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:
Ruhelechzend
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!