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?