31 July 2012

Seen From Behind

Jules Troubat, Notes et pensées (Paris: L. Sauvaitre, 1888), p. 25. My translation:
Pedants only show the underside of their knowledge. They do not know how to make people love Greek literature: what they write resembles Gobelins tapestries, seen from behind.

30 July 2012

Muta Persona

Abraham Cowley, "Of Obscurity", The Essays of Abraham Cowley (New York: Scribner, Welford & Co., 1869), pp. 35-6:
I account a person who has a moderate mind and fortune, and lives in the conversation of two or three agreeable friends, with little commerce in the world besides; who is esteemed well enough by his few neighbours that know him, and is truly irreproachable by anybody; and so after a healthful quiet life, before the great inconveniences of old age, goes more silently out of it than he came in (for I would not have him so much as cry in the exit); this innocent deceiver of the word, as Horace calls him, this muta persona, I take to have been more happy in his part, than the greatest actors that fill the stage with show and noise, nay, even than Augustus himself, who asked with his last breath, whether he had not played his farce very well.

27 July 2012

A Parlous Condition

Joseph Wood Krutch, Human Nature and the Human Condition (New York: Random House, 1959), p. 136:
Nothing more clearly distinguishes a method of education from a technique of indoctrination than the fact that education demands from the subject some effort, especially some effort of attention, while propaganda does not. The advertiser will go to any length to make everything easy. The educator will see to it that something is expected of his pupil. He knows that no one can learn anything worth knowing unless he is willing to learn, as well as willing to be taught. He knows that learning how to learn is more important than any specific thing he can "communicate." And the grand question has now become whether or not the new techniques of mass communication inevitably and by their very nature weaken the power to learn at the same time that they make being taught so easy. 
What so many enthusiasts of communication will not realize is that there is a point beyond which everything should not be made varied, vivid, picturesque, dramatic, and "interesting." A time is sure to come when something which needs very much to be learned cannot possibly be made as vivid, picturesque, dramatic, and interesting as certain other things. And when that time comes, only the individual who can turn his attention to what is most important, rather than allow it to be captured by what is most interesting, is capable of being educated. A population entrusted with the power to make decisions but incapable of sustained attention is in a parlous condition.

26 July 2012

Thus Vanished Heine

F. Max Müller, Auld Lang Syne (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), pp. 59-60:
I never came to know Heine. I knew he was in Paris when I was there in 1846, but he was already in such a state of physical collapse that a friend of mine who knew him well, and saw him from time to time, advised me not to go and see him. However, one afternoon as I and my friend were sitting on the Boulevard, near the Rue Richelieu, sipping a cup of coffee, "Look there," he said, "there comes Heine!" I jumped up to see, my friend stopped him, and told him who I was. It was a sad sight. He was bent down, and dragged himself slowly along, his spare greyish hair was hanging round his emaciated face, there was no light in his eyes! He lifted one of his paralysed eyelids with his hand and looked at me. For a time, like the blue sky breaking from behind grey October clouds, there passed a friendly expression across his face, as if he thought of days long gone by. Then he moved on, mumbling a line from Goethe, in a deep, broken, and yet clear voice, as if appealing for sympathy : -- "Das Maulthier sucht im Düstern seinen Weg." [The mule seeks its way in the gloom] 
Thus vanished Heine, the most brilliant, sparkling, witty poet of Germany. I have seen him, that is all I can say, as Saul saw Samuel, and wished he had not seen him. However, we travel far to see the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, of Nineveh and Memphis, and the ruins of a mind such as Heine's are certainly as sad and as grand as the crumbling pillars and ruined temples shrouded under the lava of Vesuvius.
Heine made a slight change to Goethe's original: Das Maulthier sucht im Nebel seinen Weg [The mule seeks its way in the fog], which is a line from Mignon's song in Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre.

25 July 2012

Being Polite

Arthur Schopenhauer, Selected Essays, trans. T. Bailey Saunders (New York: A. L. Burt, 1892), pp. 163-4.
It is a wise thing to be polite; consequently, it is a stupid thing to be rude. To make enemies by unnecessary and willful incivility, is just as insane a proceeding as to set your house on fire. For politeness is like a counter -- an avowedly false coin, with which it is foolish to be stingy. A sensible man will be generous in the use of it. It is customary in every country to end a letter with the words: -- "your most obedient servant" -- votre très-humble serviteur -- suo devotissimo servo . (The Germans are the only people who suppress the word servant -- diener -- because, of course, it is not true!) However, to carry politeness to such an extent as to damage your prospects, is like giving money where only counters are expected. 
Wax, a substance naturally hard and brittle, can be made soft by the application of a little warmth, so that it will take any shape you please. In the same way, by being polite and friendly, you can make people pliable and obliging, even though they are apt to be crabbed and malevolent. Hence politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax. 
Of course, it is no easy matter to be polite; in so far, I mean, as it requires us to show great respect for everybody, whereas most people deserve none at all; and again in so far as it demands that we should feign the most lively interest in people, when we must be very glad that we have nothing to do with them. To combine politeness with pride is a masterpiece of wisdom.
The German source is Section 36 of the Paränesen und Maximen at the end of the first volume of Parerga und Paralipomena (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1877), p. 492.

24 July 2012

Dreary Vices, Drearier Virtues

Oscar Wilde, "The Decay of Lying", The Oxford Authors: Oscar Wilde (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 199-220:
M. Zola, true to the lofty principle that he lays down in one of his pronunciamientos on literature, "L'homme de génie n'a jamais d'esprit," is determined to show that, if he has not got genius, he can at least be dull. And how well he succeeds! He is not without power. Indeed at times, as in Germinal, there is something almost epic in his work. But his work is entirely wrong from beginning to end, and wrong not on the ground of morals, but on the ground of art. From any ethical standpoint it is just what it should be. The author is perfectly truthful, and describes things exactly as they happen. What more can any moralist desire? We have no sympathy at all with the moral indignation of our time against M. Zola. It is simply the indignation of Tartuffe on being exposed. But from the standpoint of art, what can be said in favour of the author of L'Assommoir, Nana and Pot-Bouille? Nothing. Mr. Ruskin once described the characters in George Eliot's novels as being like the sweepings of a Pentonville omnibus, but M. Zola's characters are much worse. They have their dreary vices, and their drearier virtues. The record of their lives is absolutely without interest. Who cares what happens to them? In literature we require distinction, charm, beauty and imaginative power. We don't want to be harrowed and disgusted with an account of the doings of the lower orders.
A related post: A Few Crude Needs, Wants, and Desires

23 July 2012

A Bit of a Bore

W. Somerset Maugham, Cakes and Ale (New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1930), p. 140:
When the thing of beauty has given me the magic of its sensation my mind quickly wanders; I listen with incredulity to the persons who tell me that they can look with rapture for hours at a view or a picture. Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose : you can smell it and that is all: that is why the criticism of art, except in so far as it is unconcerned with beauty and therefore with art, is tiresome. All the critic can tell you with regard to Titian's Entombment of Christ, perhaps of all the pictures in the world that which has most pure beauty, is to go and look at it. What else he has to say is history, or biography, or what not. But people add other qualities to beauty -- sublimity, human interest, tenderness, love -- because beauty does not long content them. Beauty is perfect, and perfection (such is human nature) holds our attention but for a little while. The mathematician who after seeing Phèdre asked: "Qu'est-ce que ça prouve?" was not such a fool as he has been generally made out. No one has ever been able to explain why the Doric temple of Paestum is more beautiful than a glass of cold beer except by bringing in considerations that have nothing to do with beauty. Beauty is a blind alley. It is a mountain peak which once reached leads nowhere. That is why in the end we find more to entrance us in El Greco than in Titian, in the incomplete achievement of Shakespeare than in the consummate success of Racine. Too much has been written about beauty. That is why I have written a little more. Beauty is that which satisfies the aesthetic instinct. But who wants to be satisfied? It is only to the dullard that enough is as good as a feast. Let us face it: beauty is a bit of a bore.

20 July 2012

The Instinct or Pride of the Elephant

Sébastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort, Oeuvres complètes de Chamfort, Vol. I (Paris: Chaumerot Jeune, 1824), pp. 441-2. My own translation:
It is unfortunate for mankind, and perhaps fortunate for tyrants, that poor and wretched people do not have the instinct or pride of the elephant, which does not breed in captivity.

19 July 2012

A Death-Croaking Prophet

Henry Miller, Sexus (New York: Grove Press, 1965), p. 18:
A writer woos his public just as ingnominiously as a politician or any other mountebank; he loves to finger the great pulse, to prescribe like a physician, to win a place for himself, to be recognized as a force, to receive the full cup of adulation, even if it be deferred a thousand years. He doesn't want a new world which might be established immediately, because he knows it would never suit him. He wants an impossible world in which he is the uncrowned puppet ruler dominated by forces utterly beyond his control. He is content to rule insidiously -- in the fictive world of symbols -- because the very thought of contact with rude and brutal realities frightens him. True, he has a greater grasp of reality than other men, but he makes no effort to impose that higher reality on the world by force of example. He is satisfied just to preach, to drag along in the wake of disasters and catastrophes, a death-croaking prophet always without honor, always stoned, always shunned by those who, however unsuited for their tasks, are ready and willing to assume responsibility for the affairs of the world. 

18 July 2012

What Have I Said Amiss?

George Gissing, Born in Exile (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1896), p. 266:
'You don't believe, then,' said Sidwell, 'that democracy is the proper name for the state into which we are passing?' 
'Only if one can understand democracy as the opening of social privileges to free competition amongst men of trade. And social privilege is everything; home politics refer to nothing else.' 
Fanny, true to the ingenuous principle of her years, put a direct question: 
'Do you approve of real democracy, Mr. Peak?' 
He answered with another question: 
'Have you read the "Life of Phokion" in Plutarch?' 
'No, I'm sorry to say.' 
'There's a story about him which I have enjoyed since I was your age. Phokion was once delivering a public speech, and at a certain point the majority of his hearers broke into applause; whereupon he turned to certain of his friends who stood near and asked, "What have I said amiss?"' 
Fanny laughed. 
'Then you despise public opinion?' 
'With heart and soul!'

17 July 2012

The Surest Foundation

William Cobbett, Advice to Young Men (New York: John Doyle, 1846) p. 53:
This shame of being thought poor, is not only dishonourable in itself, and fatally injurious to men of talent; but it is ruinous even in a pecuniary point of view, and equally destructive to farmers, traders, and even gentlemen of landed estate. It leads to everlasting efforts to disguise one's poverty: the carriage, the servants, the wine, (oh, that fatal wine!) the spirits, the decanters, the glasses, all the table apparatus, the dress, the horses, the dinners, the parties, all must be kept up; not so much because he or she who keeps or gives them, has any pleasure arising therefrom, as because not to keep and give them, would give rise to a suspicion of the want of means so to give and keep; and thus thousands upon thousands are yearly brought into a state of real poverty by their great anxiety not to be thought poor. Look round you, mark well what you behold, and say if this be not the case. In how many instances have you seen most amiable and even most industrious families brought to ruin by nothing but this! Mark it well; resolve to set this false shame at defiance, and when you have done that, you have laid the first stone of the surest foundation of your future tranquillity of mind. There are thousands of families, at this very moment, who are thus struggling to keep up appearances.

16 July 2012

Shrieking After Immortality

George Moore evaluates the work of Jules and Edmond de Goncourt in Confessions of a Young Man (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1904), pp. 134-5:
Goncourt is not an artist, notwithstanding all his affectation and outcries; he is not an artist. Il me fait l'effet of an old woman shrieking after immortality and striving to beat down some fragment of it with a broom. Once it was a duet, now it is a solo. They wrote novels, history, plays, they collected bric-à-brac -- they wrote about their bric-à-brac; they painted in water-colours, they etched -- they wrote about their water-colours and etchings; they have made a will settling that the bric-à-brac is to be sold at their death, and the proceeds applied to founding a prize for the best essay or novel, I forget which it is. They wrote about the prize they are going to found; they kept a diary, they wrote down everything they heard, felt, or saw, radotage de vieille femme; nothing must escape, not the slightest word; it might be that very word that might confer on them immortality; everything they heard, or said, must be of value, of inestimable value. A real artist does not trouble himself about immortality, about everything he hears, feels and says; he treats ideas and sensations as so much clay wherewith to create.
Edmond de Goncourt died on this day in 1896.

13 July 2012

Nasty

W. N. P. Barbellion, The Journal of a Disappointed Man (London: Chatto & Windus, 1919), p. 62:
A young but fat woman sitting in the sun and oozing moisture is as nasty as anything in Baudelaire.

12 July 2012

Seven Years

Jacques Roergas de Serviez, The Roman Empresses, translated by Bysse Molesworth, Vol. II  (New York: H.S. Nichols, 1913), p. 9:
[The Emperor Hadrian] was very inconstant in his friendships, he persecuted all those whom he had loved, and to whom he was under the greatest obligations. This odd and unaccountable conduct soon after induced Similis, an officer of great honor and merit, to retire into the country, where, far from tumults, business and courts, he passed seven years in calm and quiet solitude, and reckoned that his whole life till then went for nothing, informing all the world of it by ordering this epitaph to be written upon his tomb :  
Hic jacet Similis,
Cujus setas multorum annorum fuit,
Ipse septem dumtaxat annos vixit.  
Here lies Similis,
Who was in the world many years,
But only lived seven.
He died in the 76th year of his age.

11 July 2012

Literature Is a Private Club

Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach, from his collection of aphorisms Abälard und Heloise (Ansbach: Carl Brügel, 1834), pp. 8-9. My own translation:
Life is like a coffee house that stands open to everyone without distinction, while literature is a private club, a closed society with its own statutes; it is only open to us, and our thoughts and feelings, after prior selection, deliberation, and discernment.

10 July 2012

Practicing Patience

Arthur Schopenhauer, Selected Essays, translated by T. Bailey Saunders (New York: A. L. Burt, 1892), p. 142:
The art of putting up with people may be learned by practicing patience on inanimate objects, which, in virtue of some mechanical or general physical necessity, oppose a stubborn resistance to our freedom of action -- a form of patience which is required every day. The patience thus gained may be applied to our dealings with men, by accustoming ourselves to regard their opposition, wherever we encounter it, as the inevitable outcome of their nature, which sets itself up against us in virtue of the same rigid law of necessity as governs the resistance of inanimate objects. To become indignant at their conduct is as foolish as to be angry with a stone because it rolls into your path. And with many people the wisest thing you can do, is to resolve to make use of those whom you cannot alter.
The source for this quote is Section 21 of the Paränesen und Maximen at the end of the first volume of Parerga und Paralipomena (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1877), p. 478.

The search feature in the link above is useless. I read somewhere (in David Cartwright's biography, I think) that Schopenhauer insisted his works be typeset in Fraktur -- a sound aesthetic choice, but sometimes OCR software is unable to digest it.

9 July 2012

When My Hour Comes

George Moore, Confessions of a Young Man (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1904), p. 253:
That I may die childless — that when my hour comes I may turn my face to the wall saying, I have not increased the great evil of human life — then, though I were murderer, fornicator, thief, and liar, my sins shall melt even as a cloud. But he who dies with children about him, though his life were in all else an excellent deed, shall be held accursed by the truly wise, and the stain upon him shall endure for ever.

6 July 2012

Let Him Ask No Other Blessedness

Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present, Book III, Chapter XI:
Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness. He has a work, a life-purpose; he has found it, and will follow it! How, as a free-flowing channel, dug and torn by noble force through the sour mud-swamp of one's existence, like an ever-deepening river there, it runs and flows; -- draining off the sour festering water, gradually from the root of the remotest grass-blade; making, instead of pestilential swamp, a green fruitful meadow with its clear-flowing stream.

Rubricated and Resplendent

The title page of a book published by J. M. Dent in 1904, a couple years before the launch of the Everyman's Library:


Delightful. Pity there's no way to sniff the bindings. You could spray some of this around your screen, but I doubt it would be musty enough.

5 July 2012

Habitually Cheerful

Alexander Bain (1818-1903), Practical Essays (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1884), p. 6:
To bid a man be habitually cheerful, he not being so already, is like bidding him treble his fortune, or add a cubit to his stature. The quality of a cheerful, buoyant temperament partly belongs to the original cast of the constitution -- like the bone, the muscle, the power of memory, the aptitude for science or for music; and is partly the outcome of the whole manner of life. In order to sustain the quality, the physical (as the support of the mental) forces of the system must run largely in one particular channel; and, of course, as the same forces are not available elsewhere, so notable a feature of strength will be accompanied with counterpart weaknesses or deficiencies.

4 July 2012

The Little Touches

Harry Thurston Peck, What Is Good English? (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1899), pp. 40-2:
The enlightened person may be soonest recognised in what he says and writes; for it is in language that the little touches are most truly omnipresent. In a positive way these cannot be defined. They are perceptible most of all in a perfect harmony between word and phrase and the occasion when the word and phrase are uttered. The nice tact, the instinctive adaption of means to end, the delicate understanding of just how far one may go in any given direction, the mental modulations, so to speak, the shadings, the tintings, the half-lights, the recognition of eternal fitness -- these are nowhere so immediately felt as when men and women begin to frame their thoughts in language; and they depend not at all upon recorded rule and precept, nor upon anything that can be taught and learned, but they spring out of that finer taste which may indeed be cultivated and still more refined, yet which is itself the fairy birth-gift that insures enlightenment to its possessor; for it goes with sanity and judgment, and it is both coloured by humour and directed by a sense of true proportion.  
As rule and precept have nothing to do with the little touches, it is impossible to classify these and describe them in a satisfactory way. The most that can be done is to give some illustration of those usages which show their absence and which may, perhaps, explain them negatively; for there are certain things in language which an enlightened person will not do, and there are certain other things which instantly rank the one who perpetrates them with the unenlightened -- that is, with those who lack the little touches.  
In the first place, there is nothing quite so vulgar as the perpetual dread of seeming to be vulgar. The enlightened person is not vulgar, simply because it is utterly impossible for him to be so. The unenlightened person dreads vulgarity, yet he lacks the nice discrimination which divides the easy and the natural from the wholly crude. To adapt one's language to the subject of one's discourse, to the occasion, and to the hearer, is the ultimate test of true refinement and of taste. In public oratory, for example, the speaker who cannot discriminate and feel the instinctive appropriateness or inappropriateness of a particular manner is one who is always in danger of mistaking bombast for inspired eloquence, and windy gabble for fluency and ease. He will talk to a bucolic audience about cattle-raising and farming in precisely the same vein as that in which he would urge a reluctant Senate to declare a war; and on some really stately and momentous occasion he will babble commonplaces or descend to vulgar jocularity.  
In private life, the unenlightened person is very apt to dread colloquialisms. He will wish to speak book-language in recounting the most casual incidents of life. He is always "perusing" a book instead of reading it; he always "retires" and never goes to bed; he "disrobes" and does not undress; he will promise to "correspond" but not to write; he will ask you to "desist" but not to stop. If he is extremely unenlightened he will say that he is "partial" to such and such a thing, and perhaps at table will offer to "assist" you to the cheese. This sort of person is almost as low as the one who takes pleasure in alluding to his "social position" and with whom men and women are always "ladies" and "gentlemen."

3 July 2012

Not Attempting Too Much

Samuel Butler, The Note Books of Samuel Butler (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1917), p. 103-4.
The greatest secret of good work whether in music, literature or painting lies in not attempting too much; if it be asked, "What is too much?" the answer is, "Anything that we find difficult or unpleasant." We should not ask whether others find this same thing difficult or no. If we find the difficulty so great that the overcoming it is a labour and not a pleasure, we should either change our aim altogether, or aim, at any rate for a time, at some lower point. It must be remembered that no work is required to be more than right as far as it goes; the greatest work cannot get beyond this and the least comes strangely near the greatest if this can be said of it.

2 July 2012

As a Voice of Conscience

George Moore, Confessions of a Young Man (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1904), p. 62:
Books are like individuals; you know at once if they are going to create a sense within the sense, to fever, to madden you in blood and brain, or if they will merely leave you indifferent, or irritable, having unpleasantly disturbed sweet intimate musings as might a draught from an open window. Many are the reasons for love, but I confess I only love woman or book, when it is as a voice of conscience, never heard before, heard suddenly, a voice I am at once endearingly intimate with.