15 August 2018

A Yellow, Talkative Serpent

Charles Baudelaire, "L'Avertisseur," The Flowers of Evil, tr. Edna St. Vincent Millay (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1936):
No man that's worthy of the name
But in his helpless heart alive
Harbors a yellow, talkative
Serpent, he cannot hush nor tame.

Gaze if you like into the eyes
Of dryads... Just before you drown,
The Fang says, "You've a date in town."

Beget your children, plant your trees,
Chisel your marble, build your song...
The Fang says, "Well, — it's not for long."

Hope — if you're hopeful — or despair;
Nothing's to hinder you; but hark! —
Always the hissing head is there,
The insupportable remark.

Lord Leighton, An Athlete Wrestling with a Python (1877)

Tout homme digne de ce nom
A dans le coeur un Serpent jaune,
Installé comme sur un trône,
Qui, s'il dit: «Je veux,» répond: «Non!»

Plonge tes yeux dans les yeux fixes
Des Satyresses ou des Nixes,
La Dent dit: «Pense à ton devoir!»

Fais des enfants, plante des arbres,
Polis des vers, sculpte des marbres,
La Dent dit: «Vivras-tu ce soir?»

Quoi qu'il ébauche ou qu'il espère,
L'homme ne vit pas un moment
Sans subir l'avertissement
De l'insupportable Vipère.

13 August 2018

Philip Surrey

Philip Surrey (1910-1990), quoted on the National Gallery of Canada web site:
Each individual is alone, cut off. Each wonders how others cope with life. A work of art is a particularly complex statement, valuable because it is packed with meaning... like icebergs, four-fifths of our personalities lie below the surface; of the fifth that shows, only part can be expressed in conversation. The only effective outlet for all deeper feelings and thoughts is art.
Philip Surrey, The French Novel  (1944)
(Art Gallery of Alberta)

9 August 2018

Why Be Ashamed?

Epictetus, Discourses, Book III, Chapter XXVI, tr. George Long (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1904), p. 288:
Is that shameful to you which is not your own act, that of which you are not the cause, that which has come to you by accident, as a headache, as a fever? If your parents were poor, and left their property to others, and if while they live, they do not help you at all, is this shameful to you? Is this what you learned with the philosophers? Did you never hear that the thing which is shameful ought to be blamed, and that which is blamable is worthy of blame? Whom do you blame for an act which is not his own, which he did not do himself? Did you then make your father such as he is, or is it in your power to improve him? Is this power given to you? Well then, ought you to wish the things which are not given to you, or to be ashamed if you do not obtain them? And have you also been accustomed while you were studying philosophy to look to others and to hope for nothing from yourself? Lament then and groan and eat with fear that you may not have food to-morrow. Tremble about your poor slaves lest they steal, lest they run away, lest they die. So live, and continue to live, you who in name only have approached philosophy, and have disgraced its theorems as far as you can by showing them to be useless and unprofitable to those who take them up; you, who have never sought constancy, freedom from perturbation, and from passions; you who have not sought any person for the sake of this object, but many for the sake of syllogisms; you who have never thoroughly examined any of these appearances by yourself, Am I able to bear, or am I not able to bear? What remains for me to do?

Paul Thumann, The Three Fates (late 1800s)
The frontispiece in Appleton's edition of the Discourses

1 August 2018

31 July 2018

Hapless Ages

Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, Vol. I (London: George Bell and Sons, 1902), pp. 12-13:
But what of those decadent ages in which no Ideal either grows or blossoms? When Belief and Loyalty have passed away, and only the cant and false echo of them remains; and all Solemnity has become Pageantry; and the Creed of persons in authority has become one of two things: an Imbecility or a Macchiavelism? Alas, of these ages World-History can take no notice; they have to become compressed more and more, and finally suppressed in the Annals of Mankind; blotted out as spurious,—which indeed they are. Hapless ages: wherein, if ever in any, it is an unhappiness to be born. To be born, and to learn only, by every tradition and example, that God's Universe is Belial's and a Lie; and 'the Supreme Quack' the hierarch of men! In which mournfulest faith, nevertheless, do we not see whole generations (two, and sometimes even three successively) live, what they call living; and vanish,—without chance of reappearance?

29 July 2018

Continual Endeavour and Endurance

Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, Vol. I (London: George Bell and Sons, 1902), p. 62:
Man is not what one calls a happy animal; his appetite for sweet victual is so enormous. How, in this wild Universe, which storms in on him, infinite, vague-menacing, shall poor man find, say not happiness, but existence, and footing to stand on, if it be not by girding himself together for continual endeavour and endurance? Woe, if in his heart there dwelt no devout Faith; if the word Duty had lost its meaning for him!

25 July 2018

Nie Wieder Bruderkrieg

Philip Gibbs, Realities of War (London: Heinemann, 1920), p. 441:
If Christianity has no restraining influence upon the brutal instincts of those who profess and follow its faith, then surely it is time the world abandoned so ineffective a creed and turned to other laws likely to have more influence on human relationships. That, brutally, is the argument of the thinking world against the clergy of all nations who all claimed to be acting according to the justice of God and the spirit of Christ [during the First World War]. It is a powerful argument, for the simple mind, rejecting casuistry, cuts straight to the appalling contrast between Christian profession and Christian practice, and says, "Here, in this war, there was no conflict between one faith and another, but a murderous death-struggle between many nations holding the same faith, preaching the same Gospel, and claiming the same God as their protector. Let us seek some better truth than that hypocrisy! Let us, if need be, in honesty, get back to the savage worship of national gods, the Ju-ju of the Tribe."
John Singer Sargent, Gassed (1919)

19 July 2018

Something Definite

Willibrord Verkade, Yesterdays of an Artist-Monk, tr. John Stoddard (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1930), p. 66:
Sometimes the poet Paul Verlaine likewise made his appearance there [at the Café Voltaire]. He was a tall figure, with a neglected exterior. His head resembled that of a Silenus. He usually fell into a controversy almost immediately with some exponent of symbolism, for this designation he could not endure. It was to him too vague and misty. “What then does it really mean, this symbolism, symbolism?” one heard him ask over and over again. “Nothing, absolutely nothing,” he would continue; “now I am a degenerate, and that is at least something definite, I am a degenerate.” People let him talk. The poor man had at that time fallen already very low, even mentally.

Eugène Carrière, Paul Verlaine (1891)

13 July 2018

Stoicism on the Subway

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.27, tr. Gerald H. Rendall (London: Macmillan, 1914), p. 36:
Do you get angry at rank armpits? or at foul breath? What would be the good? Mouth, armpits are what they are, and being so, the given effluvia must result. — 'Yes, but nature has given man reason, man can comprehend and understand what offends!' — 'Very good! Ergo you too have reason; use your moral reason to move his; show him his error, admonish him. If he attends, you will amend him; no need for anger — you are not a ranter, or a whore.'

10 July 2018

Fontainebleau

Robert Louis Stevenson, "Forest Notes," Essays of Travel (London: Chatto & Windus, 1905), pp. 170-171:
It is the great moral spa; this forest without a fountain is itself the great fountain of Juventius.  It is the best place in the world to bring an old sorrow that has been a long while your friend and enemy; and if, like Béranger’s your gaiety has run away from home and left open the door for sorrow to come in, of all covers in Europe, it is here you may expect to find the truant hid.  With every hour you change.  The air penetrates through your clothes, and nestles to your living body.  You love exercise and slumber, long fasting and full meals.  You forget all your scruples and live a while in peace and freedom, and for the moment only.  For here, all is absent that can stimulate to moral feeling.  Such people as you see may be old, or toil-worn, or sorry; but you see them framed in the forest, like figures on a painted canvas; and for you, they are not people in any living and kindly sense.  You forget the grim contrariety of interests.  You forget the narrow lane where all men jostle together in unchivalrous contention, and the kennel, deep and unclean, that gapes on either hand for the defeated.  Life is simple enough, it seems, and the very idea of sacrifice becomes like a mad fancy out of a last night’s dream.

Théodore Rousseau, A Tree in Fontainebleau Forest (c. 1840)

8 July 2018

The Only Real Misfortune

Will H. Low, A Chronicle of Friendships (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908), p. 95:
Happy the land that knows that art is long, and happy the man who, like Jean-François Millet, lives his life in full acceptance of this truth, and, with the unceasing industry of the coral-insect, adds day by day the essential quota to his life fabric. Another great Frenchman, the sculptor Rude, has said that the only real misfortune that can befall an artist is interruption to his work, "La grande chose pour un artiste — c'est de faire."
Jean-François Millet, Autoportrait (c. 1840)

2 July 2018

Père Tanguy

Willibrord Verkade, Yesterdays of an Artist-Monk, tr. John Stoddard (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1930), p. 80-81:
There are people, whom one has known only a short time, yet whom one loves through an entire lifetime; people, whose venerable forms continually rise in memory before us, surrounded by an aureole of admiration. Such a one was “Father Tanguy.” Father Tanguy had a small shop in the Rue Clauzel, where he sold artists’ materials, principally colours. In addition to this, he carried on a small art business. There were no pictures of recognized artists to be found in his shop, but for the most part only those before which, at the expositions, people stand laughing boisterously, or pass by with scorn and ridicule. They were such works as those of the great impressionists Cezanne, Pissaro, Monet, van Gogh and others, of whom Father Tanguy was the humble friend. With what love and reverence he spoke of them, especially of Pissaro and of van Gogh, “the most charitable man he had ever known.” How he loved the paintings which he was nevertheless obliged to sell. How often he was inconsolable, if again “such a beautiful specimen” had left his shop, and almost always at a ridiculously cheap price. He would have liked best to have acquired it himself, in order to enjoy it always. Tanguy was, however, poor, like the great painters, whose works he loved. And even when some of these artists subsequently became famous and obtained high prices for their productions, Tanguy remained poor, for then their paintings fell into the hands of the richer art-dealers. Tanguy was also our friend, the friend of the nabis, looked after their colours and frames, and exhibited their first works. This noble man has always remained dear to me. At his death he left a collection of paintings worth certainly five thousand pounds, but he would never have sold them for that price, unless compelled to do so.

Émile Bernard, Père Tanguy (1887)

28 June 2018

A Very Different Life

Leslie Frost, Fighting Men (Toronto: Clarke Irwin & Co. Ltd., 1967), p. 10:
People nowadays sometimes look back nostalgically to the good old pre-war days [i.e., before the First World War] and they remember a very different life. The welfare state was not even contemplated. The Orillia Town Council had in its organization a Charity Committee which dispensed a few dollars a year to those unfortunates who were in dire need, in most cases through no fault of their own. There were no mother’s allowances. Pensions for the aged, disabled, the blind, and assistance for the afflicted were a generation away. Children looked after their parents and their disabled ones. The effects of sickness could be, and were, devastating. Still, people were confident. They were self-reliant. They had strong moorings in their religious faiths and beliefs. The magnificence of Europe was not theirs and they had little understanding of it all. Canada was new. Its people had come up the hard way. Most of their fathers and grandfathers had come from the old land because of sheer necessity. They had successfully created a new way of life in Upper Canada and Ontario and they were satisfied with it.

"Old Man Ontario" as a young officer

27 June 2018

Room with a View

A lithograph by Franz Xaver Hoch, from Hochland; Ein Ausflug ins Land der Berge voll Alpenzauber und Höhenluft (München: Verlag des deutschen Spielmanns, 1903):

Franz Xaver Hoch, Hoch Fensterbild (1903)

According to the German Wikipedia entry, Hoch was associated with Die Scholle. He served with the Landsturm-Infanterie-Bataillon Mindelheim (2. Kompanie) and died at Châtas on 18 June, 1916.

25 June 2018

Football and Beer

George Orwell, 1984, in The Penguin Complete Novels of George Orwell (London: Penguin, 1976), pp. 784-785:
In reality very little was known about the proles. It was not necessary to know much. So long as they continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance. Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina, they had reverted to a style of life that appeared to be natural to them, a sort of ancestral pattern. They were born, they grew up in the gutters, they went to work at twelve, they passed through a brief blossoming-period of beauty and sexual desire, they married at twenty, they were middle-aged at thirty, they died, for the most part, at sixty. Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer, and above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.

20 June 2018

The Demon Titivillus

Marc Drogin, Medieval Calligraphy: Its History and Technique (New York: Dover Publications, 1989), pp. 17-18 (footnotes omitted):
Titivillus was born in the minds of medieval monks  created in jest to make a serious point. The repetitiveness of monastic life took its toll. Monks would occasionally cease to pay precise attention and words were mutilated, misspelled, and misplaced. Monks had to be reminded of the sin of inattentiveness. The earliest recorded mention of Titivillus by name appeared c. 1285 in John of Wales' Tractatus de Penitentia. And the comment about him was repeated early in the next century when, in a sermon, Petrus de Palude, Patriarch of Jerusalem, commented, “Fragmina psalmorum / Titivillus colligit horum" which, loosely translated. says that Titivillus collects bits of the psalms. Slipping about unseen he listened for each and every verbal atrocity that occurred in the services. But the monks deplored copying and writing errors as much as those in reading and singing. While no record of his interest in scribal errors was found until the 15th century, it is logical to assume that he may have followed the monks from services to see what was amiss in the scriptorium.

What Titivillus did when he heard or saw an error gave him demonic status. John of Wales' early description added another fact corroborated in several manuscripts (among them London, British Museum, Arundel 506, folio 46): "Quacque die mille / vicibus sarcinat ille." Titivillus, it explained, was required each day to find enough errors to fill his sack a thousand times. And these he hauled to the Devil below where each sin was duly recorded in a book against the name of the monk who had committed it, there to be read out on the Day of Judgment.

Titivillus keeping a watchful eye

A related post: It Makes the Kidneys Ache

19 June 2018

A Refusal to Live

Marie-Louise von Franz, Puer Aeternus (Santa Monica: Sigo Press, 1980), p. 86:
Interviewer's remark: When you think of the pictures of Van Gogh, even the most melancholy are full of energy and force and emotion.

Yes, even desolation is fully experienced and even what is lost is fully expressed, in contrast to this [refusal to participate fully in life]. Sometimes, one thinks how much more alive such people would be if they suffered! If they can't be happy, let them at least be unhappy, really unhappy for once, and then they would become human. But many pueri aeterni cannot even be quite unhappy! They have not even the generosity and the courage to expose themselves to a situation which could make them unhappy. Already, like cowards, they build bridges by which they can escape — they anticipate the disappointment in order not to suffer the blow, and that is a refusal to live.

Vincent Van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows (1890)

A related post: The Religion of Smug Ease

13 June 2018

Father's Day

Friedrich Nietzsche, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches (§ 318), from Vol. VIII of the Musarion edition (München: Musarion Verlag, 1920), p. 288 (my translation):
Correcting Nature — If you do not have a good father, then you should acquire one for yourself.

Die Natur corrigiren — Wenn man keinen guten Vater hat, so soll man sich einen anschaffen.

Josef Thorak, Friedrich Nietzsche (1944)

10 June 2018

Once Upon a Time

Sister Miriam Joseph, The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2002), p. 5:
The utilitarian or servile arts enable one to be a servant — of another person, of the state, of a corporation, or of a business — and to earn a living. The liberal arts, in contrast, teach one how to live; they train the faculties and bring them to perfection; they enable a person to rise above his material environment to live an intellectual, a rational, and therefore a free life in gaining truth.
Edward Irvine Halliday, Worcester College Room (1952)

Not unrelated: They Are Scum

6 June 2018

Pluralistic Ignorance

Professor Dan Ariely on how he teaches his students about pluralistic ignorance, from the 33m55s mark in his interview on The Knowledge Project podcast:
I start the class by taking a paragraph from some post-modern literature text generator, something crazy, you know, so you don't understand what's going on — every sentence looks like it's constructed appropriately but there's no flow, there's Foucault and Derrida from time to time, and I just add some words about economics and behavioural economics, and Becker... It's the first class, people sit in, [there are] 500 students, and I say,"Let me start by explaining to you what behavioural economics is." And I just read this nonsense for five minutes. Then I stop and ask, "Why didn't you stop me? How many of you would have stopped me if there was only one person in the room?"
A related post: A Fool's Trick