30 July 2014

If You Choose to Live in a Garret

George Gissing, New Grub Street, Vol. I (London: Smith, Elder, 1891), pp. 92-94:
'What is reputation? If it is deserved, it originates with a few score of people among the many millions who would never have recognised the merit they at last applaud. That's the lot of a great genius. As for a mediocrity like me — what ludicrous absurdity to fret myself in the hope that half-a-dozen folks will say I am "above the average!" After all, is there sillier vanity than this? A year after I have published my last book, I shall be practically forgotten; ten years later, I shall be as absolutely forgotten as one of those novelists of the early part of this century, whose names one doesn't even recognise. What fatuous posing!'

Amy looked askance at him, but replied nothing.

'And yet,' he continued, 'of course it isn't only for the sake of reputation that one tries to do uncommon work. There's the shrinking from conscious insincerity of workmanship — which most of the writers nowadays seem never to feel. "It's good enough for the market"; that satisfies them. And perhaps they are justified.

I can't pretend that I rule my life by absolute ideals; I admit that everything is relative. There is no such thing as goodness or badness, in the absolute sense, of course. Perhaps I am absurdly inconsistent when — though knowing my work can't be first rate — I strive to make it as good as possible. I don't say this in irony, Amy; I really mean it. It may very well be that I am just as foolish as the people I ridicule for moral and religious superstition. This habit of mine is superstitious. How well I can imagine the answer of some popular novelist if he heard me speak scornfully of his books. "My dear fellow," he might say, "do you suppose I am not aware that my books are rubbish? I know it just as well as you do. But my vocation is to live comfortably. I have a luxurious house, a wife and children who are happy and grateful to me for their happiness. If you choose to live in a garret, and, what's worse, make your wife and children share it with you, that's your concern." The man would be abundantly right.

28 July 2014


Jerome K. Jerome, "On Furnished Apartments," The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (Chicago: W.B. Conkey, 1900), pp. 139-140:
A good many great men have lived in attics and some have died there. Attics, says the dictionary, are "places where lumber is stored," and the world has used them to store a good deal of its lumber in at one time or another. Its preachers and painters and poets, its deep-browed men who will find out things, its fire-eyed men who will tell truths that no one wants to hear — these are the lumber that the world hides away in its attics.
Id., p. 145:
It is a long time ago now that I last saw the inside of an attic. I have tried various floors since but I have not found that they have made much difference to me. Life tastes much the same, whether we quaff it from a golden goblet or drink it out of a stone mug. The hours come laden with the same mixture of joy and sorrow, no matter where we wait for them. A waistcoat of broadcloth or of fustian is alike to an aching heart, and we laugh no merrier on velvet cushions than we did on wooden chairs. Often have I sighed in those low-ceilinged rooms, yet disappointments have come neither less nor lighter since I quitted them. Life works upon a compensating balance, and the happiness we gain in one direction we lose in another. As our means increase, so do our desires; and we ever stand midway between the two. When we reside in an attic we enjoy a supper of fried fish and stout. When we occupy the first floor it takes an elaborate dinner at the Continental to give us the same amount of satisfaction.

25 July 2014

Books Do Furnish a Room

Petrarch on book collectors, in Petrach's View of Human Life, tr. Susanna Dobson (London: Printed for John Stockdale, 1791), p. 86:
Some get books for learning sake; and many for the pleasure of boasting they have them; and who do furnish their chambers with what was invented to furnish their minds; who use them no otherwise than they do their Corinthian vessels, or their painted tables and images, to look at: there be others who esteem not the true price of books as they are indeed, but as they may sell them: a new practice crept in among the rich, whereby they attain one art more of concupiscence.
So far as I can tell, Dobson's book consists of selections from Petrarch's De remediis utriusque fortunae.

A related post: Books Are Real Friends

23 July 2014

Red in Tooth and Claw

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, tr. R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, Vol. III (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1909), pp. 392-393:
And to this world, to this scene of tormented and agonised beings, who only continue to exist by devouring each other, in which, therefore, every ravenous beast is the living grave of thousands of others, and its self-maintenance is a chain of painful deaths; and in which the capacity for feeling pain increases with knowledge, and therefore reaches its highest degree in man, a degree which is the higher the more intelligent the man is; to this world it has been sought to apply the system of optimism, and demonstrate to us that it is the best of all possible worlds. The absurdity is glaring. But an optimist bids me open my eyes and look at the world, how beautiful it is in the sunshine, with its mountains and valleys, streams, plants, animals, &c. &c. Is the world, then, a rareeshow? These things are certainly beautiful to look at, but to be them is something quite different. 

22 July 2014

Travellers at an Inn

Epictetus, Enchiridion (XI) in The Works of Epictetus, tr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1890), p. 220:
Never say of anything, "I have lost it;" but, "I have restored it." Has your child died? It is restored. Has your wife died? She is restored. Has your estate been taken away? That likewise is restored. "But it was a bad man who took it." What is it to you by whose hands he who gave it has demanded it again? While he permits you to possess it, hold it as something not your own; as do travellers at an inn.

18 July 2014

A Good Letter

John Cann Bailey (1864-1931), "Cowper," Studies in Some Famous Letters (London: Thomas Burleigh, 1899), p. 3:
It is at first sight a little doubtful what the characteristics of a good letter are. Some people think it merely a matter of conversation through the post; and there is certainly a good deal to be said for this theory, for the elaborately composed letter is the worst possible letter. Ease and naturalness, lightness of touch, the sense for the little things which are the staple of conversation and correspondence as well as of life, the ever-present consciousness that one is simply one's self and not an author or an editor, are of all qualities the most essential in a letter. A good letter is like a good present — a link between two personalities, having something of each in it. It is emphatically from one man, or woman, to another, in contrast, for instance, to a newspaper, which is from nobody or anybody to anybody or nobody.
Hat tip: First Known When Lost

17 July 2014

A Little Eccentricity

Alexander Smith, "On Vagabonds," Dreamthorp (London: Andrew Melrose, 1906), p. 257:
The fresh, rough, heathery part of human nature, where the air is freshest, and where the linnets sing, is getting encroached upon by cultivated fields. Every one is making himself and herself useful. Every one is producing something. Everybody is clever. Everybody is a philanthropist. I don't like it. I love a little eccentricity. I respect honest prejudices. I admire foolish enthusiasm in a young head better than a wise scepticism. It is high time, it seems to me, that a moral game-law were passed for the preservation of the wild and vagrant feelings of human nature.

14 July 2014

A Sorry Makeshift

Henrik Ibsen on prohibition, quoted in Josiah Flynt's My Life (New York: The Outing Publishing Company, 1908), pp. 171-172:
You can't make people good by law. Only that which a man does of his own free will and because he knows that it is the right thing to do, counts in this world. Legislating about morals is at best a sorry makeshift. Men will have to learn to legislate for themselves without any state interference, before human conduct is on a right basis.
Edvard Munch, Henrik Ibsen at the Grand Café (c. 1898)

10 July 2014

In the Mood for a Walk

John Burroughs, "Foot-Paths," Pepacton (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1881), p. 205:
The mood in which you set out on a spring or autumn ramble or a sturdy winter walk, and your greedy feet have to be restrained from devouring the distances too fast, is the mood in which your best thoughts and impulses come to you, or in which you might embark upon any noble and heroic enterprise. Life is sweet in such moods, the universe is complete, and there is no failure or imperfection anywhere. 

7 July 2014

Truly Humiliating

Bayard Taylor to George Henry Boker, April 4, 1852, The Life and Letters of Bayard Taylor (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1885)  pp. 227-228:
I cannot glory in the little I have accomplished, when I see so clearly how much more I might have done. And as for popular favor, good God, what is there so humiliating as to be praised for the exhibition of poverty and privation, for parading those very struggles which I would gladly have hidden forever, when that which I feel and know to be true to my art is passed by unnoticed! For I am not insensible that nine tenths of my literary success (in a publishing view) springs from those very "Views Afoot" which I now blush to read. I am known to the public not as a poet, the only title I covet, but as one who succeeded in seeing Europe with little money; and the chief merits accorded to me are not passion or imagination, but strong legs and economical habits. Now this is truly humiliating.
Vol. II here.

The Modern Library edition of Bayard Taylor's translation of Goethe's Faust here.

3 July 2014

Valuable Lessons in the Study of Human Nature

Bayard Taylor, Views A-foot; Europe Seen with Knapsack and Staff  (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1862), pp. 494-496:
To see Europe as a pedestrian requires little preparation, if the traveller is willing to forego some of the refinements of living to which he may have been accustomed, for the sake of the new and interesting fields of observation which will be opened to him. He must be content to sleep on hard beds, and partake of coarse fare; to undergo rudeness at times from the officers of the police and the porters of palaces and galleries; or to travel for hours in rain and storm without finding a shelter. The knapsack will at first be heavy upon the shoulders, the feet will be sore and the limbs weary with the day's walk, and sometimes the spirit will begin to flag under the general fatigue of body. This, however, soon passes over. In a week's time, if the pedestrian does not attempt too much on setting out, his limbs are stronger, and his gait more firm and vigorous; he lies down at night with a feeling of refreshing rest, sleeps with a soundness undisturbed by a single dream, that seems almost like death, if he has been accustomed to restless nights; and rises invigorated in heart and frame for the next day's journey. The coarse black bread of the peasant inns, with cheese no less coarse, and a huge mug of milk or the nourishing beer of Germany, have a relish to his keen appetite, which excites his own astonishment. And if he is willing to regard all incivility and attempts at imposition as valuable lessons in the study of human nature, and to keep his temper and cheerfulness in any situation which may try them, he is prepared to walk through the whole of Europe, with more real pleasure to himself, and far more profit, than if he journeyed in style and enjoyed the constant services of couriers and valets de place

2 July 2014

Hullo, I Say

Gerald Brenan, A Life of One's Own (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1962), pp. 150-151:
Our relations during this journey were not in the least like those of two friends travelling together. To judge by our surface manner they were much more offhand and distant. We had, for example, no names by which to call one another. To have used surnames would have seemed too formal, whereas Christian names were taboo because they were too intimate. We therefore addressed one another as 'Hullo' or 'I say', pronounced in a particular tone, and for more than thirty years stuck to that. This no doubt came from the fact that Hope [John Hope-Johnstone] shrank instinctively from any personal note in his dealings with people. Without being particularly reserved, he liked to keep others at a distance.