17 December 2018

To Look Back Upon the Past Year

Robert Louis Stevenson, A Christmas Sermon (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1900), pp. 20-21:
To look back upon the past year, and see how little we have striven and to what small purpose: and how often we have been cowardly and hung back, or temerarious and rushed unwisely in; and how every day and all day long we have transgressed the law of kindness; — it may seem a paradox, but in the bitterness of these discoveries, a certain consolation resides. Life is not designed to minister to a man's vanity. He goes upon his long business most of the time with a hanging head, and all the time like a blind child. Full of rewards and pleasures as it is — so that to see the day break or the moon rise, or to meet a friend, or to hear the dinnercall when he is hungry, fills him with surprising joys — this world is yet for him no abiding city. Friendships fall through, health fails, weariness assails him; year after year, he must thumb the hardly varying record of his own weakness and folly. It is a friendly process of detachment. When the time comes that he should go, there need be few illusions left about himself. Here lies one who meant well, tried a little, failed much: — surely that may be his epitaph, of which he need not be ashamed.


Best wishes to the friends and strangers who follow along here. I'll return in 2019.

13 December 2018

Books Change Like Friends

Andrew Lang, The Library (London: Macmillan & Co., 1892), pp. 15-16:
Selling books is nearly as bad as losing friends, than which life has no worse sorrow. A book is a friend whose face is constantly changing. If you read it when you are recovering from an illness, and return to it years after, it is changed surely, with the change in yourself. As a man’s tastes and opinions are developed his books put on a different aspect. He hardly knows the “Poems and Ballads” he used to declaim,and cannot recover the enigmatic charm of “Sordello.” Books change like friends, like ourselves, like everything; but they are most piquant in the contrasts they provoke, when the friend who gave them and wrote them is a success, though we laughed at him ; a failure, though we believed in him ; altered in any case, and estranged from his old self and old days. The vanished past returns when we look at the pages.

The vicissitudes of years are printed and packed in a thin octavo, and the shivering ghosts of desire and hope return to their forbidden home in the heart and fancy. It is as well to have the power of recalling them always at hand, and to be able to take a comprehensive glance at the emotions which were so powerful and full of life, and now are more faded and of less account than the memory of the dreams of childhood. It is because our books are friends that do change, and remind us of change, that we should keep them with us, even at a little inconvenience, and not turn them adrift in the world to find a dusty asylum in cheap bookstalls. We are a part of all that we have read, to parody the saying of Mr. Tennyson’s Ulysses, and we owe some respect, and house-room at least, to the early acquaintances who have begun to bore us, and remind us of the vanity of ambition and the weakness of human purpose. Old school and college books even have a reproachful and salutary power of whispering how much a man knew, and at the cost of how much trouble, that he has absolutely forgotten, and is neither the better nor the worse for it. It will be the same in the case of the books he is eager about now; though, to be sure, he will read with less care, and forget with an ease and readiness only to be acquired by practice.
Joseph Swain's frontispiece to The Library

7 December 2018

Christmas Trees and Christmas Faces

Carl Jung, Nietzsche's Zarathustra: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1934-1939, Vol. 2, Part 1 (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 240:
There is a Christmas tree on the 25th of December. Of course! We all have Christmas trees. It is what one does at Christmas to give pleasure to the children. You simply float along on the Christmas mood. You wear a Christmas face and you have a Christmas tree because one has a Christmas tree: you are identical with that mood. But if you really ask yourself why the devil just a Christmas tree, you suddenly discover that this has nothing to do with the birth of Christ. There were no pine trees in Palestine, and there is not one single thing about it which has to do with Christianity. Yet we think it is the most Christian symbol. To this extent do people never think, never question themselves as to why they do such things — why that hell of a nonsense, the Easter hare and the colored eggs, and so on. In making a Christmas tree, one is not one but many. The mother who makes the Christmas tree is an eternal mother who for centuries has done that. Formerly, of course, they made something else I suppose, but always with the same feeling of the eternal figure. It is such a wonderful moment because it has always been so; you are in the olden time again. The great lure of the archetypal situation is that you yourself suddenly cease to be. You cease to think and are acted upon as though carried by a great river with no end. You are suddenly eternal. And you are liberated from sitting up and paying attention, doubting, and concentrating upon things. When you are once touched by the archetype, you don’t want to disturb it by asking foolish questions — it is too nice. We are all like Parsifal when he sees the Holy Grail. It is too good, too marvelous — why should he spoil the situation by asking questions?
When I read "It is what one does" my first thought was of Heidegger's das Man.

3 December 2018

John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836–1893)

Roundhay Lake (1877)
Silver Moonlight (1880)
In the Golden Gloaming (1881)
Princes Dock, Hull (1887)