31 May 2017

A Shot in the Dark

A transcript of a clip from Barbet Schroeder's The Charles Bukowski Tapes :
Schroeder: You said that starving doesn't create art, that it creates many things, but mainly it creates time.

Bukowski: Oh, yeah, well, that's very basic. I hate to use up your film to say this, but you know, if you work an 8-hour job, you're going to get 55 cents an hour. If you stay home you're not going to get any money but you're going to have time to write things down on paper. I guess I was one of those rarities of our modern times who did starve for his art. I really starved, you know, to have a 24-hour day unintruded upon by other people. I gave up food, I gave up everything, just to... I was a nut. I was dedicated.

But you see, the problem is that you can be a dedicated nut and not be able to do it. Dedication without talent is useless. You understand what I mean? Dedication alone is not enough. You can starve and want to do it [laughing]. Hey, you know ... And how many do that? They starve in the gutters and they don't make it.

Schroeder: But you knew you had talent.

Bukowski: They all think they have. How do you know that you're the one? You don't know. It's a shot in the dark. You take it, or you become a normal, civilized person from 8 to 5: get married, have children, Christmas together, here comes grandma, "Hi Grandma, come on in, how are you?" Shit, I couldn't take that. I'd rather murder myself.

I guess, just, in the blood of me, I couldn't stand the whole thing that's going on, the ordinariness of life. I couldn't stand family life. I couldn't stand job life. I couldn't stand anything I looked at. I just decided I either had to starve, make it, go mad, come through, or do something. Even if I hadn't made it on writing ... something. I could not do the 8 to 5. I would have been a suicide. No, something. Something. I'm sorry, I could not accept the snail's pace, 8 to 5, Johnny Carson, happy birthday, Christmas, New Year's. To me this is the sickest of all sick things.

29 May 2017

No Strength Without Truth

Ernst von Feuchtersleben, The Dietetics of the Soul (London: John Churchill, 1852), pp.140-142:
All morality consists in truth, and all depravity in falsehood. Life and health accompany the former; the latter is destruction. Constant falsehood and painful self-restraint corrode the innermost springs of life, like a hidden poison; while we ourselves experience a morbid pleasure in feeding the worm which destroys us....

All thinking men have recognised this evil, and directed the attention of their brethren to it. "Your salvation depends on truth; be true at every breath;" and what they say to the species, the physician enjoins to the individual. To play a part throughout life must weary us out before our time; even if we could exclaim as justly as Augustus, in the closing scene, "Plaudite." Hufeland has compared this condition of the mind to a continual mental convulsion — a slow nervous fever. Why, then, submit to it? Is it not more easy to be true? — to appear what we are? To man I would say, "there is no strength without truth; and to woman, there is no beauty without truth."

I have a discovery to reveal as easy and as difficult as that of Columbus and his egg: it is this; that genius is nothing but truth. That writer will appear original to us who, instead of consulting books on his subject, replies with truth to the questions he asks himself. In this manner he writes what the learned will read with envious surprise, and with a freshness which even poets might covet. It is certain that we should be better authors by being more moral and true. At present we are nothing, because we are false, and therefore diseased. Shame and repentance are the enervating consequences which await us on our course. Yet we might avoid this fatal tendency by assuming courage enough not to belie ourselves or others — by daring to be what we really are. Can any happiness equal the feeling that we carry our own bliss constantly with us? Always and everywhere will thought then furnish food for self-communion, imagination create a world of fancies, and life give scope to feeling, or to the promptings of a pure will.
The original can be found in Feuchtersleben's Zur Diätetik der Seele (Halle: Hermann Gesenius, 1893), pp. 121-123.

24 May 2017

Ha'nacker's Down and England's Done

Hilaire Belloc, "Ha'nacker Mill," Stories, Essays and Poems (London: J. M. Dent, 1938):
Sally is gone that was so kindly,
Sally is gone from Ha'nacker Hill
And the Briar grows ever since then so blindly;
And ever since then the clapper is still,
And the sweeps have fallen from Ha'nacker Mill.

Ha'nacker Hill is in Desolation:
Ruin a-top and a field unploughed.
And Spirits that call on a fallen nation,
Spirits that loved her calling aloud:
Spirits abroad in a windy cloud.

Spirits that call and no one answers;
Ha'nacker's down and England's done.
Wind and Thistle for pipe and dancers,
And never a ploughman under the Sun:
Never a ploughman. Never a one.
Belloc can be heard singing this lament at the 1:43 mark on this Youtube video.

23 May 2017

None Would Live Past Years Again

John Dryden, Aureng-Zebe, IV. i:
When I consider life, 'tis all a cheat;
Yet, fooled with hope, men favour the deceit;
Trust on, and think to-morrow will repay:
To-morrow’s falser than the former day;
Lies worse, and, while it says, we shall be blest
With some new joys, cuts off what we possest.
Strange cozenage! None would live past years again,
Yet all hope pleasure in what yet remain;
And, from the dregs of life, think to receive,
What the first sprightly running could not give.
I'm tired with waiting for this chemic gold,
Which fools us young, and beggars us when old.
Related posts:

The Nonesuch edition of Dryden's dramatic works (6 vols.) can be had for about $200  — further proof that the earthly paradise for bibliophiles is at hand.

22 May 2017

No Use Ploughing the Air

C. H. Spurgeon, "Things Not Worth Trying," John Ploughman's Talk (Philadelphia: Henry Altemus, 1896), p. 93:
Long ago my experience taught me not to dispute with anybody about tastes and whims; one might as well argue about what you can see in the fire. It is of no use ploughing the air, or trying to convince a man against his will in matters of no consequence. It is useless to try to end a quarrel by getting angry over it; it is much the same as pouring oil on a fire to quench it, and blowing coals with the bellows to put them out. Some people like rows — I don't envy their choice; I'd rather walk ten miles to get out of a dispute than half-a-mile to get into one. I have often been told to be bold, and take the bull by the horns, but, as I rather think that the amusement is more pleasant than profitable, I shall leave it to those who are so cracked already that an ugly poke with a horn would not damage their skulls.

18 May 2017


Francis Meynell's answer when called before the draft board during the First World War, My Lives (London: Bodley Head, 1971), pp. 94-95:
I feel that I cannot surrender my conscience, my right of judgement, to anybody else's keeping. It is, in the common phrase, the soldier's duty 'to do and die and not to reason why'. Well, Sir, if I were a soldier and told 'to do' such a thing as sink the Lusitania or shoot so-called rebels in Ireland, or take part in the starvation of a population, or drop bombs on civilians, I should refuse.

16 May 2017

But You Do Not Know Greek

Sir Joseph Pope, The Day of Sir John Macdonald (Toronto: Glasgow, Brook & Company, 1920), p. 116:
John's relations with Lord Dufferin had always been pleasant, though I think he considered the governor-general a bit of a humbug. Speaking to me one day of men's liking for flattery, Sir John said that 'almost anybody will take almost any amount of it,' but he thought that Lord Dufferin transgressed even those wide limits. 'He laid it on with a trowel.' Sir John added that Lord Dufferin was proud of his classical acquirements. He once delivered an address in Greek at the University of Toronto. A newspaper subsequently spoke of ' His Excellency's perfect command of the language.' 'I wonder who told the reporter that,' said a colleague to the chief. 'I did,' replied Sir John. 'But you do not know Greek.' 'No,' replied Sir John, 'but I know men.'
Pope is mistaken. Lord Dufferin delivered his Greek address at McGill University on February 13, 1878. The classics were not even on offer at the University of Toronto in the 1870s, the only courses of study at the time being Calvinist theology and livestock management.

13 May 2017

Don't Have Any Kids Yourself

Philip Larkin, "This Be the Verse," High Windows (London: Faber and Faber, 1974), p. 30:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

Photo from The Importance of Elsewhere: Philip Larkin's Photographs

A related post:

10 May 2017

With Apple-Butter on a Hay-Press

Interview VI with "Mr. G.", Extracts From an Investigation Into the Physical Properties of Books as They Are at Present Published (Boston: W. A. Dwiggins and L. B. Siegfried, 1919), pp. 15-16:
What's the use of talking about standards in connection with things like these? These are not books. They aren't fit to wad a gun with. I wouldn't have them in the house.... You can't hope to get anything like a decent book until you do away with the damnable cheap paper and the vile types. And then you will have to start in and teach the printer how to print. There aren't more than a half a dozen presses in the country that know how to print. Most printing looks like it had been done with apple-butter on a hay-press —

— What you say is unhappily true. What we are trying to find out are the causes of this state of things.

The causes are everywhere — all through the rattle-trap, cheap-jack, shoddy work that is being done in every kind of trade. Nobody cares for making decent things any more.

The only cure is to get back to decent standards of workmanship in everything again. But the case seems to me to be hopeless. I try to do printing up to a decent standard — and that is about all any of us can do. I don't believe you can hope to do much good through your societies and investigations. I believe in each one doing his own job in the best way he knows how. That's the only way you can raise the standard. It's the work you turn out that counts.

A related post: Shoddimites

8 May 2017

All the Meanings They Have Worn

Walter Raleigh (1861-1922), Style (London: Edward Arnold, 1897), pp. 25-26:
Words are piled on words, and bricks on bricks, but of the two you are invited to think words the more intractable. Truly, it was a man of letters who said it, avenging himself on his profession for the never-ending toil it imposed, by miscalling it, with grim pleasantry, the architecture of the nursery. Finite and quite rigid words are not, in any sense that holds good of bricks. They move and change, they wax and wane, they wither and burgeon; from age to age, from place to place, from mouth to mouth, they are never at a stay. They take on colour, intensity, and vivacity from the infection of neighbourhood; the same word is of several shapes and diverse imports in one and the same sentence; they depend on the building that they compose for the very chemistry of the stuff that composes them. The same epithet is used in the phrases "a fine day" and "fine irony," in "fair trade" and "a fair goddess." Were different symbols to be invented for these sundry meanings the art of literature would perish. For words carry with them all the meanings they have worn, and the writer shall be judged by those that he selects for prominence in the train of his thought. A slight technical implication, a faint tinge of archaism, in the common turn of speech that you employ, and in a moment you have shaken off the mob that scours the rutted highway, and are addressing a select audience of ticket-holders with closed doors. A single natural phrase of peasant speech, a direct physical sense given to a word that genteel parlance authorises readily enough in its metaphorical sense, and at a touch you have blown the roof off the drawing-room of the villa, and have set its obscure inhabitants wriggling in the unaccustomed sun. In choosing a sense for your words you choose also an audience for them.

5 May 2017

He Has Ransacked a Thousand Minds

Sydney Smith (1771-1845), "On the Conduct of the Understanding," Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy (London: Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1855), p. 95:
There are instances to the contrary; but, generally speaking, the life of all truly great men has been a life of intense and incessant labour. They have commonly passed the first half of life in the gross darkness of indigent humility, — overlooked, mistaken, contemned, by weaker men, — thinking while others slept, reading while others rioted, feeling something within them that told them they should not always be kept down among the dregs of the world; and then, when their time was come, and some little accident has given them their first occasion, they have burst out into the light and glory of public life, rich with the spoils of time, and mighty in all the labours and struggles of the mind. Then do the multitude cry out "a miracle of genius!" Yes, he is a miracle of genius, because he is a miracle of labour; because instead of trusting to the resources of his own single mind, he has ransacked a thousand minds; because he makes use of the accumulated wisdom of ages, and takes as his point of departure the very last line and boundary to which science has advanced; because it has ever been the object of his life to assist every intellectual gift of nature, however munificent, and however splendid, with every resource that art could suggest, and every attention diligence could bestow.
A portion of this quote set out in Henry Lewis Johnson's Historic Design in Printing (Boston: The Graphic Arts Company, 1923), p. 82:

4 May 2017


Sir Thomas Browne, "Christian Morals," Religio Medici and Other Essays  (Manchester: Sherratt and Hughes, 1902), pp. 152-153:
Bring candid eyes unto the perusal of men's works, and let not Zoilism or detraction blast well-intended labours. He that endureth no faults in men's writings must only read his own, wherein, for the most part, all appeareth white. Quotation mistakes, inadvertency, expedition, and human lapses, may make not only moles but warts in learned authors; who, notwithstanding, being judged by the capital matter, admit not of disparagement. I should unwillingly affirm that Cicero was but slightly versed in Homer, because in his work, De Gloria, he ascribed those verses unto Ajax, which were delivered by Hector. What if Plautus, in the acount of Hercules, mistaketh nativity for conception? Who would have mean thoughts of Apollinaris Sidonius, who seems to mistake the river Tigris for Euphrates; and, though a good historian and learned bishop of Auvergne had the misfortune to be out in the story of David, making mention of him when the ark was sent back by the Philistines upon a cart; which was before his time? Though I have no great opinion of Machiavel's learning, yet I shall not presently say that he was but a novice in Roman history, because he was mistaken in placing Commodus after the Emperor Severus. Capital truths are to be narrowly eyed; collateral lapses and circumstantial deliveries not to be too strictly sifted. And if the substantial subject be well forged out, we need not examine the sparks which irregularly fly from it.

2 May 2017

Pull Your Finger Out

Sir Thomas Browne, "Christian Morals," Religio Medici and Other Essays  (Manchester: Sherratt and Hughes, 1902), pp. 147-148:
Since thou hast an alarum in thy breast, which tells thee thou hast a living spirit in thee above two thousand times in an hour; dull not away thy days in slothful supinity and the tediousness of doing nothing. To strenuous minds there is an inquietude in over quietness, and no laboriousness in labour; and to tread a mile after the slow pace of a snail, or the heavy measures of the lazy of Brazilia, were a most tiring penance, and worse than a race of some furlongs at the Olympicks. The rapid courses of the heavenly bodies are rather imitable by our thoughts, than our corporeal motions; yet the solemn motions of our lives amount unto a greater measure than is commonly apprehended. Some few men have surrounded the globe of the earth; yet many in the set locomotions and movements of their days have measured the circuit of it, and twenty thousand miles have been exceeded by them.