29 August 2014

The Life of Benvenuto Cellini

The cover, title page, and first page of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini, edited and translated by John Addington Symonds (New York: Brentano's, 1906):

Is the earthly paradise for bibliophiles at hand? There are a few sets of this handsome two volume edition on Abebooks for less than $25.

27 August 2014

A Noiseless Lamp and a Book

Philip G. Hamerton, Human Intercourse (London: Macmillan, 1884), pp. 69-71:
The peculiar peril of blood-relationship is that those who are closely connected by it often permit themselves an amount of mutual rudeness (especially in the middle and lower classes) which they never would think of inflicting upon a stranger. In some families people really seem to suppose that it does not matter how roughly they treat each other. They utter unmeasured reproaches about trifles not worth a moment’s anger; they magnify small differences that only require to be let alone and forgotten, or they relieve the monotony of quarrels with an occasional fit of the sulks. Sometimes it is an irascible father who is always scolding, sometimes a loud-tongued matron shrieks “in her fierce volubility.” Some children take up the note and fire back broadside for broadside; others wait for a cessation in contemptuous silence and calmly disregard the thunder. Family life indeed! domestic peace and bliss! Give me, rather, the bachelor’s lonely hearth with a noiseless lamp and a book! The manners of the ill-mannered are never so odious, unbearable, exasperating, as they are to their own nearest kindred. How is a lad to enjoy the society of his mother if she is perpetually “nagging” and “nattering” at him? How is he to believe that his coarse father has a tender anxiety for his welfare when everything that he does is judged with unfatherly harshness? Those who are condemned to live with people for whom scolding and quarrelling are a necessary of existence must either be rude in self-defence or take refuge in a sullen and stubborn taciturnity. Young people who have to live in these little domestic hells look forward to any change as a desirable emancipation. They are ready to go to sea, to emigrate. I have heard of one who went into domestic service under a feigned name that he might be out of the range of his brutal father’s tongue.

25 August 2014


Norman Douglas, Alone (New York: Robert M. McBride, 1922), pp. 46-48:
Talk to a simple creature, farmer or fisherman — well, there is always that touch of common humanity, that sense of eternal needs, to fashion a link of conversation. From a professional — lawyer, doctor, engineer — you may pick up some pungent trifle which yields food for thought; it is never amiss to hearken to a specialist. But the ordinary man of the street, the ordinary man or woman of society, of the world — what can they tell you about art or music or life or religion, about tailors and golf and exhaust-pipes and furniture — what on earth can they tell you that you have not heard already? A mere grinding-out of commonplaces! How often one has covered the same field! They cannot even put their knowledge, such as it is, into an attractive shape or play variations on the theme; it is patter; they have said the same thing, in the same language, for years and years; you have listened to the same thing from other lips, in the same language, for years and years. How one knows it all beforehand — every note in that barrel-organ of echoes! One leaves them feeling like an old, old man, vowing one will never again submit to such a process of demoralization, and understanding, better than ever, the justification of monarchies and tyrannies: these creatures are born to act and think and believe as others tell them. You may be drawn to one or the other, detecting an unusual kindliness of nature or some endearing trick; for the most part, one studies them with a kind of medical interest. How comes it that this man, respectably equipped by birth, has grown so warped and atrophied, an animated bundle of deficiencies?

Life is the cause — life, the onward march of years. It has a cramping effect; it closes the pores, intensifying one line of activity at the expense of all the others; often enough it encrusts the individual with a kind of shell, a veneer of something akin to hypocrisy. Your ordinary adult is an egoist in matters of the affections; a specialist in his own insignificant pursuit; a dull dog. Dimly aware of these defects, he confines himself to generalities or, grown confidential, tells you of his little fads, his little love-affairs — such ordinary ones! Like those millions of his fellows, he has been transformed into a screw, a bolt, a nut, in the machine. He is standardised.

22 August 2014


Ivor Brown, Mind Your Language (Chester Springs: Dufour Editions, 1962), pp. 29-30:
Reactionary is another long and ill-used Latin word. Reaction began life as a term used in physics, meaning 'the repulsion or resistance exerted by a body in opposition to the impact or pressure of another body'. When it is applied to human conduct a reactionary should be one who objects to and resists a code of morals or a social policy. Obviously resistance can take many forms. A person can resist or react against Conservatism as well as Socialism or Communism. So a politician of the Left who reacts against the Right can reasonably be called a reactionary. But he never is.

Reactionary has become a Left Wing term of abuse and its use has been extended to the arts. Those who believe themselves advanced think that they have disposed of those who do not keep up with their tastes by using words of this kind in place of argument. That has worked both ways in the past: the lovers of tradition dismissed the innovators with contemptuous reference to half-baked minds and callow presumption. Now the supporters of novelty retort with reactionary, fuddy-duddy, and the like. But throwing words about proves nothing and to tie the label reactionary onto anything of which you disapprove is as ineffectual as it is easy. The word should describe opposition in general and not stupid opposition. One person can react as much against the abstract work of Picasso as another reacts against landscapes faithful to nature or portraits which can be recognised as pictures of a human being. A further irritating usage of reaction is to substitute it for opinion. People engaged in a Brains Trust or Quiz are constantly asked what is their reaction instead of what do they feel or think. Here again plain words like view or opinion would suffice. There is no need to turn to a Latin word fetched from a chemist's laboratory.

21 August 2014

On the Lees of Life

A. C. Benson, The Joyous Gard, (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1913), pp. 82-83:
I am sure that there are many people who, looking back at their youth, are conscious that they had something stirring and throbbing within them which they have somehow lost; some vision, some hope, some faint and radiant ideal. Why do they lose it, why do they settle down on the lees of life, why do they snuggle down among comfortable opinions? Mostly, I am sure, out of a kind of indolence. There are a good many people who say to themselves, "After all, what really matters is a solid defined position in the world; I must make that for myself, and meanwhile I must not indulge myself in any fancies; it will be time to do that when I have earned my pension and settled my children in life." And then when the time arrives, the frail and unsubstantial things are all dead and cannot be recovered; for happiness cannot be achieved along these cautious and heavy lines.

19 August 2014


Paul Henri Thiry d'Holbach, The System of Nature, tr. H.D. Robinson (Boston: J.P. Mendum, 1889), p. 162:
Cease then, O mortal! to let thyself be disturbed with phantoms, which thine own imagination or imposture hath created. Renounce thy vague hopes; disengage thyself from thine overwhelming fears, follow without inquietude the necessary routine which nature has marked out for thee; strew the road with flowers if thy destiny permits; remove, if thou art able, the thorns scattered over it. Do not attempt to plunge thy views into an impenetrable futurity; its obscurity ought to be sufficient to prove to thee that it is either useless or dangerous to fathom. Only think then, of making thyself happy in that existence which is known to thee. If thou wouldst preserve thyself, be temperate, moderate, and reasonable: if thou seekest to render thy existence durable, be not prodigal of pleasure. Abstain from every thing that can be hurtful to thyself, or to others. Be truly intelligent; that is to say, learn to esteem thyself, to preserve thy being, to fulfil that end which at each moment thou proposest to thyself. Be virtuous, to the end that thou mayest render thyself solidly happy, that thou mayest enjoy the affections, secure the esteem, partake of the assistance of those beings whom nature has made necessary to thine own peculiar felicity. Even when they should be unjust, render thyself worthy of thine own love and applause, and thou shall live content, thy serenity shall not be disturbed: the end of thy career shall not slander a life which will be exempted from remorse.

15 August 2014

That Odd Little Chap

Jerome K. Jerome, "On Memory," The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (Chicago: W.B. Conkey, 1900), p. 168:
I like to sit and have a talk sometimes with that odd little chap that was myself long ago. I think he likes it too, for he comes so often of an evening when I am alone with my pipe, listening to the whispering of the flames. I see his solemn little face looking at me through the scented smoke as it floats upward, and I smile at him; and he smiles back at me, but his is such a grave, old-fashioned smile. We chat about old times; and now and then he takes me by the hand, and then we slip through the black bars of the grate and down the dusky glowing caves to the land that lies behind the firelight. There we find the days that used to be, and we wander along them together. He tells me as we walk all he thinks and feels. I laugh at him now and then, but the next moment I wish I had not, for he looks so grave I am ashamed of being frivolous. 

13 August 2014

The Most Happy Man

Paul Henri Thiry d'Holbach, The System of Nature, tr. H.D. Robinson (Boston: J.P. Mendum, 1889), p. 147:
If each individual were competent to the supply of his own exigencies, there would be no occasion for him to congregate in society, but his wants, his desires, his whims, place him in a state of dependance on others: these are the causes that each individual, in order to further his own peculiar interest, is obliged to be useful to those who have the capability of procuring for him the objects which he himself has not. A nation is nothing more than the union of a great number of individuals, connected with each other by the reciprocity of their wants, or by their mutual desire of pleasure; the most happy man is he who has the fewest wants, and the most numerous means of satisfying them. 
Si chaque homme se suffisait à lui-même, il n'aurait nul besoin de vivre en société; nos besoins, nos désirs, nos fantaisies nous mettent dans la dépendance des autres, et font que chacun de nous, pour son propre intérêt, est forcé d'être utile à des êtres capables de lui procurer les objets qu'il n'a pas lui-même. Une nation n'est que la réunion d'un grand nombre d'hommes liés les uns aux autres par leurs besoins ou leurs plaisirs; les plus heureux y sont ceux qui ont le moins de besoins, et qui ont le plus de moyens de les satisfaire.
French edition of 1770 on Gallica:
Vol. I
Vol. II 

11 August 2014

A Single Ray in a Sunset

Thomas Seccombe, in the introduction to George Gissing's The House of Cobwebs (London: Constable, 1906), pp. xxxi-xxxii:
Jasper [Milvain, the ambitious hack writer in New Grub Street] in the main is right — there is only a precarious place for any creative litterateur between the genius and the swarm of ephemera or journalists. A man writes either to please the hour or to produce something to last, relatively a long time, several generations — what we call 'permanent.' The intermediate position is necessarily insecure. It is not really wanted. What is lost by society when one of these mediocre masterpieces is overlooked? A sensation, a single ray in a sunset, missed by a small literary coterie! The circle is perhaps eclectic. It may seem hard that good work is overwhelmed in the cataract of production, while relatively bad, garish work is rewarded. But so it must be. 'The growing flood of literature swamps every thing but works of primary genius.' 

7 August 2014

My Unperfect Garden

Michel de Montaigne, bk. 1, ch. 19, The Essays of Montaigne, tr. John Florio, Vol. I (London: David Nutt, 1892), p. 81:
I would have a man to be doing, and to prolong his lives offices, as much as lieth in him, and let death seize upon me, whilest I am setting my cabiges, carelesse of her dart, but more of my unperfect garden.
Montaigne's tomb, Musée d'Aquitaine, Bordeaux

6 August 2014

Laugh or Cry II

Michel de Montaigne, bk. 1, ch. 50, The Essays of Montaigne, tr. John Florio, Vol. I (London: David Nutt, 1892), p. 350:
Democritus and Heraclitus were two Philosophers, the first of which, finding and deeming humane condition to be vaine and ridiculous, did never walke abroad, but with a laughing, scorneful and mocking countenance: Whereas Heraclitus taking pitie and compassion of the very same condition of ours, was continually scene with a sad, mournfull, and heavie cheere, and with teares trickling downe his blubbered eyes.
                             — Alter
Ridebat quoties a limine moverat unum
Protuleratque pedem, flebat contrarius alter. 
One from his doore, his foot no sooner past,
But straight he laught; the other wept as fast.
Juven. Sat. X. 28
I like the first humor best, not because it is more pleasing to laugh, than to weepe; but for it is more disdainfull, and doth more condemne us than the other. And me thinkes we can never bee sufficiently despised, according to our merit. Bewailing and commiseration, are commixed with some estimation of the thing moaned and wailed. Things scorned and contemned, are thought to be of no worth. I cannot be perswaded, there can be so much ill lucke in us, as there is apparant vanitie, nor so much malice, as sottishnesse. We are not so full of evill, as of voydnesse and inanitie. We are not so miserable, as base and abject.

5 August 2014

Laugh or Cry

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi, ch. XV, tr. Aubrey Stewart (London: George Bell and Sons, 1900):
We ought therefore to bring ourselves into such a state of mind that all the vices of the vulgar may not appear hateful to us, but merely ridiculous, and we should imitate Democritus rather than Heraclitus. The latter of these, whenever he appeared in public, used to weep, the former to laugh: the one thought all human doings to be follies, the other thought them to be miseries. We must take a higher view of all things, and bear with them more easily: it better becomes a man to scoff at life than to lament over it. Add to this that he who laughs at the human race deserves better of it than he who mourns for it, for the former leaves it some good hopes of improvement, while the latter stupidly weeps over what he has given up all hopes of mending.

4 August 2014

The Most Precious Thing in the World

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae, ch. VIII, tr. John W. Basore (London: William Heinemann, 1932):
I am often filled with wonder when I see some men demanding the time of others and those from whom they ask it most indulgent. Both of them fix their eyes on the object of the request for time, neither of them on the time itself; just as if what is asked were nothing, what is given, nothing. Men trifle with the most precious thing in the world; but they are blind to it because it is an incorporeal thing, because it does not come beneath the sight of the eyes, and for this reason it is counted a very cheap thing — nay, of almost no value at all. Men set very great store by pensions and doles, and for these they hire out their labour or service or effort. But no one sets a value on time; all use it lavishly as if it cost nothing. But see how these same people clasp the knees of physicians if they fall ill and the danger of death draws nearer, see how ready they are, if threatened with capital punishment, to spend all their possessions in order to live!

1 August 2014

Retirement Planning

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae, ch. III, tr. John W. Basore (London: William Heinemann, 1932):
You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last. You have all the fears of mortals and all the desires of immortals. You will hear many men saying: "After my fiftieth year I shall retire into leisure, my sixtieth year shall release me from public duties." And what guarantee, pray, have you that your life will last longer? Who will suffer your course to be just as you plan it? Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!