saddening.
The Collected Letters of George Gissing: 1889 - 1891, Vol. 4
(Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1990), p. 89.

26 January 2012

Everyone Does This Sort of Thing

Louis Thomas, Curiosités sur Baudelaire (Paris: Albert Messein, 1912), pp. 26-7.
My own translation:
One day, Baudelaire’s landlord complained that he was making an unbearable racket. 
"I do not know what you are talking about," he replied graciously.  "When I am at home I behave like all respectable people." 
"I'm sorry, but we hear you moving furniture and banging the floor at all hours of the day and night," answered the landlord. 
Baudelaire took a serious tone. "Once again, I give you my word that nothing out of the ordinary takes place. I chop wood in the living room and drag my mistress around the floor by her hair. Everyone does this sort of thing, and you have absolutely no right to concern yourself."

25 January 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 3

I am in the midst of translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English. In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week.

The following excerpt describes the theft of valuable metals. This sort of thing has already returned to my part of the world -- not long ago Toronto police reported that brass nameplates and flower urns were being removed from cemeteries and sold as scrap. I haven't seen any VIA Rail trousers yet, though...
During the inflation every little item, especially raw materials, took on an incredibly high value. In the regulated economy, the most basic foodstuffs were available for fractions of a cent. Currency depreciation had made rent nearly meaningless. Eventually it cost about as much to rent a two room apartment for a year as it used to for a week. But copper and bronze had great value. They had to be purchased from abroad at a high price. 
And now the doorhandles and brass rods that held down carpets were being stolen, and soon even the carpets themselves. In the end, thieves risked going after public monuments. Prudent municipalities had some statues locked away in warehouses. Thieves stooped so low as to rob graves. In Stahnsdorf they stole metal funerary urns, and a woman praying in the St Pauli cemetery on Berlin's Seestrasse saw them carry off a bronze monument weighing three hundred pounds. They stole grave fences and borders everywhere. Yes, even the manhole covers over the sewer system appealed to the metal thieves. The couplings and leather straps were stolen from railway cars, and the plush covers were cut away from the seats. Some people even went around wearing trousers that had the same pattern as railway upholstery.

24 January 2012

W. R. Paton

While reading Michael Gilleland's blog I became curious about William Roger Paton (1857-1921), who translated Greek texts for the Loeb Classical Library. At first I could find very little information online apart from a brief obituary in the American Journal of Archaeology (Vol. XXVI, 1922, p. 90) saying that he had studied at Oxford, married a woman from the Greek island of Samos, and died there on April 21st in the town of Vathy. A more vigorous search turned up two more substantial references:

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Erinnerungen 1848-1914 (Leipzig: K. F. Koehler, 1929), pp. 227-8. My own translation from the German:
The most important [of my English correspondents] was W. Paton, who had approached me with questions while he was collecting inscriptions on Kos. I didn't have enough free time for them then, but we maintained an active correspondence from that day on, even into the early years of the Great War. He was stuck working as a junior teacher at the British school in the south because he had fallen in love with a beautiful Greek woman from Kalymnos. He owned a plot of land in Myndos and was later compelled to move to Chios and Lesbos for his sons' sake, since this is where the Greek high schools were. 
Unenthusiastic about archaeological research he drifted from one author to another until he finally settled on Plutarch's Moralia, working without the hostility of the clever but undisciplined and unreliable Bernardakis, who gave me a hard time because I dared to describe his messy edition as a chore. We both laboured on Plutarch for many years; in the end Paton died while the first volume was at the printer, but the edition is secure, even if I do not live to see its completion. As far as I can tell, criticism here is most difficult; one must get used to the apathy of the philological audience when one is working on texts that will be heavily consulted by the public. 
Paton must have had a deep need to speak about very intimate things, since he discussed them more and more in his letters to me. In this way I came to know the character of an extraordinary man from Scotland. Despite a long life in completely different circumstances he was a gentleman in the fullest sense, and he was still an Englishman despite his freedom from certain ties. However, he did he not have the haughty demeanor that is found in a particular kind of Englishman -- the same demeanor that could also be found in a corresponding type of travelling German before the war.
He was appropriately proud of his great nation and the British Empire. As a true patriot he was willing to admit the validity of another's patriotism and pride. United in this spirit, we good friends sent our sons off to face each other on the battlefield.

J. H. Fowler, The Life and Letters of Edward Lee Hicks (London: Christophers, 1922), pp. 91-2:
At this time [Hicks] became associated with another Greek scholar, Mr. W. R. Paton, who took up his abode in the Island of Cos and made a careful collection of the inscriptions to be found there. Hicks collaborated in the deciphering and interpretation of the inscriptions, and wrote the introduction for the Inscriptions of Cos (Clarendon Press, 1891). A friendship grew up between the two men, unlike as they were, the one equally at home in the practical and in the theoretical life, the other a dilettante scholar who became at last so completely "orientalized" (to use his own expression) that he was reluctant to revisit England, and who never earned anything in his life till he was paid for his translations from the Greek Anthology in the Loeb Library. Nevertheless, he did visit England and Hulme Hall; and he most kindly set down for this biography his impression of the visit some time before his own lamented death in May [sic], 1921:
Vathy, Samos, Greece.  
I was deeply grieved to hear of the death of my dear master and friend, the late Bishop of Lincoln. When I first came to know him, I was more or less a novice in Greek epigraphy, a science of which he had complete command. I happened to discover some very interesting inscriptions in the island of Cos, which I communicated to him before publishing ; and as I was at the time residing there, he advised me to collect all the inscriptions of that island, and offered to join me in publishing them, as we did. Of course, that led to most cordial relations, and I fully learnt to estimate aright his skill and judgment. I also had the privilege of meeting him personally, both at my own house in Scotland, where the late Mr. Theodore Bent and Professor W. M. Ramsay were present, and I had the full advantage of the conversation of these three distinguished people, and also at his own house at Manchester, where he was then Principal of Hulme Hall , and obviously very popular with the young men there.  
He was then an honorary Canon of Worcester (I think) and had a fair amount of leisure, although devoted to the cause of temperance and social reform. When he was appointed to a regular Canonry at Manchester itself, entailing the care of a large and poor parish, I confess I was sorry. He possessed unique qualifications for the study of Greek inscriptions, and such qualified epigraphists are few, whereas many others might have worked with equal zeal and devotion among the poor at Manchester. But, of course, whatever he did, he always threw his heart into it, which is the great secret of success, when the heart is supported by an intellect like his. He had not abandoned his interest in Greek epigraphy. A few years ago a Coan stone, my copy of which I had lost, but which I mentioned in our book, saying that some one in a yacht had bought it and carried it off, and it might turn up, did turn up in a garden somewhere in the country in England, and luckily was acquired by the British Museum. It is a very important and interesting ritual document, and the Bishop helped them to read and edit it, and wrote to me about it.  
W. R. Paton

There also appears to be a note on Paton in Text and Tradition: Studies in Greek History and Historiography in Honor of Mortimer Chambers (Claremont: Regina Books, 1999), but I do not have access to it.


Update: Mike Gilleland was kind enough to consult David Gill's entry on Paton in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and sent me these two quotes:
It seems that at this time Paton was offered a chair at Oxford, presumably the newly created Wykeham chair of ancient history filled by Myres in 1910, but he declined. His daughter Sevasti Augusta, in her unpublished memoirs, linked her father's decision to Paton's feelings about how Oscar Wilde had been treated; she recalled Paton 'could never work with a People who were capable of confusing the great Artist with the man'.
A glimpse into Paton's character is provided by Oscar Wilde. Paton had written to his old friend Wilde on his release from Pentonville in 1897, and Wilde responded, "I have often heard from others of your sympathy and unabated friendship … I hope you are happy, and finding Greek things every day".

How Fortunate Sometimes Is Our Ignorance

Henry Miller, The Time of the Assassins; A Study of Rimbaud (New York: New Directions, 1962), pp. 107-108:
Why is it, I ask myself, that I adore Rimbaud above all other writers? I am no worshipper of adolescence, neither do I pretend to myself that he is as great as other writers I might mention. But there is something in him that touches me as the work of no other man does. And I come to him through a language that I have never mastered! Indeed, it was not until I foolishly tried to translate him that I began to properly estimate the strength and the beauty of his utterances. In Rimbaud I see myself as in a mirror. Nothing he says is alien to me, however wild, absurd or difficult to understand. To understand one has to surrender, and I remember distinctly making that surrender the first day I glanced at his work. I read only a few lines that day, a little over ten years ago, and trembling like a leaf I put the book away. I had the feeling then, and I have it still, that he had said all for our time. It was as though he had put a tent over the void. He is the only writer whom I have read and reread with undiminished joy and excitement, always discovering something new in him, always profoundly touched by his purity. Whatever I say of him will always be tentative, nothing more than an approach -- at best an aperçu. He is the one writer whose genius I envy; all the others, no matter how great, never arouse my jealousy. And he was finished at nineteen! Had I read Rimbaud in my youth I doubt that I would ever have written a line. How fortunate sometimes is our ignorance.

23 January 2012

Tremendous Caveman Instincts

When the poet and translator Roy Campbell married Mary Garman without his father's consent, he was cut off from the family purse. In the early 1920s the couple moved to North Wales:
The stable they rented cost 1£ 16s a year. Five pounds a month paid for everything else, though books accounted for half of this budget. That left about 12s 6d a week for all their bodily needs -- in other words, next to nothing. [...] The couple settled down in their mud-floored stable to read Dante, Rabelais, Milton and the Elizabethans -- 'living on the continual intoxication of poetry for two years'. Roy, who had tremendous caveman instincts, went trapping for rabbits and game for the pot, and they collected gulls' eggs from the cliff face. He poached and scavenged, and sometimes the locals would bring them gifts of potatoes or fuel. It was a heady life, and cheap.
From Virginia Nicholson's Among the Bohemians (New York: Harper Collins, 2002), pp. 22-3.

21 January 2012

Gibberish

Here I should like to amplify a point I touched on earlier, the matter of communication between poet and audience. In applauding Rimbaud's use of the symbol I mean to emphasize that in this direction lies the true trend of the poet. There is a vast difference, in my mind, between the use of a more symbolic script and the use of a more highly personal jargon which I referred to as "gibberish". The modern poet seems to turn his back on his audience, as if he held it in contempt. In self-defense he will sometimes liken himself to the mathematician or the physicist who has now come to employ a sign language wholly beyond the comprehension of most educated people, and esoteric language understandable only to the members of his own cult. He seems to forget that he has a totally different function than these men who deal with the physical or the abstract world. His medium is the spirit and his relation to the world of men and women is a vital one. His language is not for the laboratory, but for the recesses of the heart. If he renounces the power to move us his medium becomes worthless.

Henry Miller, The Time of the Assassins; A Study of Rimbaud
(New York: New Directions, 1962), p. 59.

20 January 2012

Life Without a Permanent Income

Henry Miller on Arthur Rimbaud's decision to move to Northeast Africa:
How did a man of genius, a man of great energies, great resources, manage to coop himself up, to roast and squirm, in such a miserable hole? Here was a man for whom a thousand lives were not sufficient to explore the wonders of the earth, a man who broke with friends and relatives at an early age in order to experience life in its fullness, yet year after year we find him marooned in this hell-hole. How do you explain it? We know, of course, that he was straining at the leash all the time, that he was revolving countless schemes and projects to liberate himself, and liberate himself not only from Aden but from the whole world of sweat and struggle. Adventurer that he was, Rimbaud was nevertheless obsessed with the idea of attaining freedom, which he translated into terms of financial security. At the age of twenty-eight he writes home that the most important, the most urgent, thing for him is to become independent, no matter where. What he omitted to add was, and no matter how. He is a curious mixture of audacity and timidity. He has the courage to venture where no other white man has ever set foot, but he has not the courage to face life without a permanent income.
Henry Miller, The Time of the Assassins; A Study of Rimbaud
(New York: New Directions, 1962), pp. 7-8.

19 January 2012

Captains of Industry

Supposing the captain of a frigate saw it right, or were by any chance obliged, to place his own son in the position of a common sailor; as he would then treat his son, he is bound always to treat every one of the men under him. So, also, supposing the master of a manufactory saw it right, or were by any chance obliged, to place his own son in the position of an ordinary workman; as he would then treat his son, he is bound always to treat every one of his men. This is the only effective, true, or practical rule which can be given on this point of political economy. 
And as the captain of a ship is bound to be the last man to leave his ship in case of wreck, and to share his last crust with the sailors in case of famine, so the manufacturer, in any commercial crisis or distress, is bound to take the suffering of it with his men, and even to take more of it for himself than he allows his men to feel; as a father would in a famine, shipwreck, or battle, sacrifice himself for his son. 
John Ruskin, The Roots of Honour (New York: John B. Alden, 1885), p. 28-9.

18 January 2012

Do You Like This Idea?

Eternal recurrence as a thought experiment, taken from the 2007 film When Nietzsche Wept and posted at a friend's request:

Weimar Wednesday: No. 2

I am in the midst of translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English.

In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week. This passage comes to mind whenever I hear James Kunstler talk about the United States degenerating into a garage sale nation:

Berlin's Scheunenviertel district had become a real fairgrounds. The roads between Alexanderplatz, Schönhauser and Rosentaler Tor were packed with crowds so dense that the trams could only progress by constantly ringing their bells. People selling ladies' underwear, suspenders, army boots, blankets, newspapers, gingerbread, and sausages filled the neighbourhood with their junk and their loud cries. A group formed around each merchant as he proclaimed the merits of his wares. But really people were just curious. 
Troops surrounded or marched through the neighbourhood almost every week, and sometimes every day, arresting or expelling the unruly peddlers. But most of the traders and gamblers returned once the troops had disappeared. 
Occasionally there were other clashes. A soldier had taken part in a game and, because he had lost, wanted to arrested its organizer. The crowd grew rebellious and began shouting: "Kill the bastard!" The soldier was going to defend himself with a hand grenade, but he was knocked to the ground before he could use it. The grenade exploded, and the flying shrapnel injured a woman and her daughter as well as a young boy on his feet and arms.

17 January 2012

A Masterful Display

Hugh Garner describes his first Canadian Authors Association meeting:
It wasn't as bad as I'd expected it to be, it was worse. I found myself perched on a collapsible chair on the outer perimeter of a group of chitty-chatty elderly ladies whose broadened A's, mink stoles and social pretensions matched perfectly their complete ignorance of contemporary writing. They looked to me like the offspring of Crimean War field officers and Dickensian almshouse gruel-servers, which they probably were. Their twitterings were composed largely of Can Lit name-droppings (first names, if you please) of writers deceased, defunct and deplored. God, how I wished I'd stashed a pint of rye in my inside pocket! 
Things got underway with a welcoming speech by a sour-pussed broad who probably spent her daylight hours chasing kids off her lawn, between composing prose that would turn the gut of a pterodactyl. She then introduced the "distinguished speaker of the evening," who turned out to be some old guy in a brown tweed suit from Kingston, Ontario, who would give us "an entertaining and informative talk on Service," spoken with a capital S. 
I found myself becoming interested, for while I've never been a Robert W. Service fan, and can only recite a couple lines of his poetry, at least a talk about him promised to get the meeting much closer to earth than I'd imagined it could ever get. 
The speaker, to polite applause like the fluttering of fans, jumped right into his subject, and riding the thermal updrafts of his verbosity like a bespectacled hawk, soared off into an incoherence that would put shame to poetry critics of a college quarterly. It was a masterful display of socio-literary bullshit. As a matter of fact it took me almost a quarter of an hour to realize that the Service he was talking about was not the author of the Songs of a Sourdough but the service of such laudable petit-bourgeouis organizations as the Rotary, Kiwanis and Lion's Clubs.
One Damn Thing After Another (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1973), p. 201.

16 January 2012

Positively Necrological

Although the literary reception may be deadly, the bookish soiree is positively necrological. These affairs are usually put on by a group of ex-Girl Guides who have given in to a strange urge to broaden their minds as well as their hips. Through a dulcet-toned doll on the entertainment committee, they manage to rope in several people who have a nodding acquaintance with the written word. The first of these affairs I attended became my last at the precise moment that an Amazon with a mustache like Marshall Budyenny's stepped to the podium to recite a piece of her own poesy called, "Light of Life -- Past Enduring." I may be mistaken about the title however, for due to the mood I was in by then, and by the way she stretched her a's, it sounded like "Light the light, Pa's appearing," -- which would have been an improvement, come to think of it.
Hugh Garner in his autobiography One Damn Thing After Another, (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1973), pp. 86-7.

14 January 2012

A Creaturely Life

In this interview on WFIU Public Radio, Wendell Berry discusses some of the changes he's seen over his life:
Up until the end of the Second World War, the life that I experienced in my part of the country, and on the farms I visited and played on and worked on, our life was predominantly creaturely. After the war, it became dominantly and increasingly mechanical. And I think the change from a creaturely life to a mechanical life is a profound change, and in many ways it has been devastating -- not to me, but to the country itself.
Asked to elaborate, he says:
We've tried in the sciences and in other ways to understand the creatures as machines. But I think that's a failure. There is no real resemblance between creatures and machines and there is no resemblance between the relationship that a person has with a machine and the relationship one has with an animal -- particularly a working animal, draft animals, or working dogs, or hunting dogs for that matter. It really is a radically different order of life.

13 January 2012

A Classical Disposition

In an essay published by the New English Review, British psychiatrist Anthony Daniels (alias Theodore Dalrymple) explains why this blog's comment feature has been disabled -- not everyone has a classical disposition.
The putting of pen to paper, to say nothing of the act of posting the resultant letter, requires more deliberation than sitting at a computer and firing off an angry e-mail or posting on a website. By their very physical nature, then, letters are likely to be less intemperate than e-mails. 
The question now arises as to whether it is a good thing that people should be able now so easily to express their rage, irritation, frustration and hatred. Here, I think, we come to a disagreement between those of classical, and those of romantic, disposition. 
According to the latter, self-expression is a good in itself, irrespective of what is expressed. Indeed, such people are likely to believe that any sentiment that does not find its outward expression will turn inward and poison the person who has not been able to express it. Better to strangle a new-born babe and all that. 
The person of more classical disposition does not believe this. On the contrary, he believes that there are some things that are much better not expressed at all. He counterbalances his belief in the value of freedom of opinion with that in the value of freedom from opinion. He believes that rage will not decrease with its habitual expression, but rather increase with it.
The bit about strangling babies is a reference to a line in William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell: "Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires."

12 January 2012

Found Drowned

Richard Jefferies, the former curator of the George Frederic Watts gallery in Surrey, discusses a couple of Watts' social-realist works, including Found Drowned (painted in the late 1840s). He finishes by suggesting why it's such a popular postcard:


Jefferies has done a number of other videos on Watts' paintings, and they can be found by scrolling further down on this person's Youtube account.

11 January 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 1

I am in the midst of translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English.

In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week. I also know that marketing people are keen on using "practical" excerpts to drum up book sales. So, here is the first in a series of lessons from the Weimar inflationary period.

Should your country enter an inflationary death spiral, don't send things by mail:
In recent years at the Wilmersdorf post office quite a few packages were either stolen or had a substantial portion of their contents removed. A significant number of front-line staff were involved in these thefts. 
Very valuable property was taken and in such amounts that criminals were able to do a roaring trade. The list of stolen items, in so far as they could be identified during the initial investigations, reads like a department store inventory. They stole food of all kinds, as well as fabrics, furs, laundry, silver spoons, and watches. 
The shop steward Mr. K. was the head of the gang. He used his wife to shift some of the stolen goods while he moved other items through his mistress, who worked as an assistant at the post office and also served on the workers' council. The post office manager Mr. B., who used to be a city councillor, played a leading role, as did the mail clerks Mr. M. and Mr. W. 
Mr. M. stole U.S. dollar bills, cheques, as well as letters, while Mr. W. had already served three months in prison for taking dollar bills out of the mail. The main buyer of the stolen goods was the merchant Mr. H. 
The accused Mr. K. had managed to gain the post office superintendent's trust and was put in charge of the package sorting crew. Packages were sorted in a separate room in the basement, and Mr. K. was supposed to monitor the operation.  Mr. K. was a member of the workers' council along with Mr. B., and he made very sure that unreliable people were taken off the job. 
Mr. K. is said to have told his work crew that they did not need to worry about being found out: as shop steward he would take full responsibility, so each man could take whatever he wanted from the packages. The postal workers were happy to comply with these orders. 
In addition to the people from the post office (who were mainly managers, clerks, and assistants), most of the male defendants' wives were also charged.

10 January 2012

Absolutely Safe

In The Riddle of the World: A Reconsideration of Schopenhauer's Philosophy, Barbara Hannan describes getting up in the middle of the night to watch a total eclipse of the moon, and gaining a better understanding of what Arthur Schopenhauer meant when he wrote about the sublime. From page 106:
All my personal worries and woes went away for a little while, as I watched the moon slowly drift into the shadow of the earth. A bright, full moon slowly became the thinnest of crescents, then disappeared, and there was a dusky, reddish disk, only faintly glowing... and then, it passed behind drifting clouds and was gone. I don’t know why, but everything that torments me in my daily life -- health and money problems for myself and my loved ones, for example -- seemed suddenly nothing to worry about.  
The slow dance of the earth around the sun, and the moon around the earth, made the troubles of human beings seem like nothing more than a momentary, meaningless tickle in the great, indifferent universe. The stately motions of the heavenly bodies were going on long before I ever came to be, and would continue when I, and all people, were long gone. The eclipse didn't care if I was watching it or not. These thoughts did not make me sad; instead, they comforted me and made me feel completely unthreatened, absolutely safe.

9 January 2012

The Public Stomach

"Tremendous activity in the publishing world! Like everything else, this will be overdone; in a few years, I am afraid, the bankruptcy of publishers (hitherto rare) will become common. All these new men cannot possibly thrive and the public stomach will at last refuse the loads of rubbish cast upon it."

-- George Gissing to Edgar Harrison, December 29th, 1891.

The Collected Letters of George Gissing: 1889 - 1891, Volume 4
(Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1990), p. 346.

Update: For those with an interest in the publishing business, today's post from Mike Shatzkin is a contemporary take on what, in my days as a book editor, I used to refer to as the "Throw Enough Shit Against a Wall" acquisitions strategy.

7 January 2012

The Leading Motive

All of you have the trial of yourselves in your own power; each may undergo at this instant, before his own judgement seat, the ordeal by fire. Ask yourselves what is the leading motive which actuates you while you are at work.

I do not ask you what your leading motive is for working -- that is a different thing; you may have families to support -- parents to help -- brides to win; you may have all these, or other such sacred and pre-eminent motives, to press the morning's labour and prompt the twilight thought. But when you are fairly at that work, what is the motive then which tells upon every touch of it?

If it is the love of that which your work represents -- if, being a landscape painter, it is love of hills and trees that moves you -- if, being a figure painter, it is love of human beauty and human soul that moves you -- if, being a flower or animal painter, it is love, and wonder, and delight in petal and in limb that move you, then the Spirit is upon you, and the earth is yours, and the fulness thereof.

But if, on the other hand, it is petty self-complacency in your own skill, trust in precepts and laws, hope for academical or popular approbation, or avarice of wealth, -- it is quite possible that by steady industry, or even by fortunate chance, you may win the applause, the position, the fortune, that you desire; -- but one touch of true art you will never lay on canvas or on stone as long as you live.

-- John Ruskin

The Two Paths (New York: John B. Alden, 1885), p. 35.

5 January 2012

The Idea of a Camel

A Frenchman, an Englishman, and a German were commissioned, it is said, to give the world the benefit of their views on that interesting animal, the Camel. Away goes the Frenchman to the Jardin des Plantes, spends an hour there in rapid investigation, returns, and writes a feuilleton, in which there is no phrase the Academy can blame, but also no phrase which adds to the general knowledge. He is perfectly satisfied, however, and says, Le voilà, le chameau! The Englishman packs up his tea-caddy and a magazine of comforts; pitches his tent in the East; remains there two years studying the Camel in its habits; and returns with a thick volume of facts, arranged without order, expounded without philosophy, but serving as valuable materials for all who come after him. The German, despising the frivolity of the Frenchman, and the unphilosophic matter-of-factness of the Englishman, retires to his study, there to construct the Idea of a Camel from out of the depths of his own Moral Consciousness. And he is still at it.

-- George Henry Lewes

The Life and Works of Goethe, Vol. II (London: David Nutt, 1855), p. 201.

4 January 2012

Be Boorish

"That evil of small-town life of which you speak is only too likely to distress you, to some extent, wherever you settle. No intellectual man who flees to the country ever wholly escapes these annoyances. One ought, in truth, to be boorish; it is the only way to keep a clear space round about one. A gentle demeanor is a fearful provocative of Philistine onslaught."

George Gissing to his friend Eduard Bertz, April 2nd, 1889.

The Letters of George Gissing to Eduard Bertz, 1887-1903
(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1961), p. 54.

3 January 2012

The Gluttony of Business

[A] man holds it his duty to be temperate in his food, and of his body, but for no duty to be temperate in his riches, and of his mind. He sees that he ought not to waste his youth and his flesh for luxury; but he will waste his age, and his soul, for money, and think he does no wrong, nor know the delirium tremens of the intellect for disease. But the law of life is that a man should fix the sum he desires to make annually, as the food he desires to eat daily; and stay when he has reached the limit, refusing increase of business, and leaving it to others, so obtaining due freedom of time for better thoughts. How the gluttony of business is punished, a bill of health for the principals of the richest city houses, issued annually, would show in a sufficiently impressive manner.

John Ruskin, Munera Pulveris (New York: John B. Alden, 1885), pp. 124-5.