28 June 2013

Listening to Time Breathe

Louise-Victorine Ackermann (1813-1890), Pensées d'une solitaire [Thoughts of a Recluse]  (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1882), p. 33. My translation:
I like to listen to my clock tick in the silence of the night. The regular sound of its pendulum seems to me like the beating of a heart. It is as if I am listening to Time breathe.
The French:
J'écoute avec plaisir marcher mon horloge dans le silence de la nuit. Le bruit régulier de son balancier me fait l'effet des battements d'un cœur. Il me semble que j'entends respirer le Temps.

26 June 2013

Walking Alone in the Endless Days of Summer

Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (London: Taylor & Hessey, 1823), pp. 174-175:
I have had occasion to remark, at various periods of my life, that the deaths of those whom we love, and indeed the contemplation of death generally, is (cæteris paribus) more affecting in summer than in any other season of the year. And the reasons are these three, I think: first, that the visible heavens in summer appear far higher, more distant, and (if such a solecism may be excused) more infinite; the clouds, by which chiefly the eye expounds the distance of the blue pavilion stretched over our heads, are in summer more voluminous, massed and accumulated in far grander and more towering piles. Secondly, the light and the appearances of the declining and the setting sun are much more fitted to be types and characters of the Infinite. And thirdly (which is the main reason), the exuberant and riotous prodigality of life naturally forces the mind more powerfully upon the antagonist thought of death, and the wintry sterility of the grave. For it may be observed generally, that wherever two thoughts stand related to each other by a law of antagonism, and exist, as it were, by mutual repulsion, they are apt to suggest each other. On these accounts it is that I find it impossible to banish the thought of death when I am walking alone in the endless days of summer; and any particular death, if not more affecting, at least haunts my mind more obstinately and besiegingly in that season.

25 June 2013

A Dismal Fungus

Robert Louis Stevenson, "Aes Triplex," in Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. William Lyon Phelps (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906), pp. 45-54 (at pp. 50-51):
As courage and intelligence are the two qualities best worth a good man's cultivation, so it is the first part of intelligence to recognise our precarious estate in life, and the first part of courage to be not at all abashed before the fact. A frank and somewhat headlong carriage, not looking too anxiously before, not dallying in maudlin regret over the past, stamps the man who is well armoured for this world.
And not only well armoured for himself, but a good friend and a good citizen to boot. We do not go to cowards for tender dealing; there is nothing so cruel as panic; the man who has least fear for his own carcass, has most time to consider others. That eminent chemist who took his walks abroad in tin shoes, and subsisted wholly upon tepid milk, had all his work cut out for him in considerate dealings with his own digestion. So soon as prudence has begun to grow up in the brain, like a dismal fungus, it finds its first expression in a paralysis of generous acts. The victim begins to shrink spiritually; he develops a fancy for parlours with a regulated temperature, and takes his morality on the principle of tin shoes and tepid milk. The care of one important body or soul becomes so engrossing, that all the noises of the outer world begin to come thin and faint into the parlour with the regulated temperature; and the tin shoes go equably forward over blood and rain. To be overwise is to ossify; and the scruple-monger ends by standing stockstill.
The title of Stevenson's essay comes from Horace's Odes (1.3.9-10):
illi robur et aes triplex
   circa pectus erat 
That man had oak and triple bronze around his heart

21 June 2013

Get Ye to Your Garden

Richard King (pseudonym of Richard King Huskinson, 1879-1947), With Silent Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1917), pp. 61-62:
I would say to the bitter of spirit and the unhappy, and to all those for whom life and friendship and love have proved illusions, "Get ye to your garden, and henceforth the only hurting delusion in life will be the failure of the seed to live up to its illustration in the catalogue." But perhaps the whole secret lies in the fact that gardening is a hobby which needs your spare time all the time, and that no agony of regret can enter a mind in which every waking moment is spent in doing or making up for what has been left undone. For a garden is never finished; that is its engrossing charm. Over a collection of books or a collection of beetles only a limited portion of time can be spent, while golf loses much of its fascination when the sun has sunk to rest and no living person is at hand to hear how you foozled your drive at the ninth tee. But a man infatuated with his garden has no time for any relaxation except sleeping and eating. The moment he becomes slack signs of his negligence become only too apparent. His work is really never done. But hope and the promise held out by Mr. Sutton and Mr. Carter bear him along until the time comes when every moment not spent outside upon his knees seems like time uselessly thrown away. And always he is being purified and made simpler and nearer to God, as all of us are who work with nature amid beauty. I wonder if any gardener has ever been really bad; or rather I wonder whether it is possible for a man to remain unregenerate and wicked who really loves his garden.
Mr. Sutton and Mr. Carter: Sutton's Seeds and Carter's Tested Seed Company

A related post: Agricultural Pursuits

20 June 2013

Poetry and Push-Pin

W. Somerset Maugham, "Reflections on a Certain Book," in The Vagrant Mood (Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1969), pp. 158-192 (at pp. 190-191):
Jeremy Bentham startled the world many years ago by stating in effect that if the amount of pleasure obtained from each be equal there is nothing to choose between poetry and push-pin. [...] The indignant retort to Bentham's statement was that spiritual pleasures are obviously higher than physical pleasures. But who say so? Those who prefer spiritual pleasures. They are in a miserable minority, as they acknowledge when they declare that the gift of aesthetic appreciation is a very rare one. The vast majority of men are, as we know, are both by necessity and choice preoccupied with material considerations. Their pleasures are material. They look askance at those who spend their lives in the pursuit of art. That is why they have attached a depreciatory sense to the word aesthete, which means merely one who has a special appreciation of beauty. How are we going to show that they are wrong? How are we going to show that there is something to choose between poetry and push-pin? I surmise that Bentham chose push-pin for it's pleasant alliteration with poetry. Let us speak of lawn tennis. It is a popular game which many of us can play with pleasure. It needs skill and judgement, a good eye and a cool head. If I get the same amount of pleasure out of playing it as you get from looking at Titian's Entombment of Christ in the Louvre, by listening to Beethoven's Eroica, or by reading Eliot's Ash Wednesday, how are you going to prove your pleasure is better and more refined than mine? Only, I should say, by manifesting that this gift you have of aesthetic appreciation has a moral effect on your character.

18 June 2013

Look Well at the Stars

Hamilton Wright Mabie (1846-1916), "The Year of Wandering," in Essays on Work and Culture (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1898), pp. 44-52 (at 47-48):
It is the born drudge alone who is content to go from the school to the office or the shop without so much as asking the elementary questions about life. The aspiring want to know what is behind the occupation; they must discover the spiritual necessity of work before they are ready to bend to the inevitable yoke. Strong natures are driven by the very momentum of their own moral impulse to explore the world before they build in it and unite themselves with it; the imagination must be fed with beauty and truth before they are content to choose their task and tools. It is often a sign of greatness in a man that he does not quickly fit into his place or easily find his work. Let him look well at the stars before he bends to his task; he will need to remember them when the days of toil come, as they must come, at times, to every man. Let him see the world with his own eyes before he gives to fortune those hostages which hold him henceforth fast-bound in one place.

17 June 2013

Fraud

From an article on the Art Renewal Center's web site:
Our 20th century has marked a period that celebrated the bizarre, the novel and the outrageous for its own sake. The defining parameter of greatness to Modernism is "has it ever been done before," "is it totally original where there is no derivation from any former schools of art," "does it outrage," "does it expand the definition of what can be called art?" I propose to you today that if everything is art then nothing is art. If I call a table a chair have I expanded the definition of the word table? Would this make me brilliant? If I call a hat a shirt have I expanded the definition of hat? If I call a nail a hammer, have I expanded the definition of the word nail? Am I now a genius? If I call screeching car wheels great music have I expanded the definition of music?

Or in reality have I perpetrated a fraud on the people who wanted to buy tables, hats, nails and music and instead got chairs, shirts, hammers and a headache?

Modernists have not expanded the definition of art at all. What they have done is attempted to destroy art, created icons that represent this destruction, and then called these icons the thing that they have destroyed i.e. works of art. A urinal or an empty canvas, hung on the wall of a museum, are especially pure examples of this. They are not works of art but symbols of the victory of the Huns, who have sacked the bastions and forums of our culture.
A related post: The Genesis of Modernism 

14 June 2013

A Fine Simian

David Cartwright, Schopenhauer: A Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), footnote on p. 88:
Heinrich Floris [Schopenhauer] must have suffered hardness of hearing for many years. A well-known anecdote concerns the announcement to his employees of Arthur's birth. One of them is alleged to have said to the gathering "If he will come to resemble his father, he will become a fine baboon." He did not respond.
This seemed strange when I first read it, but I think I've caught on now that I've come across the quote in Wilhelm Gwinner's biography. The German word for baboon is Pavian, and the word for man is Mann. Presumably, said quickly enough, the ends of the two sound enough alike that Schopenhauer's deaf father wouldn't have caught the slight. In my translation I have rendered it as:
Like his son, [Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer] had a wide face and had been hard of hearing since he was young, only to an even greater extent than Arthur. He had prominent and lively eyes, a short and upturned nose, and a large mouth. The latter was not much of a credit to him; on the afternoon of February 22nd he entered his office in a fever and stammered out the words "It's a boy!" to the assembled employees. The witty bookkeeper, counting on in his employer's poor hearing, rose and congratulated him heartily, saying: "If he is like his father, he will grow up to be a fine simian!"
I'm now going to use this line whenever someone shows me a male child.

12 June 2013

Ex Libris

A couplet composed by Charles Nodier (1780-1844) for his friend Guilbert de Pixérécourt (1773-1844), from Jules Janin's L'Amour des livres [The Love of Books] (Paris: J. Miard, 1866), p. 60. My translation:
Such is the sad fate of any book lent;
It is often lost, it is always bent.
The French:
Tel est le triste sort de tout livre prêté ;
Souvent il est perdu, toujours il est gâté. 

11 June 2013

Spineless People

Bettina Wegner in a Kennzeichen D TV program from 1978. My translation:


Interviewer: Could you sing a song from that time?

Wegner: Sure I can. This is a song for my children, for all children, and it applies to adults. It's called "Children".
The hands are so small,
With tiny fingers on them.
You should never hit them,
Or they will break.
The feet are so small,
With such little toes.
You should never step on them,
Or they won't be able to walk.
The ears are so small,
Sharp, and rightly so.
You should never shout,
Or they'll go deaf.
The mouths are so beautiful,
They express everything.
You should never forbid them to speak,
Or nothing more will ever come out.
The eyes are so clear,
They look at everything.
You should never cover them,
Or they won't be able to see.
Their souls are so tiny,
Open, and totally free.
You should never torment them,
Or they will fall apart.
It is such a little spine,
You can hardly see it.
You should never bend it,
Or it will snap.
[To raise] upright, clear-headed people,
Would be a fine goal:
Spineless people,
We have too many of them already.
The German lyrics:
Sind so kleine Hände
Winzige Finger dran.
Darf man nie drauf schlagen
Die zerbrechen dann.
Sind so kleine Füße
Mit so kleinen Zeh'n
Darf man nie drauf treten
Können sonst nicht gehen.
Sind so kleine Ohren
Scharf, und ihr erlaubt,
Darf man nie zerbrüllen
Werden davon taub.
Sind so schöne Münder
Sprechen alles aus.
Darf man nie verbieten
Kommt sonst nichts mehr raus.
Sind so klare Augen
Die noch alles sehn.
Darf man nie verbinden
Können sonst nichts mehr sehen.
Sind so kleine Seelen
Offen und ganz frei.
Darf man niemals quälen
Gehen kaputt dabei.
Ist so ein kleines Rückgrat
Sieht man fast noch nicht.
Darf man niemals beugen
Weil es sonst zerbricht.
Gerade, klare Menschen
wären ein schönes Ziel.
Leute ohne Rückgrat
Haben wir schon zuviel.

10 June 2013

Whether Men Do Laugh or Weep

Thomas Campion (1567-1620), "Whether Men Do Laugh or Weep," in The Book of Elizabethan Verse (London: Chatto & Windus, 1908), pp. 535-536:
Whether men do laugh or weep,
Whether they do wake or sleep,
Whether they die young or old,
Whether they feel heat or cold;
There is underneath the sun
Nothing in true earnest done.

All our pride is but a jest.
None are worst and none are best;
Grief and joy and hope and fear
Play their pageants everywhere:
Vain Opinion all doth sway,
And the world is but a play.

Powers above in clouds do sit,
Mocking our poor apish wit.
That so lamely with such state
Their high glory imitate.
No ill can be felt but pain,
And that happy men disdain.

7 June 2013

So Few of Us Are Brave

Richard King (pseudonym of Richard King Huskinson, 1879-1947), With Silent Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1917), pp. 111-112:
I often wonder what are really the regrets of people who are condemned to death. Properly speaking, they are supposed to repent their sins. But I'm sure they don't. More likely they weep for the joys they passed by from some cause or another. I'm perfectly certain that the thought which oppresses most people when they come to die is, not the wicked acts they have committed, but the time they wasted over people whose opinion and society wasn't worth a second's consideration. I can imagine that, after having fully and completely lived one's own life, death comes as a glorious climax. Annihilation to come when one has never really lived at all — that must indeed be tragedy. And yet that is how death finds most of us, even though we live to be eighty. It is not that we can't live so much as that the majority of us daren't live. I speak, alas! from experience. The years are passing, and behind me stretches an existence as noisy as a bear-garden, as joyless as a seaside promenade beneath a lowering sky, and very nearly as useless as if it had never been. Could I put back the clock twenty years.... Oh, but so many people are saying that! The thing is to face the present moment and to get as much pleasure out of it as one can. That is the only way to live life. Most of us are denying ourselves in every way for a future which usually never comes. It is not altogether our fault. When we are young we are influenced by other people, by society, by the "shams" which go to make up the conduct of the world. By the time we have discovered that our elders were all wrong, that society demands much and offers no real pleasure, and that the world is government by "authorities," than whom greater tyrants and more callous were never rulers in Hell, we are too old to strike out an existence of our own. We just fret and make the best of it. But what a condemnation of ourselves it is to own that we have only one life that we really know of, and we live it trying to make the best of it. The world is so full of joy and happiness and goodness if we are only courageous enough to look for them. But so few of us are brave. We are, nearly all of us, governed by somebody or something, and none of them rule over us either with sympathy or with love. Duty is an ideal we preach to other people.
A related post: Do You Like This Idea?

5 June 2013

Only Listeners Are Bored

Richard King (pseudonym of Richard King Huskinson, 1879-1947), With Silent Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1917), p. 100:
Have you ever noticed how difficult it is in life to be alone? Always have you to fight and still fight on for an acknowledgement of these hours of voluntary solitude which you seek, and which, after long periods of "giving out," are assuredly your due. People seem to dislike to see anybody enjoying themselves, by themselves. They call it being unsociable; but they mean that you are selfish. Secretly, in their heart of hearts, they believe that because you are alone, you must be feeling either depressed or dull. They imagine that your mood would immediately take upon itself a more roseate hue were they to intrude upon your solitude to prophesy to you concerning the weather. The more they love you the longer they will prophesy. They demand of you a confirmation of the idea that it will necessarily be fine in the afternoon because it rained before seven in the morning. They ask you innumerable questions; they inform you of things you did not want to know. They go on for hours, and they leave you under the impression that they found you on the verge of suicide, and straightway "cheered you up." But you, yourself, discarding the mask of pleasure you per force had assumed while they were with you, thank Heaven upon your knees that they are gone. Only listeners are bored. People who are always talking are always pleased with themselves. And the people who never sought the mental clarification of solitude are never silent. Their conversation becomes quite mechanical at last. These people always profess to love their fellow-creatures, and pride themselves upon having "hosts of friends." Life for them is scarcely to be considered worth living if fate forces them to spend a few days absolutely by themselves. They have no resources. Their dreams fled when they put up their hair. They exist from hour to hour in the hopeful expectancy of running across someone to whom to relate the trivialities of their day.

4 June 2013

Abnormal People

Richard King (pseudonym of Richard King Huskinson, 1879-1947), With Silent Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1917), pp. 46-47:
The abnormal person flees through life like a canary being pursued by sparrows. Nobody quite knows why the sparrows always persecute the bird which has escaped its cage, except that it is usually different from the type they are themselves, and a "difference," even in bird-life — which, after the life of the flowers, always seems to me to be nearest to perfect beauty in all creation — makes for enmity and hatred and jealousy and, if possible, death. Of course, there are heaps of people who aren't really abnormal at all, although they are dying to be thought above and apart from the crowd. They kind o' hunt with the hounds and dress up like the hare. They usually create a deep impression on themselves. The abnormal people I pity are the people who have been born, as it were, with a "kink" in their natures, people who cannot live the ordinary, law-abiding, moral, and respectable life of the multitude, as the multitude moulds its conduct by laws and religion and social customs. They are the people who suffer. They are the people who are really and cruelly lonely. If they are strong and brave they usually end either as social outcasts or in gaol. If they are weak, they shuffle through life furtively, pretending to be what they are not. And how they suffer — these really abnormal people! In their struggle for self-expression they are never victors. The Commonplace always wins in the long run, decry it as we may.

3 June 2013

The Ear Does the Work

W. Somerset Maugham, "After Reading Burke," in The Vagrant Mood (Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1969), pp. 130-131:
English is a language of harsh consonants, and skill is needed to avoid the juxtaposition of sounds that offend the hearing. Some authors are insensible to this and will use a word ending with a consonant, or even a pair of them, and put beside it a word beginning with the same one or the same pair (a fast stream); they will use alliteration (always dangerous in prose) and will write words that rhyme (thus producing an unpleasant jingle) without any feeling of discomfort. Of course the sense is the first thing, but the riches of the English language are such that it is seldom a sufficiently exact synonym cannot be found for the word that comes first to mind. It is seldom that an author is obliged to let something stand that grates up on his ear because only so can he say precisely what he wants to. One of the most valuable things that can be learnt from reading Burke is that, however unmanageable certain words may appear, it is possible by proper placing, the judicious admixture of long ones with short, by alternation of consonants and vowels and by alternation of accent, to secure euphony. Of course no one could write at all if he bore these considerations in his conscious mind; the ear does the work.