19 December 2016

He Hears the Tumult, and Is Still

William Hazlitt, "On Living to One's-Self," Table Talk (London: J. M. Dent, 1908), p. 91:
He who lives wisely to himself and to his own heart, looks at the busy world through the loop-holes of retreat, and does not want to mingle in the fray. 'He hears the tumult, and is still.' He is not able to mend it, nor willing to mar it. He sees enough in the universe to interest him without putting himself forward to try what he can do to fix the eyes of the universe upon him. Vain the attempt! He reads the clouds, he looks at the stars, he watches the return of the seasons, the falling leaves of autumn, the perfumed breath of spring, starts with delight at the note of a thrush in a copse near him, sits by the fire, listens to the moaning of the wind, pores upon a book, or discourses the freezing hours away, or melts down hours to minutes in pleasing thought. All this while he is taken up with other things, forgetting himself. He relishes an author's style, without thinking of turning author. He is fond of looking at a print from an old picture in the room, without teasing himself to copy it. He does not fret himself to death with trying to be what he is not, or to do what he cannot. He hardly knows what he is capable of, and is not in the least concerned whether he shall ever make a figure in the world.

15 December 2016

An Ill-Natured Comfort

Thomas Gray to Thomas Wharton (11 December 1746), The Letters of Thomas Gray, Vol. I (London: George Bell and Sons, 1900), p. 150:
It is a foolish Thing, that one can't only not live as one pleases, but where & with whom one pleases, without Money. Swift somewhere says, that Money is Liberty; & I fear money is Friendship too & Society, and almost every external Blessing. It is a great, tho' ill-natured, Comfort to see most of those, who have it in Plenty, without Pleasure, without Liberty, & without Friends.

14 December 2016

Of Worms and the Man I Sing

A song attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, from a 15th century manuscript in the Cambridge University Library (MS Ee, vi.29, fol. 17v [s. XVI]), tr. Robert Kinsman, The Darker Vision of the Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), p. 54:
Tell me, o mortal man, tell me about the putridity of the worm;
Tell me o flesh, o dust, what good is the glory of flesh?
O mad wretch, why do you take pride in putridity?
Learn what you are, what you will be; remember that you will die.

First you were sperm, then stench, then food for worms,
Then dust, and thence nothing; what then, does a man have to be proud about?
As the rose pales when it feels the sun draw near,
So man will vanish: now he is, now he has ceased to be.
The original:
Dic homo mortalis, dic de putredine vermis;
Dic caro, dic pulvis, quid prodest gloria carnis?
Cur miser insanis, quare putredo superbis?
Disce quod es, quod eris; memor esto quod morieris.

Sperma prius, post factus olens, post vermibus esca,
Post cinis, inde nichil; unde superbit homo?
Ut rosa pallescit cum solem sentit adesse,
Sic homo vanescit: nunc est, nunc defuit esse.

Harmen Steenwijck, Vanitas (c. 1640)

12 December 2016

Not My Idea of Honourable Action

S. P. B. Mais, Why We Should Read (London: Grant Richards, 1921), p. 10:
It is extremely easy to pick holes, to adopt a negative attitude, to call down fire from heaven and make a show with the fists when your enemy is merely an author. That is not my idea of honourable action. If a book is bad (and I agree that most books are), let it die by itself. Professional critics only too frequently remind me of vultures: they crowd round the weak and the dying ready to devour.

The object of any man who enjoys life is to share his enjoyment with others. If a book appeals to me I want as many people as possible to derive the pleasure that I derived from it.
A related post: Deserving Oblivion

9 December 2016

Cold and Wet in Expensive Long Johns

Brian Farnworth, Some Practical Advice on Cold Weather Clothing; Technical Note 89-21 (Ottawa: Canadian Defence Research Establishment, 1989), p. 2:
There is a lot of hoopla in advertisements and newspaper articles about some types of materials being better than others. It is usually claimed that because a certain fibre is very fine, or hollow, or natural, or the product of space age technology, that it does the best job of keeping air still. None of this is true. Pretty well all clothing materials do a very good job of keeping air still (as long as the wind doesn't blow through them). A 10 mm thick layer of clothing creates a 10 mm thick layer of still air no matter what the fibres are made of or what shape they are.
Ibid., pp. 8-9:
No one has ever demonstrated that wicking fabrics next to the skin have any significant effect on warmth, coolness, wetness or dryness. Many people claim that they feel more comfortable in polypropylene than in cotton.... But then anyone who pays $50 for a set of underwear is not likely to admit he's been taken. The scientific evidence to date says that if you sweat into cotton underwear, you have wet cotton underwear. If you sweat into polypropylene underwear, you have wet polypropylene underwear. The water will not wick away. It may be that you'll find one more comfortable than the other, but neither one will be insulating if it's wet. 
Hat tip: WoodTrekker

7 December 2016

Everybody Needs a Hobby

Henry Trimen, "His Botanical Studies," John Stuart Mill: His Life and Works (Boston: James R. Osgood, 1873), p. 43:
If we would have a just idea of any man's character, we should view it from as many points, and under as many aspects, as we can. The side-lights thrown by the lesser occupations of a life are often very strong, and bring out its less obvious parts into startling prominence. Much especially is to be learned of character by taking into consideration the employment of times of leisure or relaxation; the occupation of such hours being due almost solely to the natural bent of the individual, without the interfering action of necessity or expediency. Most men, perhaps especially eminent men, have a "hobby," — some absorbing object, the pursuit of which forms the most natural avocation of their mind, and to which they turn with the certainty of at least satisfaction, if not of exquisite pleasure. The man who follows any branch of natural science in this way is almost always especially happy in its prosecution; and his mental powers are refreshed and invigorated for the more serious and engrossing if less congenial occupation of his life.

5 December 2016

Useful Expressions for Holiday Gatherings

Found under the "Critical of Persons" entry in Putnam's Handbook of Expression, compiled by Edwin Hamlin Carr (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1915), pp. 14-18:
  • He is a rather crabbed specimen of humanity
  • He is a selfish, graceless, thankless person
  • A man who never had a taste or emotion but what was sordid
  • He has a desert in his mind
  • He is a lazy, lolling sort of human

1 December 2016

A Life of Learned Sloth and Ignorance

William Hazlitt, Table Talk (London: J. M. Dent, 1908), pp. 70-71:
Books are less often made use of as 'spectacles' to look at nature with, than as blinds to keep out its strong light and shifting scenery from weak eyes and indolent dispositions. The book-worm wraps himself up in his web of verbal generalities, and sees only the glimmering shadows of things reflected from the minds of others. Nature puts him out. The impressions of real objects, stripped of the disguises of words and voluminous round-about descriptions, are blows that stagger him; their variety distracts, their rapidity exhausts him; and he turns from the bustle, the noise, and glare, and whirling motion of the world about him (which he has not an eye to follow in its fantastic changes, nor an understanding to reduce to fixed principles,) to the quiet monotony of the dead languages, and the less startling and more intelligible combinations of the letters of the alphabet. It is well, it is perfectly well. 'Leave me to my repose,' is the motto of the sleeping and the dead. You might as well ask the paralytic to leap from his chair and throw away his crutch, or, without a miracle, to 'take up his bed and walk,' as expect the learned reader to throw down his book and think for himself. He clings to it for his intellectual support; and his dread of being left to himself is like the horror of a vacuum. He can only breathe a learned atmosphere, as other men breathe common air. He is a borrower of sense. He has no ideas of his own, and must live on those of other people. The habit of supplying our ideas from foreign sources ' enfeebles all internal strength of thought,' as a course of dram-drinking destroys the tone of the stomach. The faculties of the mind, when not exerted, or when cramped by custom and authority, become listless, torpid, and unfit for the purposes of thought or action. Can we wonder at the languor and lassitude which is thus produced by a life of learned sloth and ignorance; by poring over lines and syllables that excite little more idea or interest than if they were the characters of an unknown tongue, till the eye closes on vacancy, and the book drops from the feeble hand! I would rather be a wood-cutter, or the meanest hind, that all day 'sweats in the eye of Phoebus, and at night sleeps in Elysium,' than wear out my life so, 'twixt dreaming and awake.

25 November 2016

Portable Cold Frame

Samuel Blackburn, "Portable Cold Frame," Problems in Farm Woodwork (Peoria, Ill. : Manual Arts Press, 1915), pp. 82-83:

I often sigh quietly to myself when I think about the hours I was forced to spend reading Roland Barthes, Mikhail Bakhtin, and similar foolishness when I could have been learning something useful from this book or Louis Roehl's Farm Woodwork (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1919):

Roehl's Farm Shop Work Bench, plans on pp. 16-19.

24 November 2016

One Who Walks in Trammels

Alexander Fraser Tytler, Essay on the Principles of Translation (London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1900), pp. 112-114:
To one who walks in trammels, it is not easy to exhibit an air of grace and freedom. It is difficult, even for a capital painter, to preserve in a copy of a picture all the ease and spirit of the original; yet the painter employs precisely the same colours, and has no other care than faithfully to imitate the touch and manner of the picture that is before him. If the original is easy and graceful, the copy will have the same qualities, in proportion as the imitation is just and perfect. The translator's task is very different: He uses not the same colours with the original, but is required to give his picture the same force and effect. He is not allowed to copy the touches of the original, yet is required by touches of his own, to produce a perfect resemblance. The more he studies a scrupulous imitation, the less his copy will reflect the ease and spirit of the original. How then shall a translator accomplish this difficult union of ease with fidelity? To use a bold expression, he must adopt the very soul of his author, which must speak through his own organs.
There is a lengthy footnote to this passage which quotes from Charles Batteux's Traité de la construction oratoire (Paris: Demonville, 1810).

22 November 2016

Living for the Next Meal

Iris Tree, "How Often, When the Thought of Suicide," Poems (London: John Lane, at The Bodley Head, 1920), p. 27:
How often, when the thought of suicide
With ghostly weapon beckons us to die,
The ghosts of many foods alluring glide
On golden dishes, wine in purple tide
To drown our whim. Things danced before the eye
Like tasselled grapes to Tantalus: The sly
Blue of a curling trout, the battened pride
Of ham in frills, complacent quails that lie
Resigned to death like heroes — July peas,
Expectant bottles foaming at the brink —
White bread, and honey of the golden bees —
A peach with velvet coat, some prawns in pink,
A slice of beef carved deftly, Stilton cheese,
And cup where berries float and bubbles wink.

Augustus John, Portrait of Iris Tree (c. 1919)

21 November 2016

Fit for Nothing Else

Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams; An Autobiography  (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1918), p. 211:
Yet the press was still the last resource of the educated poor who could not be artists and would not be tutors. Any man who was fit for nothing else could write an editorial or a criticism. The enormous mass of misinformation accumulated in ten years of nomad life could always be worked off on a helpless public, in diluted doses, if one could but secure a table in the corner of a newspaper office. The press was an inferior pulpit; an anonymous schoolmaster; a cheap boarding-school; but it was still the nearest approach to a career for the literary survivor of a wrecked education.

16 November 2016

The Child Imposes on the Man

John Dryden, The Hind and the Panther  3.387-391 (London: Macmillan, 1900), p. 56:
By education most have been misled;
So they believe, because they so were bred.
The priest continues what the nurse began,
And thus the child imposes on the man.

14 November 2016

Are My Pickaxes and Shovels in Good Order?

John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies (Portland, Thomas B. Mosher, 1905), pp. 17-18:
When you come to a good book, you must ask yourself, "Am I inclined to work as an Australian miner would? Are my pickaxes and shovels in good order, and am I in good trim myself, my sleeves well up to the elbow, and my breath good, and my temper?" And, keeping the figure a little longer, even at cost of tiresomeness, for it is a thoroughly useful one, the metal you are in search of being the author's mind or meaning, his words are as the rock which you have to crush and smelt in order to get at it. And your pickaxes are your own care, wit, and learning; your smelting furnace is your own thoughtful soul. Do not hope to get at any good author's meaning without those tools and that fire; often you will need sharpest, finest chiselling, and patientest fusing, before you can gather one grain of the metal.
I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again: the earthly paradise for bibliophiles is at hand. There are several copies of this edition on Abebooks for $10.

A related post:

11 November 2016

Gut, daß ich nicht dichten kann

Karl Wasserzieher writing from Ostend in November 1914, in Kriegsbriefe deutscher Studenten, ed. Philipp Witkop (Gotha: Friedrich Andreas Perthes, 1916), p. 21:
Gut, daß ich nicht dichten kann — sonst wüßte ich nicht, wo ich anfangen sollte. Besonders jetzt, wo der Gruß zugleich ein Abschiedsgruß sein könnte: denn soeben kommt der Befehl, uns für alle Fälle mit den letzten vier Geschützen marschbereit zu halten. Wo fange ich an? Schöpfe ich Verse aus dem dunklen Schwarz der Wogen und reihe sie auf eine goldne Schnur, die ich aus Sonnenfäden spinne? Oder bewundere ich das tiefe Grün mit den blendend weißen Schaumkronen, deren Weiß ganz dicht am Strand in Goldbraun übergeht? Weiter links wieder grüßt tiefes Blau herüber, und überall, millionenfach die weißen anschäumenden Wogen, darüber Möven, das Gleichgewicht haltend gegen den sausenden Sturmwind , der hoch in den Lüften singt und pfeift und heult, als wenn ein ganzes Höllengeisterheer losgelassen wäre. Wolkenbilder, die wie eine Luftflotte auf uns zusegeln, goldgerändert von der Sonne, die hinter mir aufgegangen und ihre Strahlen durch die Wolken bricht wie auf einem altbiblischen Gemälde — wieder immer wieder faßt uns tiefes Mitleid um die Menschheit. Und man versteht nicht, wie Menschenhaß und -hader bestehen kann vor dieser gigantischen, majestätischen Schönheit des ewigen Meeres, über dem die Sonne auf den glitzernden silbernen Schaumwellen in sieghaftem Glänze liegt.
I don't have a copy, but this book has been translated by A. F. Wedd as German Students' War Letters (Philadelphia: Pine Street Books, 2002).

10 November 2016

9 November 2016

This Resolution I Make and Will Keep

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft  (London: Archibald Constable, 1912), pp. 89-90:
I have been reading one of those prognostic articles on international politics which every now and then appear in the reviews.  Why I should so waste my time it would be hard to say; I suppose the fascination of disgust and fear gets the better of me in a moment’s idleness.  This writer, who is horribly perspicacious and vigorous, demonstrates the certainty of a great European war, and regards it with the peculiar satisfaction excited by such things in a certain order of mind.  His phrases about “dire calamity” and so on mean nothing; the whole tenor of his writing proves that he represents, and consciously, one of the forces which go to bring war about; his part in the business is a fluent irresponsibility, which casts scorn on all who reluct at the “inevitable.”  Persistent prophecy is a familiar way of assuring the event.

But I will read no more such writing.  This resolution I make and will keep.  Why set my nerves quivering with rage, and spoil the calm of a whole day, when no good of any sort can come of it?  What is it to me if nations fall a-slaughtering each other?  Let the fools go to it!  Why should they not please themselves?  Peace, after all, is the aspiration of the few; so it always was, and ever will be.  But have done with the nauseous cant about “dire calamity.”  The leaders and the multitude hold no such view; either they see in war a direct and tangible profit, or they are driven to it, with heads down, by the brute that is in them.  Let them rend and be rent; let them paddle in blood and viscera till — if that would ever happen — their stomachs turn.  Let them blast the cornfield and the orchard, fire the home.  For all that, there will yet be found some silent few, who go their way amid the still meadows, who bend to the flower and watch the sunset; and these alone are worth a thought.

7 November 2016

Yesterday's Thought Is Worth Considering Again

Stephen Graham, The Gentle Art of Tramping  (London: Robert Holden & Co., 1927), pp. 73-74:
The artist's notebook is free for sketches, notes, impressions of moments, bon mots, poems, things overheard, maps and plans, names of friends and records of their idiosyncrasies, paradoxes, musical notations, records of folk-songs and other songs which you copy in order that you may sing for years afterwards. But it should not contain too much banal detail, such as petty accounts, addresses, druggists' prescriptions, number of season-ticket and fire-insurance policy, memos to send rent. These things are apt to clutter up your book, and when you come to Old Year's Night, and sit waiting for the chime of bells which rings in another year — and you have your day book before you, and you go over its pages, you do not want to pause on a scrawled laundry list or some Falstaffian account of wine and bread consumed at such and such an inn.

The artist's day-book is his own living gospel  — something coming after Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — and should be sacred to him, if he is not merely a flippant and cynical fellow seeing life in large part as a buffonade.

A thought recorded, one that is your own, written down the day when it occurred, is a mental snap-shot, and is at least as valuable as the photographs you may make on your journey. Yesterday's thought is worth considering again, if only as the stepping-stone of your dead self.

The thoughts of some people are constant, but of others varying and contradictory. It is like landscape. Some live their lives in the sight of a great range of mountains — they live in the presence of certain ever-abiding thoughts; others change their mental scenery from day to day, in the shallows and flats of the low country. But we all have our epochal days, our epochal thoughts. We turn to a page in our note-book and say: "On this day the thought occurred to me in the light of which I have lived ever since." You draw two candles there, with light rays, to show the thought of the year.
Ibid., pp. 215-216:
It is in the description that the keeping of a diary becomes artistic. All description is art, and in describing an event, an action or a being, you enter to some extent into the joy of art. You are more than the mere secretary of life, patiently taking down from dictation, more than life's mere scribe; you become its singer, the expressor of the glory of it. With a verbal description goes also sketching, the thumb-nail sketch, the vague impression, the pictorial pointer. There is no reason for being afraid of bad drawing in one's own personal travel diary; the main thing is that it be ours and have some relationship to our eyes and the thing seen.

I have seldom gone on a tramp, or a long vagabondage, without seeing things that made the heart ache with their beauty or pathos, and other things that set the mind a-tingle with intellectual curiosity. I do not refer to great episodes, glimpses of important shows and functions, but to little things, unexpected visions of life! Some were unforgettable in themselves and seemingly needed not tablets other than those of memory, and yet it was a great addition to inner content and happiness to describe them as they occurred in my day-book of travel.

It is good also, after describing something that has specially affected one, to add one's observations, the one line perhaps that records one's mind at the time.

For these, and for other reasons, the artists note-book, the diary, the common and uncommonplace book, the day-book of the soul are to be placed as part of the equipment of life, when faring forth, be it on pilgrimage, be it on tramp, or be it merely on the common round of daily life. Every entry is a shade of self-confession, and the whole when duly entered is a passage of self-knowledge.
A related post: The Diarist

3 November 2016

Freed From Servile Bands

Henry Wotton (1568 - 1639), "Character of a Happy Life," in The Book of Elizabethan Verse (London: Chatto & Windus, 1908), pp. 515-516:
How happy is he born and taught
That serveth not another's will;
Whose armour is his honest thought,
And simple truth his utmost skill!

Whose passions not his masters are;
Whose soul is still prepared for death,
Not tied unto the world with care
Of public fame, or private breath;

Who envies none that chance doth raise,
Or vice; who never understood
How deepest wounds are given by praise,
Nor rules of state, but rules of good;

Who hath his life from rumours freed,
Whose conscience is his strong retreat;
Whose state can neither flatterers feed,
Nor ruin make accusers great;

Who God doth late and early pray
More of His grace than gifts to lend;
And entertains the harmless day
With a well-chosen book or friend;

— This man is freed from servile bands
Of hope to rise, or fear to fall;
Lord of himself, though not of lands;
And having nothing, yet hath all.

Note to self: The University of Toronto has digitized Logan Pearsall Smith's Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907): Volume I, Volume II

31 October 2016

Indignantly, Penitentially

Thomas De Quincey, "Conversation," The Lost Art of Conversation, ed. Horatio Sheafe Krans (New York: Sturgis & Walton Co., 1910), pp. 30-31:
Too constantly, when reviewing his own efforts for improvement, a man has reason to say (indignantly, as one injured by others; penitentially, as contributing to this injury himself), "Much of my studies has been thrown away; many books which were useless, or worse than useless, I have read; many books which ought to have been read, I have left unread; such is the sad necessity under the absence of all preconceived plan; and the proper road is first ascertained when the journey is drawing to its close." 

28 October 2016

Sterilization of the Unfit

Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1938), pp. 100-101:
Somewhere in our adult life, our sentimental nature is killed, strangled, chilled or atrophied by an unkind surrounding, largely through our own fault in neglecting to keep it alive, or our failure to keep clear of such surroundings. In the process of learning "world experience," there is many a violence done to our original nature, when we learn to harden ourselves, to be artificial, and often to be cold-hearted and cruel, so that as one prides oneself upon gaining more and more worldly experience, his nerves become more and more insensitive and benumbed — especially in the world of politics and commerce. As a result, we get the great "go-getter" pushing himself forward to the top and brushing everybody aside; we get the man of iron will and strong determination, with the last embers of sentiment, which he calls foolish idealism or sentimentality, gradually dying out in his breast. It is that sort of person who is beneath my contempt. The world has too many cold-hearted people. If sterilization of the unfit should be carried out as a state policy, it should begin with sterilizing the morally insensible, the artistically stale, the heavy of heart, the ruthlessly successful, the cold-heartedly determined and all those people who have lost the sense of fun in life — rather than the insane and the victims of tuberculosis. For it seems to me that while a man with passion and sentiment may do many foolish and precipitate things, a man without passion or sentiment is a joke and a caricature. Compared with Daudet's Sappho, he is a worm, a machine, an automaton, a blot upon this earth. Many a prostitute lives a nobler life than a successful business man.

26 October 2016

The Gentle Art of Tramping

Stephen Graham, The Gentle Art of Tramping (London: Robert Holden & Co., 1927), pp. 73-74:
The virtue to be envied in tramping is that of being able to live by the way. In that indeed does the gentle art of tramping consist. If you do not live by the way, there is nothing gentle about it. It is then a stunt, a something done to make a dull person ornamental. I listen with pained reluctance to those who claim to have walked forty or fifty miles a day. But it is a pleasure to meet the man who has learned the art of going slowly, the man who disdained not to linger in the happy morning hours, to listen, to watch, to exist. Life is like a road; you hurry, and the end of it is grave. There is no grand crescendo from hour to hour, day to day, year to year; life's quality is in moments, not in distance run.

25 October 2016

A Picture Frame

Douglas McMurtrie, The Golden Book (New York: Covici · Friede, 1934), pp. 380-381:
The object of any work of art is to evoke an emotion. Does a poem of real moment run a better chance of gaining its object if it comes to us in the crowded columns of a newspaper or on a page not only clear typographically but beautiful as well? We react to art not through one sense only at a time. It is on rare occasions that we can see a work of art in any medium independent of its environment. We sense unconsciously other impressions than that of the object nominally holding our attention. This is certainly true of books, or so many people would not appreciate finely made books. And it is worthy of note that the modern books most in demand by present-day connoisseurs are those, not of the severely plain school, but those in which the creative fancy of the designer has made his contribution to the book as a work of art, helping — in only a small degree perhaps — to present it in the manner best calculated to gain the appreciation of the individual of good taste. As a picture frame executed by a master of the framing art can help present a great oil painting in a more favorable way to those who view it than to show the canvas stretched bare over its frame, so can the artist in bookmaking present to the reader an opus in the literary field in a way favorable to its esthetic appreciation.
Related posts:

21 October 2016

The Ugliest of All Civilizations

William Inge, The Idea of Progress (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1920), pp. 13-14:
It is also an unproved assumption that the domination of the planet by our own species is a desirable thing, which must give satisfaction to its Creator. We have devastated the loveliness of the world; we have exterminated several species more beautiful and less vicious than ourselves; we have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form. If it is progress to turn the fields and woods of Essex into East and West Ham, we may be thankful that progress is a sporadic and transient phenomenon in history. It is a pity that our biologists, instead of singing paeans to Progress and thereby stultifying their own speculations, have not preached us sermons on the sin of racial self-idolatry, a topic which really does arise out of their studies. 'L'anthropolatrie, voilà l'ennemi ' is the real ethical motto of biological science, and a valuable contribution to morals.
Ibid., pp. 30-31:
There is much to support the belief that there is a struggle for existence among ideas, and that those tend to prevail which correspond with the changing needs of humanity. It does not necessarily follow that the ideas which prevail are better morally, or even truer to the laws of Nature, than those which fail. Life is so chaotic, and development so sporadic and one-sided, that a brief and brilliant success may carry with it the seeds of its own early ruin. The great triumphs of humanity have not come all at once. Architecture reached its climax in an age otherwise barbarous; Roman Law was perfected in a dismal age of decline; and the nineteenth century, with its marvels of applied science, has produced the ugliest of all civilizations. 

20 October 2016

Beats Getting Your Hands Dirty

Edward Carpenter, My Days and Dreams; Being Autobiographical Notes (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1921), pp. 284-285:
Talking about the gulf fixed between the Old and the New, and especially between the mentality of the downright manual worker and that of the artist — at one time we had an artist friend staying with us who was rather down on his luck and making only a poor living. He was working on a landscape picture, and every morning used to sit in one of my fields and close to the wall which divided it from the high-road. An old road-mender (the same who had told me years before how he remembered the Commons "going in" i.e. being enclosed) — a good old man but bowed with age and labour — used to come that way every morning to his work; and every morning, as sure as Fate, made some patronizing remark to the painter, which at last enraged the latter beyond endurance. "That's a nice pastime for you, young man." And then the next morning, "I see you're amusin' yoursen again, young man"; and so on. ("Pastime, indeed! amusing myself! I wish the old fool had to do it instead of me. But I'll be even with him yet!") So the next morning the artist inveigled the old man into conversation, and after submitting meekly to more patronage, said:
"Well you see I have to do this for my living."

"Do it for your livin', do ye?"


"Do you sell them paintin's, then?"

"Of course I do."

Old Man (a little taken aback) : "And how much might you get for a thing like that?"

Artist (stretching a point) : "Well I might get ten pounds."

Old Man (astonished) : "Ten pun! well I never!"

Artist (following up) : "Or I might get more of course."

Old Man (thoughtfully and with deep respect) : "Ten pun! Well, I never and sittin' down to it too!"

16 October 2016

Not Yet Rich Enough

Agnes Repplier, Essays in Idleness (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1893), pp. 101-103:
It can hardly be denied that the lack of scholarship — of classical scholarship especially — at our universities is due primarily to the labor-worship which is the prevalent superstition of our day, and which, like all superstitions, has gradually degraded its god into an idol, and lost sight of the higher powers and attributes beyond. The student who is pleased to think a knowledge of German "more useful" than a knowledge of Greek; the parent who deliberately declares that his boys have "no time to waste" over Homer; the man who closes the doors of his mind to everything that does not bear directly on mathematics, or chemistry, or engineering, or whatever he calls "work;" all these plead in excuse the exigencies of life, the absolute and imperative necessity of labor.

It would appear, then, that we have no fortunati, that we are not yet rich enough to afford the greatest of all luxuries — leisure to cultivate and enjoy "the best that has been known and thought in the world." This is a pity, because there seems to be money in plenty for so many less valuable things. The yearly taxes of the United States sound to innocent ears like the fabled wealth of the Orient; the yearly expenditures of the people are on no rigid scale; yet we are too poor to harbor the priceless literature of the past because it is not a paying investment, because it will not put bread in our mouths nor clothes on our shivering nakedness. "Poverty is a most odious calling," sighed Burton many years ago, and we have good cause to echo his lament. Until we are able to believe, with that enthusiastic Greek scholar, Mr. Butcher, that "intellectual training is an end in itself, and not a mere preparation for a trade or a profession;" until we begin to understand that there is a leisure which does not mean an easy sauntering through life, but a special form of activity, employing all our faculties, and training us to the adequate reception of whatever is most valuable in literature and art; until we learn to estimate the fruits of self-culture at their proper worth, we are still far from reaping the harvest of three centuries of toil and struggle; we are still as remote as ever from the serenity of intellectual accomplishment.

13 October 2016

Let the Trees Remind Us

Iain Crichton Smith, "As Time Draws Near ," New Collected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 2011):
As time draws near
the end of our days
and the plates fall

away from our knees,
let us not be afraid
of the unsponsored dark.

Heavy grave sin
is weighing your head.
There are shining in darkness

panoramas of terror.
Each nightly picture
is God in his ire.

But for us in autumn
let the trees remind us
of our reasonable sequence,

that like birds we travel
from darkness to darkness
briefly through the hall,

where there remains
the clinking of glasses,
the redness of wine,

though we lie starkly
in our effigies
which will not rise,

pen or sword in hand.
It is an achieved grand
tableau that we leave,

say, turning at the door,
putting on a glove,
and entering the sunset’s

enormous concert.
Surely that is better
than on stumbling feet

in the warmth of wetness
squalidly survive.
Live O live,

all you young ones
who take our places
in this hypothesis

of sun and cloud.
May it be with pride
we applaud your litheness

in this panorama,
this drama of our days.
O yes with pride

that we step outwards
into the darkness
closing our eyes

on the last flickering page.

It is time to let the birds migrate without anguish
through the skies of the immediate
towards a fated destination.

It is time to turn the blow lamp on dogma
and inhabit this blue. 

I assume that "like birds we travel" refers to the sparrow in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People. See First Known When Lost for an interesting post on the subject.

12 October 2016

The Poorest Way to Face Life

Theodore Roosevelt, "Citizenship in a Republic," History as Literature and Other Essays (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913), pp. 142-4:
Let the man of learning, the man of lettered leisure, beware of that queer and cheap temptation to pose to himself and to others as the cynic, as the man who has outgrown emotions and beliefs, the man to whom good and evil are as one. The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twisted pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt.

There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering disbelief toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes second to achievement. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticise work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life's realities — all these are marks, not, as the possessor would fain think, of superiority, but of weakness. They mark the men unfit to bear their part manfully in the stern strife of living, who seek, in the affectation of contempt for the achievements of others, to hide from others and from themselves their own weakness. The rôle is easy; there is none easier, save only the rôle of the man who sneers alike at both criticism and performance.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into a fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world.

11 October 2016

6 October 2016

A New Sahara

Stephen Graham, "The Message From the Hermit," A Tramp's Sketches (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1912), pp. 363-364:
The great fact of the human world to-day is the tremendous commercial machine which is grinding out at a marvellous acceleration the smaller and meaner sort of man, the middle class, the average man, "the damned, compact, liberal majority," to use the words of Ibsen, and the world daily becomes "more Chinese." The rocks are fraying one another down to desert sand, and mankind becomes a new Sahara.

3 October 2016

O Lord, Hear My Prayer

Dick Humelbergius Secundus,  "Evening Prayer of a Half Starved Hungry Poet," Apician Morsels; or, Tales of the Table, Kitchen, and Larder (London: Whittaker, Treacher and Co., 1829), pp. 113-114:
Grant me such a command of ideas and words, beef-steaks, mutton-chops and caper sauce, that I may have no occasion to hunt, day and night, with a hungry belly, for hemistiches and lack of rhymes, without, often, being able to find good ones, which is the very reason that I am often more unfortunate than if I were actually working in the mines, quarries, and plantations. I beg of ye to inspire me from time to time with some new subjects, that I may not be obliged to fag in the paths previously trodden and rendered threadbare by others; and that I may cease to repeat, as I have often done, and continue to do, even to disgust, that which has been said, whistled, and sung, a thousand times before. Give me strength patiently to support the calamities of poetic life; the malignity, but more frequently the ignorance and bombast of bad critics, as well as the severity and truth of just ones — the fall and other accidents which people of my precarious calling are heir to. Grant also that I may neither become inflated with pride, nor crack my skin with joy, on the least triumph I may obtain. Grant also that the intestine war, so long carried on, under the superintendence of Æolus, between my little guts and large ones, may cease; and that the wrinkles and collapsed sides of my stomach may be shaken out and distended with some of the good things of this life, of which it has long and patiently been deprived.

1 October 2016

A Danger to the Community

Douglas Goldring, Reputations (London: Chapman & Hall, 1920), p. 129:
A cordon sanitaire should be drawn round the admirers of Gissing's heroes. Such people are a danger to the community. To be a Gissing type is to be a plague-carrier; to admire one is, perhaps, even worse.
Ibid., p. 131:
To me this book [The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft] has a reek of corruption and decay; it smells fouler than a rotting corpse. Faugh! Better the twilight of the drunkard and the debauchee than this sentimental death-in-life. The spectacle conjured up of Henry Ryecroft in his library makes me want to throw open every door and window in the house. Perhaps the reason is that though I love the contents of good books, I am not a "bibliophile," and I detest libraries. To my mind a book which is a real book should send the reader back to life refreshed and stimulated, instead of providing him with a dusty funk-hole in which he can shelter from that mental struggle which ought to be perpetual between the cradle and the grave.
This made me smile. Gissing's Ryecroft is one of my favourite books.

27 September 2016

Best of Any Song

Wendell Berry, "Sabbath Poem I," A Timbered Choir  (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1998):
Best of any song
is bird song
in the quiet, but first
you must have the quiet.
Hat tip: Timberdrifter

20 September 2016

Like Some Dishonourable Insect

Frederick William Faber, Kindness (London: R. & T. Washbourne, 1901), p. 104:
What can be more unkind than to communicate our low spirits to others, to go about the world like demons, poisoning the fountains of joy? Have I more light because I have managed to involve those I love in the same gloom as myself? Is it not pleasant to see the sun shining on the mountains, even though we have none of it down in our valley? Oh the littleness and the meanness of that sickly appetite for sympathy which will not let us keep our tiny Lilliputian sorrows to ourselves! Why must we go sneaking about, like some dishonourable insect, and feed our darkness on other people's light?
A related post:

17 September 2016

The Irresistible Temptation to Say Clever Things

Frederick William Faber, Kindness (London: R. & T. Washbourne, 1901), p. 77:
In some respects a clever man is more likely to be kind than a man who is not clever, because his mind is wider, and takes in a broader range, and is more capable of looking at things from different points of view. But there are other respects in which it is harder for a clever man to be kind, especially in his words. He has a temptation, and it is one of those temptations which appear sometimes to border on the irresistible, to say clever things; and, somehow, clever things are hardly ever kind things. There is a drop either of acid or of bitter in them, and it seems as if that drop was exactly what genius had insinuated. I believe, if we were to make an honest resolution never to say a clever thing, we should advance much more rapidly on the road to heaven.

12 September 2016

Law and Medicine

Plato, The Republic, Book III, tr. H. Spens (London: J. M. Dent, 1919), pp. 92-93:
But can you pitch upon any greater mark of an ill and base education in a city than that there should be need of physicians and supreme magistrates, and that not only for the contemptible and low handicrafts, but for those who boast of having been educated in a liberal manner? Or doth it not appear to be base, and a great sign of want of education, to be obliged to observe justice pronounced on us by others, as our masters and judges, and to have no sense of it in ourselves?

Of all things, this, reply'd he, is the most base.

And do you not, said I, deem this to be more base still, when one not only spends a great part of life in courts of justice, as defendant and plaintiff, but from his ignorance of the beautiful imagines that he becomes renowned for this very thing, as being dextrous in doing injustice, and able to turn himself through all sorts of windings, and using every sort of subterfuge, thinks to get off, so as to evade justice, and all this for the sake of small and contemptible things, being ignorant how much better and more handsome it were so to regulate his life as not to stand in need of a sleepy judge?

This, reply'd he, is still more base than the other.

And to stand in need of the medicinal art, said I, not on account of wounds, or some epidemical distempers incident, but through sloth and such a diet as we mentioned, filled with rheums and wind, like lakes, obliging the skilful sons of Esculapius to invent new names to diseases, such as dropsies and catarrhs — do not you think this abominable?

8 September 2016

The Deepest and Most Accurate

Samuel Egerton Brydges, "The Heart," Gnomica (Geneva: W. Fick, 1824), pp. 36-37:
It may be safely observed, that no writer whose thoughts and sentiments the experience of mankind has found to be incorrect, — much less which the experience of mankind has disproved — has retained his seat in the temple of Fame. All the moral matter, which forms the basis of the works of Homer, Virgil, Cicero, etc. has been proved to be the deepest and most accurate, at which mere human wisdom could arrive.

These is a factitious or momentary enthusiasm, under which those who labour, may feel gratified by exaggerated representations consonant to their own prevailing temperament: but a more general and enlarged taste dissipates or rejects these partial colourings. Calm musing and sedate consideration break the clouds of error, and strip delusive coruscations of their brilliance. That, which vanishes before prolonged reflection, is of little value.

1 September 2016

The Object of Reading

Arnold Bennett, Things That Have Interested Me (New York: George H. Doran, 1921), pp. 55-65:
Study is not an end, but a means. I should blush to write down such a platitude, did I not know by experience that the majority of readers constantly ignore it. The man who pores over a manual of carpentry and does naught else is a fool. But every book is a manual of carpentry, and every man who pores over any book whatever and does naught else with it is deserving of an abusive epithet. What is the object of reading unless something definite comes of it? You would be better advised to play billiards. Where is the sense of reading history if you do not obtain from it a clearer insight into actual politics and render yourself less liable to be duped by the rhetoric of party propaganda? Where is the sense of reading philosophy if your own attitude towards the phenomena of the universe does not become more philosophical? Where is the sense of reading morals unless your own are improved? Where is the sense of reading biography unless it is going to affect what people will say about you after your funeral? Where is the sense of reading poetry or fiction unless you see more beauty, more passion, more scope for your sympathy, than you saw before?
Second volume here.

30 August 2016

Not a Problem to Be Solved

L. P. Jacks, The Alchemy of Thought (London: Williams and Norgate,) p. 54:
Like a picture by a great artist, like a flower by the wayside, our life is given, our experience is found. The world stands in its own right; it waits for no passport from the intelligence. As, on the one hand, we have not earned it by a price paid down, neither, on the other, do we receive it on condition of our own ability to understand or explain it. It is a free gift, given like the picture, neither to be sold for money nor harnessed to a purpose of whatsoever kind, but to be received on its own terms. To treat life as a conundrum, to regard the world as a problem, to withhold our full acceptance of things till their why and wherefore has been made clear, to value any moment of experience only so far forth as we can make it pay in the markets of thought, or submit to the shackles of descriptive speech — this is to reject the donum Dei, and therewithal to deprive ourselves of everything that makes it good to live. Waiting till we can "make something" of the world, the life of the world passes us by; waiting till we can explain experience, we experience nothing; the music sounds and we, preoccupied with desire to say what it is, as though its value hung on the interpretation it will receive from us, miss the music no less completely than if we heard it not at all.
A related post:

26 August 2016

The Great Man Theory

Frederic Harrison, The Meaning of History (New York: Macmillan, 1900) pp. 22-23:
There is one mode in which history may be most easily, perhaps most usefully, approached. Let him who desires to find profit in it, begin by knowing something of the lives of great men. Not of those most talked about, not of names chosen at hazard; but of the real great ones who can be shown to have left their mark upon distant ages. Know their lives, not merely as interesting studies of character, or as persons seen in a drama, but as they represent and influence their age. Not for themselves only must we know them, but as the expression and types of all that is noblest around them. Let us know those whom all men cannot fail to recognise as great —the Caesars, the Charlemagnes, the Alfreds, the Cromwells, great in themselves, but greater as the centre of the efforts of thousands.

We have done much towards understanding the past when we have learned to value and to honour such men. It is almost better to know nothing of history than to know with the narrow coldness of a pedant a record which ought to fill us with emotion and reverence. Our closest friends, our earliest teachers, our parents themselves, are not more truly our benefactors than they. To them we owe what we prize most — country, freedom, peace, knowledge, art, thought, and higher sense of right and wrong. What a tale of patience, courage, sacrifice, and martyrdom is the history of human progress! It affects us as if we were reading in the diary of a parent the record of his struggles for his children. For us they toiled, endured, bled, and died; that we by their labour might have rest, by their thoughts might know, by their death might live happily. For whom did these men work, if not for us?

23 August 2016

A Country Walk

Arnold Haultain, Of Walks and Walking Tours (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1914), p. 214:
There comes a time when nothing seems worth while; when gaiety palls, and even sorrow dulls instead of stirs; when nothing seems of any use, and one feels inclined to give up, to give up. — To such I would say, pull on thick boots, clutch a stout stick, and go for a country walk — rain or shine. — It sounds a preposterous remedy, but try it. Nature never gives up. Not a pygmy weed, trodden under foot of man, and covered up and overwhelmed with rival growths, but battles for its life with vim. Nor does it ask for what it battles. Neither does it question why more favoured plants are so carefully nurtured, and it, poor thing, is dragged up by the roots. — Take a country walk, and look at the weeds if at nothing else.
Related Posts:

19 August 2016

Don't Write a Novel

Paul Fussell, Bad; The Dumbing of America (New York: Touchstone Books, 1991) p. 55:
If you want to be remembered as a clever person and even as a benefactor of humanity, don't write a novel, or even talk about it: instead, compile tables of compound interest, assemble weather data running back seventy-five years, or develop in tabular form improved actuarial information. All more useful than anything "creative" most people could come up with, and less likely to subject the author to neglect, if not ridicule and contempt. In addition, it will be found that most people who seek attention and regard by announcing that they're writing a novel are actually so devoid of narrative talent that they can't hold the attention of a dinner table for thirty seconds, even with a dirty joke.

16 August 2016

Practical Philosophers Among the Mice

James Thomson (1834-1882), "On the Worth of Metaphysical Systems," Essays and Phantasies (London: Reeves and Turner, 1881), p. 301:
Let us imagine a small colony of mice in a great cathedral, getting a poor livelihood out of Communion crumbs and taper-droppings. Could any of them by much deep speculation comprehend the origin, the plan, the purpose of the cathedral, the meaning of the altar, the significance of the ritual, the clashing of the bells, the ringing of the chants, the thunderous trepidations of the organ? Yet a mouse explaining the final causes of all these things would be incomparably less absurd than is a divine or sage expounding the mysteries of Nature or God. The discreeter mice would limit themselves to noticing and remembering that certain periods and ceremonies were marked by more numerous tapers burning, whence came more grease on the floor, and by noting the spots where grease did more abound. These would be the practical philosophers among the mice, positivists or utilitarians; and if while grease was to be had, other mice lost their time in demonstrating that the final cause of a great Church festival was to increase the harvest of taper-droppings for their species, these shrewder mice would not stay to dispute the point with them, but would be off to their jolly feast of Candlemas.

10 August 2016

A Higher Being

Richard Whately, Selections From the Writings of Dr. Whately  (London: Richard Bentley, 1856), p. 65:
He who knows two languages is a higher being than he who knows but one; and the more dissimilar the better.
A related post: An Exquisite Mistress 

9 August 2016

This Rare Species of Human Beings

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Joyful Wisdom (§ 42), in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, tr. Thomas Common (New York: Macmillan, 1911), pp. 78-79:
Work and Ennui. — In respect to seeking work for the sake of the pay, almost all men are alike at present in civilised countries; to all of them work is a means, and not itself the end; on which account they are not very select in the choice of the work, provided it yields an abundant profit. But still there are rarer men who would rather perish than work without delight in their labour: the fastidious people, difficult to satisfy, whose object is not served by an abundant profit, unless the work itself be the reward of all rewards. Artists and contemplative men of all kinds belong to this rare species of human beings; and also the idlers who spend their life in hunting and travelling, or in love-affairs and adventures. They all seek toil and trouble in so far as these are associated with pleasure, and they want the severest and hardest labour, if it be necessary. In other respects, however, they have a resolute indolence, even should impoverishment, dishonour, and danger to health and life be associated therewith. They are not so much afraid of ennui as of labour without pleasure; indeed they require much ennui, if their work is to succeed with them. For the thinker and for all inventive spirits ennui is the unpleasant "calm" of the soul which precedes the happy voyage and the dancing breezes; he must endure it, he must await the effect it has on him: — it is precisely this which lesser natures cannot at all experience!
Die fröhliche Wissenschaft  is in Vol. 12 of the Musarion edition of Nietzsche's works but it is one of the volumes I have yet to find online. So for the original, see Vol. 5 of Alfred Kröner's edition (Stuttgart, 1921), pp. 78-79.

Related posts:

4 August 2016

Seek Not Your Fortune in the Dark, Dreary Mine

Gustave Abel, Le labeur de la prose (Paris: P.-V. Stock, 1902), pp. 42-43:
Ce qui est vraiment indispensable [when writing], c'est d'avoir à sa disposition un arsenal de mots assez fourni pour que l'on puisse y trouver, à point nommé, l'expression la plus appropriée à sa pensée et traduire les nuances les plus délicates du sentiment. L'écrivain qui sait tirer le meilleur parti de sa langue est celui qui en a dévoilé tous les secrets. Elle ressemble à une mine qui ne consent à livrer ses richesses qu'au prix des plus grands efforts. Mais dès qu'on a trouvé le filon et extrait le métal précieux, dès que les trésors s'offrent à profusion, l'Art sort triomphant des luttes qu'il a fallu soutenir. Le lecteur se doute rarement des fatigues intellectuelles qui sont cachées dans chaque ligne, dans chaque mot des œuvres qu'il admire le plus. Il n'a pas assisté au labeur déployé, à la lente préparation, à la ciselure patiente! Il ignore les veilles et les insomnies que ces pages ont parfois coûtées à leur auteur. Mais qu'importent les déboires et les souffrances qu'entraîne cette culture intensive de l'esprit si l'on sent en soi les forces voulues pour créer une belle floraison littéraire?

2 August 2016

The Enemies of Books

Edmond Werdet, Histoire du livre en France (Paris: E. Dentu, 1851), translated and quoted by William Blades in The Enemies of Books (London: Trübner & Co., 1880), pp. 43-44:
The Poet Boccacio, when travelling in Apulia, was anxious to visit the celebrated Convent of Mount Cassin, especially to see its library of which he had heard much. He accosted, with great courtesy, one of the Monks whose countenance attracted him, and begged him to have the kindness to show him the library.

'See for yourself,' said the Monk, brusquely, pointing at the same time to an old stone staircase, broken with age. Boccace hastily mounted in great joy at the prospect of a grand bibliographical treat. Soon he reached the room which was without key or even door as a protection to its treasures. What was his astonishment to see that the grass growing in the window sills actually darkened the room, and that all the books and seats were an inch thick in dust. In utter astonishment he lifted one book after another. All were manuscripts of extreme antiquity, but all were dreadfully dilapidated. Many had lost whole sections which had been violently extracted, and in many all the blank margins of the vellum had been cut away. In fact, the mutilation was thorough.

Grieved at seeing the work and the wisdom of so many illustrious men fallen into the hands of custodians so unworthy, Boccace descended with tears in his eyes. In the cloisters he met another Monk, and enquired of him how the MSS. had become so mutilated. 'Oh!' he replied, 'we are obliged, you know, to earn a few sous for our needs, so we cut away the blank margins of the Manuscripts for writing upon, and make of them small books of devotion which we sell to women and children.'

26 July 2016

The Worm Hole

Joseph Kaspar Sattler (1867-1931), "Der Wurmstich," Ein moderner Totentanz  (Berlin: J.A. Stargardt, 1912), p. 9:

21 July 2016

Translations Must Be Attempted

Arthur Jerome Eddy, Delight, the Soul of Art (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1902), pp. 35-36:
Translations must be attempted; they have their uses, but their value must not be over-estimated. In scientific, historical, and philosophical works their value is in proportion to the faithfulness with which they translate the exact language and intention of the original; and there are literal translations of poems, the sole aim of which is to render as exactly and literally as possible the words and meanings of the originals, but such translations are not in themselves works of art. The translator may delight in what he is so ploddingly and accurately and conscientiously accomplishing, but he delights not in either the thought or the manner of expressing the thought. There are, however, translations which are works of art, translations in which the translator delighted in both the thought and its expression, in which his own individuality is given full play. Such a translation is Fitzgerald's rendering of the "Rubaiyat" of Omar Khayyam. That Khayyam lived at Nishapur in the beginning of the twelfth century is known; that he was a tent-maker and an astronomer is also known; but what he really believed no man knows, and whether he belonged to this sect or that sect no man can tell; according to some, his poems contain mystic allusions to the Deity; according to others, he meant simply what he said and sang, the Epicurean philosophy, eat, drink, for to-morrow ye die. But what the Persian tent-maker really thought was of less importance to Fitzgerald than his own reflections suggested by the original. The original appealed to him; he accepted the old tent-maker at his word, and took delight in rendering in his own manner the original as he understood it; and yet with his translation he took infinite pains. He himself said, "I suppose very few people have ever taken such pains in translation as I have, though certainly not to be literal."

Edmund Dulac
Illustration for quatrain XII of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
(New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1909)

15 July 2016

He Laughed to See Men Scramble for Dirty Silver

Jeremy Taylor, "The Epicure's Feast," Selections From the Works of Jeremy Taylor (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1865), pp. 93-95:
Maximus Tyrius considers concerning the felicity of Diogenes, a poor Sinopean, having not so much nobility as to be born in the better parts of Greece: but he saw that he was compelled by no tyrant to speak or do ignobly; he had no fields to till, and therefore took no care to buy cattle, and to hire servants; he was not distracted when a rent-day came, and feared not when the wise Greeks played the fool and fought who should be lord of that field that lay between Thebes and Athens; he laughed to see men scramble for dirty silver, and spend ten thousand Attic talents for the getting the revenues of two hundred philippics; he went with his staff and bag into the camp of the Phocenses, and the soldiers reverenced his person and despised his poverty, and it was truce with him whosoever had wars; and the diadem of kings and the purple of the emperors, the mitre of high priests and the divining-staff of soothsayers, were things of envy and ambition, the purchase of danger, and the rewards of a mighty passion; and men entered into them by trouble and extreme difficulty, and dwelt under them as a man under a falling roof, or as Damocles under the tyrant's sword, sleeping like a condemned man; and let there be what pleasure men can dream of in such broken slumbers, yet the fear of waking from this illusion, and parting from this fantastic pleasure, is a pain and torment which the imaginary felicity cannot pay for.

All our trouble is from within us; and if a dish of lettuce and a clear fountain can cool all my heats, so that I shall have neither thirst nor pride, lust nor revenge, envy nor ambition, I am lodged in the bosom of felicity; and, indeed, no men sleep so soundly as they that lay their head upon nature's lap. For a single dish, and a clean chalice lifted from the springs, can cure my hunger and thirst; but the meat of Ahasuerus's feast cannot satisfy my ambition and my pride. He, therefore, that hath the fewest desires and the most quiet passions, whose wants are soon provided for, and whose possessions cannot be disturbed with violent fears, he that dwells next door to satisfaction, and can carry his needs and lay them down where he pleases, — this man is the happy man; and this is not to be done in great designs and swelling fortunes.

12 July 2016

Napoleon's Reading Habits

Louis-Étienne Saint-Denis, Napoleon: From the Tuileries to St. Helena, tr. Frank Hunter Potter (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1922), pp. 188-189:
The Emperor was infinitely fond of reading. The Greek and Roman historians were often in his hands, especially Plutarch. He could appreciate this excellent author more than anyone else. Therefore The Lives of Illustrious Men always appeared on the shelves of his campaign libraries. He often read Rollin. The history of the middle ages, modern history, and particular histories occupied him only casually. The only religious book which he had was the Bible. He liked to read over in it the chapters which he had heard read in the ruins of the ancient cities of Syria. They painted for him the customs of those countries and the patriarchal life of the desert. It was, he said, a faithful picture of what he had seen with his own eyes. Every time that he read Homer it was with a new admiration. No one, in his view, had known what was truly beautiful and great better than this author; consequently he often took him up again and read him from the first page to the last.
Ibid., p. 190:
If the Emperor had in his hands a book which interested him he would never lay it down till he knew it thoroughly. He read with his thumb, as the Abbé de Pradt said, yet nothing of its contents escaped him, and he knew it so well that long afterward he could make a detailed analysis of it, and even cite textually, so to speak, the passages which had struck him the most. If he heard anything spoken of with which he was not familiar, or of which he knew nothing, he would have all the books in his library in which it might possibly be treated of brought to him at once. He was not satisfied with a superficial knowledge; he went into the matter as deeply as possible. This was the way in which he proceeded to enlighten himself and to furnish his mind.
I've done a cursory search on Gallica, but haven't been able to find the original Souvenirs.

7 July 2016

Anonymous and Impersonal Serfdom

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Wanderer and His Shadow, in Human, All Too Human; Part II, tr. Paul V. Cohn (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1924), p. 310:
§220 REACTION AGAINST THE CIVILISATION OF MACHINERY. The machine, itself a product of the highest mental powers, sets in motion hardly any but the lower, unthinking forces of the men who serve it. True, it unfetters a vast quantity of force which would otherwise lie dormant. But it does not communicate the impulse to climb higher, to improve, to become artistic. It creates activity and monotony, but this in the long run produces a counter-effect, a despairing ennui of the soul, which through machinery has learnt to hanker after the variety of leisure. 
Ibid., p. 342:
§288 HOW FAR MACHINERY HUMILIATES. Machinery is impersonal; it robs the piece of work of its pride, of the individual merits and defects that cling to all work that is not machine-made in other words, of its bit of humanity. Formerly, all buying from handicraftsmen meant a mark of distinction for their personalities, with whose productions people surrounded themselves. Furniture and dress accordingly became the symbols of mutual valuation and personal connection. Nowadays, on the other hand, we seem to live in the midst of anonymous and impersonal serfdom. We must not buy the facilitation of labour too dear. 
For the original see Vol. 9 of the Musarion edition, pages 302 and 333.

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5 July 2016

The Somme Centenary

A. E. Coppard, "The Glorious Survivors," Hips & Haws (Waltham St Lawrence: Golden Cockerel Press, 1922), p. 29:
We like you, Glorious Dead:
You are so amiable, amenable.
For two moments a year
We share your creditable silence,
It is so profitable and so profound,
You help us to think thoughts peaceful and holy,
And we are dumb,
Ecstatically insane.

But you, Insuperable Residuum,
What is to be done with you
Who died a threefold death and yet survive?
You are anachronisms,
Unpeaceable things like Russians and Irishmen.
Do not speak of ideals, do not shout of triumph,
(Before whose smoking gun
Bloodless as a reed the dead one lies):
No one has ever seen a vision without fear,
And we who are whole need not to see visions,
We need only peace and humility.
Once having lived the life of the dead
Why can't you hawk your collar studs in silence
And vend your matches with a meeker air?
We can praise, O devoutly we can praise
The glorious death of the dead,
But the death of the living why should we magnify?
If we cannot think our peaceful and holy thoughts
We must vomit;
And remember,
We have truncheons for you, guns for you,
Ah, we can give you bayonets and beans!

30 June 2016

We Are What We Read

Louise Collier Wilcox, The Human Way (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1909), p. 26:
We are what we read almost as much as we are what we think. When we express an opinion of a book we label ourselves. The romantic will hunt through books for romance, the historian for statistics and facts, the statesman for policy and methods, the poet for beauty and ideals, and the philosopher for everything. We take from the author mainly the gift of our sleeping selves — some portion of us so quiescent we hardly recognise it till some one of the great band of embodiers brings it up to the rim of consciousness. We draw out a clearer, better-defined outline of our blurred and dim perceptions. After all, even in books, the statement holds true that we receive but what we give. Or at best, we receive what we are fitted to extract. 

24 June 2016


Arthur Hugh Sidgwick, Walking Essays (London: Edward Arnold, 1912), pp. 177-178:
There is no human relation which walking cannot promote: with whomsoever you would be friends, you must first do the things in which walking so conspicuously assists — that is, you must clear the brain of feathers and fireworks, settle the mind well back on itself, and link the present firmly on to the past. For some, maybe, the aged and infirm, the walking days are over; and to these you can only talk. But you will find, if you are fortunate, that you are not debarred from their friendship. It is not only that they may speak to you of the walks of their youth, enlarging the distances and diminishing the times, for the abasement of the present generation, while you sit admiring the kindly law of nature by which memory passes so easily into imagination. Even if they have not been walkers, there is still a kinship between you; for the sixtieth year is like the eighteenth mile — the point at which you settle into your stride for the last stage, and the essence of the preceding miles begins to distil itself in your brain, emerging clear and translucent from the turbid mass of experience. Remember the metaphor which Socrates used to Cephalus. 'I love,' he said, 'talking to the very old; for, it seems to me, we ought to ask them, as men far advanced on a track which we too may have to walk, what it is like, rough and difficult or easy and smooth.' 

21 June 2016

L'honnête homme

Émile Amiel in the preface to his biography of Erasmus (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1889), pp. vi-vii (my translation):
In our utilitarian age people have said and repeated in every way that higher education, as it has been constituted since the sixteenth century, no longer meets the needs of democracy, which lives, they say, upon industry, trade, and agriculture. This is only true up to a point; it has not been demonstrated that the study of letters, properly understood, is inappropriate for these three sources of wealth. Nor has it been shown that a scholar, blessed with a sharp mind, is unsuited to business. However, these are two ways of misunderstanding the question. Besides the fact that man does not live by bread alone, our opponents forget the paramount thing, namely that college does not and should not claim to prepare students to take up lucrative careers immediately. That is the job of technical schools. College only seeks to accomplish one thing, namely the regular and concurrent development of all the faculties. For the mind as for the body it should be a plain gymnasium in the Greek sense of the word, where the wrestler prepares himself for the struggle of life. In the simplest terms, it is a training ground where the mind learns to learn. It need not be concerned about the immediate application of knowledge, which is the responsibility of graduate or professional schools. The humanities are intended to form what in the seventeenth century was known as l'honnête homme, which is to say a gentleman in the literary and moral sense, one able to take his place in a society he is called to serve according to his own lights. Let us ask no more of them.
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18 June 2016

Hallmark Holidays

Roland Jaccard, La tentation nihiliste (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1989), my translation:
Wanting to have children is wanting to take revenge for one's past. For a woman it is to make a gift of her hate to her own mother and for a man it is to compete with his father or with God in the idiotic fantasy of posterity. And for each couple it is a remedy for despair. When life has failed to live up to our expectations, when we have given up on our own self-creation, when we have the foreboding thought that everything is screwed, instead of heading off to the morgue we gather our family and those who are close to us in a place that is even more sinister because it is more vulgar: motherhood.

Vouloir des enfants, c'est vouloir se venger de son passé. C'est pour la femme faire don à sa propre mère de sa haine et pour l'homme rivaliser avec son père ou avec Dieu dans le fantasme imbécile d'une postérité. Et c'est pour chaque couple un remède au désespoir. Quand la vie a trompé nos attentes, quand on a renoncé à se créer soi-même, quand on pressent que tout est foutu, alors plutôt que de se rendre à la morgue, on convie sa famille et ses proches dans un lieu plus sinistre encore, parce que plus kitsch : la maternité. 

Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son (c. 1821)

15 June 2016

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Jeremy Taylor, The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying (London: Bickers and Son, 1873), p. 45:
But if we could from one of the battlements of Heaven espy how many men and women at this time lie fainting and dying for want of bread, how many young men are hewn down by the sword of War, how many poor Orphans are now weeping over the graves of their father, by whose life they were enabled to eat; if we could but hear how many Mariners and Passengers are at this present in a storm, and shriek out because their keel dashes against a Rock or bulges under them, how many people there are that weep with want, and are mad with oppression, or are desperate by too quick a sense of a constant infelicity; in all reason we should be glad to be out of the noise and participation of so many evils. This is a place of sorrows and tears, of great evils and a constant calamity: let us remove from hence, at least in affections and preparation of mind.
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13 June 2016

An Occasional Bitterness of the Spirit

Herbert Read, "The Artist's Dilemma," The Contrary Experience  (London: Secker & Warburg, 1973), pp. 269-270:
Each artist must find an individual solution to the dilemma which is implicit in his acceptance of society. To a few who are favoured by tradition and wealth the solution may come easily; they have probably nothing to fear but the uneasy conscience of the rentier and the envy of their colleagues. But for most artists some form of sacrifice or renunciation is involved: they must surrender their isolation; they must  subordinate their artistic ideals to the baser demands of entertainment. Or they may prefer to keep their ideals and curtail their ambitions. But this alternative is apt to bring with it an occasional bitterness of the spirit. One willingly throws ballast overboard so long as it consists of replaceable things; but when we come to the children of our imagination, then the hand is reluctant.

7 June 2016

The Sea

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1923):
Why do we love the sea? It is because it has some potent power to make us think things we like to think.
Robert Henri, Girl Seated by the Sea (1893)

For more on this subject, visit First Known When Lost.

6 June 2016

No Mere Elegant Trifling

John Morley, "On the Study of Literature," Studies in Literature  (London: Macmillan, 1901), pp. 218-219:
Literature consists of all the books — and they are not so many — where moral truth and human passion are touched with a certain largeness, sanity, and attraction of form. My notion of the literary student is one who through books explores the strange voyages of man's moral reason, the impulses of the human heart, the chances and changes that have overtaken human ideals of virtue and happiness, of conduct and manners, and the shifting fortunes of great conceptions of truth and virtue. Poets, dramatists, humorists, satirists, masters of fiction, the great preachers, the character-writers, the maxim-writers, the great political orators — they are all literature in so far as they teach us to know what makes literature, rightly sifted and selected and rightly studied, not the mere elegant trifling that it is so often and so erroneously supposed to be, but a proper instrument for a systematic training of the imagination and sympathies, and of a genial and varied moral sensibility.