31 December 2013

The True Ideal of Human Life

W. J. Dawson, The Quest of the Simple Life (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1907), pp. 67-70:
The more I reflect upon the matter the more am I convinced that one of the great curses of civilisation is the division of labour which makes us dependent upon other people to a degree which destroys individual efficiency. Thrown back upon himself as a dweller in a wilderness, any man of ordinary capacity soon develops efficiency for kinds of work which he would never have attempted in a city, simply because a city tempts him at every point to delegate his own proper toil to others. I can conceive of few things that would do more to create a genuine pride of home than to insist that no man should possess a house except by building it for himself, after the old primitive principle of the earliest social communities. To build thus is to mix sentiment with the mortar, and the house thus created is a place to which affections and memories cling; whereas the mere tenancy of a cube of rotten bricks, thrown together by the jerry-builder — of which we know no more than the amount of rent which is charged for it — is incapable of nourishing any sentiment, and is, in any case, not a home but a lodging.


I shall perhaps fall under the suspicion of morbid sensitiveness when I confess that I never took my weekly wage in London without a qualm and a compunction, for I could never make myself believe that I had really earned it. What had I done? I had simply performed a few arithmetical processes which any schoolboy might have done as well. My labour, such as it was, was absorbed instantly in the commercial operations of a great firm. I could not trace it, and I had no means of estimating its value. The money I took for it seemed therefore to come to me by a sort of legerdemain. That some one thought it worth while to pay me was ostensible proof that my work was really worth something; but so little able was I to penetrate the processes that resulted in this judgment, so vivid was the sense of some ingenious jugglery in the whole business, that I did not know whether I had been cheated or was a cheat, in living by a kind of labour that cost me so little. How different was my feeling now! At the end of an hour's spade-work, I saw something actually done, of which I was the indisputable author. When I laid down the saw and plane and hammer, and stretched my aching back, I saw something growing into shape, which I myself had created. There was no jugglery about this; there was immediate intimate relation between cause and effect. And thence I found a kind of joy in my work, which was new and exquisite to me. I stood upon my own feet, self-possessed, self-respecting, efficient for my own needs, and conscious of a definite part in the great rhythm of infinite toil which makes the universe. It is only when a man works for himself that this kind of joy is felt. So enamoured was I of this new joy, that had it been possible I would have possessed nothing that was not the direct result of my own labour. I would have liked to have spun the wool for my own clothes, and have tanned the leather for my own boots. I would have liked to grow the corn for my own bread, and have killed my own meat, as the savage or the primitive settler does. In this respect the savage or the primitive settler approaches much nearer the true ideal of human life than the civilised man, for the true ideal is that every man shall be efficient for his own needs, with as little dependence as possible on others.

30 December 2013

The Dullest Men in All the World

W. J. Dawson, The Quest of the Simple Life (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1907), pp. 14-15:
[G]ranted that some degree of competence is needed for a free and various use of life, is it worth while to destroy the power of living in attaining the means to live? What is a man better for his wealth if he does not know how to use it? A fool may steal a ship, but it takes a wise man to navigate her towards the islands of the Blest. I am told sometimes that there is a romance in business; no doubt there is, but it is pretty often the romance of piracy; and the pleasures of the rich man are very often nothing better than the pleasures of the pirate: a barbaric wading in gold, a reckless piling up of treasure, which he has not the sense to use. As long as there are shouting crews upon the sea and flaming ships, he is happy; but give him at last the gold which he has striven to win, and he knows nothing better than to sit like the successful pirate in a common ale-house, and make his boast to boon companions. I believe that the dullest men in all the world are very rich men; and I have sometimes thought that it cannot need a very high order of intelligence to acquire wealth, since some of the meanest of mankind appear to prosper at the business. A certain vulpine shrewdness of intelligence seems the thing most needed, and this may coexist with a general dulness of mind which would disgrace a savage.

24 December 2013

A Canadian Winter

Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (London: Taylor & Hessey, 1823), pp. 138-139:
I put up a petition annually for as much snow, hail, frost, or storm, of one kind or other, as the skies can possibly afford us.  Surely everybody is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a winter fireside, candles at four o’clock, warm hearth-rugs, tea, a fair tea-maker, shutters closed, curtains flowing in ample draperies on the floor, whilst the wind and rain are raging audibly without,
And at the doors and windows seem to call,
As heav’n and earth they would together mell;
Yet the least entrance find they none at all;
Whence sweeter grows our rest secure in massy hall. 
Castle of Indolence
All these are items in the description of a winter evening which must surely be familiar to everybody born in a high latitude.  And it is evident that most of these delicacies, like ice-cream, require a very low temperature of the atmosphere to produce them; they are fruits which cannot be ripened without weather stormy or inclement in some way or other.  I am not “particular,” as people say, whether it be snow, or black frost, or wind so strong that (as Mr.  says) “you may lean your back against it like a post.”  I can put up even with rain, provided it rains cats and dogs; but something of the sort I must have, and if I have it not, I think myself in a manner ill-used; for why am I called on to pay so heavily for winter, in coals and candles, and various privations that will occur even to gentlemen, if I am not to have the article good of its kind?  No, a Canadian winter for my money, or a Russian one, where every man is but a co-proprietor with the north wind in the fee-simple of his own ears.

23 December 2013

Brook Type

An example of Lucien Pissaro's Brook font, The Art of the Book, ed. Charles Holme (London: The Studio, 1914), p. 25:

The Eragny Press edition of Areopagitica (1903)
cf. Gargoyle

20 December 2013

A Book About Books

Anthony Sillem, The Barrow in Newport Court; A Memoir of the Rare Book Trade (Hastings: The Hungry Hornet Press, 2011), pp. 53-54:
Book-collecting is something that tends to claim its devotees in early middle age, when disposable incomes are starting to reach a reasonable level [....] Why people start collecting books in the first place is, of course, a matter of conjecture, but there can be a kind of logical development to it. Most book buyers never get beyond the stage of reading paperbacks and I would agree that there is something very appetising about a newly purchased Penguin: like a delicious and nourishing slice from a freshly baked loaf. But a slice of bread soon grows stale and a well-read paperback quickly turns into a dreary looking object and then falls to bits. Over the years I have had to replace my Peter Whigham Penguin translation of Catullus and my A. C. Graham translation of 'Poems of the Late T'ang' over and over again. The next stage, then, is to buy the books that one intends to read more than once in hardbound form — not always as easy as it used to be. The old Oxford Standard Authors editions of the English poets, formerly stoutly bound in cloth and intended to last the student for many readings into his old age, are now only available in paperback, intended to last the student merely until he has taken his English degree and returned to his Playstation.

Once the reader has become accustomed to buying hardbacks then a temporal element can come into play. The best edition of his text may have been out of print for some years, even decades. He purchases a copy from his local secondhand bookseller and finds himself the owner of a handsome volume, well printed, strongly and attractively bound in high quality cloth and, if he is lucky, with collotype plates, gilt top and bevelled edges. Whilst hunting the shelves for his prize he picks up a copy of a favourite novel of his youth redolent of its period. It is the beginning of a first edition collection. And so on.
This memoir will appeal to anyone with a fondness for books and booksellers. It was a serendipitous discovery; I found it while browsing through Mr. Sillem's stock on Abebooks. At the end of each chapter he includes a list of books he associates with that period in his life — a nice touch.

19 December 2013

The Thirteenth Chapter of Gargantua

Charles Nodier, The Bibliomaniac, tr. Frank H. Ginn (Cleveland: The Rowfant Club, 1900), pp. 18-19:
It is twenty years since Theodore withdrew from society, to work or to be idle, which of the two nobody knew. He dreamed, and no one read his dreams. He passed his life among his books, and occupied himself only with them. This caused some of his friends to think that Theodore was writing a book which would make all other books useless; but evidently they were all mistaken. Theodore was too much the student not to know that that book was written three hundred years ago. It is the thirteenth chapter of the first book of Rabelais.

18 December 2013

Sufficient Unto the Day Is the Evil Thereof

William James Dawson (1854-1928), "On Old Age," The Book of Courage (New York: F. H. Revell, 1911), pp. 196-197:
We can accommodate ourselves to almost any situation if we have to, and it should not be difficult to accommodate ourselves to age. Raleigh, after all his adventurous wanderings, can settle down for twelve years in the Tower and write his History of the World, and Argyle slept in a prison as soundly as he had ever slept. Old age is much more a mental conception than an actual fact, a ghost that seems dreadful until we approach it, when it turns out to be nothing more than moonshine. At twenty, fifty seems a great age; when we reach fifty we are surprised to find that the road we travel is much the same, but the company is better. If there is less beating of drums and shrilling of trumpets, there are more victorious names inscribed upon our banners ; if there are fewer rainbows in the sky, there is wider sunlight. A great part of the wisdom of life lies in the simple art of living a day at a time. An old Federal soldier once told me the story of his sixteen months' imprisonment in a Southern prison. The conditions were deplorable. There was little food, much sickness, the men were clothed in rags, and great numbers of them died. "How did you survive?" I asked. "Why, I said to myself the first day, 'I shall be released tomorrow'; and every day I repeated to myself that this was no doubt my last day. I just lived a day at a time." He added further that the men who died the soonest were those of a melancholy temperament, who spent their time brooding over their unhappy lot. As I listened to the story, I realized that this cheerful old fellow had discovered the only philosophy of life that is of practical value and utility. He made it his one business to get through the present hour the best way he could; and that is, after all, the chief business for us all.

17 December 2013

The Books That Never Can Be Mine

Andrew Lang, "Ballade of the Unattainable," Books and Bookmen (New York: George J. Coombes, 1886), pp. 174-175:
The Books I cannot hope to buy,
Their phantoms round me waltz and wheel,
They pass before the dreaming eye,
Ere Sleep the dreaming eye can seal.
A kind of literary reel
They dance; how fair the bindings shine!
Prose cannot tell them what I feel, —
The Books that never can be mine!

There frisk Editions rare and shy,
Morocco clad from head to heel;
Shakespearian quartos; Comedy
As first she flashed from Richard Steele;
And quaint De Foe on Mrs. Veal;
And, lord of landing net and line,
Old Izaak with his fishing creel, —
The Books that never can be mine!

Incunables! for you I sigh,
Black letter, at thy founts I kneel,
Old tales of Perrault's nursery,
For you I'd go without a meal!
For Books wherein did Aldus deal
And rare Galliot du Pré I pine.
The watches of the night reveal
The Books that never can be mine!


Prince, hear a hopeless Bard's appeal;
Reverse the rules of Mine and Thine;
Make it legitimate to steal
The Books that never can be mine!
Found via Bertrand Hugonnard-Roche, who notes that Octave Uzanne caught Andrew Lang plagiarising in one of the essays in this book.

12 December 2013

Graveyard Masonry

A note to the handful of regular readers:

I won't be posting over the next few days. When I resume next week I plan to change the layout, so please forgive the mess while construction is under way.

I've also grown tired of seeing my name in large red letters and am changing the blog's title to Graveyard Masonry. It's taken from a line in this essay by W. E. Henley:
The fact is, the translator too often forgets the difference between his subject and himself; he is too often a common graveyard mason that would play the sculptor.
I think it's doubly appropriate since most of the authors I read are long dead.

The address will remain the same (www.andrewickard.ca), but when I eventually change the title you may find it listed under G instead of A in RSS readers.

Caspar David Friedrich, Friedhof im Schnee (1826)

11 December 2013

The Last Resource of Ignorance

Paul Ponder, Noctes Atticae, or Reveries in a Garret; Containing Short, and Chiefly Original, Observations on Men and Books, Vol II (Bath: Richard Cruttwell, 1825), pp. 194-195:
A little wit, with a convenient share of ill-nature, will enable a man to be satirical; but it requires a good deal of sense to praise worthy objects, as in such there is a great quantity of matter of the best sort, and they require commensurate abilities and judgement to give them their share and kind of encomium. The last resource of ignorance is a sneer, when the person is conscious he can give no answer; and herein the intended satire falls on the feeble attempt to be satirical. 
Found via Laudator Temporis Acti.

10 December 2013

The Rich Soil of Sorrow

Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), "On the Relation of Life and Character to Literature," Talks to Writers (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1920), pp. 27-29:
The lover of literature has a medicine for grief that no doctor can furnish; he can always transmute his pain into something precious and lasting. None of us in this world can expect to be very happy; the proportion of happiness to unhappiness in the average human life has been estimated as something less than one-third. No matter how healthy or strong or fortunate you may be, every one of you must expect to endure a great deal of pain; and it is worth while for you to ask yourselves whether you cannot put it to good use. For pain has a very great value to the mind that knows how to utilize it. Nay, more than this must be said; nothing great ever was written, or ever will be written, by a man who does not know pain. All great literature has its source in the rich soil of sorrow; and that is the real meaning of the famous verses of Goethe:
Who ne'er his bread in sorrow ate, —
Who ne'er the lonely midnight hours,
Weeping upon his bed has sat, —
He knows ye not, ye Heavenly powers.
Of course it is only the young man who sits upon his bed at midnight and weeps; he is weak only for want of experience. The mature man will not weep, but he will turn to literature in order to compose his mind; and he will put his pain into beautiful songs or thoughts that will help to make the hearts of all who read them more tender and true.

Remember, I do not mean that a literary man should write only to try and forget his suffering. That will do very well for a beginning, for a boyish effort. But a strong man ought not to try to forget in that way. On the contrary, he should try to think a great deal about his grief, to think of it as representing only one little drop in the great sea of the world's pain, to think about it bravely, and to put his thoughts about it into beautiful and impersonal form. Nobody should allow himself for a moment to imagine that his own particular grief, that his own private loss, that his own personal pain, can have any value in literature, except in so far as it truly represents the great pain of human life.
The quote comes from a poem in Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre:
Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß,
Wer nie die kummervollen Nächte
Auf seinem Bette weinend saß,
Der kennt euch nicht, ihr himmlischen Mächte!
Franz Schubert set the poem to music in his Gesänge des Harfners (Op. 12, No. 3), D480.

6 December 2013

Writing with a Pencil

Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace (Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2002), pp. 74-75:
[A] computer, I am told, offers a kind of help that you can’t get from other humans; a computer will help you to write faster, easier, and more. For a while, it seemed to me that every university professor I met told me this. Do I, then, want to write faster, easier, and more? No. My standards are not speed, ease, and quantity. I have already left behind too much evidence that, writing with a pencil, I have written too fast, too easily, and too much. I would like to be a better writer, and for that I need help from other humans, not a machine. The professors who recommended speed, ease, and quantity to me were, of course, quoting the standards of their universities. The chief concern of the industrial system, which is to say the present university system, is to cheapen work by increasing volume. But implicit in the professors’ recommendation was the idea that one needs to be up with the times. The pace-setting academic intellectuals have lately had a great hankering to be up with the times. They don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses: as intellectuals, they know that they are supposed to be Nonconformists and Independent Thinkers living at the Cutting Edge of Human Thought. And so they are all a-dither to keep up with the times — which means adopting the latest technological innovations as soon as the Joneses do. Do I wish to keep up with the times? No. My wish simply is to live my life as fully as I can. In both our work and our leisure, I think, we should be so employed. And in our time this means that we must save ourselves from the products that we are asked to buy in order, ultimately, to replace ourselves.

5 December 2013

Gruß vom Krampus

The Kurrentschrift on the card reads:
Sei nur brav und niemals keck
Dann der Krampus schaut um's Eck
My translation:
Only be good and never lippy, because Krampus is looking around the corner.

4 December 2013

The False Humility of the Frog

Robert Lynd, "The Cult of Dullness," Books & Authors (London: R. Cobden-Sanderson, 1922), pp. 147-148:
The ordinary writer sets out with the hope of qualifying for a place in the temple of fame: he ends too often by merely qualifying for a place in the Dunciad. He may be a man of one talent, which would serve well enough if put to proper uses, but he prefers to hide it and to pretend that it is ten, railing all the while at others on the ground that they have only five. I used to think that it was un-Christian of the Founder of Christianity to give the man with one talent so poor a name compared to the man with five or the man with ten. But I have long since come to see that in doing so he spoke out of a profound knowledge of human nature. The man with one talent is the most likely of all to make no use of it. He does not see that even his poverty may be turned into riches, as is obvious when one remembers such Lilliputian and immortal poets as Lovelace. He is blinded by a sense of his insignificance. He has the false humility of the frog, which is not content to be a first-rate frog but must try to swell itself into a bull.
Sengai Gibon (1750-1837), Meditating Frog

3 December 2013

The Melancholy Aspidistra

Harold Monro (1879-1932), "Aspidistra Street," Strange Meetings (London: The Poetry Bookshop, 1917), p. 42:
Go along that road, and look at sorrow.
Every window grumbles.
All day long the drizzle fills the puddles,
Trickles in the runnels and the gutters,
Drips and drops and dripples, and drops and dribbles,
While the melancholy aspidistra
Frowns between the parlour curtains.

Uniformity, dull Master! -
Birth and marriage, middle-age and death;
Rain and gossip: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday...

Sure, the lovely fools who made Utopia
Planned it without any aspidistra.
There will be a heaven on earth, but first
We must banish from the parlour
Plush and poker-work and paper flowers,
Brackets, staring photographs and what-nots,
Serviettes, frills and etageres,
Anti-macassars, vases, chiffoniers;

And the gloomy apidistra
Glowering through the window-pane,
Meditating heavy maxims,
Moralising to the rain.
I wonder if this poem inspired George Orwell's novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Orwell would have been about 15 when it was published.

Mark Gertler, Still Life with Aspidistra (1926)

2 December 2013

An Artist's Day

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life (London: Macmillan, 1887), pp. 336-337:
You cannot take a bit out of another man’s life and live it, without having lived the previous years that led up to it, without having also the assured hopes for the years that lie beyond. The attempt is constantly made by amateurs of all kinds, and by men of temporary purposes, and it always fails. The amateur says when he awakes on some fine summer morning, and draws up his blind, and looks out on the dewy fields: “Ah, the world of nature is beautiful to-day: what if I were to lead the life of an artist?” And after breakfast he seeks up his old box of watercolour and his block-book, and stool, and white umbrella, and what not, and sallies forth, and fixes himself on the edge of the forest or the banks of the amber stream. The day that he passes there looks like an artist’s day, yet it is not. It has not been preceded by the three or four thousand days which ought to have led up to it; it is not strong in the assured sense of present skill, in the calm knowledge that the hours will bear good fruit. So the chances are that there will be some hurry, and fretfulness, and impatience, under the shadow of that white parasol, and also that when the day is over there will be a disappointment. You cannot put an artist’s day into the life of any one but an artist. 
Gustave Caillebotte, Autoportrait au Chevalet (c. 1879)

29 November 2013

A Last Revise

Oliver Warner, Chatto & Windus; A Brief Account of the Firm's Origin, History and Development (London: Chatto & Windus, 1973), p. 18:
George Frommholz [the production manager at Chatto & Windus in the early 1900s] was himself one of those endearing people with an original sense of humour. Behind his desk in St. Martin's Lane he had a sliding panel in the wall which enabled him to pass material to the Reader in the next room without the need for walking down the passage. One day, handing through a bundle of heavily revised proofs, such as were not uncommon when printing was less expensive that it now is, he remarked: 'When I die, I hope some one will put on my tomb-stone: "Here lies Frommholz — sent up for a last Revise!" '
Max Weber, Chardenal Dictionary (1908)

28 November 2013


Saturday will be the 200th anniversary of the birth of the French composer Charles-Valentin Alkan. I am fond of Grâces, No. 19 in his series of Esquisses (op. 63); you can click here to listen to it on Youtube.

With best wishes to my American friends who are celebrating l'Action de grâce today.

Koloman Moser (1869-1918), Die drei Grazien

27 November 2013

An Ideal Friend

L'abbé Nicolas-Charles-Joseph Trublet (1697-1770), quoted in François Fertiault's Les amoureux du livre (Paris: A. Claudin, 1877), p. 298. My translation:
I do not understand how it is that people can not like reading, when one considers that a book is a friend who moralises without offending anyone. He takes the most convenient hour, day or night, to speak to you, and he always does so dispassionately. He is never upset at being interrupted in the midst of his time with you, nor is he annoyed when you pass lightly over things that cost him dearly and which he considers excellent. 
I could not find a full set of Trublet's Essais de littérature et de morale on Gallica.fr or Archive.org, but scans of all four volumes of the 1762 edition are on Google Books.

Róbert Berény, Olvasó nő (1906)

A related post: Books Are Real Friends

26 November 2013

Big Books

Edwin Grabhorn interviewed by Ruth Teiser in Recollections of the Grabhorn Press (Berkeley: University of California, 1968), pp. 79-80:
Teiser: As I remember, people used to kid you about never printing little books, always printing huge books.

Grabhorn: Well, I found out, too it was a matter of price. You print a little book and put a lot of work into it and the most you get for it is $3. You print very big books, even if they have only half a dozen pages, you can justify $20, $25 for the price .

Teiser: So that was really why?

Grabhorn: Yes. I printed the [Diary of Johann August] Sutter, a very small book and charged $2 for it.

Teiser: Did you think it was a good book?

Grabhorn: It was a nice little book, yes.

Teiser: If there were no economic factors, would you have preferred to print small books?

Grabhorn: No.

Teiser: Does a large book give you more scope?

Grabhorn: A small book is harder to design. It's harder to make it look good. Why do you think people buy Rolls Royces, or big automobiles?
In 1926 The Grabhorn Press printed an edition of The Book of Job that measured 11 x 17 inches.

25 November 2013

Close and Sympathetic Companionship

William Henry Hudson, An Introduction to the Study of Literature (London: Harrap, 1913), pp. 17-18:
A great book is born of the brain and heart of its author; he has put himself into its pages; they partake of his life, and are instinct with his individuality. It is to the man in the book, therefore, that to begin with we have to find our way. We have to get to know him as an individual. To establish personal intercourse with our books in a simple, direct, human way, should thus be our primary and constant purpose. We want first of all to become, not scholars, but good readers; and we can become good readers only when we make our reading a matter of close and sympathetic companionship. "Personal experience," it has been rightly said, "is the basis of all real literature"; and to enter into such personal experience, and to share it, is similarly the basis of all real literary culture. A great book owes its greatness in the first instance to the greatness of the personality which gave it life; for what we call genius is only another name for freshness and originality of nature, with its resulting freshness and originality of outlook upon the world, of insight, and of thought. The mark of a really great book is that it has something fresh and original to say, and that it says this in a fresh and independent way. It is the utterance of one who has himself been close to those aspects of life of which he speaks, who has looked at them with his own eyes, who by the keenness of his vision has seen more deeply into things, and by the strength of his genius has apprehended their meaning more powerfully than the common race of men; and who in addition has the artist's wonderful faculty of making us see and feel with him. "A good book," as Milton finely says in words which, however hackneyed, can hardly be too often repeated, "is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life."
Not to be confused with the naturalist William Henry Hudson (1841-1922), this William Henry Hudson (1862-1918) was a lecturer at the University of London Extension and contributed to Harrap's Poetry and Life series. Hudson's Schiller and his Poetry is available here; the poems are printed in Fraktur without translation, while Hudson's commentary is in English. What publisher would do such a thing today?

Charlemagne Oscar Guet, Reading (1868)

22 November 2013


George Gissing, Born in Exile (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1896), pp. 271-272:
I can't pretend to care for anything but individuals. The few whom I know and love are of more importance to me than all the blind multitude rushing to destruction. I hate the word majority; it is the few, the very few, that have always kept alive whatever of effectual good we see in the human race. There are individuals who outweigh, in every kind of value, generations of ordinary people.
Gissing was born on this day in 1857.

Caspar David Friedrich, Zwei Männer am Meer (1817)

21 November 2013

I Sing for the Muses and Myself

Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917), quoted in Frederic Fairchild Sherman's privately printed monograph on the artist (New York: 1920), pp. 21-22:
The artist needs but a roof, a crust of bread and his easel, and all the rest God gives him in abundance. He must live to paint and not paint to live. He cannot be a good fellow; he is rarely a wealthy man, and upon the potboiler is inscribed the epitaph of his art.

The artist should not sacrifice his ideals to a landlord and a costly studio. A rain-tight roof, frugal living, a box of colors and God's sunlight through clear windows keep the soul attuned and the body vigorous for one's daily work. The artist should once and forever emancipate himself from the bondage of appearance and the unpardonable sin of expending on ignoble aims the precious ointment that should serve only to nourish the lamp burning before the tabernacle of his muse.
Albert Pinkham Ryder, Dancing Dryads (1879)

20 November 2013

Who May Regret What Was?

John Freeman (1880-1929), Memories of Childhood and Other Poems (London: Selwyn & Blount, 1919), p. 25:
Hateful it seems now, yet was I not happy?
Starved of the things I loved, I did not know
I loved them, and was happy lacking them.
If bitterness comes now (and that is hell)
It is when I forget that I was happy,
Accusing Fate, that sits and nods and laughs,
Because I was not born a bird or tree.
Let accusation sleep, lest God's own finger
Point angry from the cloud in which He hides.
Who may regret what was, since it has made
Himself himself? All that I was I am,
And the old childish joy now lives in me
At sight of a green field or a green tree.
 Note to self: Freeman's study of George Moore can be found here.

19 November 2013

Life Is a Loan, Death the Repayment

E. James Lieberman, Acts of Will: The Life and Work of Otto Rank (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993):
Life is a loan, death the repayment. The artist type takes the loan and spends or invests it — willingly. Such a person accepts the finite term of the loan, and makes choices in accordance with that reality. The neurotic, in contrast, cannot willingly accept the loan with its limit. He or she vacillates, paralyzed by anxiety and doubt, refusing to commit the life-loan. At repayment time, the neurotic hopes — pathetically — to flout the limit. “I haven’t begun yet. I should not have to die — I have not really lived!”
Otto Rank discusses this idea in Technik der Psychoanalyse III; Die Analyse des Analytikers (Wien: Franz Deuticke, 1931), pp. 43-44.

A man drinks Brüderschaft with Death; notice the linked arms.
From Bilder des Todes oder Todtentanz für alle Stände
(Leipzig: Engelmann, 1850), p. 16.

18 November 2013

A Noble Activity

David Mason, The Pope's Bookbinder (Windsor: Biblioasis, 2013), p. 112:
While a good part of the excitement in finding a significant book is the eventual profit, the imaginative [antiquarian book] scout comes to realize that he has a higher purpose; he is rescuing from obscurity something which has historical or aesthetic value to society. And having rescued it, his next social function is to then place it somewhere where its contribution to the record of civilization will be understood. He is serving the future by saving the past, a noble activity.
David Mason Books in Toronto

15 November 2013

Drop English and Learn a Trade

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft  (London: Archibald Constable, 1912), pp. 48-49:
Innumerable are the men and women now writing for bread, who have not the least chance of finding in such work a permanent livelihood. They took to writing because they knew not what else to do, or because the literary calling tempted them by its independence and its dazzling prizes. They will hang on to the squalid profession, their earnings eked out by begging and borrowing, until it is too late for them to do anything else — and then? With a lifetime of dread experience behind me, I say that he who encourages any young man or woman to look for his living to “literature,” commits no less than a crime. If my voice had any authority, I would cry this truth aloud wherever men could hear. Hateful as is the struggle for life in every form, this rough-and-tumble of the literary arena seems to me sordid and degrading beyond all others. Oh, your prices per thousand words! Oh, your paragraphings and your interviewings! And oh, the black despair that awaits those down-trodden in the fray.
Stephen Alcorn, New Grub Street (1984)

14 November 2013

Like This Post!

Jonathan Franzen, "Pain Won't Kill You," Farther Away (Toronto: HarperCollins Canada, 2012), pp. 6-7:
[T]he verb "to like" [is being transformed] from a state of mind to an action that you perform with your computer mouse, from a feeling to an assertion of consumer choice. And liking, in general, is commercial culture's substitute for loving. The striking thing about all consumer products — and none more so than electronic devices and applications — is that they're designed to be immensely likable. This is, in fact, the definition of a consumer product, in contrast to the product that is simply itself and whose makers aren't fixated on your liking it. I'm thinking here of jet engines, laboratory equipment, serious art and literature.

But if you consider this in human terms, and you imagine a person defined by a desperation to be liked, what do you see? You see a person without integrity, without a center. In more pathological cases, you see a narcissist — a person who can't tolerate the tarnishing of his or her self-image that not being liked represents, and who therefore either withdraws from human contact or goes to extreme, integrity-sacrificing lengths to be likable.

If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you've despaired of being loved for who you really are. And if you succeed in manipulating other people into liking you, it will be hard not to feel, at some level, contempt for those people, because they've fallen for your shtick.

13 November 2013

The Typewriter Makes Everyone Look the Same

Martin Heidegger, Parmenides, tr. André Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), pp. 80-81:
It is not accidental that modern man writes "with" the typewriter and "dictates" [diktiert] (the same word as "poetize" [Dichten]) "into" a machine. This "history" of the kinds of writing is one of the main reasons for the increasing destruction of the word. The latter no longer comes and goes by means of the writing hand, the properly acting hand, but by means of the mechanical forces it releases. The typewriter tears writing from the essential realm of the hand, i.e., the realm of the word. The word itself turns into something "typed." Where typewriting, on the contrary, is only a transcription and serves to preserve the writing, or turns into print something already written, there it has a proper, though limited, significance. In the time of the first dominance of the typewriter, a letter written on this machine still stood for a breach of good manners. Today a hand-written letter is an antiquated and undesired thing; it disturbs speed reading. Mechanical writing deprives the hand of its rank in the realm of the written word and degrades the word to a means of communication. In addition, mechanical writing provides this "advantage," that it conceals the handwriting and thereby the character. The typewriter makes everyone look the same.

12 November 2013

Literature and the Marketplace

Jonathan Franzen, "Why Bother?", How to Be Alone (Toronto: HarperCollins Canada, 2002), pp. 64-65:
There's never been much love lost between literature and the marketplace. The consumer economy loves a product that sells at a premium, wears out quickly or is susceptible to regular improvement, and offers with each improvement some marginal gain in usefulness. To an economy like this, news that stays news is not merely an inferior product; it's an antithetical product. A classic work of literature is inexpensive, infinitely reusable, and, worst of all, unimprovable.

11 November 2013

Have You Forgotten Yet?

Siegfried Sassoon, "Aftermath," Picture-Show (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1920), pp. 47-48:

Have you forgotten yet?...
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked a while at the crossing of city ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same, — and War's a bloody game...
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz, —
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench,—
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, "Is it all going to happen again?"

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack,—
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads, those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the Spring that you'll never forget.

Frederick Varley, For What? (c. 1918)

7 November 2013

A Living Book

Charles Whibley, "Translators," in The Cambridge History of English Literature, Vol. IV (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. 1-25, (at p. 16):
It will be seen that Florio’s method [of translating Michel de Montaigne's essays] was neither just nor accurate. He made no attempt to suppress himself as we are told a good translator should. The reader never forgets that “resolute John Florio” is looking out from the page as well as Montaigne. He is often inaccurate, and not seldom he misses the point. But compare his version with [Charles] Cotton’s, and you will not hesitate to give the palm to Florio. Cotton’s translation is a sound and scholarly piece of work; Florio’s is a living book.

6 November 2013

Scarcely Leisure for a Sigh

T. S. Moore, A Brief Account of the Origin of the Eragny Press (Hammersmith: The Eragny Press, 1903), p. 6:
Haste and hurry are the mortal foes of delicacy, discrimination, contemplation and refinement. In an age of motors art has untold enemies: the circumstances of our life are hostile to beauty; we are robbed right and left, but we have not the time to realize our losses. Our lives are so impoverished that we have scarcely leisure for a sigh. And those who have time upon their hands often seem best pleased when they are able to emulate the slaves of machinery, in some exercise originally designed to recreate, or in some self-imposed task which they are happy to entitle philanthropy, public spirit, or even science, even art. But life? that is forgotten, or only spoken of in terms that would lead one to suppose it was some prevalent malady.

5 November 2013

A Window Between Reader and Author

Beatrice Warde, The Crystal Goblet: Sixteen Essays on Typography (London: Sylvan Press, 1955):
The book typographer has the job of erecting a window between the reader inside the room and that landscape which is the author's words. He may put up a stained-glass window of marvellous beauty, but a failure as a window; that is, he may use some rich superb type like text gothic that is something to be looked at, not through. Or he may work in what I call transparent or invisible typography. I have a book at home, of which I have no visual recollection whatever as far as its typography goes; when I think of it, all I see is the Three Musketeers and their comrades swaggering up and down the streets of Paris. The third type of window is one in which the glass is broken into relatively small leaded panes; and this corresponds to what is called 'fine printing' today, in that you are at least conscious that there is a window there, and that someone has enjoyed building it. That is not objectionable, because of a very important fact which has to do with the psychology of the subconscious mind. That is that the mental eye focuses through type and not upon it. The type which, through any arbitrary warping of design or excess of 'colour', gets in the way of the mental picture to be conveyed, is a bad type. Our subconsciousness is always afraid of blunders (which illogical setting, tight spacing and too-wide unleaded lines can trick us into), of boredom, and of officiousness. The running headline that keeps shouting at us, the line that looks like one long word, the capitals jammed together without hair-spaces — these mean subconscious squinting and loss of mental focus.


Printing demands a humility of mind, for the lack of which many of the fine arts are even now floundering in self-conscious and maudlin experiments. There is nothing simple or dull in achieving the transparent page. Vulgar ostentation is twice as easy as discipline. When you realise that ugly typography never effaces itself; you will be able to capture beauty as the wise men capture happiness by aiming at something else. The 'stunt typographer' learns the fickleness of rich men who hate to read. Not for them are long breaths held over serif and kern, they will not appreciate your splitting of hair-spaces. Nobody (save the other craftsmen) will appreciate half your skill. But you may spend endless years of happy experiment in devising that crystalline goblet which is worthy to hold the vintage of the human mind.

4 November 2013

Hack Writers

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life (London: Macmillan, 1887), pp. 413-414:
The fault I find with writing as a profession is that it does not pay to do your best. I don’t mean to insinuate that downright slovenly or careless work is the most profitable; but I do mean to say that any high degree of conscientiousness, especially in the way of study and research, is a direct injury to the professional writer’s purse. Suppose, for example, that he is engaged in reviewing a book, and is to get 3l. 10s. for the review when it is written. If by the accident of previous accumulation his knowledge is already fully equal to the demand upon it, the review may be written rapidly, and the day’s work will have been a profitable one; but if, on the other hand, it is necessary to consult several authorities, to make some laborious researches, then the reviewer is placed in a dilemma between literary thoroughness and duty to his family. He cannot spend a week in reading up a subject for the sum of 3l. 10s. Is it not much easier to string together a few phrases which will effectually hide his ignorance from everybody but the half-dozen enthusiasts who have mastered the subject of the book? It is strange that the professional pursuit of literature should be a direct discouragement to study; yet it is so. There are hack-writers who study, and they deserve much honour for doing so, since the temptations the other way are always so pressing and immediate.

1 November 2013

Every Man's Anthology

J. Lewis May, John Lane and the Nineties (London: Bodley Head, 1936), pp. 102-103:
It was when [the poet John Davidson (1857-1909)] was writing his Random Itinerary, a record of tramps round London at a distance of some eight to ten miles from Charing Cross. I accompanied him on one of them. We lunched on bread and cheese and beer consumed on an alehouse bench. The fare was Spartan, but the talk  on his side at least  was Attic. Only one fragment remains with me, but it is a valuable one. 'Every man,' said Davidson, 'should make his own anthology, and (pointing to his forehead) keep it here.'

30 October 2013

Bad for Trade

Laurence Housman, "Art and Citizenship," Ploughshare and Pruning-Hook (London: Swarthmore Press, 1919), pp. 199-201:
[A]s an example of the particular value which does sometimes attach to hand labour (irrespective of its artistic value), I have here a small unused sample of chair-cover material of English make, produced about eighty years ago, at a probable cost  so I am told by experts  of under £2 the square yard. The chairs it was made to cover are now in my possession. During the twenty-five years of my own personal acquaintance with them they have had plenty of hard wear; but even at the corners that material has not yet begun to wear out ; and the colour has only become softer and more mellow in quality.

Within the last ten years I endeavoured to get that covering matched in a modern material, and I paid for the nearest match I could get about one-fifth of the price I have quoted. That material has already gone shabby; and where it is most worn and faded the colour, instead of mellowing, has gone dead and dirty in quality. The older material will probably outlast my time.

There, then, are the comparative values of the old and the new material. You pay the higher price for the old, but in the end it is more economical. And it has this double advantage (or what would be a double advantage in a State where industrial conditions were sound), that it inclines its possessor to adopt a more permanent style of furnishing, by making age beautiful and change unnecessary; and so it sets free a great amount of human labour for other purposes; not merely the labour of the textile workers who have not to provide new covers, but the labour of the upholsterers, who are not called upon to rip off a series of old covers and fit on new ones, dragging old nails out and driving fresh nails in, with the result that the framework of the chair itself is presently worn out and a new one required in its place. All that labour is saved.

That small example is important because it exemplifies those possibilities of permanence attaching to certain forms of hand-labour out of which can be developed a school of textile manufacture indigenous in character  indigenous in that you give it time to become embedded in its domestic setting, and to make for itself domestic history. It enables you to develop an appreciation for subtleties of colour, and to secure tones and harmonies which you cannot get ready-made in a shop: it gives to a piece of furniture life-value.

But it is bad for trade!

Now why is it bad for trade? It is bad for trade because our modern industrial conditions have brought us to this pass, that it is no longer our national aim to direct labour and set it free for other work that really needs to be done. Our national problem is rather to find work for people, at times even to invent needs, and to create a fictitious turnover in trade so that we may not have upon our hands an enormous increase of the unemployed problem. And as hands go begging, as we have more hands in the country than we can employ on useful and fit labour (fit, I mean, for such fine implements as these and for the brains behind them), therefore hands are inevitably put to degrading uses, and the joy goes out of work; and for the delight (or at least the intelligent patience) of true craftsmanship is substituted the soul-destroying bondage of mechanical labour at something which is not really worth producing.
William Morris, Snakeshead Textile (1876)

29 October 2013

The Commonplace Book

Richard Le Gallienne, How to Get the Best Out of Books (New York: Baker and Taylor, 1904), pp. 14-15:
The end of true reading is the development of individuality. Like a certain water insect, the reader instinctively selects from the outspread world of books the building materials for the house of his soul. He chooses here and rejects there, and remembers or forgets according to the formative desire of his nature. Yet it often happens that he forgets much that he needs to remember, and thus the question of methodical aids to memory arises.

One's first thought, of course, is of the commonplace book. Well, have you ever kept one, or, to be more accurate, tried to keep one ? Personally, I believe in the commonplace book so long as we don't expect too much from it. Its two dangers are (1) that one is apt to make far too many and too minute entries, and (2) that one is apt to leave all the remembering to the commonplace book, with a consequent relaxation of one's own attention. On the other hand, the mere discipline of a commonplace book is a good thing, and if   as I think is the best way — we copy out the passages at full length, they are thus the more securely fixed in the memory. A commonplace book kept with moderation is really useful, and may be delightful. But the entries should be made at full length. Otherwise, the thing becomes a mere index, an index which encourages us to forget.

28 October 2013

An Increasing Degradation

An anonymous author in a book-trade newspaper, quoted in J. Lewis May, John Lane and the Nineties (London: Bodley Head, 1936), p. 199:
I believe that commercial competition amongst publishers is leading to an increasing degradation of everything for which the bookseller stands. Books are becoming a commodity of no more sociological value to the community than chocolates or newspapers. They are the amusement of the passing moment. To the masses they convey neither ideas nor ideals nor any kind of aesthetic quality. And the firms who succeed and grow to monstrous prosperity are just those who god is quantity.
A related post: The Herd Instinct

24 October 2013

A Blatant Commercial Affair

J. Lewis May, John Lane and the Nineties (London: Bodley Head, 1936), p. 118:
It is a pity that publishing, which has now degenerated into a blatant commercial affair  publishers being like rival showmen, each trying to out-shout and out-bid his competitors  could not have remained the thing it was in the early and middle Nineties. I wonder if a publisher who went back to the ways of Mathews and Lane, as they were in those days, would have any chance of surviving. I am told definitely that he would not. I am not so sure. I do not think taste and a sense of proportion, of mesure, are quite dead in the world. The awkward thing is that, from the nature of the case, such a publisher could not get into touch with the pubic he desired by means of advertisement, for they are of the few that do not pay very much attention to advertisement. He would have to go out and find them, even as John Lane did.

23 October 2013

The Choice of Hercules

Thomas Carlyle, "Wotton Reinfred," The Last Words of Thomas Carlyle, pp. 99-101:
"Self-seeking, if you so understand it, is certainly the staple of human principle; for my share, I will confess, I find it difficult to see how any living creature can act on any other. If you told me, 'This is and will be pleasant, that is and will be painful,' should I not, must I not, reject the latter and cling to the former?" 
"But if I told you, 'The pleasant is and will be vicious, the painful is and will be virtuous'?" said Maurice, hastening to assist Dalbrook, who seemed to be ill at ease in argument. 
"'Tis an impossible case," said the other. "Admit it for a moment; would you feel no twinge, no compunctious visiting? Nay, if I offered that you should to all eternity be filled and satisfied with pleasure, on condition that you became a villain and a fool, supposing even that I took your conscience from you, and no trace of repentance or remembrance were ever to afflict you again, would you strike the bargain without scruple? Would you plunge into the scene as into your native element? Would you hasten to it as to the bosom of a mother? Would there be no whisper of gainsaying?" 
"Perhaps some whisper; but — " 
"That little whisper saves us!" cried Maurice. 
"It was the voice of your better genius!" cried Dalbrook. 
"Perhaps only of my vanity," said Williams. "I might not like to be degraded." 
"The voice at least of something which was not love of pleasure; something which the philosopher and I reckon higher, and which you yourself must admit to be different," said Maurice. 
"O good Heavens!" cried Dalbrook. "Quousque venimus? Does it require proof that there is something better in man than self-interest, however prudent and clear-sighted; that the divine law of virtue is not a drudge's bargain, and her beauty and omnipotent majesty an 'association,' a shadow, the fable of a nurse? O Prodicus! Was thy 'Choice of Hercules' written to shame us; that after twenty centuries of 'perfectibility' are here still arguing?
Sebastiano Ricci, Hercules at the Crossroads (c. 1715)

22 October 2013

Selling Books

Literary agent Andrew Wylie, from an interview in New Republic
The biggest single problem since 1980 has been that the publishing industry has been led by the nose by the retail sector. The industry analyzes its strategies as though it were Procter and Gamble. It’s Hermès. It’s selling to a bunch of effete, educated snobs who read. Not very many people read. Most of them drag their knuckles around and quarrel and make money. We’re selling books. It’s a tiny little business. It doesn’t have to be Walmartized.

21 October 2013

The Dribbling of an Idiot

Haldane Macfall (1860-1928), The Splendid Wayfaring (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1913), pp. 86-87:
It is the stupendous function of Art to reveal its age to the soul of man through the senses — a prodigious and eagle flight next to the adventure of life itself. What methods we employ matter nothing, so that the artist convey the compelling impression. But to go back to the vision of children or the utterance of the infancy of the world is but the dribbling of an idiot. He who would utter the vast and complex life of our age cannot do so on outworn instruments or by affecting the chatter of childhood. Equally certainly he will not do so by straining the function of one sense to utter the function of another. To give to Art the intention of science, and to essay adventures in geometry, cubes, pyramids, and the like, is to bemuddle Art with science; and however much science may gain, Art will not be created -- the senses will know no communion of the impressions aroused by life. 
Pablo Picasso, Dribbling Idiot with a Mandolin (1910)

A related post: The Genesis of Modernism

18 October 2013

If the World Recovers Its Belief in Reason

Ivor Brown, I Commit to the Flames (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1934), pp. 108-109:
[D. H.] Lawrence was neither novel nor coherent. Much of his yelping was simply verbose reiteration of Blake's apothegms; if it be original to place the seat of consciousness in the belly or lower, he is entitled to such fame as that discovery may bring. That he really had no settled opinions may be deduced from the huge volume of letters, in which he is to be found in a state of continual self-contradiction. But his neo-barbarism suited a period in which traditional civilisation was out of favour; his instinctivism suited people who wanted some quasi-philosophic justification for having a good time and lacked the courage to indulge themselves without a little highbrow support. If the world recovers its belief in reason, there will be considerable surprise that Lawrence was ever accepted as a prophet.

17 October 2013


An illustration by Max Hagen (1859-1914) in Jugend magazine (Nr. 41, 1901), via mpt. 1607's Flickr stream. He has collected quite a bit of interesting material from the Wilhelmine period.

The text at the foot of the picture comes from Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

"Ich liebe Den, der über sich selber hinaus schaffen will und so zu Grunde geht."

I would translate this as:

"I love him who wishes to create something out of and beyond himself, and who perishes as a result."

The "out of" is more implied than literal.

16 October 2013

The Secret of Life

A. C. Benson, The House of Quiet (London: John Murray, 1906), pp. 153-154:
It is the fashion now to talk with much affected weariness of the hurry and bustle of modern life. No doubt such things are to be found if you go in search of them; and to have your life attended by a great quantity of either is generally held to be a sign of success. But the truth is, that this is what ordinary people like. The ordinary man has no precise idea what to do with his time. He needs to have it filled up by a good many conflicting and petty duties, and if it is filled he has a feeling that he is useful. But many of these duties are only necessary because of the existence of each other; it is a vicious circle. "What are those fields for?" said a squire who had lately succeeded to an estate, as he walked round with the bailiff. "To grow oats, sir." "And what do you do with the oats?" "Feed the horses, sir." "And what do you want the horses for?" "To plough the fields, sir." That is what much of the bustle of modern life consists of.

Solitude and silence are a great strain; but if you enjoy them they are at least harmless, which is more than can be said of many activities. Such is not perhaps the temper in which continents are explored, battles won, empires extended, fortunes made. But whatever concrete gain we make for ourselves must be taken from others; and we ought to be very certain indeed of the meaning of this life, and the nature of the world to which we all migrate, before we immerse ourselves in self-contrived businesses. To be natural, to find our true life, to be independent of luxuries, not to be at the mercy of prejudices and false ideals — that is the secret of life: who can say that it is a secret that we most of us make our own? 

15 October 2013

Are They That Sort?

E. M. Forster, A Room With a View (London: E. Arnold, 1908), pp. 191-192
The passage was blocked by a wardrobe, which the removal men had failed to carry up the stairs. Mr. Beebe edged round it with difficulty. The sitting-room itself was blocked with books.

"Are these people great readers?" Freddy whispered. "Are they that sort?"

"I fancy they know how to read — a rare accomplishment. What have they got? Byron. Exactly. 'A Shropshire Lad'. Never heard of it. 'The Way of All Flesh'. Never heard of it. Gibbon. Hullo! dear George reads German. Um — um —Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and so we go on. Well, I suppose your generation knows its own business, Honeychurch."

"Mr. Beebe, look at that," said Freddy in awestruck tones.

On the cornice of the wardrobe, the hand of an amateur had painted this inscription: "Mistrust all enterprises that require new clothes."

"I know. Isn't it jolly? I like that. I'm certain that's the old man's doing."

"How very odd of him!"

"Surely you agree?"

But Freddy was his mother's son and felt that one ought not to go on spoiling the furniture.
Franz von Defregger, Lesender Mann (1872)

11 October 2013

Compose Yourself to Your Pudding

Thomas Carlyle, The Life of John Sterling (London: Chapman and Hall, 1851), pp. 51-52:
If you want to make sudden fortunes in [the world], and achieve the temporary hallelujah of flunkies for yourself, renounce the perennial esteem of wise men; if you can believe that the chief end of man is to collect about him a bigger heap of gold than ever before, in a shorter time than ever before, you will find it a most handy and every way furthersome, blessed and felicitous world. But for any other human aim, I think you will find it not furthersome. If you in any way ask practically, How a noble life is to be led in it? you will be luckier than Sterling or I if you get any credible answer, or find any made road whatever. Alas, it is even so. Your heart's question, if it be of that sort, most things and persons will answer with a "Nonsense! Noble life is in Drury Lane, and wears yellow boots. You fool, compose yourself to your pudding!"
Evelyn De Morgan, The Worship of Mammon (1909)

10 October 2013

The Charm of Autobiography

James Ashcroft Noble, "The Charm of Autobiography," Impressions & Memories (London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1895), pp. 38-39:
An absolutely unreserved and sincere record of the deeds, words, thoughts, and emotions which have gone to make up the most commonplace life, would be of priceless value in many ways, but most of all, perhaps, would it be valuable in relieving every one who read it of at least a part of that burden of isolation which most people carry with them all their lives. Nearly everybody, certainly every young person, is fully convinced that some of his experiences are peculiar to himself; and because of this conviction he dare not disclose them, lest he should subject himself to certain misunderstanding and probable reprobation. Then, in some fortunate moment, he takes up the ideal autobiography, the volume in which some other man has disclosed the secrets of his soul, and he finds that what he has supposed to be his own peculiar property or his own peculiar torment, is the property or the torment of this other man as well ; and if of him, why not of a hundred, of a thousand men  of the greater number of the race? Loneliness must always be more or less terrible to a being with a social nature that craves for companionship; and a book which relieves our loneliness by assuring us that what we had mistaken as a sign of alienation from our fellows is really a sign of kinship with them, is a book which enriches our life by giving us a new feeling of being at home in the world. 
Arnold Böcklin, Herbstgedanken (1886)

9 October 2013

Non Libri Sed Liberi

Kenneth Grahame, "Non Libri Sed Liberi," Pagan Papers (London: Elkin Mathews and John Lane, 1894), pp. 17-18:
In book-buying you not infrequently condone an extravagance by the reflection that this particular purchase will be a good investment, sordidly considered: that you are not squandering income but sinking capital. But you know all the time that you are lying. Once possessed, books develop a personality: they take on a touch of warm human life that links them in a manner with our kith and kin. Non Angli sed Angeli was the comment of a missionary (old style) on the small human duodecimos exposed for sale in the Roman market-place; and many a buyer, when some fair-haired little chattel passed into his possession, must have felt that here was something vendible no more. So of these you may well affirm Non libri sed liberi; children now, adopted into the circle, they shall be trafficked in never again.
The title page to Pagan Papers,
Illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley

8 October 2013

By What Steps Was Mankind First Blessed?

John Eliot Hodgkin, Rariora, Vol II (London: S. Low, Marston & Co., 1902), p. 2:
Of some of those technical arts which have lessened the labours and sweetened the life of man (the "artes illiberales" of an unenlightened age), we are fortunately able to trace with reasonable certainty the beginnings and to honour the progenitors. Not so with the earliest inception of an industry which has conferred perhaps the greatest of all benefits upon humanity. Encompassing the birthplace of the Art of Printing, and hiding the personality of the first printer, is a hitherto impenetrable fog of mystery, an atmosphere of doubt and darkness which investigators have for ages endeavoured to pierce, expending or wasting in the process lives, fortunes, reputations, mountains of paper, seas of ink, yet leaving unsolved, as all but the enthusiasts on either side will admit, the one crucial query, and allowing the inquisitive world still to yearn for a positive answer to the question -- When, where, by whom and, above all, by what steps was mankind first blessed with this heaven-born art? In the honour of their own particular heroes rival cities erect statues, strike medals, celebrate anniversaries, empty wine-bottles, fill the air with patriotic applause and most confident orations, and yet to this day no one can say that he knows of a surety to what individual or even to what country these encomiums are really due.  
Jost Amman, Der Buchdrucker (1568)
Image from the British Museum

7 October 2013

Is This Not Best?

Laurence Housman, "Failure," Green Arras (London: John Lane, at The Bodley Head, 1896), p. 69:
When you are dead, when all you could not do
   Leaves quiet the worn hands, the weary head,
Asking not any service more of you,
   Requiting you with peace when you are dead;

When, like a robe, you lay your body by,
   Unloosed at last, — how worn, and soiled, and frayed! —
Is it not pleasant just to let it lie
   Unused and be moth-eaten in the shade?

Folding earth's silence round you like a shroud,
   Will you just know that what you have is best: —
Thus to have slipt unfamous from the crowd;
   Thus having failed and failed, to be at rest?

O, having, not to know! Yet O, my Dear,
   Since to be quit of self is to be blest;
To cheat the world, and leave no imprint here, —
   Is this not best?

4 October 2013

No Machine Other Than the Human Hand

T. J. Cobden-Sanderson, The Journals of Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, Vol. 2 (New York: Burt Franklin, 1969), p. 138:
It is my wish that the Doves Press type shall never be subjected to the use of a machine other than the human hand, in composition, or to a press pulled otherwise than by the hand and arm of man or woman; and this I will see to in my Will, though, if I forget, I desire that this which I have written shall operate in its place.
T. J. Cobden-Sanderson, Cosmic Vision (London: Richard Cobden-Sanderson, 1922), p. 126:

TO the bed of the RIVER THAMES, the River on whose banks I have printed all my printed books, I, THE DOVES PRESS, bequeath The Doves Press Fount of Type, the punches, matrices, and the type in use at The Doves Press at the time of my death. And may the River, in its tides and flow, pass over them to and from the great sea for ever and ever, or until its tides and flow for ever cease: then may they share the fates of all the worlds and pass from change to change for ever upon the Tides of Time, untouched of other use.

Page from the Doves Press edition of Hamlet (1909)
via Cardiff University Library special collections blog

3 October 2013

What Is Art?

Haldane Macfall (1860-1928), The Splendid Wayfaring (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1913), p. 22:
This power of being able to transfer to others our sensations by a skilful playing upon their senses is Art. We are, then, granted the power to exchange our intelligence by two means: we can exchange our Thoughts; and we can exchange our Sensations. Speech is the means whereby we exchange our Thoughts — or, if you will, the means whereby we exchange our Reason. But mere speech cannot give us communion of the sensing of our fellows. The means whereby we pour into the sensing of our fellow-men the impressions which have been aroused in our senses so that we can enable others to feel what we have felt — is the function of Art; its whole function, and its only function. 
Id, p. 34:
There are those who, parrot-wise, have repeated throughout the ages that Art is Beauty. There are far greater, far more profound, vaster, more majestic, more subtle, more dreadful emotions, more horrible moods, than are aroused by mere Beauty. The sense of Beauty is a noble and legitimate aim in Art; but it is not the only aim, since it is not the only impression in Life.

Art is as much concerned with tears and pathos and tragedy and ugliness and greyness and the agonies of life as with laughter and comedy and beauty. The dread of death, the detestation of treachery, the horror of fear, the awful sense of vengeance, the hatred of wrong, the promptings of terror, the lust to kill, the indignation at a lie, the agonies of suffering, the contempt of baseness and meanness, are all as legitimate a province of Art as the prettier emotions. All sensed activities are within the realm of the artist — the ignoble and the noble alike.

2 October 2013

An Impossible Fogey

Ivor Brown, I Commit to the Flames (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1934), p. 23:
Our new poets angrily announce that everything written more than twenty years ago is dead stuff, its language a winding-sheet. Therefore we must have only new modes, new metres, new diction. But they do not prove that all old poetry is dead poetry; the proof of that, after all, is the response of the readers. Nothing is dead which makes men feel alive. They merely announce the death and trample on the supposed corpse, which occasionally surprises them by standing up for itself, as Professor A. E. Housman did when he delivered the 1933 Leslie Stephen Lecture at Cambridge, choosing to speak on 'The Name and Nature of Poetry'. He actually did this without awaiting the by-your-leave of Mr. T. S. Eliot or asking permission of the new cacophonists, for which impertinence he was very sharply scolded in certain places. But Housman, I suppose, is an impossible fogey; he was writing poetry in the 'nineties; that settles any claims of his.