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)