30 May 2014

Bad at Parties

Johanna Schopenhauer in a letter to her nineteen-year-old son Arthur Schopenhauer in 1807, telling him he was not welcome to live in her home, quoted in Wilhelm Gwinner's Arthur Schopenhauer, aus persönlichem Umgange dargestellt (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1862), pp. 26-27. My translation:
In order to be happy I need to know that you are happy, but I do not need to see it first-hand. I have always said that it would be very difficult to live with you, and the closer I observe you, the greater this difficulty appears to be, at least to my eyes. I will not conceal it from you that, so long as you are the way you are, I would rather make any sacrifice than come to this decision. I am well aware of your good points. I am not shying away from your nature or inner qualities, but rather your outward manner, your opinions, your judgements, and your habits. Simply put, I cannot share your views about anything that concerns the outside world. Your moroseness, your complaints about things that cannot be avoided, your bizarre judgements which you pronounce like an oracle without allowing anyone to speak against them — these things oppress me and ruin my good humour without being of any benefit to you. Your nasty disputations, your lamentations over the stupidity of the world and human suffering disturb my nights and give me bad dreams.
Title from this clip of True Detective.

29 May 2014

A Test of Lucidity

Adam Sisman, An Honourable Englishman (New York: Random House, 2010), pp. 61-62:
Hugh [Trevor-Roper] employed [Alfred Jules] Ayer's categories as a purgative for his prose, rejecting rhetoric, slovenly language, ambiguity or emotive obscurity, and aspiring to limpidity and austerity of style. It became one of his cardinal rules that no sentence of his should have to be read twice in order to be understood. No concept was too difficult to be expressed clearly. A useful test of lucidity was to translate a phrase from English into Latin; the necessary effort of understanding revealed any non-sense, tautology or ambiguity.

28 May 2014

The Life Beautiful

Charles Baudelaire, "The Glass Vendor," Baudelaire; His Prose and Poetry, tr. F. P. Sturm (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919), p. 127:
At length [the glass vendor] appeared. I examined all his glasses with curiosity, and then said to him: "What, have you no coloured glasses? Glasses of rose and crimson and blue, magical glasses, glasses of Paradise? You are insolent. You dare to walk in mean streets when you have no glasses that would make one see beauty in life?" And I hurried him briskly to the staircase, which he staggered down, grumbling.

I went on to the balcony and caught up a little flower pot, and when the man appeared in the doorway beneath I let fall my engine of war perpendicularly upon the edge of his pack, so that it was upset by the shock and all his poor walking fortune broken to bits. It made a noise like a palace of crystal shattered by lightning. Mad with my folly, I cried furiously after him: "The life beautiful! the life beautiful!"

27 May 2014

The Wolf Pack

Wilfred Trotter, Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1921), pp. 150-151:
The functional value of herd instinct in the wolf is to make the pack irresistible in attacking and perpetually aggressive in spirit. The individual must, therefore, be especially sensitive to the leadership of the herd. The herd must be to him, not merely as it is to the protectively gregarious animal, a source of comfort, and stimulus, and general guidance, but must be able to make him do things however difficult, however dangerous, even however senseless, and must make him yield an absolute, immediate, and slavish obedience. The carrying out of the commands of the herd must be in itself an absolute satisfaction in which there can be no consideration of self. Towards anything outside the herd he will necessarily be arrogant, confident, and inaccessible to the appeals of reason or feeling. This tense bond of instinct, constantly keyed up to the pitch of action, will give him a certain simplicity of character and even ingenuousness, a coarseness and brutality, in his dealings with others, and a complete failure to understand any motive unsanctioned by the pack. He will believe the pack to be impregnable and irresistible, just and good, and will readily ascribe to it any other attribute which may take his fancy however ludicrously inappropriate.

The strength of the wolf pack as a gregarious unit is undoubtedly, in suitable circumstances, enormous. This strength would seem to depend on a continuous possibility of attack and action. How far it can be maintained in inactivity and mere defence is another matter....

26 May 2014

A Sure Investment

Sara Teasdale, "The Coin," Flame and Shadow (New York: Macmillan, 1920), p. 24:
Into my heart's treasury
   I slipped a coin
That time cannot take
   Nor a thief purloin, —
Oh better than the minting
   Of a gold-crowned king
Is the safe-kept memory
   Of a lovely thing.
Related posts:
Nothing More Secure
A Winter Hoard
A Man's Real Possession

23 May 2014

Incurable Frivolousness

W. N. P. Barbellion, Entry for 15 May 1915, The Journal of a Disappointed Man (London: Chatto & Windus, 1919), pp. 125-126:
Spent the day measuring the legs and antennae of lice to two places of decimals!

To the lay mind how fantastic this must seem! Indeed, I hope it is fantastic. I do not mind being thought odd. It seems almost fitting that an incurable dilettante like myself should earn his livelihood by measuring the legs of lice. I like to believe that such a bizarre manner of life suits my incurable frivolousness.

I am a Magpie in a Bagdad bazaar, hopping about, useless, inquisitive, fascinated by a lot of astonishing things: e.g., a book on the quadrature of the circle, the gubbertushed fustilugs passage in Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, names like Mr Portwine or Mr Hogsflesh, Tweezer's Alley or Pickle Herring Street, the excellent, conceitful sonnets of Henry Constable or Petticoat Lane on a Sunday morning.

Colossal things such as Art, Science, etc., frighten me. I am afraid I should develop a thirst that would make me wish to drink the sea dry. My mind is a disordered miscellany. The world is too distracting. I cannot apply myself for long.

22 May 2014

The Habit of Being Alive

Arthur Ransome, "Art for Life's Sake," Portraits and Speculations (London: Macmillan, 1913), pp. 17-18:
Art is itself life. Its function is to increase our consciousness of life, to make us more than wise or sensitive, to transform us from beings overwhelmed by the powerful stream of unconscious living to beings dominating that stream, to change us from objects acted upon by life to joyful collaborators in that reaction. By its means we become conscious gainers by life's procreative activity. No longer hiding our faces from that muddied storm that sweeps irresistibly from the future to the past, a medley of confused figures, a babel of cries of joy, of laughter, of sorrow, of pain, by its means we lift our heads, and, learning from the isolation of moments in eternity, to imagine the isolation of all such moments, we conquer that storm, and accept pain, joy, laughter or sorrow, with equal gratitude, in our continually realised desire to feel ourselves alive.
Id., p. 34:
We ask from an artist opportunities of conscious living, which, taken as they come, multiply the possibilities of their recurrence, turn us into artists, and help us to contract the habit of being alive.

21 May 2014

The Little Count of All My Wealth

Thomas Bastard (1566-1618), Epigram 36, Book 3, Chrestoleros; Seven Bookes of Epigrames (Manchester: Printed for the Spenser Society, 1888), p. 74:
The peasant Corus of his wealth does boast,
Yet he scarce worth twice twenty pounds at most.
I chanc’de to worde once with this lowlie swayne,
He calde me base, and beggar in disdaine.
To try the trueth hereof I rate myself.
And cast the little count of all my wealth.
See how much Hebrew, Greeke, and Poetry,
Latin, Rhetorique, and Philosophye,
     Reading, and sense in sciences profound,
     All valued, are not worth forty pounds.
A related post: I Am, in Fact, an Incompetent

19 May 2014

A Nice Day

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, tr. Richard Zenith (London: Penguin Classics, 2002), p. 73:
Literature – which is art married to thought, and realization untainted by reality – seems to me the end towards which all human effort would have to strive, if it were truly human and not just a welling up of our animal self. To express something is to conserve its virtue and take away its terror. Fields are greener in their description than in their actual greenness. Flowers, if described with phrases that define them in the air of the imagination, will have colours with a durability not found in cellular life.

What moves lives. What is said endures. There’s nothing in life that’s less real for having been well described. Small-minded critics point out that such-and-such poem, with its protracted cadences, in the end says merely that it’s a nice day. But to say it’s a nice day is difficult, and the nice day itself passes on. It’s up to us to conserve the nice day in a wordy, florid memory, sprinkling new flowers and new stars over the fields and skies of the empty, fleeting outer world.

16 May 2014

Dr. Epictetus Will See You Now

Carlo Strenger, Individuality, the Impossible Project (Madison: International Universities Press, 1998), pp. 54-55:
The psychoanalytic insistence on the tragic dimension of life entails a model of freedom. The influence of the past and of the total dependence in childhood must be accepted. The losses, pains, and traumas of the past must be acknowledged and mourned; we must all come to terms with the fact that we had the particular childhood we had, even though it does not correspond to our needs and desires. Denying the past only enslaves us by turning it into a perpetual present. The attempt to undo and avoid pains, trauma and unfulfilled desire con­demns us to be unconsciously tyrannized by the past (Wollheim, 1984). The psychoanalytic ethic is stoic: We must accept the limits of our power.
A related post: Must I Whine as Well?

15 May 2014

From Knowing to Doing

Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Conduct of Life (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1871):
"Enlarge not thy destiny," said the oracle: "endeavor not to do more than is given thee in charge." The one prudence in life is concentration; the one evil is dissipation: and it makes no difference whether our dissipations are coarse or fine; property and its cares, friends, and a social habit, or politics, or music, or feasting. Everything is good which takes away one plaything and delusion more, and drives us home to add one stroke of faithful work. Friends, books, pictures, lower duties, talents, flatteries, hopes, — all are distractions which cause oscillations in our giddy balloon, and make a good poise and a straight course impossible. You must elect your work; you shall take what your brain can, and drop all the rest. Only so, can that amount of vital force accumulate, which can make the step from knowing to doing. No matter how much faculty of idle seeing a man has, the step from knowing to doing is rarely taken. 'Tis a step out of a chalk circle of imbecility into fruitfulness. Many an artist lacking this, lacks all: he sees the masculine Angelo or Cellini with despair. He, too, is up to Nature and the First Cause in his thought. But the spasm to collect and swing his whole being into one act, he has not.
cf. The False Humility of the Frog

14 May 2014

The Musarion Edition of Nietzsche

I am trying to put together a digitized set of Friedrich Nietzsche's Gesammelte Werke (München: Musarion Verlag, 1920). There are 23 volumes in total.

Volume 1: Jugendschriften (1858-1868)
Volume 2: Kleinere Schriften (1869-1874)
Volume 3: Die Geburt der Tragödie (1869-1871)
Volume 4: Vorträge, Schriften und Vorlesungen (1871-1867)
Volume 5: Vorlesungen (1871-1876)
Volume 6: Philosophenbuch, Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen I & II (1872-1875)
Volume 7: Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen III & IV, Kleinere Schriften (1872-1876)
Volume 8: Menschliches, Allzumenschliches I
Volume 9: Menschliches, Allzumenschliches II
Volume 10: Morgenröthe
Volume 11: Aus der Zeit der Morgenröthe und der fröhliche Wissenschaft (1880-1882)
Volume 12: STILL SEARCHING Die fröhliche Wissenschaft
Volume 13: Also sprach Zarathustra (1883-1885)
Volume 14: Aus dem Zarathustra- und Umwerthungszeit (1882-1888)
Volume 15: STILL SEARCHING Jenseits von Gut und Böse (1885 - 1887)
Volume 16: Studien aus der Umwerthungszeit (1882-1888)
Volume 17: Der Fall Wagner; Götzen-Dämmerung; Der Antichrist; Nietzsche
contra Wagner; Kunst und Künstler
Volume 18: Die Wille zur Macht, erstes und zweites Buch (1884-1888)
Volume 19: Die Wille zur Macht, drittes und viertes Buch (1884-1888)
Volume 20: Dichtungen (1859-1888)
Volume 21: Autobiographische Schriften
Volume 22: Sachregister A-L
Volume 23: Sachregister M-Z

Max Klinger, Friedrich Nietzsche (c. 1904)
The National Gallery of Canada

13 May 2014

A Gregarious Animal?

H. L. Mencken, The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1908), p. 203:
Man, say the communists, is a gregarious animal and can be happy only in company with his fellows, and in proof of it they cite the fact that loneliness is everywhere regarded as painful and that, even among the lower animals, there is an impulse toward association. The facts set forth in the last sentence are indisputable, but they by no means prove the existence of an elemental social feeling sufficiently strong to make its satisfaction an end in itself. In other words, while it is plain that men flock together, just as birds flock together, it is going too far to say that the mere joy of flocking — the mere desire to be with others — is at the bottom of the tendency. On the contrary, it is quite possible to show that men gather in communities for the same reason that deer gather in herds: because each individual realizes (unconsciously, perhaps) that such a combination materially aids him in the business of self-protection. One deer is no match for a lion, but fifty deer make him impotent.

12 May 2014

The Gloom Is Always There

Walter Pater, "Charles Lamb," Appreciations (London: Macmillan, 1910), pp. 124-125:
The writings of Charles Lamb are an excellent illustration of the value of reserve in literature. Below his quiet, his quaintness, his humour, and what may seem the slightness, the occasional or accidental character of his work, there lies, as I said at starting, as in his life, a genuinely tragic element. The gloom, reflected at its darkest in those hard shadows of Rosamund Grey, is always there, though not always realised either for himself or his readers, and restrained always in utterance. It gives to those lighter matters on the surface of life and literature among which he for the most part moved, a wonderful force of expression, as if at any moment these slight words and fancies might pierce very far into the deeper soul of things. In his writing, as in his life, that quiet is not the low-flying of one from the first drowsy by choice, and needing the prick of some strong passion or worldly ambition, to stimulate him into all the energy of which he is capable; but rather the reaction of nature, after an escape from fate, dark and insane as in old Greek tragedy, following upon which the sense of mere relief becomes a kind of passion, as with one who, having narrowly escaped earthquake or shipwreck, finds a thing for grateful tears in just sitting quiet at home, under the wall, till the end of days. 

9 May 2014

Handyman Special

Charles Wagner, Courage (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1894), pp. 88-89:
The good exists; I shall prove it to you. Suppose that you found yourself in the midst of a large assembly, in a big hall, and that all of a sudden your neighbour said to you, "Do you know that everything here, the floor beneath you, the galleries, the columns, the walls, are rotten?" Do you think that you would believe what he said to you, and that this objection would not immediately present itself to your mind: "How is it possible for this rotten edifice to stand beneath the great weight of this assembly? There must still be some beams to hold, some parts of the wall that are solid, some columns that are strong." Such is the case in human society. The proof that certain good elements still exist is that this society has not yet gone to pieces. If there were only untrustworthy cashiers, venal writers, hypocritical priests, bribed officers, dishonest employees, men without conscience, women without modesty, homes that are disunited, ungrateful children, depraved young people, — we should long since have been buried beneath our own ruins. 
French original, Vaillance (Paris: Fischbacher, 1893), here.

7 May 2014

A Draught of Lethe

Eugene Lee-Hamilton, "Lethe," Sonnets of the Wingless Hours, (Portland: Thomas B. Mosher, 1908) p. 58:
I had a dream of Lethe, — of the brink
  Of sluggish waters, whither strong men bore
  Dead pallid loves; while others, old and sore,
Brought but their tottering selves, in haste to drink:

And having drunk, they plunged, and seemed to sink
  Their load of love or guilt for evermore,
  Reaching with radiant brow the sunny shore
That lay beyond, no more to think and think.

Oh, who will give me, chained to Memory's strand,
  A draught of Lethe, salt with final tears,
Were it one drop within the hollow hand?

Oh, who will rid me of the wasted years,
  The thought of life's fair structure vainly planned,
And each false hope that mocking reappears?

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, The Waters of Lethe by the Plains of Elysium (1880)

Hat tip: First Known When Lost

6 May 2014

The Artificial Dialect of Books

Thomas De Quincey, "Style," Representative Essays on the Theory of Style (New York: Macmillan, 1905), pp. 45-46:
Formerly the natural impulse of every man was spontaneously to use the language of life; the language of books was a secondary attainment, not made without effort. Now, on the contrary, the daily composers of newspapers have so long dealt in the professional idiom of books as to have brought it home to every reader in the nation who does not violently resist it by some domestic advantages. Time was, within our own remembrance, that, if you should have heard, in passing along the street, from any old apple-woman such a phrase as "I will avail myself of your kindness," forthwith you would have shied like a skittish horse; you would have run away in as much terror as any old Roman upon those occasions when bos loquebatur [the ox spoke]. At present you swallow such marvels as matters of course. The whole artificial dialect of books has come into play as the dialect of ordinary life. This is one form of the evil impressed upon our style by journalism: a dire monotony of bookish idiom has encrusted and stiffened all native freedom of expression, like some scaly leprosy or elephantiasis, barking and hide-binding the fine natural pulses of the elastic flesh.

5 May 2014


Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, tr. Richard Zenith (London: Penguin Classics, 2002), p. 42:
And so, not knowing how to believe in God and unable to believe in an aggregate of animals [i.e. human society], I, along with other people on the fringe, kept a distance from things, a distance commonly called Decadence. Decadence is the total loss of unconsciousness, which is the very basis of life. Could it think, the heart would stop beating.

For those few like me who live without knowing how to have life, what’s left but renunciation as our way and contemplation as our destiny? Not knowing nor able to know what religious life is, since faith isn’t acquired through reason, and unable to have faith in or even react to the abstract notion of man, we’re left with the aesthetic contemplation of life as our reason for having a soul. Impassive to the solemnity of any and all worlds, indifferent to the divine, and disdainers of what is human, we uselessly surrender ourselves to pointless sensation, cultivated in a refined Epicureanism, as befits our cerebral nerves.

2 May 2014

Nobleness of Mind

Cennino Cennini (1370-1440), The Book of the Art of Cennino Cennini, tr. Christiana J. Herringham (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1922), p. 6:
How some persons study the arts from nobleness of mind, and some for gain.

It is the impulse of a noble mind which moves some towards this art, pleasing to them through their natural love. The intellect delights in invention; and nature alone draws them, without any guidance from a master, through nobleness of mind; and thus delighting themselves, they next wish to find a master, and with him they place themselves in love of obedience, being in servitude that they may carry their art to perfection. There are some who follow the arts from poverty and necessity, also for gain, and for love of the art; but those who pursue them from love of the art and true nobleness of mind are to be commended above all others.
Sidney Farnsworth places the last line of this quote at the beginning of his Illumination and its Development in the Present Day (New York: George H. Doran, 1922).

1 May 2014

Each Epoch Brings its Own Shudder

Edgar Evertson Saltus, The Philosophy of Disenchantment (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1885), pp. 222-223:
From an endaemonist standpoint, the world does not seem to be much better off now than it was two or three thousand years ago; there are even some who think it has retrograded, and who turn to the civilization of Greece and Rome with longing regret; and this, notwithstanding the fact that from the peace and splendor of these nations cries of distress have descended to us which are fully as acute as any that have been uttered in recent years. Truly, to the student of history each epoch brings its own shudder. There have been ameliorations in one way and pacifications in another, but misery looms in tireless constancy through it all. Each year a fresh discovery seems to point to still better things in the future, but progress is as undeniably the chimera of the present century as the resurrection of the dead was that of the tenth; each age has its own, for no matter to what degree of perfection industry may arrive, and to whatever heights progress may ascend, it must yet touch some final goal, and meanwhile pessimism holds that with expanding intelligence there will come, little by little, the fixed and immutable knowledge that of all perfect things which the earth contains misery is the most complete.