6 November 2019

Maurice Utrillo at Mont Saint-Michel

From my soon-to-be-published translation of Gustave Coquiot's Maurice Utrillo (Paris: André Delpeuch, 1925), pp. 106-107:
If Utrillo loved Mont Saint-Michel in a beautiful way, others have done the opposite and polluted it terribly. The tourists, the endless stream of engaged couples and newlyweds on their honeymoons — they have disturbed it with their laughter, their shouts, their rumbling digestion, their omelettes from Mère Poulard’s, and their moonlight embraces. All the cinema operators, movie directors, producers, and cameramen, they too have made a mockery of this holy place, trivialized and ridiculed it! A whole crowd of boors, eunuchs, and idiots have swarmed the old convent, fortress, and the dungeon that is still haunted by the ghost of Louis-Auguste Blanqui. Alas, there is no way to prevent it. Dogs are always on the lookout for great walls so that they can piss at their feet.
I have only been able to find one picture online that Utrillo painted at Mont Saint-Michel. As it happens, it is up for sale at Sotheby's next week:

Maurice Utrillo, Le Mont Saint-Michel (1922)

4 November 2019

The Contract Between Artist and Public

Camille Mauclair, Henri Le Sidaner (Paris: Georges Petit & Henri Floury, 1928), p. 192 (from my recently-published translation):
Believability has always been the necessary condition for an exchange of understanding and emotion between the artist, his work, and the public. If a picture does not remain believable — even if it is obviously interpreted along certain predefined lines — and if a creator declares that he alone possesses the absolute right to understand his thoughts while at the same time he persists in looking for validation from others (for he does, after all, exhibit his works), then the terms of the natural contract have been broken. We cannot replicate life literally, nor is it desirable that we should do so; all the images we assemble are arbitrary in that they remain approximations — it is a question of whether they are approximations to a greater or a lesser degree — but when the artist leads us somewhere, we must always be able to believe the scene and breathe the air. Without this, the work will be childishly incomprehensible no matter how profound a meaning it is supposed to contain.

Barnett Newman, Voice of Fire (1967)

Related posts:

  • The Genesis of Modernism
  • Incurable Uneasiness
  • High-Priests of the Unutterable
  • Fraud
  • 26 October 2019

    Silent Friends

    Robert Milne Williamson, Bits From an Old Book Shop (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1904), p. 30:
    The pleasure derived from collecting books is a pleasure that never palls; a joy for ever. Once a lover always a lover, is a true saying when applied to a lover of books. As old age draws near, the man who has found his delight in athletic sports is unable to indulge his taste, but the lover of books can find a solace and joy in the companionship of his silent friends which increase as the years go round.

    Ferdinand Hodler, Lesender Pfarrer (1885)

    21 October 2019

    A Daily Exhortation

    Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.5 (tr. George Chrystal):
    Be sincere, be dignified, be painstaking; scorn pleasure, repine not at fate, need little; be kind and frank; love not exaggeration and vain talk; strive after greatness.

    Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Capitoline Museums
    Image credit to rjhuttondfw on Flickr

    16 October 2019

    The Manners of an Unhousebroken Mutt

    Ernst Jünger's translator Hilary Barr replies to Ian Buruma, The New York Review of Books (December 16, 1993):
    Quite apart from the many instances of intellectual fraud, Mr. Buruma is guilty of treacherously abusing the Jüngers’ hospitality. Pretending to be an admirer, he gained access to Ernst Jünger for an interview, then performed a hatchet job on him. His cruel personal caricatures of his host and hostess, where he describes them as “barking” and “snorting,” are particularly noisome. Indeed, Buruma displays the manners of an unhousebroken mutt.

    Ernst Jünger writes in On the Marble Cliffs: “Tief ist der Haß, der in den niederen Herzen dem Schönen gegenüber brennt.” (Deep is the hatred that burns in base hearts in the presence of beauty.)
    Rudolf Schlichter, Ernst Jünger (1937)

    7 October 2019

    They Had Everything but Money

    Wendell Berry, "The Work of Local Culture," What Matters? (Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2010), pp. 144-145:
    I was walking one Sunday afternoon several years ago with an older friend. We went by the ruining log house that had belonged to his grandparents and great-grandparents. The house stirred my friend's memory, and he told how the oldtime people used to visit each other in the evenings, especially in the long evenings of winter. There used to be a sort of institution in our part of the country known as "sitting till bedtime." After supper, when they weren't too tired, neighbors would walk across the fields to visit each other. They popped corn, my friend said, and ate apples and talked. They told each other stories. They told each other stories, as I knew myself, that they had all heard before. Sometimes they told stories about each other, about themselves, living again in their own memories, and thus keeping their memories alive. Among the hearers of these stories were always the children. When bedtime came, the visitors lit their lanterns and went home. My friend talked about this, and thought about it, and then he said, "They had everything but money."

    They were poor, as country people often have been, but they had each other, they had their local economy in which they helped each other, they had each other's comfort when they needed it, and they had their stories, their history together in that place. To have everything but money is to have much. And most people of the present can only marvel to think of neighbors entertaining themselves for a whole evening without a single imported pleasure and without listening to a single minute of sales talk.

    William Kuralek, After Church During Indian Summer (1976)

    4 October 2019

    Highly Speculative Work

    Stanley Unwin, The Truth About Publishing (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1929), pp. 312-313:
    The publication of translations is highly speculative, much more so than the publication of an original work, because there are in effect two authors to pay instead of one, and both, as a rule, call for immediate payment and are unable or unwilling to let their remuneration depend upon the result. Foreign authors and publishers who have heard of the wonderful sales of some particular translated book are apt to have the most fantastic ideas of the value of the English translation rights, and if the word “America” is breathed, I have known foreign publishers name a figure for which one would think they would be pleased to sell their whole business. Even twenty years ago, translation rights were almost invariably sold for a small lump sum; to-day the most impossible royalties are asked. Probably the fairest plan to both parties is a lump sum for a definite number of copies with a royalty thereafter. It would seem to be clear that if a royalty is granted from the start, it should only be a proportion of what would be paid for an original work. In other words, there is no justification for paying a foreign author plus a translator more than would be paid for a corresponding work by an English author. This sounds obvious, but one constantly encounters publishers (American publishers in particular) who in the same breath admit that they cannot afford more than 10 per cent, royalty for a work by an unknown writer, and that they have just agreed to pay 10 per cent, for some translation rights of a work by an author of whom few people have ever heard. They seem oblivious of the fact that by the time they have paid the translator they are probably paying the equivalent of 20 per cent, for authorship. One such publisher recently admitted to me that he had never yet made any money on translations. I am afraid he never will.

    Georg Friedrich Kersting, Der elegante Leser (1812)

    1 October 2019

    Resist Your Time

    Lord Acton, Essays in Religion, Politics, and Morality: Selected Writings of Lord Acton, Vol. 3 (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1988), p. 620:
    "Resist your time — take a foothold outside it — see other times and ask yourself whether the time of our ancestors is fit for us."

    Ferdinand Hodler, Spaziergänger im Wald (1885)

    25 September 2019

    Fifteen Minutes a Day

    Charles William Eliot, quoted in the introduction to the The Delphian Course of Reading (Chicago: The Delphian Society, 1913), pp. x-xi:
    Do we not all know many people who seem to live in a mental vacuum — to whom, indeed, we have great difficulty in attributing immortality, because they apparently have so little life except that of the body? Fifteen minutes a day of good reading would have given any one of this multitude a really human life.

    20 September 2019

    We Need Minstrels

    Percival Pollard, Masks and Minstrels of New Germany (Boston: J. W. Luce and Co., 1911), p. 26:
    We need minstrels, not mechanics. The latter, like weeds, will always flourish. But minstrels — we pretend their day is done, forgetting that some of their songs will live when all our towers of stone and steel are in the likeness of what once was Baalbek. For there is no more wonderful mystery in the world than the handing down from generation to generation, from folk to folk, of songs, of ballads, often even without aid of writing. The singers die; the streets and towns that knew them may be leveled to the dust; only the song survives.
    Of course when Pollard speaks of minstrels he is referring to the wandering musicians of medieval Europe, not the other kind...

    Lucas van Leyden, The Musicians (1524)

    18 September 2019

    How to Judge a Book

    Jean de La Bruyère, "Of Works of the Mind," The Characters of Jean de La Bruyère, tr. Henri Van Laun (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885), p. 18:
    When, after having read a work, loftier thoughts arise in your mind and noble and heartfelt feelings animate you, do not look for any other rule to judge it by; it is fine and written in a masterly manner.

    Quand une lecture vous élève l’esprit, et qu’elle vous inspire des sentiments nobles et courageux, ne cherchez pas une autre règle pour juger l’ouvrage; il est bon, et fait de main d’ouvrier.

    One of Victor Chevin's illustrations for Les caractères
    (Paris: Laplace, Sanchez et Cie, 1839)

    13 September 2019

    Where You From?

    Wendell Berry, interviewed in The New Yorker (July 14, 2019):
    Well, part of manners used to be to say to somebody you just met, “Where you from?” And I quit asking it, because so many people say they’re from everywhere or nowhere. 
    Homer Watson (1855-1936), Figure on the Road and Farmhouse at Sunset

    12 September 2019

    One Feels Exactly Like an Old Cab Horse

    Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo (s. d.), The Letters of a Post-Impressionist; Being the Familiar Correspondence of Vincent van Gogh, tr. Anthony Ludovici (London: Constable, 1912), p. 97:
    In the midst of an artistic life there arises again and again the yearning for real life, which remains an unrealizable ideal. And often enough the desire to devote one’s self completely to art, with ever fresher strength, entirely disappears. One feels exactly like an old cab horse, and one knows that one must always return to the same old shafts when all the while one would so love to live in the fields, in the sun, near the river, in the country, with other horses, also free, and have the right to procreate one’s kind. And I should not be at all surprised if this were whence the heart trouble comes. One offers no resistance, neither does one resign one’s self; the fact is, one is ill; the thing will not go away of its own accord, and yet there is no remedy for it. I really do not know who called the state “a case of death and immortality.”

    Vincent van Gogh, Paysage au crépuscule  (1890)

    9 September 2019

    The Charms of Pedestrianism

    John Burroughs, "Winter Sunshine," The Footpath Way; An Anthology For Those Who Travel by Countryside, ed. Alfred H. Hyatt (Edinburgh: T. N. Foulis, 1906), p. 269:
    I do not think I exaggerate the importance or the charms of pedestrianism, or our need as a people to cultivate the art. I think it would tend to soften the national manners, to teach us the meaning of leisure, to acquaint us with the charms of the open air, to strengthen and foster the tie between the race and the land. No one else looks out upon the world so kindly and charitably as the pedestrian; no one else gives and takes so much from the country he passes through. Next to the labourer in the fields, the walker holds the closest relation to the soil; and he holds a closer and more vital relation to Nature because he is freer and his mind more at leisure. The roads and paths you have walked along in summer and winter weather, the fields and hills which you have looked upon in lightness and gladness of heart, where fresh thoughts have come into your mind, or some noble prospect has opened before you, and especially the quiet ways where you have walked in sweet converse with your friend, pausing under the trees, drinking at the spring— henceforth they are not the same; a new charm is added; those thoughts spring there perennial, your friend walks there for ever.
    Caspar David Friedrich, A Walk at Dusk (c. 1830–1835)

    A related post: A Country Walk

    4 September 2019

    Handling and Reading a Beautiful Book

    Henry Howard Harper, The Functions of the Book Club (Cambridge, MA: privately printed at The University Press, 1908), p. 22:
    A very common mistake that book clubs make is that many of their books are cumbersome and of irregular and inconvenient size. Sometimes an awkward size results from some necessity, but more often not. The rules of good taste and convenience are frequently violated by setting a large solid page in small type, with insufficient margins, and having twice as many pages as there should be in a volume. It is not quantity that the booklover looks to, — it is quality. More than half the joy of possessing, handling and reading a book is lost to the booklover if the size be of awkward and inconsistent proportions and the pages not properly set and spaced. The pleasure of handling and reading a beautiful book is trivial as compared with the enjoyment of showing it to admiring friends, especially if it's a book that can't be bought in the market. How much it adds to the joy of possession when we can lay out a beautiful book for our friend to feast his eyes upon, knowing all the while (and not forgetting to tell him) that a copy couldn't be bought in the market for love or money! This is not selfishness — it is a permissible heritage of the booklover's pride. 
    Hat tip: Jerry Morris in a post on Henry Howard Harper and The Bibliophile Society

    A related post: The Elements of a Well-Designed Book


     John Frederick Peto, Still Life with Books and Inkwell (1899)

    1 September 2019

    Labour Day

    Henry David Thoreau, "The Commercial Spirit," (a commencement address given at Harvard 16 August, 1837) quoted in Familiar Letters Henry David Thoreau, ed. F. B. Sanborn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1894), pp. 8-9:
    Let men, true to their natures, cultivate the moral affections, lead manly and independent lives; let them make riches the means and not the end of existence, and we shall hear no more of the commercial spirit. The sea will not stagnate, the earth will be as green as ever, and the air as pure. This curious world which we inhabit is more wonderful than it is convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used. The order of things should be somewhat reversed; the seventh should be man's day of toil, wherein to earn his living by the sweat of his brow; and the other six his Sabbath of the affections and the soul, — in which to range this widespread garden, and drink in the soft influences and sublime revelations of Nature.

    Charles-François Daubigny, Coucher de soleil sur l'Oise (1866)

    26 August 2019

    Henri Le Sidaner

    I reached the third and final stage of an intellectual labour last month: I finished translating Camille Mauclair's monograph about the Intimist painter Henri Le Sidaner (1862-1939).

    The book (casewrap hardcover, medium octavo, 142 pages) contains seventy colour illustrations and is printed on 70 lb. matte white paper; the images are not quite as vivid as they would be on glossy stock, but it seemed a reasonable compromise to keep the price below $40 USD (which is no small feat, even in 1997 dollars).

    If any of you, my dear readers (— mes semblables, mes frères, mes sœurs! ) are able to recommend it for purchase at your local public or university library, I would appreciate it very much. The book is distributed by Ingram in North America and by both Gardners and Bertrams in the United Kingdom. The ISBN is 9780981178035.

    Individuals can order it from the usual places, including Amazon and The Book Depository. If you live in the Free State of Bavaria, you will even find it at Rupprecht.

    I have already posted my favourite passage. Visit Google Books to read a longer sample.

    Henri Le Sidaner, Petite table près de la 
    rivière au crépuscule. Nemours  (1921) 

    21 August 2019

    Alphonse Robine

    Alphonse Robine (1879-1963) painted watercolours while serving in the trenches with the 202e RI from 1915 to 1917. His family has allowed the Europeana web site to post several of his works under a generous Creative Commons licence.

    Alphonse Robine, Petite Poste devant Auberive (1915)

    19 August 2019

    Marketable Commodities

    Vincent Van Gogh to Émile Bernard (s. d.), The Letters of a Post-Impressionist; Being the Familiar Correspondence of Vincent van Gogh, tr. Anthony Ludovici (London: Constable, 1912), pp. 78-79:
    If your father had a son who sought and found gold in stones or on the pavement, he would certainly not think lightly of this talent. Well, in my opinion, you possess a talent which is, at least, equally valuable. Your father might deplore the fact that what you found was not brand new and glittering gold, already stamped like the coin of the realm; but he would, nevertheless, collect all your findings and sell them only at a good price. Well, then, that is what he should do with your pictures and drawings, which are just as valuable as marketable commodities as stones or metal; for to paint a picture is just as difficult as to find a small or large diamond. At present the world recognizes the value of a gold piece, or of a genuine pearl. Unfortunately, however, those who paint pictures and those who believe in the painting of pictures, are extremely rare. Still there are a few such people, and in any case we cannot do better than bide our time patiently, even though we have to wait a long while.

    Émile Bernard, Autoportrait au vase de fleurs (1897)

    31 July 2019

    Summer's Revel

    Pierre de Ronsard, ­À son laquais
    J’ay l’esprit tout ennuyé
    D’avoir trop estudié
    Les Phenomenes d’Arate :
    Il est temps que je m’esbate
    Et que j’aille aux champs jouer.
    Bons dieux! qui voudroit louer
    Ceux qui, collez sur un livre,
    N’ont jamais soucy de vivre?

    Que nous sert l’estudier,
    Sinon de nous ennuyer
    Et soing dessus soing accrestre,
    A nous qui serons peut-estre,
    Ou ce matin, ou ce soir,
    Victime de l’orque noir,
    De l’orque qui ne pardonne,
    Tant il est fier, à personne?

    Corydon, marche devant;
    Sçache où le bon vin se vend.
    Fais après à ma bouteille,
    Des feuilles de quelque treille,
    Un tapon pour la boucher.
    Ne m’achete point de chair,
    Car, tant soit-elle friande,
    L’esté je hay la viande.

    Achete des abricôs,
    Des pompons, des artichôs,
    Des fraises et de la crème:
    C’est en esté ce que j’aime,
    Quand, sur le bord d’un ruisseau,
    Je les mange au bruit de l’eau,
    Estendu sur le rivage
    Ou dans un antre sauvage.

    Ores que je suis dispos,
    Je veux boire sans repos
    De peur que la maladie
    Un de ces jours ne me die,
    Me happant à l’imporveu:
    Meurs, gallant, c’est assez beu.
    Post title from the English translation here.

    I've seen "rire sans repos" instead of "boire sans repos" in some editions — perhaps a bowdlerization, but I'm too lazy to look up the details.

    Bust of Ronsard at the Prieuré St-Cosme

    23 July 2019

    Ulceration, Gangrene, and Decay

    Anthony Ludovici in his preface to The Letters of a Post-Impressionist; Being the Familiar Correspondence of Vincent van Gogh (London: Constable, 1912), pp. xxix-xxx:
    No healthy people of the world have ever considered youth (I do not mean infancy) in any manifestation of nature, as ugly; because youth is the sure promise of human life and of a multiplication of human life. On the other hand, no healthy people have ever considered ulcers, gangrenous limbs, or decay in any form, as beautiful; because ulceration, gangrene, and decay, are the end of human life and the reduction of it.
    Piero Manzoni, Merda d'artista (1961)

    19 July 2019

    The Habit of Study

    Richard McCambly, OCSO, "On Aging," an essay posted to the Lectio Divina web site:
    Just six months before his death at the ripe age of ninety-five he [a fellow monk] decided to take up German for reading knowledge as well as Koine Greek in order to access the New Testament in the original. That’s impressive by any standard. Several younger monks used to shuttle between his room and the library taking out this book and that. When one of these monks asked what drove him, his response? The day wasn’t long enough to do all he wanted. All the while he was engaged in some kind of activity tucked away from the sight of most people. Obviously this monk was in class by himself compared with other infirmary residents. He provided a cautionary tale: if you don’t start studying early, you won’t do it later in life, especially when no one is around to hold your hand. Study gets you through the inevitable dryness and boredom of prayer and the occasional monotony of lectio divina. No small wonder study is the unsung hidden asset of a monk’s life. While most people says that nothing excels prayer and lectio, study is a firm rudder which keeps you from drifting off into an uninformed piety.

    Detail from one of the panels in the
    Cabinet des pères du désert

    9 July 2019

    The Invasion of Ugliness

    Charles Robert Ashbee, A Book of Cottages and Little Houses (London: Essex House Press, 1906), pp. 82-83:
    What is the meaning, we are perpetually asking ourselves, of the invasion of ugliness with which nowadays we are perpetually being overwhelmed? It enters into the marrow of modern life; it makes our towns hideous, our public buildings vulgar and pretentious; it intrudes into our homes and everything about us; and its latest and most furious manifestation would seem to be the dusty storm of the motor car into the quietest and most remote of little country villages.

    Is it economic pressure that brings this ugliness? — surely not entirely. It is also very much in ourselves, a sort of inverted kingdom of heaven to which for the time being we have attained.

    Is it materialism? — there is some subtle connection between the creed or philosophy of that name and what we call ugliness. To the artist or the poet there is implied in it a want of unity, an imperfection, a disbelief in the essential form of good. How perpetually does not the waste and futility of modern life bring this home to us? The great sums we spend in getting to each little spot of beauty, which we have no eyes to see when there, would be often better spent in keeping it beautiful. Why, then, this invasion of ugliness? — what is the reason for it? The reason lies rather in the relative value we attach to the things of life. Our material comforts, the multiplicity of our personal wants, the useless things of life with which we cumber ourselves, appear so much more important to us than this thing I am pointing to, this principle of beauty in building. It would never have been possible for the builder of the “Island House” of Middle Row in Campden High Street to have made those three gables of which I spoke before had he not had this principle at heart. It was more to him than the waterspouts.

    “There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men: a man to whom God hath given riches, wealth & honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not the power to eat thereof.... this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.” The Preacher might have added, had he lived in our own day, that we call the disease materialism; and architecture and materialism are incompatible.

    Illustration from page 77

    Not unrelated: Witnesses to Destruction

    2 July 2019

    Hand in Hand with the Ourang-Outang

    Adolph Knigge (1752-1796), Practical Philosophy of Social Life, tr. Peter Will (Lansingburgh: Penniman & Bliss, 1805), p. 107:
    Happy eighteenth century, in which such great discoveries are made, — as for instance: that we may learn to read without being acquainted with letters and syllables, and that we may love the whole human race without loving individuals! Century of universal medicines, of philalethes, philanthropists and cosmopolites, whither wilt thou lead us at last? General illumination will spread over all ranks; the husbandman will let his plough stand idle, and read to Princes lectures on liberty and equality, and on their obligation to share the drudgeries of life with him: every one will attempt to reason down all prejudices that stand in his way; laws and civil regulations will be superseded by license; the powerful and the better-instructed will reclaim his right of superiority, and follow his impulse to care for the best of the whole world at the expense of his weaker brethren; property, constitutions and political restrictions will cease to be respected, every one will be his own ruler, and invent a system of his own to gratify his desires. — Oh! happy, golden age! We then shall be but one family, shall press the noble and amiable cannibal to our heart, and, if that general benevolence should spread farther, walk through life hand in hand with the witty and sensible Ourang-Outang. Then all fetters will be broken and all prejudices dispelled. We then shall not be bound to pay the debts of our fathers, nor to be satisfied with one wife, and the lock of our neighbour's strong box will prevent us no longer from making good our innate right to the gold which all-bountiful nature produces for general use. 
    The original can be found in Über den Umgang mit Menschen (Frankfurt am Main: Insel Verlag, 1977) on pp. 146-148.

    Clint Cast as a Cosmopolite

    26 June 2019

    Somewhere at the Bottom of One's Mind

    Charles Buxton, Notes of Thought  (London: John Murray, 1883), p. 148:
    It is puzzling to think where all one's knowledge goes to. You read thousands upon thousands of books, of every sort and kind, and at the end of twenty years they do not rise to the surface in your conversation, or in your capacities, or in your character. You were just as able, and good, and agreeable, at thirty as at fifty. Is there a stratum of useful knowledge deposited somewhere at the bottom of one's mind? and when will it be available? In heaven? Nay, what should we do there with a desultory knowledge of French history and Greek plays!
    Rudolf von Alt, The Library of the Palais Lanckoronski (1881)

    20 June 2019

    Is This Civilization?

    Max Ehrmann, "I Look Over This Wilderness," Max Ehrmann's Poems (Terre Haute, Ind.: Viquesney Pub. Co., 1906), p. 55:
    I look over this wilderness of monstrous
    buildings and this race of hurrying,
    careworn, nervous men, whose feet
    never touched the cool, budding earth,
    and whose souls lie dormant or dead
    in their fevered bodies; and I ask,
    "O God! is this civilization?"

    Better the plain-clad follower of the plow,
    who is no man's chattel, and toils
    in God's pure air, the witness of
    incessant birth of bud and bloom,
    and of the sky by day and by night —
    lacking ornament — but calm and free.

    Théodore Rousseau, Paysage avec un charretier (c. 1861)

    18 June 2019

    Death Settles All Scores

    Lucius Annaeus Seneca, "On Anger," Seneca's Morals, tr. Sir Roger L'Estrange (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1917), pp. 233-234:
    Let us bethink ourselves of our mortality, and not squander away the little time that we have upon animosities and feuds, as if it were never to be at an end. Had we not better enjoy the pleasure of our own life than be still contriving how to gall and torment another's, in all our brawlings and contentions never so much as dreaming of our weakness? Do we not know that these implacable enmities of ours lie at the mercy of a fever, or any petty accident, to disappoint? Our fate is at hand, and the very hour that we have set for another man's death may peradventure be prevented by our own. What is it that we make all this bustle for, and so needlessly disquiet our minds? We are offended with our servants, our masters, our princes, our clients: it is but a little patience, and we shall be all of us equal; so that there is no need either of ambushes of or combats. Our wrath cannot go beyond death; and death will most undoubtedly come whether we be peevish or quiet. It is time lost to take pains to do that which will infallibly be done without us.

    Todt zum Herzog, illustration from the Basler Totentanz
    (Frankfurt: Andreä & Hort, 1725)

    14 June 2019

    Reading Ruskin

    Henry Ward Beecher, Norwood (New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 1868), pp. 222-223:
    We were sitting on the door-step one evening, and Miss Rose was questioning her father about some statement of Ruskin's that seemed extravagant. He replied:

    "It is extravagant, my dear. Ruskin is full of wildness, and tangles himself up with himself like a vine twisting on itself. You read Ruskin just as you explore a region, finding many treasures and much that you avoid. He has his brier thickets, his contorted trees, his muddy morasses. But, taken as a whole, the landscape is rich and grand. Ruskin is like a forest, on whose edges and in whose depths are many noxious plants — but these bear no proportion to the magnitude of the woods, the grandeur of the trees, and the sublimity, in winter and summer, of the music which the wind draws from their boughs and tops."

    Then, turning to me, he said:

    "Have you studied Ruskin?"

    I replied: "I have read portions — extracts — from his works."

    After a pause, he said in a very gentle way, in an undertone, but earnestly:

    "My young friend, Ruskin is not to be read in extracts — nor simply read either. You ought to take him as an infection. He should throw you into a fever. The whole system should be pervaded by it. He is like those diseases which renovate the system. Do not try to check it. Let it run its full period. Afterward you will recover well; you will throw off much. You will retain, perhaps, little. But, your whole constitution will be changed. You will observe differently, think differently, reason differently, all the rest of your life."

    Hubert von Herkomer, John Ruskin (1879)

    10 June 2019

    Deutscher Mühlentag

    Today is National Mills Day in Germany. Those who speak German may be interested in watching Der Herrgott weiß, was mit uns geschieht, a 1999 documentary about two sisters who owned and operated a water-powered sawmill in Burladingen.

    Andreas Achenbach, Die Mühle (1852)

    7 June 2019

    Books as a Necessity

    Stanley Unwin, The Truth About Publishing (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1929), pp 56-57:
    Insufficient Sales. — But although I am bound to admit that there are far too many worthless books published, the real problem is not over-production, but under-consumption, or, to be more precise, insufficient sales. Most people have not yet learned to regard books as necessity. They will beg them, they will borrow them, they will do everything, in fact, but buy them. People who would be ashamed to cadge for anything else they wanted, who will unhesitatingly pay 8s. 6d. apiece for a dozen gramophone records, or 12s. 6d. each for stalls at a theatre, will think twice, if not three times, before spending even 5s. upon a book which will last a lifetime. The fact that we in England do not spend on books — per head of population — anything approaching the amount spent by the population of New Zealand, and that, relatively speaking, we have not nearly so many booksellers’ shops, demonstrates that, despite the increase in demand since the war, there is still ample room for expansion. Book-lovers would do well to ignore what is often idle chatter about over-production, and to concentrate attention upon encouraging the new reading public which is growing up around us. For the fact that more and better books are not read, we are all in a measure responsible. It is not the unwanted books that bar the way. It is the lack of early training and the lack of guidance. It is often a lack of knowledge or an absence of realization of the joys of reading and the inexhaustible treasures of English Literature. 

    Carl Spitzweg, Der Philosoph (Der Leser im Park)

    31 May 2019

    The One Thing That Can Not Be Taken

    Oswald Spengler, Man and Technics, tr. Charles Francis Atkinson (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1963), pp. 103-104:
    Faced as we are with this destiny, there is only one world-outlook that is worthy of us, that which has already been mentioned as the Choice of Achilles — better a short life, full of deeds and glory, than a long life without content. Already the danger is so great, for every individual, every class, every people, that to cherish any illusion whatever is deplorable. Time does not suffer itself to be halted; there is no question of prudent retreat or wise renunciation. Only dreamers believe that there is a way out. Optimism is cowardice.

    We are born into this time and must bravely follow the path to the destined end. There is no other way. Our duty is to hold on to the lost position, without hope, without rescue, like that Roman soldier whose bones were found in front of a door in Pompeii, who, during the eruption of Vesuvius, died at his post because they forgot to relieve him. That is greatness. That is what it means to be a thoroughbred. The honourable end is the one thing that can not be taken from a man.

    Edward John Poynter, Faithful Unto Death (1865) 

    28 May 2019

    The Sheep of Panurge

    Charles Baudouin, Suggestion and Autosuggestion, tr. Eden and Cedar Paul (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1920), pp. 45-46:
    You hear an opinion stated; you are well aware that it is nothing more than an opinion; you have your reserves when you accept it; you intend to look into the matter more closely, to reason about it. At this stage you think the judgments that have been formulated, without believing them in the strict sense of the term. What you have in your mind are not complete judgments, for belief is an integral part of judgment, and here belief is lacking. All that you have is what we may call the "schema" of a judgment, the idea of a judgment (or of that series of judgments which constitutes an opinion).

    Time passes, and you no longer think about verification. You even forget the original source of your idea. But one day you are called upon to decide the question, and you discover that your mind is made up; you hold the very opinion which you heard expressed formerly, although you have never had any proof. The ordinary newspaper reader, the man-in-the-street, is continually circulating these "hearsays" without professing any credence in them. Nevertheless the newspaper reader's opinions are based upon the falsehoods he reads in his favourite paper. He does not realise it, but such is the fact. The grain planted in him when he read, has germinated in the subconscious. He has made up his mind, and he believes that his opinion is established upon reason. The ruling class turns this law skilfully to account when it wishes to drive the human "sheep of Panurge" to the slaughter house.

    It is a well-known fact that by repeating tales to themselves and to others, people come to believe what they say, and are duped by their own falsehoods.

    Alex Colville, Three Sheep (1954)

    24 May 2019

    21 May 2019

    One of Two Things

    Barthold Georg Niebuhr, letter to his parents (November 23, 1794), The Life and Letters of Barthold George Niebuhr (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1854), p. 56:
    I must do one of two things; either I must accommodate myself to the manners of our vicious, effeminate, and feeble age, or I must keep my own manners, consequently my own tone and mode of thinking and speaking. In the first case, I may, perhaps, please a great part of my contemporaries, but certainly not the better part, nor myself, nor posterity. In the second, I must indeed offend the partisans of the first, but it will be possible for me to live so as to deserve my own approbation, and so as not to pass away with the great multitude of my nameless contemporaries.
    Portrait of Niebuhr from the Dithmarscher Landesmuseum

    A related post: Keep Apart

    15 May 2019

    A Good Index Is Its Own Reward

    George Henry Lewes, The Principles of Success in Literature (London: The Walter Scott Publishing Co., 1898), pp. 86-87:
    In Life a dishonest man is chiefly moved by desires towards some tangible result of money or power; if he get these he has got all. The man of letters has a higher aim: the very object of his toil is to secure the sympathy and respect of men; and the rewards of his toil may be paid in money, fame, or consciousness of earnest effort. The first of these may sometimes be gained without Sincerity. Fame may also, for a time, be erected on an unstable ground, though it will inevitably be destroyed again. But the last and not least reward is to be gained by everyone without fear of failure, without risk of change. Sincere work is good work, be it never so humble; and sincere work is not only an indestructible delight to the worker by its very genuineness, but is immortal in the best sense, for it lives for ever in its influence. There is no good Dictionary, not even a good Index, that is not in this sense priceless, for it has honestly furthered the work of the world, saving labour to others; setting an example to successors. Whether I make a careful Index, or an inaccurate one, will probably in no respect affect the money-payment I shall receive. My sins will never fall heavily on me; my virtue will gain me neither extra pence nor praise. I shall be hidden by obscurity from the indignation of those whose valuable time is wasted over my pretence at accuracy, as from the silent gratitude of those whose time is saved by my honest fidelity. The consciousness of faithfulness even to the poor index maker may be a better reward than pence or praise; but of course we cannot expect the unconscientious to believe this. If I sand my sugar, and tell lies over my counter, I may gain the rewards of dishonesty, or I may be overtaken by its Nemesis. But if I am faithful in my work the reward cannot be withheld from me. The obscure workers who, knowing that they will never earn renown yet feel an honourable pride in doing their work faithfully, may be likened to the benevolent who feel a noble delight in performing generous actions which will never be known to be theirs, the only end they seek in such actions being the good which is wrought for others, and their delight being the sympathy with others. 
    Albrecht Dürer, Lectern With Books (1521)

    8 May 2019

    Doing Time

    Edith Bone, Seven Years Solitary (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1957), p. 106:
    I recalled something I had read in a posthumously published story by Tolstoi, in which a man is kept in solitary confinement for, as it happened, exactly seven years, just as I was later to be confined. Tolstoi describes how this man occupied his mind, among other things, by taking imaginary walks in the cities which he had known. I was very fortunate in this because I had been to most of the great cities of Europe. So I tried going for walks — in London, in Paris, in Rome, in Florence and Milan, in various Swiss cities, in Berlin and Heidelberg, in Vienna and St. Petersburg, and I found it very diverting. Most of these cities I had known very well. I had travelled a great deal, but never as a tourist. I had lived in eight European countries and had spent at least months and, in many cases, years in foreign cities, earning my livelihood there and living as the natives lived; hence I recalled their streets and rivers, their buildings, their monuments and the rest, quite accurately.
    Id., pp. 110-111:
    In the same Tolstoi story about a prisoner which I have already mentioned, the hero passes the time by taking an inventory of his knowledge on all sorts of subjects.

    I had already tried something like this, before I thought of an abacus. What I had tried to do was to take an inventory of my vocabulary in the six languages I speak fluently. But I failed because I always lost count so long as I had only my fingers to reckon on. Now, with my fine six-row abacus [which she made from old bread and straw], I did better. Here, too, there were, of course, problems to be solved. How to avoid repetitions? The answer was: strict alphabetical order. This brought a fresh problem: what to do with the words I remembered after passing their proper place in the alphabetical order. There was no answer to this one, except to leave them out and later to start afresh from A. This I did three times and found in the end that I had enumerated twenty-seven thousand three hundred and sixty-nine English words. That satisfied me, and I went on to German, French and the rest.

    There were many more inventories one could make in addition to these general ones of vocabulary. How many birds could I name? How many trees? How many flowers? How many makes of cars? How many breeds of dogs? How many English publishers? How many wines? How many characters in Dickens, Balzac, Tolstoi, Stendhal, Dostoyevski, Thackeray, and many others? I found, by the way, that Dickens, of whom I had read less than I had of several other authors, must be the greatest creator of characters, because I could remember more than four hundred, even before I had pencil and paper to help me, although I counted only those of whom I could also remember in which novel they appeared and what they were like.

    All this time, that is for almost three years, I was deprived of books and writing materials. But I had continued to make up doggerels, which I repeated carefully three times a day, so as not to forget. They were growing so numerous, however, that repeating them daily began to take up too much time.

    Mykola Yaroshenko, The Prisoner (1878)

    7 May 2019

    A Moment of Sadness or Anger

    An anonymous writer on the front page of the La Chronique des arts et de la curiosité (March 23, 1901), my translation:
    There is not one among us who, in the last few years, has not experienced a moment of sadness or anger at seeing the most admirable landscapes disfigured by unseemly advertisements and posters. All along the roads and railways, in both the mountains and beside the sea coast, advertising is everywhere, invasive and clumsy. We look on aghast as the gigantic placards multiply, disgraceful and gaudy.

    The countryside was once the traveller's companion; it offered an ephemeral but charming vision to those who were passing through and unable to pause; the sight of ever-changing hills, woods, rivers, and valleys stirred the imagination and seemed to evoke nature in all its richness and variety. Now the clownish advertisement arrives and casts a pall over the earth and the heavens alike. The German provinces of the Rhine and the Belgians are preparing laws against this menacing ugliness. The time has come for our own country to consider its defence.

    While the barbarians may have conquered the world, we should not resign ourselves to it, nor should we allow bad taste to triumph. Natural beauty is one of our rarest and most precious gifts, and it demands both respect and vigilance. The same effort we put into the conservation of monuments and works of art should be spent protecting the beauty of the countryside and saving it from immitigable ruin — it is a beauty we did not create, but one which we enjoy.

    Perhaps we should bear in mind that this form of beauty is worth more than any other, and recall, with Renan, that things which are beautiful in themselves are "like a myrrhine vase which contains everything that genius has, through wearying reflection, struggled to express in faint outlines."

    Isaac Levitan, Train on the Way (1895)

    29 April 2019

    More Important

    Ernst Jünger in his acceptance speech for the Goethe Prize (Frankfurt, 1982), at the 11:05 mark (my translation):
    If two sixteen-year-olds, in an attic or on a forest path, are enthusiastic about their author, that is more important than the proceedings of a writers' congress or an academic meeting. 
    Wenn zwei Sechzehnjährige sich in der Mansarde oder auf einem Waldgang an ihrem Autor begeistern, so ist das wichtiger als die Tagung eines Schriftstellerkongresses oder die Verhandlung einer Akademie.
    Norman Rockwell, Young Man Reading by the Light (c. 1926)

    23 April 2019

    Primitive and Essential Things

    Max Beerbohm, "The Golden Drugget," And Even Now (London: William Heinemann, 1920), p. 117:
    Primitive and essential things have great power to touch the heart of the beholder. I mean such things as a man ploughing a field, or sowing or reaping; a girl filling a pitcher from a spring; a young mother with her child; a fisherman mending his nets; a light from a lonely hut on a dark night.

    Things such as these are the best themes for poets and painters, and appeal to aught that there may be of painter or poet in any one of us. Strictly, they are not so old as the hills, but they are more significant and eloquent than hills. Hills will outlast them; but hills glacially surviving the life of man on this planet are of as little account as hills tremulous and hot in ages before the life of man had its beginning. Nature is interesting only because of us. And the best symbols of us are such sights as I have just mentioned — sights unalterable by fashion of time or place, sights that in all countries always were and never will not be.
    Hat tip: Anecdotal Evidence

    Paul Eduard Crodel, Frühjahrslandschaft mit Ochsenpflug  (1886)

    17 April 2019

    Build Your Own Library

    Donald Davidson (1893-1968), "A Mirror for Artists,"  I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978), p. 40:
    [P]ublic libraries, which tend ever to become more immense and numerous, pervert public taste as much as they encourage it. For the patrons are by implication discouraged from getting their own books and keeping them at home. Their notion is that the state — or some local Maecenas — will take care of their taste for them, just as the police take care of public safety. Art galleries and libraries are fine enough in their way, but we should not be deceived into putting our larger hope in them.

    John Frederick Peto, Take Your Choice (1885)

    12 April 2019

    The Decisive Significance of the Truth

    Theodor Haecker in an entry from 1940, Journal in the Night, tr. Alexander Dru (London: Pantheon Books, 1950), p. 22:
    In spite of a gigantic weight of lies the things of this world still function for an astoundingly long time without breaking to pieces; they almost seem to be strengthened. It is a mysterious and awful fact, and a great temptation to the spirit, to doubt the decisive significance of the truth in regard to the events in this world. But it is only a temptation: deep inside the spirit of man there is an assurance that lies destroy a man, and also a nation.
    Jean-Léon Gérôme, Truth Emerging From the Well, 
    Armed With Her Whip to Chastise Mankind  (1896) 

    A related post: No Strength Without Truth

    11 April 2019

    Giraudon's Artist

    A few photographs from L'Artiste, a series published by Adolphe et Georges Giraudon in the 1870s:








    From a post on the James Hyman Gallery web site:

    "Giraudon presumably commissioned these photographic genre studies from an artist active near Barbizon as the imagery and compositions directly echoes that of Millet and other Barbizon painters. Despite the mounting and stamping of several of these prints, which suggest a publishing venture, these works are extremely rare. None were found in the Giraudon archives, nor in sales catalogues of the period."


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