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

House-proud

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.