30 October 2013

Bad for Trade

Laurence Housman, "Art and Citizenship," Ploughshare and Pruning-Hook (London: Swarthmore Press, 1919), pp. 199-201:
[A]s an example of the particular value which does sometimes attach to hand labour (irrespective of its artistic value), I have here a small unused sample of chair-cover material of English make, produced about eighty years ago, at a probable cost  so I am told by experts  of under £2 the square yard. The chairs it was made to cover are now in my possession. During the twenty-five years of my own personal acquaintance with them they have had plenty of hard wear; but even at the corners that material has not yet begun to wear out ; and the colour has only become softer and more mellow in quality.

Within the last ten years I endeavoured to get that covering matched in a modern material, and I paid for the nearest match I could get about one-fifth of the price I have quoted. That material has already gone shabby; and where it is most worn and faded the colour, instead of mellowing, has gone dead and dirty in quality. The older material will probably outlast my time.

There, then, are the comparative values of the old and the new material. You pay the higher price for the old, but in the end it is more economical. And it has this double advantage (or what would be a double advantage in a State where industrial conditions were sound), that it inclines its possessor to adopt a more permanent style of furnishing, by making age beautiful and change unnecessary; and so it sets free a great amount of human labour for other purposes; not merely the labour of the textile workers who have not to provide new covers, but the labour of the upholsterers, who are not called upon to rip off a series of old covers and fit on new ones, dragging old nails out and driving fresh nails in, with the result that the framework of the chair itself is presently worn out and a new one required in its place. All that labour is saved.

That small example is important because it exemplifies those possibilities of permanence attaching to certain forms of hand-labour out of which can be developed a school of textile manufacture indigenous in character  indigenous in that you give it time to become embedded in its domestic setting, and to make for itself domestic history. It enables you to develop an appreciation for subtleties of colour, and to secure tones and harmonies which you cannot get ready-made in a shop: it gives to a piece of furniture life-value.

But it is bad for trade!

Now why is it bad for trade? It is bad for trade because our modern industrial conditions have brought us to this pass, that it is no longer our national aim to direct labour and set it free for other work that really needs to be done. Our national problem is rather to find work for people, at times even to invent needs, and to create a fictitious turnover in trade so that we may not have upon our hands an enormous increase of the unemployed problem. And as hands go begging, as we have more hands in the country than we can employ on useful and fit labour (fit, I mean, for such fine implements as these and for the brains behind them), therefore hands are inevitably put to degrading uses, and the joy goes out of work; and for the delight (or at least the intelligent patience) of true craftsmanship is substituted the soul-destroying bondage of mechanical labour at something which is not really worth producing.
William Morris, Snakeshead Textile (1876)

29 October 2013

The Commonplace Book

Richard Le Gallienne, How to Get the Best Out of Books (New York: Baker and Taylor, 1904), pp. 14-15:
The end of true reading is the development of individuality. Like a certain water insect, the reader instinctively selects from the outspread world of books the building materials for the house of his soul. He chooses here and rejects there, and remembers or forgets according to the formative desire of his nature. Yet it often happens that he forgets much that he needs to remember, and thus the question of methodical aids to memory arises.

One's first thought, of course, is of the commonplace book. Well, have you ever kept one, or, to be more accurate, tried to keep one ? Personally, I believe in the commonplace book so long as we don't expect too much from it. Its two dangers are (1) that one is apt to make far too many and too minute entries, and (2) that one is apt to leave all the remembering to the commonplace book, with a consequent relaxation of one's own attention. On the other hand, the mere discipline of a commonplace book is a good thing, and if   as I think is the best way — we copy out the passages at full length, they are thus the more securely fixed in the memory. A commonplace book kept with moderation is really useful, and may be delightful. But the entries should be made at full length. Otherwise, the thing becomes a mere index, an index which encourages us to forget.

28 October 2013

An Increasing Degradation

An anonymous author in a book-trade newspaper, quoted in J. Lewis May, John Lane and the Nineties (London: Bodley Head, 1936), p. 199:
I believe that commercial competition amongst publishers is leading to an increasing degradation of everything for which the bookseller stands. Books are becoming a commodity of no more sociological value to the community than chocolates or newspapers. They are the amusement of the passing moment. To the masses they convey neither ideas nor ideals nor any kind of aesthetic quality. And the firms who succeed and grow to monstrous prosperity are just those who god is quantity.
A related post: The Herd Instinct

24 October 2013

A Blatant Commercial Affair

J. Lewis May, John Lane and the Nineties (London: Bodley Head, 1936), p. 118:
It is a pity that publishing, which has now degenerated into a blatant commercial affair  publishers being like rival showmen, each trying to out-shout and out-bid his competitors  could not have remained the thing it was in the early and middle Nineties. I wonder if a publisher who went back to the ways of Mathews and Lane, as they were in those days, would have any chance of surviving. I am told definitely that he would not. I am not so sure. I do not think taste and a sense of proportion, of mesure, are quite dead in the world. The awkward thing is that, from the nature of the case, such a publisher could not get into touch with the pubic he desired by means of advertisement, for they are of the few that do not pay very much attention to advertisement. He would have to go out and find them, even as John Lane did.

23 October 2013

The Choice of Hercules

Thomas Carlyle, "Wotton Reinfred," The Last Words of Thomas Carlyle, pp. 99-101:
"Self-seeking, if you so understand it, is certainly the staple of human principle; for my share, I will confess, I find it difficult to see how any living creature can act on any other. If you told me, 'This is and will be pleasant, that is and will be painful,' should I not, must I not, reject the latter and cling to the former?" 
"But if I told you, 'The pleasant is and will be vicious, the painful is and will be virtuous'?" said Maurice, hastening to assist Dalbrook, who seemed to be ill at ease in argument. 
"'Tis an impossible case," said the other. "Admit it for a moment; would you feel no twinge, no compunctious visiting? Nay, if I offered that you should to all eternity be filled and satisfied with pleasure, on condition that you became a villain and a fool, supposing even that I took your conscience from you, and no trace of repentance or remembrance were ever to afflict you again, would you strike the bargain without scruple? Would you plunge into the scene as into your native element? Would you hasten to it as to the bosom of a mother? Would there be no whisper of gainsaying?" 
"Perhaps some whisper; but — " 
"That little whisper saves us!" cried Maurice. 
"It was the voice of your better genius!" cried Dalbrook. 
"Perhaps only of my vanity," said Williams. "I might not like to be degraded." 
"The voice at least of something which was not love of pleasure; something which the philosopher and I reckon higher, and which you yourself must admit to be different," said Maurice. 
"O good Heavens!" cried Dalbrook. "Quousque venimus? Does it require proof that there is something better in man than self-interest, however prudent and clear-sighted; that the divine law of virtue is not a drudge's bargain, and her beauty and omnipotent majesty an 'association,' a shadow, the fable of a nurse? O Prodicus! Was thy 'Choice of Hercules' written to shame us; that after twenty centuries of 'perfectibility' are here still arguing?
Sebastiano Ricci, Hercules at the Crossroads (c. 1715)

22 October 2013

Selling Books

Literary agent Andrew Wylie, from an interview in New Republic
The biggest single problem since 1980 has been that the publishing industry has been led by the nose by the retail sector. The industry analyzes its strategies as though it were Procter and Gamble. It’s Hermès. It’s selling to a bunch of effete, educated snobs who read. Not very many people read. Most of them drag their knuckles around and quarrel and make money. We’re selling books. It’s a tiny little business. It doesn’t have to be Walmartized.

21 October 2013

The Dribbling of an Idiot

Haldane Macfall (1860-1928), The Splendid Wayfaring (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1913), pp. 86-87:
It is the stupendous function of Art to reveal its age to the soul of man through the senses — a prodigious and eagle flight next to the adventure of life itself. What methods we employ matter nothing, so that the artist convey the compelling impression. But to go back to the vision of children or the utterance of the infancy of the world is but the dribbling of an idiot. He who would utter the vast and complex life of our age cannot do so on outworn instruments or by affecting the chatter of childhood. Equally certainly he will not do so by straining the function of one sense to utter the function of another. To give to Art the intention of science, and to essay adventures in geometry, cubes, pyramids, and the like, is to bemuddle Art with science; and however much science may gain, Art will not be created -- the senses will know no communion of the impressions aroused by life. 
Pablo Picasso, Dribbling Idiot with a Mandolin (1910)

A related post: The Genesis of Modernism

18 October 2013

If the World Recovers Its Belief in Reason

Ivor Brown, I Commit to the Flames (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1934), pp. 108-109:
[D. H.] Lawrence was neither novel nor coherent. Much of his yelping was simply verbose reiteration of Blake's apothegms; if it be original to place the seat of consciousness in the belly or lower, he is entitled to such fame as that discovery may bring. That he really had no settled opinions may be deduced from the huge volume of letters, in which he is to be found in a state of continual self-contradiction. But his neo-barbarism suited a period in which traditional civilisation was out of favour; his instinctivism suited people who wanted some quasi-philosophic justification for having a good time and lacked the courage to indulge themselves without a little highbrow support. If the world recovers its belief in reason, there will be considerable surprise that Lawrence was ever accepted as a prophet.

17 October 2013


An illustration by Max Hagen (1859-1914) in Jugend magazine (Nr. 41, 1901), via mpt. 1607's Flickr stream. He has collected quite a bit of interesting material from the Wilhelmine period.

The text at the foot of the picture comes from Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

"Ich liebe Den, der über sich selber hinaus schaffen will und so zu Grunde geht."

I would translate this as:

"I love him who wishes to create something out of and beyond himself, and who perishes as a result."

The "out of" is more implied than literal.

16 October 2013

The Secret of Life

A. C. Benson, The House of Quiet (London: John Murray, 1906), pp. 153-154:
It is the fashion now to talk with much affected weariness of the hurry and bustle of modern life. No doubt such things are to be found if you go in search of them; and to have your life attended by a great quantity of either is generally held to be a sign of success. But the truth is, that this is what ordinary people like. The ordinary man has no precise idea what to do with his time. He needs to have it filled up by a good many conflicting and petty duties, and if it is filled he has a feeling that he is useful. But many of these duties are only necessary because of the existence of each other; it is a vicious circle. "What are those fields for?" said a squire who had lately succeeded to an estate, as he walked round with the bailiff. "To grow oats, sir." "And what do you do with the oats?" "Feed the horses, sir." "And what do you want the horses for?" "To plough the fields, sir." That is what much of the bustle of modern life consists of.

Solitude and silence are a great strain; but if you enjoy them they are at least harmless, which is more than can be said of many activities. Such is not perhaps the temper in which continents are explored, battles won, empires extended, fortunes made. But whatever concrete gain we make for ourselves must be taken from others; and we ought to be very certain indeed of the meaning of this life, and the nature of the world to which we all migrate, before we immerse ourselves in self-contrived businesses. To be natural, to find our true life, to be independent of luxuries, not to be at the mercy of prejudices and false ideals — that is the secret of life: who can say that it is a secret that we most of us make our own? 

15 October 2013

Are They That Sort?

E. M. Forster, A Room With a View (London: E. Arnold, 1908), pp. 191-192
The passage was blocked by a wardrobe, which the removal men had failed to carry up the stairs. Mr. Beebe edged round it with difficulty. The sitting-room itself was blocked with books.

"Are these people great readers?" Freddy whispered. "Are they that sort?"

"I fancy they know how to read — a rare accomplishment. What have they got? Byron. Exactly. 'A Shropshire Lad'. Never heard of it. 'The Way of All Flesh'. Never heard of it. Gibbon. Hullo! dear George reads German. Um — um —Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and so we go on. Well, I suppose your generation knows its own business, Honeychurch."

"Mr. Beebe, look at that," said Freddy in awestruck tones.

On the cornice of the wardrobe, the hand of an amateur had painted this inscription: "Mistrust all enterprises that require new clothes."

"I know. Isn't it jolly? I like that. I'm certain that's the old man's doing."

"How very odd of him!"

"Surely you agree?"

But Freddy was his mother's son and felt that one ought not to go on spoiling the furniture.
Franz von Defregger, Lesender Mann (1872)

11 October 2013

Compose Yourself to Your Pudding

Thomas Carlyle, The Life of John Sterling (London: Chapman and Hall, 1851), pp. 51-52:
If you want to make sudden fortunes in [the world], and achieve the temporary hallelujah of flunkies for yourself, renounce the perennial esteem of wise men; if you can believe that the chief end of man is to collect about him a bigger heap of gold than ever before, in a shorter time than ever before, you will find it a most handy and every way furthersome, blessed and felicitous world. But for any other human aim, I think you will find it not furthersome. If you in any way ask practically, How a noble life is to be led in it? you will be luckier than Sterling or I if you get any credible answer, or find any made road whatever. Alas, it is even so. Your heart's question, if it be of that sort, most things and persons will answer with a "Nonsense! Noble life is in Drury Lane, and wears yellow boots. You fool, compose yourself to your pudding!"
Evelyn De Morgan, The Worship of Mammon (1909)

10 October 2013

The Charm of Autobiography

James Ashcroft Noble, "The Charm of Autobiography," Impressions & Memories (London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1895), pp. 38-39:
An absolutely unreserved and sincere record of the deeds, words, thoughts, and emotions which have gone to make up the most commonplace life, would be of priceless value in many ways, but most of all, perhaps, would it be valuable in relieving every one who read it of at least a part of that burden of isolation which most people carry with them all their lives. Nearly everybody, certainly every young person, is fully convinced that some of his experiences are peculiar to himself; and because of this conviction he dare not disclose them, lest he should subject himself to certain misunderstanding and probable reprobation. Then, in some fortunate moment, he takes up the ideal autobiography, the volume in which some other man has disclosed the secrets of his soul, and he finds that what he has supposed to be his own peculiar property or his own peculiar torment, is the property or the torment of this other man as well ; and if of him, why not of a hundred, of a thousand men  of the greater number of the race? Loneliness must always be more or less terrible to a being with a social nature that craves for companionship; and a book which relieves our loneliness by assuring us that what we had mistaken as a sign of alienation from our fellows is really a sign of kinship with them, is a book which enriches our life by giving us a new feeling of being at home in the world. 
Arnold Böcklin, Herbstgedanken (1886)

9 October 2013

Non Libri Sed Liberi

Kenneth Grahame, "Non Libri Sed Liberi," Pagan Papers (London: Elkin Mathews and John Lane, 1894), pp. 17-18:
In book-buying you not infrequently condone an extravagance by the reflection that this particular purchase will be a good investment, sordidly considered: that you are not squandering income but sinking capital. But you know all the time that you are lying. Once possessed, books develop a personality: they take on a touch of warm human life that links them in a manner with our kith and kin. Non Angli sed Angeli was the comment of a missionary (old style) on the small human duodecimos exposed for sale in the Roman market-place; and many a buyer, when some fair-haired little chattel passed into his possession, must have felt that here was something vendible no more. So of these you may well affirm Non libri sed liberi; children now, adopted into the circle, they shall be trafficked in never again.
The title page to Pagan Papers,
Illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley

8 October 2013

By What Steps Was Mankind First Blessed?

John Eliot Hodgkin, Rariora, Vol II (London: S. Low, Marston & Co., 1902), p. 2:
Of some of those technical arts which have lessened the labours and sweetened the life of man (the "artes illiberales" of an unenlightened age), we are fortunately able to trace with reasonable certainty the beginnings and to honour the progenitors. Not so with the earliest inception of an industry which has conferred perhaps the greatest of all benefits upon humanity. Encompassing the birthplace of the Art of Printing, and hiding the personality of the first printer, is a hitherto impenetrable fog of mystery, an atmosphere of doubt and darkness which investigators have for ages endeavoured to pierce, expending or wasting in the process lives, fortunes, reputations, mountains of paper, seas of ink, yet leaving unsolved, as all but the enthusiasts on either side will admit, the one crucial query, and allowing the inquisitive world still to yearn for a positive answer to the question -- When, where, by whom and, above all, by what steps was mankind first blessed with this heaven-born art? In the honour of their own particular heroes rival cities erect statues, strike medals, celebrate anniversaries, empty wine-bottles, fill the air with patriotic applause and most confident orations, and yet to this day no one can say that he knows of a surety to what individual or even to what country these encomiums are really due.  
Jost Amman, Der Buchdrucker (1568)
Image from the British Museum

7 October 2013

Is This Not Best?

Laurence Housman, "Failure," Green Arras (London: John Lane, at The Bodley Head, 1896), p. 69:
When you are dead, when all you could not do
   Leaves quiet the worn hands, the weary head,
Asking not any service more of you,
   Requiting you with peace when you are dead;

When, like a robe, you lay your body by,
   Unloosed at last, — how worn, and soiled, and frayed! —
Is it not pleasant just to let it lie
   Unused and be moth-eaten in the shade?

Folding earth's silence round you like a shroud,
   Will you just know that what you have is best: —
Thus to have slipt unfamous from the crowd;
   Thus having failed and failed, to be at rest?

O, having, not to know! Yet O, my Dear,
   Since to be quit of self is to be blest;
To cheat the world, and leave no imprint here, —
   Is this not best?

4 October 2013

No Machine Other Than the Human Hand

T. J. Cobden-Sanderson, The Journals of Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, Vol. 2 (New York: Burt Franklin, 1969), p. 138:
It is my wish that the Doves Press type shall never be subjected to the use of a machine other than the human hand, in composition, or to a press pulled otherwise than by the hand and arm of man or woman; and this I will see to in my Will, though, if I forget, I desire that this which I have written shall operate in its place.
T. J. Cobden-Sanderson, Cosmic Vision (London: Richard Cobden-Sanderson, 1922), p. 126:

TO the bed of the RIVER THAMES, the River on whose banks I have printed all my printed books, I, THE DOVES PRESS, bequeath The Doves Press Fount of Type, the punches, matrices, and the type in use at The Doves Press at the time of my death. And may the River, in its tides and flow, pass over them to and from the great sea for ever and ever, or until its tides and flow for ever cease: then may they share the fates of all the worlds and pass from change to change for ever upon the Tides of Time, untouched of other use.

Page from the Doves Press edition of Hamlet (1909)
via Cardiff University Library special collections blog

3 October 2013

What Is Art?

Haldane Macfall (1860-1928), The Splendid Wayfaring (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1913), p. 22:
This power of being able to transfer to others our sensations by a skilful playing upon their senses is Art. We are, then, granted the power to exchange our intelligence by two means: we can exchange our Thoughts; and we can exchange our Sensations. Speech is the means whereby we exchange our Thoughts — or, if you will, the means whereby we exchange our Reason. But mere speech cannot give us communion of the sensing of our fellows. The means whereby we pour into the sensing of our fellow-men the impressions which have been aroused in our senses so that we can enable others to feel what we have felt — is the function of Art; its whole function, and its only function. 
Ibid, p. 34:
There are those who, parrot-wise, have repeated throughout the ages that Art is Beauty. There are far greater, far more profound, vaster, more majestic, more subtle, more dreadful emotions, more horrible moods, than are aroused by mere Beauty. The sense of Beauty is a noble and legitimate aim in Art; but it is not the only aim, since it is not the only impression in Life.

Art is as much concerned with tears and pathos and tragedy and ugliness and greyness and the agonies of life as with laughter and comedy and beauty. The dread of death, the detestation of treachery, the horror of fear, the awful sense of vengeance, the hatred of wrong, the promptings of terror, the lust to kill, the indignation at a lie, the agonies of suffering, the contempt of baseness and meanness, are all as legitimate a province of Art as the prettier emotions. All sensed activities are within the realm of the artist — the ignoble and the noble alike.

2 October 2013

An Impossible Fogey

Ivor Brown, I Commit to the Flames (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1934), p. 23:
Our new poets angrily announce that everything written more than twenty years ago is dead stuff, its language a winding-sheet. Therefore we must have only new modes, new metres, new diction. But they do not prove that all old poetry is dead poetry; the proof of that, after all, is the response of the readers. Nothing is dead which makes men feel alive. They merely announce the death and trample on the supposed corpse, which occasionally surprises them by standing up for itself, as Professor A. E. Housman did when he delivered the 1933 Leslie Stephen Lecture at Cambridge, choosing to speak on 'The Name and Nature of Poetry'. He actually did this without awaiting the by-your-leave of Mr. T. S. Eliot or asking permission of the new cacophonists, for which impertinence he was very sharply scolded in certain places. But Housman, I suppose, is an impossible fogey; he was writing poetry in the 'nineties; that settles any claims of his.

1 October 2013

Human Companionship, No Longer Pleasant

William Henry Hudson, Birds and Man (London: Duckworth & Co., 1915), pp. 184-186:
At Willersey, a Mr Andrews, a lover of birds who owns a large garden and orchard in the village, gave me an entertaining account of a pet wood owl he once had. He had it as a young bird and never confined it. As a rule it spent most of the daylight hours in an apple loft, coming forth when the sun was low to fly about the grounds until it found him, when it would perch on his shoulder and spend the evening in his company. In one thing this owl differed from most pet birds which are allowed to have their liberty: he made no difference between the people of the house and those who were not of it; he would fly on to anybody's shoulder, although he only addressed his hunger-cry to those who were accustomed to feed him. As he roamed at will all over the place he became well known to every one, and on account of his beauty and perfect confidence he grew to be something of a village pet. But short days with long, dark evenings — and how dark they can be in a small, tree-shaded, lampless village! — wrought a change in the public feeling about the owl. He was always abroad in the evening, gliding about unseen in the darkness on downy silent wings, and very suddenly dropping on to the shoulder of any person — man, woman, or child — who happened to be out of doors. Men would utter savage maledictions when they felt the demon claws suddenly clutch them; girls shrieked and fled to the nearest cottage, into which they would rush, palpitating with terror. Then there would be a laugh, for it was only the tame owl; but the same terror would be experienced on the next occasion, and young women and children were afraid to venture out after nightfall lest the ghostly creature with luminous eyes should pop down upon them.
At length, one morning the bird came not back from his night-wandering, and after two days and nights, during which he had not been seen, he was given up for lost. On the third day Mr Andrews was in his orchard, when, happening to pass near a clump of bushes, he heard the owl's note of recognition very faintly uttered. The poor bird had been in hiding at that spot the whole time, and when taken up was found to be in a very weak condition and to have one leg broken. No doubt one of the villagers on whose shoulders it had sought to alight, had struck it down with his stick and caused its injury. The bone was skilfully repaired and the bird tenderly cared for, and before long he was well again and strong as ever; but a change had come over his disposition. His confidence in his human fellow-creatures was gone; he now regarded them all — even those of the house — with suspicion, opening wide his eyes and drawing a little back when any person approached him. Never more did he alight on any person's shoulder,  though his evenings were spent as before in flying about the village. Insensibly his range widened and he became wilder. Human companionship, no longer pleasant, ceased to be necessary; and at length he found a mate who was willing to overlook his pauper past, and with her he went away to live his wild life.
Caspar David Friedrich,
Eule in gotischem Fenster (1836)