30 April 2014

Wherefore the Whole Scene of Horror?

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, tr. R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, Vol. III (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1909), p. 112:
Yunghahn* relates that he saw in Java a plain far as the eye could reach entirely covered with skeletons, and took it for a battlefield; they were, however, merely the skeletons of large turtles, five feet long and three feet broad, and the same height, which come this way out of the sea in order to lay their eggs, and are then attacked by wild dogs (Canis rutilans), who with their united strength lay them on their backs, strip off their lower armour, that is, the small shell of the stomach, and so devour them alive. But often then a tiger pounces upon the dogs. Now all this misery repeats itself thousands and thousands of times, year out, year in. For this, then, these turtles are born. For whose guilt must they suffer this torment? Wherefore the whole scene of horror? To this the only answer is: it is thus that the will to live objectifies itself.
* This is an error in Haldane and Kemp's translation. It should read "Junghuhn" as in Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn (1809-1864), author of Java; Seine Gestalt, Pflanzendecke und Innere Bauart, tr. J. K. Hasskarl (Leipzig: Arnoldische Buchhandlung, 1857).

28 April 2014

A Man's Real Possession

Alexander Smith, "On Death and the Fear of Dying," Dreamthorp (London: Andrew Melrose, 1906), pp. 57-58:
In life there is nothing more unexpected and surprising than the arrivals and departures of pleasure. If we find it in one place to-day, it is vain to seek it there to-morrow. You cannot lay a trap for it. It will fall into no ambuscade, concert it ever so cunningly. Pleasure has no logic; it never treads in its own footsteps. Into our commonplace existence it comes with a surprise, like a pure white swan from the airy void into the ordinary village lake; and just as the swan, for no reason that can be discovered, lifts itself on its wings and betakes itself to the void again, it leaves us, and our sole possession is its memory. And it is characteristic of pleasure that we can never recognise it to be pleasure till after it is gone. Happiness never lays its finger on its pulse. If we attempt to steal a glimpse of its features it disappears. It is a gleam of unreckoned gold. From the nature of the case, our happiness, such as in its degree it has been, lives in memory. We have not the voice itself; we have only its echo. We are never happy; we can only remember that we were so once. And while in the very heart and structure of the happy moment there lurked an obscure consciousness of death, the memory in which past happiness dwells is always a regretful memory. This is why the tritest utterance about the past, youth, early love, and the like, has always about it an indefinable flavour of poetry, which pleases and affects. In the wake of a ship there is always a melancholy splendour. The finest set of verses of our modern time describes how the poet gazed on the "happy autumn fields," and remembered the "days that were no more." After all, a man's real possession is his memory. In nothing else is he rich, in nothing else is he poor.
A related post: Nothing More Secure

25 April 2014

Tolerable Content

Edward FitzGerald to John Allen, 29 April 1839, Letters of Edward FitzGerald, Vol. I (London: Macmillan & Co., 1910), pp. 59-60:
Here I live with tolerable content: perhaps with as much as most people arrive at, and what if one were properly grateful one would perhaps call perfect happiness.  Here is a glorious sunshiny day: all the morning I read about Nero in Tacitus lying at full length on a bench in the garden: a nightingale singing, and some red anemones eyeing the sun manfully not far off.  A funny mixture all this: Nero, and the delicacy of Spring: all very human however.  Then at half past one lunch on Cambridge cream cheese: then a ride over hill and dale: then spudding up some weeds from the grass ... So runs the world away.  You think I live in Epicurean ease: but this happens to be a jolly day: one isn’t always well, or tolerably good, the weather is not always clear, nor nightingales singing, nor Tacitus full of pleasant atrocity.  But such as life is, I believe I have got hold of a good end of it.
Volume II here.

23 April 2014

Take No Pleasure in the Wonder of the Mob

Baltasar Gracián y Morales, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, tr. Joseph Jacobs (London: Macmillan & Co., 1904), pp. 16-17:
Common in Nothing.

First, not in taste. O great and wise, to be ill at ease when your deeds please the mob! The excesses of popular applause never satisfy the sensible. Some there are such chameleons of popularity that they find enjoyment not in the sweet savours of Apollo but in the breath of the mob. Secondly, not in intelligence. Take no pleasure in the wonder of the mob, for Ignorance never gets beyond wonder. While vulgar folly wonders wisdom watches for the trick.
A related post: What Have I Said Amiss?

22 April 2014

Why Go the Lonelier Way?

W. Compton Leith (pseudonym of Ormonde Maddock Dalton, 1866-1945), Sirenica (London: John Lane, 1913), pp. 104-106:
If in young life the Sirens' music float towards you over still waters, put the helm about while it is yet an uncertain sound; let those whose ears are closed lash you to the mast until the echoes are heard no longer. Beware lest for a moment's heedlessness your days be consumed away, lest kindred, fatherland, and friends be lost to you, and your bones lie bleaching upon that shore. Believe it not, when pride or flattery would persuade that you are of a force to meet the insidious danger; none are of that force, not even the heroes and the slayers of many dragons. If fortune offers peace of happiness, with all its estimable solid gain, its neighbourhood of minds and profitable communions, why go the lonelier way, consorting with shadows, feeding upon vanity of dreams? You are like to become among men as the poplar among the trees, too sensitive to dwell in commonality, whitening the wayside with a floss that none shall spin. Be wise, return among the happy of mankind for whom laws are framed and politics constructed; who, trenching themselves within a pale and taming down ambitions, receive their certain wages in the weighed gold of tranquillity.
Otto Greiner, Odysseus und die Sirenen (c. 1900)

19 April 2014

No Securer Box

George Mackenzie (1636-1691), Essays Upon Several Moral Subjects (London: Printed for Brown et al., 1713), pp. 139-140:
The World is a Comedy, where every Man acts that Part which Providence hath assigned him; and as it is esteemed more noble to look on than to act; so really I known no securer Box from which to behold it than a safe Solitude; and it is easier to feel than to express the Pleasure which may be taken in standing aloof, and in contemplating the Reelings of the Multitude, the Excentrick Motions of Great Men, and how Fate recreates itself in their Ruin; as if it fed them with Success, as the Romans fed their Gladiators, who served for nothing else, but in beating one another to recreate disinterested Beholders.

17 April 2014


Roger Scruton, The Uses of Pessimism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 133-134:
It is inherently questionable to believe that there is a continuous moral progress, moving forward with the speed of science, still more questionable to believe that there is artistic or spiritual progress marching beside it. Virtually no poet since Homer has surpassed him, and in the arts, in religious thought and in philosophical speculation, we are as likely to encounter a decline from one generation to the next as an improvement. Even if there is knowledge of a sort contained in high culture, it is not knowledge that accumulates in an orderly or linear way. It is a matter of wisdom, not expertise, of an imaginative grasp of the human condition rather than the search for theories with which to explain it.

16 April 2014


Roger Scruton, The Uses of Pessimism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 185-186:
Professors in the humanities learned from their French mentors [Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida] that there is a way of writing that will always be considered 'profound', provided only that it is (a) subversive and (b) unintelligible. As long as a text can be read as in some way against the status quo of Western culture and society, undermining its claim to authority or truth, it does not matter that it is gibberish. On the contrary, that is merely a proof that its argument operates at a level of profundity that makes it immune to criticism.

It is, of course, not only modern leftism that has had recourse to the hermetic strategy by way of protecting its illusions. The original discipline of theology was prodigal of nonsense, and the hermetic science of alchemy provided a more secular version of it, which Ben Johnson adequately satirized in The Alchemist. Whenever impossible aims and unbelievable doctrines take up position in the human psyche, offering spurious hopes and factitious solutions, gobbledygook assembles in the wings, awaiting its moment.
Related posts:

14 April 2014

He Nothing Shall Fulfil

Harold Monro, "He meditates in silence all the day," Before Dawn (London: Constable & Co., 1911), p. 120:
He meditates in silence all the day,
Reclining in an atmosphere of dreams:
Meanwhile the bravest moments slip away,
And life is wasted in its crystal streams.

Out of his lips the smoke curls dreamily
Upward, and wreathes about his careless hair;
If you may speak by chance, still silent, he
But gazes at you with a vacant stare.

Thus dwelling in a world where shadows seem
Reality, what succour shall he give?
What value may be set upon his dream.
Who has not learnt, and cannot learn -- to live?

Though he may prate of Purpose and of Will,
Propounding many schemes with perfect art,
I know he nothing, nothing shall fulfil --
Because he lacks a true and valiant heart.

11 April 2014

The Ancients Sang Their Solo in Peace

Joseph Joubert, Joubert; A Selection from his Thoughts, tr. Katharine Lyttelton (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1899), p. 143:
In writing, the ancients had a mind more at ease than we. They were not embarrassed by a thousand considerations that are forced upon us, concerning a crowd of books already known to our readers, which we cannot help perpetually combating or recalling. Being obliged thus to be either in harmony or in discord with all existing books, we sing our part in the midst of clamour; whilst the ancients sang their solo in peace.
Colour scans of Pensées, essais et maximes de J. Joubert, suivis de Lettres à ses amis et précédés d'une notice sur sa vie, son caractère et ses travaux (Paris: Charles Gosselin, 1842) on Gallica:
Volume I
Volume II

10 April 2014

A Magnificent but Painful Hippopotamus

H. G. Wells, Boon (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1915), pp. 107-108:
Having first made sure that he has scarcely anything left to express, [Henry James] then sets to work to express it, with an industry, a wealth of intellectual stuff that dwarfs Newton. He spares no resource in the telling of his dead inventions. He brings up every device of language to state and define. Bare verbs he rarely tolerates. He splits his infinitives and fills them up with adverbial stuffing. He presses the passing colloquialism  into his service. His vast paragraphs sweat and struggle; they could not sweat and elbow and struggle more if God Himself was the processional meaning to which they sought to come. And all for tales of nothingness.... It is leviathan retrieving pebbles. It is a magnificent but painful hippopotamus resolved at any cost, even at the cost of its dignity, upon picking up a pea which has got into a corner of its den. Most things, it insists, are beyond it, but it can, at any rate, modestly, and with an artistic singleness of mind, pick up that pea....

8 April 2014

The Virtues and Loves of Dying Creatures

Roger Scruton, The Uses of Pessimism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 11-12:
Poetry, drama, portraiture and music show us that mortality is inextricably woven into the human scheme of things: that our virtues and our loves are the virtues and loves of dying creatures; that everything that leads us to cherish one another, to sacrifice ourselves, to make sublime and heroic gestures, is predicated on the assumption that we are vulnerable and transient, with only a fleeting claim on the things of this world.

7 April 2014

So the Days Pass and Nothing Is Done

Joseph Conrad to Edward Garnett (29 March 1898), Letters from Joseph Conrad, 1895-1924 (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1928), pp. 134-135:
I sit down religiously every morning, I sit down for eight hours every day — and the sitting down is all. In the course of that working day of 8 hours I write 3 sentences which I erase before leaving the table in despair. There's not a single word to send you. Not one! And time passes — and McClure [Conrad's publisher] waits — not to speak of Eternity for which I don't care a damn. Of McClure however I am afraid.

I ask myself sometimes whether I am bewitched, whether I am the victim of an evil eye? But there is no "jettatura" in England — is there? I assure you — speaking soberly and on my word of honour — that sometimes it takes all my resolution and power of self control to refrain from butting my head against the wall. I want to howl and foam at the mouth but I daren't do it for fear of waking that baby and alarming my wife. It's no joking matter. After such crises of despair I doze for hours still half conscious that there is that story I am unable to write. Then I wake up, try again — and at last go to bed completely done-up. So the days pass and nothing is done. At night I sleep. In the morning I get up with the horror of that powerlessness I must face through a day of vain efforts.
Hat tip: Stephen Pentz at First Known When Lost

4 April 2014

The Great Lazar House of Society

Robert Southey to John May (26 June 1797), The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1849), pp. 98-99:
There was a time when I believed in the persuadibility of man, and had the mania of man-mending. Experience has taught me better. After a certain age the organs of voice cannot accommodate themselves to the utterance of a foreign pronunciation; so it is with the mind, it grows stiff and unyielding, like our sinews, as we grow older. The ablest physician can do little in the great lazar house of society; it is a pest-house that infects all within its atmosphere. He acts the wisest part who retires from the contagion; nor is that part either a selfish or a cowardly one; it is ascending the ark, like Noah, to preserve a remnant which may become the whole.

3 April 2014

The Ugly and the Stupid

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (London: Ward, Lock & Co., 1891), p. 5:
There is a fatality about all physical and intellectual distinction, the sort of fatality that seems to dog through history the faltering steps of kings. It is better not to be different from one's fellows. The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world. They can sit at their ease and gape at the play. If they know nothing of victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat. They live as we all should live — undisturbed, indifferent, and without disquiet. They neither bring ruin upon others, nor ever receive it from alien hands.

2 April 2014

Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna

This link leads to a virtual tour of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome.

Room 18 (magenta section, bottom right of the map) is devoted to the Belle Époque, with paintings by Giovanni Boldini and Giuseppe De Nittis.

Giovanni Boldini Ritratto della marchesa Casati (1911-1913)