22 December 2017

In the Company of the Great Dead

Arthur Conan Doyle, Through the Magic Door  (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1907), pp. 133-134:
It is good to have the magic door shut behind us. On the other side of that door are the world and its troubles, hopes and fears, headaches and heartaches, ambitions and disappointments; but within, as you lie back on the green settee, and face the long lines of your silent soothing comrades [i.e., the books on your shelves], there is only peace of spirit and rest of mind in the company of the great dead. Learn to love, learn to admire them; learn to know what their comradeship means; for until you have done so the greatest solace and anodyne God has given to man have not yet shed their blessing upon you. Here behind this magic door is the rest house, where you may forget the past, enjoy the present, and prepare for the future.
Arthur Conan Doyle's study
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21 December 2017

Taedium Vitae

Jean-Baptiste Massillon, quoted in Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, "Massillon," Monday Chats, tr. William Mathews (Chicago: S. C. Griggs & Co., 1882), p. 114:
Your passions having tried everything and exhausted everything, nothing more remains to you than to devour yourselves; your whimsicalities (bizarreries) become the only resource of your ennui and of your satiety. Unable longer to vary the pleasures already quite exhausted, you can no longer find variety except in the eternal inequalities of your humor, and you incessantly blame yourselves for the void which everything that surrounds you leaves within you.
The original can be found in Petit carême de Massillon (Paris: Antoine-Augustin Renouard, 1802), p. 96.

20 December 2017

Great Art

John Ruskin, "Definition of Greatness in Art," Modern Painters, Vol. I (New York: John W. Lovell Company, 1885), pp. 78-79:
I want a definition of art wide enough to include all its varieties of aim; I do not say therefore that the art is greatest which gives most pleasure, because perhaps there is some art whose end is to teach, and not to please. I do not say that the art is greatest which teaches us most, because perhaps there is some art whose end is to please, and not to teach. I do not say that the art is greatest which imitates best, because perhaps there is some art whose end is to create, and not to imitate. But I say that the art is greatest, which conveys to the mind of the spectator, by any means whatsoever, the greatest number of the greatest ideas, and I call an idea great in proportion as it is received by a higher faculty of the mind, and as it more fully occupies, and in occupying, exercises and exalts, the faculty by which it is received.
A related post: What Is Art?

18 December 2017

Knowing What Not to Read

Frederic Harrison, The Choice of Books (London: Macmillan & Co., 1891), pp. 3-4:
The longest life, the greatest industry, joined to the most powerful memory, would not suffice to make us profit from a hundredth part of the world of books before us. If the great Newton said that he seemed to have been all his life gathering a few shells on the shore, whilst a boundless ocean of truth still lay beyond and unknown to him, how much more to each of us must the sea of literature be a pathless immensity beyond our powers of vision or of reach — an immensity in which industry itself is useless without judgment, method, discipline; where it is of infinite importance what we can learn and remember, and of utterly no importance what we may have once looked at or heard of. Alas! the most of our reading leaves as little mark even in our own education as the foam that gathers round the keel of a passing boat! For myself, I am inclined to think the most useful help to reading is to know what we should not read, what we can keep out from that small cleared spot in the overgrown jungle of "information," the corner which we can call our ordered patch of fruit-bearing knowledge. The incessant accumulation of fresh books must hinder any real knowledge of the old; for the multiplicity of volumes becomes a bar upon our use of any. In literature especially does it hold — that we cannot see the wood for the trees.

15 December 2017

The March of Progress

Charles de Montalembert, quoted in Margaret Oliphant, Memoir of Count de Montalembert, Vol. I (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1872), pp. 242-243:
The ancient soil of our country, surcharged as it was with the most marvellous creations of the imagination and faith, becomes day by day more naked, more uniform, more bare — nothing is spared. The devastating axe attacks alike forests and churches, castles and hotels de ville. One would say that the intention of our contemporaries was to persuade themselves that the world began yesterday, and was to end to-morrow, so anxious are they to annihilate everything whose duration exceeds the life of a man.
The original can be found on page 7 of de Montalembert's Du vandalisme et du catholicisme dans l'art (Paris: Debécourt, 1839).

A related post: Witnesses to Destruction

14 December 2017

Everybody's a Critic

F. L. Lucas, Style (London: Cassell & Co. Ltd., 1955), p. 25:
Constantly and incorrigibly we forget how much harder it is to create, even with mediocre results, than to criticize. We can all criticize Napoleon's folly in lingering so late into the autumn at Moscow; but how many of us would ever have got there? I conclude, not that we should fear to criticize frankly, but that it might often be done with rather more modesty by those who have created nothing themselves.
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Hat tip: Anecdotal Evidence

12 December 2017

Letters to the Editor

Alfred Tennyson, "Literary Squabbles," The Complete Poetical Works of Tennyson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1898), p. 272:
Ah God! the petty fools of rhyme
   That shriek and sweat in pigmy wars
Before the stony face of Time,
   And look'd at by the silent stars;

Who hate each other for a song,
   And do their little best to bite
And pinch their brethren in the throng,
   And scratch the very dead for spite;

And strain to make an inch of room
   For their sweet selves, and cannot hear
The sullen Lethe rolling doom
   On them and theirs and all things here;

When one small touch of Charity
   Could lift them nearer Godlike state
Than if the crowded Orb should cry
   Like those who cried Diana great.

And I too talk, and lose the touch
   I talk of. Surely, after all,
The noblest answer unto such
   Is perfect stillness when they brawl.

11 December 2017

Live Like a Hermit, Work Like a Horse

William Boyd Carpenter, The Son of Man Among the Sons of Men (London: Isbister & Co. Ltd., 1893), pp. 268-270:
The companion virtue of self-reliance ought to be single-mindedness. Single-mindedness seeks, by concentration of all the attention and all the powers upon one thing, to secure the end in view. It is the spirit which will not be turned aside or seduced. It knows that some sacrifice is needed, and it is ready to pay the price. It compels the attention of the whole mind to the thing in hand. It draws all interest to this one thing. It is content to fling out of the way everything that stands in its path. It will cast overboard the most precious freightage in order to reach its harbour successfully....

To be without the single-minded spirit is to court failure. To possess it is to bring success within reach. It is indispensable in life.

Greatness possesses the courage which can sacrifice what may be useful, when it may also prove a temptation or an encumbrance to its advancing march. Caesar knows when to burn his boats. Industry knows that many a social pleasure and many an hour of relaxation must ruthlessly be sacrificed if ultimate victory is to be achieved. Like Lord Eldon, it knows that the way to success is to live like a hermit and work like a horse! The message of successful lives is the lesson of a single-minded devotion to the object in view.

7 December 2017

Social Media Are a Waste of Time

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 3.4, tr. Gerald H. Rendall (London: Macmillan, 1914), p. 21:
Do not waste what is left of life in regarding other men, except when bent upon some unselfish gain. Why miss opportunities for action by thus persistently regarding what so-and-so is doing and why, what he is saying or thinking or planning, or anything else that dazes and distracts you from allegiance to your Inner Self?
A related post: Facebook Is a Kind of Self-Prostitution

5 December 2017

An Unedifying Phenomenon

Carl Hilty, "On the Knowledge of Men," The Steps of Life, tr. Melvin Brandow (London: Macmillan & Co., 1907), p. 79:
Every man should perfect his own national type. When a man no longer knows to which nation he belongs, he becomes an unedifying phenomenon. Therefore dwellers on the border are often vacillating in their nature, and polyglot speech is, as a rule, a mark neither of genius nor of character. The most questionable people are those who mingle different languages in a single sentence and who lack education besides.