29 January 2016

Iggy Pop, Classicist

Iggy Pop outlines the benefits of reading Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, from "Caesar Lives," Classics Ireland  (Vol 2), 1995:
  1. I feel a great comfort and relief knowing that there were others who lived and died and thought and fought so long ago; I feel less tyrannized by the present day.
  2. I learn much about the way our society really works, because the system-origins — military, religious, political, colonial, agricultural, financial — are all there to be scrutinized in their infancy. I have gained perspective.
  3. The language in which the book is written is rich and complete, as the language of today is not.
  4. I find out how little I know.
  5. I am inspired by the will and erudition which enabled Gibbon to complete a work of twenty-odd years. The guy stuck with things.
"I urge anyone who wants life on earth to really come alive for them to enjoy the beautiful ancestral ancient world," concludes Iggy.

Gentleman and Scholar

28 January 2016

A Line of Incidents

Charles Buxton, Notes of Thought  (London: John Murray, 1883), p. 58:
Alas! alas! for the mere trifle that threw us in the way of our misfortune! How ineffably small a change would have saved us! It cuts us to the heart to think that a friend's call, a word lightly spoken, a chance meeting, gave us the petty shove into the bottomless abyss!

In each separate case this is so. And yet there is a want of manly good sense in this lamentation. For are we to expect no calamities ? And if they are to come, the chain that ends with them is sure to have links as feeble as those we are bewailing. Our regret is, practically, a regret not for the smallness of the cause that brought this evil upon us, but for the existence of evil itself.

Moreover, 'tis as broad as it is long. If our misfortunes were tumbled upon our heads by trifles so too were our fortunes. You may trace your present happiness, not less than your unhappiness, along a line of incidents, which, at some points, a fly's weight would have snapped asunder.

26 January 2016

Crowd Pleasers

Charles Buxton, Notes of Thought  (London: John Murray, 1883), p. 26:
The world gives his rewards according to a definite and, perhaps, a sound principle. He honours those who give him pleasure. The thing the world wants is, to be pleased; not to be made wiser, or better, or, in the long run, happier; but to have, at once, on the spot, a feeling of enjoyment. Let a man but give him this feeling of enjoyment, and he will clothe that man in royal apparel, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, "Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour." You grumble, because you have done far nobler work for him, yet he leaves you dressed in frieze, to ride your own donkey at your own sweet will. But you have no right to be cross. You have given him good things, no doubt: but you have not given him the one thing he wanted.

25 January 2016

Something Contemptible About Our Civilisation

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn Of Day  (§163), tr. J. M. Kennedy (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1924), p. 167:
Against Rousseau. If it is true that there is something contemptible about our civilisation, we have two alternatives: of concluding with Rousseau that, "This despicable civilisation is to blame for our bad morality," or to infer, contrary to Rousseau's view, that "Our good morality is to blame for this contemptible civilisation. Our social conceptions of good and evil, weak and effeminate as they are, and their enormous influence over both body and soul, have had the effect of weakening all bodies and souls and of crushing all unprejudiced, independent, and self-reliant men, the real pillars of a strong civilisation: wherever we still find the evil morality to-day, we see the last crumbling ruins of these pillars." Thus let paradox be opposed by paradox! It is quite impossible for the truth to lie with both sides: and can we say, indeed, that it lies with either? Decide for yourself. 

Friedrich Nietzsche, Morgenröthe, in Gesammelte Werke, Vol. 10 (München: Musarion Verlag, 1920), p. 152:
Gegen Rousseau. — Wenn es wahr ist, dass unsere Civilisation etwas Erbärmliches an sich hat: so habt ihr die Wahl, mit Rousseau weiterzuschliessen, „diese erbärmliche Civilisation ist Schuld an unsrer schlechten Moralität”, oder gegen Rousseau zurückzuschliessen „unsere gute Moralität ist Schuld an dieser Erbärmlichkeit der Civilisation. Unsere schwachen unmännlichen gesellschaftlichen Begriffe von gut und böse und die ungeheure Ueberherrschaft derselben über Leib und Seele haben alle Leiber und alle Seelen endlich schwach gemacht und die selbständigen unabhängigen unbefangnen Menschen, die Pfeiler einer starken Civilisation, zerbrochen: wo man der schlechten Moralität jetzt noch begegnet, da sieht man die letzten Trümmer dieser Pfeiler”. So stehe denn Paradoxon gegen Paradoxon! Unmöglich kann hier die Wahrheit auf beiden Seiten sein: und ist sie überhaupt auf einer von beiden? Man prüfe.

20 January 2016

Tomato Cans

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit  (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1923):
If one is a painter the purest freedom must exist at the time of painting. This is as much as to say that a painter may give up his hope of making his living as a painter but must make it some other way. This is generally true, although some do, by a freak of appreciation, make enough while going their way to live sufficiently well. Perhaps this happens, but I am not sure but that there is some curtailing of the purity of the freedom.

I was once asked by a young artist whether he could hope to make any money out of his work if he continued in his particular style of painting. He happened to be a man of considerable talent and had great enthusiasm in his work. But I knew there was no public enthusiasm for such work. I remembered he had told me that before he got really into art he had made a living by designing labels for cans, tomato cans and the like. I advised him to make tomato-can labels and live well that he might be free to paint as he liked. It happened also that eventually people did buy his early pictures, although he was as far from pleasing by what he was doing at this time as ever before. He now lived on the sale of his old pictures and was as free to paint his new ones as he had been in the days of tomato cans.

18 January 2016

Egocentric Masturbatory Self-Analysis

Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise (New York: Macmillan, 1941), pp. 51-52:
The aim of his [Marcel Proust's] book was how to revive his past and he discovered that by remembering everything that had happened, and by relying on intuitive visions produced by familiar smells and noises, such a revival was possible. And where he failed to revive it, his style, that blend of unselective curiosity with interminable qualification, would carry on like a lumbering, overcrowded, escaped tram that nobody can stop.

Proust lives rather through his extrovert satirical scenes, his balls and dinner-parties, the great ironical spectacle of the vanity of human wishes displayed by the Baron de Charlus and the Duchesse de Guermantes and through the delightful pictures which he provides of the countryside and his neighbours, the plain of Chartres, the coast, the quiet streets which Swann climbed in the Faubourg St. Germain. Where his egocentric masturbatory self-analysis begins to function and his anxiety neurosis about his grandmother or Albertine, love or jealousy, comes into play, then all is tedious and unreal, like that asthma which his psychiatrist said he was unwilling to cure since something more unpleasant would be bound to take its place.

15 January 2016

Genteel Volumes in Decayed Circumstances

Eugene Field, The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac (New York : Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905), pp. 156-157:
As for myself, I urge upon all lovers of books to provide themselves with bookplates. Whenever I see a book that bears its owner's plate I feel myself obligated to treat that book with special consideration. It carries with it a certificate of its master's love; the bookplate gives the volume a certain status it would not otherwise have. Time and again I have fished musty books out of bins in front of bookstalls, bought them and borne them home with me simply because they had upon their covers the bookplates of their former owners. I have a case filled with these aristocratic estrays, and I insist that they shall be as carefully dusted and kept as my other books, and I have provided in my will for their perpetual maintenance after my decease.

If I were a rich man I should found a hospital for homeless aristocratic books, an institution similar in all essential particulars to the institution which is now operated at our national capital under the bequest of the late Mr. Cochrane. I should name it the Home for Genteel Volumes in Decayed Circumstances.
For more on this subject see Lew Jaffe's Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie.

13 January 2016

That Vast Machine

Edwin Muir, We Moderns (New York: Knopf, 1920), p. 34:
It has been observed again and again that as societies — forms of production, of government, and so on — become more complex, the mastery of the individual over his destiny grows weaker. In other words, the more man subjugates "nature," the more of a slave he becomes. The industrial system, for instance, which is the greatest modern example of man's subjugation of nature, is at the same time the greatest modern example of man's enslavement.
Ibid., p. 35:
In this age, therefore, in which man appears as the helpless appendage of a machine too mighty for him, it is natural that theories of Determinism should flourish. It is natural, also, that the will should become weak and discouraged, and, consequently, that the power of creation should languish. And so the world of art has withered and turned barren. The artist needs above all things a sense of power; it is out of the abundance of this sense that he creates. But confronted with modern society, that vast machine, and surrounded by its hopeless mechanics and slaves, he feels the sense dying within him; nor does the evil cease there, for along with the sense of power, power itself dies.
A related post: Where Is the Poetry?

11 January 2016

The World Is Ugly Enough

James Huneker, Egoists (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1909), p. 179:
Huysmans never betrayed the slightest interest in doctrines of equality; for him, as for Baudelaire, socialism, the education of the masses, or democratic prophylactics were hateful.... Nothing was more horrible to him than the idea of universal religion, universal speech, universal government, with their concomitant universal monotony. The world is ugly enough without the ugliness of universal sameness. Variety alone makes this globe bearable. He did not believe in art for the multitude, and the tableau of a billion humans bellowing to the moon the hymn of universal brotherhood made him shiver — as well it might.

8 January 2016


Christian Ludwig, Dictionary: English, German and French (Saalbach: Leipzig and Frankfurt, 1736), p. 219:
Ephemerist, S. ein calender-macher, oder verfasser eines tag-buches, un faiseur d'almanacs, ou un journaliste.

7 January 2016

One Laurel Leaf

Henri de Régnier, "Ode," Vestigia Flammae (Paris: Mercure de France, 1921), pp. 58-59:
J'aurais dû te donner tous les soins de ma vie,
          O beau laurier luisant,
Jusques à renforcer ta racine assouvie
          Du tribut de mon sang,

De l'immortel éclat de ton feuillage sombre
          Enorgueillir mes yeux,
Et ne point, d'un seul pas, m'éloigner de ton ombre;
          De toi seul anxieux

Écouter pour seul chant celui de ton murmure,
          Aède aérien,
Et, le regard tourné vers la gloire future,
          Y conformer le mien!

Mais, hélas! trop longtemps j'ai délaissé la cime
          Du mont où tu poussais
El ma flûte peureuse a craint le vent sublime
          Qui hante les sommets.

C'est pourquoi, repentants, lorsqu'au soir de mon âge
          Mes pas te reviendront,
Je n'aurai pas le droit que ton amer feuillage
          S'entrelace à mon front.

Heureux, n'étant de ceux que la branche couronne
          De son honneur altier,
Si, dans mes faibles mains, tu laisses en aumône
          Une feuille, ô Laurier!

Herbert James Draper, Figure with a Laurel Wreath

5 January 2016

Cheerful Prospect

Philip Larkin, letter to Barbara Pym (July 18, 1971), via The Paris Review:
Has anyone ever done any work on why memories are always unhappy? I don’t mean really unhappy, as of blacking factories, but sudden stabbing memories of especially absurd or painful memories that one is suffused and excoriated by — I have about a dozen, some 30 years old, some a year or even less, & once one arrives, all the rest follows. I suppose if one lives to be old one’s entire waking life will be spent turning on the spit of recollection over the fires of mingled shame, pain or remorse. Cheerful prospect!

4 January 2016


Arthur Schopenhauer in a footnote to The Wisdom of Life, tr. T. Bailey Saunders (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1890), p. 36:
Vulgarity is, at bottom, the kind of consciousness in which the will completely predominates over the intellect, where the latter does nothing more than perform the service of its master, the will. Therefore, when the will makes no demands, supplies no motives, strong or weak, the intellect entirely loses its power, and the result is complete vacancy of mind. Now will without intellect is the most vulgar and common thing in the world, possessed by every blockhead, who, in the gratification of his passions, shows the stuff of which he is made. This is the condition of mind called vulgarity, in which the only active elements are the organs of sense, and that small amount of intellect which is necessary for apprehending the data of sense.
For the original see "Aphorismen zur Lebensweisheit," Parerga und Paralipomena, Arthur Schopenhauer's Sämmtliche Werke, Vol. V (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1874), p. 356.