28 February 2014

Careless Readers

Anonymous, "On Careless Reading," Peace of Mind; Essays and Reflections from August 1914 to September 1917 (London: Andrew Melrose, 1918), p. 32:
One knows the type of person [who reads carelessly]. You meet him or her at dinner, and as the talk must, in deference to you, be "literary," he or she says: "I wonder if you read a most unusual novel which I read a week or two ago. I can't remember its title, but it was most striking. Now – isn't it provoking? – it's gone clean out of my mind." Willing to keep the conversational ball rolling, you suggest that the name of the author, or even of the publisher, might give you a clue, if the book was really a distinctive one. But no, the person "fond of reading" could remember neither; even the plot, or the subject of the story, could not be recalled. No doubt the novel had been read; no doubt the reader had thought it "unusual"; but it had left nothing but a blurred impression on the mind, as of an unfixed photograph that has been exposed to the light. In a little while there would be no impression at all, but only a kind of smudge on which no new real impression could be made. [...]

The people who forget the titles of books, and their authors – of course they never knew the names of their publishers – are, roughly speaking, people who could very well live without books, upon whom, indeed, books are probably incapable of making any educational impression. To me, people of this class would be much more interesting if they never mentioned books, or if they spoke of them only to say that they never read them.

26 February 2014

The Passion of the Unsuccessful

E. M. Martin, Wayside Wisdom; A Book for Quiet People (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1920), pp. 197-198:
There is a certain odd relationship between the old worm-eaten volumes and the silent meanly dressed people who steal in and fondly handle them. For books are the passion of the unsuccessful, the friends and companions of disappointment and of poverty; and if a rich man gathers together a fine library it is often the poor man, lean with longing, who has told him what to buy. Outside a second-hand book-shop I once saw a bright-eyed old woman in Workhouse bonnet and shawl looking wistfully at the trays full of books, until, unable to resist temptation, she took one up and began to read, lost to the noise of the street or the mud that splashed upon the pavement. I came closer and saw that it was a volume of Pascal's Pensées, but before I could speak she had placed it back on the tray and, moving quickly, disappeared down a side alley as a man came out of the shop. "If she had the money she'd be one of my best customers," he said, beginning to rearrange his wares. "She comes as often as she can get away, and I never disturb her, but let her read as long as she likes; she must have spent many an hour here." I wondered who the old woman had been whose hunger for books even the dull routine of the Workhouse had not stilled, and I have always regretted that in my surprise I let her go away empty-handed.
See also Who Was E. M. Martin?

25 February 2014

Life After Forty

Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon, or Many Things in Few Words to Those Who Think (New York: William Gowans, 1849), pp. 170-171:
It is a serious doubt, whether a wise man ought to accept of a thousand years of life, even provided that those three important advantages of health, youth, and riches, could be securely guaranteed unto him. But this is an offer that can never be refused, for it will never be made. Taking things as they really are, it must be confessed that life, after forty, is an anti-climax, gradual indeed, and progressive with some, but steep and rapid with others. It would be well if old age diminished our perceptibilities to pain, in the same proportion that it does our sensibilities to pleasure; and if life has been termed a feast, these favoured few are the most fortunate guests, who are not compelled to sit at the table, when they can no longer partake of the banquet. The misfortune is that body and mind, like man and wife, do not always agree to die together. It is bad when the mind survives the body; and worse still when the body survives the mind; but, when both these survive our spirits, our hopes, and our health, this is worst of all.

24 February 2014


Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, tr. Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), p. 69:
Of the nineteenth-century philosophers, Hegel put me off by his language, as arrogant as it was laborious; I regarded him with downright mistrust. He seemed to me like a man who was caged in the edifice of his own words and was pompously gesticulating in his prison.
A related post: Best Observed in the Nude

22 February 2014

The Most Peaceable Disposition

Heinrich Heine, Scintillations from the Prose Works of Heinrich Heine, tr. Simon Adler Stern (New York: Holt & Williams, 1873), p. 83:
I have the most peaceable disposition. My desires are a modest cottage with thatched roof — but a good bed, good fare, fresh milk and butter, flowers by my window, and a few fine trees before the door. And if the Lord wished to fill my cup of happiness, He would grant me the pleasure of seeing some six or seven of my enemies hanged on those trees. With a heart moved to pity, I would, before their death, forgive the injury they had done me during their lives. Yes, we ought to forgive our enemies — but not until they are hanged.
The original, from Aphorismen und Fragmente:
Friedliche Gesinnung. Wünsche: bescheidene Hütte, Strohdach, aber gutes Bett, gutes Essen, Milch und Butter, sehr frisch, vor dem Fenster Blumen, vor der Türe einige schöne Bäume, und wenn der liebe Gott mich ganz glücklich machen will, läßt er mir die Freude erleben, daß an diesen Bäumen etwa sechs bis sieben meiner Feinde aufgehängt werden - Mit gerührtem Herzen werde ich ihnen vor ihrem Tode alle Unbill verzeihen, die sie mir im Leben zugefügt - ja, man muß seinen Feinden verzeihen, aber nicht früher, als bis sie gehenkt worden.

21 February 2014

Redites-moi des choses tendres

Aldous Huxley, Two or Three Graces (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), p. 113:
In a foreign language one can talk of subjects, one can unconcernedly use words, the uttering, the mention of which in one's native idiom would horribly embarrass.
cf. The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases (PDF) by Boaz Keysar, Sayuri L. Hayakawa, and Sun Gyu An

I look forward to reading Aneta Pavlenko's The Bilingual Mind, to be published by the Cambridge University Press next month.

Title of this post from here.

20 February 2014

A Beast of Muddy Brain

Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639), "The People," The Sonnets of Michael Angelo Buonarroti and Tommaso Campanella, tr. John Addington Symonds (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1878), p. 143:
The people is a beast of muddy brain,
    That knows not its own force, and therefore stands
    Loaded with wood and stone; the powerless hands
    Of a mere child guide it with bit and rein:
One kick would be enough to break the chain;
    But the beast fears, and what the child demands,
    It does; nor its own terror understands.
    Confused and stupefied by bugbears vain.
Most wonderful! with its own hand it ties
    And gags itself — gives itself death and war
    For pence doled out by kings from its own store.
Its own are all things between earth and heaven;
    But this it knows not; and if one arise
    To tell this truth, it kills him unforgiven.

19 February 2014


W. Compton Leith (pseudonym of Ormonde Maddock Dalton, 1866-1945), Apologia Diffidentis (London: John Lane, 1917), pp. 116-117:
An old watchmaker, whose window overlooked a wide meadow, used ever and again to lay down his instruments to gaze out upon the expanse of green, pasturing upon it a wandering vague regard, and absorbing from it an assuagement of his wearied senses which, he said, served him more effectually after these bright interludes. The province of Metaphysics should be to us as to this wise workman his field; not a place to dream our days away in, but for occasional resort; in which we may forget the infinitesimal in healing visions of broad space and colour. I counsel every lonely man to satisfy what has been described as the common metaphysical instinct, and according to his powers to become a metaphysician. There is no discipline which so well consists with solitude, none which so instantly enfranchises the mind from the tyranny of mean self-interest or vain and envious polemics. Men do not grow sour and quarrelsome about the Absolute: everything that is polemical is inspired, as Michelet once said, by some temporal and momentary interest. The man who has climbed to the Idalian spring comes down benevolent. He does not grudge this toiling ant his grain, that snarling dog his bone, but is content to live serene, in the certainty that his soul has great provision, and that though all human things are small, each is worth its while. Into his hand there is given a scale by which life is known in its fair proportions; a tranquil joy, disturbed neither by dirges nor Epinician odes, is poured into his heart and exalts him above distraction. He respects himself as akin to that great Self whose perfection shall one day be known; he understands the passion for the ideal through which men die young; he wonders at envy and in the happiness of enfranchisement would have all men free.

18 February 2014

The French

Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not ... (New York: T. Seltzer, 1924), Part II, Chapter II:
The French he admired: for their tremendous efficiency, for their frugality of life, for the logic of their minds, for their admirable achievements in the arts, for their neglect of the industrial system, for their devotion, above all, to the eighteenth century.

17 February 2014

So Naive

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1998), p. 150:
I don't know how anybody who pretends to know anything about history can be so naive as to suppose that after all these centuries of corrupt and imperfect social systems, there is eventually to evolve something perfect and pure out of them – the good out of the evil, the unchanging and stable and eternal out of the variable and mutable, the just out of the unjust. But perhaps revolution is a contradiction of evolution, and therefore means the replacement of the unjust by the just, of the evil by the good. And yet it is still just as naive to suppose that members of the same human species, without having changed anything but their minds, should suddenly turn around and produce a perfect society, when they have never been able, in the past, to produce anything but imperfection and, at best, the barest shadow of justice.

14 February 2014

Like an Animal

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1998), p. 91:
What could I make of so much suffering? There was no way for me, or for anyone else in the family, to get anything out of it. It was a raw wound for which there was no adequate relief. You had to take it, like an animal. We were in the condition of most of the world, the condition of men without faith in the presence of war, disease, pain, starvation, suffering, plague, bombardment, death. You just had to take it, like a dumb animal. Try to avoid it, if you could. But you must eventually reach the point where you can't avoid it any more. Take it. Try to stupefy yourself, if you like, so that it won't hurt so much. But you will always have to take some of it. And it will all devour you in the end.

Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and so trivial that one can say it is no longer objective at all. It is his own existence, his own being, that is at once the subject and the source of his pain, and his very existence and conciousness is his greatest torture.

12 February 2014

Empty-Handed at the End and at the Beginning

Addison Peale Russell, Library Notes (Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co., 1879), p. 14:
We think ourselves of great importance in the eyes of others, when we are only so in our own. Calmly considering it, what can be more astonishing than vanity in a middle-aged person? Know as much as it is possible for a human being to know in this world, he cannot know enough to justify him in being vain of his knowledge. Good as it is possible for a human being to be, he cannot be good enough to excuse a conceit of his goodness. Yet how common it is for full-grown ignorance to have conceit of wisdom, and for ordinary virtue to assume the airs of saintship. How we shall one day wonder, looking back at the world we have left, at the nearly invisible mites, like ourselves, tossing their heads in pride, and gathering their skirts in self-righteousness, that we were ever as vain and shameless as they, and that the little things of life ever so engrossed us. Alas, to learn and unlearn is our fate; to gather as we climb the hill of life, to scatter as we descend it: empty-handed alike at the end and at the beginning.
Thanks to Laudator Temporis Acti for introducing me to this author.

11 February 2014

Beautiful Lie the Dead

Stephen Phillips (1864-1915), "Beautiful Lie the Dead," Lyrics and Dramas (London: John Lane - The Bodley Head, 1913), p. 8:
Beautiful lie the dead;
Clear comes each feature;
Satisfied not to be,
Strangely contented.

Like ships, the anchor dropped,
Furled every sail is;
Mirrored with all their masts
In a deep water.

10 February 2014

The Perfect Eremite

W. Compton Leith (pseudonym of Ormonde Maddock Dalton, 1866-1945), Apologia Diffidentis (London: John Lane, 1917), pp. 56-58:
A shy nature upon this plane of susceptibility suffers anguish from an uncontrollable body; and even in peaceful moments the memory of the discomfitures so inflicted may distort a man's whole view of the world around him. He is impatient of the wit which demands a versatility in response beyond his powers, and persuades himself into contempt of those ephemeral arts to which his nature cannot be constrained. Irritated at the injustice which places so high in the general scale of values accomplishments which he cannot practise, shrinking from the suave devices of gesture and expression which in his own case might quickly pass into antic or grimace, he withdraws more and more from the places where such arts win esteem to live in a private world of inner sentiment. As he leaves this sure retreat but rarely himself, so he forbids ingress to others; and becoming yearly a greater recluse, he confines himself more and more within the walls of his forbidden city. The mind which may have been fitted to expand in the free play of intellectual debate or to explore the high peaks of idea, loses its power of flight in this cave where it dwells with a company of sad thoughts, until at last the sacrifice is complete and the perfect eremite is formed.

7 February 2014

Offspring of Body, Mind, and Heart

W. Compton Leith (pseudonym of Ormonde Maddock Dalton, 1866-1945), Apologia Diffidentis (London: John Lane, 1917), pp. 121-123:
As my reading is incessant, so also is my writing. For the happiness of man is in his fertility, and of barrenness comes the worst despair. To be happy is to have issue—children, or books written, or things beautifully wrought, or monuments of goodness to live after you, if only in the memory of some tiny hamlet of the folded hills. This is the law of life that Diotima knew, by which flower and tree, animal and man, fulfil the end of their creation; and man in nothing more surely proves his lordship than by his many-handed hold upon posterity. For the lower creation is procreant in one way, but man in many; who may have offspring not of body alone but of mind and heart, and be so redeemed from the grim dismay of childlessness. The greatest human happiness is to be fertile in every way, a thing granted rarely in the world we know; the next, perhaps, is that of the parent who gives all of himself to his family, not tilling any field beyond the charmed walls confining his desire. The author sure of his fame, the born artist, the benefactor of his kind, are also happy, seeing their offspring grow in years and in the power of making a brighter world.

But he is miserable who, aspiring to follow these, feels his force wane within him while he remains yet fatherless; or who has sons stillborn, or weakly, or dishonoured. I question whether sheer degradation into evil brings more pain to man than such sense of sterility or frustrate parentage. But it is no small part of human redemption that none need know the interminable misery. A man may have neither sons nor genius, but in the dark hour he can go out and give, if it be only a penny or a kind word, and on that foundation build a temple to receive his thanksgiving. To give of yourself is good. This is that grand agreement and œcumenical consent to which those words quod ab omnibus quod ubique in deed and truth may be applied. For this reason meanness is of the deeps, and avarice groans in the lowest zone of hell. And if there are faces of blank and permanent despair upon your path, be sure that these are not masks of whole men, but of those who wilfully abstained from joy and have received the greater damnation. My children are mostly writings, poor weakly creatures dying inarticulate and unchristened, tenderly remembered by myself only, but at least no nuisance to the world. I loved them at their birth, I hold them in remembrance, though they were ever of a hectic and uncertain beauty.
Title page of Apologia Diffidentis

5 February 2014


Vincent McNabb, Old Principles and the New Order (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1942), pp. 117-118:
Some men wrest a living from nature; and it is Work. Some men wrest a living from those who wrest a living from nature; and it is Trade. Some men wrest a living from those who wrest a living from those who wrest a living from nature; and it is Finance.

4 February 2014

Housman Modernized

Ivor Brown, I Commit to the Flames (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1934), pp. 211-216:
It is understandable that the Very Modern should dislike what is ordinarily known as poetry, just as others dislike cricket or cod liver oil. What I cannot understand is why they are so cantankerous about it. People who dislike cricket or cod's liver peaceably avoid these things. They do not go into the street and play with a steel bar for bat and an old kettle as the ball, crying 'This is the Real, Active Cricket. All that stuff at Lord's is the corpse of cricket.' But this is exactly what the Very Modern Poets do. They write something which bears no relation to any sort of poetry and then noisily assert that this is the only real poetry and that all the other fellows are Down among the Dead Men. I would respect this judgment more if they declined to use the word poetry at all. Let them stop cutting up their prose into segments that give an outer semblance of attempted poetry. Let them say that poetry died when the motor car came in and that there shall be no more trifling with this deplorable and outworn art. Let them proclaim spasmodic prose as the only voice which can articulate the opinions of the rising generation. That, though foolish, would at least be consistently foolish. What is so tiresome is their insistence on using the title when they kill the thing. A Commissar who murders a king does at least forbear to wear a crown and call himself a Little Father. That form of idiocy is monopolised by the lads and lasses of the Active Group.

The emotional criterion of poetry was overstated by Professor Housman in his famous lecture. 'Meaning is of the intellect, poetry is not', is a phrase which obviously needs qualification. It certainly does not divorce poetry from meaning, but it too rigidly separates heart and brain. None the less the ordinary reader of poetry - and, since there are not a great many people who read poetry without scholastic compulsion, the ordinary reader is an extraordinary person - probably agrees with the Housman test of emotional response.

Either the poet rings the bell or he does not. 'I think that to transfuse emotion - not to transmit thought, but to set up in the reader's sense a vibration corresponding to what was felt by the writer -is the peculiar function of poetry.' We recognise poetry by physical occurrence. Housman quotes Eliphaz the Temanite; 'A spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up.' The body is the arbiter; there are, as Mr. Tappertit would say, 'wibrations'. Sometimes it is perilous to be thus set a-shivering. 'Experience has taught me,' Housman continues, 'when I am shaving of a morning, to keep watch over my thoughts because, if a line of poetry strays into my memory, my skin bristles so that the razor ceases to act.' He also attributes to the power of poetry watery eyes, a constriction of the throat, and a stabbing sensation in the pit of the stomach.

Few of us, I suppose, are quite so powerfully vibrated as a Housman; we might even manage to shave with a book of poetry on the dressing table. At the same time he, with his own genius, has made it difficult not to vibrate physically as he drops his words upon our senses.
'Could man be drunk for ever
With liquor, love, or fights,
Lief should I rise at morning
And lief lie down of nights.

But men at whiles are sober
And think by fits and starts
And, if they think, they fasten
Their hands upon their hearts.'
One shudders for the state of the Housman epidermis should he remember his own poetry with razor in hand. The Modernist would simply scream out his parrot-cry about Dead Stuff. 'Lief' is an old word; you do not say in a public-house 'Lief would I have a pint of bitter'; therefore the word must not occur in any Active Poem. The Activist would, I suppose, argue that Housman is making an intellectual judgment on the desirability of escape. This ought to be stated with the 'hard matter-of-fact skeleton of poetic logic' or 'as dryly and unfeelingly as a schoolmistress would explain a mathematical problem'. It must be done, too, in the language used by a liquorish, lecherous, combative man. Perhaps the Activist version would run something like this. Mr. Pound, at any rate, has my full permission to use it in his next posy of contemporary flowers.
that's O.K.
      whose booze?
      oozy booze
kiddo I'm bottled
dames and janes and socks
on the jaw
brain stabs
belly vomits mind-stuff
O gemme a woman gemme booze
That fulfils all the canons of poesy as practised by the Shock Troops; perhaps the typography is inadequate. A few capital letters in the middle of the words might assist the 'matter-of-fact skeleton of poetic logic'. There might be some high rational significance in writing 'boOze' or 'vOmits'. Possibly the question-mark after the second 'booze' is a trifle old-world.

3 February 2014


Michael Wharton, The Missing Will (London: The Hogarth Press, 1984), p. 155:
I also thought of writing an Anatomy of Boredom, on the lines of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, and made some notes on this fascinating subject on which I was so well qualified to write. But the more I thought about it the more mysterious and unfathomable it seemed. It would be necessary to trace it back to the time, if time it could be called, before the Fall of the Rebel Angels. It would be necessary to deal with all aspects of Accidie, the deadly sin of which, out of all the deadly sins, I was most guilty. The prevalence of Accidie in mediaeval monasteries, where the monks must have drowsed away on summer afternoons, fuddled on the strong ale of which, according to the records, they had such a generous allowance ... no wonder the manuscripts they were supposed to be copying were full of textual corruptions which hundreds of years later were to delight the rigorous mind of Professor Housman ... The sin of Accidie, alone, I thought, was a lifetime's study, and that was only one strand in the great Anatomy of Boredom.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Land of Cockaigne (1567)