30 June 2020

A Vision Lost and Buried in a Very Different Past

George Grant, Lament for a Nation (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1994), p. 25:
Growing up in Ontario, the generation of the 1920s took it for granted that they belonged to a nation. The character of the country was self-evident. To say it was British was not to deny it was North American. To be a Canadian was to be a unique species of North American. Such alternatives as F. H. Underhill’s - “Stop being British if you want to be a nationalist” - seemed obviously ridiculous. We were grounded in the wisdom of Sir John A. Macdonald, who saw plainly more than a hundred years ago that the only threat to nationalism was from the South, not from across the sea. To be a Canadian was to build, along with the French, a more ordered and stable society than the liberal experiment in the United States. Now that this hope has been extinguished, we are too old to be retrained by a new master. We find ourselves like fish left on the shores of a drying lake.

Id., pp. 55-56:
The crucial years were those of the early [nineteen] forties. The decisions of those years were made once and for all, and were not compatible with the continuance of a sovereign Canadian nation. Once it was decided that Canada was to be a branch-plant society of American capitalism, the issue of Canadian nationalism had been settled. The decision may or may not have been necessary; it may have been good or bad for Canada to be integrated into the international capitalism that has dominated the West since 1945. But certainly Canada could not exist as a nation when the chief end of the government’s policy was the quickest integration into that complex. The Liberal policy under [C. D.] Howe was integration as fast as possible and at all costs. No other consideration was allowed to stand in the way. The society produced by such policies may reap enormous benefits, but it will not be a nation. Its culture will become the empire’s to which it belongs. Branch-plant economies have branch-plant cultures.

Id., pp. 82-83:
[Early Canadian settlers felt] an inchoate desire to build, in these cold and forbidding regions, a society with a greater sense of order and restraint than freedom-loving republicanism would allow. It was no better defined than a kind of suspicion that we in Canada could be less lawless and have a greater sense of propriety than the United States. The inherited determination not to be Americans allowed these British people to come to a modus vivendi with the more defined desires of the French. English-speaking Canadians have been called a dull, stodgy, and indeed costive lot. In these dynamic days, such qualities are particularly unattractive to the chic. Yet our stodginess has made us a society of greater simplicity, formality, and perhaps even innocence than the people to the south. Whatever differences there were between the Anglicans and the Presbyterians, and however differently their theologians might interpret the doctrine of original sin, both communities believed that the good life made strict demands on self-restraint. Nothing was more alien to them than the “emancipation of the passions” desired in American liberalism. An ethic of self-restraint naturally looks with suspicion on utopian movements, which proceed from an ethic of freedom. The early leaders of British North America identified lack of public and personal restraint with the democratic Republic. Their conservatism was essentially the social doctrine that public order and tradition, in contrast to freedom and experiment, were central to the good life.

Id., p. 106:
Those who loved the older traditions of Canada may be allowed to lament what has been lost, even though they do not know whether or not that loss will lead to some greater political good. But lamentation falls easily into the vice of self-pity. To live with courage is a virtue, whatever one may think of the dominant assumptions of one’s age. Multitudes of human beings through the course of history have had to live when their only political allegiance was irretrievably lost. What was lost was often something far nobler than what Canadians have lost. Beyond courage, it is also possible to live in the ancient faith, which asserts that changes in the world, even if they be recognized more as a loss than a gain, take place within an eternal order that is not affected by their taking place. Whatever the difficulty of philosophy, the religious man has been told that process is not all. “Tendebantque manus ripae ulterioris amore.”

J. E. H. MacDonald, Algoma Waterfall (1920)

Post title from The Cowboy Junkies, The Last Spike

26 June 2020

The Aesthetic Virtues

Jules Breton, The Life of an Artist: An Autobiography, tr. Mary J. Serrano (New York: D. Appleton, 1890), pp. 290-291:
A painter may be interesting provided he has studied Nature sufficiently to avoid copying her expressionless aspects, but he will touch the feelings only in so far as he can interpret her intensities.

How is the artist to learn to recognize the essential features of Nature which he is to depict, and the commonplaces which he is to avoid?

He can only do this by elevating his soul by the contemplation of the beautiful spectacles which strike his imagination, and by lovingly interpreting them.

For it is not enough to discern and portray the superficial character of things; it is necessary also — and this is the most important point — to interpret their meaning, their expression learned by putting our souls in communication with what I shall call the souls of inanimate objects.

For everything in nature has a hidden, and, so to say, a moral life.

This life is mysterious, but in nowise chimerical, and only those, whether poets or artists, who are penetrated deeply with it, have the power to touch the feelings.

What is the sky to me if it does not give me the idea of infinity?

Looking at a twilight scene, it matters little that my eye should receive the impression of the view, if my spirit does not at once experience a feeling of repose, of tranquillity, and of peace. A bunch of flowers should, above all things, rejoice the eye by its freshness.

The spirit of a subject should take precedence of the letter.

Force, Elegance, Majesty, Sweetness, Splendor, Grace, Naiveté, Abundance, Simplicity, Richness, Humility — some one of these qualities, according to the genius of the painter and the nature of the subject, should strike the beholder, in every work, before he has had the time to take in the details of the scene represented.

These are the aesthetic virtues.

They are common to all the arts, which live only through them. The most skillful execution, the most accurate knowledge, can not supply their place.

They are eternal, and pass through the caprices of fashion, without losing any of their sovereign power.

Jules Breton, Le pré fleuri à Courrières (1888)

 For the original see La vie d'un artiste (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1890), pp. 280-281

Related posts:

23 June 2020

Unable to Fight

Theodore Roosevelt, “The Dawn and Sunrise of History,” The Outlook (February 14, 1917), a review of James Henry Breasted's Ancient Times:
The curse of every ancient civilization was that its men in the end became unable to fight. Materialism, luxury, safety, even sometimes an almost modern sentimentality, weakened the fiber of each civilized race in turn; each became in the end a nation of pacifists, and then each was trodden under foot by some ruder people that had kept that virile fighting power the lack of which makes all other virtues useless and sometimes even harmful.
This review is in Vol. 12 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926).

John Singer Sargent, Theodore Roosevelt (1903)

A related post: Courage

18 June 2020

Hiraeth

C. S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory," The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (London: HarperCollins, 2000), p. 30:
In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you — the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things — the beauty, the memory of our own past — are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Henri Le Sidaner, Matinée, Montreuil-Bellay (1896)

13 June 2020

Keep Apart

George Gissing, letter to his brother Algernon (22 September, 1885), The Collected letters of George Gissing: 1881-1885, Vol. 2 (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1990), p. 349:
Keep apart, keep apart, and preserve one's soul alive — that is the teaching for the day. It is ill to have been born in these times, but one can make a world within the world. A glimpse of the morning or evening sky will give the right note, and then we must make what music we can.

Théodore Rousseau, Crépuscule en Sologne (1867)

This is one of the first things I posted when I began this blog in 2011.
I still think of it often — just about every day this week.

10 June 2020

A Reminder of the Scale of our Compromise

Alain de Botton (presumed author), "Why Very Beautiful Scenes Can Make Us So Melancholy," The Book of Life :
Beauty has served to highlight, by contrast, everything that has come before. We notice – in a way we couldn’t yesterday – how much disappointment, violence, meanness and humiliation has been written into the structure of our ordinary surroundings and routines and has from there seeped into our souls. Thanks to the little limestone church (that we’ll visit after breakfast) assembled by craftsmen around 1430 and ringing its bells for morning service, we’re finally in a position to feel how much agony is latent in our hearts. We haven’t been pain-free all this time, we’ve just been numb, holding in our sorrow because there was nowhere to discharge it, because there were no alternatives to it and nothing to remind us of the scale of our compromise.

The beauty of the landscape is like the very kind friend who, after a period of turmoil, puts a hand gently on ours and asks how we have been – and does so with such tenderness and intelligent concern, we surprise ourselves by bursting into tears that don’t stop for a very long time.

Hans Thoma, Blick auf ein Taunustal (1890)

9 June 2020

Morning Meditation

I bought a licence for The Doves Type (recovered from the Thames in 2014) a while ago and I have been experimenting with it a little recently, setting a quote from Marcus Aurelius's Meditations to fit onto a standard 8.5 x 11 page:


I suppose I should have picked a different quote, something to show off the "ct" ligature, but I am fond of this one.

If you have a Dropbox account, feel free to download the PDF from here. Otherwise just send me a message (andrewjrickard@gmail.com) and I'd be happy to email it to you.

8 June 2020

How Conservatives Are Made

Roger Scruton on the Paris riots of 1968, quoted in Nicholas Wroe, "Thinking for England," The Grauniad (Oct. 28, 2000):
I suddenly realized I was on the other side. What I saw was an unruly mob of self-indulgent middle-class hooligans. When I asked my friends what they wanted, what were they trying to achieve, all I got back was this ludicrous Marxist gobbledegook. I was disgusted by it, and thought there must be a way back to the defence of western civilization against these things. That’s when I became a conservative. I knew I wanted to conserve things rather than pull them down.

Boulevard Saint-Germain, May 1968
Photograph by Jacques Marie/AFP

Cf. James Lindsay, "The Cult Dynamics of Wokeness," on the New Discourses web site:
One thing the Woke cult is doing wrong is suddenly demanding too much too fast, partly because it can and partly because it’s trying to do so universally rather than in personal one-on-one settings. This push is breaking the spell for many people who would otherwise have been going along and being seduced further into the cult. This may result in its downfall.

4 June 2020

Hurried Down the Stream of Dissipation

Sallust, “Catiline's Conspiracy,” The Works of Sallust, tr. Arthur Murphy (London: James Carpenter, 1807), pp. 17-18:
A series of prosperity is often too much even for the wisest and best disposed: that men corrupted should make a temperate use of their victory could not be expected. Riches became the epidemic passion; and where honours, imperial sway, and power, followed in their train, virtue lost her influence, poverty was deemed the meanest disgrace, and innocence was thought to be no better than a mark for malignity of heart. In this manner riches engendered luxury, avarice, and pride; and by those vices the Roman youth were enslaved. Rapacity and profusion went on increasing; regardless of their own property, and eager to seize that of their neighbours, all rushed forward without shame or remorse, confounding every thing sacred and profane, and scorning the restraint of moderation and justice. . . .

To these vices, that conspired against the commonwealth, many others may be added, such as prostitution, convivial debauchery, and all kinds of licentious pleasure. The men unsexed themselves, and the women made their persons venal. For the pleasures of the table, sea and land were ransacked; the regular returns of thirst and hunger were anticipated; the hour of sleep was left to caprice and accident; cold was a sensation not to be endured by delicate habits; luxury was the business of life, and by that every thing was governed. In this scene of general depravity, the extravagance of youth exhausted whatever was left of their patrimonial stock, and their necessities urged them on to the perpetration of the most flagitious deeds. The mind, habituated to every vice, could not divest itself of passions that had taken root, and, by consequence, all were hurried down the stream of dissipation, eager to grasp whatever could administer to inordinate and wild desires.

Thomas Couture, Romains de la décadence (1847)

A related post: Hapless Ages

1 June 2020

A Controlling Power Upon Will and Appetite

Edmund Burke, A Letter From Mr. Burke to a Member of the National Assembly (London: J. Dodsley, 1791), pp. 68-69:
Men are qualified for civil liberty, in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

Honoré Daumier, L'Émeute (1848-1852)

Not unrelated: Revolutionary Talent