20 November 2018

15 November 2018

As Gracious as an Act of Charity

Walter Rose, The Village Carpenter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938), p. 129:
There is (at least to me) great satisfaction in the restoration of old furniture, especially of pieces made prior to the nineteenth century. To take in hand a derelict piece covered with the grime of years and to clean and restore it almost to its original condition is as gracious as an act of charity. It also affords actual experience of the methods of old-time workmen and an insight into their marvellous craftsmanship. But before undertaking such a job the carpenter ought to make a study of the subject, as an  incorrect addition to a piece of period furniture is a perpetual offence, a reminder that he will be wise to avoid.
Id., p. 131:
Dull of soul indeed is the woodworker who, having such a repair in hand, experiences no feeling of sympathy with the dead and forgotten maker. The limitations of his tools are revealed by long slight undulations on the surface of the boards, the finish of his imperfect plane. This finish is the admiration of the connoisseur, who frequently wants it reproduced on modern work. This perplexes the carpenter; his modern planes are much too true to execute it properly.
For those interested in this sort of thing, I know of nothing better than Thomas Johnson's YouTube channel. I could watch him for hours.

Edward Henry Potthast, The Village Carpenter (1899) 

14 November 2018

It Must Not Be Taken Hardly

Aldus Manutius, quoted in George Haven Putnam, Books and Their Makers During the Middle Ages, Vol. I (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1896), p. 437:
I am hampered in my work by a thousand interruptions. Nearly every hour comes a letter from some scholar, and if I undertook to reply to them all, I should be obliged to devote day and night to scribbling. Then, through the day come calls from all kinds of visitors. Some desire merely to give a word of greeting, others want to know what there is new, while the greater number come to my office because they happen to have nothing else to do. "Let us look in upon Aldus," they say to each other. Then they loaf in and sit and chatter to no purpose. Even these people with no business are not so bad as those who have a poem to offer or something in prose (usually very prosy indeed) which they wish to see printed with the name of Aldus. These interruptions are now becoming too serious for me, and I must take steps to lessen them. Many letters I simply leave unanswered, while to others I send very brief replies; and as I do this not from pride or from discourtesy, but simply in order to be able to go on with my task of printing good books, it must not be taken hardly.
The typographer Bruce Rogers printed this quote as a leaflet:

Scan from the Library of Congress

9 November 2018

7 November 2018

Ian Jackson, 1951-2018

Georges Fourest (1864-1945), quoted in Histoires littéraires, vol. XVIII, no 69 (Janvier-Février-Mars 2017) 173-174 (translated by Ian Jackson):
Take nothing seriously: not yourself, nor others, nor anything in this world or in the next; — consider art (no capital A) to be neither a business (which is vile) nor a "priesthood" (which is naïve) but simply a pastime less absorbing than bridge, less demeaning than lotto: — aim to achieve perfection in things that are difficult and useless, remember that a writer will never be the equal of a clown, a juggler or a tightrope walker, and do not allow a day to pass without meditating on this declaration of our distant ancestor Malherbe: "A great poet is of no more use to the state than a good player at skittles" — spend as little time as possible with your contemporaries and try to live as comfortably as possible while working as little as possible. Take pains always to seem happy: this will annoy your friends. 

I only knew Ian Jackson from Mike Gilleland's Laudator Temporis Acti, where he was a frequent source of comments and quotes like the one above. I often wondered about the man behind the playful erudition, and was sorry to learn of his death earlier this year.

The summer issue of The Book Collector (Vol. 67, No. 2) included nineteen tributes to Ian, and these have been gathered into a limited edition offprint which features a drypoint portrait by his wife Ann Arnold. They reveal someone who was as generous as he was learned. Reading through the collection, I was particularly impressed by the equanimity of these lines to Stuart Bennett (at pp. 262-263):
. . . if it's benign, all is well; if not . . . I might recover with radiation or might be dead. Actually, one advantage of not working like a dog all of one's life and looking forward to an endless vista of well-earned vacation is that I have little novelty to anticipate, or disappointment to experience over a life cut short. There will always be another book, another article. It will be a beautiful day tomorrow whether I am here to experience it or not.
I still miss seeing the regular "Hat tip: Ian Jackson" on Mike's blog.

May the earth rest lightly upon him.

Ian's site remains online at www.ianjacksonbooks.com and the offprint is available from James Fergusson, who has devoted a page of his Abebooks store to Jacksonia. My copy was wrapped masterfully and arrived in perfect condition — a rare thing in an age when so many books are sentenced to plasticwrap poena cullei. I mention this because James tells me Ian "had strong views on packaging and the internet bookseller".

6 November 2018

Cerebral Hygiene

Mary Pickering, Auguste Comte: An Intellectual Biography, Vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 485 (footnotes omitted):
The final and most important result of Comte’s bout with mental instability in 1838 was his adoption of a new intellectual regime, which he called “cerebral hygiene.” Exasperated by the Saint-Simonians’ and journalists’ attacks on his creativity, he decided that he needed to preserve his “characteristic originality.” Henceforth. he abstained from reading newspapers, books, and journals, except the weekly bulletins of the Academy of Sciences, which he only glanced through irregularly. To relax, he did permit himself, however, to read the “great poets of every age and nation.”
Related posts:

5 November 2018

Walbaum ist wiedergeboren

I learn from Anne Quito in Quartzy  magazine (18 July, 2018) that Monotype has reissued the Walbaum typeface:
Using type specimens from 1803 and 1812, Nix, Crossgrove and Villanueva sought to extrapolate from Walbaum’s original intent, using the mantra, “What would Justus do?”
 Walbaum’s ornament set, restored by Juan Villanueva 

2 November 2018

He That Loveth a Book

Isaac Barrow, "Sermon XXII; Of Industry in Our Particular Calling as Scholars," The Works of the Learned Isaac Barrow, Vol. 3 (London: John Tillotson, 1700), p. 224:
It is a calling [i.e., scholarship] that fitteth a man for all conditions and fortunes; so that he can enjoy prosperity with moderation, and sustain adversity with comfort: he that loveth a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counsellor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter. By study, by reading. by thinking, one may innocently divert and pleasantly entertain himself, as in all weathers, so in all fortunes.

Related posts:

29 October 2018

The Library

Elizabeth Shippen Green (1891-1954), The Library (c. 1905)
From the Delaware Art Museum 

Hat tip: First Things, via Anecdotal Evidence

25 October 2018

Noli Me Tangere

"The Groans of the Museum," The London Mercury, Vol. XIX, No. 114 (April 1929), pp. 228-229:
An MP has been suggesting, by means of a question, that the British Museum should be given powers to destroy such of its printed rubbish as nobody, in the future, can conceivably wish to consult. It certainly is terrifying to contemplate the great daily inflow into Bloomsbury, and Hendon via Bloomsbury, of books, pamphlets, leaflets, magazines, newspapers, and music: and to imagine how elaborate the system of classification and storage will have to be in the future if the student of 2129 is to be entitled to expect, at brief notice, to be brought this year’s file of the Bulletins of the Large Black Pig Society or a complete collection of the published opuscula of Clapham and Dwyer.

Surely, surely, exclaims the rebellious heart in us, something can be spared : surely there must be  at least a portion of the "literature" which pours into the Museum which might be quietly put into the furnace at once, in the certainty that from now until Doomsday not one single human being, however eccentric  or erudite, could possibly ask for any of it. Yet the difficulties leap to the  eye the moment one observes the categories which the Hon. Member suggests contain material suitable for destruction. One that he specifies is "old comic songs." Yet one man’s "old comic song" is another man’s meat. We ourselves are intimately acquainted with an anthologist who spent precious days at the Museum searching through the yellowing backnumbers of Messrs. Francis, Day, and Hunter’s publications and those of their predecessors; finding in them certain things he thought worth reprinting as well as a good deal of light upon the tastes and manners of our fathers and grandfathers. Skip a century or two. Imagine that music-halls had flourished in Chaucer’s day or Shakespeare’s, and that a few volumes of the ditties they provided were suddenly brought to light by those relentless excavators, the Death Duties! What a to-do! What excitement! What competition! What eagerness to study and to edit on the part of all the gravest and greyest Professors in England, America and Germany, a host of persons to whom the strains and words of I Wanna Go Back to the Gobi and My Sweetie Is So Blue are completely unknown! The Museum is not yet bursting, and the bowels of the earth are deep. Let us leave "Noli me Tangere" above its portals and pass this risky job of selection on to our successors.

23 October 2018

Eternal Recurrence

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Quest of Happiness (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1897), pp. 184-185:
Would you consent to live your own life over again, exactly as you have lived, and in every particular? This is very different from having the experience of a second and different human life with all its freshness of interest. Is any one willing to go through his own life again as a conscientious reader will study a classical author for a second time, without omitting a single word? The willingness to do this is extremely rare, but there are instances of it. One of my friends told his eldest son at the age of eighty, that if it were offered to him to live over again exactly as he had lived he would gladly accept the offer. The reader probably supposes that this man's existence had been peculiarly exempt from evils. On the contrary, he had known some of the worst evils that can possibly happen to humanity. He had been utterly ruined both in purse and health, though he afterwards prospered and recovered. After a happy marriage he had known the long, sad solitude of the widower. He had been overburdened with family charges, both in his own house and out of it. The intensity of intolerable anxiety had brought on paralysis. His home life had been poisoned by the dread of famine, and his business life by the shadow of impending bankruptcy. Yet he would have gone through it all again for the pleasure of living once more the earlier and the later happy days! 
A related post: Do You Like This Idea?

16 October 2018

Is the Gamble Worthwhile?

Harvey Miller, "Phaidon and the Business of Art Book Publishing: 1923-1967," Visual Resources, Vol. XV (1999), pp. 343-353 (at pp. 344-345):
Publishers usually set the price of a book by multiplying the unit cost by a factor — it is at least three, but may be as high as eight or ten, depending on the nature of the book, to allow for booksellers' discount, selling and distribution costs and production and editorial overhead costs. [Phaidon founder Béla] Horovitz had a different approach — the disaster theory. He reasoned somewhat as follows: If I set the price of the book at a popular level, and it is very good value I shall sell many scores of thousands. What would happen if there were a disaster and my estimate of sales were wrong? I would still sell some books, since they are good books. I would lose some money. Can I stand that loss? But if I am right I have established a book that will become a standard, and will be reprinted time and time again. Is the gamble worthwhile? What can I do to make the book more attractive, and more saleable?

Only a small independent publisher, who stands to gain or lose on his decision, can reason in this way. Modern publishing conglomerates with committees and specialized functions, find it difficult to apply this type of reasoning although, of course, they do try.

15 October 2018

There Are Abysses in Those Words

Alice Meynell, "An Article on Particles,"  The London Mercury, Vol. 1, No. 1 (November 1918), pp. 71-72:
There is nothing in English that we should prize more dearly than our right to negative particles of both derivations, and especially our particle of German derivation in its right Teutonic place. That "un" implies, encloses so much, denies so much, refuses so much, point-blank, with a tragic irony that French, for example, can hardly compass. Compare our all-significant "unloved," "unforgiven," with any phrase of French. There are abysses, in those words, at our summons, deep calling to deep, dreadful or tender passion, the thing and its undoing locked together, grappled.

4 October 2018


Lucius Annaeus Seneca, "Of Benefits," Seneca's Morals, tr. Sir Roger L'Estrange (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1917), p. 58:
We can be thankful to a friend for a few acres, or a little money: and yet for the freedom and command of the whole earth, and for the great benefits of our being, as life, health, and reason, we look upon ourselves as under no obligation. If a man bestows upon us a house that is delicately beautified with paintings, statues, gildings, and marble, we make a mighty business of it, and yet it lies at the mercy of a puff of wind, the snuff of a candle, and a hundred other accidents, to lay it in the dust. And is it nothing now to sleep under the canopy of heaven, where we have the globe of the earth for our place of repose, and the glories of the heavens for our spectacle? How comes it that we should so much value what we have, and yet at the same time be so unthankful for it? Whence is it that we have our breath, the comforts of light and of heat, the very blood that runs in our veins? the cattle that feed us, and the fruits of the earth that feed them? Whence have we the growth of our bodies, the succession of our ages, and the faculties of our minds? so many veins of metals, quarries of marble, etc. The seed of everything is in itself, and it is the blessing of God that raises it out of the dark into act and motion. To say nothing of the charming varieties of music, beautiful objects, delicious provisions for the palate, exquisite perfumes, which are cast in, over and above, to the common necessities of our being.

30 September 2018

When Your Time's Up

Epictetus, Discourses, Book IV, Chapter X, tr. George Long (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1904), p. 359:
What then do you wish to be doing when you are found by death? I, for my part, would wish to be found doing something which belongs to a man, beneficent, suitable to the general interest, noble. But if I cannot be found doing things so great, I would be found doing at least that which I cannot be hindered from doing, that which is permitted me to do, correcting myself, cultivating the faculty which makes use of appearances, laboring at freedom from the affects (laboring at tranquility of mind); rendering to the relations of life their due.
Cf. Euripides and Camus on the subject.

Alfred Rethel, Der Tod als Würger (c. 1847)

25 September 2018

Venerating the Machine

Joost Meerloo, The Rape of the Mind (Cleveland: The World Publishing Co., 1956), pp. 210-11:
What is the ultimate result of technical progress? Does it drive people more and more to the fear and despair brought on by a love-empty push-button world? Does it create a megalomaniac happiness won by remote control of other people? Does it deliver people to the unsatisfying emptiness of leisure hours filled with boredom? Is the ultimate result living by proxy, experiencing the world only from the movie or television screen, instead of living and laboring and creating one’s own?
Id., p. 212:
One of the fallacies of modern technique is its direction toward greater efficiency. With less energy, more has to be produced. This principle may be right for the machine, but is not true for the human organism. In order to become strong and to remain strong, man has to learn to overcome resistances, to face challenges, and to test himself again and again. Luxury causes mental and physical atrophy.
Id., p. 215:
The assembly line alienates man from his work, from the product of his own labor. No longer does man produce the things man needs; the machine produces for him. Engineers and scientists tell us that in the near future automation — running factories without human help — will become a reality, and human labor and the human being himself will become almost completely superfluous. How can man have self-esteem when he becomes the most expendable part of his world? The ethical and moral values which are the foundation of the democratic society are based on the view that human life and human welfare are the earth’s greatest good. But in a society in which the machine takes over completely, all our traditional values can be destroyed. In venerating the machine, we denigrate ourselves; we begin to believe that might makes right, that the human being has no intrinsic worth, and that life itself is only a part of a greater technical and chemical thought process.

Related posts:

21 September 2018

Hockey Night in Canada

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, tr. R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, Vol. I, Book IV (London: Trübner & Co., 1883), p. 404:
The striving after existence is what occupies all living things and maintains them in motion. But when existence is assured, then they know not what to do with it; thus the second thing that sets them in motion is the effort to get free from the burden of existence, to make it cease to be felt, “to kill time,” i.e., to escape from ennui. Accordingly we see that almost all men who are secure from want and care, now that at last they have thrown off all other burdens, become a burden to themselves, and regard as a gain every hour they succeed in getting through; and thus every diminution of the very life which, till then, they have employed all their powers to maintain as long as possible. Ennui is by no means an evil to be lightly esteemed; in the end it depicts on the countenance real despair. It makes beings who love each other so little as men do, seek each other eagerly, and thus becomes the source of social intercourse. Moreover, even from motives of policy, public precautions are everywhere taken against it, as against other universal calamities. For this evil may drive men to the greatest excesses, just as much as its opposite extreme, famine: the people require panem et circenses
Cf. Robert Edelman, "Historians, Authoritarian States and Spectator Sport, 1880-2020," The Palgrave Handbook of Mass Dictatorship, ed. Paul Corner and Jie-Hyun Lim (London: Macmillan, 2016), p. 195:
Over time, it became a cliché to claim spectator sport fostered such [social] cohesion by functioning as a “safety valve” — a harmless way of releasing dangerous pent-up aggression. The athlete was said to act out the anger, rage and frustration sports fans experienced as part of their own mundane daily existences. Watching sport provided a vicarious experience through which members of the public sought to compensate for the inadequacies and hurts of their own lives. A more sophisticated version of this approach was later offered by the German emigré sociologist, Norbert Elias. For him, sporting contests replicated the excitement of battles but did so in the context of rules that limited the violence of war: “spectators at a foot ball match may savor the mimetic excitement of the battle swaying to and fro on the playing field, knowing that no harm will come to the players and themselves.” Elias, who saw modern sport as part of the civilizing process that limited the violence of earlier eras, argued the excitement of watching such contests could be “liberating” and have a “cathartic effect” which could “counterbalance the stress tensions of  ...non-leisure life”. 
A related post: Football and Beer 

18 September 2018

Twilight Mania

Charles Baudelaire, "Evening Twilight," Baudelaire; His Prose and Poetry, tr. T. R. Smith (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919), p. 50:
Twilight excites madmen. I remember I had two friends whom twilight made quite ill. One of them lost all sense of social and friendly amenities, and flew at the first-comer like a savage. I have seen him throw at the waiter's head an excellent chicken, in which he imagined he had discovered some insulting hieroglyph. Evening, harbinger of profound delights, spoilt for him the most succulent things.

The other, a prey to disappointed ambition, turned gradually, as the daylight dwindled, sourer, more gloomy, more nettlesome. Indulgent and sociable during the day, he was pitiless in the evening; and it was not only on others, but on himself, that he vented the rage of his twilight mania. 

Louis Anquetin, Avenue de Clichy (1887)

The original, from Le Spleen de Paris (Paris: Émile Paul, 1917), p. 71:
Le crépuscule excite les fous. — Je me souviens que j’ai eu deux amis que le crépuscule rendait tout malades. L’un méconnaissait alors tous les rapports d’amitié et de politesse, et maltraitait, comme un sauvage, le premier venu. Je l’ai vu jeter à la tête d’un maître d’hôtel un excellent poulet, dans lequel il croyait voir je ne sais quel insultant hiéroglyphe. Le soir, précurseur des voluptés profondes, lui gâtait les choses les plus succulentes.

L’autre, un ambitieux blessé, devenait, à mesure que le jour baissait, plus aigre, plus sombre, plus taquin. Indulgent et sociable encore pendant la journée, il était impitoyable le soir ; et ce n’était pas seulement sur autrui, mais aussi sur lui-même, que s’exerçait rageusement sa manie crépusculeuse.

12 September 2018

The Liberal Arts

Robert Maynard Hutchins, "The Great Conversation," a preface to the The Great Books of the Western World, Vol. I (Chicago: Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1923), pp. 13-14:
The aim of liberal education is human excellence, both private and public (for man is a political animal). Its object is the excellence of man as man and man as citizen. It regards man as an end, not as a means; and it regards the ends of life, and not the means to it. For this reason it is the education of free men. Other types of education or training treat men as means to some other end, or at best concerned with the means of life, with earning a living, and not with its ends.
Id., p. 15:
The liberal arts are not merely indispensable; they are unavoidable. Nobody can decide for himself whether he is going to be a human being. The only question open to him is whether he will be an ignorant, undeveloped one or one who has sought to reach the highest point he is capable of attaining. The question, in short, is whether he will be a poor liberal artist or a good one.
A related post: Once Upon a Time

7 September 2018

Not Necessarily a Cheerful Man

Arthur Compton Rickett, The Vagabond in Literature (London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1906), pp. 31-32:
Taken on the whole, the English literary Vagabond is a man of joy, not necessarily a cheerful man. There is a deeper quality about joy than about cheerfulness. Cheerfulness indeed is almost entirely a physical idiosyncrasy. It lies on the surface. A man, serious and silent, may be a joyful man; he can scarcely be a cheerful man. Moody as he was at times, sour-tempered and whimsical as he could be, yet there was a fine quality of joy about Hazlitt. It is this quality of joy that gives the sparkle and relish to his essays. He took the same joy in his books as in his walks, and he communicates this joy to the reader. He appears misanthropic at times, and rages violently at the world; but ’tis merely a passing gust of feeling, and when over, it is easy to see how superficial it was, so little is his general attitude affected by it.

The joyfulness of the Vagabond is no mere light-hearted, graceful spirit. It is of a hardy and virile nature — a quality not to be crushed by misfortune or sickness. Outwardly, neither the lives of Hazlitt nor De Quincey were what we would call happy. Both had to fight hard against adverse fates for many years; both had delicate constitutions, which entailed weary and protracted periods of feeble health.

But there was a fundamental serenity about them. At the end of a hard and fruitless struggle with death, Hazlitt murmured, “Well, I’ve had a happy life.” De Quincey at the close of his long and varied life showed the same tranquil stoicism that had carried him through his many difficulties.

Gustave Courbet, Le Vagabond (1845)

5 September 2018

4 September 2018

Recipe for Success

Wormwood, "Advice to Young Artists," The Art Union, I (October 1884), 180:
A true, earnest, independent, manly pursuit of art, for the love of it, is in the nature of serving God, and has no place in your creed. You are to seek the favor of your fellow mortals, and of them expect your reward. Make little effort to win the approval of the true and noble of earth, for they are few and without influence; also, they may divine your real character, and so you needlessly augment their contempt for you. You are to systematically suppress all emotions men call generous, only simulate them when occasion requires. You shall flatter the coarse vanity of the rich, defer to the absurd opinions of the powerful, cringe to those in authority and never give unnecessary offence to any, for there are none devoid of influence which sooner or later may be felt.

31 August 2018

Labour Day

Jean-François Millet, quoted in Alfred Sensier, La vie et l'oeuvre de J.-F. Millet  (Paris: A. Quantin, 1881), p.  130 (my translation):
Sometimes in the fields, although the land is poorly suited to cultivation, you see figures hoeing and digging. Once in a while one of them stands up, "straightens his kidneys" as they say, and wipes his brow with the back of his hand. "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread."

Is this the jolly, frolicking work that certain people want us to believe in? Nevertheless it is here that, for me, true humanity and great poetry are found.

Jean-François Millet, L'homme à la houe (c. 1860)

30 August 2018

An Instrument of Retributive Justice

Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in a Garden (Cambridge, MA: The Riverside Press, 1898), p. 37:
The weeds ... have hateful moral qualities. To cut down a weed is, therefore, to do a moral action. I feel as if I were destroying sin. My hoe becomes an instrument of retributive justice. I am an apostle of Nature. This view of the matter lends a dignity to the art of hoeing which nothing else does, and lifts it into the region of ethics. Hoeing becomes, not a pastime, but a duty. And you get to regard it so, as the days and the weeds lengthen. 
Hat tip: The South Roane Agrarian

27 August 2018

Incurable Uneasiness

Eugène Fromentin, The Old Masters of Belgium and Holland, tr. Mary Robbins (Cambridge, MA: The Riverside Press, 1882), p. 177:
We might say that for a long time the art of painting has been a lost secret, and that the last masters of great experience who practised it took the key away with them. We need it, we ask for it, no one has it any longer; we look for it and it cannot be found. The result is that the individualism in method is nothing more, really, than the effort of each to imagine what he has not learned; that in certain skillful practice we can see the laboured efforts and expediences of a mind in difficulty; and that nearly all the so-called originality of modern practices covers incurable uneasiness.
Hat tip: Louis Anquetin (1861-1932), who uses this quote from Fromentin in the conclusion of Rubens, sa technique: analyse des tableaux de la Galerie de Médicis au Louvre (Paris: Éditions Nilsson, 1924), at p. 129.

20 August 2018

18 August 2018


Joseph Joubert, Some of the Thoughts of Joseph Joubert, tr. George H. Calvert (Boston: William V. Spencer, 1867), p. 102:
Monuments are the grappling-irons that bind one generation to another. Preserve what your fathers have seen.
The original, from Joubert's Pensées, Vol. II (Paris: Didier et Cie., 1862), p. 166:
Les monuments sont les crampons qui unissent une génération à une autre. Conservez ce qu'ont vu vos pères.

17 August 2018

May Your Mouths Be Frozen up Tight

Willibrord Verkade, Yesterdays of an Artist-Monk, tr. John Stoddard (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1930), pp. 272-273:
I had to listen to the uncouth, coarse chatter of some good Holland bourgeois [while on the train]. Their conversation, which was carried on in extremely boisterous tones, appeared to me horribly vulgar. Speaking a foreign language has the advantage of making one strive to find the right expression, instead of breaking out in all sorts of old commonplace phrases. Moreover, stupidities never sound so foolish in any language as in one’s own. During that half-hour I actually suffered. At last the train came to a halt. I was in Haarlem. “Good-bye, gentlemen, much pleasure!” exclaimed a passenger who got out of the train with me. “Yes, yes, much pleasure,” I murmured sarcastically, “it has been charming. The next time may your mouths be frozen up tight.”

15 August 2018

A Yellow, Talkative Serpent

Charles Baudelaire, "L'Avertisseur," The Flowers of Evil, tr. Edna St. Vincent Millay (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1936):
No man that's worthy of the name
But in his helpless heart alive
Harbors a yellow, talkative
Serpent, he cannot hush nor tame.

Gaze if you like into the eyes
Of dryads... Just before you drown,
The Fang says, "You've a date in town."

Beget your children, plant your trees,
Chisel your marble, build your song...
The Fang says, "Well, — it's not for long."

Hope — if you're hopeful — or despair;
Nothing's to hinder you; but hark! —
Always the hissing head is there,
The insupportable remark.

Lord Leighton, An Athlete Wrestling with a Python (1877)

Tout homme digne de ce nom
A dans le coeur un Serpent jaune,
Installé comme sur un trône,
Qui, s'il dit: «Je veux,» répond: «Non!»

Plonge tes yeux dans les yeux fixes
Des Satyresses ou des Nixes,
La Dent dit: «Pense à ton devoir!»

Fais des enfants, plante des arbres,
Polis des vers, sculpte des marbres,
La Dent dit: «Vivras-tu ce soir?»

Quoi qu'il ébauche ou qu'il espère,
L'homme ne vit pas un moment
Sans subir l'avertissement
De l'insupportable Vipère.

13 August 2018

Philip Surrey

Philip Surrey (1910-1990), quoted on the National Gallery of Canada web site:
Each individual is alone, cut off. Each wonders how others cope with life. A work of art is a particularly complex statement, valuable because it is packed with meaning... like icebergs, four-fifths of our personalities lie below the surface; of the fifth that shows, only part can be expressed in conversation. The only effective outlet for all deeper feelings and thoughts is art.
Philip Surrey, The French Novel  (1944)
(Art Gallery of Alberta)

9 August 2018

Why Be Ashamed?

Epictetus, Discourses, Book III, Chapter XXVI, tr. George Long (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1904), p. 288:
Is that shameful to you which is not your own act, that of which you are not the cause, that which has come to you by accident, as a headache, as a fever? If your parents were poor, and left their property to others, and if while they live, they do not help you at all, is this shameful to you? Is this what you learned with the philosophers? Did you never hear that the thing which is shameful ought to be blamed, and that which is blamable is worthy of blame? Whom do you blame for an act which is not his own, which he did not do himself? Did you then make your father such as he is, or is it in your power to improve him? Is this power given to you? Well then, ought you to wish the things which are not given to you, or to be ashamed if you do not obtain them? And have you also been accustomed while you were studying philosophy to look to others and to hope for nothing from yourself? Lament then and groan and eat with fear that you may not have food to-morrow. Tremble about your poor slaves lest they steal, lest they run away, lest they die. So live, and continue to live, you who in name only have approached philosophy, and have disgraced its theorems as far as you can by showing them to be useless and unprofitable to those who take them up; you, who have never sought constancy, freedom from perturbation, and from passions; you who have not sought any person for the sake of this object, but many for the sake of syllogisms; you who have never thoroughly examined any of these appearances by yourself, Am I able to bear, or am I not able to bear? What remains for me to do?

Paul Thumann, The Three Fates (late 1800s)
The frontispiece in Appleton's edition of the Discourses

1 August 2018

31 July 2018

Hapless Ages

Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, Vol. I (London: George Bell and Sons, 1902), pp. 12-13:
But what of those decadent ages in which no Ideal either grows or blossoms? When Belief and Loyalty have passed away, and only the cant and false echo of them remains; and all Solemnity has become Pageantry; and the Creed of persons in authority has become one of two things: an Imbecility or a Macchiavelism? Alas, of these ages World-History can take no notice; they have to become compressed more and more, and finally suppressed in the Annals of Mankind; blotted out as spurious,—which indeed they are. Hapless ages: wherein, if ever in any, it is an unhappiness to be born. To be born, and to learn only, by every tradition and example, that God's Universe is Belial's and a Lie; and 'the Supreme Quack' the hierarch of men! In which mournfulest faith, nevertheless, do we not see whole generations (two, and sometimes even three successively) live, what they call living; and vanish,—without chance of reappearance?

29 July 2018

Continual Endeavour and Endurance

Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, Vol. I (London: George Bell and Sons, 1902), p. 62:
Man is not what one calls a happy animal; his appetite for sweet victual is so enormous. How, in this wild Universe, which storms in on him, infinite, vague-menacing, shall poor man find, say not happiness, but existence, and footing to stand on, if it be not by girding himself together for continual endeavour and endurance? Woe, if in his heart there dwelt no devout Faith; if the word Duty had lost its meaning for him!

25 July 2018

Nie Wieder Bruderkrieg

Philip Gibbs, Realities of War (London: Heinemann, 1920), p. 441:
If Christianity has no restraining influence upon the brutal instincts of those who profess and follow its faith, then surely it is time the world abandoned so ineffective a creed and turned to other laws likely to have more influence on human relationships. That, brutally, is the argument of the thinking world against the clergy of all nations who all claimed to be acting according to the justice of God and the spirit of Christ [during the First World War]. It is a powerful argument, for the simple mind, rejecting casuistry, cuts straight to the appalling contrast between Christian profession and Christian practice, and says, "Here, in this war, there was no conflict between one faith and another, but a murderous death-struggle between many nations holding the same faith, preaching the same Gospel, and claiming the same God as their protector. Let us seek some better truth than that hypocrisy! Let us, if need be, in honesty, get back to the savage worship of national gods, the Ju-ju of the Tribe."
John Singer Sargent, Gassed (1919)

19 July 2018

Something Definite

Willibrord Verkade, Yesterdays of an Artist-Monk, tr. John Stoddard (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1930), p. 66:
Sometimes the poet Paul Verlaine likewise made his appearance there [at the Café Voltaire]. He was a tall figure, with a neglected exterior. His head resembled that of a Silenus. He usually fell into a controversy almost immediately with some exponent of symbolism, for this designation he could not endure. It was to him too vague and misty. “What then does it really mean, this symbolism, symbolism?” one heard him ask over and over again. “Nothing, absolutely nothing,” he would continue; “now I am a degenerate, and that is at least something definite, I am a degenerate.” People let him talk. The poor man had at that time fallen already very low, even mentally.

Eugène Carrière, Paul Verlaine (1891)

13 July 2018

Stoicism on the Subway

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.27, tr. Gerald H. Rendall (London: Macmillan, 1914), p. 36:
Do you get angry at rank armpits? or at foul breath? What would be the good? Mouth, armpits are what they are, and being so, the given effluvia must result. — 'Yes, but nature has given man reason, man can comprehend and understand what offends!' — 'Very good! Ergo you too have reason; use your moral reason to move his; show him his error, admonish him. If he attends, you will amend him; no need for anger — you are not a ranter, or a whore.'

10 July 2018


Robert Louis Stevenson, "Forest Notes," Essays of Travel (London: Chatto & Windus, 1905), pp. 170-171:
It is the great moral spa; this forest without a fountain is itself the great fountain of Juventius.  It is the best place in the world to bring an old sorrow that has been a long while your friend and enemy; and if, like Béranger’s your gaiety has run away from home and left open the door for sorrow to come in, of all covers in Europe, it is here you may expect to find the truant hid.  With every hour you change.  The air penetrates through your clothes, and nestles to your living body.  You love exercise and slumber, long fasting and full meals.  You forget all your scruples and live a while in peace and freedom, and for the moment only.  For here, all is absent that can stimulate to moral feeling.  Such people as you see may be old, or toil-worn, or sorry; but you see them framed in the forest, like figures on a painted canvas; and for you, they are not people in any living and kindly sense.  You forget the grim contrariety of interests.  You forget the narrow lane where all men jostle together in unchivalrous contention, and the kennel, deep and unclean, that gapes on either hand for the defeated.  Life is simple enough, it seems, and the very idea of sacrifice becomes like a mad fancy out of a last night’s dream.

Théodore Rousseau, A Tree in Fontainebleau Forest (c. 1840)

8 July 2018

The Only Real Misfortune

Will H. Low, A Chronicle of Friendships (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908), p. 95:
Happy the land that knows that art is long, and happy the man who, like Jean-François Millet, lives his life in full acceptance of this truth, and, with the unceasing industry of the coral-insect, adds day by day the essential quota to his life fabric. Another great Frenchman, the sculptor Rude, has said that the only real misfortune that can befall an artist is interruption to his work, "La grande chose pour un artiste — c'est de faire."
Jean-François Millet, Autoportrait (c. 1840)

2 July 2018

Père Tanguy

Willibrord Verkade, Yesterdays of an Artist-Monk, tr. John Stoddard (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1930), p. 80-81:
There are people, whom one has known only a short time, yet whom one loves through an entire lifetime; people, whose venerable forms continually rise in memory before us, surrounded by an aureole of admiration. Such a one was “Father Tanguy.” Father Tanguy had a small shop in the Rue Clauzel, where he sold artists’ materials, principally colours. In addition to this, he carried on a small art business. There were no pictures of recognized artists to be found in his shop, but for the most part only those before which, at the expositions, people stand laughing boisterously, or pass by with scorn and ridicule. They were such works as those of the great impressionists Cezanne, Pissaro, Monet, van Gogh and others, of whom Father Tanguy was the humble friend. With what love and reverence he spoke of them, especially of Pissaro and of van Gogh, “the most charitable man he had ever known.” How he loved the paintings which he was nevertheless obliged to sell. How often he was inconsolable, if again “such a beautiful specimen” had left his shop, and almost always at a ridiculously cheap price. He would have liked best to have acquired it himself, in order to enjoy it always. Tanguy was, however, poor, like the great painters, whose works he loved. And even when some of these artists subsequently became famous and obtained high prices for their productions, Tanguy remained poor, for then their paintings fell into the hands of the richer art-dealers. Tanguy was also our friend, the friend of the nabis, looked after their colours and frames, and exhibited their first works. This noble man has always remained dear to me. At his death he left a collection of paintings worth certainly five thousand pounds, but he would never have sold them for that price, unless compelled to do so.

Émile Bernard, Père Tanguy (1887)

28 June 2018

A Very Different Life

Leslie Frost, Fighting Men (Toronto: Clarke Irwin & Co. Ltd., 1967), p. 10:
People nowadays sometimes look back nostalgically to the good old pre-war days [i.e., before the First World War] and they remember a very different life. The welfare state was not even contemplated. The Orillia Town Council had in its organization a Charity Committee which dispensed a few dollars a year to those unfortunates who were in dire need, in most cases through no fault of their own. There were no mother’s allowances. Pensions for the aged, disabled, the blind, and assistance for the afflicted were a generation away. Children looked after their parents and their disabled ones. The effects of sickness could be, and were, devastating. Still, people were confident. They were self-reliant. They had strong moorings in their religious faiths and beliefs. The magnificence of Europe was not theirs and they had little understanding of it all. Canada was new. Its people had come up the hard way. Most of their fathers and grandfathers had come from the old land because of sheer necessity. They had successfully created a new way of life in Upper Canada and Ontario and they were satisfied with it.

"Old Man Ontario" as a young officer

27 June 2018

Room with a View

A lithograph by Franz Xaver Hoch, from Hochland; Ein Ausflug ins Land der Berge voll Alpenzauber und Höhenluft (München: Verlag des deutschen Spielmanns, 1903):

Franz Xaver Hoch, Hoch Fensterbild (1903)

According to the German Wikipedia entry, Hoch was associated with Die Scholle. He served with the Landsturm-Infanterie-Bataillon Mindelheim (2. Kompanie) and died at Châtas on 18 June, 1916.

25 June 2018

Football and Beer

George Orwell, 1984, in The Penguin Complete Novels of George Orwell (London: Penguin, 1976), pp. 784-785:
In reality very little was known about the proles. It was not necessary to know much. So long as they continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance. Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina, they had reverted to a style of life that appeared to be natural to them, a sort of ancestral pattern. They were born, they grew up in the gutters, they went to work at twelve, they passed through a brief blossoming-period of beauty and sexual desire, they married at twenty, they were middle-aged at thirty, they died, for the most part, at sixty. Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer, and above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.

20 June 2018

The Demon Titivillus

Marc Drogin, Medieval Calligraphy: Its History and Technique (New York: Dover Publications, 1989), pp. 17-18 (footnotes omitted):
Titivillus was born in the minds of medieval monks  created in jest to make a serious point. The repetitiveness of monastic life took its toll. Monks would occasionally cease to pay precise attention and words were mutilated, misspelled, and misplaced. Monks had to be reminded of the sin of inattentiveness. The earliest recorded mention of Titivillus by name appeared c. 1285 in John of Wales' Tractatus de Penitentia. And the comment about him was repeated early in the next century when, in a sermon, Petrus de Palude, Patriarch of Jerusalem, commented, “Fragmina psalmorum / Titivillus colligit horum" which, loosely translated. says that Titivillus collects bits of the psalms. Slipping about unseen he listened for each and every verbal atrocity that occurred in the services. But the monks deplored copying and writing errors as much as those in reading and singing. While no record of his interest in scribal errors was found until the 15th century, it is logical to assume that he may have followed the monks from services to see what was amiss in the scriptorium.

What Titivillus did when he heard or saw an error gave him demonic status. John of Wales' early description added another fact corroborated in several manuscripts (among them London, British Museum, Arundel 506, folio 46): "Quacque die mille / vicibus sarcinat ille." Titivillus, it explained, was required each day to find enough errors to fill his sack a thousand times. And these he hauled to the Devil below where each sin was duly recorded in a book against the name of the monk who had committed it, there to be read out on the Day of Judgment.

Titivillus keeping a watchful eye

A related post: It Makes the Kidneys Ache

19 June 2018

A Refusal to Live

Marie-Louise von Franz, Puer Aeternus (Santa Monica: Sigo Press, 1980), p. 86:
Interviewer's remark: When you think of the pictures of Van Gogh, even the most melancholy are full of energy and force and emotion.

Yes, even desolation is fully experienced and even what is lost is fully expressed, in contrast to this [refusal to participate fully in life]. Sometimes, one thinks how much more alive such people would be if they suffered! If they can't be happy, let them at least be unhappy, really unhappy for once, and then they would become human. But many pueri aeterni cannot even be quite unhappy! They have not even the generosity and the courage to expose themselves to a situation which could make them unhappy. Already, like cowards, they build bridges by which they can escape — they anticipate the disappointment in order not to suffer the blow, and that is a refusal to live.

Vincent Van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows (1890)

A related post: The Religion of Smug Ease

13 June 2018

Father's Day

Friedrich Nietzsche, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches (§ 318), from Vol. VIII of the Musarion edition (München: Musarion Verlag, 1920), p. 288 (my translation):
Correcting Nature — If you do not have a good father, then you should acquire one for yourself.

Die Natur corrigiren — Wenn man keinen guten Vater hat, so soll man sich einen anschaffen.

Josef Thorak, Friedrich Nietzsche (1944)

10 June 2018

Once Upon a Time

Sister Miriam Joseph, The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2002), p. 5:
The utilitarian or servile arts enable one to be a servant — of another person, of the state, of a corporation, or of a business — and to earn a living. The liberal arts, in contrast, teach one how to live; they train the faculties and bring them to perfection; they enable a person to rise above his material environment to live an intellectual, a rational, and therefore a free life in gaining truth.
Edward Irvine Halliday, Worcester College Room (1952)

Not unrelated: They Are Scum

6 June 2018

Pluralistic Ignorance

Professor Dan Ariely on how he teaches his students about pluralistic ignorance, from the 33m55s mark in his interview on The Knowledge Project podcast:
I start the class by taking a paragraph from some post-modern literature text generator, something crazy, you know, so you don't understand what's going on — every sentence looks like it's constructed appropriately but there's no flow, there's Foucault and Derrida from time to time, and I just add some words about economics and behavioural economics, and Becker... It's the first class, people sit in, [there are] 500 students, and I say,"Let me start by explaining to you what behavioural economics is." And I just read this nonsense for five minutes. Then I stop and ask, "Why didn't you stop me? How many of you would have stopped me if there was only one person in the room?"
A related post: A Fool's Trick

4 June 2018

How to Gain Time and Tranquility

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.24, tr. Gerald H. Rendall (London: Macmillan, 1914), p. 36:
"Do few things, if you would have cheer." A better rule methinks is to do only things necessary, things which in a social being reason dictates, and as it dictates. For this brings the cheer that comes of doing a few things, and doing them well. Most of the things we say or do are not necessary; get rid of them, and you will gain time and tranquility. Thus in every case a man should ask himself, Is this one of the things not necessary? and we ought to get rid not only  of actions, that are not necessary, but likewise of impressions; then superfluous actions will  not follow in their train.

30 May 2018

Uprooted, Anonymous, and Pushed About

James Rebanks, The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape (Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2015), p. 51:
I sometimes think we [shepherds from the Lake District] are so independently minded because we have seen just enough of the wider world to know we like our own old ways and independence best. My grandfather went as far afield as Paris for a trip to an agricultural fair once. He knew what cities had to offer, but also had a sense that they would leave you uprooted, anonymous, and pushed about by the world you lived in, rather than having some freedom and control. The potential wealth on offer counted for little or nothing set against the sense of belonging and purpose that existed at home.
Hat tip: Laudator Temporis Acti

25 May 2018

Worth the While of Every Lover of Truth

John Smith Gilderdale, Disciplina Rediviva (London: Bell and Daldy, 1856), pp. 51-52:
Were it indeed only for its use in enabling us to detect the fallacies which may arise out of a singularity of idiom, in the case of a person knowing one language only, the value of this power of translating one language into another would make it worth the while of every lover of truth to retain his knowledge of Latin and Greek. In the act of passing out of one language into another the idea appears for a moment in its naked form, stripped of the accidental gloss of idiom. We see what is of the essence of the idea and what not — the thing in itself, not merely what it was to the Greek or to the Roman, at the same time that this very exhibition of its several phases, under the aspect of varied national influence, is a most valuable commentary on the res itself, of which those idiomata are but the versions.

Besides this, are there not some thoughts which seem so connected in their nature with the mind that gave them birth, that they refuse to be clothed in the new languages of the Western world?

The connection of the dead and the living languages is seen only by those who have carried a continued knowledge of the one into the study of the other. The ease with which the latter are acquired on the strength of a knowledge of their archetypes, along with the philological value of a classical illustration, goes a great way towards persuading most men of the indirect advantage of a life-long familiarity with Greek and Latin.

24 May 2018

Read Much, Reflected Little

William Ellery Channing, Memoir of William Ellery Channing, Vol. I (Boston: Wm. Crosby and H. P. Nichols, 1850), p. 154:
It is easy to read, but hard to think. Without thinking, we cannot make the sentiments of others our own. Thinking alone adopts them into our family. It is my misfortune, that I have read much, but have reflected little. Let me reverse this order. I prefer strength of impression to superficial knowledge, however extensive.

17 May 2018

The Statistical Mood

Marie-Louise von Franz, Puer Aeternus (Santa Monica: Sigo Press, 1980), p. 86:
You do not realize what it does to you when you read statistics. It is a completely destructive poison, and what is worse is that it is not true; it is a falsified image of reality. If we begin to think statistically, we begin to think against our own uniqueness. It is not only thinking, but also a way of feeling. If you go up and down the Bahnhofstrasse, you see all those stupid faces and then look into a window yourself and say that you look just as stupid as the others, if not worse! And then comes the thought that if an atom bomb destroyed all that, who would regret it? Thank God, those lives have come to an end, including my own! In the statistical mood, one is overwhelmed by the ordinariness of life.

14 May 2018

Favere Lingua

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Aphorism XXXIII," Aids to Reflection (London: William Pickering, 1839), p. 79:
It is characteristic of the Roman dignity and sobriety, that, in the Latin, to favour with the tongue (favere lingua) means to be silent. We say, Hold your tongue! as if it were an injunction, that could not be carried into effect but by manual force, or the pincers of the forefinger and thumb! And verily — I blush to say it — it is not Women and Frenchmen only that would rather have their tongues bitten than bitted, and feel their souls in a strait-waistcoat, when they are obliged to remain silent.

7 May 2018

A Slight Sense of Nausea

Thomas Wentworth Higginson, "Books Unread," Part of a Man's Life (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1906), pp. 163-164:
Books which we have first read in odd places always retain their charm, whether read or neglected. Thus Hazlitt always remembered that it was on the 10th of April, 1798, that he "sat down to a volume of the 'New Éloise' at the Inn at Llangollen over a bottle of sherry and a cold chicken." In the same way I remember how Professor Longfellow in college recommended to us, for forming a good French style, to read Balzac's "Peau de Chagrin;" and yet it was a dozen years later before I found it in a country inn, on a lecture trip, and sat up half the night to read it. It may be, on the other hand, that such haphazard meetings with books sometimes present them under conditions hopelessly unfavorable, as when I encountered Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" for the first time on my first voyage in an Azorian barque; and it inspires to this day a slight sense of nausea, which it might, after all, have inspired equally on land.