12 December 2019

Revolutionary Talent

Louis de Bonald, Pensées sur Divers Sujets, Vol. I (Paris: Adrien Le Clere, 1817), p. 62 (my translation):
Everyone is able to destroy things, but few can rebuild. If we were to give the Tuileries Palace to a troop of monkeys to demolish, the smallest ones would break the windows while the others smashed in the doors and set fire to the wooden beams. The building, no matter how solid, would soon be in ruins. But if we wanted them to erect a cottage, they would not know where to begin. This is because you need to have a plan, an orderly method of thinking and working, if you want to build something; none of that is required to wreak destruction. This is the story of revolutions and the reason why there was so much revolutionary talent to be found, even in the lowest ranks of society. It is a talent that foolish people admire.

Gabriel von Max, Monkeys as Art Critics (1889)

11 December 2019

Books and Friends Must Be Chosen

Thomas Sturge Moore, "A Note on the Relation of the Printed Book as a Work of Art to Life," A Brief Account of the Origin of the Eragny Press (Hammersmith: The Eragny Press, 1903), p. 9:
It is vain to suppose that we can live with all and any; each palate has a different range, every appetite is limited; as with food, so with knowledge, so with affection. Books & friends must be chosen. Here is the answer to those who complain of expense: the wise sell all they have to buy what they really value. The result achieved by self-discipline and a sound nature is precisely parallel to the result achieved by the artist's painstaking and native gift; it is beauty. Nor are the two beauties independent, nor can they be without loss disassociated; for to starve the eye is to impoverish the spirit & «quand notre mérite baisse, notre goût baisse aussi».1 This then is why it is folly or misfortune to read ugly books, just as it is to read trash. This is the relation of the beautiful book to life. The alternative lies between effort to keep going and effort to create: every man fails who is not at least an artist in regard to himself; to aim at mere maintenance is to think to solve the problem of perpetual motion, a result which all who think must perceive to be insignificant even if it be not a dream.
A maxim from La Rochefoucauld (#379), translated by George H. Powell as "When our Merit lowers, our Taste lowers with it."


The opening pages to a selection of Pierre de Ronsard's
sonnets, published by The Eragny Press in 1902


Moore's Brief Account was a limited edition of 175 copies. At the moment there is only one copy for sale on Abebooks, at a price of $850.

Not unrelated: Brook Type

3 December 2019

Corrupted and Copied

Hilaire Belloc, "On Footnotes," Selected Essays (London: Methuen & Co., 1948), pp. 173-174:
He [one of Belloc's friends] was reading up an economic question, and he found himself perpetually referred to a pamphlet of the late seventeenth century wherein was a certain economic statement upon the point of his research. Book after book referred him to this supposed statement, but he being, as I have said, a learned, civilized, and ironical man (though too sparing in wine) concluded from his general knowledge — and very few learned men have general knowledge — that, in the words of the Old Kent Road murderer, "There must be some mistake." He couldn’t believe any seventeenth-century pamphlet had said what this oft-quoted pamphlet was made responsible for.

He proceeded to look up the pamphlet, the references to which followed him about like a dog through all his research. He found there were two copies — and only two. One was in a certain public library, the other in a rich man’s house. The public library was far off, and the rich man was nearer by — an hour’s journey in the train. So he wrote to the rich man and asked him whether he might look at this pamphlet in the library which his ancestors had accumulated, but to which the rich man had added nothing, being indeed indifferent to reading and writing. The rich man very politely answered that his library had unfortunately been burnt down, and that the pamphlet had been burnt with it. Whereupon the learned man was at the pains of taking a long journey to consult the copy kept in the public library. He discovered two things: (a) that the copy had never been used at all — it was uncut; (b) that the references always given had hardly any relation to the actual text. Then did he, as is the habit of all really learned people, go and waste a universe of energy in working out the textual criticism of the corruption, and he proved that the last time anyone had, with his own eyes, really seen that particular passage, instead of merely pretending that he had seen it, was in the year 1738 — far too long ago! Ever since then the reference had been first corrupted and then copied and recopied in its corrupted form by the University charlatans

William Hogarth, Scholars at a Lecture (1736)

2 December 2019

Friends of Reason

J. B. Bury, A History of Freedom of Thought (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1913), p. 50:
If we review the history of classical antiquity as a whole, we may almost say that freedom of thought was like the air men breathed. It was taken for granted and nobody thought about it. If seven or eight thinkers at Athens were penalized for heterodoxy, in some and perhaps in most of these cases heterodoxy was only a pretext. They do not invalidate the general facts that the advance of knowledge was not impeded by prejudice, or science retarded by the weight of unscientific authority. The educated Greeks were tolerant because they were friends of reason and did not set up any authority to overrule reason. Opinions were not imposed except by argument; you were not expected to receive some “kingdom of heaven” like a little child, or to prostrate your intellect before an authority claiming to be infallible.

Nicolas Poussin, Truth Stolen Away by Time,
Beyond the Reach of Envy and Discord
(1641)

25 November 2019

The Ethos of the Nonesuch Press

Sarah Knights, Bloomsbury's Outsider: A Life of David Garnett (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), pp. 182-183:
The Nonesuch ethos was simple: they wanted to produce beautiful books, in limited editions, for people who wanted to read them, rather than simply to own them. They were also interested in bringing back into print books which had literary or intrinsic artistic merit. They were thus largely responsible for the resurgence of interest in Restoration literature and drama, and with Geoffrey Keynes — surgeon, scholar and bibliophile — as one of their main editors, they reignited interest in the poet William Blake.

The three partners [Francis Meynell, Vera Mendel, and David Garnett] did not want to produce books which were unduly expensive. On the contrary, by out-sourcing their printing, rather than becoming laboriously involved in typesetting, they could produce exquisite limited editions at relatively affordable prices. As Francis explained: ‘Our stock-in-trade has been the theory that mechanical means could be made to serve fine ends; that the machine in printing was a controllable tool. Therefore we set out to be mobilisers of other people’s resources; to be designers, specifiers; rather than manufacturers; architects of books rather than builders.’
The title page to the Nonesuch edition of Hazlitt's essays
Image taken from John Krygier's admirable web site.

21 November 2019

The High Ideal of Antiquity

Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, "Limits of Culture," Essays and Studies (Baltimore: N. Murray, 1890), pp. 16-17:
As the Spartans discouraged those gymnastic exercises which did not bear directly on the efficiency of the soldier, so our modern reformers try to frown down all studies which do not prepare for 'the work of life'. But what is 'the work of life'? Is it not just here that we need the high ideal of antiquity in order to counteract the depressing tendencies of modern civilization, and especially those of American civilization? The aims of most cultivated people are, when examined, no more exalted than those of their uneducated neighbors. How few feel 'the poorness and insignificance of human life, if it is to be all spent in making things comfortable for ourselves and our kin, and raising ourselves and them a step or two on the social ladder.'1 Material well-being in more or less refined forms, is more or less consciously the main object. But the ideal life of antiquity is constructed after a different pattern; and though it is as unattainable by the means of mere humanity as the antique ideal of the state, we must confess the superiority of the one as of the other to the negative virtues and positive selfishness of our modern standards. 'Life is short', says the modern. 'Acquire by the shortest way the most efficient appliances for self-advancement.' 'Life is short', says an ancient. 'The one, true fruit of life on earth is purity of heart and work for the good of society.'2 Which is nearer to the Christian model? The one is a machine, the other a corpse; but into this you may breathe the soul of love, into that you can only introduce horse-power or donkey-power, as the case may be.
                 1 John Stuart Mill 
                 2 Marcus Aurelius, vi. 30.

Hat tip: Laudator Temporis Acti

Related posts:


Lawrence Alma-Tadema, A Reading from Homer (1885)

19 November 2019

Fritz Schönpflug

I could be wrong, but I believe this picture by Fritz Schönpflug (1873-1951) is of a lieutenant with the Imperial and Royal Dragoons:

12 November 2019

Sounding the Depths

John Alfred Spender, The Comments of Bagshot (London: J. M. Dent, 1914), p. 30:
It is necessary to fathom one's ignorance on one subject in order to discover how little one knows on other subjects.

Illustration from Sebastian Brant's Ship of Fools
Hat tip: Stepan Chizhov at iBookBinding.com

6 November 2019

Maurice Utrillo at Mont Saint-Michel

From my soon-to-be-published translation of Gustave Coquiot's Maurice Utrillo (Paris: André Delpeuch, 1925), pp. 106-107:
If Utrillo loved Mont Saint-Michel in a beautiful way, others have done the opposite and polluted it terribly. The tourists, the endless stream of engaged couples and newlyweds on their honeymoons — they have disturbed it with their laughter, their shouts, their rumbling digestion, their omelettes from Mère Poulard’s, and their moonlight embraces. All the cinema operators, movie directors, producers, and cameramen, they too have made a mockery of this holy place, trivialized and ridiculed it! A whole crowd of boors, eunuchs, and idiots have swarmed the old convent, fortress, and the dungeon that is still haunted by the ghost of Louis-Auguste Blanqui. Alas, there is no way to prevent it. Dogs are always on the lookout for high walls so that they can piss at their feet.
I have only been able to find one picture online that Utrillo painted at Mont Saint-Michel. As it happens, it is up for sale at Sotheby's next week:

Maurice Utrillo, Le Mont Saint-Michel (1922)

4 November 2019

The Contract Between Artist and Public

Camille Mauclair, Henri Le Sidaner (Paris: Georges Petit & Henri Floury, 1928), p. 192 (from my recently-published translation):
Believability has always been the necessary condition for an exchange of understanding and emotion between the artist, his work, and the public. If a picture does not remain believable — even if it is obviously interpreted along certain predefined lines — and if a creator declares that he alone possesses the absolute right to understand his thoughts while at the same time he persists in looking for validation from others (for he does, after all, exhibit his works), then the terms of the natural contract have been broken. We cannot replicate life literally, nor is it desirable that we should do so; all the images we assemble are arbitrary in that they remain approximations — it is a question of whether they are approximations to a greater or a lesser degree — but when the artist leads us somewhere, we must always be able to believe the scene and breathe the air. Without this, the work will be childishly incomprehensible no matter how profound a meaning it is supposed to contain.

Barnett Newman, Voice of Fire (1967)

Related posts:

  • The Genesis of Modernism
  • Incurable Uneasiness
  • High-Priests of the Unutterable
  • Fraud