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