22 March 2019

20 March 2019

A Fortunate Era

Willibrord Verkade, Yesterdays of an Artist-Monk, tr. John Stoddard (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1930), p. 177:
Travel is for man a delight. It is so sweet to escape for a time from the regular round of domestic duties and, in the sense that one is a stranger in the country through which one is passing, to be free. Formerly every journeyman used to go on his travels, after he had, as an apprentice, served his master for years in affectionate submissiveness. That was indeed a happy time, which was not passed in haste and workingmen’s disorders. A fortunate era, when the seriousness of old age was mellowed by the recollection of the joyful years of youthful wandering, and when the memory of all the countries, with their cities and villages, through which one had then travelled, wove a brilliant background for the stage of later life.
A related post: Tour de France

11 March 2019

Some Sporting Event or Stupid Show

Henry Suso, Wisdom's Watch Upon the Hours (Book II, Chapter I), tr. Edmund Colledge (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1994), pp. 236-237:
What the Disciple found in this mansion amazed him, and made him want to laugh. For there was what seemed like a silver ball that had fallen among them from the sky, rolling around, which by its beauty and costliness made all of them gaze on it in love and longing, for it promised glory and honor to those who could possess it. And when one outstanding teacher had it in his hand, and through this his fame resounded through the whole world, and his teachings shone brighter than all others, like a rose without thorn and a cloudless sun, many, seeing this and envying it, tried in every way they might to snatch the ball from his hand. Now they threw sharp darts at him, and now hard stones, but it did not help them, for they were inflicting astonishing hurts on themselves, and wounding themselves with their own darts. When this ball bounced round among them, those who were present were at pains, not indeed to grasp it for themselves, but rather to do all they could to knock it out of each other’s hands, and steal it away and advertise that someone else did not have it. They offered no explanations of what it was, but they wrapped it up in their own implications. And there were among them, it is shameful to say, astonishing arguments and uproars and contradictions about this ball, and in the minds of many who were listening this produced great boredom and distaste. For they derived no benefit from these things, but complained that they were at some sporting event or stupid show. And some of them mocked the others, and they wore themselves out with wordy warfare, and attacked each other and sparred like fighting bantams.

And when the Disciple asked from the bystanders what all this spectacle was about, someone replied that this silver ball was supposed to signify the truth of Sacred Scripture, lucid and clear-sounding and incorruptible. And he added: “Some present-day scholars spend more pains in attacking it than seeking it, for some of them do not seem to be working to acquire it, but trying with all their might to prove that someone else does not possess that truth at all, and by this they try to advance themselves and put down someone else. And so they manufacture refutations, rejoinders and astonishing newfangled opinions, which do more to surprise those who hear them than to give them anything useful. For the truth which they should have unfolded for their listeners they wrap up in what they are driving at and their unheard-of language, and for the sake of empty display for the most part they hide the truth out of sight.”

Hieronymus Bosch, The Conjurer (c. 1502)

Related posts:

4 March 2019

The Knowledge of Words

 John Earle, English Prose; Its Elements, History, and Usage (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1890), p. 34:
The knowledge of words in their mental incidence and artistic effect is something that must be gained slowly by long experience, because it is numerically extensive, it is multitudinous, it is not capable of being reduced to heads or rules, but must depend upon the stores of memory, and the culture of the perceptive faculty. Hence the need of constant acquaintance and familiarity with the best authors.

A page from Earle's "Table of Trilogies"

22 February 2019

Der Letzte Mensch

Thomas Sergeant Perry, from a review of Nietzsche's Untimely Meditations, in the North American Review (July 1875), quoted by Stephen Donadio, Nietzsche, Henry James, and the Artistic Will (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 19:
If anything is suggested to us, instead of trying to do it, we feel our pulses, look at our tongues, and write accounts of the way the proposal affects us. We have become self-conscious to an extent which was unknown to our ancestors; we demoralize ourselves and those about us by looking at everything in an ironical spirit.
Lilla Cabot Perry, Thomas Sergeant Perry  (1889)

20 February 2019

The Elements of a Well-Designed Book

Hugh Williamson, Methods of Book Design (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), pp. 378-379:
A book is to be sold. The designer’s task is not so much to settle the price as to make the best use of the permissible manufacturing expense, planning the book for economical production, and exploiting to the full the techniques and materials available at the stipulated price. The book must attract the buyer, and be worth possessing as a physical object, not merely worth borrowing; its price must be within the buyer’s reach, and its appearance and construction should make the price a bargain. The requirements not only of ordinary readers but of booksellers and librarians must be allowed to influence its form.

A book is to be laid open, held, and carried. All but a few books are held while being read, and most books are carried about to some extent before and after reading. No book can be considered legible unless it lies flat when open; it should not have to be held open. The printed part of the pages at which the book is opened should be nearly level, not curving inwards towards the spine. Bulk should be proportionate to format, as far as possible; the very squat, stout book is as inconvenient to hold as the very large thin book. Every book should be designed to withstand whatever handling it may receive without unduly rapid deterioration.

A book is to be seen — of course it is to be read, but it is also to be looked at. It must be capable of being read with ease, speed, and accuracy by the reader and in the conditions for which it is intended. This can be achieved only by the precise adjustment to each other of all the variables of the text page, and is a matter of paper and presswork as well as of typographic arrangement. Illustrations no less than composition need to be planned by the typographer. The well-designed book presents an appearance of pattern and purpose; all its parts are planned to suit each other. The typographer must concern himself with the mental as with the optical process of reading, and must arrange the text and illustrations with their headings, notes, reference systems, and other accessories in a clear and convenient manner.

A book is to be kept. After being read it is set aside, usually on a shelf, to be read again one day. The book should if possible be of a size to stand between ordinary bookshelves; particularly large books are apt to be a nuisance. Once it is on the shelf the book should be able to stay there indefinitely without undue deterioration, retaining its qualities until its next use.

 François Bonvin, Still Life with Book, Papers, and Inkwell  (1876)

14 February 2019

The Windows and the Stars Illumined

Henri Le Sidaner, Les Faubourgs (1909)

This cityscape is unusual for an Intimist painter like Le Sidaner, but I'm quite fond of it; I look at the lit windows and rising smoke, and think of Baudelaire's poem "Landscape," from The Flowers of Evil, tr. George Dillon (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1936):
I want to write a book of chaste and simple verse,
Sleep in an attic, like the old astrologers,
Up near the sky, and hear upon the morning air
The tolling of the bells. I want to sit and stare,
My chin in my two hands, out on the humming shops,
The weathervanes, the chimneys, and the steepletops
That rise like masts above the city, straight and tall,
And the mysterious big heavens over all.
I want to watch the blue mist of the night come on,
The windows and the stars illumined, one by one,
The rivers of dark smoke pour upward lazily,
And the moon rise and turn them silver. I shall see
The springs, the summers, and the autumns slowly pass;
And when old Winter puts his blank face to the glass,
I shall close all my shutters, pull the curtains tight,
And build me stately palaces by candlelight.
And I shall dream of luxuries beyond surmise,
Gardens that are a stairway into azure skies,
Fountains that weep in alabaster, birds that sing
All day — of every childish and idyllic thing.
A revolution thundering in the street below
Will never lure me from my task, I shall be so
Lost in that quiet ecstasy, the keenest still,
Of calling back the springtime at my own free will,
Of feeling a sun rise within me, fierce and hot,
And make a whole bright landscape of my burning thought.


Je veux, pour composer chastement mes églogues,
Coucher auprès du ciel, comme les astrologues,
Et, voisin des clochers écouter en rêvant
Leurs hymnes solennels emportés par le vent.
Les deux mains au menton, du haut de ma mansarde,
Je verrai l'atelier qui chante et qui bavarde;
Les tuyaux, les clochers, ces mâts de la cité,
Et les grands ciels qui font rêver d'éternité.
II est doux, à travers les brumes, de voir naître
L'étoile dans l'azur, la lampe à la fenêtre
Les fleuves de charbon monter au firmament
Et la lune verser son pâle enchantement.
Je verrai les printemps, les étés, les automnes;
Et quand viendra l'hiver aux neiges monotones,
Je fermerai partout portières et volets
Pour bâtir dans la nuit mes féeriques palais.
Alors je rêverai des horizons bleuâtres,
Des jardins, des jets d'eau pleurant dans les albâtres,
Des baisers, des oiseaux chantant soir et matin,
Et tout ce que l'Idylle a de plus enfantin.
L'Emeute, tempêtant vainement à ma vitre,
Ne fera pas lever mon front de mon pupitre;
Car je serai plongé dans cette volupté
D'évoquer le Printemps avec ma volonté,
De tirer un soleil de mon coeur, et de faire
De mes pensers brûlants une tiède atmosphère.

8 February 2019

Quite Satisfied

George Herbert Powell, Reminiscences and Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers (London: R Brimley Johnson, 1903), pp. 281-282:
When asked why he had written so little, Porson replied, "I doubt if I could produce any original work which would command the attention of posterity. I can be known only by my notes: and I am quite satisfied if, three hundred years hence, it shall be said that 'one Person lived towards the close of the eighteenth century, who did a good deal for the text of Euripides.' "  
Thomas Kirkby, Richard Porson (c. 1805)

5 February 2019

I Used to Be Angry Every Day

Epictetus, Discourses (Book II, Chapter XVII), tr. W. A. Oldfather (London: Heinemann, 1931 = Loeb Classical Library, 131), p. 353:
Certain imprints and weals are left behind on the mind, and unless a man erases them perfectly, the next time he is scourged upon the old scars, he has weals no longer but wounds. If, therefore, you wish not to be hot-tempered, do not feed your habit, set before it nothing on which it can grow. As the first step, keep quiet and count the days on which you have not been angry. "I used to be angry every day, after that every other day, then every third, and then every fourth day." If you go as much as thirty days without a fit of anger, sacrifice to God. For the habit is first weakened and then utterly destroyed.
I broke my resolution and read a newspaper yesterday, with predictable results; the count to thirty days without a fit of anger begins once again.

Not unrelated: Keep Apart

The frontispiece to Edward Ivie’s translation of the Enchiridion
(Oxford: Henry Clements at the Sheldonian Theatre, 1715)