28 January 2020

Miracles

Ralph Waldo Emerson, entry for November 6, 1828, The Heart of Emerson's Journals, ed. Bliss Perry (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1926), pp. 118-119:
'Miracles have ceased.' Have they indeed? When? They had not ceased this afternoon when I walked into the wood and got into bright, miraculous sunshine, in shelter from the roaring wind. Who sees a pine-cone, or the turpentine exuding from the tree, or a leaf, the unit of vegetation, fall from its bough, as if it said, 'the year is finished' or hears in the quiet, piny glen the chickadee chirping his cheerful note, or walks along the lofty promontory-like ridges which, like natural causeways, traverse the morass, or gazes upward at the rushing clouds, or downward at a moss or a stone and says to himself, 'Miracles have ceased' ? Tell me, good friend, when this hillock on which your foot stands swelled from the level of the sphere by volcanic force; pick up that pebble at your foot; look at its gray sides, its sharp crystal, and tell me what fiery inundation of the world melted the minerals like wax, and, as if the globe were one glowing crucible, gave this stone its shape. There is the truth-speaking pebble itself, to affirm to endless ages the thing was so. Tell me where is the manufactory of this air, so thin, so blue, so restless, which eddies around you, in which your life floats, of which your lungs are but an organ, and which you coin into musical words. I am agitated with curiosity to know the secret of nature. Why cannot geology, why cannot botany speak and tell me what has been, what is, as I run along the forest promontory, and ask when it rose like a blister on heated steel? Then I looked up and saw the sun shining in the vast sky, and heard the wind bellow above and the water glistened in the vale. These were the forces that wrought then and work now. Yes, there they grandly speak to all plainly, in proportion as we are quick to apprehend.

Théodore Rousseau, A Path Among the Rocks (1861)

21 January 2020

Cheap Things Make Cheap Men

Charles Robert Ashbee, Craftsmanship in Competitive Industry; Being a Record of the Workshops of the Guild of Handicraft, and Some Deductions From Their Twenty-One Years' Experience (London: Essex House Press, 1908), pp. 92-93:
When Ruskin nearly half a century ago said that “cheap things made cheap men,” everybody thought the proposition absurd, but when Mr. Joseph Chamberlain suddenly repeated it as his own, in his own great city of Birmingham, at a time when things were getting unpleasantly cheaper and cheaper, it was found to be true. There is nothing like having the shoe pinch for bringing home the truth! The strange thing is that at all other great periods in the world’s history, the great civilizations have accepted this truth as an integral part of their social economy. We, however, have been blinded by the apparent success and the superficial results of our Industrialism from seeing it. But suddenly we are faced with a phenomenon, a monster with two heads, that we had never observed before. A vast output of rotten, useless, sweated, cheap industries, and a vast growth of nerveless, characterless, underfed, cheap men and women. The monster stands face to face with our civilization, it threatens to extinguish our culture, to destroy our life as a people.
A William Morris chair, sturdy and enduring
Free PDF plans available from Popular Woodworking

16 January 2020

Some Write Their Names for Those Behind

Eugene Lee-Hamilton, "The Ladder," Poems and Transcripts (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1878), pp. 10-11:
Life is a ladder which we all must climb;
Some climb alone and some in company;
Some clad in purple, some in tattered rags;
Some climb it followed by their fellow-men
In livery, and some by hungry duns;
Some followed by policemen half the way;
Some climb the ladder boldly, sword in hand,
And others slowly, yawning at each step;
And each man bears a load upon his back:
With one it is a heavy bag of gold;
Another upwards with a load of aches.
Or, worse, a load of evil conscience goes.
All with a weight of care. And all along
The ladder's length are overhanging boughs.
With fruits and flowers for the strong to pluck;
But many, snatching, overreach and fall.
And there are boughs, beneath whose grateful shade
We fain would stop, but we are hurried on,
As in a treadmill, to the journey's end;
And woe to him who looks too far ahead,
Nor feels each step that comes beneath his foot.
Much angry hustling on the way occurs;
The steps are narrow, and the crowd is great:
Some men, in mounting, cling to others' skirts.
But some to others lend a helping hand,
And care but little how they fare themselves.
Some on the ladder write their names for those
Behind to read, but most can leave no trace.
Most climbers drop before they get half-way;
Some, jostled off by treacherous neighbours, fall;
And some jump off, of their own sad accord.
But few are those who reach the topmost bars,
With hair fast whitening as they upward go.
And gathering honours as they take each step;
And when once there, they heave a gentle sigh.
And, scarcely conscious, softly smile — and die.

Maurice Denis, L'Échelle dans le feuillage (1892)

Other poems by Lee-Hamilton:

13 January 2020

We Like the Picture, We Like the Glow

Olive Schreiner, “The Artist's Secret,” Dreams (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1892), pp. 119-122:
There was an artist once, and he painted a picture. Other artists had colours richer and rarer, and painted more notable pictures. He painted his with one colour, there was a wonderful red glow on it; and the people went up and down, saying, “We like the picture, we like the glow.”

The other artists came and said, “Where does he get his colour from?” They asked him; and he smiled and said, “I cannot tell you”; and worked on with his head bent low.

And one went to the far East and bought costly pigments, and made a rare colour and painted, but after a time the picture faded. Another read in the old books, and made a colour rich and rare, but when he had put it on the picture it was dead.

But the artist painted on. Always the work got redder and redder, and the artist grew whiter and whiter. At last one day they found him dead before his picture, and they took him up to bury him. The other men looked about in all the pots and crucibles, but they found nothing they had not.

And when they undressed him to put his grave-clothes on him, they found above his left breast the mark of a wound — it was an old, old wound, that must have been there all his life, for the edges were old and hardened; but Death, who seals all things, had drawn the edges together, and closed it up.

And they buried him. And still the people went about saying, “Where did he find his colour from?”

And it came to pass that after a while the artist was forgotten — but the work lived.

Carlos Schwabe's illustration for this story, taken from the French edition,
tr. Henriette Mirabaud-Thorends (Paris: Ernest Flammarion, 1912), p. 89.
Image credit: Gallica

3 January 2020

A Fine Barn

Ralph Waldo Emerson, undated entry from 1828, The Heart of Emerson's Journals, ed. Bliss Perry (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1926), p. 41:
I like to have a man’s knowledge comprehend more than one class of topics, one row of shelves. I like a man who likes to see a fine barn as well as a good tragedy.
Alex Colville, Windmill and Farm (1947)