31 March 2016

The Good People of Ontario

Walt Whitman, Walt Whitman's Diary in Canada, ed. William Sloane Kennedy (Boston : Small, Maynard & Co., 1904), pp. 43-44:
If the most significant trait of modern civilization is benevolence (as a leading statesman has said), it is doubtful whether this is anywhere illustrated to a fuller degree than in the province of Ontario. All the maimed, insane, idiotic, blind, deaf and dumb, needy, sick and old, minor criminals, fallen women, foundlings, have advanced and ample provision of house and care and oversight, at least fully equal to anything of the kind in any of the United States probably indeed superior to them. In Ontario for its eighty-eight electoral ridings, each one returning a member of parliament, there are four Insane Asylums, an Idiot Asylum, one Institution for the Blind, one for the Deaf and Dumb, one for Foundlings, a Reformatory for Girls, one for Women, and no end of homes for the old and infirm, for waifs, and for the sick.... Some of the good people of Ontario have complained in my hearing of faults and fraudulencies, commissive or emissive, on the part of the government, but I guess said people have reason to bless their stars for the general fairness, economy, wisdom, and liberality of their officers and administration.
Clearly Walt never had to pay income tax in Ontario.

29 March 2016

Mushroom Celebrity

Richard Whately, Thoughts and Apophthegms (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1856), p. 309:
Mushroom-celebrity is the result of puzzle-headedness. A man hardly can rise to very sudden popularity without being (along with some cleverness), somewhat puzzle-headed. For the way to rise to rapid celebrity is to be a plausible advocate of prevailing doctrines; and especially to defend, with some eloquence and novelty, something which men like to believe, but have no good reason for believing. And this a skillful dissembler will never do so well as one who is himself the dupe of his own fallacies, and brings them forward, therefore, with an air of simple earnestness which implies his being, with whatever ingenuity and eloquence, puzzle-headed. A very clear-headed man must always perceive some of the truths which are generally overlooked, and must have detected some of the popular fallacies; in short, he must be somewhat in advance of the οἱ πολλοί of his contemporaries: and if he has the courage to speak his mind fairly, he must wait till the next generation, at least, for his popularity.

23 March 2016

Philosophical Works in a Foreign Language

Richard Whately, Thoughts and Apophthegms (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1856), p. 195:
One great advantage in studying philosophical works in a foreign language, is that an idea which one has to comprehend, or express, in a foreign language, is more distinctly understood by the mind, and the errors arising from the ambiguity, and other defects of language, more easily detected. — Many a voluminous treatise, the Author would throw into the fire, if he could but be persuaded to translate it into Greek. Besides this prevention of the errors arising from the ambiguity of language, the very difficulty excites the attention so as to fix the thoughts better in the memory; meat that requires a good deal of chewing, is sometimes more digestible and nutritive, than spoon-meat that is swallowed whole.
A related post: A Test of Lucidity

Another edition: Selections From the Writings of Dr. Whately  (London: Richard Bentley, 1856)

21 March 2016

Disturbing the Ashes of the Dead

Charles Robert Maturin, Sermons (London: Archibald Constable, 1819), pp. 10-11:
Life is full of death; the steps of the living cannot press the earth without disturbing the ashes of the dead — we walk upon our ancestors — the globe itself is one vast churchyard. Cities are built on the ruins of those that have mouldered away, and now serve as the foundation for the pride of modern improvement. Animal life, like vegetable, seems destined to decay, that it may become the bed from which human vegetation is to spring again, fresh, presumptuous, and triumphant, to be cut down, and afford place for a new successor. The ocean is full of the dead and of their spoils — we are surrounded on every side by those who have passed away, by their remains, or by their recollections. Oh! how populous is futurity, how alive is the grave ! —

"This is the desert, this the solitude."1

Millions, countless millions more than are now alive, are gone before us, and the generations that are yet to be born will be born to people the tomb. Reflection teaches these awful lessons to a few, and well for those who are taught by her — if we refuse her, we shall have a sterner teacher, even experience, whose trembling pupils we must all become, whether we will hear, or whether we will forbear.
1. A line from Edward Young's Night Thoughts

I read somewhere (I no longer remember where and can't be bothered to look it up) that Charles Baudelaire wanted to translate Maturin's novel Melmoth the Wanderer  but was passed over in favour of someone else.

17 March 2016

Mind Unfettered

Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, Prison Life: Six Years in Six English Prisons (New York : P. J. Kenedy, 1874), pp. 211-212:
As I was doing my share of the "orderly" work next morning I noticed hanging on the wall a card, on which was my name. Opposite was written: "This prisoner to be well watched, and the gas to be left lighting in his cell all night." When I went to my cell I began thinking, and thought I must be a desperate character. Friends ask me, now that I am in the world, "Had I any thought at all of release when I was in prison?" It is said, "Hope springs eternal in the human breast," but the springs of my hope were nearly always dried up by continually witnessing these signs of special anxiety regarding me.

I don't know what my masters must have taken me for. If they were not fond of me, they were particularly careful of me. Hoping anything from these people, and acting so as not to have that hope frustrated, would make me their slave — would wear me off my feet. No. I kept myself a free man in prison; while they had my body bound in chains, I felt that I owed them no allegiance, that I held my mind unfettered — that I was not their slave.
A related post: Must I Whine as Well?

15 March 2016

Three Stages

Charles Buxton, Notes of Thought  (London: John Murray, 1883), p. 12:
Most intellectual labour (say of the author, speaker, artist) carries the labourer through three stages of feeling: the first, of exultation while creating; the second, of anxiety gilded with hope in bringing his creation before the world; the third, of flat mortification in looking back on it, and finding that it is very bad, and that the world does not care a bean about it.

10 March 2016

The Phone is a Tool, Not an Extension of Self

Martin Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking, tr. John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund, (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), pp. 53-54:
For all of us, the arrangements, devices, and machinery of technology are to a greater or lesser extent indispensable. It would be foolish to attack technology blindly. It would be shortsighted to condemn it as the work of the devil. We depend on technical devices; they even challenge us to ever greater advances. But suddenly and unaware we find ourselves so firmly shackled to these technical devices that we fall into bondage to them.

Still we can act otherwise. We can use technical devices, and yet with proper use also keep ourselves so free of them, that we may let go of them any time. We can use technical devices as they ought to be used, and also let them alone as something which does not affect our inner and real core. We can affirm the unavoidable use of technical devices, and also deny them the right to dominate us, and so to warp, confuse, and lay waste our nature.
Related posts:

9 March 2016

A Hard-Working Journalist

James Huneker, "Gautier the Journalist," The Pathos of Distance (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1921), p. 265:
[Théophile] Gautier played the role of an easy-going boulevardier; in private he bitterly complained of his slavery to the Grub street of his beloved Paris. Nevertheless this same journalism was his salvation, otherwise he might have found himself in the wretched condition of his friends Charles Baudelaire, Petrus Borel, Gerard de Nerval, and Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. What distinguished him from these bohemians of genius was his capacity for work. He possessed a giant's physique and his nerves were seemingly of steel. He once wrote:
"There is this much good in journalism, that it mixes you up with the crowd, humanises you by perpetually giving you your own measure, and preserves you from the infatuations of solitary pride."1
Ibid., pp. 266-277:
The truth about him is that he was a hard-working journalist, a good husband and loving father; solicitous of the welfare of his family and unrelaxing in his labours. Over his desk hung this grim reminder: "A daily newspaper appears daily." He never forgot it, and from his atelier at Neuilly he sent his daily stint of columns, poorly remunerated as he was for them. He never went into debt like his friend Balzac. If you haven't read his books you may well imagine him an unromantic and honest business man instead of a composer of most fantastic, delightful dreams and romances.
My footnote:

1. I have not found the source for this quote, but I didn't spend much time looking.

7 March 2016

They Are Scum

W. Somerset Maugham, "Books of the Year," Sunday Times (25 December, 1955), reprinted in A Traveller in Romance, ed. John Whitehead (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1984), p. 122:
They do not go to university to acquire culture, but to get a job, and when they have got one, scamp it. They have no manners, and are woefully unable to deal with any social predicament. Their idea of a celebration is to go to a pubic house and drink six beers. They are mean, malicious, and envious. They will write anonymous letters to harass a fellow undergraduate and listen in to a telephone conversation that is no business of theirs. Charity, kindliness, generosity, are qualities which they hold in contempt. They are scum. They will in due course leave the university. Some will doubtless sink back, perhaps with relief, into the modest class from which they emerged; some will take to drink, some to crime and go to prison. Others will become schoolmasters and form the young, or journalists and mould public opinion. A few will go into Parliament, become Cabinet Ministers and rule the country. I look upon myself as fortunate that I shall not live to see it.
This is supposed to be a review of Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, but apart from the quote above Maugham uses most of the article to discuss the merits of Félicien Marceau's Bergère légère and The Letters of Pliny the Younger. He describes the latter as "a most enjoyable bedtime book".

1 March 2016

A Restless and Swarming Anthill

Carl Hilty, Happiness, tr. Francis Greenwood Peabody (New York: Macmillan, 1903), pp. 73-74:
If one could observe the modern world as a bird might look down upon it, and at the same time could distinguish the details of its life, he would see beneath him a picture like that of a restless and swarming anthill, where even the railway trains, as they cross and recross each other by night and day, would be enough to bewilder his brain. Something of this bewilderment is, in fact, felt by almost every one who is involved in the movement of the time. There are a great many people who have not the least idea why they are thus all day long in a hurry. People whose circumstances permit complete leisure are to be seen rushing through the streets, or whirling away in a train, or crowding out of the theatre, as if there were awaiting them at home the most serious tasks. The fact is that they simply yield to the general movement. One might be led to fancy that the most precious and most unusual possession on earth was the possession of time. We say that time is money, yet people who have plenty of money seem to have no time; and even the people who despise money are constantly admonishing us, and our over-worked children, to remember the Apostle's saying, and "to redeem the time." Thus the modern world seems pitiless in its exhortation to work. Human beings are driven like horses until they drop. Many lives are ruined by the pace, but there are always more lives ready like horses to be driven. 

Much happiness can be found
in an attractive title page.

Related posts: