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.