18 December 2015

Wearisome, Especially if Prolonged

Philip G. Hamerton, Human Intercourse (London: Macmillan, 1884), pp. 65-66:
Owing to natural refinement, and to certain circumstances of which he intelligently availed himself, one member of a family is a cultivated gentleman, whose habitual ways of thinking are of rather an elevated kind, and whose manners and language are invariably faultless. He is blessed with very near relations whose principal characteristic is loud, confident, overwhelming vulgarity. He is always uncomfortable with these relations. He knows that the ways of thinking and speaking which are natural to him will seem cold and uncongenial to them; that not one of his thoughts can be exactly understood by them; that his deficiency in what they consider heartiness is a defect he cannot get over. On the other hand, he takes no interest in what they say, because their opinions on all the subjects he cares about are too crude, and their information too scanty or erroneous. If he said what he felt impelled to say, all his talk would be a perpetual correction of their clumsy blunders. He has, therefore, no resource but to repress himself and try to act a part, the part of a pleased companion; but this is wearisome, especially if prolonged. The end is that he keeps out of their way, and is set down as a proud, conceited person, and an unkind relative. In reality he is simply refined and has a difficulty in accommodating himself to the ways of all vulgar society whatever, whether composed of his own relations or of strangers. Does he deserve to be blamed for this? Certainly not. He has not the flexibility, the dramatic power, to adapt himself to a lower state of civilization; that is his only fault. His relations are persons with whom, if they were not relations, nobody would expect him to associate; but because he and they happen to be descended from a common ancestor he is to maintain an impossible intimacy. He wishes them no harm; he is ready to make sacrifices to help them; his misfortune is that he does not possess the humour of a Dickens that would have enabled him to find amusement in their vulgarity, and he prefers solitude to that infliction.

16 December 2015

One of My Bedside Books

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft  (London: Archibald Constable, 1912), pp. 154-155:
Many a time, when life went hard with me, I have betaken myself to the Stoics, and not all in vain.  Marcus Aurelius has often been one of my bedside books; I have read him in the night watches, when I could not sleep for misery, and when assuredly I could have read nothing else.  He did not remove my burden; his proofs of the vanity of earthly troubles availed me nothing; but there was a soothing harmony in his thought which partly lulled my mind, and the mere wish that I could find strength to emulate that high example (though I knew that I never should) was in itself a safeguard against the baser impulses of wretchedness.
If I were sent into exile and only
able to bring a handful of books,
I would find room in my bag for
this Pléiade edition of the Stoics. 

14 December 2015

A Grand Goal

William Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 2-3:
If you lack a grand goal in living, you lack a coherent philosophy of life.

Why is it important to have such a philosophy? Because without one, there is a danger that you will mislive — that despite all your activity, despite all the pleasant diversions you might have enjoyed while alive, you will end up living a bad life. There is, in other words, a danger that when you are on your deathbed, you will look back and realize that you wasted your one chance at living. Instead of spending your life pursuing something genuinely valuable, you squandered it because you allowed yourself to be distracted by the various baubles life has to offer.
A related post: Do You Like This Idea?

10 December 2015

From Within

Procopius, History of the Wars, tr. H. B. Dewing, Vol. II (London: William Heinemann, 1916), pp. 13-16:
Among the youths in the army whose beards had not yet grown, but who had just come of age, he [Alaric] chose out three hundred whom he knew to be of good birth and possessed of valour beyond their years, and told them secretly that he was about to make a present of them to certain of the patricians in Rome, pretending that they were slaves. And he instructed them that, as soon as they got inside the houses of those men, they should display much gentleness and moderation and serve them eagerly in whatever tasks should be laid upon them by their owners; and he further directed them that not long afterwards, on an appointed day at about midday, when all those who were to be their masters would most likely be already asleep after their meal, they should all come to the gate called Salarian and with a sudden rush kill the guards, who would have no previous knowledge of the plot, and open the gates as quickly as possible.
cf. Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. IV (Oxford: D. A. Talboys, 1827), p. 130:
But they [the Romans] were unable to guard against the secret conspiracy of their slaves and domestics, who either from birth or interest were attached to the cause of the enemy. At the hour of midnight the Salarian gate was silently opened, and the inhabitants were awakened by the tremendous sound of the Gothic trumpet. Eleven hundred and sixty-three years after the foundation of Rome, the Imperial city, which had subdued and civilised so considerable a part of mankind, was delivered to the licentious fury of the tribes of Germany and Scythia. 

9 December 2015

The Good Dishes

Gaius Musonius Rufus, "On Furnishings," in Cora Lutz, "Musonius Rufus, the Roman Socrates", Yale Classical Studies 10 (1947), 3-147 (at 125-126):
In general, one would rightly judge what is good and bad in furnishings by these three criteria: acquisition, use, and preservation. Whatever is difficult to obtain or not convenient to use or not easy to protect is to be judged inferior; but what we acquire with no difficulty and use with satisfaction and find easy to keep is superior. For this reason earthenware and iron and similar vessels are much better than those of silver or gold, because their acquisition is less trouble since they are cheaper, their usefulness is greater since we can safely expose them to heat and fire (which cannot be done with others), and guarding them is less of a problem, for the inexpensive ones are less likely to be stolen than the expensive ones. No small part of preserving them too is keeping them clean, which is a more expensive matter with costly ones. Just as a horse which is bought for a small price but is able to fulfill many needs is more desirable than one which does little although he was bought for a great price, so in the matter of furnishings the cheaper and more serviceable are better than the more costly and less serviceable ones. Why is it, then, that the rare and expensive pieces are sought after rather than those which are available and cheap? It is because the things which are really good and fine are not recognized, and in place of them those which only seem good are eagerly sought by the foolish. As madmen often think that black is white, so foolishness is next of kin to madness.

7 December 2015

Both Are Alike

Palladius of Galatia, "Counsels to Lausus," The Paradise, or Garden of the Holy Fathers, Vol. I (London: Chatto & Windus, 1907), p. 80:
I. To do good to the fool and to bury the dead; both are alike.

An admirable title page

2 December 2015


Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967), pp. 184-185:
One of the important features of the family territory is that it must be easily distinguished in some way from all the others. Its separate location gives it a uniqueness, of course, but this is not enough. Its shape and general appearance must make it stand out as an easily identifiable entity, so that it can become the 'personalized' property of the family that lives there. This is something which seems obvious enough, but which has frequently been overlooked or ignored, either as a result of economic pressures, or the lack of biological awareness of architects. Endless rows of uniformly repeated, identical houses have been erected in cities and towns all over the world. In the case of blocks of flats the situation is even more acute. The psychological damage done to the territorialism of the families forced by architects, planners and builders to live under these conditions is incalculable. Fortunately, the families concerned can impose territorial uniqueness on their dwellings in other ways. The buildings themselves can be painted different colours. The gardens, where there are any, can be planted and landscaped in individual styles. The insides of the houses or flats can be decorated and filled with ornaments, bric-a-brac and personal belongings in profusion. This is usually explained as being done to make the place 'look nice'.

In fact, it is the exact equivalent to another territorial species depositing its personal scent on a landmark near its den. When you put a name on a door, or hang a painting on a wall, you are, in dog or wolf terms, for example, simply cocking your leg on them and leaving your personal mark there. Obsessive 'collecting' of specialized categories of objects occurs in certain individuals who, for some reason, experience an abnormally strong need to define their home territories in this way.

24 November 2015

The Indistinctness of Their Own Conceptions

Hugh Blair, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (Basil: J. L. Legrand, 1789), p. 212:
Authors sometimes plead the difficulty of their subject, as an excuse for the want of Perspicuity. But the excuse can rarely, if ever, be sustained. For whatever a man conceives clearly, that it is in his power, if he will be at the trouble, to put into distinct propositions, to express clearly to others: and upon no subject ought any man to write, where he cannot think clearly. His ideas, indeed, may, very excusably, be on some subjects incomplete or inadequate; but still, as far as they go, they ought to be clear; and, wherever this is the case, Perspicuity in expressing them is always attainable. The obscurity which reigns so much among many metaphysical writers is, for the most part, owing to the indistinctness of their own conceptions. They see the object but in a confused light; and, of course, can never exhibit it in a clear one to others.
A related post: Mumbo Jumbo

20 November 2015

We Are Men, Not Insects

John Ruskin, The Mystery of Life (New York: T.Y. Crowell & Co, 1907), pp. 38-39:
Because you have no heaven to look for, is that any reason that you should remain ignorant of this wonderful and infinite earth, which is firmly and instantly given you in possession? Although your days are numbered, and the following darkness sure, is it necessary that you should share the degradation of the brute, because you are condemned to its mortality; or live the life of the moth, and of the worm, because you are to companion them in the dust? Not so; we may have but a few thousands of days to spend, perhaps hundreds only — perhaps, tens; nay, the longest of our time and best, looked back on, will be but as a moment, as the twinkling of an eye; still, we are men, not insects; we are living spirits, not passing clouds. . . . Let us do the work of men while we bear the form of them; and, as we snatch our narrow portion of time out of Eternity, snatch also our narrow inheritance of passion out of Immortality — even though our lives be as a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

18 November 2015

Timid and Industrious Animals

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, tr. Henry Reeve, Vol. II (New York: The Colonial Press, 1899), pp. 332-333:
I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest — his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind; as for the rest of his fellow-citizens, he is close to them, but he sees them not — he touches them, but he feels them not; he exists but in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country. Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness: it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances — what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range, and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things: it has predisposed men to endure them, and oftentimes to look on them as benefits.

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned them at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
The original, from Oeuvres complètes d'Alexis de Tocqueville, Vol. III (Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, 1864), pp. 518-521:
Je veux imaginer sous quels traits nouveaux le despotisme pourrait se produire dans le monde: je vois une foule innombrable d'hommes semblables et égaux qui tournent sans repos sur eux-mêmes pour se procurer de petits et vulgaires plaisirs, dont ils emplissent leur âme. Chacun d'eux, retiré à l'écart, est comme étranger à la destinée de tous les autres: ses enfants et ses amis particuliers forment pour lui toute l'espèce humaine; quant au demeurant de ses concitoyens, il est à côté d'eux, mais il ne les voit pas; il les touche et ne les sent point; il n'existe qu'en lui-même et pour lui seul, et s'il lui reste encore une famille, on peut dire du moins qu'il n'a plus de patrie.

Au-dessus de ceux-la s'élève un pouvoir immense et tutélaire, qui se charge seul d'assurer leur jouissance et de veiller sur leur sort. Il est absolu, détaillé, régulier, prévoyant et doux. Il ressemblerait à la puissance paternelle si, comme elle, il avait pour objet de préparer les hommes à l'âge viril; mais il ne cherche, au contraire, qu'à les fixer irrévocablement dans l'enfance; il aime que les citoyens se réjouissent, pourvu qu'ils ne songent qu'à se réjouir. Il travaille volontiers à leur bonheur; mais il veut en être l'unique agent et le seul arbitre; il pourvoit à leur sécurité, prévoit et assure leurs besoins, facilite leurs plaisirs, conduit leurs principales affaires, dirige leur industrie, règle leurs successions, divise leurs héritages; que ne peut-il leur ôter entièrement le trouble de penser et la peine de vivre?

C'est ainsi que tous les jours il rend moins utile et plus rare l'emploi du libre arbitre; qu'il renferme l'action de la volonté dans un plus petit espace, et dérobe peu a peu chaque citoyen jusqu'à l'usage de lui-même. L'égalité a préparé les hommes à toutes ces choses: elle les a disposés à les souffrir et souvent même à les regarder comme un bienfait.

Après avoir pris ainsi tour à tour dans ses puissantes mains chaque individu, et l'avoir pétri à sa guise, le souverain étend ses bras sur la société tout entière; il en couvre la surface d'un réseau de petites règles compliquées, minutieuses et uniformes, à travers lesquelles les esprits les plus originaux et les âmes les plus vigoureuses ne sauraient se faire jour pour dépasser la foule; il ne brise pas les volontés, mais il les amollit, les plie et les dirige; il force rarement d'agir, mais il s'oppose sans cesse à ce qu'on agisse; il ne détruit point, il empêche de naître; il ne tyrannise point, il gêne, il comprime, il énerve, il éteint, il hébète, et il réduit enfin chaque nation a n'être plus qu'un troupeau d'animaux timides et industrieux, dont le gouvernement est le berger.

4 November 2015

Enwrapped in a Shroud of Indifference

Henri Murger, The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter (Paris: Société des Beaux-Arts, 1905), p. xxxviii:
In artistic struggles it is almost the same as in war, the whole of the glory acquired falls to the leaders; the army shares as its reward the few lines in a despatch. As to the soldiers struck down in battle, they are buried where they fall, and one epitaph serves for twenty thousand dead.

So, too, the crowd, which always has its eyes fixed on the rising sun, never lowers its glance towards that underground world where the obscure workers are struggling; their existence finishes unknown and without sometimes even having had the consolation of smiling at an accomplished task, they depart from this life, enwrapped in a shroud of indifference.
Henri Murger, Scènes de la vie de Bohème (Paris: Larousse, 1900), p. 21:
Il en est dans les luttes de l'art à peu près comme à la guerre: toute la gloire conquise rejaillit sur le nom des chefs; l'armée se partage pour récompenses les quelques lignes d'un ordre du jour. Quant aux soldats frappés dans le combat, on les enterre là où ils sont tombés, et une seule épitaphe suffit pour vingt mille morts.

De même aussi la foule, qui a toujours les yeux fixés vers ce  qui s'élève, n'abaisse jamais son regard jusqu'au monde souterrain où luttent les obscurs travailleurs; leur existence s'achève inconnue, et, sans avoir même quelquefois la consolation de sourire à une œuvre terminée, ils s'en vont de la vie ensevelis dans un linceul d'indifférence.
Illustration from the 1850 edition

2 November 2015

I Will Never Be Hungry Again

Maria Massey Barringer, "Fricassee of Squirrels," a recipe from Dixie Cookery, included as part of Edward Mitchell's $5000 a Year on the Farm and How I Made it in Five Years' Time  (Philadelphia: John E. Potter, 1882), p. 26:
Put two young squirrels into a pot with two ounces of butter, one or two ounces of ham, some salt and pepper, and just water enough to cover them. Let them stew slowly until tender. Take them up, and pour half a teacup of cream and a beaten yoke of egg into the gravy, and when it has boiled five minutes, pour over the squirrels in the dish.  Some persons prefer a wine glass of red wine, and omit the cream and egg.

28 October 2015

It Is Their Nature

Basil Anderton, "The Lure of Translation,"  Sketches From a Library Window (Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, 1922), p. 58:
Translators, being artists in language, act like other artists: like actors who impersonate different characters; like musicians who are impelled to play particular instruments, or composers who adapt, let us say, folk-tunes or other themes to new conditions of musical composition; or like painters who take, for instance, old historical subjects and re-express them in the fashion of their own period and their own nationality. One is tempted to say, first of all and in a general sense, that men translate because "it is their nature." They do it because they are driven by inward impulse to this mode of self-expression. They do it because they enjoy doing it: enjoy it, that is, with the bitter-sweet joy that accompanies all intellectual or artistic effort.

23 October 2015

Bene Qui Latuit, Bene Vixit

James Thomson (1834-1882), "The Speedy Extinction of Evil and Misery," Essays and Phantasies (London: Reeves and Turner, 1881), p. 97:
I confess that the tortures and indignities to which in these days celebrated men are subject, both while living and when dead, have so horrified me, that I immensely prefer the most ignoble obscurity to the most noble reputation. For while alive the famous man has neither peace nor privacy, being the common property of all the idle busybodies and malicious or foolish newsmongers who may care to seize on him, destroying his comfort and devastating his time. And when dead his case is even worse. The repose of the tomb is no repose for him. Lecturers lecture on him, preachers preach on him; biographers serve him up in butter and treacle, or in acrid vinegar, to a lickerous and palled public, exposing all his weaknesses, follies, misfortunes, errors, and defects.

21 October 2015

They Will Follow Thee at an Inch

Justus Lipsius, Of Constancie, tr. John Stradling (London: Richard Johnes, 1594), p. 5:
But you will say [...] that the daylie beholding of strange fashions, men, and places doth refresh and lighten the mind loaden with oppressions. No (Lipsius) you are deceived. For, to tell you the trueth plainlie, I doe not so much derogate from peregrination and travelling, as though it bare no sway over men and their affections: yes verily it avayleth, but yet thus farre, to the expelling of some small tediousnes and wearinesse of our mindes, not to the curing of maladies rooted so deeply, as that these externall medicines cannot plucke them up. Musicke, wine, and sleepe have oftentimes quenched the first enkindled sparkes of anger, sorrow, and love: But never weeded out any settled or deepe rooted griefe. Likewise I say, that travelling might perhaps cure superficiall skarres, but not substantiall sores. For, these first motions having their originall from the body, doe sticke in the body or at the most doe but cleave to the utter velme of the mind (as a man may say). And therefore no marvell is it, though with a spoonge they be lightly washed away: Otherwise it is of olde festered affections, which hold their seat, yea & scepter in the castle of the mind. When thou hast gone far, and wandred everie sea and shore, thou shalt neither drowne them in the deepe sea, nor burie them in the bowels of the earth. They will follow thee at an inch: And (as the Poet saith), foule care will sit close in the skirtes of footman and horseman.
Related posts:

16 October 2015

The Magic Bean

Arthur Machen, Far Off Things (London: Martin Secker, 1922), pp. 124-125:
[W]hat is called genius is not only of many varying degrees of intensity, but also very distinctly of two parts or functions. There is the passive side of genius, that faculty which is amazed by the strange, mysterious, admirable spectacle of the world, which is enchanted and rapt out of our common airs by hints and omens of an adorable beauty everywhere latent beneath the veil of appearance. Now I think that every man or almost every man is born with the potentiality at all events of this function of genius. Os homini sublime dedit, cœlumque tueri: man, as distinct from the other animals, carries his head on high so that he may look upon the heavens; and I think that we may say that this sentence has an interior as well as an exterior meaning. The beasts look downward, to the earth, not only in the letter but in the spirit; they are creatures of material sensation, living by far the greatest part of their lives in a world of hot and cold, hunger and thirst and satisfaction. Man, on the other hand, is by his nature designed to look upward, to gaze into the heavens that are all about him, to discern the eternal in things temporal. Or, as the Priestess of the Holy Bottle defines and distinguishes: the beasts are made to drink water, but men to drink wine. This, the receptive or passive part of genius, is, I say, given to every human being, at least potentially. We receive, each one of us, the magic bean, and if we will plant it it will undoubtedly grow and become our ladder to the stars and the cloud castles. Unfortunately the modern process, so oddly named civilisation, is as killing to this kind of gardening as the canker to the rose; and thus it is that if I want a really nice chair, I must either buy a chair that is from a hundred to a hundred and fifty years old, or else a careful copy or replica of such a chair. It may appear strange to Tottenham Court Road and the modern furniture trade; but it is none the less true that you cannot design so much as a nice arm-chair unless you have gone a little way at all events up the magic beanstalk.

12 October 2015

A Vicious Extravagance

John Drinkwater, The World and the Artist (London: Bookman's Journal, 1922), p. 17:
The first thing that we have to consider in the ordering of our lives is that to each one of us is given a definite and limited fund of energy to expend, and our most serious responsibility is to see that none of this is wasted or misapplied. I know of no better summary of the derelict instinct of these later generations, of which we must dare to hope that we are the last, than Mr. Gordon Bottomley's cry against the energy that addresses itself always to the devising of "machines for making more machines." It is a vicious extravagance that permeates our society. Men employ their most precious cunning to make three engines in a week, for no positive excellence in the feat and with no other thought than that beyond that they may be able to make six; they learn a new language in a month, then in a week, then they will telescope all languages into one, and hope, no doubt, for the happy day when speech will be quickened into a telegraphic code; which event will prove to be but a stage towards some yet more fortunate dispensation; they bombard cities at a range of twenty miles, of seventy, cherishing yet, it may be, designs on the moon, and they make money with a single zeal for making more money. And it is all, we are told, vigour and intensity of life. Every age has its delusions, but there has never been a delusion sorrier and more contemptible than this.
Hat tip: First Known When Lost

8 October 2015

Kings and Thieves

St. Augustine, The City of God (Book IV, chapter iv), tr. Marcus Dods, Vol. I (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1913), pp. 139-140:
Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, "What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor."*
* Nonius Marcell. borrows this anecdote from Cicero, De Repub. iii.

6 October 2015

A Charlatan

Roger Scruton on Michel Foucault's Les mots et les choses, from Gentle Regrets (London: Continuum, 2005), p. 35:
It is an artful book, composed with a satanic mendacity, selectively appropriating facts in order to show that culture and knowledge are nothing but the 'discourses' of power. The book is not a work of philosophy but an exercise in rhetoric. Its goal is subversion, not truth, and it is careful to argue — by the old nominalist sleight of hand that was surely invented by the Father of Lies — that 'truth' requires inverted commas, that it changes from epoch to epoch, and is tied to the form of consciousness, the episteme, imposed by the class that profits from its propagation. The revolutionary spirit, which searches the world for things to hate, has found in Foucault a new literary formula. Look everywhere for power, he tells his readers, and you will find it. Where there is power there is oppression. And where there is oppression there is the right to destroy. In the street below my window [during the Paris riots of 1968] was the translation of that message into deeds. 
Ibid., p. 36:
Foucault is dead from AIDS, contracted during well-funded tours as an intellectual celebrity. However his books are on university reading lists all over Europe and America. His vision of European culture as the institutionalized form of oppressive power is taught everywhere as gospel, to students who have neither the culture nor the religion to resist it. Only in France is he widely regarded as a charlatan.

1 October 2015

Where Is the Poetry?

R. S. Thomas, "A Frame for Poetry," Selected Prose, ed. Sandra Anstey (Bridgend: Seren, 1995), p. 72:
We are told with increasing vehemence that this is a scientific age, and that science is transforming the world, but is it not also a mechanized and impersonal age, an analytic and clinical one; an age in which under the hard glass of affluence there can be detected the murmuring of the starved heart and the uneasy spirit? “The voice of Rachel crying for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” The old themes of poetry are outmoded, we are told. Nothing is in itself un-poetical and true poets can as well make poetry about tractors and conveyor belts as about skylarks and nightingales. In theory, yes, but in practice where is the poetry?

29 September 2015


Theodore Low De Vinne, The Practice of Typography: A Treatise on Title-Pages (New York: The Century, 1902), pp. 7-8:
[T]here were good reasons why a printed book should not be impersonal. Careful printers who tried to correct a faulty manuscript copy might be confounded with careless printers who gave little heed to editing or proof-reading. There were also piratical printers who stole the editorial work of more painstaking rivals, and sold faulty reprints as the work of their honest rivals, but always at lower price. After some unpleasant experiences consequent on unwary purchases from unknown printers, the critical reader began to discover the relative merit of books. Before he bought a new book he looked for the imprint of a reputable printer as some guaranty of its accuracy. A book without attest was like a bit of silverware without the official stamp; it might be good, it might be bad, but the latter conclusion was oftener reached. When the fifteenth century closed, the printers of good standing in all countries put their names at the end of their books.
A colophon in the shape of a Venetian wine-cup, from an edition of
Petrarch by Bartholomew Valdezocchio, made at Padua in 1472. 

24 September 2015

The Improvement of the Mind

Isaac Watts, The Improvement of the Mind (London: James Brackstone, 1741), p. 13:
A well-furnish'd Library and a capacious Memory, are indeed of singular Use toward the Improvement of the Mind; but if all your Learning be nothing else but a mere Amassment of what others have written, without a due Penetration into their Meaning, and without a judicious Choice and Determination of your own Sentiments, I do not see what Title your Head has to true Learning, above your Shelves.
Hat tip: Anecdotal Evidence

22 September 2015

Travel for Travel's Sake

Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (London: Chatto and Windus, 1919), p. 57:
For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilisation, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints. Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting, who can annoy himself about the future?

17 September 2015

My Time Is My Own

The demon Screwtape offers his nephew the demon Wormwood advice on tempting a human into sin, C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Letter XXI, (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1946):
Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied. The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered. Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him. It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tête-à-tête with the friend), that throw him out of gear. Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption, “My time is my own”. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.

You have here a delicate task. The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defence. The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels.

Luca Signorelli, Four Demons Inspecting a Book (c. 1500)

Laudator Temporis Acti has posted another favourite passage of mine from this book on The Historical Point of View.

15 September 2015

Plain Simple English Words

R. S. Thomas, "Words and the Poet," quoted in Christopher Morgan R. S. Thomas: Identity, Environment, Deity (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), p. 94:
At times there comes the desire to write with great precision and clarity, words so simple and moving that they bring tears to the eyes, or, if you like, as Wordsworth said, are 'too deep for tears' ... This is where the one syllable, the four letter words come into their own. They can have a particular force. One remembers lines such as that by Wilfred Owen in 'Futility': 'Was it for this the clay grew tall?' Plain simple English words, yet so often they are the best. It is a case of 'central peace subsisting at the heart of endless agitation'. Art is not simple, and yet about so much of the best, whether in painting, poetry or music, there is a kind of miraculous simplicity.

10 September 2015

One Fine Way to Keep Sane

Charles Rowley, Fifty Years of Work Without Wages (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911), pp. 34-35:
Now Manchester is exceptionally fortunate for those who are blessed with these desires [to go on long walks] and who will seize their opportunity. In a few hours we can be in the heart of the loveliest parts of Derbyshire. For inexpensive week-ends, for good walkers, the finest of Welsh or Lake Country scenery can be at our feet in a little more time. During Saturday afternoon, Sunday, and Monday, losing only one day from work hours, and with a pound in your pocket, you can enjoy, if you have the capacity, the finest things our islands afford. Indeed, some of our most enchanting experiences have been gained for a much smaller sum. You form a good plan — that is essential if you are to get to the heart of the best in nature — you take your Sunday midday meal in your satchel, and you trudge along to your heart's delight, wet or fine. That is one fine way to keep sane, to build up character, to enjoy keenly the best about us. Our current temptations to money-spending do not result in half the joy and satisfaction of these simpler, truer methods.

A hard-working labourer was asked by the clergyman of his parish why he got so drunk every week-end when he drew his wages. Said he, "It's the shortest way out of Manchester." We found ways not so short but much more effectual.
According to the Bank of England inflation calculator, a "pound in your pocket" in 1911 would be the equivalent of about £105 today.

8 September 2015

Everything You Have Learned Remains Yours

Leslie Meisels, Suddenly the Shadow Fell (Toronto: Azrieli Foundation, 2015), p. 59:
The psychological effects of my experiences [during the Holocaust] taught me certain things that formed a philosophy that I have lived ever since. Life in the concentration camp [Bergen-Belsen], especially watching the leadership in our barracks and acquiring the simple knowledge of how to measure and cut bread rations precisely, taught me a great deal. I saw how people who were well educated and broad-minded stood out from the crowd, how they were able to adapt to their situation more easily than others. People looked up to them and they became leaders. I came to the conclusion that no matter what circumstance life puts a person in, even if everything you have is taken away, as long as you live, no one can take away your knowledge. Everything you have learned remains yours and can help you. For me, this produced a thirst for knowledge and a will to learn, which has never changed.

4 September 2015

The Lowest and Narrowest Compass

Lord Shaftesbury, Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (Birmingham: John Baskerville, 1773),  pp. 115-116:
You have heard it (my Friend!) as a common saying, that Interest governs the World. But, I believe, whoever looks narrowly into the affairs of it will find that Passion, Humour, Caprice, Zeal, Faction, and a thousand other Springs, which are counter to Self-Interest, have as considerable a part in the Movements of this Machine. There are more Wheels and Counter-Poises in this Engine than are easily imagined. 'Tis of too complex a kind to fall under one simple View, or be explained thus briefly in a word or two. The Studiers of this Mechanism must have a very partial Eye to overlook all other Motions besides those of the lowest and narrowest compass. 'Tis hard that in the Plan or Description of this Clock-work no Wheel or Balance should be allowed on the side of the better and more enlarg'd Affections; that nothing should be understood to be done in Kindness or Generosity, nothing in pure Good-Nature or Friendship, or through any social or natural Affection of any kind: when, perhaps, the main Springs of this Machine will be found to be either these very natural Affections themselves, or a compound kind deriv'd from them, and retaining more than one half of their Nature.

2 September 2015

Professor Horrendo

Gregory Rabassa, If This Be Treason (New York: New Directions, 2005), pp. 42-43:
Too often the review of a translated book is assigned to a person whose field is the literature of the language involved. The character is the one Sara Blackburn [an editor at Pantheon Books] so neatly dubbed Professor Horrendo. After he has dealt with the work in question, he will then roll up his sleeves and proceed to slice into the translation. His glee is almost visible. When alternatives are suggested they are inevitably of the tin-ear variety. These are people who would improve things by whitewashing Vermeer's yellow wall. Other reviewers will simply judge the flow of the English prose (poetry is too fugitive to go into here and I've written more of it than I've translated). Positive terms like "smooth," "flowing," and such are used along with negative ones like "awkward," "clumsy," and others. I have seen "efficient," whatever that might mean, but that was delivered by the same pedantic twerp who had gone tooth and nail after a translation of mine without realizing that he was reading uncorrected proofs. This varied cohort makes up what Alastair Reid calls the translation police. In doing so I think he must have police brutality in mind rather than law and order.
Rabassa quoted in Clifford Landers, Literary Translation: A Practical Guide (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2001), p. 25:
In his anality he [Prof. Horrendo] fetches his dictionary and finds that on page twenty the translation reads 'chair' where the true meaning of the original was 'stool.' This is usually done in defense of the integrity of the author, but often ... not knowing that the author, who knows English quite well, has checked and approved the translation. Professor Horrendo has long been our bane, and we should be thankful when a far-sighted editor gives a translation to a writer than to a scholar for review.
cf. The Only Competent Tribunal

31 August 2015

The Hating and Fighting Impulses

William James, Is Life Worth Living? (Philadelphia: S. Burns Weston, 1896), pp. 31-32:
There are in most men instinctive springs of vitality that respond healthily when the burden of metaphysical and infinite responsibility rolls off. The certainty that you now may step out of life whenever you please, and that to do so is not blasphemous or monstrous, is itself an immense relief. The thought of suicide is now no longer a guilty challenge and obsession.
"This little life is all we must endure;
The grave's most holy peace is ever sure."
says Thomson [in The City of Dreadful Night]; adding, "I ponder these thoughts, and they comfort me." Meanwhile we can always stand it for twenty-four hours longer, if only to see what to-morrow's newspaper will contain or what the next postman will bring. But far deeper forces than this mere vital curiosity are arousable, even in the pessimistically-tending mind; for where the loving and admiring impulses are dead, the hating and fighting impulses will still respond to fit appeals. This evil which we feel so deeply is something which we can also help to overthrow, for its sources, now that no "Substance" or "Spirit" is behind them, are finite, and we can deal with each of them in turn. It is, indeed, a remarkable fact that sufferings and hardships do not, as a rule, abate the love of life; they seem, on the contrary, usually to give it a keener zest.
Ibid., p. 37:
To the suicide, then, in his supposed world of multifarious and immoral Nature, you can appeal, and appeal in the name of the very evils that make his heart sick there, to wait and see his part of the battle out. And the consent to live on, which you ask of him under these circumstances, is not the sophistical "resignation" which devotees of cowering religions preach. It is not resignation in the sense of licking a despotic deity's hand. It is, on the contrary, a resignation based on manliness and pride.

26 August 2015

A Nest of Unfledged Birds

William Cobbett, "Making Bread," Cottage Economy (New York: John Doyle, 1833) p. 53:
It ought to be a maxim with every master and every mistress, never to employ another to do that which can be done as well by their own servants. The more of their money that is retained in the hands of their own people, the better it is for them altogether. Besides, a man of a right mind must be pleased with the reflection, that there is a great mass of skill and ability under his own roof. He feels stronger and more independent on this account, all pecuniary advantage out of the question. It is impossible to conceive any thing more contemptible than a crowd of men and women living together in a house, and constantly looking out of it for people to bring them food and drink, and to fetch their garments to and fro. Such a crowd resemble a nest of unfledged birds, absolutely dependent for their very existence on the activity and success of the old ones.

Yet, on men go, from year to year, in this state of wretched dependence, even when they have all the means of living within themselves, which is certainly the happiest state of life that any one can enjoy.

24 August 2015

In Summer, Under Shady Tree

W. H. Davies, "The Sluggard," Collected Poems (London: Jonathan Cape, 1921), p. 65
A jar of cider and my pipe,
   In summer, under shady tree;
A book of one that made his mind
   Live by its sweet simplicity:
Then must I laugh at kings who sit
   In richest chambers, signing scrolls;
And princes cheered in public ways,
   And stared at by a thousand fools.

Let me be free to wear my dreams.
   Like weeds in some mad maiden's hair.
When she believes the earth has not
   Another maid so rich and fair;
And proudly smiles on rich and poor.
   The queen of all fair women then:
So I, dressed in my idle dreams,
   Will think myself the king of men.

18 August 2015

The Rational Side of Life

Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Interview in Télé Magazine (January 11, 1958), my translation:
Let's return to television. It is useful for people who do not go out, such as my wife for example. I have a set upstairs, but I never go up to it. It is a fabulous means of propaganda. It is also — alas! — a way of dumbing things down, in the sense that people come to rely on what they are shown. They no longer imagine. They look. They lose their sense of judgement, and they easily succumb to laziness.
Television is dangerous for people.
Alcoholism, gossip, and politics already make morons out of them. Was it really necessary to add something more?
But you have to admit it, there is no fighting against progress. Have you ever tried swimming up the Niagara Falls? No. Nobody can stop the forward march of television. It will soon change all modes of reasoning. It is an ideal instrument for the masses. It replaces everything, it eliminates all effort, it provides a great deal of peace and quiet to parents. Children are fascinated by this phenomenon.
The tragedy today is that one thinks effortlessly.
We knew Latin much better when there was no Latin grammar book. If you simplify the effort, the brain works less. The brain is a muscle: it becomes flaccid.
Here's an example: women had calf muscles during the occupation. They used to walk. Today mechanics have triumphed, and we live in the kingdom of beautiful cars. Women don't have legs any more, they are hideously ugly. The men have paunches.
Civilization the whole world over is doomed by the rational side of life.
The original, via Le pas grand-chose
Revenons à la télévision. Elle est utile pour les gens qui ne sortent pas, pour ma femme par exemple. J'ai un poste, au premier étage, mais je ne monte jamais. C'est un prodigieux moyen de propagande. C'est aussi, hélas ! un élément d'abêtissement, en ce sens que les gens se fient à ce qu'on leur montre. Ils n'imaginent plus. Ils voient. Ils perdent la notion de jugement, et ils se prêtent gentiment à la fainéantise.
La TV est dangereuse pour les hommes.
L'alcoolisme, le bavardage et la politique en font déjà des abrutis. Était-il nécessaire d'ajouter encore quelque chose?
Mais il faut bien l'admettre. On ne réagit pas contre le progrès. Vous arriverait-il d'essayer de remonter les chutes du Niagara à la nage ? Non. Personne ne pourra empêcher la marche en avant de la TV. Elle changera bientôt tous les modes de raisonnement. Elle est un instrument idéal pour la masse. Elle remplace tout, elle élimine l'effort, elle accorde une grande tranquillité aux parents. Les enfants sont passionnés par ce phénomène.
Il y a un drame aujourd'hui : on pense sans effort.
On savait bien mieux le latin lorsqu'il n'y avait pas de grammaire latine. Si vous simplifiez l'effort, le cerveau travaille moins. Le cerveau, c'est un muscle : il devient flasque.
Un exemple, les femmes avaient du mollet sous l'Occupation. Elles marchaient. Aujourd'hui, c'est le triomphe de la mécanique, nous sommes au royaume des belles voitures. Les femmes n'ont plus de jambes, elles sont affreusement laides. Les hommes ont du ventre.
C'est toute la civilisation du monde qui est condamnée par le côté raisonnable de la vie.

17 August 2015

The Part of a Great Man

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, "On Providence," Moral Essays, tr. John W. Basore, Vol. I (Loeb Classical Library; London: Heinemann, 1928), pp. 24-27:
Success comes to the common man, and even to commonplace ability; but to triumph over the calamities and terrors of mortal life is the part of a great man only. Truly, to be always happy and to pass through life without a mental pang is to be ignorant of one half of nature. You are a great man; but how do I know it if Fortune gives you no opportunity of showing your worth? You have entered as a contestant at the Olympic games, but none other besides you; you gain the crown, the victory you do not gain. You have my congratulations — not as a brave man, but as if you had obtained the consulship or praetorship; you have enhanced your prestige. In like manner, also, I may say to a good man, if no harder circumstance has given him the opportunity whereby alone he might show the strength of his mind, "I judge you unfortunate because you have never been unfortunate; you have passed through life without an antagonist; no one will know what you can do, — not even yourself." For if a man is to know himself, he must be tested; no one finds out what he can do except by trying. And so some men have presented themselves voluntarily to laggard misfortune, and have sought an opportunity to blazon forth their worth when it was about to pass into obscurity. Great men, I say, rejoice oft-times in adversity, as do brave soldiers in warfare.
The original:
Prosperae res et in plebem ac vilia ingenia deveniunt; at calamitates terroresque mortalium sub iugum mittere proprium magni viri est. Semper vero esse felicem et sine morsu animi transire vitam ignorare est rerum naturae alteram partem. Magnus vir es; sed unde scio, si tibi fortuna non dat facultatem exhibendae virtutis? Descendisti ad Olympia, sed nemo praeter te: coronam habes, victoriam non habes. Non gratulor tamquam viro forti, sed tanquam consulatum praeturamve adepto; honore auctus es. Item dicere et bono viro possum, si illi nullam occasionem difficilior casus dedit in qua una vim animi sui ostenderet: "Miserum te iudico, quod numquam fuisti miser. Transisti sine adversario vitam; nemo sciet quid potueris, ne tu quidem ipse." Opus est enim ad notitiam sui experimento; quid quisque posset nisi temptando non didicit. Itaque quidam ipsi ultro se cessantibus malis obtulerunt et virtuti iturae in obscurum occasionem per quam enitesceret quaesierunt. Gaudent, inquam, magni viri aliquando rebus adversis, non aliter quam fortes milites bello.
Related posts:

12 August 2015

Thralls of the Quack

Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present (Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co. 1890), pp. 75-76:
An election, whether managed directly by ballot-box on public hustings, or indirectly by force of public opinion, or were it even by open alehouses, landlords' coercion, popular club-law, or whatever electoral methods, is always an interesting phenomenon. A mountain tumbling in great travail, throwing up dustclouds and absurd noises, is visibly there; uncertain yet what mouse or monster it will give birth to.

Besides it is a most important social act; nay, at bottom, the one important social act. Given the men a People choose, the People itself, in its exact worth and worthlessness, is given. A heroic people chooses heroes, and is happy; a valet or flunkey people chooses sham-heroes, what are called quacks, thinking them heroes, and is not happy. The grand summary of a man's spiritual condition, what brings out all his herohood and insight, or all his flunkeyhood and horn-eyed dimness, is this question put to him, What man dost thou honour? Which is thy ideal of a man; or nearest that? So too of a People: for a People too, every People, speaks its choice, — were it only by silently obeying, and not revolting, — in the course of a century or so.
Ibid., pp. 82-83:
It is written, 'if we are ourselves valets, there shall exist no hero for us; we shall not know the hero when we see him; ' — we shall take the quack for a hero; and cry, audibly through all ballot-boxes and machinery whatsoever, Thou art he: be thou King over us!

What boots it? Seek only deceitful Speciosity, money with gilt carriages, 'fame' with newspaper-paragraphs, whatever name it bear, you will find only deceitful Speciosity; godlike Reality will be forever far from you. The Quack shall be legitimate inevitable King of you; no earthly machinery able to exclude the Quack. Ye shall be born thralls of the Quack, and suffer under him, till your hearts are near broken, and no French Revolution or Manchester Insurrection, or partial or universal volcanic combustions and explosions, never so many, can do more than change the figure of your Quack; the essence of him remaining, for a time and times.

11 August 2015

What Have You Done With Your Master, Slave?

Xavier Mellery, L'immortalité, c. 1890:

Image from the Musée Fin-de-Siècle, Brussels
The lines at the bottom are attributed to Victor Hugo:
Squelette réponds-moi: Qu'as-tu fait de ton âme
Flambeau, qu'as-tu fait de ta flamme?
Cage déserte, qu'as-tu fait
De ton bel oiseau qui chantait?
Volcan qu'as-tu fait de ta lave?
Qu'as-tu fait de ton maître, esclave?
My (insipid) translation:
Answer me, skeleton: What have you done with your soul?
Torch, what have you done with your flame?
Empty cage, what have you done
With your pretty bird that used to sing?
Vulcano, what have you done with your lava?
What have you done with your master, slave?
According to Louis de Bellemare, Hugo wrote these impromptu lines on the shoulder blade of a skeleton that belonged to Roger de Beauvoir. See Les dernières années d'Alexandre Dumas (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1883), p. 84.

7 August 2015

How Far I Am

Eugène Delacroix, letter to Jean-Baptiste Pierret (1818), quoted in Dorothy Bussy, Eugene Delacroix (London: Duckworth and Co., 1912), p.12:
I think of Poussin in his retirement, delighting in the study of the human heart and the masterpieces of the ancients, little heeding Richelieu's academies and pensions; I think of Raphael in his mistress' arms, passing from the Fornarina to the St. Cecilia, composing his sublime pictures as easily as other people breathe and speak — all with simplicity and gentle inspiration. Oh, my friend, when I think of these great models, I feel only too deeply how far I am, not only from their divine spirit, but even from their modest candour.

4 August 2015

Forget It

Publius Syrus, The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus, tr. Darius Lyman (Cleveland: L. E. Barnard, 1856), p. 43:
A noble spirit finds a cure for injustice in forgetting it.
The original and in French, from Sentences de Publius Syrus, tr. Francis Levasseur (Paris: Panckouke, 1825), pp. 42-43:
Magnanimo injuriae remedium oblivio est. 
Pour l'homme magnanime, l'oubli est le remède de l'injure.
Hat tip: Hisperic.

Related posts:

2 August 2015

To Have Enjoy'd the Sun

Matthew Arnold, "Empedocles on Etna" (lines 397-406), The Poems of Matthew Arnold  (London: Oxford University Press, 1922), p. 111:
   Is it so small a thing
   To have enjoy'd the sun,
   To have lived light in the spring,
   To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanced true friends, and beat down baffling foes;
   That we must feign a bliss
   Of doubtful future date,
   And while we dream on this
   Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose?

28 July 2015

No Coward

James Elroy Flecker, "No Coward's Song," The Collected Poems of James Elroy Flecker, ed. J.C. Squire (New York: Doubleday, 1916), p. 125:
I am afraid to think about my death,
When it shall be, and whether in great pain
I shall rise up and fight the air for breath
Or calmly wait the bursting of my brain.

I am no coward who could seek in fear
A folk-lore solace or sweet Indian tales:
I know dead men are deaf and cannot hear
The singing of a thousand nightingales.

I know dead men are blind and cannot see
The friend that shuts in horror their big eyes,
And they are witless — O, I'd rather be
A living mouse than dead as a man dies.

20 July 2015

Tour de France

Étienne Martin Saint-Léon, Le Compagnonnage, son histoire, ses coutumes, ses règlements et ses rites (Paris: Armand Colin, 1901), p. 257 (my translation):
Our compagnon is alone at last. He advances with a firm step but, despite his apparent equanimity, he is a little upset. He suffers from that vague sense of melancholy which visits us when we turn a new page in the book of life, a book leafed through so quickly. We feel it when we say goodbye, perhaps forever, to a place, to people, or to things we associate with fond memories: it is regret for a time that already belongs to the past, instinctive fear of the future, and the apprehension of a traveller who has just left a safe haven where he rested for a few hours, and resumes his journey into the unknown.
The original:
Notre compagnon est enfin seul. Il s'avance d'un pas ferme, mais, en dépit de son apparente impassibilité de tout à l'heure, il est un peu ému. Il éprouve cette vague mélancolie qui nous visite lorsque nous tournons une page nouvelle de ce livre de la vie si rapidement feuilleté, lorsque nous disons un adieu peut-être éternel à un lieu, à des êtres ou à des choses auxquels s'associe pour nous un souvenir heureux: regret d'un temps qui déjà appartient au passé, crainte instinctive de l'avenir, inquiétude du voyageur qui vient de quitter l'asile sûr où il s'est reposé quelques heures et qui reprend sa route vers l'inconnu.
I suppose everyone fantasizes about other lives. If I were 20 years younger and French, I should like nothing better than to learn a trade as a Compagnon du Tour de France.

17 July 2015

Fond of Maps

R. L. Stevenson, An Inland Voyage (London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1878), p. 194:
I have always been fond of maps, and can voyage in an atlas with the greatest enjoyment. The names of places are singularly inviting; the contour of coasts and rivers is enthralling to the eye; and to hit, in a map, upon some place you have heard of before, makes history a new possession.

14 July 2015

A Middle Way

Otto Rank, Art and Artist, tr. Charles Francis Atkinson (New York: Knopf, 1932), p. 416:
Whereas the average man largely subordinates himself, both socially and biologically, to the collective, and the neurotic shuts himself deliberately off from both, the productive type finds a middle way, which is expressed in ideological experience and personal creativity. But since the artist must live as a human being and yet feels compelled to make this transitory life eternal in an intransient work, a compromise is set up between ideologized life and an individualized creativity — a balance which is difficult, impermanent, and in all circumstances painful, since creation tends to experience, and experience again cries out for artistic form.

9 July 2015

Advertising Books

Elbert Hubbard, "About Advertising Books," A Message to Garcia and Thirteen Other Things (East Aurora: Roycrofters Shop, 1901), p. 81:
The advertisement that secures recognition and really sells the book cannot be purchased — it cannot even be asked for — but must spring spontaneous from the sympathetic heart. To request it would be to lose it, for like love, it goes to him who does not ask for it, and passes in silence all those who plot, scheme and lie in wait. It goes only to the worthy: but alas! the worthy sometimes — aye, often, pine away of heart-hunger, and there is no hand to caress, nor gentle voice to soothe; and youth flies fast, and recognition comes only when it is no more desired, and when the presence of cool, all-enfolding death — strong deliveress — is more grateful than the applause of men

7 July 2015

Blessed Is He That Expecteth Nothing

G. K. Chesterton, Heretics (New York: Garden City Publishing, 1905) p. 65:
The truth is, that all genuine appreciation rests on a certain mystery of humility and almost of darkness. The man who said, "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed," put the eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely. The truth is "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised." The man who expects nothing sees redder roses than common men can see, and greener grass, and a more startling sun. Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall possess the cities and the mountains; blessed is the meek, for he shall inherit the earth. Until we realize that things might not be we cannot realize that things are. Until we see the background of darkness we cannot admire the light as a single and created thing.

3 July 2015

A Bottle of the Best

R. L. Stevenson, An Inland Voyage (London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1878), pp. 106-107:
If a man knows he will sooner or later be robbed upon a journey, he will have a bottle of the best in every inn, and look upon all his extravagances as so much gained upon the thieves. And, above all, where instead of simply spending, he makes a profitable investment for some of his money, when it will be out of risk of loss. So every bit of brisk living, and, above all, when it is healthful, is just so much gained upon the wholesale filcher, death. We shall have the less in our pockets, the more in our stomach, when he cries stand and deliver.

1 July 2015

A Library of One's Own

Augustine Birrell, "Book Buying," Collected Essays, Vol. I (London: Elliot Stock, 1899), pp. 324-325:
It is no doubt a pleasant thing to have a library left you. The present writer will disclaim no such legacy, but hereby undertakes to accept it, however dusty. But good as it is to inherit a library, it is better to collect one. Each volume then, however lightly a stranger's eye may roam from shelf to shelf, has its own individuality, a history of its own. You remember where you got it, and how much you gave for it; and your word may safely be taken for the first of these facts, but not for the second.

The man who has a library of his own collection is able to contemplate himself objectively, and is justified in believing in his own existence. No other man but he would have made precisely such a combination as his. Had he been in any single respect different from what he is, his library, as it exists, never would have existed. Therefore, surely he may exclaim, as in the gloaming he contemplates the backs of his loved ones, 'They are mine, and I am theirs.'

26 June 2015

By Still and Depopulated Waters

R. L. Stevenson, "On the Willebroek Canal," An Inland Voyage (London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1878), pp. 17-18:
Crop-headed children spat upon us from the bridges as we went below, with a true conservative feeling. But even more conservative were the fishermen, intent upon their floats, who let us go by without one glance. They perched upon sterlings and buttresses and along the slope of the embankment, gently occupied. They were indifferent like pieces of dead nature. They did not move any more than if they had been fishing in an old Dutch print. The leaves fluttered, the water lapped, but they continued in one stay, like so many churches established by law. You might have trepanned every one of their innocent heads and found no more than so much coiled fishing line below their skulls. I do not care for your stalwart fellows in india-rubber stockings breasting up mountain torrents with a salmon rod; but I do dearly love the class of man who plies his unfruitful art forever and a day by still and depopulated waters.

23 June 2015

A Routine Occupation

Herbert Read on the practicality of Coleridge's three hours of leisure, The Contrary Experience (London: Secker & Warburg, 1973), pp. 258-259:
A routine occupation imposes a rhythm on life, if only the repetition of regular hours, regular meals and constant movement. With such a rhythm it is comparatively easy to add, like an additional gear to a machine, a subordinate activity of two hours' daily application to a writing-desk. In short, such a life favours productivity of some sort; but it is more than doubtful whether such a productivity is more 'truly genial' than the irregular spurts of inspiration upon which a comparatively idle writer will depend. An eye on the clock is already a leakage in the forces of concentration. Neither continuous logical thought nor long imaginative flights are possible under such a condition. If to one's routine duties one adds a normal measure of sociability, more than twenty-four hours will often intervene between the periods given over to composition. I have known days, and sometimes weeks, lie between the beginning and the completion of a sentence!

21 June 2015


adj. belonging to or constituting a style of Latin writing that probably originated in Ireland in the 6th century and that is characterized by extreme obscurity intentionally produced by periphrasis, coinage of new words, and very liberal use of loanwords to express quite ordinary meanings.
Also the name of an interesting new blog.

17 June 2015

Father's Day

Gustave Flaubert, letter to Louise Colet (11 December 1852), Oeuvres complètes de Gustave Flaubert, Correspondance, Troisième série (Paris: Louis Conard, 1927), p. 63 (my translation):
The idea of bringing someone into life horrifies me. I would curse myself I were a father. — A son of mine, oh no, no, no! May all my flesh perish. I do not wish to transmit the difficulties and ignominies of existence to anyone.

L'idée de donner le jour à quelqu'un me fait horreur. Je me maudirais si j'étais père. — Un fils de moi, oh non, non, non ! que toute ma chair périsse, et que je ne transmette à personne l'embêtement et les ignominies de l'existence.
Related posts:

15 June 2015

My Little Difficulty

Theodore Dalrymple, The Pleasure of Thinking (London: Gibson Square Books, 2012), pp. 85-86:
Even now, affection embarrasses me, not the thing itself but the expression of it, physical or verbal as the case may be. Many are the people for whom I would gladly and unhesitatingly lay down my life; but not for anything would I hug them, or express any feeling for them. As to the suggestion that I should be able to overcome my little difficulty, because I have some inkling from whence it came, I can only refer him who makes it to Sonnet 129:
All this world well knows, yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
Of course Shakespeare was speaking of lust, not of the lower grades of human passion, such as mere affection; but that knowledge of the origin of any undesirable characteristic — an apparent coldness of heart in my case — is equivalent to overcoming it, and replacing it by something better is, I am afraid, a shallow modern superstition.

12 June 2015

Two Doctors

George Macaulay Trevelyan, "Walking," Clio, a Muse, and Other Essays Literary and Pedestrian (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1914), p. 56:
I have two doctors, my left leg and my right. When body and mind are out of gear (and those twin parts of me live at such close quarters that the one always catches melancholy from the other) I know that I have only to call in my doctors and I shall be well again. 

10 June 2015

Making Our Ancestors Live Again

George Macaulay Trevelyan, "Clio, a Muse," Clio, a Muse, and Other Essays Literary and Pedestrian (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1914), p. 17:
To recover some of our ancestors' real thoughts and feelings is the hardest, subtlest and most educative function that the historian can perform. It is much more difficult than to spin guesswork generalisations, the reflex of passing phases of thought or opinion in our own day. To give a true picture of any country, or man or group of men in the past requires industry and knowledge, for only the documents can tell us the truth, but it requires also insight, sympathy and imagination of the finest, and last but not least the art of making our ancestors live again in modern narrative.

8 June 2015

A Little Finger Thicker Than Your Loins

From Rudyard Kipling's convocation address to McGill University's class of 1907, reprinted as "Values in Life," Book of Words (New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1928):
When, to use a detestable phrase, you go out into “the battle of life”, you will be confronted by an organised conspiracy which will try to make you believe that the world is governed by the idea of wealth for wealth’s sake, and that all means which lead to the acquisition of that wealth are, if not laudable, at least expedient. Those of you who have fitly imbibed the spirit of our University — and it was not a materialistic University which trained a scholar to take both the Craven and the Ireland* in England — will violently resent that thought; but you will live and eat and move and have your being in a world dominated by that thought. Some of you will probably succumb to the poison of it.

Now, I do not ask you not to be carried away by the first rush of the great game of life. That is expecting you to be more than human, But I do ask you, after the first heat of the game, that you draw breath and watch your fellows for a while. Sooner or later, you will see some man to whom the idea of wealth as mere wealth does not appeal, whom the methods of amassing that wealth do not interest, and who will not accept money if you offer it to him at a certain price.

At first you will be inclined to laugh at this man and to think that he is not “smart” in his ideas. I suggest that you watch him closely, for he will presently demonstrate to you that money dominates everybody except the man who does not want money. You may meet that man on your farm, in your village, or in your legislature. But be sure that, whenever or wherever you meet him, as soon as it comes to a direct issue between you, his little finger will be thicker than your loins. You will go in fear of him: he will not go in fear of you. You will do what he wants: he will not do what you want. You will find that you have no weapon in your armoury with which you can attack him; no argument with which you can appeal to him. Whatever you gain, he will gain more.

I would like you to study that man. I would like you better to be that man, because from the lower point of view it doesn’t pay to be obsessed by the desire of wealth for wealth’s sake. If more wealth be necessary to you, for purposes not your own, use your left hand to acquire it, but keep your right for your proper work in life. If you employ both arms in that game you will be in danger of stooping; in danger, also, of losing your soul. But in spite of everything you may succeed, you may be successful, you may acquire enormous wealth. In which case I warn you that you stand in grave danger of being spoken and written of and pointed out as “a smart man”. And that is one of the most terrible calamities that can overtake a sane, civilised, white man in our Empire to-day.
* I assume this is a reference to Herbert Rose, who graduated from McGill in 1904 and went on to win these scholarships at Oxford.

4 June 2015

Art Galleries and Libraries

Donald Davidson (1893-1968), "A Mirror for Artists,"  I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978), pp. 39-40:
It is futile to imagine that the arts will penetrate our life in exact proportion to the number of art galleries, orchestras, and libraries that philanthropy may endow. Rather it is probable that a multiplication of art galleries (to take a separate example) is a mark of a diseased, not a healthy civilization. If paintings and sculptures are made for the purpose of being viewed in the carefully studied surroundings of art galleries, they have certainly lost their intimate connection with life. What is a picture for, if not to put on one’s own wall? But the principle of the art gallery requires me to think that a picture has some occult quality in itself and for itself that can only be appreciated on a quiet anonymous wall, utterly removed from the tumult of my private affairs.

The art gallery or art museum theory of art to which philanthropists and promoters would persuade us views art as a luxury quite beyond the reach of ordinary people. Its attempt to glorify the arts by setting them aside in specially consecrated shrines can hardly supply more than a superficial gilding to a national culture, if the private direction of that culture is ugly and materialistic — Keyserling would say, animalistic. The proposition is as absurd as this: Should we eat our meals regularly from crude, thick dishes like those used in Greek restaurants, but go on solemn occasions to a restaurant museum where somebody’s munificence would permit us to enjoy a meal on china of the most delicate design? The truly artistic life is surely that in which the aesthetic experience is not curtained of but is mixed up with all sorts of instruments and occupations pertaining to the round of daily life. It ranges all the way from pots and pans, chairs and rugs, clothing and houses, up to dramas publicly performed and government buildings. Likewise public libraries, which tend ever to become more immense and numerous, pervert public taste as much as they encourage it. For the patrons are by implication discouraged from getting their own books and keeping them at home. Their notion is that the state — or some local Maecenas — will take care of their taste for them, just as the police take care of public safety. Art galleries and libraries are fine enough in their way, but we should not be deceived into putting our larger hope in them.

2 June 2015

A Lift and a Shove

James Mangan (1803-1849), "A Sixty-Drop Dose of Laudanum," The Prose Writings of James Clarence Mangan, ed. D. J.  O'Donoghue (Dublin: O'Donoghue & Co., 1904), p. 224:
A translator from Spanish, French, High Dutch, &c. should always improve on his original if he can. Most continental writers are dull plodders, and require spurring and furbishing. I see no harm in now and then giving them a lift and a shove. If I receive two or three dozen of sherry for a dinner-party, and by some chemical process can convert the sherry into champagne, my friends are all the merrier, and nobody is a loser.

1 June 2015

The Humour of Rabelais

James Mangan (1803-1849), "A Sixty-Drop Dose of Laudanum," The Prose Writings of James Clarence Mangan, ed. D. J.  O'Donoghue (Dublin: O'Donoghue & Co., 1904), p. 208:
From the moment that any man tells me that he cannot understand the humour of Rabelais, I never care to speak to him, or to hear him speak to me, on literary topics.

27 May 2015

The Development of Oneself

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1923):
Is it not fine to see the development of oneself? The finding of one's own tastes. The final selection of a most favorite theme; the concentration of all one's forces on that theme; its development; the constant effort to find its clearest expression in the chosen medium; an effort of expression which commenced with the beginning of the idea, and follows its progress step by step, becoming a technique born of the theme itself and special to it. The continuation through years, new elements entering as life goes on, each step differing, yet all the same. A simple theme on which a life is strung.
Robert Henri, Lady in Black with Spanish Scarf  (1910)

25 May 2015

Three Hours of Leisure

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ed. John Shawcross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), pp. 152-153:
NEVER PURSUE LITERATURE AS A TRADE. With the exception of one extraordinary man, I have never known an individual, least of all an individual of genius, healthy or happy without a profession, that is, some regular employment, which does not depend on the will of the moment, and which can be carried on so far mechanically that an average quantum only of health, spirits, and intellectual exertion are requisite to its faithful discharge. Three hours of leisure, unannoyed by any alien anxiety, and looked forward to with delight as a change and recreation, will suffice to realize in literature a larger product of what is truly genial, than weeks of compulsion. Money, and immediate reputation form only an arbitrary and accidental end of literary labour. The hope of increasing them by any given exertion will often prove a stimulant to industry; but the necessity of acquiring them will in all works of genius convert the stimulant into a narcotic.

20 May 2015

The Marketing Character

Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be? (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), pp. 127-128:
The aim of the marketing character is complete adaptation, so as to be desirable under all conditions of the personality market. The marketing character personalities do not even have egos (as people in the nineteenth century did) to hold onto, that belong to them, that do not change. For they constantly change their egos, according to the principle: "I am as you desire me."

Those with the marketing character structure are without goals, except moving, doing things with the greatest efficiency: if asked why they must move so fast, why things have to be done with the greatest efficiency, they have no genuine answer, but offer rationalizations such as, "in order to create more jobs," or "in order to keep the company growing." They have little interest (at least consciously) in philosophical or religious questions, such as why one lives, and why one is going in this direction rather than in another. They have their big, ever-changing egos, but none has a self, a core, a sense of identity. The "identity crisis" of modern society is actually the crisis produced by the fact that its members have become selfless instruments, whose identity rests upon their participation in the corporations (or other giant bureaucracies), as a primitive individual's identity rested upon membership in the clan.

18 May 2015


Donald Davidson (1893-1968), "A Mirror for Artists,"  I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978), pp. 34-35:
It is common knowledge that, wherever it can be said to exist at all, the kind of leisure provided by industrialism is a dubious benefit. It helps nobody but merchants and manufacturers, who have taught us to use it in industriously consuming the products they make in great excess over the demand. Moreover, it is spoiled, as leisure, by the kind of work that industrialism compels. The furious pace of our working hours is carried over into our leisure hours, which are feverish and energetic. We live by the clock. Our days are a muddle of "activities," strenuously pursued. We do not have the free mind and easy temper that should characterize true leisure. Nor does the separation of our lives into two distinct parts, of which one is all labor — too often mechanical and deadening — and the other all play, undertaken as a nervous relief, seem to be conducive to a harmonious life. The arts will not easily survive a condition under which we work and play at cross-purposes. We cannot separate our being into contradictory halves without a certain amount of spiritual damage. The leisure thus offered is really no leisure at all; either it is pure sloth, under which the arts take on the character of mere entertainment, purchased in boredom and enjoyed in utter passivity, or it is another kind of labor, taken up out of a sense of duty, pursued as a kind of fashionable enterprise for which one's courage must be continually whipped up by reminders of one's obligation to culture.
A related post: Bear the Smell Stoically

13 May 2015

Fireside Purposes

James Fitzjames Stephen, "Luxury," The Cornhill Magazine, Vol. II (1860), 345–53 (at 351).
Give a man a specific thing to make or to write, and pay him well for it, and you may with a little trouble secure an excellent article; but the ability which does these things so well, might have been and ought to have been trained to far higher things, which for the most part are left undone, because the clever workman thinks himself bound to earn what will keep himself, his wife, and his six or seven children, up to the established standard of comfort. What was at first a necessity, perhaps an unwelcome one, becomes by degrees a habit and a pleasure, and men who might have done memorable and noble things, if they had learnt in time to consider the doing of such things a subject worth living for, lose the power and the wish to live for other than fireside purposes.