30 July 2013

Only the Magnificent

Daniel Berkeley Updike, Printing Types; Their History, Forms, and Use, Vol. II (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1922), p. 174:
[The type designer Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813)] cared nothing about printing as a means to popular instruction. He did not despise the masses — he forgot all about them! He was a court printer, existing by the patronage of the Lucky Few. His editions were intended to be livres d'apparat. He not alone saw no harm in making them so, but the bigger and more pretentious they were, the better he liked them. In fact, he openly said so, and told Renouard, the French publisher, "Je ne veux que du magnifique, et je ne travaille pas pour le vulgaire des lecteurs." [I want only the magnificent, and I do not work for the common herd of readers.]
Volume I of Updike's book can be found here.

An example of Bodoni's Roman font (1775)

29 July 2013

Two Hours a Day

Arthur Schopenhauer, from Chapter II of "Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life", in Parerga and Paralipomena, tr. E. F. J. Payne (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974). pp. 324-325:
Now, it is certain that nothing contributes less to cheerfulness than wealth and nothing contributes more than health. The lower classes or the workers, especially those in the country, have the more cheerful and contented faces; peevishness and ill-humour are more at home among the wealthy upper classes. Consequently, we should endeavour above all to maintain a high degree of health, the very bloom of which appears as cheerfulness. The means to this end are, as we know, avoidance of all excesses and irregularities, of all violent and disagreeable emotions, and also of all mental strain that is too great and too prolonged, two hours' brisk exercise every day in the open air, many cold baths, and similar dietetic measures. Without proper daily exercise no one can remain healthy; all the vital processes demand exercise for their proper performance, exercise not only of the parts wherein they occur, but also of the whole.
John Stuart Blackie, On Self Culture (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1875), pp.41-43:
Every young student ought to make a sacred resolution to move about in the open air at least two hours every day. If he does not do this, cold feet, the clogging of the wheels of the internal parts of the fleshly frame, and various shades of stomachic and cerebral discomfort, will not fail in due season to inform him that he has been sinning against Nature, and, if he does not amend his courses, as a bad boy he will certainly be flogged; for Nature is never, like some soft-hearted human masters, over-merciful in her treatment. But why should a student indulge so much in the lazy and unhealthy habit of sitting? A man may think as well standing as sitting, often not a little better; and as for reading in these days, when the most weighty books may be had cheaply, in the lightest form, there is no necessity why a person should he bending his back, and doubling his chest, merely because he happens to have a book in his hand.
....
There is, in fact, no necessary connection, in most cases, between the knowledge which a student is anxious to acquire, and the sedentary habits which students are so apt to cultivate. A certain part of his work, no doubt, must be done amid books; but if I wish to know Homer, for instance, thoroughly, after the first grammatical and lexicographical drudgery is over, I can read him as well on the top of Ben Cruachan, or, if the day be blasty, amid the grand silver pines at Inverawe, as in a fusty study. A man's enjoyment of an Aeschylean drama or a Platonic dialogue will not be diminished, but sensibly increased, by the fragrant breath of birches blowing around him, or the sound of mighty waters rushing near.

26 July 2013

It's an Up and Down Life, My Friends

Arthur Ransome and a friend prove the truth of Oscar Wilde's maxim: The only thing that can console one for being poor is extravagance. From Bohemia in London (London: Stephen Swift, 1912), pp. 207-209:
I had lived once for over a week on a diet of cheese and apples — cheap yellow cheese and apples at twopence or a penny halfpenny a pound. A friend, also impoverished, was sharing my expenses and my diet, and slept in a small room in the same house. Our two sleeping boxes, for they were no more, were on the ground floor, and a large fat postman, our landlord, slept in the basement underneath. On the Wednesday of the second week, by the three o'clock post, came a letter for my friend, from a literary agent, containing a cheque for twenty-five pounds TWENTY-FIVE POUNDS! I believe the tears came into our eyes at the sight of that little slip of magenta-coloured paper. We shook hands hysterically, and then remembering that the bank closed at four unshaved as we were, without collars, with baggy trousers, we took a hansom for the town. The cheque was cashed, and that somehow seemed a marvel, as the five-pound notes and the gold were slid over the counter in a way most astonishingly matter-of-fact. We went out of the bank doors with a new dignity, paid the cabby, and walked the Strand like giants. It became quite a question what place was best worthy of the honour of entertaining us to tea. Wherever it was I fancy a small cafe it did its duty, and we sat, refreshed and smoking (new opened packets of the best tobacco) while we planned our evening.

At half-past six we went up to Soho, and crossed Leicester Square with solemnity, as befitted men with an aim in life, and that so philanthropic as to dine better that night than ever in their lives before. There was no undignified hurry about our walk, but there was no lingering. I was rebuked for glancing at the window of a print shop, and in my turn remonstrated equally gravely with him for dallying over some pretty editions at a bookseller's in Shaftesbury Avenue.

We dined at one of our favourite little restaurants: we dined excellently, drank several bottles of wine, and had liqueur glasses of rum emptied into our coffees. We smoked, paid the bill, and went out into the narrow Soho street. Just opposite, at the other side, where we could not help seeing it as we hesitated on the pavement, was another of our favourite feeding places. The light was merry through the windows, the evening was young, and without speaking a word, we looked at each other, and looked at each other again, and then, still without speaking, walked across the street, went in at the inviting door, and had dinner over again an excellent dinner, good wine, and rum in coffee as before.

Remember the week's diet of apples and cheese before you condemn us. We argued it out as we smoked over our second coffees, and convinced ourselves clearly that if our two dinners had been spread evenly and with taste over our last ten most ill-nourished days, we should not yet have had the food that honest men deserve. That being so, we stood upon our rights, and gave clear consciences to our grateful stomachs. 
Pyotr Konchalovsky, Still Life: Bread, Ham, and Wine (1948)

24 July 2013

How to Be Happy

George Moore, Confessions of a Young Man (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1904), p. 142:
How to be happy! — not to read Baudelaire and Verlaine, not to enter the Nouvelle Athènes, unless perhaps to play dominoes like the bourgeois over there, not to do anything that would awake a too intense consciousness of life, — to live in a sleepy country side, to have a garden to work in, to have a wife and children, to chatter quietly every evening over the details of existence. We must have the azaleas out to-morrow and thoroughly cleansed, they are devoured by insects; the tame rook has flown away; mother lost her prayer-book coming from church, she thinks it was stolen. A good, honest, well-to-do peasant, who knows nothing of politics, must be very nearly happy; — and to think there are people who would educate, who would draw these people out of the calm satisfaction of their instincts, and give them passions! The philanthropist is the Nero of modern times.
The Nouvelle Athènes: a café in Paris (on Place Pigalle, long gone now), popular with impressionist painters in the late 19th century.

22 July 2013

Only Folly and Shame

Thomas Paine, "Anti-Monarchal Essay," in The Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Moncure Daniel Conway, Vol. III (New York: Putnam, 1906), p. 106:
Whether one jests or reasons, there is found in this idea of hereditary royalty only folly and shame. What then is this office, which may be filled by infants or idiots? Some talent is required to be a simple workman; to be a king there is need to have only the human shape, to be a living automaton. We are astonished when reading that the Egyptians placed on the throne a flint, and called it their king. We smile at the dog Barkouf, sent by an Asiatic despot to govern one of his provinces. But monarchs of this kind are less mischievous and less absurd than those before whom whole peoples prostrate themselves. The flint and the dog at least imposed on nobody. None ascribed to them qualities or characters they did not possess. They were not styled 'Father of the People,' — though this were hardly more ridiculous than to give that title to a rattle-head whom inheritance crowns at eighteen. Better a mute than an animate idol.

The Bile of Misanthropy

Johann Georg Zimmermann, Solitude (London: Thomas Tegg, 1827), pp. 238-239:
Disgusted by the vices and follies of the age, the mind becomes insensibly impressed with a hatred toward the species, and loses, by degrees, that mild and humane temper which is so indispensably necessary to the enjoyment of social happiness. Even he who merely observes the weak or vicious frailties of his fellow-creatures with an intention to study philosophically the nature and disposition of man, cannot avoid remembering their defects without severity, and viewing the character he contemplates with contempt, especially if he happens to be the object of their artifices, and the dupe of their villainies. Contempt is closely allied with hatred; and hatred of mankind will corrupt, in time, the fairest mind: it tinges, by degrees, every object with the bile of misanthropy; perverts the judgement; and at length looks indiscriminately with an evil eye on the good and bad; engenders suspicion, fear, jealousy, revenge, and all the black catalogue of unworthy and malignant passion: and when these dreadful enemies have extirpated every generous sentiment from the breast, the unhappy victim abhors society, disclaims his species, sighs, like St. Hyacinth, for some distant and secluded island, and, with savage barbarity, defends the inviolability of its boundaries by the cruel repulsion, and, perhaps, the death, of those unhappy mortals whom misfortune may drive, helpless and unpitied, to its inhospitable shores.
German edition (Troppau: s.n., 1785) available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

19 July 2013

The Jolliest of the Irregulars

Arthur Ransome, Bohemia in London (London: Stephen Swift, 1912), pp. 205-206:
The men who really care for their art, who wish above all things to do the best that is in them, do not take the way of the world and the regular salaries of the newspaper offices. They stay outside, reading, writing, painting for themselves, and snatching such golden crumbs as fall within their reach from the tables of publishers, editors, and picture-buyers. They make a living, as it were, by accident. It is a hard life and a risky one; it is deliciously exciting at first, to leap from crag to crag, wherever a slight handhold will preserve you from the abyss, but the time soon comes when you are tired, and wonder, with dulled heart and clouded brain, is it worth while or no? Those who are strong enough to continue are given their own souls to carry in their hands, and those who admit defeat, surrender them, and, knowing in their hearts that they have sold themselves, hide their sorrow in a louder clamour after an easier quest.
The jolliest of the irregulars, in spite of the anxiety of their life, are those who carry on a guerrilla warfare for fame and a long struggle for improvement, never having been caught or maimed by the newspaper routine, or by the drudgery of commercial art work. (For artists as well as writers have an easy way to a livelihood, which they also must have strength to resist.) Some men live as free lances by selling their articles to such papers as are willing to admit their transcendent worth, and ready to pay some small nominal rate, a guinea a thousand words perhaps, for the privilege of printing them. Many live by reviewing, getting half a dozen books a week from different papers, reading or skimming them, and writing as long a paragraph as the editor will allow on each volume. The artists coax dealers into buying small pictures at a cheap rate, satisfying their pride by contemplation of the vastly larger price at which their purchasers seem to value them as soon as they appear in the glamour of the window. Others again, artists and writers, too — these, perhaps, the most sincere and admirable of the lot — refuse any degradation of their art, and live hand to mouth by any sort of work that offers. There was one man who wrote poems in the intervals of stage carpentry, and another who made dolls while compiling a history of philosophy. Some, indeed, seem able to live on nothing at all, and these are more cheerful than the rest whose stomachs are less accommodating.
A related post: It Was Bliss

17 July 2013

The Basic Query

Arnold Bennett, The Plain Man and His Wife (New York: G. Doran, 1913), pp. 23-24:
All fundamental questions resolve themselves finally into the following assertion and inquiry about life: "I am now engaged in something rather tiresome. What do I stand to gain by it later on?" That is the basic query. It has forms of varying importance. In its supreme form the word "eternity" has to be employed. And the plain man is, to-day, so sensitive about this supreme form of the question that, far from asking and trying to answer it, he can scarcely bear to hear it even discussed — I mean discussed with candour. In practise a frank discussion of it usually tempts him to exhibitions of extraordinary heat and bitterness, and wisdom is thereby but obscured. Therefore he prefers the disadvantage of leaving it alone to the dissatisfaction of attempting to deal with it. The disadvantage of leaving it alone is obvious. Existence is, and must be, a compromise between the claims of the moment and the claims of the future — and how can that compromise be wisely established if one has not somehow made up one's mind about the future? It cannot. But — I repeat — I would not blame the plain man. I would only just hint to him, while respecting his sensitiveness, that the present hour is just as much a part of eternity as another hour ten thousand years off.

16 July 2013

A Garden and a View of the Sea

Richard King (pseudonym of Richard King Huskinson, 1879-1947), Over the Fireside with Silent Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1921), pp. 195-197:
I hope when I am old that Fate will give me a garden and a view of the sea. I should hate to decay in a suburban row and be carried away at the end of all my mostly fruitless longings in a hearse; the seven minutes' wonder of the small children of the street, who will cry, "Oo-er" when my coffin is borne out by poor men whose names I can't ever know! Not that it really matters, I suppose; and yet, we all of us hope to satisfy our artistic sense, especially when we're helpless to help ourselves. Yes, I should like to pass the twilight of my life in a garden from which there would be a view of the sea. A garden is nearly always beautiful, and the sea always, always promises adventure, even when we have reached that time of life when to "pass over" is the only chance of adventure left to us. It seems to beckon us to leave the monotonous in habits, people and things in general, and seek renewed youthfulness, the thrill of novelty, the promise of romance amid lands and people far, far away. And we all of us hope that we may not die before we have had one real adventure. Adventure, I suppose, always comes to the really adventurous, but so many people are only half-adventurous; they have all the yearning and the longing, but Nature has bereft them of the power to act. So they wait for adventure to come to them, the while they grow older and staler all the time. And sometimes it never does come to them; or, perhaps, it only comes to them too late. There are some, of course, who never feel this wild longing to escape. They are the human turnips; and, so long as they have a plot of ground on which to expand and grow, they look for nothing else other than to be "mashed" from time to time by someone of the opposite sex. These people are quite content to live and die in a row, and to have an impressive funeral is to them a sufficient argument for having lived at all. But their propinquity is one of the reasons why I should not like to grow old in a crowd.

15 July 2013

Everybody'd Go Crackers

Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (New York: Knopf, 1973), pp. 198-199:
Televisions, he though scornfully when she'd gone, they'd go barmy if they had them taken away. I'd love it if big Black Marias came down all the streets and men got out with hatchets to go in every house and smash the tellies. Everybody'd go crackers. They wouldn't know what to do. There'd be a revolution, I'm sure there would, they'd blow up the Council House and set fire to the Castle. It wouldn't bother me if there weren't any television sets, though, not one bit.

12 July 2013

Bibliothecam Vendat

Charles Nodier (1780-1844), in an essay written when Guilbert de Pixérécourt (1773-1844) sold off his library, from the Bulletin du Bibliophile, No. IX, Vol. III (October, 1834), quoted in a footnote to Souvenirs de la révolution et de l'empire, Vol. I (Paris: Charpentier, 1864), pp. 362-363. My translation:
When Joseph Scaliger wanted to sum up the harshest torments a literary man could face, he said: Lexicon contextat [Let him put together a dictionary]. If he had wanted to give an idea of the most extreme sorrow, he probably would have said: Bibliothecam vendat [Let him sell his library]... There is always something infinitely sad about the decision of a literary man to sell his books. I do not say this applies to vulgar types who care little for books and for literary people, but to intelligent and sensitive souls. One must not speak harshly of one's contemporaries: I still know three or four such men. Books are much like friends who stood close by in happier days, but whom one must watch disappear in times of adversity. Philosophy teaches us that this is not a new usage, and experience teaches us that it is not rare.
However, it would not be so difficult to lose one's library if one had the consolation of placing the whole of it into the careful protection of an enlightened and attentive owner, someone who would know how to enjoy it, and who would take pleasure in allowing others to do the same. Knowing this, one would feel something like the bitter-sweet sadness of a father who can never kiss his dear child again, but who knows that he has been placed in a good home. Unfortunately, things do not work this way. These books, these fraternal and almost twinned treasures which glow together in their combined harmony, will scatter like the last exiled members of an illustrious race, their shameful fate decided at the auction block: Disjectae membra Bibliothecae [The scattered fragments of a library]. Good taste will take away a few of them, ostentation will have many more, and ignorance will have the rest. We no longer live in an age where wealthy men pride themselves on an elegant and well-chosen collection of books. The library of a rich man in the 19th century consists of the Stock Market Journal and the Almanac of Commerce, dressed up in cheap cardboard bindings that I wouldn't bestow upon them them.
At one time, opulence that had been acquired through honest but more or less mechanical industry liked to compensate for its origins by supporting the arts and letters... Money served to make life more beautiful, and did itself credit with this noble custom. "We have enough money," said Louis XI's greedy minister Coytier. "What we need now is honour." Today one can never have enough money; and the thing that people who have a lot of money require is more money. As a result there will no longer be a decent amateur library in France twenty years from now unless a few zealous and obstinate men put one together at the cost of their everyday comforts — until the fatal day dawns when it is handed over to an auctioneer in order to prevent it from being seized by the bailiff.

11 July 2013

The Bottom of the Pot

Michel de Montaigne, "Not to Judge of Our Happiness Till After Death," [18.1] in The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, tr. Charles Cotton, Vol. I (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1913), p. 63:
[T]he very felicity of life itself, which depends upon the tranquillity and contentment of a well-descended spirit, and the resolution and assurance of a well-ordered soul, ought never to be attributed to any man till he has first been seen to play the last, and, doubtless, the hardest act of his part. There may be disguise and dissimulation in all the rest: where these fine philosophical discourses are only put on, and where accident, not touching us to the quick, gives us leisure to maintain the same gravity of aspect; but, in this last scene of death, there is no more counterfeiting: we must speak out plain, and discover what there is of good and clean in the bottom of the pot,
Nam vera; voces tum demum pectore ab imo
Ejiciuntur; et eripitur persona, manet res.

Then at last truth issues from the heart;
the visor's gone, the man remains. — Lucretius, iii. 57.
The French:
[Le] bonheur de nostre vie, qui dépend de la tranquillité et contentement d'un esprit bien né, et de la resolution et asseurance d'un'ame reglée, ne se doive jamais attribuer à l'homme, qu'on ne luy aye veu jouer le dernier acte de sa comedie, et sans doute le plus difficile. En tout le reste il y peut avoir du masque: ou ces beaux discours de la Philosophie ne sont en nous que par contenance; ou les accidens, ne nous essayant pas jusques au vif, nous donnent loysir de maintenir tousjours nostre visage rassis. Mais à ce dernier rolle de la mort et de nous, il n'y a plus que faindre, il faut parler François, il faut montrer ce qu'il y a de bon et de net dans le fond du pot.
It would cost thousands to buy a hard copy of the 1635 edition of the Essais pictured above, but a colour facsimile can be downloaded for free from the Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes or from Gallica.fr.

9 July 2013

The Happiest Day

Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (London: Taylor & Hessey, 1823), pp. 127-128:
If any man, poor or rich, were to say that he would tell us what had been the happiest day in his life, and the why and the wherefore, I suppose that we should all cry out — Hear him! Hear him! — As to the happiest day, that must be very difficult for any wise man to name, because any event that could occupy so distinguished a place in a man’s retrospect of his life, or be entitled to have shed a special felicity on any one day, ought to be of such an enduring character as that (accidents apart) it should have continued to shed the same felicity, or one not distinguishably less, on many years together. To the happiest lustrum, however, or even to the happiest year, it may be allowed to any man to point without discountenance from wisdom. 

8 July 2013

Tarry the Lord's Leisure

A. C. Benson, "The Scene," At Large (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1908), pp. 17-18:
We tend to believe that a man is lost unless he is overwhelmed with occupation, unless, like the conjurer, he is keeping a dozen balls in the air at once. Such a gymnastic teaches a man alertness, agility, effectiveness. But it has got to be proved that one was sent into the world to be effective, and it is not even certain that a man has fulfilled the higher law of his being if he has made a large fortune by business. A sagacious, shrewd, acute man of the world is sometimes a mere nuisance; he has made his prosperous corner at the expense of others, and he has only contrived to accumulate, behind a little fence of his own, what was meant to be the property of all. I have known a good many successful men, and I cannot honestly say that I think that they are generally the better for their success. They have often learnt self-confidence, the shadow of which is a good-natured contempt for ineffective people; the shadow, on the other hand, which falls on the contemplative man is an undue diffidence, an indolent depression, a tendency to think that it does not very much matter what any one does. But, on the other hand, the contemplative man sometimes does grasp one very important fact — that we are sent into the world, most of us, to learn something about God and ourselves; whereas if we spend our lives in directing and commanding and consulting others, we get so swollen a sense of our own importance, our own adroitness, our own effectiveness, that we forget that we are tolerated rather than needed, it is better on the whole to tarry the Lord's leisure, than to try impatiently to force the hand of God, and to make amends for His apparent slothfulness.

4 July 2013

What Happiness Is to Be Gained?

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler No. 135 (July 2, 1751), in The Works of Samuel Johnson, Vol. V (London: J. Johnson et al., 1806), pp. 406-407:
At this time of universal migration, when almost every one, considerable enough to attract regard, has retired, or is preparing with all the earnestness of distress to retire, into the country; when nothing is to be heard but the hopes of speedy departure, or the complaints of involuntary delay; I have often been tempted to inquire what happiness is to be gained, or what inconvenience to be avoided, by this stated recession? Of the birds of passage, some follow the summer and some the winter, because they live upon sustenance which only summer or winter can supply; but of the annual flight of human rovers it is much harder to assign the reason, because they do not appear either to find or seek any thing which is not equally afforded by the town and country.

2 July 2013

Day After Day, Year After Year

Robert Tressall, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (London: Grant Richards, 1914), p. 76:
Extraordinary as it may appear, none of them took any pride in their work: they did not 'love' it. They had no conception of that lofty ideal of 'work for work's sake', which is so popular with the people who do nothing. On the contrary, when the workers arrived in the morning they wished it was breakfast-time. When they resumed work after breakfast they wished it was dinner-time. After dinner they wished it was one o'clock on Saturday.
So they went on, day after day, year after year, wishing their time was over and, without realizing it, really wishing that they were dead.

1 July 2013

Against This Backdrop of Nothingness

Rüdiger Safranski, Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, tr. Shelley Frisch (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002), pp. 23-24:
Boredom, from which art provides a refuge, becomes terrifying — the yawning abyss of being. When people are bored, they regard the moment as an empty passage of time. External events, as well as people's sense of self, become inconsequential. The phases of life lose their intentional tension and cave in on themselves like a soufflé removed from the oven too soon. Routines and habits that otherwise provide stability suddenly prove to be nothing more than façades. Finally, the eerie scenario of boredom reveals a moment of true feeling. When people find nothing to do with themselves, nothingness besets them. Against this backdrop of nothingness, art performs its task of self-stimulation — a virtually heroic enterprise, because people on the verge of a breakdown need to be entertained. Art steps in as a bridge to prevent succumbing to nihilist ennui. Art helps us live; without it, life cannot stem the onslaught of meaninglessness.