31 July 2020

Goodbye, Google

I am transferring my admiral's flag to a more seaworthy vessel.

I've been meaning to switch platforms for a while, but the cack-handed “improvements” that Google is making to Blogspot (which powers this site) have spurred me into action. I am abandoning this place and moving my online notebook to a new home:


You will see that it is set up as a subdirectory of the Obolus Press, which is the publishing company I established some time ago.

Everything will remain here, dormant, but all future posts will be on the other blog.

I hope you'll follow me there.

Aubrey Beardsley, Ave Atque Vale (1896)

24 July 2020

Really Worth a Life

Stephen MacKenna, entry for January 15, 1908 (his 36th birthday),  Journal and Letters , ed. E. R. Dodds (London: Constable & Company Ltd, 1936), pp. 117-118:
I feel that my life is one long series of beginnings: I am always planning for next year, always working towards something, never at something. The one clear reason — whether 'tis an excuse or not, I don't know — is that nothing that is within my power interests me or seems worth doing. I am interested in Plotinus: to translate him into beautiful English and then to interpret him and press him into the use of this century seems to me, has always seemed to me, really worth a life — but I have not been able to give the work all my time and thought: I must write bosh and run about the world on stupid people's tracks.... I utterly lack the power many or most men have of working indifferently well at some one trade for livelihood while keeping two or three passionate efforts always marching quietly but surely on towards the great ends that are the real meaning and use of life. And, deep down, I cannot find in myself, in power or vision, any reason for believing that I can really add anything to the world, do any service: and anything less than such an effective service as will reach far beyond myself seems to me utterly unworthy. I have no interest in trifles, in trifling things or trifling people, and, being below or outside of the serious, I become trifling myself. The others I quietly scorn; myself I scorn bitterly, angrily.
MacKenna did manage to escape from journalism: He endured poverty, but completed his translation of Plotinus in 1930. He died four years later. May the earth rest lightly upon him!

All five volumes of his translation of the Enneads are on Archive.org:

They are lovely books. There's a full set available on Abe for $255.

Left: Title Page from Vol. 1                Right: Portrait of Plotinus from the Museo Ostiense, Inv. 68 (c. 205–270 AD)

23 July 2020

Friendship Before Politics

Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Hamilton (22 April 1800):
I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend. During the whole of the last war, which was trying enough, I never deserted a friend because he had taken an opposite side; and those of my own state who joined the British government can attest my unremitting zeal in saving their property, and can point out the laws in our statute books which I drew, and carried through in their favor. However I have seen during the late political paroxysm here [the XYZ affair], numbers whom I had highly esteemed draw off from me, insomuch as to cross the street to avoid meeting me. The fever is abating, & doubtless some of them will correct the momentary wanderings of their heart, & return again. If they do, they will meet the constancy of my esteem, & the same oblivion of this as of any other delirium which might happen to them.

Cf. Roger Scruton, quoted in "Roger Scruton: The Patron Saint of Lost Causes," The Independent (3 July 2005):
One of the great distinctions between the left and the right in the intellectual world is that left-wing people find it very hard to get on with right-wing people, because they believe that they are evil. Whereas I have no problem getting on with left-wing people, because I simply believe that they are mistaken. After a while, if I can persuade them that I'm not evil, I find it a very useful thing. I know that my views on many things are open to correction. But if you can't discuss with your opponents, how can you correct your views?

Jacopo Pontormo, Portrait of Two Friends (c. 1522)
(The text they are holding comes from Cicero's Amictia.)

22 July 2020

Be What Nature Intended

Sydney Smith, "On the Conduct of the Understanding," Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy (London: Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1855), p. 265:
There is one circumstance I would preach up, morning, noon, and night, to young persons, for the management of their understanding. Whatever you are from nature, keep to it: never desert your own line of talent. If Providence only intended you to write posies for rings, or mottoes for twelfth-cakes, keep to posies and mottoes: a good motto for a twelfth-cake is more respectable than a villainous epic poem in twelve books. Be what nature intended you for, and you will succeed; be any thing else, and you will be ten thousand times worse than nothing.
Related posts:

Benjamin West, Know Thyself  (1768)

20 July 2020

A Process of Discovery and Disentanglement

T. E. Hulme, "Bergson's Theory of Art," Speculations (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1936), pp. 149-150:
The process of artistic creation would be better described as a process of discovery and disentanglement. To use the metaphor which one is by now so familiar with — the stream of the inner life, and the definite crystallised shapes on the surface — the big artist, the creative artist, the innovator, leaves the level where things are crystallised out into these definite shapes, and, diving down into the inner flux, comes back with a new shape which he endeavours to fix. He cannot be said to have created it, but to have discovered it, because when he has definitely expressed it we recognise it as true. Great painters are men in whom has originated a certain vision of things which has become or will become the vision of everybody. Once the painter has seen it, it becomes easy for all of us to see it. A mould has been made. But the creative activity came in the effort which was necessary to disentangle this particular type of vision from the general haze the effort, that is, which is necessary to break moulds and to make new ones. For instance, the effect produced by Constable on the English and French Schools of landscape painting. Nobody before Constable saw things, or at any rate painted them, in that particular way. This makes it easier to see clearly what one means by an individual way of looking at things. It does not mean something which is peculiar to an individual, for in that case it would be quite valueless. It means that a certain individual artist was able to break through the conventional ways of looking at things which veil reality from us at a certain point, was able to pick out one element which is really in all of us, but which before he had disentangled it, we were unable to perceive. It is as if the surface of our mind was a sea in a continual state of motion, that there were so many waves on it, their existence was so transient, and they interfered so much with each other, that one was unable to perceive them. The artist by making a fixed model of one of these transient waves enables you to isolate it out and to perceive it in yourself. In that sense art merely reveals, it never creates.
John Constable, The Wheat Field (1816)

18 July 2020

Tennyson Weather

 J. L. Carr, A Month in the Country (London: Penguin Classics, 2000), p. 54:
Deep red hollyhocks pressed against the limestone wall and velvet butterflies flopped lazily from flower to flower. It was Tennyson weather, drowsy, warm, unnaturally still.

A related post: A Disinclination to Sleep Away From Home

Frederick Carl Frieseke, Hollyhocks (1913)

17 July 2020

Would You Turn Your Muses into Maidservants?

Lionel de Fonseka, On the Truth of Decorative Art (New York: Henry Holt, 1913), p. 41:
“Do you think then that it detracts from the dignity of an art to be used as an instrument of social reform?”

“Come, come, I appeal to your sense of decorum. Would not a proper Greek have been shocked if Zeus deserted the majesty of his throne on Olympus, usurped the function of the lame god Hephaestus, and set about tinkering? Would you turn your Muses into maidservants?”

Hat tip: Charles E. Burchfield, via Anecdotal Evidence

Henri Martin, La Muse du pientre (c. 1900)

14 July 2020

Spiritual Swamp Fever

J. K. Huysmans, Les Foules de Lourdes (Paris: P. V. Stock, 1906), pp. 213-214 (my translation):
In the past there were scandals every day, but of course we were unaware of them. Now the press spreads them everywhere, even into the most remote corners of the country — and for quite some time they have made us less considerate and less deferential.

No one believes in the honesty of politicians any more, or in the value of generals, or in the independence of judges; no one thinks that the clergy are saints. Without allowing for the exceptions that still exist, we have thrown the peaked cap, the white wig, and the galero into the same bag and sent them all off to the dump. At the moment we are suffering from a kind of malaria of disrespect. No one is safe from this spiritual swamp fever; everyone is affected by it to some extent because no one can escape the atmosphere of his age, and people have even less hope of eluding the demonic influences that are more intense today than they have ever been... The devil is in everything we think, in everything we say, and he is the very air that we breathe.

Félicien Rops, Satan Sewing Weeds (1906)

9 July 2020

6 July 2020

Menace, Madness, Written and Spoken Lies

Alfred Tennyson, “Locksley Hall Sixty Years After,” lines 104-114,  The Complete Poetical Works of Tennyson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1898), p. 520:
Chaos, Cosmos! Cosmos, Chaos! who can tell how all will end?
Read the wide world's annals, you, and take their wisdom for your friend.

Hope the best, but hold the Present fatal daughter of the Past,
Shape your heart to front the hour, but dream not that the hour will last.

Ay, if dynamite and revolver leave you courage to be wise —
When was age so cramm'd with menace? madness? written, spoken lies?

Envy wears the mask of Love, and, laughing sober fact to scorn,
Cries to weakest as to strongest, 'Ye are equals, equal-born.'

Equal-born? O yes, if yonder hill be level with the flat.
Charm us, orator, till the lion look no larger than the cat,

Till the cat thro' that mirage of overheated language loom
Larger than the lion, — Demos end in working its own doom.

G. F. Watts, Alfred, Lord Tennyson (c. 1863)