19 December 2014

Back Next Year

I am taking a break. Best wishes to the friends and Fremden who read along here.

18 December 2014

The End of All Reading

Francesco Petrarca, Petrach's View of Human Life, tr. Susanna Dobson (London: Printed for John Stockdale, 1791), pp. 94-95:
The end of all reading should teach thee to be patient with those manners around thee thou canst not cure; and to leave unto the world the remedies thereof: to embrace love, to reverence the worthy, and mildly overpass the rest as so many little flies, who, if thou dost not mind, they will not have the power to annoy thee: that thy life is for the care of thy own proper business, not for the care over the lives of others: so shalt thou neither fear any, nor will any have cause to fear thee!

17 December 2014

Such a Tempting Form of Sport

George Gissing, Charles Dickens; A Critical Study (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1898), pp. 285-286:
As soon as a writer sits down to construct a narrative, to imagine human beings, or adapt those he knows to changed circumstances, he enters a world distinct from the actual, and, call himself what he may, he obeys certain laws, certain conventions, without which the art of fiction could not exist. Be he a true artist, he gives us pictures which represent his own favourite way of looking at life; each is the world in little, and the world as he prefers it. So that, whereas execution may be rightly criticized from the common point of view, a master's general conception of the human tragedy or comedy must be accepted as that without which his work could not take form. Dickens has just as much right to his optimism in the world of art, as Balzac to his bitter smile. Moreover, if it comes to invidious comparisons, one may safely take it for granted that "realism" in its aggressive shapes is very far from being purely a matter of art. The writer who shows to us all the sores of humanity, and does so with a certain fury of determination, may think that he is doing it for art's sake; but in very truth he is enjoying an attack upon the order of the universe — always such a tempting form of sport.

16 December 2014

Posthumous Publication

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, An Autobiography (London: Seeley & Co., 1897), p. 2:
The notion of being a dead man is not entirely displeasing to me. If the dead are defenceless, they have this compensating advantage, that nobody can inflict upon them any sensible injury; and in beginning a book which is not to see the light until I am lying comfortably in my grave, with six feet of earth above me to deaden the noises of the upper world, I feel quite a new kind of security, and write with a more complete freedom from anxiety about the quality of the work than has been usual at the beginning of other manuscripts.

12 December 2014

All Right for Journalism

H. Halliday Sparling, The Kelmscott Press and William Morris, Master-Craftsman (London: Macmillan, 1924), pp. 13-14:
Morris condemned the typewriter for creative work; it was "all right for journalism and the like; there's nothing to be said for that! For hastily written copy, which doesn't matter anyway, it may be desirable, or for a chap who can't write clearly — I daresay the Commonweal compositors would be glad enough were Blank to go in for one! — but it's out of place in imaginative work or work that's meant to be permanent. Anything that gets between a man's hand and his work, you see, is more or less bad for him. There's a pleasant feel in the paper under one's hand and the pen between one's fingers that has its own part in the work done. ... I always write with a quill because it's fuller in the hand for its weight, and carries ink better — good ink — than a steel pen. ... I don't like the typewriter or the pneumatic brush — that thing for blowing ink on to the paper — because they come between the hand and its work, as I've said, and again because they make things too easy. The minute you make the executive part of the work too easy, the less thought there is in the result. And you can't have art without resistance in the material. No! The very slowness with which the pen or the brush moves over the paper, or the graver goes through the wood, has its value. And it seems to me, too, that with a machine one's mind would be apt to be taken off the work at whiles by the machine sticking or what not."
A related post: Writing with a Pencil

10 December 2014

The Only Competent Tribunal

Matthew Arnold, "On Translating Homer," Selections from the Prose Writings of Matthew Arnold, ed. Lewis E. Gates (New York: Henry Holt, 1898), pp. 42-43:
No one can tell him [the translator] how Homer affected the Greeks: but there are those who can tell him how Homer affects them. These are scholars; who possess, at the same time with knowledge of Greek, adequate poetical taste and feeling. No translation will seem to them of much worth compared with the original; but they alone can say whether the translation produces more or less the same effect upon them as the original. They are the only competent tribunal in this matter: the Greeks are dead; the unlearned Englishman has not the data for judging; and no man can safely confide in his own single judgment of his own work. Let not the translator, then, trust to his notions of what the ancient Greeks would have thought of him; he will lose himself in the vague. Let him not trust to what the ordinary English reader thinks of him; he will be taking the blind for his guide. Let him not trust to his own judgment of his own work; he may be misled by individual caprices. Let him ask how his work affects those who both know Greek and can appreciate poetry; whether to read it gives the Provost of Eton, or Professor Thompson at Cambridge, or Professor Jowett here in Oxford, at all the same feeling which to read the original gives them.

9 December 2014

The Pressing of the Grapes

Frederic Taber Cooper, "The Technique of Translating," The Craftsmanship of Writing (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1911), pp. 267-268:
Remember that the translator is in a certain sense a dual personality; he must be on the one hand a born Frenchman, and a born Englishman or American on the other. Now, no one can be to the full extent these two things at once; and therefore no flawless piece of translating can be produced at a single sitting. The best way, then, is to saturate yourself with the foreign language, and make a first rough draft in English, as complete as possible, but clumsy in vocabulary and ragged in idiom. Put it away for a few days; and then, with the original out of sight and out of mind, proceed to recast and to refine. A good translation is like a good vintage; the first draft is simply the pressing of the grapes, — the best you can do is to make sure that you have expelled the juice to the last drop. But you must give it time to age, before it is ready to be put on the market.

5 December 2014

Gruß vom Krampus

Krampus contemplates his harvest of delicious, badly-behaved children:

Sei brav!

4 December 2014

Rise and Shine

Marcus Aurelius, To Himself  5.1, tr. Gerald H. Rendall (London: Macmillan, 1914), p. 45:
In the morning, when you feel loth to rise, I apply the aphorism, 'I am rising for man's work.' Why make a grievance of setting about that for which I was born, and for sake of which I have been brought into the world? Is the end of my existence to lie snug in the blankets and keep warm?' — 'It is more pleasant so.' — 'Is it for pleasure you were made? not for doing, and for action? Look at the plants, the sparrows, the ants, spiders, bees, all doing their business, helping to weld the order of the world. And will you refuse man's part? and not run the way of nature's ordering?'

3 December 2014

Hurrah for the Life of a Country Boy

E. Vernon Arnold, Roman Stoicism, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911), pp. 372-373 (footnotes omitted):
A more real happiness is reserved for the man who gives up town life for that of the country. For it is most natural to win sustenance from the earth, which is our common mother, and liberally gives back many times over what is entrusted to her; and it is more healthy to live in the open than to be always sheltering in the shade. It matters little whether one works on one's own land or on that of another; for many industrious men have prospered on hired land. There is nothing disgraceful or unbecoming in any of the work of the farm; to plant trees, to reap, to tend the vine, to thrash out the corn, are all liberal occupations. Hesiod the poet tended sheep, and this did not hinder him from telling the story of the gods. And pasturage is (says Musonius) perhaps the best of all occupations; for even farm work, if it is exhausting, demands all the energies of the soul as well as of the body, whereas whilst tending sheep a man has some time for philosophizing also.

It is true that our young men today are too sensitive and too refined to live a country life; but philosophy would be well rid of these weaklings.
Title from the chorus of The Country Life, sung by The Watersons.

2 December 2014


Charles Francis Keary, The Pursuit of Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910), p. 180:
[T]he tangible, physical advertisement is the plague of existence: every one must feel it to be so. It defaces the world, and involves, beside, a hundred practical inconveniences. It is almost impossible to discover the name of a railway-station among the posters which cover the station walls; or to distinguish the notes in a railway-guide from the advertisements which fill up every margin; or the table or contents of a magazine which is smothered up in the same way. You cannot open a book, without advertisements snowing down from between its pages: and all the landscape that you can see from a railway-carriage is made hideous by advertising boards. Soon I imagine, as people travel so much in motor cars, the highways will be decorated in like wise: already near a town you may see the beginning of this. Advertising has increased to a vast extent; and with its increase has come the moral degradation of the journals which are its mediums.

28 November 2014


Epictetus, Enchiridion (XLVIII) in The Works of Epictetus, tr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1890), p. 220:
The condition and characteristic of a vulgar person is that he never looks for either help or harm from himself, but only from externals. The condition and characteristic of a philosopher is that he looks to himself for all help or harm.

25 November 2014

A Bottom of Good Sense

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, ed. George Birkbeck Hill, Vol. IV (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1887), pp. 114-115:
Talking of a very respectable author, he told us a curious circumstance in his life, which was, that he had married a printer's devil. REYNOLDS. 'A printer's devil, Sir! Why, I thought a printer's devil was a creature with a black face and in rags.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir. But I suppose, he had her face washed, and put clean clothes on her. (Then looking very serious, and very earnest.) And she did not disgrace him; the woman had a bottom of good sense.' The word bottom thus introduced, was so ludicrous when contrasted with his gravity, that most of us could not forbear tittering and laughing; though I recollect that the Bishop of Killaloe kept his countenance with perfect steadiness, while Miss Hannah More slyly hid her face behind a lady's back who sat on the same settee with her. His pride could not bear that any expression of his should excite ridicule, when he did not intend it; he therefore resolved to assume and exercise despotick power, glanced sternly around, and called out in a strong tone, 'Where's the merriment?' Then collecting himself, and looking aweful, to make us feel how he could impose restraint, and as it were searching his mind for a still more ludicrous word, he slowly pronounced, 'I say the woman was fundamentally sensible;' as if he had said, hear this now, and laugh if you dare. We all sat composed as at a funeral.

24 November 2014


Herbert Spencer, "Re-Barbarization," Facts and Comments (New York: D. Appleton, 1902), p. 184:
While bodily superiority is coming to the front, mental superiority is retreating into the background. It has long been remarked that a noted athlete is more honoured than a student who has come out highest from the examinations; and if there needs ocular proof we have it in the illustrated papers, which continually reproduce photographs of competing crews and competing teams, while nowhere do we see a photograph of, say, all the wranglers* of the year. How extreme is this predominance of athleticism is shown by the fact that Sir Michael Foster, when a candidate for the representation of the University of London, was described as specially fitted because he was a good cricketer! "All cricketers will, of course, vote for him," wrote in The Times a B.A. who had "played in the same eleven with him." Thus various changes point back to those medieval days when courage and bodily power were the sole qualifications of the ruling classes, while such culture as existed was confined to priests and the inmates of monasteries.
* A wrangler is a Cambridge University student who has obtained first-class honours in the mathematics tripos. The university stopped revealing their names in 1909. The names of the Boat Race crew are still published, though.

20 November 2014

A Good, Cosy, Dull Time

Samuel McChord Crothers, The Gentle Reader (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1910), pp. 5-6:
I sometimes fear that reading, in the old-fashioned sense, may become a lost art. The habit of resorting to the printed page for information is an excellent one, but it is not what I have in mind. A person wants something and knows where to get it. He goes to a book just as he goes to a department store. Knowledge is a commodity done up in a neat parcel. So that the article is well made he does not care either for the manufacturer or the dealer.

Literature, properly so called, is quite different from this, and literary values inhere not in things or even in ideas, but in persons. There are some rare spirits that have imparted themselves to their words. The book then becomes a person, and reading comes to be a kind of conversation. The reader is not passive, as if he were listening to a lecture on The Ethics of the Babylonians. He is sitting by his fireside, and old friends drop in on him. He knows their habits and whims, and is glad to see them and to interchange thought. They are perfectly at their ease, and there is all the time in the world, and if he yawns now and then nobody is offended, and if he prefers to follow a thought of his own rather than theirs there is no discourtesy in leaving them. If his friends are dull this evening, it is because he would have it so; that is why he invited them. He wants to have a good, cosy, dull time.

18 November 2014

Slippered Ease

Hamilton Wright Mabie, "A Comment on Some Recent Books," Essays from the Chap Book (Chicago: Herbert S. Stone & Co., 1896), pp. 158-159:
In our slippered ease, protected by orderly government, by written constitutions, by a police who are always in evidence, we sometimes forget of what perilous stuff we are made, and how inseparable from human life are those elements of tragedy which from time to time startle us in our repose, and make us aware that the most awful pages of history may be rewritten in the record of our own day. It will be a dull day if the time ever comes when uncertainty and peril are banished from the life of men. When the seas are no longer tossed by storms, the joy and the training of eye, hand, and heart in seamanship will go out. The antique virtues of courage, endurance, and high-hearted sacrifice cannot perish without the loss of that which makes it worth while to live; but these qualities, which give heroic fibre to character, cannot be developed if danger and uncertainty are to be banished from human experience. A stable world is essential to progress, but a world without the element of peril would comfort the body and destroy the soul. In some form the temper of the adventurer, the explorer, the sailor, and the soldier must be preserved in an orderly and peaceful society; that sluggish stability for which business interests are always praying would make money abundant, but impoverish the money-getters. There would be nothing worth buying in a community in which men were no longer tempted and life had no longer that interest which grows out of its dramatic possibilities.

17 November 2014

An Infallible Touchstone

Matthew Arnold, Essays in Criticism; Second Series (London: Macmillan, 1888), pp. 16-17:
Indeed there can be no more useful help for discovering what poetry belongs to the class of the truly excellent, and can therefore do us most good, than to have always in one's mind lines and expressions of the great masters, and to apply them as a touchstone to other poetry. Of course we are not to require this other poetry to resemble them; it may be very dissimilar. But if we have any tact we shall find them, when we have lodged them well in our minds, an infallible touchstone for detecting the presence or absence of high poetic quality, and also the degree of this quality, in all other poetry which we may place beside them.
A related post: Every Man's Anthology

13 November 2014

A Confounded Swindle

George Gissing, New Grub Street, Vol. I (London: Smith, Elder, 1891), pp. 303-304:
   'Oh,' pursued Jasper, 'when did you see Whelpdale last?'
   'Haven't seen him for a long time.'
   'You don't know what he's doing? The fellow has set up as a "literary adviser." He has an advertisement in The Study every week. "To Young Authors and Literary Aspirants" — something of the kind. "Advice given on choice of subjects, MSS. read, corrected, and recommended to publishers. Moderate terms." A fact! And what's more, he made six guineas in the first fortnight; so he says, at all events. Now that's one of the finest jokes I ever heard. A man who can't get anyone to publish his own books makes a living by telling other people how to write!'
   'But it's a confounded swindle!'
   'Oh, I don't know. He's capable of correcting the grammar of "literary aspirants," and as for recommending to publishers — well, anyone can recommend, I suppose.'
   Reardon's indignation yielded to laughter.
   'It's not impossible that he may thrive by this kind of thing.'
   'Not at all,' assented Jasper.

10 November 2014

Progress and Prosperity

Herbert Spencer, "Some Regrets," Facts and Comments (New York: D. Appleton, 1902), p.7:
I detest that conception of social progress which presents as its aim, increase of population, growth of wealth, spread of commerce. In the politico-economic ideal of human existence there is contemplated quantity only and not quality. Instead of an immense amount of life of low type I would far sooner see half the amount of life of a high type. A prosperity which is exhibited in Board-of-Trade tables year by year increasing their totals, is to a large extent not a prosperity but an adversity. Increase in the swarms of people whose existence is subordinated to material development is rather to be lamented than to be rejoiced over. We assume that our form of social life under which, speaking generally, men toil to-day that they may gain the means of toiling tomorrow, is a satisfactory form, and profess ourselves anxious to spread it all over the world; while we speak with reprobation of the relatively easy and contented lives passed by many of the peoples we call uncivilized.

9 November 2014

The Mess Table

H. Rex Freston, "The Mess Table," The Quest of Truth and Other Poems (Oxford: B. H. Blackwell, 1916), p. 38:
Sometimes, above the talk and wine
  That round the long white table flow,
There fall upon my startled ears,
  The voices that I used to know.

And looking round the lighted room,
  Each in his own familiar chair,
With laughing eyes that greet my eyes,
  I see the dead men sitting there.

The dead men's faces glow and shine
  With jest and laughter as of old;
The dead men's voices come and go;
  And yet my heart is strangely cold.

For one long moment they remain:
  And then, as through a mist, I see
The new men sitting in the chairs,
  Where once the dead men used to be.
Freston was killed in action at La Boisselle, France on January 24, 1916.

A related post: Strange to Think

5 November 2014

It Makes the Kidneys Ache

Florentius the scribe (c.920 - c.978) in his colophon to Pope Gregory's Moralia, quoted in Catherine Brown's "Remember the Hand: Bodies and Bookmaking in Early Medieval Spain." Word & Image, Vol. 27, No. 3 (2011), 262-278 (at p. 272):
One who knows little of writing thinks it no labor at all. For if you want to know I will explain to you in detail how heavy is the burden of writing. It makes the eyes misty. It twists the back. It breaks the ribs and belly. It makes the kidneys ache and fills the whole body with every kind of annoyance. So, reader, turn the pages slowly, and keep your fingers far away from the letters, for just as hail damages crops, so a useless reader ruins both writing and book. For as home port is sweet to the sailor, so is the final line sweet to the writer. 
The Latin:
quia qui nescit scribere laborem nullum extimat esse nam si uelis scire singulatim nuntio tibi quam grabe est scribturae pondus. oculis caliginem facit. dorsum incurbat. costas et uentrem frangit. renibus dolorem inmittit et omne corpus fastidium nutrit. ideo tu lector lente folias uersa. longe a litteris digitos tene quia sicut grando fecunditatem telluris tollit sic lector inutilis scribturam et librum euertit. nam quam suauis est nauigantibus portum extremum ita et scribtori nobissimus uersus. 

3 November 2014

Get Enough Sleep

Christopher Knight shares the wisdom he gained during 27 years of solitude, from an article by Michael Finkel in the September issue of GQ Magazine:
True hermits, according to Chris, do not write books, do not have friends, and do not answer questions. I asked why he didn't at least keep a journal in the woods. Chris scoffed. "I expected to die out there. Who would read my journal? You? I'd rather take it to my grave." The only reason he was talking to me now, he said, is because he was locked in jail and needed practice interacting with others.

"But you must have thought about things," I said. "About your life, about the human condition."

Chris became surprisingly introspective. "I did examine myself," he said. "Solitude did increase my perception. But here's the tricky thing—when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn't even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free."

That was nice. But still, I pressed on, there must have been some grand insight revealed to him in the wild.

He returned to silence. Whether he was thinking or fuming or both, I couldn't tell. Though he did arrive at an answer. I felt like some great mystic was about to reveal the Meaning of Life.

"Get enough sleep."

He set his jaw in a way that conveyed he wouldn't be saying more. This is what he'd learned. I accepted it as truth.
Thanks to Laudator Temporis Acti, from whom I first learned of the North Pond Hermit.

cf. Charles Bukowski, who gives similar advice in this interview.

30 October 2014

Long Autumn Evenings

Richard King (pseudonym of Richard King Huskinson, 1879-1947), Over the Fireside with Silent Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1921), pp. 60-61:
I sometimes think the man who first said that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" must have said it in November. The autumn is full of good intentions — just as spring is full of holiday and hope, and summer of heat and dolce far niente. But, just as the first warm day in June fills you with a physical vitality which you feel convinced that you must live for ever, so autumn makes you realise that life is fleeting and the mind has not yet reached its full development, nor intellectual ambition its complete fruition. Perhaps it is the touch of winter in the air which braces your mind and soul and gives you the impression that, given the long autumn evenings over the fire undisturbed, your brain will soon be capable of tackling the removal of mountains. If you are unutterably silly (as so many of us are — alas ! for the world's sanity; but thank heaven for the world's humour!) you will plan a whole curriculum of intellectual labour for the quiet evenings over the fireside. Oh, the books — good books, I mean — you will read! Oh, the subjects you will study! Perhaps you will learn Russian, or maybe something strange and out-of-the-ordinary, like Arabic! You dream of the moment when, speaking quite casually, you will inform your friends that you are reading the whole of the novels of Balzac; that you are studying for the law and hope to pass your "Final" "just for the fun of the thing"; that you are learning Persian, and intend to retranslate the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and discover other Eastern philosophers. In fact, there is no end to the things you intend to do in the autumn evenings over the fireside when your labours of the day are over. Briefly, you are going to "cultivate your mind" ; and when people talk about "cultivating their minds," they usually regard the mind as a kind of intellectual allotment which anyone can till — given determination, an easy-chair near a big fire, and the long, long autumn evenings.

27 October 2014

The Past Is a Work of Art

Max Beerbohm, "Lytton Strachey," Mainly on the Air (London: Heinemann, 1957), pp. 179-180:
[There is] a great charm in the past. Time, that sedulous artist, has been at work on it, selecting and rejecting with great tact. The past is a work of art, free from irrelevancies and loose ends. There are, for our vision, comparatively few people in it, and all of them are interesting people. The dullards have all disappeared — all but those whose dullness was so pronounced as to be in itself for us an amusing virtue. And in the past there is so blessedly nothing for us to worry about. Everything is settled. There's nothing to be done about it  nothing but to contemplate it and blandly form theories about this or that aspect of it.

24 October 2014

Liberation from One's Time

Hamilton Wright Mabie, Books and Culture (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1896), pp. 193-194:
Beyond all other means of enfranchisement, the book liberates a man from imprisonment within the narrow limits of his own time; it makes him free of all times. He lives in all periods, under all forms of government, in all social conditions; the mind of antiquity, of mediaevalism, of the Renaissance, is as open to him as the mind of his own day, and so he is able to look upon human life in its entirety.

22 October 2014

Impertinent and Senseless

Jan Tschichold, "The Importance of Tradition in Typography," The Form of the Book; Essays on the Morality of Good Design, tr. Hajo Hadeler (Vancouver: Hartley & Marks, 1991), p. 31:
The typography of old books is a precious legacy, well worthy of continuation. It would be both impertinent and senseless to alter drastically the form of the European book. What has proved practical and correct over centuries, like the quad indent — should this be displaced by a so-called "experimental typography"? Only indisputable improvements would make sense. Real and true experiments have a purpose: they serve research, they are the means to find the truth and lead to evidence and proof. In themselves, experiments are not art. Infinite amounts of energy are wasted because everybody feels he has to make his own start, his own beginning, instead of getting to know what has already been done. It is doubtful that anyone who doesn't want to be an apprentice will ever become a master.

20 October 2014

A Cure for Debility

Arnold Bennett, "Mind Callisthenics," The Reasonable Life (London: A.C. Fifield, 1907), p. 19:
Tell a man that he should join a memory class, and he will hum and haw, and say, as I have already remarked, that memory isn't everything; and, in short, he won't join the memory class, partly from indolence, I grant, but more from false shame. (Is not this true?) He will even hesitate about learning things by heart. Yet there are few mental exercises better than learning great poetry or prose by heart. Twenty lines a week for six months: what a cure for debility! The chief, but not the only, merit of learning by heart as an exercise is that it compels the mind to concentrate. And the most important preliminary to self-development is the faculty of concentrating at will. 

16 October 2014

By Heart

Beatrice Warde, "By Heart," written during the London Blitz and quoted in Francis Meynell's My Lives (London: Bodley Head, 1971), p. 176:
When will you understand?
Mark what I say:
Whatever you hold in your hand
Will be blown away.

Must you learn for yourself?
Listen, take warning:
Whatever you leave on the shelf
Will be gone by morning.

Soon you must play your part.
What are you learning?
Get it by heart! By heart!
I have seen books burning.
A related post: Every Man's Anthology

13 October 2014

Newspapers Make Me Sick

Henry Miller to Emil Schnellock, sometime in the spring of 1925, in Letters to Emil, ed. George Wickes (New York: New Directions, 1989), p. 14:
[W]hen I took the newspaper along with me tonight, to glance at during my repast, I realized what a long way off all that is. I didn't look at the newspaper. I wrapped it up and carried it home again. Newspapers make me sick. What good are they to me? Do I want to know what the rest of the world is doing? There's nothing the matter with my imagination. I know they're buggering one another, bitching up the works, fighting, scrapping, bedevilling themselves and making of this vale of tears a bed of thorns. Thank you, I'd rather go home, pretend I'm an artist and write some flapdoodle. I suppose, in the last analysis, it comes down to this: that I really want to escape reality. I suppose I want to dream clean sheets, good meals, happy endings and all the rest of it. And I suppose, further, that I'm one of those lily-livered pups who hasn't guts enough to go out and get a he-man's job and slave eight hours, maybe ten, for some guy who knows a little less than I do.

9 October 2014

The Pursuit of Happiness

Luc de Clapiers, Marquis of Vauvenargues, The Reflections and Maxims, tr. F .G. Stevens (London: Humphrey Milford, 1940), pp. 20-21:
People find happiness both in wisdom and folly, virtue and vice. Contentment is no index of true worth.

La raison et l'extravagance, la vertu et le vice ont leurs heureux: le contentement n'est pas la marque du mérite.
If neither fame nor worth make men happy, does so-called happiness deserve to be the object of their longing? Would a man of even moderate courage deign to accept fortune, peace of mind or prudence, on pain of sacrificing the strength of his convictions or suppressing the soar of his spirit?

Si la gloire et si le mérite ne rendent pas les hommes heureux, ce que l'on appelle bonheur mérite-t-il leurs regrets? Une âme un peu courageuse daignerait-elle accepter ou la fortune, ou le repos d'esprit, ou la modération, s'il fallait leur sacrifier la vigueur de ses sentiments, et abaisser l'essor de son génie?

7 October 2014

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Professor Kevin C. Klement has published an edition of Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that puts the original German alongside both the Ogden/Ramsey and the Pears/McGuinness translations. Some impressive typesetting:

PDFs and LATEX source available on his site.

6 October 2014

Soci Malorum

Henri-Frédéric Amiel, Journal Intime, tr. Mrs. Humphry Ward (New York: A. L. Burt, c. 1895), pp. 316-317:
Very few individuals deserve to be listened to, but all deserve that our curiosity with regard to them should be a pitiful curiosity — that the insight we bring to bear on them should be charged with humility. Are we not all ship-wrecked, diseased, condemned to death? Let each work out his own salvation, and blame no one but himself; so the lot of all will be bettered. Whatever impatience we may feel toward our neighbor, and whatever indignation our race may rouse in us, we are chained one to another, and, companions in labor and misfortune, have everything to lose by mutual recrimination and reproach. Let us be silent as to each other's weakness, helpful, tolerant, nay, tender toward each other! Or, if we cannot feel tenderness, may we at least feel pity! May we put away from us the satire which scourges and the anger which brands; the oil and wine of the good Samaritan are of more avail. We may make the ideal a reason for contempt; but it is more beautiful to make it a reason for tenderness.

1 October 2014

Priceless Possessions

Sir John Lubbock, "The Value of Time," The Pleasures of Life, (Chicago: W. B. Conkey Co., 1900), pp. 74-75:
Some years ago I paid a visit to the principal lake villages of Switzerland in company with a distinguished archaeologist, M. Morlot. To my surprise I found that his whole income was £100 a year, part of which, moreover, he spent in making a small museum. I asked him whether he contemplated accepting any post or office, but he said certainly not. He valued his leisure and opportunities as priceless possessions far more than silver or gold, and would not waste any of his time in making money.

29 September 2014

An Ugly, Bitter Emotion

Robert C. Solomon, "Nietzsche ad hominem," The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 210:
[Resentment] is an expression of weakness and impotence. Nietzsche is against resentment because it is an ugly, bitter emotion which the strong and powerful do not and cannot feel. Strong personalities who are politically or economically oppressed may also experience the most powerful feelings of resentment, but in them that emotion may even be a virtue. The difference, Nietzsche says, is that they act on it. They do not let it simmer and stew and "poison" the personality. There is also petty resentment, and sometimes Nietzsche makes the case against resentment in those terms. Resentment is an emotion that does not promote personal excellence but rather dwells on competitive strategy and thwarting others. It does not do what a virtue or proper motive ought to do — for Nietzsche as for Aristotle — and that is to inspire excellence and self-confidence in both oneself and others.
Related posts:

25 September 2014


Arnold Bennett, "The Secret of Content," The Reasonable Life (London: A.C. Fifield, 1907), p. 39:
If human nature were more perfect than it is, success in life would mean an intimate knowledge of one's self and the achievement of a philosophic inward calm, and such a goal might well be reached by the majority of mortals.
A related post: Know Thyself

23 September 2014

An Event in One's History

Hamilton Wright Mabie, Books and Culture (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1896), p. 39:
To get at the heart of books we must live with and in them; we must make them our constant companions; we must turn them over and over in thought, slowly penetrating their innermost meaning; and when we possess their thought we must work it into our own thought. The reading of a real book ought to be an event in one's history; it ought to enlarge the vision, deepen the base of conviction, and add to the reader whatever knowledge, insight, beauty, and power it contains.

22 September 2014

Inferior to the Original

Matthew Arnold, preface to "Merope," The Poems of Matthew Arnold (London: Oxford University Press, 1922),  pp. 284-285:
[A] translation is a work not only inferior to the original by the whole difference of talent between the first composer and his translator: it is even inferior to the best which the translator could do under more inspiring circumstances. No man can do his best with a subject which does not penetrate him: no man can be penetrated by a subject which he does not conceive independently.
A related post: Get Off My Lawn

19 September 2014

The Twelfth Century

Arnold Bennett, "The Secret of Content," The Reasonable Life (London: A.C. Fifield, 1907), p. 57:
The mind can only be conquered by regular meditation, by deciding beforehand what direction its activity ought to take, and insisting that its activity takes that direction; also by never leaving it idle, undirected, masterless, to play at random like a child in the streets after dark. This is extremely difficult, but it can be done, and it is marvellously well worth doing. The fault of the epoch is the absence of meditativeness. A sagacious man will strive to correct in himself the faults of his epoch. In some deep ways the twelfth century had advantages over the twentieth. It practised meditation.
Eugène Grasset, Méditation (1897)

18 September 2014

Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus

Arnold Bennett, How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day (Garden City: Doubleday, 1910), pp. 65-67:
By the regular practice of concentration (as to which there is no secret — save the secret of perseverance) you can tyrannise over your mind (which is not the highest part of you) every hour of the day, and in no matter what place. The exercise is a very convenient one. If you got into your morning train with a pair of dumb-bells for your muscles or an encyclopaedia in ten volumes for your learning, you would probably excite remark. But as you walk in the street, or sit in the corner of the compartment behind a pipe, or "strap-hang" on the Subterranean, who is to know that you are engaged in the most important of daily acts? What asinine boor can laugh at you?

I do not care what you concentrate on, so long as you concentrate. It is the mere disciplining of the thinking machine that counts. But still, you may as well kill two birds with one stone, and concentrate on something useful. I suggest — it is only a suggestion — a little chapter of Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus.

Do not, I beg, shy at their names. For myself, I know nothing more "actual," more bursting with plain common-sense, applicable to the daily life of plain persons like you and me (who hate airs, pose, and nonsense) than Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus. Read a chapter — and so short they are, the chapters! — in the evening and concentrate on it the next morning. You will see. 

17 September 2014

We Search Out Dead Men's Words

Matthew Arnold, "Empedocles on Etna" (lines 317-341), The Poems of Matthew Arnold (London: Oxford University Press, 1922), pp. 108-109:
   Look, the world tempts our eye,
   And we would know it all!
   We map the starry sky,
   We mine this earthen ball,
We measure the sea-tides, we number the sea-sands ;

   We scrutinize the dates
   Of long-past human things,
   The bounds of effac'd states,
   The lines of deceas'd kings ;
We search out dead men's words, and works of dead men's hands;

   We shut our eyes, and muse
   How our own minds are made,
   What springs of thought they use,
   How righten'd, how betray'd;
And spend our wit to name what most employ unnam'd;

   But still, as we proceed,
   The mass swells more and more
   Of volumes yet to read,
   Of secrets yet to explore.
Our hair grows grey, our eyes are dimm'd, our heat is tamed.

   We rest our faculties,
   And thus address the Gods:
   'True science if there is,
   It stays in your abodes;
Man's measures cannot mete the immeasurable All;

15 September 2014

They Do Take It All So Seriously

Lucian of Samosata, "Charon," The Works of Lucian, tr. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler, Vol. I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), pp. 178-179:
Charon: [observing humanity] How absurd it all is!

Hermes: My dear Charon, there is no word for the absurdity of it. They do take it all so seriously, that is the best of it; and then, long before they have finished scheming, up comes good old Death, and whisks them off, and all is over! You observe that he has a fine staff of assistants at his command; — agues, consumptions, fevers, inflammations, swords, robbers, hemlock, juries, tyrants, — not one of which gives them a moment's concern so long as they are prosperous; but when they come to grief, then it is Alack! and Well-a-day! and Oh dear me! If only they would start with a clear understanding that they are mortal, that after a brief sojourn on the earth they will wake from the dream of life, and leave all behind them, — they would live more sensibly, and not mind dying so much. As it is, they get it into their heads that what they possess they possess for good and all; the consequence is, that when Death's officer calls for them, and claps on a fever or a consumption, they take it amiss; the parting is so wholly unexpected.

12 September 2014

Empty Garrulousness

David Bentley Hart in the May issue of First Things:
Journalism is the art of translating abysmal ignorance into execrable prose. At least, that is its purest and most minimal essence. There are, of course, practitioners of the trade who possess talents of a higher order — the rare ability, say, to produce complex sentences and coherent paragraphs — and they tend to occupy the more elevated caste of “intellectual journalists.” These, however, are rather like “whores with hearts of gold”: more misty figments of tender fantasy than concrete objects of empirical experience. Most journalism of ideas is little more than a form of empty garrulousness, incessant gossip about half-heard rumors and half-formed opinions, an intense specialization in diffuse generalizations. It is something we all do at social gatherings — creating ephemeral connections with strangers by chattering vacuously about things of which we know nothing — miraculously transformed into a vocation.

10 September 2014

Photographs and Paintings

Bliss Carman, "Realism in Letters," The Friendship of Art (Boston: L.C. Page & Co., 1904), pp. 120-121:
As we go about this lovely world, scenes and incidents attract us and enchant us for a moment or for longer. And these scenes we delight to recall. We travel, and we bring home photographs of the places we have visited, reminders of our happy hours. It would seem that nothing could be more faithful than these mechanically accurate reproductions of the face of nature. And yet they are not wholly satisfying; a fleeting glimpse preserved in a sketch in pencil or water-colour may be far more satisfactory. The photograph reproduces a hundred details which the eye missed when it first came upon the scene; and at the same time misses the charm and the atmosphere with which we ourselves may have endowed the place as we gazed upon it. The sketch, on the other hand, omits these details, just as our eye omitted them originally, and yet preserves the atmosphere of our first delighted vision. Can it be said then that the photograph is more true than the painting? More true to the object, yes; but not more true to our experience of the object. And that is the important thing; that is what art must always aim at.
A related post: A Nice Day

8 September 2014


James Elroy Flecker, "Philanthropists," Collected Prose (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1920), pp. 79-80:
My heart goes black with fury and horror when I read their Wills. The only consolation one has is that there is another of them dead. Ten thousand pounds to the Wigan Home for Cats, five thousand to the Society for the Suppression of Sunday Amusements, a thousand for the Syrian Lunatic Asylum on Mount Lebanon, and fifty pounds a year (altered by a pencil-stroke to twenty-five) for their old and faithful clerk, Mr. Jinks.

One knows that the philanthropist himself, for all his riches, got nothing out of life but a sense of his own importance. It was he who once prevented Maud Allan* dancing in Manchester, and it was he who made Manchester. He never travelled except to Lucerne or Nice. Yet he had enough money to have wandered round the world. He might have stood on the slope of Tanagra, and seen the reflection of the snow-topped mountains of Euboea glide like swans on the still blue waters of the Euripus. He might have floated down the Tigris from Mosul to Bagdad in a raft of skins and been potted by Arabs from the bank. He might have walked beneath heavy Indian skies and understood in a flash, standing in the monstrous shadow of an ancient god, the secret of all Empires. He might have smoked opium with dim Chinese and travelled in his dreams right out of the world to starry isles and planetary oceans. He did none of these things.
* Maud Allan in The Vision of Salomé, c. 1906

4 September 2014

The Translator and the Children

James Elroy Flecker, "The Translator and the Children," The Collected Poems of James Elroy Flecker, ed. J.C. Squire (New York: Doubleday, 1916), p. 45:
While I translated Baudelaire,
Children were playing out in the air.
Turning to watch, I saw the light
That made their clothes and faces bright.
I heard the tune they meant to sing
As they kept dancing in a ring;
But I could not forget my book,
And thought of men whose faces shook
When babies passed them with a look.

They are as terrible as death,
Those children in the road beneath.
Their witless chatter is more dread
Than voices in a madman's head:
Their dance more awful and inspired,
Because their feet are never tired,
Than silent revel with soft sound
Of pipes, on consecrated ground,
When all the ghosts go round and round.

2 September 2014

Unmerited Prosperity

Lucian of Samosata, "Timon the Misanthrope," The Works of Lucian, tr. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler, Vol. I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), p. 33:
Thus in disgrace with fortune, I have betaken me to this corner of the earth, where I wear the smock-frock and dig for sixpence a day, with solitude and my spade to assist meditation. So much gain I reckon upon here — to be exempt from contemplating unmerited prosperity; no sight so offends the eye as that.

29 August 2014

The Life of Benvenuto Cellini

The cover, title page, and first page of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini, edited and translated by John Addington Symonds (New York: Brentano's, 1906):

Is the earthly paradise for bibliophiles at hand? There are a few sets of this handsome two volume edition on Abebooks for less than $25.

27 August 2014

A Noiseless Lamp and a Book

Philip G. Hamerton, Human Intercourse (London: Macmillan, 1884), pp. 69-71:
The peculiar peril of blood-relationship is that those who are closely connected by it often permit themselves an amount of mutual rudeness (especially in the middle and lower classes) which they never would think of inflicting upon a stranger. In some families people really seem to suppose that it does not matter how roughly they treat each other. They utter unmeasured reproaches about trifles not worth a moment’s anger; they magnify small differences that only require to be let alone and forgotten, or they relieve the monotony of quarrels with an occasional fit of the sulks. Sometimes it is an irascible father who is always scolding, sometimes a loud-tongued matron shrieks “in her fierce volubility.” Some children take up the note and fire back broadside for broadside; others wait for a cessation in contemptuous silence and calmly disregard the thunder. Family life indeed! domestic peace and bliss! Give me, rather, the bachelor’s lonely hearth with a noiseless lamp and a book! The manners of the ill-mannered are never so odious, unbearable, exasperating, as they are to their own nearest kindred. How is a lad to enjoy the society of his mother if she is perpetually “nagging” and “nattering” at him? How is he to believe that his coarse father has a tender anxiety for his welfare when everything that he does is judged with unfatherly harshness? Those who are condemned to live with people for whom scolding and quarrelling are a necessary of existence must either be rude in self-defence or take refuge in a sullen and stubborn taciturnity. Young people who have to live in these little domestic hells look forward to any change as a desirable emancipation. They are ready to go to sea, to emigrate. I have heard of one who went into domestic service under a feigned name that he might be out of the range of his brutal father’s tongue.

25 August 2014


Norman Douglas, Alone (New York: Robert M. McBride, 1922), pp. 46-48:
Talk to a simple creature, farmer or fisherman — well, there is always that touch of common humanity, that sense of eternal needs, to fashion a link of conversation. From a professional — lawyer, doctor, engineer — you may pick up some pungent trifle which yields food for thought; it is never amiss to hearken to a specialist. But the ordinary man of the street, the ordinary man or woman of society, of the world — what can they tell you about art or music or life or religion, about tailors and golf and exhaust-pipes and furniture — what on earth can they tell you that you have not heard already? A mere grinding-out of commonplaces! How often one has covered the same field! They cannot even put their knowledge, such as it is, into an attractive shape or play variations on the theme; it is patter; they have said the same thing, in the same language, for years and years; you have listened to the same thing from other lips, in the same language, for years and years. How one knows it all beforehand — every note in that barrel-organ of echoes! One leaves them feeling like an old, old man, vowing one will never again submit to such a process of demoralization, and understanding, better than ever, the justification of monarchies and tyrannies: these creatures are born to act and think and believe as others tell them. You may be drawn to one or the other, detecting an unusual kindliness of nature or some endearing trick; for the most part, one studies them with a kind of medical interest. How comes it that this man, respectably equipped by birth, has grown so warped and atrophied, an animated bundle of deficiencies?

Life is the cause — life, the onward march of years. It has a cramping effect; it closes the pores, intensifying one line of activity at the expense of all the others; often enough it encrusts the individual with a kind of shell, a veneer of something akin to hypocrisy. Your ordinary adult is an egoist in matters of the affections; a specialist in his own insignificant pursuit; a dull dog. Dimly aware of these defects, he confines himself to generalities or, grown confidential, tells you of his little fads, his little love-affairs — such ordinary ones! Like those millions of his fellows, he has been transformed into a screw, a bolt, a nut, in the machine. He is standardised.

22 August 2014


Ivor Brown, Mind Your Language (Chester Springs: Dufour Editions, 1962), pp. 29-30:
Reactionary is another long and ill-used Latin word. Reaction began life as a term used in physics, meaning 'the repulsion or resistance exerted by a body in opposition to the impact or pressure of another body'. When it is applied to human conduct a reactionary should be one who objects to and resists a code of morals or a social policy. Obviously resistance can take many forms. A person can resist or react against Conservatism as well as Socialism or Communism. So a politician of the Left who reacts against the Right can reasonably be called a reactionary. But he never is.

Reactionary has become a Left Wing term of abuse and its use has been extended to the arts. Those who believe themselves advanced think that they have disposed of those who do not keep up with their tastes by using words of this kind in place of argument. That has worked both ways in the past: the lovers of tradition dismissed the innovators with contemptuous reference to half-baked minds and callow presumption. Now the supporters of novelty retort with reactionary, fuddy-duddy, and the like. But throwing words about proves nothing and to tie the label reactionary onto anything of which you disapprove is as ineffectual as it is easy. The word should describe opposition in general and not stupid opposition. One person can react as much against the abstract work of Picasso as another reacts against landscapes faithful to nature or portraits which can be recognised as pictures of a human being. A further irritating usage of reaction is to substitute it for opinion. People engaged in a Brains Trust or Quiz are constantly asked what is their reaction instead of what do they feel or think. Here again plain words like view or opinion would suffice. There is no need to turn to a Latin word fetched from a chemist's laboratory.

21 August 2014

On the Lees of Life

A. C. Benson, The Joyous Gard, (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1913), pp. 82-83:
I am sure that there are many people who, looking back at their youth, are conscious that they had something stirring and throbbing within them which they have somehow lost; some vision, some hope, some faint and radiant ideal. Why do they lose it, why do they settle down on the lees of life, why do they snuggle down among comfortable opinions? Mostly, I am sure, out of a kind of indolence. There are a good many people who say to themselves, "After all, what really matters is a solid defined position in the world; I must make that for myself, and meanwhile I must not indulge myself in any fancies; it will be time to do that when I have earned my pension and settled my children in life." And then when the time arrives, the frail and unsubstantial things are all dead and cannot be recovered; for happiness cannot be achieved along these cautious and heavy lines.

19 August 2014


Paul Henri Thiry d'Holbach, The System of Nature, tr. H.D. Robinson (Boston: J.P. Mendum, 1889), p. 162:
Cease then, O mortal! to let thyself be disturbed with phantoms, which thine own imagination or imposture hath created. Renounce thy vague hopes; disengage thyself from thine overwhelming fears, follow without inquietude the necessary routine which nature has marked out for thee; strew the road with flowers if thy destiny permits; remove, if thou art able, the thorns scattered over it. Do not attempt to plunge thy views into an impenetrable futurity; its obscurity ought to be sufficient to prove to thee that it is either useless or dangerous to fathom. Only think then, of making thyself happy in that existence which is known to thee. If thou wouldst preserve thyself, be temperate, moderate, and reasonable: if thou seekest to render thy existence durable, be not prodigal of pleasure. Abstain from every thing that can be hurtful to thyself, or to others. Be truly intelligent; that is to say, learn to esteem thyself, to preserve thy being, to fulfil that end which at each moment thou proposest to thyself. Be virtuous, to the end that thou mayest render thyself solidly happy, that thou mayest enjoy the affections, secure the esteem, partake of the assistance of those beings whom nature has made necessary to thine own peculiar felicity. Even when they should be unjust, render thyself worthy of thine own love and applause, and thou shall live content, thy serenity shall not be disturbed: the end of thy career shall not slander a life which will be exempted from remorse.

15 August 2014

That Odd Little Chap

Jerome K. Jerome, "On Memory," The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (Chicago: W.B. Conkey, 1900), p. 168:
I like to sit and have a talk sometimes with that odd little chap that was myself long ago. I think he likes it too, for he comes so often of an evening when I am alone with my pipe, listening to the whispering of the flames. I see his solemn little face looking at me through the scented smoke as it floats upward, and I smile at him; and he smiles back at me, but his is such a grave, old-fashioned smile. We chat about old times; and now and then he takes me by the hand, and then we slip through the black bars of the grate and down the dusky glowing caves to the land that lies behind the firelight. There we find the days that used to be, and we wander along them together. He tells me as we walk all he thinks and feels. I laugh at him now and then, but the next moment I wish I had not, for he looks so grave I am ashamed of being frivolous. 

13 August 2014

The Most Happy Man

Paul Henri Thiry d'Holbach, The System of Nature, tr. H.D. Robinson (Boston: J.P. Mendum, 1889), p. 147:
If each individual were competent to the supply of his own exigencies, there would be no occasion for him to congregate in society, but his wants, his desires, his whims, place him in a state of dependance on others: these are the causes that each individual, in order to further his own peculiar interest, is obliged to be useful to those who have the capability of procuring for him the objects which he himself has not. A nation is nothing more than the union of a great number of individuals, connected with each other by the reciprocity of their wants, or by their mutual desire of pleasure; the most happy man is he who has the fewest wants, and the most numerous means of satisfying them. 
Si chaque homme se suffisait à lui-même, il n'aurait nul besoin de vivre en société; nos besoins, nos désirs, nos fantaisies nous mettent dans la dépendance des autres, et font que chacun de nous, pour son propre intérêt, est forcé d'être utile à des êtres capables de lui procurer les objets qu'il n'a pas lui-même. Une nation n'est que la réunion d'un grand nombre d'hommes liés les uns aux autres par leurs besoins ou leurs plaisirs; les plus heureux y sont ceux qui ont le moins de besoins, et qui ont le plus de moyens de les satisfaire.
French edition of 1770 on Gallica:
Vol. I
Vol. II 

11 August 2014

A Single Ray in a Sunset

Thomas Seccombe, in the introduction to George Gissing's The House of Cobwebs (London: Constable, 1906), pp. xxxi-xxxii:
Jasper [Milvain, the ambitious hack writer in New Grub Street] in the main is right — there is only a precarious place for any creative litterateur between the genius and the swarm of ephemera or journalists. A man writes either to please the hour or to produce something to last, relatively a long time, several generations — what we call 'permanent.' The intermediate position is necessarily insecure. It is not really wanted. What is lost by society when one of these mediocre masterpieces is overlooked? A sensation, a single ray in a sunset, missed by a small literary coterie! The circle is perhaps eclectic. It may seem hard that good work is overwhelmed in the cataract of production, while relatively bad, garish work is rewarded. But so it must be. 'The growing flood of literature swamps every thing but works of primary genius.' 

7 August 2014

My Unperfect Garden

Michel de Montaigne, bk. 1, ch. 19, The Essays of Montaigne, tr. John Florio, Vol. I (London: David Nutt, 1892), p. 81:
I would have a man to be doing, and to prolong his lives offices, as much as lieth in him, and let death seize upon me, whilest I am setting my cabiges, carelesse of her dart, but more of my unperfect garden.
Montaigne's tomb, Musée d'Aquitaine, Bordeaux

6 August 2014

Laugh or Cry II

Michel de Montaigne, bk. 1, ch. 50, The Essays of Montaigne, tr. John Florio, Vol. I (London: David Nutt, 1892), p. 350:
Democritus and Heraclitus were two Philosophers, the first of which, finding and deeming humane condition to be vaine and ridiculous, did never walke abroad, but with a laughing, scorneful and mocking countenance: Whereas Heraclitus taking pitie and compassion of the very same condition of ours, was continually scene with a sad, mournfull, and heavie cheere, and with teares trickling downe his blubbered eyes.
                             — Alter
Ridebat quoties a limine moverat unum
Protuleratque pedem, flebat contrarius alter. 
One from his doore, his foot no sooner past,
But straight he laught; the other wept as fast.
Juven. Sat. X. 28
I like the first humor best, not because it is more pleasing to laugh, than to weepe; but for it is more disdainfull, and doth more condemne us than the other. And me thinkes we can never bee sufficiently despised, according to our merit. Bewailing and commiseration, are commixed with some estimation of the thing moaned and wailed. Things scorned and contemned, are thought to be of no worth. I cannot be perswaded, there can be so much ill lucke in us, as there is apparant vanitie, nor so much malice, as sottishnesse. We are not so full of evill, as of voydnesse and inanitie. We are not so miserable, as base and abject.

5 August 2014

Laugh or Cry

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi, ch. XV, tr. Aubrey Stewart (London: George Bell and Sons, 1900):
We ought therefore to bring ourselves into such a state of mind that all the vices of the vulgar may not appear hateful to us, but merely ridiculous, and we should imitate Democritus rather than Heraclitus. The latter of these, whenever he appeared in public, used to weep, the former to laugh: the one thought all human doings to be follies, the other thought them to be miseries. We must take a higher view of all things, and bear with them more easily: it better becomes a man to scoff at life than to lament over it. Add to this that he who laughs at the human race deserves better of it than he who mourns for it, for the former leaves it some good hopes of improvement, while the latter stupidly weeps over what he has given up all hopes of mending.

4 August 2014

The Most Precious Thing in the World

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae, ch. VIII, tr. John W. Basore (London: William Heinemann, 1932):
I am often filled with wonder when I see some men demanding the time of others and those from whom they ask it most indulgent. Both of them fix their eyes on the object of the request for time, neither of them on the time itself; just as if what is asked were nothing, what is given, nothing. Men trifle with the most precious thing in the world; but they are blind to it because it is an incorporeal thing, because it does not come beneath the sight of the eyes, and for this reason it is counted a very cheap thing — nay, of almost no value at all. Men set very great store by pensions and doles, and for these they hire out their labour or service or effort. But no one sets a value on time; all use it lavishly as if it cost nothing. But see how these same people clasp the knees of physicians if they fall ill and the danger of death draws nearer, see how ready they are, if threatened with capital punishment, to spend all their possessions in order to live!

1 August 2014

Retirement Planning

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae, ch. III, tr. John W. Basore (London: William Heinemann, 1932):
You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last. You have all the fears of mortals and all the desires of immortals. You will hear many men saying: "After my fiftieth year I shall retire into leisure, my sixtieth year shall release me from public duties." And what guarantee, pray, have you that your life will last longer? Who will suffer your course to be just as you plan it? Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!

30 July 2014

If You Choose to Live in a Garret

George Gissing, New Grub Street, Vol. I (London: Smith, Elder, 1891), pp. 92-94:
'What is reputation? If it is deserved, it originates with a few score of people among the many millions who would never have recognised the merit they at last applaud. That's the lot of a great genius. As for a mediocrity like me — what ludicrous absurdity to fret myself in the hope that half-a-dozen folks will say I am "above the average!" After all, is there sillier vanity than this? A year after I have published my last book, I shall be practically forgotten; ten years later, I shall be as absolutely forgotten as one of those novelists of the early part of this century, whose names one doesn't even recognise. What fatuous posing!'

Amy looked askance at him, but replied nothing.

'And yet,' he continued, 'of course it isn't only for the sake of reputation that one tries to do uncommon work. There's the shrinking from conscious insincerity of workmanship — which most of the writers nowadays seem never to feel. "It's good enough for the market"; that satisfies them. And perhaps they are justified.

I can't pretend that I rule my life by absolute ideals; I admit that everything is relative. There is no such thing as goodness or badness, in the absolute sense, of course. Perhaps I am absurdly inconsistent when — though knowing my work can't be first rate — I strive to make it as good as possible. I don't say this in irony, Amy; I really mean it. It may very well be that I am just as foolish as the people I ridicule for moral and religious superstition. This habit of mine is superstitious. How well I can imagine the answer of some popular novelist if he heard me speak scornfully of his books. "My dear fellow," he might say, "do you suppose I am not aware that my books are rubbish? I know it just as well as you do. But my vocation is to live comfortably. I have a luxurious house, a wife and children who are happy and grateful to me for their happiness. If you choose to live in a garret, and, what's worse, make your wife and children share it with you, that's your concern." The man would be abundantly right.

28 July 2014


Jerome K. Jerome, "On Furnished Apartments," The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (Chicago: W.B. Conkey, 1900), pp. 139-140:
A good many great men have lived in attics and some have died there. Attics, says the dictionary, are "places where lumber is stored," and the world has used them to store a good deal of its lumber in at one time or another. Its preachers and painters and poets, its deep-browed men who will find out things, its fire-eyed men who will tell truths that no one wants to hear — these are the lumber that the world hides away in its attics.
Ibid, p. 145:
It is a long time ago now that I last saw the inside of an attic. I have tried various floors since but I have not found that they have made much difference to me. Life tastes much the same, whether we quaff it from a golden goblet or drink it out of a stone mug. The hours come laden with the same mixture of joy and sorrow, no matter where we wait for them. A waistcoat of broadcloth or of fustian is alike to an aching heart, and we laugh no merrier on velvet cushions than we did on wooden chairs. Often have I sighed in those low-ceilinged rooms, yet disappointments have come neither less nor lighter since I quitted them. Life works upon a compensating balance, and the happiness we gain in one direction we lose in another. As our means increase, so do our desires; and we ever stand midway between the two. When we reside in an attic we enjoy a supper of fried fish and stout. When we occupy the first floor it takes an elaborate dinner at the Continental to give us the same amount of satisfaction.

25 July 2014

Books Do Furnish a Room

Petrarch on book collectors, in Petrach's View of Human Life, tr. Susanna Dobson (London: Printed for John Stockdale, 1791), p. 86:
Some get books for learning sake; and many for the pleasure of boasting they have them; and who do furnish their chambers with what was invented to furnish their minds; who use them no otherwise than they do their Corinthian vessels, or their painted tables and images, to look at: there be others who esteem not the true price of books as they are indeed, but as they may sell them: a new practice crept in among the rich, whereby they attain one art more of concupiscence.
So far as I can tell, Dobson's book consists of selections from Petrarch's De remediis utriusque fortunae.

A related post: Books Are Real Friends

23 July 2014

Red in Tooth and Claw

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, tr. R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, Vol. III (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1909), pp. 392-393:
And to this world, to this scene of tormented and agonised beings, who only continue to exist by devouring each other, in which, therefore, every ravenous beast is the living grave of thousands of others, and its self-maintenance is a chain of painful deaths; and in which the capacity for feeling pain increases with knowledge, and therefore reaches its highest degree in man, a degree which is the higher the more intelligent the man is; to this world it has been sought to apply the system of optimism, and demonstrate to us that it is the best of all possible worlds. The absurdity is glaring. But an optimist bids me open my eyes and look at the world, how beautiful it is in the sunshine, with its mountains and valleys, streams, plants, animals, &c. &c. Is the world, then, a rareeshow? These things are certainly beautiful to look at, but to be them is something quite different. 

22 July 2014

Travellers at an Inn

Epictetus, Enchiridion (XI) in The Works of Epictetus, tr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1890), p. 220:
Never say of anything, "I have lost it;" but, "I have restored it." Has your child died? It is restored. Has your wife died? She is restored. Has your estate been taken away? That likewise is restored. "But it was a bad man who took it." What is it to you by whose hands he who gave it has demanded it again? While he permits you to possess it, hold it as something not your own; as do travellers at an inn.

18 July 2014

A Good Letter

John Cann Bailey (1864-1931), "Cowper," Studies in Some Famous Letters (London: Thomas Burleigh, 1899), p. 3:
It is at first sight a little doubtful what the characteristics of a good letter are. Some people think it merely a matter of conversation through the post; and there is certainly a good deal to be said for this theory, for the elaborately composed letter is the worst possible letter. Ease and naturalness, lightness of touch, the sense for the little things which are the staple of conversation and correspondence as well as of life, the ever-present consciousness that one is simply one's self and not an author or an editor, are of all qualities the most essential in a letter. A good letter is like a good present — a link between two personalities, having something of each in it. It is emphatically from one man, or woman, to another, in contrast, for instance, to a newspaper, which is from nobody or anybody to anybody or nobody.
Hat tip: First Known When Lost

17 July 2014

A Little Eccentricity

Alexander Smith, "On Vagabonds," Dreamthorp (London: Andrew Melrose, 1906), p. 257:
The fresh, rough, heathery part of human nature, where the air is freshest, and where the linnets sing, is getting encroached upon by cultivated fields. Every one is making himself and herself useful. Every one is producing something. Everybody is clever. Everybody is a philanthropist. I don't like it. I love a little eccentricity. I respect honest prejudices. I admire foolish enthusiasm in a young head better than a wise scepticism. It is high time, it seems to me, that a moral game-law were passed for the preservation of the wild and vagrant feelings of human nature.

14 July 2014

A Sorry Makeshift

Henrik Ibsen on prohibition, quoted in Josiah Flynt's My Life (New York: The Outing Publishing Company, 1908), pp. 171-172:
You can't make people good by law. Only that which a man does of his own free will and because he knows that it is the right thing to do, counts in this world. Legislating about morals is at best a sorry makeshift. Men will have to learn to legislate for themselves without any state interference, before human conduct is on a right basis.
Edvard Munch, Henrik Ibsen at the Grand Café (c. 1898)

10 July 2014

In the Mood for a Walk

John Burroughs, "Foot-Paths," Pepacton (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1881), p. 205:
The mood in which you set out on a spring or autumn ramble or a sturdy winter walk, and your greedy feet have to be restrained from devouring the distances too fast, is the mood in which your best thoughts and impulses come to you, or in which you might embark upon any noble and heroic enterprise. Life is sweet in such moods, the universe is complete, and there is no failure or imperfection anywhere. 

7 July 2014

Truly Humiliating

Bayard Taylor to George Henry Boker, April 4, 1852, The Life and Letters of Bayard Taylor (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1885)  pp. 227-228:
I cannot glory in the little I have accomplished, when I see so clearly how much more I might have done. And as for popular favor, good God, what is there so humiliating as to be praised for the exhibition of poverty and privation, for parading those very struggles which I would gladly have hidden forever, when that which I feel and know to be true to my art is passed by unnoticed! For I am not insensible that nine tenths of my literary success (in a publishing view) springs from those very "Views Afoot" which I now blush to read. I am known to the public not as a poet, the only title I covet, but as one who succeeded in seeing Europe with little money; and the chief merits accorded to me are not passion or imagination, but strong legs and economical habits. Now this is truly humiliating.
Vol. II here.

The Modern Library edition of Bayard Taylor's translation of Goethe's Faust here.

3 July 2014

Valuable Lessons in the Study of Human Nature

Bayard Taylor, Views A-foot; Europe Seen with Knapsack and Staff  (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1862), pp. 494-496:
To see Europe as a pedestrian requires little preparation, if the traveller is willing to forego some of the refinements of living to which he may have been accustomed, for the sake of the new and interesting fields of observation which will be opened to him. He must be content to sleep on hard beds, and partake of coarse fare; to undergo rudeness at times from the officers of the police and the porters of palaces and galleries; or to travel for hours in rain and storm without finding a shelter. The knapsack will at first be heavy upon the shoulders, the feet will be sore and the limbs weary with the day's walk, and sometimes the spirit will begin to flag under the general fatigue of body. This, however, soon passes over. In a week's time, if the pedestrian does not attempt too much on setting out, his limbs are stronger, and his gait more firm and vigorous; he lies down at night with a feeling of refreshing rest, sleeps with a soundness undisturbed by a single dream, that seems almost like death, if he has been accustomed to restless nights; and rises invigorated in heart and frame for the next day's journey. The coarse black bread of the peasant inns, with cheese no less coarse, and a huge mug of milk or the nourishing beer of Germany, have a relish to his keen appetite, which excites his own astonishment. And if he is willing to regard all incivility and attempts at imposition as valuable lessons in the study of human nature, and to keep his temper and cheerfulness in any situation which may try them, he is prepared to walk through the whole of Europe, with more real pleasure to himself, and far more profit, than if he journeyed in style and enjoyed the constant services of couriers and valets de place

2 July 2014

Hullo, I Say

Gerald Brenan, A Life of One's Own (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1962), pp. 150-151:
Our relations during this journey were not in the least like those of two friends travelling together. To judge by our surface manner they were much more offhand and distant. We had, for example, no names by which to call one another. To have used surnames would have seemed too formal, whereas Christian names were taboo because they were too intimate. We therefore addressed one another as 'Hullo' or 'I say', pronounced in a particular tone, and for more than thirty years stuck to that. This no doubt came from the fact that Hope [John Hope-Johnstone] shrank instinctively from any personal note in his dealings with people. Without being particularly reserved, he liked to keep others at a distance.

30 June 2014

Get Drunk

Lord Byron, Don Juan, Vol. I (London: Printed for the Booksellers, 1826), p. 140:

Man, being reasonable, must get drunk;
The best of life is but intoxication:
Glory, the grape, love, gold, in these are sunk
The hopes of all men, and of every nation;
Without their sap, how branchless were the trunk
Of life's strange tree, so fruitful on occasion:
But to return,— Get very drunk; and when
You wake with head-ache, you shall see what then.
Volume II of this edition here.

A related post: Enivrez-Vous

27 June 2014

No Handouts

Émile Zola, "L’argent dans la littérature", Messager de l'Europe (March 1880), quoted in Frederic Taber Cooper's The Craftsmanship of Writing (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1911), p. 15:
The State owes nothing to young writers; the mere fact of having written a few pages does not entitle them to pose as martyrs, because no one will print their work. A shoemaker who has made his first pair of shoes does not force the government to sell them for him. It is the workman's place to dispose of his work to the public. And if he can't do it, if he is a nobody, he remains unknown through his own fault, and quite justly so.
A related post: The Sons of Joy

25 June 2014


Josiah Flynt, My Life (New York: The Outing Publishing Company, 1908), p. 74:
Writing about my early years and bidding good-bye to them here in print has been a harder task than I expected. Bidding good-bye to them formally and physically years ago was not difficult. To reach twenty-one, then thirty, then — I always looked on thirty as a satisfying goal, the years seemed to come and go so slowly. Then, too, I realized, after a fashion, that my youth was considered pretty much of a fiasco, and I wanted to get just as far away from failure and disaster as possible. Now — well, perhaps it is better that I keep my thoughts to myself. I will say, however, that retrospection can bring with it some of the most mournful hours the mind has to wallow in.

23 June 2014

Old Wine, Old Books, Old Friends

Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, "What Is a Classic?" Essays by Sainte-Beuve, tr. Elizabeth Lee (London: Walter Scott, 1900), p. 12:
Happy those who read and read again, those who in their reading can follow their unrestrained inclination! There comes a time in life when, all our journeys over, our experiences ended, there is no enjoyment more delightful than to study and thoroughly examine the things we know, to take pleasure in what we feel, and in seeing and seeing again the people we love: the pure joys of our maturity. Then it is that the word classic takes its true meaning, and is defined for every man of taste by an irresistible choice. Then taste is formed, it is shaped and definite; then good sense, if we are to possess it at all, is perfected in us. We have neither more time for experiments, nor a desire to go forth in search of pastures new. We cling to our friends, to those proved by long intercourse. Old wine, old books, old friends.
The original, from Causeries du lundi, Vol. III (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1852), p. 54:
Heureux ceux qui lisent, qui relisent, ceux qui peuvent obéir à leur libre inclination dans leurs lectures! Il vient une saison dans la vie, où, tous les voyages étant faits, toutes les expériences achevées, on n'a pas de plus vives jouissances que d'étudier et d'approfondir les choses qu'on sait, de savourer ce qu'on sent, comme de voir et de revoir les gens qu'on aime: pures délices du cœur et du goût dans la maturité. C'est alors que ce mot de classique prend son vrai sens, et qu'il se définit pour tout homme de goût par un choix de prédilection et irrésistible. Le goût est fait alors, il est formé et définitif; le bon sens chez nous, s'il doit venir, est consommé. On n'a plus le temps d'essayer ni l'envie de sortir à la découverte. On s'en tient à ses amis, à ceux qu'un long commerce a éprouvés. Vieux vin, vieux livres, vieux amis.

19 June 2014

Ohne Worte laß uns scheiden

Hans Grünhut mit Orchester, Ohne Worte laß uns scheiden [Let us part without a word], from the film Ein Ausflug in's Leben (1931):

Max Raabe included this song in his Weimar compilation Übers Meer

18 June 2014

Criticism and Praise

Colley Cibber, An Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley Cibber, ed. Robert W. Lowe, Vol. I (London: J. C. Nimmo, 1889), pp. 53-54:
When a Work is apparently great it will go without Crutches; all your Art and Anxiety to heighten the Fame of it then becomes low and little. He that will bear no Censure must be often robb'd of his due Praise. Fools have as good a Right to be Readers as Men of Sense have, and why not to give their Judgements too? Methinks it would be a sort of Tyranny in Wit for an Author to be publickly putting every Argument to death that appear'd against him; so absolute a Demand for Approbation puts us upon our Right to dispute it; Praise is as much the Reader's Property as Wit is the Author's; Applause is not a Tax paid to him as a Prince, but rather a Benevolence given to him as a Beggar; and we have naturally more Charity for the dumb Beggar than the sturdy one. The Merit of a Writer and a fine Woman's Face are never mended by their talking of them: How amiable is she that seems not to know she is handsome!
Volume II of this edition here.