31 January 2014

Character and Circumstances

Henry Scott Holland, "Character and Circumstance," Creed and Character (London: Rivingtons, 1887), pp. 333-335:
If a man is the creature of circumstances we call him a man without character; changing with all the changing hours, he has no self-identity; and character is that with which we identify a man. Character is vital and vigorous so far only as it insists on making itself free room for action amid the thronging events, and it dies down as soon as it fails to hold itself aloof and separate from circumstances. Character is the reaction from circumstances. It is the inner movement which encounters and withstands the shock of change and outward things. And it must, therefore, issue from a life that directs itself. Character, that is, must be personal. If men were machines moved from without, they could have no character. If the soul were a function of the body, it could have no character. Whenever we impute character to material things we do it by a metaphor. Individuality, self-identity, these are the secrets which constitute and create character; and character, therefore, supposes always a central core of individual life which is cut off from all its surroundings, a stranger that this outward world cannot own nor any web of circumstances explain; a mysterious, unearthly presence, which is intended to creep forward, out of its dim wrapping of flesh and feelings, and slowly to emerge like a plant, disclosing itself petal after petal like a flower, detaching itself from all that encircles it, from country, home, father, mother, and sister and brother, asserting itself day by day with evergrowing distinctness as a separate and unique fact upon the earth; different from every other being that ever was born; something utterly and profoundly alone, a person with a character.

Character and circumstances — these, then, are at deadly war with one another. And, now, how does this character show itself? By what methods does it grow? It grows by one way only — by acts, by choice, by judgments. Its decisions show what it is; each decision that it makes strengthens a bent, deepens a groove, determines a current, builds up a sentiment. Each decision that it forms creates the character. And what is it, then, that demands of it its decisions, its acts, its judgments? Its old foe — circumstance. Circumstances press upon it, they hustle and throng all round it, amid the throng it must judge and choose and decide. Circumstances are, therefore, essential to its growth, to its history. Without the necessity to act it could never come to a decision, and without coming to a decision character would be utterly unshapen, asleep. Circumstances must be there to evoke it, to force upon it alternatives, to wait upon its direction, to elicit its judgments.
A related post: Character

30 January 2014

A Dedicated Man

Henry Scott Holland, "Edward Burne-Jones," Personal Studies (London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1905), p. 250:
Such friends they were [in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood]! And, above all, at the heart of the companionship was that peculiar and rare friendship of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, which was to last unbroken till death, and which was to tell, with such thrilling effect, upon the imaginative development of England. Rare, indeed, is it for two men, of creative artistic power, to come together as boys: to grow together as men: to live together, through life, working together for the same ends, co-operating in the same production, completing each other, in the full communion of delightful and incessant intercourse, in perfect trust, and joy, and love, from end to end of their careers. Has there ever been an intimacy so fortunate, so fertile, so happy, and so exquisitely fulfilled ? The very story of it, embalmed in this book [i.e. Georgiana Burne-Jones' Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones], is enough to revive our flagging belief in all that man might be and do, if only now and again things did but fall out right.
Ibid, p. 261:
An artist was for Burne-Jones a dedicated man, with a responsibility to discharge as real as any others. That responsibility asked for his whole being, and he would serve his generation best by giving himself up to that and nothing else. Again and again he had to assert this principle for himself, resisting all attempts to make him speak, etc. He had a passion for work as such, and believed that there was absolutely no end to it. "What do we want to be wrenched from our work for? I should like to stop in this room for 439 years and never be taken out of it." At another time he made a bigger demand. "I should like to go on working in this studio for 17,000 years — but why seventeen? Why not 70,000?" 
Edward Burne-Jones, The Pilgrim at the Gate of Idleness (1884)

29 January 2014

High Tide

Aldous Huxley, Two or Three Graces (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), p. 129:
There was suddenly, so to speak, a high tide within me; along dry, sand-silted, desolate channels of my being life strongly and sparklingly flowed. ... All those whom we find sympathetic exercise, in a greater or lesser degree, this moon-like influence upon us, drawing up the tides of life till they cover what had been, in an antipathetic environment, parched and dead. But there are certain individuals who, by their proximity, raise a higher tide, and in a vastly greater number of souls.

24 January 2014

To Know Oneself of the Earth, Earthy

W. J. Dawson, The Quest of the Simple Life (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1907), pp. 81-82:
There was a time when I had a vivid horror of death; and as I look back, and analyse my sensations, I believe this horror was in large part the work of cities. It sprang from the constant vision of deformity, the presence of hospitals, newspaper narratives of tragic accidents, and the ghastly cheerfulness of metropolitan cemeteries. To die with a window open to the trampling of a clamorous, unconcerned street seemed a thing sordid and unendurable. To be whisked away in a plumed hearse to a grave dug out of the debris of a hundred forgotten graves was the climax of insult. It happened to me once to see a child buried in what was called a common grave. It was a grave which contained already half a dozen little coffins; it was a mere dust-bin of mortality, and it seemed so profane a place that no lustration of religion could give it sanctity. Dissolution met the mind there in more than its native horror; it had the superimposed horror of indecency and wilful outrage. But in the wide wholesome spaces of the world, and beneath the clean stars, death seems not undesirable. A country life gives one the pleasant sense of kinship with the earth. It is no longer an offence to know oneself of the earth, earthy. I was so much engaged in the love and study of things whose life was brief that the thought of death became natural. I saw constantly in flowers and birds, and domestic creatures, the little round of life completed and relinquished without regret. I saw also how the aged peasant gathered up his feet and died, like a tired child falling asleep at the close of a long day. Death is in reality no more terrible than birth; but it is only the natural man who can so conceive it. He who lives in constant kinship with the earth will go to his rest on the earth's bosom without repugnance. I knew very well the place where I should be buried; it was beneath a clean turf kept sweet by mountain winds; and the place seemed desirable. Having come back by degrees to a life of entire kinship with the earth, having shared the seasons and the storms, it seemed but the final seal set upon this kinship, that I should dissolve quietly into the elements of things, to find perhaps my resurrection in the eternally renewed life of Nature.

23 January 2014

A Page of Sir Thomas

Leslie Stephen, "Sir Thomas Browne," Hours in a Library, Vol. II (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1907), pp. 39-40:
One should often stop to appreciate the full flavour of some quaint allusion, or lay down the book to follow out some diverging line of thought. So read in a retired study, or beneath the dusty shelves of an ancient library, a page of Sir Thomas seems to revive the echoes as of ancient chants in college chapels, strangely blended with the sonorous perorations of professors in the neighbouring schools, so that the interferences sometimes produce a note of gentle mockery and sometimes heighten solemnity by quaintness.

That, however, is not the spirit in which books are often read in these days. We have an appetite for useful information, and an appetite for frivolous sentiment or purely poetical musing. We cannot combine the two after the quaint fashion of the old physician. And therefore these charming writings have ceased to suit our modern taste; and Sir Thomas is already passing under that shadow of mortality which obscures all, even the greatest, reputations, and with which no one has dwelt more pathetically or graphically than himself. 
All four volumes of this handsome edition:
Volume I
Volume II
Volume III
Volume IV
Edwaert Collier, Vanitas (1698)

21 January 2014

The Happiest Thing I Know

Jean-François Millet, quoted in Alfred Sensier's La vie et l'oeuvre de Jean-François Millet (Paris: A. Quantin, 1881), p. 130. My translation (apart from the couplet from La Fontaine, which I have lifted from Helena de Kay's version):
I admit, at the risk of sounding like a socialist, that the human side touches me most in art, and if I were able to do as I wished, or at least to try, I would not do anything that was not the result of an impression received from some aspect of nature, be it from landscapes or figures. It is never the joyous side that appears to me; I don't know where it is, and I have never seen it. The happiest thing I know is the calm and silence which one enjoys with so much delight in either the forests or the ploughed fields, no matter whether they are good for farming or not. You will grant that this is very dreamy, and a very sad dream, albeit an exquisite one.

You are seated beneath the trees feeling all the well-being and all the tranquillity that one is capable of enjoying; you see some poor figure laden with firewood emerge from a little pathway. This figure's unexpected and striking appearance brings you back instantly to the sad human condition, weariness. It always gives you an impression similar to the one La Fontaine expresses in his fable of the woodcutter:
What pleasure has he had since the day of his birth?
Who so poor as he in the whole wide earth?
Sometimes in the fields, although the land is poorly suited to cultivation, you see figures hoeing and digging. Once in a while one of them stands up, "straightens his kidneys" as they say, and wipes his brow with the back of his hand. "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread."

Is this the jolly, frolicking work that certain people want us to believe in? Nevertheless it is here that, for me, true humanity and great poetry are found.
Jean-François Millet, Mort et le bûcheron (1859)

20 January 2014

A Nice Peat Fire

Helen Thomas, A Memory of W. H. Davies (Edinburgh: The Tragara Press, 1973), p. 6:
[W. H. Davies] had heard that literary people burnt peat and felt it incumbent upon himself to do the same. He asked Edward's [i.e. the war poet Edward Thomas] advice about this and where he could store the peat in his tiny flat, and Edward suggested teasingly that he should burn his books and stack the slabs of peat on their edges on the bookshelves! However, he ordered the peat and he was in agony lest it arrive when he was out and give rise to unwanted speculations from the shopkeeper below. So he stayed in day after day. At last the peat arrived and having nowhere else to put it he arranged the slabs as a sort of hearthrug in front of the fireplace, and having settled that to his satisfaction, he was free to go out once more. What was his dismay when returning home one day he found a crowd outside the house, smoke pouring from the windows and people running up and down his staircase. A spark had set his peat alight, and the firemen had entered his room and were busy dowsing it with water; the whole street was interested and excited. This was the nightmare occurrence which Davies dreaded above all others, this intrusion into his privacy, — and that was the end of the peat. After he was content with unpoetic coal. 
Harold Knight, Portrait of W. H. Davies (early 1900s)

17 January 2014

The True Joy in Life

George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (Westminster: Archibald Constable, 1903), pp. xxxi-xxxii:
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. And also the only real tragedy in life is the being used by personally minded men for purposes which you recognize to be base. All the rest is at worst mere misfortune or mortality: this alone is misery, slavery, hell on earth; and the revolt against it is the only force that offers a man's work to the poor artist, whom our personally minded rich people would so willingly employ as pandar, buffoon, beauty monger, sentimentalizer and the like.

15 January 2014

The Dreariest of Assemblages

Aldous Huxley, Two or Three Graces (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), p. 9:
I have noticed that, as a general rule, people of decided individuality very rarely continue their schoolboy acquaintanceships into later life. It is only to be expected. The chances that they will have found in the tiny microcosm of school the sort of friends they will like when they are grown up — grown out of recognition — are obviously very small. Coteries whose bond of union consists in the fact that their component members happened to be at the same school at the same time are generally the dreariest of assemblages. It could scarcely be otherwise; men who have no better reasons for associating with one another must be colourless indeed, and insipid. 

14 January 2014

A Paradise for Bibliophiles

Olivier Bessard Banquy, a professor at the University of Bordeaux Montaigne who specializes in literature and publishing, interviewed on the ridiculously-named myboox.fr (my translation):
Actually, buyers of books signed by Diane de Selliers are no doubt quite old. Its business is a beautiful one that works because there is no risk of loss – they are essentially classic texts accompanied by very beautiful illustrations – but they are aimed at older generations who have a taste for finer things and wallets that are bulging thanks to the thirty prosperous years that followed the Second World War. The generations that made it possible for publishers like Diane de Selliers to exist will soon disappear, and the following generations will probably attach more value to the clean lines of an iPhone than to the softness of Holland paper. It is unlikely that there will  be many people willing to pay more than a few Euros for computer files that have been downloaded from Amazon; these files will be cultural by-products, poorly edited but carried along by the buzz created by little on-line geniuses. It will be, paradoxically, a paradise for bibliophiles: real treasures will probably be selling for very little since no one will be competing to own them.
Hat tip: Le Bibliomane Moderne

13 January 2014

The Mockery of Life

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, "The Mockery of Life," The Love-Lyrics and Songs of Proteus (London: The Kelmscott Press, 1892), pp. 183-185:
I.
God! What a mockery is this life of ours!
Cast forth in blood and pain from our mother's womb,
Most like an excrement, and weeping showers
Of senseless tears: unreasoning, naked, dumb,
The symbol of all weakness and the sum:
Our very life a sufferance. — Presently,
Grown stronger, we must fight for standing-room
Upon the earth, and the bare liberty
To breathe and move. We crave the right to toil.
We push, we strive, we jostle with the rest.
We learn new courage, stifle our old fears,
Stand with stiff backs, take part in every broil.
It may be that we love, that we are blest.
It may be, for a little space of years,
We conquer fate and half forget our tears.


II.
And then fate strikes us. First our joys decay.
Youth, with its pleasures, is a tale soon told.
We grow a little poorer day by day.
Old friendships falter. Loves grow strangely cold.
In vain we shift our hearts to a new hold
And barter joy for joy, the less for less.
We doubt our strength, our wisdom, and our gold.
We stand alone, as in a wilderness
Of doubts and terrors. Then, if we be wise,
We make our terms with fate and, while we may,
Sell our life's last sad remnant for a hope.
And it is wisdom thus to close our eyes.
But for the foolish, those who cannot pray,
What else remains of their dark horoscope
But a tall tree and courage and a rope ?


III.
And who shall tell what ignominy death
Has yet in store for us; what abject fears
Even for the best of us; what fights for breath;
What sobs, what supplications, what wild tears;
What impotence of soul against despairs
Which blot out reason? — The last trembling thought
Of each poor brain, as dissolution nears,
Is not of fair life lost, of Heaven bought
And glory won. 'Tis not the thought of grief;
Of friends deserted; loving hearts which bleed;
Wives, sisters, children who around us weep.
But only a mad clutching for relief
From physical pain, importunate Nature's need:
The search as for a womb where we may creep
Back from the world, to hide, — perhaps to sleep.

9 January 2014

If a Man Will Be Content With Oatmeal

William James Dawson (1854-1928), "On Losing Money," The Book of Courage (New York: F. H. Revell, 1911), pp. 89-90:
It is a sad irony on the human wisdom which has been contriving plans of living for so many centuries that, after all, with average men, the largest expenses of life go to keeping up appearances. The worst of this kind of expense is that a man pays a part of his soul with his money; for nothing puts so heavy a mortgage on the spirit as this base business of keeping up appearances. Thoreau found by actual experiment that he could live as well as he desired on less than one hundred dollars a year. Without recommending, or attempting to practise Thoreau's methods, we may profitably recollect that some of the greatest men have known how to live greatly on less money than a rich man spends for his cigars in a twelvemonth. Emerson lived loftily and well on the most exiguous rewards, and Carlyle laid the foundations of his fame in the austere poverty of Craigenputtock. The ironical motto of the early Edinburgh reviewers was to the effect that they cultivated literature on a little oatmeal, and if a man will be content with oatmeal he can go a long way in literature. At all events, when we find men who, by common consent, are the superiors of princes, living upon less than princes pay their grooms, it is obvious that money does not play a high part in the best forms of human achievement.
Ozias Leduc, Nature morte, étude à la lumière d’une chandelle (1893)

8 January 2014

The Immutability of Our Lot

A. C. Benson, The Silent Isle (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1910), p. 74:
I felt that the thing one ought to aim at doing was to look experience steadily in the face, whether sweet or bitter, to interrogate it firmly, to grasp its significance. If one cowers away from it, if one tries to distract and beguile the soul, to forget the grief in feverish activity, well, one may succeed in dulling the pain as by some drug or anodyne; but the lesson of life is thereby deferred. Why should one so faint-heartedly persist in making choice of experiences, in welcoming what is pleasant, what feeds our vanity and self-satisfaction, what gives one, like the rich fool, the sense of false security of goods stored up for the years? We are set in life to feel insecure, or at all events to gain stability and security of soul, not to prop up our failing and timid senses upon the pillows of wealth and ease and circumstance. The man whom I entirely envy is the man who walks into the dark valley of misfortune or sickness or grief, or the shadow of death, with a curious and inexpressible zest for facing and interrogating the presences that haunt the place. For a man who does this, his memory is not like a land where he loves to linger upon the sunlit ridges of happy recollection, but a land where in reflection he threads in backward thought the dark vale, the miry road, the craggy rift up which he painfully climbed; the optimism that hurries with averted glance past the shadow is as false as the pessimism that hurries timidly across the bright and flowery meadow. The more we realise the immutability of our lot, the more grateful we become for our pains as well as for our delights. 
Caspar David Friedrich, Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (1818)

7 January 2014

The Century Guild of Artists

Several volumes of the Century Guild of Artists' Hobby Horse magazine, published between 1886 and 1889, available on Google Books:



Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4


I believe Thomas Bird Mosher used this magazine as a source (uncredited) for some of the ornaments in his books.

6 January 2014

The Cave of the Unborn

Thomas Hardy, "The Unborn," Twentieth Century Poetry, ed. Harold Monro (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), p. 26:
I rose at night and visited
   The Cave of the Unborn:
And crowding shapes surrounded me
For tidings of the life to be,
Who long had prayed the silent Head
   To speed their advent morn.

Their eyes were lit with artless trust,
   Hope thrilled their every tone;
"A scene the loveliest, is it not?
A pure delight, a beauty-spot
Where all is gentle, true and just,
   And darkness is unknown?"

My heart was anguished for their sake,
   I could not frame a word;
But they descried my sunken face,
And seemed to read therein, and trace
The news that pity would not break,
   Nor truth leave unaverred.

And as I silently retired
   I turned and watched them still:
And they came helter-skelter out,
Driven forward like a rabble rout
Into the world they had so desired,
   By the all-immanent Will.

2 January 2014

I Am, in Fact, an Incompetent

W. J. Dawson, Masterman and Son (New York: F. H. Revell, 1909), p. 81:
"Let me reckon up my capital," he thought as the train rushed on; "let me ascertain my authentic stock-in-trade. I have some knowledge of Greek literature and Roman history, but it is probable that in all this train-load of human creatures there are not half a dozen who would attach the least value to my knowledge. I can decipher old French chronicles with fair success; I know enough of music to understand the theory of counterpoint, and enough of poetry to construct a decent sonnet; and, so far as I can see, these are not commodities which possess any marketable value. I have thirty pounds given me by my mother; but if my life depended upon my earning thirty pence, I know no possible method by which I might wrest the most wretched pittance from the world's closed fist. I am, in fact, an incompetent, but through no fault of my own. It seems that I have been elaborately trained to do a great number of things which no one wants done, but not one of the things for which the world makes eager compensation. What were mere pastime to the savage is to me an inaccessible display of effort; left alone with the whole open world for my kingdom, it is doubtful if I could build a house, grow a potato, bake a loaf, or secure the barest means of life. Such is my deplorable condition that it is possible — no, entirely certain, that the poorest emigrant in this rushing freight of men and women would scruple to change places with me."