20 April 2017

Childish and Silly

Charles Ritchie, entry for 8 November 1941, The Siren Years: A Canadian Diplomat Abroad 1937-1945  (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2001), p. 131:
I have been reading with singularly little pleasure some modern poetry in Horizon magazine. What can you expect of poets who keep on thinking about the “happiness of the common people”, as if happiness could be an “ideal”. They remind me of those thick-headed Babbitts who drew up the American Declaration of Independence and who announced the “pursuit of happiness” as a political aim. The poets’ contemporary left-wing opinions have no real political significance; they have not faced up to the fact that the new world for which they are rooting will be just as immoral and selfish as the old. They still believe in Santa Claus. To me that makes all the they have to hint about the future childish and silly. The only hope for the future is that more political intelligence will be applied to our problems so that the machine will not break down again. It is first of all a technical problem. But that it will be a better world for poetry to flourish in is poisonous nonsense.

18 April 2017

Epitaph for a Career in Journalism

George du Maurier, Trilby (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1901), p. 23:
As some things are too sad and too deep for tears, so some things are too grotesque and too funny for laughter.

12 April 2017

In All Humility

Elizabeth Robins Pennell, Whistler: The Friend (Philadelphia: J. P. Lippincott, 1930), p. 40:
Whatever their training, whoever their master, they [the Parisian art students of the mid 19th century] were not taught to despise the past. No valiant cry from youth then of "Down with the Louvre! Down with the Old Masters!" Youth went reverently to the Louvre to worship, to copy, to endeavour to learn at least a little of what the old Masters had to teach.... The youth of that earlier generation, in their simplicity, visited the Louvre in all humility and hoped by studying its masterpieces to become masters in their turn.

Winslow Homer, Art-students and Copyists in the Louvre Gallery
(Harper’s Weekly, January 11, 1868)

11 April 2017

Travelling Companions

Patrick Kurp at Anecdotal Evidence mentioned a while ago that he collects stories of reading in extremis. This put me in mind of an old post on Le Blog du Bibliophile which transcribed a couple of handwritten notes found inside a 1530 edition of Petrarch.

The first, signed Edmund Parsons, dates from 1913 and reads: "To buy this book I sold a sleeved pullover". The second note is dated 1944 and unsigned: "Bought Verona Autumn 1944 when being deported into Germany".

Hugues' blog post ends (my translation):
A friend said to me recently: "When things are not going well, it does a world of good to immerse oneself in a book." He is right, whether we struggle, make unreasonable sacrifices, or take distant journeys [in order to acquire them], books are travelling companions that bring us moments of happiness and comfort which are often unsurpassed.
You'd need to give up more than your sweater for a copy today: the 1558 edition is selling for $943.50. The 1552 edition has been scanned and is available on Archive.org.

9 April 2017

The Old Lie

Wilfred Owen, "Dulce et Decorum Est," Poems of Wilfred Owen (London: Chatto and Windus, 1933), p. 66:
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
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4 April 2017

Birthday Thoughts

Blaise Pascal, Pensées 205 (tr. W. F. Trotter)
When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space which I fill, and even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I am frightened, and am astonished at being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been alloted to me? Memoria hospitis unius diei praetereuntis.
Quand je considère la petite durée de ma vie absorbée dans l’éternité précédente et suivante, memoria hospitis unius diei praetereuntis, le petit espace que je remplis et même que je vois abîmé dans l’infinie immensité des espaces que j’ignore et qui m’ignorent, je m’effraie et m’étonne de me voir ici plutôt que là, car il n’y a point de raison pourquoi ici plutôt que là, pourquoi à présent plutôt que lors. Qui m’y a mis? Par l’ordre et la conduite de qui ce lieu et ce temps a‑t‑il été destiné à moi?