11 March 2019

Some Sporting Event or Stupid Show

Henry Suso, Wisdom's Watch Upon the Hours (Book II, Chapter I), tr. Edmund Colledge (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1994), pp. 236-237:
What the Disciple found in this mansion amazed him, and made him want to laugh. For there was what seemed like a silver ball that had fallen among them from the sky, rolling around, which by its beauty and costliness made all of them gaze on it in love and longing, for it promised glory and honor to those who could possess it. And when one outstanding teacher had it in his hand, and through this his fame resounded through the whole world, and his teachings shone brighter than all others, like a rose without thorn and a cloudless sun, many, seeing this and envying it, tried in every way they might to snatch the ball from his hand. Now they threw sharp darts at him, and now hard stones, but it did not help them, for they were inflicting astonishing hurts on themselves, and wounding themselves with their own darts. When this ball bounced round among them, those who were present were at pains, not indeed to grasp it for themselves, but rather to do all they could to knock it out of each other’s hands, and steal it away and advertise that someone else did not have it. They offered no explanations of what it was, but they wrapped it up in their own implications. And there were among them, it is shameful to say, astonishing arguments and uproars and contradictions about this ball, and in the minds of many who were listening this produced great boredom and distaste. For they derived no benefit from these things, but complained that they were at some sporting event or stupid show. And some of them mocked the others, and they wore themselves out with wordy warfare, and attacked each other and sparred like fighting bantams.

And when the Disciple asked from the bystanders what all this spectacle was about, someone replied that this silver ball was supposed to signify the truth of Sacred Scripture, lucid and clear-sounding and incorruptible. And he added: “Some present-day scholars spend more pains in attacking it than seeking it, for some of them do not seem to be working to acquire it, but trying with all their might to prove that someone else does not possess that truth at all, and by this they try to advance themselves and put down someone else. And so they manufacture refutations, rejoinders and astonishing newfangled opinions, which do more to surprise those who hear them than to give them anything useful. For the truth which they should have unfolded for their listeners they wrap up in what they are driving at and their unheard-of language, and for the sake of empty display for the most part they hide the truth out of sight.”

Hieronymus Bosch, The Conjurer (c. 1502)

Related posts:

4 March 2019

The Knowledge of Words

 John Earle, English Prose; Its Elements, History, and Usage (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1890), p. 34:
The knowledge of words in their mental incidence and artistic effect is something that must be gained slowly by long experience, because it is numerically extensive, it is multitudinous, it is not capable of being reduced to heads or rules, but must depend upon the stores of memory, and the culture of the perceptive faculty. Hence the need of constant acquaintance and familiarity with the best authors.

A page from Earle's "Table of Trilogies"

22 February 2019

Der Letzte Mensch

Thomas Sergeant Perry, from a review of Nietzsche's Untimely Meditations, in the North American Review (July 1875), quoted by Stephen Donadio, Nietzsche, Henry James, and the Artistic Will (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 19:
If anything is suggested to us, instead of trying to do it, we feel our pulses, look at our tongues, and write accounts of the way the proposal affects us. We have become self-conscious to an extent which was unknown to our ancestors; we demoralize ourselves and those about us by looking at everything in an ironical spirit.
Lilla Cabot Perry, Thomas Sergeant Perry  (1889)

20 February 2019

The Elements of a Well-Designed Book

Hugh Williamson, Methods of Book Design (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), pp. 378-379:
A book is to be sold. The designer’s task is not so much to settle the price as to make the best use of the permissible manufacturing expense, planning the book for economical production, and exploiting to the full the techniques and materials available at the stipulated price. The book must attract the buyer, and be worth possessing as a physical object, not merely worth borrowing; its price must be within the buyer’s reach, and its appearance and construction should make the price a bargain. The requirements not only of ordinary readers but of booksellers and librarians must be allowed to influence its form.

A book is to be laid open, held, and carried. All but a few books are held while being read, and most books are carried about to some extent before and after reading. No book can be considered legible unless it lies flat when open; it should not have to be held open. The printed part of the pages at which the book is opened should be nearly level, not curving inwards towards the spine. Bulk should be proportionate to format, as far as possible; the very squat, stout book is as inconvenient to hold as the very large thin book. Every book should be designed to withstand whatever handling it may receive without unduly rapid deterioration.

A book is to be seen — of course it is to be read, but it is also to be looked at. It must be capable of being read with ease, speed, and accuracy by the reader and in the conditions for which it is intended. This can be achieved only by the precise adjustment to each other of all the variables of the text page, and is a matter of paper and presswork as well as of typographic arrangement. Illustrations no less than composition need to be planned by the typographer. The well-designed book presents an appearance of pattern and purpose; all its parts are planned to suit each other. The typographer must concern himself with the mental as with the optical process of reading, and must arrange the text and illustrations with their headings, notes, reference systems, and other accessories in a clear and convenient manner.

A book is to be kept. After being read it is set aside, usually on a shelf, to be read again one day. The book should if possible be of a size to stand between ordinary bookshelves; particularly large books are apt to be a nuisance. Once it is on the shelf the book should be able to stay there indefinitely without undue deterioration, retaining its qualities until its next use.

 François Bonvin, Still Life with Book, Papers, and Inkwell  (1876)

14 February 2019

The Windows and the Stars Illumined

Henri Le Sidaner, Les Faubourgs (1909)

This cityscape is unusual for an Intimist painter like Le Sidaner, but I'm quite fond of it; I look at the lit windows and rising smoke, and think of Baudelaire's poem "Landscape," from The Flowers of Evil, tr. George Dillon (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1936):
I want to write a book of chaste and simple verse,
Sleep in an attic, like the old astrologers,
Up near the sky, and hear upon the morning air
The tolling of the bells. I want to sit and stare,
My chin in my two hands, out on the humming shops,
The weathervanes, the chimneys, and the steepletops
That rise like masts above the city, straight and tall,
And the mysterious big heavens over all.
I want to watch the blue mist of the night come on,
The windows and the stars illumined, one by one,
The rivers of dark smoke pour upward lazily,
And the moon rise and turn them silver. I shall see
The springs, the summers, and the autumns slowly pass;
And when old Winter puts his blank face to the glass,
I shall close all my shutters, pull the curtains tight,
And build me stately palaces by candlelight.
And I shall dream of luxuries beyond surmise,
Gardens that are a stairway into azure skies,
Fountains that weep in alabaster, birds that sing
All day — of every childish and idyllic thing.
A revolution thundering in the street below
Will never lure me from my task, I shall be so
Lost in that quiet ecstasy, the keenest still,
Of calling back the springtime at my own free will,
Of feeling a sun rise within me, fierce and hot,
And make a whole bright landscape of my burning thought.

Paysage

Je veux, pour composer chastement mes églogues,
Coucher auprès du ciel, comme les astrologues,
Et, voisin des clochers écouter en rêvant
Leurs hymnes solennels emportés par le vent.
Les deux mains au menton, du haut de ma mansarde,
Je verrai l'atelier qui chante et qui bavarde;
Les tuyaux, les clochers, ces mâts de la cité,
Et les grands ciels qui font rêver d'éternité.
II est doux, à travers les brumes, de voir naître
L'étoile dans l'azur, la lampe à la fenêtre
Les fleuves de charbon monter au firmament
Et la lune verser son pâle enchantement.
Je verrai les printemps, les étés, les automnes;
Et quand viendra l'hiver aux neiges monotones,
Je fermerai partout portières et volets
Pour bâtir dans la nuit mes féeriques palais.
Alors je rêverai des horizons bleuâtres,
Des jardins, des jets d'eau pleurant dans les albâtres,
Des baisers, des oiseaux chantant soir et matin,
Et tout ce que l'Idylle a de plus enfantin.
L'Emeute, tempêtant vainement à ma vitre,
Ne fera pas lever mon front de mon pupitre;
Car je serai plongé dans cette volupté
D'évoquer le Printemps avec ma volonté,
De tirer un soleil de mon coeur, et de faire
De mes pensers brûlants une tiède atmosphère.

8 February 2019

Quite Satisfied

George Herbert Powell, Reminiscences and Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers (London: R Brimley Johnson, 1903), pp. 281-282:
When asked why he had written so little, Porson replied, "I doubt if I could produce any original work which would command the attention of posterity. I can be known only by my notes: and I am quite satisfied if, three hundred years hence, it shall be said that 'one Person lived towards the close of the eighteenth century, who did a good deal for the text of Euripides.' "  
Thomas Kirkby, Richard Porson (c. 1805)

5 February 2019

I Used to Be Angry Every Day

Epictetus, Discourses (Book II, Chapter XVII), tr. W. A. Oldfather (London: Heinemann, 1931 = Loeb Classical Library, 131), p. 353:
Certain imprints and weals are left behind on the mind, and unless a man erases them perfectly, the next time he is scourged upon the old scars, he has weals no longer but wounds. If, therefore, you wish not to be hot-tempered, do not feed your habit, set before it nothing on which it can grow. As the first step, keep quiet and count the days on which you have not been angry. "I used to be angry every day, after that every other day, then every third, and then every fourth day." If you go as much as thirty days without a fit of anger, sacrifice to God. For the habit is first weakened and then utterly destroyed.
I broke my resolution and read a newspaper yesterday, with predictable results; the count to thirty days without a fit of anger begins once again.

Not unrelated: Keep Apart

The frontispiece to Edward Ivie’s translation of the Enchiridion
(Oxford: Henry Clements at the Sheldonian Theatre, 1715)

2 February 2019

Spiritual Affinities

Edwin Hubbell Chapin, The Crown of Thorns: A Token for the Sorrowing (Boston: A. Tomkins, 1860), pp. 201-203:
We take up some wise and virtuous book, and enter into the author's mind. Seas separate us from him, — he knows us not; he never hears our names. But have we not a close relation to him? Is there not a strong bond of spiritual communion between us? Nay, may not the intercourse we thus have with him be better and truer than any which we could have from actual contact, — from local acquaintance? Then, some icy barrier of etiquette might separate us, — some coldness of temperament upon his part, — some spleen or disease; we might be shocked by some temporary deformity; some little imperfection might betray itself. But here, in his book, which we read three thousand miles away from him, we receive his noblest thoughts, — his best spiritual revelations; and we know him, and commune with him most intimately, not through local but through spiritual affinities.

And how pleasing is the thought that not even death interrupts this relation. Years, as well as miles — ages may separate us from the great and good man; but we hold with him still that living communion of the spirit. Our best life may flow to us from this communion. Some of our richest spiritual treasures have been deposited in this intercourse of thought. Some of our noblest hopes and resolutions have been animated by those whose lips have long since been sealed, — whose very monuments have crumbled.
Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Reverie: Far Away Thoughts (1874)

23 January 2019

A Fanatical Grievance

Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements  (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951):
§75

Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both.

An engraving after Charles Le Brun (1765), via The Met

18 January 2019

The Labors of Man That Are Great

Francis Jammes, "These Are the Labors," Selected Poems of Francis Jammes, tr. Barry Gifford and Bettina Dickie (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1976), pp. 56-57:
These are the labors...

These are the labors of man that are great:
he who puts milk in the wooden vessels,
he who gathers wheat-ears sharp and straight,
he who herds cattle near fresh alders,
he who bleeds birches in the forests,
he who twists willows near rushing brooks,
he who mends old shoes
near a dark hearth, an old mangy cat,
a sleeping blackbird and happy children;
he whose weaving makes a steady sound,
when at midnight the crickets sing shrilly;
he who bakes bread, he who makes wine,
he who sows garlic and cabbages in the garden,
he who gathers warm eggs.

François Bonvin, Nature morte à la bouilloire (1883)

Ce sont les travaux...

Ce sont les travaux de l'homme qui sont grands:
celui qui met le lait dans les vases de bois,
celui qui cueille les épis de blé piquants et droits,
celui qui garde les vaches près des aulnes frais,
celui qui fait saigner les bouleaux des forêts,
celui qui tord, près des ruisseaux vifs, les osiers,
celui qui raccommode les vieux souliers
près d'un foyer obscur, d'un vieux chat galeux,
d'un merle qui dort et des enfants heureux ;
celui qui tisse et fait un bruit retombant,
lorsque à minuit les grillons chantent aigrement ;
celui qui fait le pain, celui qui fait le vin,
celui qui sème l'ail et les choux au jardin,
celui qui recueille les oeufs tièdes.

17 January 2019

L'Angélus

Jean-François Millet, L'Angélus (c. 1858)

A very faded reproduction of this painting used to hang over the bed where I slept in my grandmother's house. Knowing nothing of Millet, never mind the Angelus, I believed the two figures were praying over a dead child.

In university, years later, I learned that Salvador Dalí thought the same and had convinced the Louvre to have x-rays taken; they revealed the outline of a small coffin.

Not unrelated: The Happiest Thing I Know

8 January 2019

Upon a Maybe

William James, "Is Life Worth Living?" The Will to Believe (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1903), p. 59:
Not a victory is gained, not a deed of faithfulness or courage is done, except upon a maybe; not a service, not a sally of generosity, not a scientific exploration or experiment or textbook, that may not be a mistake. It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all. And often enough our faith beforehand in an uncertified result is the only thing that makes the result come true. Suppose, for instance, that you are climbing a mountain, and have worked yourself into a position from which the only escape is by a terrible leap. Have faith that you can successfully make it, and your feet are nerved to its accomplishment. But mistrust yourself, and think of all the sweet things you have heard the scientists say of maybes, and you will hesitate so long that, at last, all unstrung and trembling, and launching yourself in a moment of despair, you roll in the abyss. In such a case (and it belongs to an enormous class), the part of wisdom as well as of courage is to believe what is in the line of your needs, for only by such belief is the need fulfilled. Refuse to believe, and you shall indeed be right, for you shall irretrievably perish. But believe, and again you shall be right, for you shall save yourself. You make one or the other of two possible universes true by your trust or mistrust, — both universes having been only maybes, in this particular, before you contributed your act.
Carl Gustav Carus, Berggipfel in Wolken

3 January 2019

Old Acquaintance Should Be Forgot

Friedrich Nietzsche, Jest, Ruse and Revenge, a prelude to The Joyful Wisdom, tr. Thomas Common, in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Vol. X (New York: Macmillan, 1924), p. 14:
Dialogue.

A. Was I ill? and is it ended?
Pray, by what physician tended?
I recall no pain endured!

B. Now I know your trouble's ended:
He that can forget, is cured.

The original, from Alfred Kröner's edition of Nietzsche's works (Stuttgart, 1921), p. 16:
Zwiegespräch.

A. War ich krank? Bin ich genesen?
Und wer ist mein Arzt gewesen?
Wie vergaß ich alles Das!

B. Jetzt erst glaub' ich dich genesen:
Denn gesund ist, wer vergaß.

Dr. Nietzsche; he can cure what ails you.

Related posts:

Cf.  Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?