19 July 2019

The Habit of Study

Richard McCambly, OCSO, "On Aging," an essay posted to the Lectio Divina web site:
Just six months before his death at the ripe age of ninety-five he [a fellow monk] decided to take up German for reading knowledge as well as Koine Greek in order to access the New Testament in the original. That’s impressive by any standard. Several younger monks used to shuttle between his room and the library taking out this book and that. When one of these monks asked what drove him, his response? The day wasn’t long enough to do all he wanted. All the while he was engaged in some kind of activity tucked away from the sight of most people. Obviously this monk was in class by himself compared with other infirmary residents. He provided a cautionary tale: if you don’t start studying early, you won’t do it later in life, especially when no one is around to hold your hand. Study gets you through the inevitable dryness and boredom of prayer and the occasional monotony of lectio divina. No small wonder study is the unsung hidden asset of a monk’s life. While most people says that nothing excels prayer and lectio, study is a firm rudder which keeps you from drifting off into an uninformed piety.

Detail from one of the panels in the
Cabinet des pères du désert

9 July 2019

The Invasion of Ugliness

Charles Robert Ashbee, A Book of Cottages and Little Houses (London: Essex House Press, 1906), pp. 82-83:
What is the meaning, we are perpetually asking ourselves, of the invasion of ugliness with which nowadays we are perpetually being overwhelmed? It enters into the marrow of modern life; it makes our towns hideous, our public buildings vulgar and pretentious; it intrudes into our homes and everything about us; and its latest and most furious manifestation would seem to be the dusty storm of the motor car into the quietest and most remote of little country villages.

Is it economic pressure that brings this ugliness? — surely not entirely. It is also very much in ourselves, a sort of inverted kingdom of heaven to which for the time being we have attained.

Is it materialism? — there is some subtle connection between the creed or philosophy of that name and what we call ugliness. To the artist or the poet there is implied in it a want of unity, an imperfection, a disbelief in the essential form of good. How perpetually does not the waste and futility of modern life bring this home to us? The great sums we spend in getting to each little spot of beauty, which we have no eyes to see when there, would be often better spent in keeping it beautiful. Why, then, this invasion of ugliness? — what is the reason for it? The reason lies rather in the relative value we attach to the things of life. Our material comforts, the multiplicity of our personal wants, the useless things of life with which we cumber ourselves, appear so much more important to us than this thing I am pointing to, this principle of beauty in building. It would never have been possible for the builder of the “Island House” of Middle Row in Campden High Street to have made those three gables of which I spoke before had he not had this principle at heart. It was more to him than the waterspouts.

“There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men: a man to whom God hath given riches, wealth & honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not the power to eat thereof.... this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.” The Preacher might have added, had he lived in our own day, that we call the disease materialism; and architecture and materialism are incompatible.

Illustration from page 77

Not unrelated: Witnesses to Destruction

2 July 2019

Hand in Hand with the Ourang-Outang

Adolph Knigge (1752-1796), Practical Philosophy of Social Life, tr. Peter Will (Lansingburgh: Penniman & Bliss, 1805), p. 107:
Happy eighteenth century, in which such great discoveries are made, — as for instance: that we may learn to read without being acquainted with letters and syllables, and that we may love the whole human race without loving individuals! Century of universal medicines, of philalethes, philanthropists and cosmopolites, whither wilt thou lead us at last? General illumination will spread over all ranks; the husbandman will let his plough stand idle, and read to Princes lectures on liberty and equality, and on their obligation to share the drudgeries of life with him: every one will attempt to reason down all prejudices that stand in his way; laws and civil regulations will be superseded by license; the powerful and the better-instructed will reclaim his right of superiority, and follow his impulse to care for the best of the whole world at the expense of his weaker brethren; property, constitutions and political restrictions will cease to be respected, every one will be his own ruler, and invent a system of his own to gratify his desires. — Oh! happy, golden age! We then shall be but one family, shall press the noble and amiable cannibal to our heart, and, if that general benevolence should spread farther, walk through life hand in hand with the witty and sensible Ourang-Outang. Then all fetters will be broken and all prejudices dispelled. We then shall not be bound to pay the debts of our fathers, nor to be satisfied with one wife, and the lock of our neighbour's strong box will prevent us no longer from making good our innate right to the gold which all-bountiful nature produces for general use. 
The original can be found in Über den Umgang mit Menschen (Frankfurt am Main: Insel Verlag, 1977) on pp. 146-148.

Clint Cast as a Cosmopolite

26 June 2019

Somewhere at the Bottom of One's Mind

Charles Buxton, Notes of Thought  (London: John Murray, 1883), p. 148:
It is puzzling to think where all one's knowledge goes to. You read thousands upon thousands of books, of every sort and kind, and at the end of twenty years they do not rise to the surface in your conversation, or in your capacities, or in your character. You were just as able, and good, and agreeable, at thirty as at fifty. Is there a stratum of useful knowledge deposited somewhere at the bottom of one's mind? and when will it be available? In heaven? Nay, what should we do there with a desultory knowledge of French history and Greek plays!
Rudolf von Alt, The Library of the Palais Lanckoronski (1881)

20 June 2019

Is This Civilization?

Max Ehrmann, "I Look Over This Wilderness," Max Ehrmann's Poems (Terre Haute, Ind.: Viquesney Pub. Co., 1906), p. 55:
I look over this wilderness of monstrous
buildings and this race of hurrying,
careworn, nervous men, whose feet
never touched the cool, budding earth,
and whose souls lie dormant or dead
in their fevered bodies; and I ask,
"O God! is this civilization?"

Better the plain-clad follower of the plow,
who is no man's chattel, and toils
in God's pure air, the witness of
incessant birth of bud and bloom,
and of the sky by day and by night —
lacking ornament — but calm and free.

Théodore Rousseau, Paysage avec un charretier (c. 1861)

18 June 2019

Death Settles All Scores

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, "On Anger," Seneca's Morals, tr. Sir Roger L'Estrange (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1917), pp. 233-234:
Let us bethink ourselves of our mortality, and not squander away the little time that we have upon animosities and feuds, as if it were never to be at an end. Had we not better enjoy the pleasure of our own life than be still contriving how to gall and torment another's, in all our brawlings and contentions never so much as dreaming of our weakness? Do we not know that these implacable enmities of ours lie at the mercy of a fever, or any petty accident, to disappoint? Our fate is at hand, and the very hour that we have set for another man's death may peradventure be prevented by our own. What is it that we make all this bustle for, and so needlessly disquiet our minds? We are offended with our servants, our masters, our princes, our clients: it is but a little patience, and we shall be all of us equal; so that there is no need either of ambushes of or combats. Our wrath cannot go beyond death; and death will most undoubtedly come whether we be peevish or quiet. It is time lost to take pains to do that which will infallibly be done without us.

Todt zum Herzog, illustration from the Basler Totentanz
(Frankfurt: Andreä & Hort, 1725)

14 June 2019

Reading Ruskin

Henry Ward Beecher, Norwood (New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 1868), pp. 222-223:
We were sitting on the door-step one evening, and Miss Rose was questioning her father about some statement of Ruskin's that seemed extravagant. He replied:

"It is extravagant, my dear. Ruskin is full of wildness, and tangles himself up with himself like a vine twisting on itself. You read Ruskin just as you explore a region, finding many treasures and much that you avoid. He has his brier thickets, his contorted trees, his muddy morasses. But, taken as a whole, the landscape is rich and grand. Ruskin is like a forest, on whose edges and in whose depths are many noxious plants — but these bear no proportion to the magnitude of the woods, the grandeur of the trees, and the sublimity, in winter and summer, of the music which the wind draws from their boughs and tops."

Then, turning to me, he said:

"Have you studied Ruskin?"

I replied: "I have read portions — extracts — from his works."

After a pause, he said in a very gentle way, in an undertone, but earnestly:

"My young friend, Ruskin is not to be read in extracts — nor simply read either. You ought to take him as an infection. He should throw you into a fever. The whole system should be pervaded by it. He is like those diseases which renovate the system. Do not try to check it. Let it run its full period. Afterward you will recover well; you will throw off much. You will retain, perhaps, little. But, your whole constitution will be changed. You will observe differently, think differently, reason differently, all the rest of your life."

Hubert von Herkomer, John Ruskin (1879)

10 June 2019

Deutscher Mühlentag

Today is National Mills Day in Germany. Those who speak German may be interested in watching Der Herrgott weiß, was mit uns geschieht, a 1999 documentary about two sisters who owned and operated a water-powered sawmill in Burladingen.

Andreas Achenbach, Die Mühle (1852)

7 June 2019

Books as a Necessity

Stanley Unwin, The Truth About Publishing (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1929), pp 56-57:
Insufficient Sales. — But although I am bound to admit that there are far too many worthless books published, the real problem is not over-production, but under-consumption, or, to be more precise, insufficient sales. Most people have not yet learned to regard books as necessity. They will beg them, they will borrow them, they will do everything, in fact, but buy them. People who would be ashamed to cadge for anything else they wanted, who will unhesitatingly pay 8s. 6d. apiece for a dozen gramophone records, or 12s. 6d. each for stalls at a theatre, will think twice, if not three times, before spending even 5s. upon a book which will last a lifetime. The fact that we in England do not spend on books — per head of population — anything approaching the amount spent by the population of New Zealand, and that, relatively speaking, we have not nearly so many booksellers’ shops, demonstrates that, despite the increase in demand since the war, there is still ample room for expansion. Book-lovers would do well to ignore what is often idle chatter about over-production, and to concentrate attention upon encouraging the new reading public which is growing up around us. For the fact that more and better books are not read, we are all in a measure responsible. It is not the unwanted books that bar the way. It is the lack of early training and the lack of guidance. It is often a lack of knowledge or an absence of realization of the joys of reading and the inexhaustible treasures of English Literature. 

Carl Spitzweg, Der Philosoph (Der Leser im Park)