30 September 2013

The Cure for Weltschmerz

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life (London: Macmillan, 1887), pp. 346-347:
The question which concerns the world is, how this [morbid, melancholic] condition of the mind may be avoided. The cure Mr. Tennyson suggested was war; but wars, though more frequent than is desirable, are not to be had always. And in your case, my friend, it is happily not a cure but a preventive that is needed. Let me recommend certain precautions which taken together are likely to keep you safe. Care for the physical health in the first place, for if there is a morbid mind the bodily organs are not doing their work as they ought to do. Next, for the mind itself, I would heartily recommend hard study, really hard study, taken very regularly but in very moderate quantity. The effect of it on the mind is as bracing as that of cold water on the body, but as you ought not to remain too long in the cold bath, so it is dangerous to study hard more than a short time every day. Do some work that is very difficult (such as reading some language that you have to puzzle out à coups de dictionnaire) two hours a day regularly, to brace the fighting power of the intellect, but let the rest of the day’s work be easier. Acquire especially, if you possibly can, the enviable faculty of getting entirely rid of your work in the intervals of it, and of taking a hearty interest in common things, in a garden, or stable, or dog-kennel, or farm. If the work pursues you — if what is called unconscious cerebration, which ought to go forward without your knowing it, becomes conscious cerebration, and bothers you, then you have been working beyond your cerebral strength, and you are not safe.
Domenico Fetti, Archimedes (1620)

27 September 2013

Know Thyself

George Moore, "Degas," Impressions and Opinions (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1913), p. 223:
Expend not your strength in vain struggling in the illusive world, which tempts you out of yourself; success and failure lie within and not without you; know yourself, and seek to bring yourself into harmony with the Will from which you cannot escape, but to which you may bring yourself into obedience, and so obtain peace.
Edgar Degas, Portrait d'Edmond Duranty (1879)

Arthur Schopenhauer, "Character," On Human Nature, tr. Thomas Bailey Saunders (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1897), p. 91:
Since a man does not alter, and his moral character remains absolutely the same all through his life; since he must play out the part which he has received, without the least deviation from the character; since neither experience, nor philosophy, nor religion can effect any improvement in him, the question arises, What is the meaning of life at all? To what purpose is it played, this farce in which everything that is essential is irrevocably fixed and determined? 
It is played that a man may come to understand himself, that he may see what it is that he seeks and has sought to be; what he wants, and what, therefore, he is. This is a knowledge which must be imparted to him from without

26 September 2013

Mental Mountaineering

Richard Le Gallienne, How to Get the Best Out of Books (New York: Baker and Taylor, 1904), pp. 6-7:
Some of the books that give us the finest pleasure need the closest application for their enjoyment. There is always a certain spiritual and mental effort necessary to be made before we tackle the great books. One might compare it to the effort of getting up to see the sun rise. It is no little of a tug to leave one's warm bed, — but once we are out in the crystalline morning air, wasn't it worth it? Perhaps our finest pleasures always demand some such austerity of preparation. That is the secret of the truest epicureanism. Books like Dante's "Divine Comedy," or Plato's dialogues, will not give themselves to a lounging reader. They demand a braced, attentive spirit. But when the first effort has been made, how exhilarating are the altitudes in which we find ourselves, what a glow of pure joy is the reward which we are almost sure to win by our mental mountaineering.
Lawren Harris, Mount Thule, Bylot Island  (1930) 

25 September 2013

Cultivation of the Mind

Baron Jérome-Frédéric Pichon (1812-1896) in a letter to Georges Vicaire (1853-1921), quoted in the Almanach du Bibliophile (1899), p. 94. My translation:
For many people the newspaper has killed the book, and the education of today's youth is certainly not the same as ours, which in those days was confined to a thorough study of antiquity's greatest works. It was a wonderful and enriching cultivation of the mind, making one fit for all kinds of study in the same way that successively working and fertilizing the land prepares it for bountiful harvests. The modern reformers have not understood this. People do not speak Latin any more, so why learn it? They did not realize that, when one learns Latin, one learns something more than just how to speak it. The knowledge or ignorance of that admirable language is instantly apparent in works written in our own French, that noble and dignified daughter of Latin.
Pour beaucoup de gens, le journal a tué le livre, et surtout l'éducation de la jeunesse actuelle n'est pas la même que la nôtre. Celle-ci se bornait autrefois à l'étude approfondie des chefs-d'œuvre de l'antiquité. C'était une admirable et féconde culture de l'esprit. Elle le rendait propre à toutes les études et le préparait, comme les labours successifs et les engrais disposent la terre à produire de riches moissons. Les réformateurs modernes ne l'ont pas compris. On ne parle plus le latin, pourquoi l'apprendre? Ils n'ont pas su que, quand on apprenait le latin, on apprenait autre chose qu'à le parler. La connaissance ou l'ignorance de cette admirable langue se fait sentir immédiatement dans les ouvrages écrits dans la notre, cette noble et digne fille du latin.  
Detail from the cover of the Almanach du Bibliophile for 1899
"J'y perds mon latin," says the younger to the older man.

24 September 2013

How Brief the Hours

Thomas Bird Mosher, in the foreward to his 1913 catalogue of books:
Out of the myriad books of all the ages now accessible how brief the hours that even the man of greatest leisure can give to them. Is it strange that all sorts of absurdities should flourish in the matter of pointing out the best one hundred or best one thousand — the only true three foot or five foot shelf — and the inevitable excellent series which "everyman" should possess? It comes, as we view it ourselves, that one has to decide first of all which of two widely diverse courses of reading one should take, — the practical , dry-as-dust necessary routine book of facts — or follow on the starry track of those "precious minims" which find us young and always keep us so. Are we reading for business purposes or for that wider outlook which Literature alone has power to bestow? If, for the former, then the biblia-a-biblia of Charles Lamb's amused contempt; the half hours with the worst authors as Edward FitzGerald put it; the books reeking with self-help are the ones required. If, on the other hand, we are assured of somewhat else than mere commercial values, then, by the intensive method, we must turn to the little parcels of man's bequests to Time — the lifeblood of the ages garnered in prose and verse — such as I have long ago given my heart to and would by what I publish persuade you along the same sunlit road. 

23 September 2013

To Sip the Full Pleasure of a Library

Richard Jefferies, quoted in Amphora, ed. Thomas Bird Mosher (Portland: Thomas Bird Mosher, 1912), p. 15:
Is there anything so delicious as the first exploration of a great library — alone — unwatched? You shut the heavy door behind you slowly, reverently, lest a noise should jar on the sleepers of the shelves. For as the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus were dead and yet alive, so are the souls of the authors in the care of their ancient leathern binding. You walk gently round the walls, pausing here to read a title, there to draw out a tome and support it for a passing glance — half in your arms, half against the shelf. The passing glance lengthens till the weight becomes too great, and with a sigh you replace it, and move again, peering up at those titles which are foreshortened from the elevation of the shelf, and so roam from folio to octavo, from octavo to quarto, till at last, finding a little work whose value, were it in the mart, would be more than its weight in gold, you bear it to the low leather-covered arm-chair and enjoy it at your ease. But to sip the full pleasure of a library you must be alone, and you must take the books yourself from the shelves. A man to read must read alone. He may make extracts, he may work at books in company; but to read, to absorb, he must be solitary.

20 September 2013

There Were Giants in Those Days

Francis Thompson (1859-1907), Health and Holiness (London: J. Masters & Co., 1905), pp. 24-25:
When we look at Italy of the Renascence, at England of the sixteenth century, we are amazed. There were giants in those days. Those were the days of virtu — when the ideal of men was vital force, to do everything with their whole strength. And they did it. In good and in evil they redounded. Pecca fortiter, said Luther; and they sinned strongly. Ezzelin fascinating men with the horror of his tyranny. Aretin blazoning his lusts and infamies, Sforza ravening his way to a throne, Caesar Borgia conquering Italy with a poisoned sword, would have sneered at the scented sins of the present day. The seething energies of our sixteenth century, — fighting, hating, stabbing, plotting, throwing out poetry in splendid reckless floods and cataracts, seem to emanate from beings of another order than ourselves.

19 September 2013

Going Nowhere

Holbrook Jackson, Romance and Reality (London: Grant Richards, 1911), pp. 17-19:
The man who is not going Somewhere nowadays is very rare indeed. The habit is rapidly becoming an instinct. I hardly ever meet people who are not going Somewhere; or if they are not actually doing so it is merely because circumstances are against them; they have work to do, money to earn, masters to serve, homes to support. As it is they devote their spare moments to planning journeys to remote places for the holidays. Journeying has become a part of the ritual of life. The wedding trip is as much a circumstance of getting married as the honeymoon used to be; and you no longer hear of merchants retiring from business and taking things easily; they retire from business, nowadays, to devote themselves to travel. This journeying is always, as I say, purposeful; people are always going Somewhere; and, just as the act of going Somewhere has become a kind of social ritual, so certain places have become the symbols and impedimenta of the ritual. Their names are adorably familiar to all purposeful travellers — Florence and Rome; the Bernese Oberland and the Trossachs; parts of Holland, Belgium, France; Cairo, Morocco, the Land of the Midnight Sun (vide Guide-Books), and even, for the extra wealthy, Japan. It is a far-flung list, but yet a narrow one, for the ritual of going Somewhere, or, to give it its real name, the art of the tourist, imposes upon you the necessity of keeping on the beaten track. Somewhere is a place to which everybody has been or "ought" to go; it has been written about, praised, defined. 
Now when I say that I prefer going to Nowhere, I would not have you jump to the conclusion that I am a contrary person. Were you to do so you would do me an injustice. Nowhere is simply my favourite destination, and I get so much pleasure in going there, that it is not easy for me to imagine why people put themselves to so much trouble in going elsewhere.

18 September 2013

Spiritual Food

Harry Lyman Koopman, The Booklover and His Books (Boston: The Boston Book Company, 1917), p. 107:
If the reader does not at the outset make provision in his daily reading for the best books, the days and the months will go by, and the unopened volumes will look down upon him from his shelves in dumb reproof of his neglect and reminder of his loss. In truth it is all a matter of the balance of gain. What we rate highest we shall find room for. If we cannot have our spiritual food and satisfy all our other wants, perhaps we shall find that some of our other wants can do with less satisfaction. 

16 September 2013

Dignified Oblivion

Thomas Carlyle, letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson (January 27, 1867), in The Correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1834-1872, Vol. II (Boston: Ticknor & Co., 1888) p. 339:
To set about writing my own Life would be no less than horrible to me; and shall of a certainty never be done. The common impious vulgar of this earth, what has it to do with my life or me? Let dignified oblivion, silence, and the vacant azure of Eternity swallow me; for my share of it, that, verily, is the handsomest, or one handsome way, of settling my poor account with the canaille of mankind extant and to come.
Volume I here.

13 September 2013

The Largest and Widest Life

Haldane Macfall (1860-1928), in the forward to The Splendid Wayfaring (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1914), p. ix:
Men follow after strange gods, and at the end of their little strut upon the stage, as the curtain rings down, they complain bitterly that life is a hollow thing! Aforetime they bowed to the god of war or bent the knee to this thing or another that they set up as their ideal; to-day it is wealth. Men who have built or hoarded vast "fortunes" are solemnly interviewed for the envious, are accepted as great men, and affirm that money-getting is their chief incentive to life. God! what a tragedy for a people!
When all's said, and the worship done, a very vulgar dullard, if he give all his powers to it, can, and often does, hoard great wealth — indeed, he is at times a criminal against society. But even the significance of his wayfaring for himself does not lie in his wealth nor in his lack of wealth — greatness is not wealth nor lack of wealth, whatever else it may be. The significance of a man for himself rests in the largeness of the range of his adventure in living; the significance of his wayfaring for others rests in the amount whereby he has increased the realm of life for his fellows.
We live a little mean day, so petty indeed that most men — honest fellows — deem themselves as having lived who go to their graves the narrow life-long slaves of a paltry wage, content to have earned just that wage, as though earning a wage were life! nay, proud to be able to say as they lie a-dying that they have walked without tripping in a little parish. They are even acclaimed "good citizens"! But the largest and widest life is for him who dares the fullest adventure — who has become partaker in all that life can give. And by the Arts alone shall he know the fullest life; and by lack of the Arts shall he know the meanest.

11 September 2013

A Bit of a Poseur

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Ausgewählte Schriften, ed. Eugen Reichel (Leipzig: Phillip Reclam, 1879), p. 160. My translation:
In order to learn how to speak a foreign language really well, and actually speak it in society with a native accent, one must have not only a good memory and a good ear, but to a certain extent one must also be a bit of a poseur.
Um eine fremde Sprache recht gut sprechen zu lernen, und wirklich in Gesellschaft zu sprechen mit dem eigentlichen Akzent des Volks, muß man nicht allein Gedächtnis und Ohr haben, sondern auch in gewissem Grad ein kleiner Geck sein.

10 September 2013

A Human Lentil

Richard King (pseudonym of Richard King Huskinson, 1879-1947), With Silent Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1917), pp. 65-66:
Take it from me; the man or woman who has never played truant from the ideal for which he lives is just a human lentil with all the dulness of that estimable and most uninteresting vegetable. It is the man and woman who, having fallen, rise again who get there at the end of time. Sometimes I rather fancy that we have to fall in order to rise, but Tennyson has, of course, put that idea into some haunting lines in "In Memoriam." At any rate, the person whose character and temperament never lead him into temptation, who is content, and more than content — smugly self satisfied — to go on day in, day out, being dully respectable — respectability founded upon no personal conviction but merely upon an inherited tradition — will never reach any great heights. He may not fall, but he certainly will not rise, and his life will be merely one long jog-trot between blinkers along the Dull Road of Conventionality which leads from the Congress of Old Women into the Kingdom of Deathless Yawns.

9 September 2013

The Melancholy Truth

A. C. Benson, The Silent Isle (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1910), pp. 140-141:
What we lack is true originality, tranquil force; we are all occupied in trying to startle and surprise, to make a sensation. How little the [ancient] Greeks cared for that! It was beauty and charm, delicate colour, fine subtlety of which they were in search; they held all things holy, yet nothing solemn. Their dignity was not a pompous dignity, but the dignity of high tragedy, of unconquerable courage and ruthless fate; not the dignity of the well-appointed house and the tradition of excellent manners.
Of course our love of wealth and comfort is to a certain extent responsible for this. We have been thrown off our balance by the vast and rapid development of the resources of the earth, the binding of natural forces to do our bidding; it is the most complicated thing in the world nowadays to live the simple life; and not until we can gain a rich simplicity, not until we can recover an interest in ideas rather than an appetite for comforts, will our force and vitality return to us.
We are all too anxious to do the right thing and to be known to the right people; but unfortunately for us the right people are not the people of vivacity and intellectual zest, but the possessors of industrial wealth or the inheritors of scrupulous traditions and historical names. The sad fact, the melancholy truth, is that we have become vulgar; and until we can purge ourselves of vulgarity, till we can realise the ineffable ugliness of pomposity and pretension and ostentation, we shall effect nothing.
A related post: Comfort-Loving Vulgarity

6 September 2013

In Favour of Peace

Paul Léautaud, Propos d'un jour (Paris: Mercure de France, 1947), p. 45. My translation:
All peoples are in favour of peace, no government is.
Tous les peuples sont pour la paix, aucun gouvernement ne l'est.

5 September 2013

Content to Live Laborious Days and to Die Poor

John Rothwell Slater, Printing and the Renaissance (New York: W. E. Rudge, 1921), pp. 13-15
[Aldus Manutius' plan] was nothing less than to issue practically the whole body of classic literature, Greek as well as Latin, in editions distinguished from all that had preceded in two important respects. First, they were to be not reprints of received uncritical texts but new revisions made by competent scholars based upon a comparison of all the best available manuscripts. Secondly, they were to be printed not in ponderous and costly folios but in small octavos of convenient size, small but clear type, and low price. This was not primarily a commercial venture like the cheap texts of the classics issued in the nineteenth century by Teubner and other German publishers, but resembled rather in its broad humanistic spirit such a recent enterprise as the Loeb Classical Library. The purpose in each case was to revive and encourage the reading of the classics not alone by schoolboys but by men of all ages and all professions. But there is this important difference, that Mr. Loeb is a retired millionaire who employs scholars to do all the work and merely foots the bill, while Aldus was a poor man dependent upon such capital as he could borrow from his patrons, and had at the same time to perform for himself a large part of the editorial labors on his books. Mr. Loeb commands the latest and most complete resources of the modern art of printing; Aldus helped to make that art. Mr. Loeb's editors may employ when they choose the style of type known as italic; Aldus invented it. Mr. Loeb's publishers have at their command all the advertising and selling machinery of a great modern business concern, and yet they do not, and probably can not, make the classics pay for themselves, but must meet the deficits out of an endowment. Aldus had to organize his own selling system, his advertising had to be largely by private correspondence with scholars and book-sellers throughout Europe laboriously composed with his own hand; yet it was imperative that the business become as soon as possible self-supporting, or at least that losses in one quarter should be recouped by profits in another.
It was in his edition of Virgil, 1501, that Aldus first employed the new cursive or sloping letter which later came to be known in English printing as italic type. According to tradition he copied it closely from the handwriting of the Italian poet Petrarch. The type was very compact, covering many more words on a page than the roman of that day, and was used as a body type, not as in our day for isolated words and phrases set apart for emphasis or other distinction from the rest of the text. Aldus also, though not the first to cast Greek type, gave his Greek fonts an elegance which was soon imitated, like the italic, by other printers. By the introduction of small types which were at the same time legible, and by adopting for his classical texts a small format suitable for pocket-size books, Aldus invented the modern small book. No longer was it necessary for a scholar to rest a heavy folio on a table in order to read; he might carry with him on a journey half a dozen of these beautiful little books in no more space than a single volume of the older printers. Furthermore, his prices were low. The pocket editions or small octavos sold for about two lire, or forty cents in the money of that day, the purchasing power of which in modern money is estimated at not above two dollars.
This popularizing of literature and of classical learning did not meet with universal favor amongst his countrymen. We read of one Italian who warned Aldus that if he kept on spreading Italian scholarship beyond the Alps at nominal prices the outer barbarians would no longer come to Italy to study Greek, but would stay at home and read their Aldine editions without adding a penny to the income of Italian cities. Such a fear was not unfounded, for the poorer scholars of Germany and the Netherlands did actually find that they could stay at home and get for a few francs the ripest results of Italian and Greek scholarship. This gave Aldus no concern; if he could render international services to learning, if he could help to set up among the humbler scholars of other lands such a fine rivalry of competitive coöperation as already existed among such leaders as Erasmus and Sir Thomas More, he should be well content to live laborious days and to die poor. Both these he did; but he gathered around him such a company of friends and collaborators as few men have enjoyed; he must have breathed with a rare exhilaration, born of honest and richly productive toil, the very air of Athens in her glory; and he must have realized sometimes amid the dust and heat of the printing shop that it was given to him at much cost of life and grinding toil to stand upon the threshold of the golden age alike of typography and of the revival of learning.

4 September 2013

The Wartime Press

F. A. Voigt, Combed Out (London: Swarthmore Press, 1920), pp. 139-141:
There never was in all the world an infamy as great as the infamy of our war-time Press. A horde of unscrupulous liars and hirelings spat hatred and malice from safe and comfortable positions. They played the hero when no danger threatened. They defied an enemy who could not reach them. They boasted of the deeds they had not done. They gloried in the victories they did not win. They mouthed frantic protestations of injured innocence when they should have felt the burden of guilty shame. They were mawkishly sentimental when they should have felt keen grief and horror. They denounced murder and they urged others to commit murder. They spewed their venomous slime into every spring of healing water. At a time when clear thinking and balanced judgments were needed more desperately than ever before, they squirted into the air thick clouds of lies, and half-truths, and misleading phrases, and judgments distorted by hatred and warped by malice. And as for those who were either lured on to perpetrate the great iniquity by grandiose and seductive falsehoods or were dragged from their homes and families and sent unwilling to the slaughter, these miserable slaves the Press of all countries urged on, one against the other, brutally deaf to their misery, representing them as glad and cheerful when they had reached the extreme of human suffering, magnifying them into heroes of epic proportions (before they donned their dingy garb of war they were "lice" that had to be "combed out"), endowing them with absurdly impossible virtues — when they were just ordinary human beings in misfortune with no ambition except to live in peace and comfort — and at the same time bestowing lofty patronage upon them and calling them "Tommies" and sending them cigarettes, chocolates and advice, as though they were children to be petted, with no will or intelligence of their own.
The Press, the cinema, the atrocity placards, and propagandist leaflets, they all practised the same deliberate and colossal deceit and kindled hatred against the enemy. And so successful was this diabolical conspiracy that hatred became second nature to vast masses of people. To think evil of the enemy was an article of national faith, and to question this faith, or still more to repudiate it, that was heresy of the most heinous kind. Religion died long ago, but the cult of nationalism that replaced it was infinitely more pernicious in its intolerance and cruelty than religion at its very worst.
Individually men are often good, but collectively men are always bad. The national mob had never been so powerful, nor had it ever been so servile, and that was why its passions were those of the coward and not of the brave man; that was why chivalry and generosity and fair-mindedness were execrated, and only hatred and boastfulness and vindictive malice were allowed to live.

3 September 2013

A Splendid Stroke of Time-Thrift

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life (London: Macmillan, 1887), pp. 372-373:
Your abstinence from newspaper reading is not a new experiment in itself, though it is new in reference to your particular case, and I await its effects with interest. I shall be curious to observe the consequences, to an intellect constituted as yours is, of that total cutting off from the public interests of your own century which an abstinence from newspapers implies. It is clear that, whatever the loss may be, you have a definite gain to set against it. The time which you have hitherto given to newspapers, and which may be roughly estimated at about five hundred hours a year, is henceforth a valuable time-income to be applied to whatever purposes your best wisdom may select. When an intellectual person has contrived by the force of one simple resolution to effect so fine an economy as this, it is natural that he should congratulate himself. Your feelings must be like those of an able finance minister who has found means of closing a great leak in the treasury — if any economy possible in the finances of a State could ever relatively equal that splendid stroke of time-thrift which your force of will has enabled you to effect. In those five hundred hours, which are now your own, you may acquire a science or obtain a more perfect command over one of the languages which you have studied. Some department of your intellectual labours which has hitherto been unsatisfactory to you, because it was too imperfectly cultivated, may henceforth be as orderly and as fruitful as a well-kept garden. You may become thoroughly conversant with the works of more than one great author whom you have neglected, not from lack of interest, but from want of time. You may open some old chamber of the memory that has been dark and disused for many a year; you may clear the cobwebs away, and let the fresh light in, and make it habitable once again.
(I quote Hamerton out of context; his conclusion is that someone who abandons newspapers loses more than he gains. I disagree.)

2 September 2013

The Worth of a Book

Paul Léautaud, Propos d'un jour (Paris: Mercure de France, 1947), p. 58. My translation:
The worth of a book is not determined by its qualities or faults. It depends entirely on this: that no one but the author could have written it. Any book that someone other than the author could have written is fit for the garbage can.
Ce qui fait le mérite d'un livre, ce ne sont pas ses qualités ou ses défauts. Il tient tout entier en ceci: qu'un autre que son auteur n'aurait pu l'écrire. Tout livre qu'un autre que son auteur aurait pu écrire est bon à mettre au panier.