28 March 2012

Paul Léautaud

A few descriptions of the French writer and theatre critic Paul Léautaud (1872-1956), from an essay in Mavis Gallant's Paris Notebooks (Toronto: Stoddart, 1988).

p. 143:
He was mean, slanderous, and cruel; he could also display generosity and great delicacy in his judgments. Even at his most caustic there was a simplicity, an absence of vanity, rare in a writer. He talked about death and love, authors and actors, Paris and poetry, without rambling, without moralizing, without a trace of bitterness for having fallen on hard times. He was sustained, without knowing it, by the French refusal to accept poverty as a sign of failure in an artist. Léautaud, at rock bottom, still had his credentials. 
p. 145:
He would not stand for any form of grandiloquence where writing was concerned, and words such as "inspiration" were shot down rapidly: "When I see my father dying and write about his death I am not inspired, I am describing." Asked why he had been his dreadful father's deathbed at all, he said, "It was only curiosity. Cu-ri-o-si-té."
pp. 146-7:
He hated the pompous Comédie Française delivery and thought nothing of bawling objections in the middle of a classical tirade. If no notice was taken of his protest, he simply went to sleep. When he admired a play he put off writing about it because he wanted to take time and thought. As a result the best productions were never mentioned. Often he wrote about something else entirely (his most quoted non-review is about the death of a dog called Span) with one dismissive sentence for play and author.
pp. 147-8:
He had been with Mercure de France for most of his adult life. Only once had he ever thought of going, and that was in 1936, when Georges Duhamel became director and committed several sacrilegious acts: he got rid of the gas lamps and had the offices wired for electric light; he installed one telephone, ordered one typewriter and hired one female secretary. Léautaud, who preferred candlelight to any other, was bothered by the reforms: "Why change something that suits me?" 
p. 148:
During a radio interview he remarked that he had always wanted a pair of checked trousers. A young boy immediately wrote that his father, a tailor, would be glad to make them for nothing. Léautaud took it as an insult and snapped, on the air, "Do these people imagine I go around bare-arsed?"
p. 151:
He wanted to say before he died, "I regret everything," words, he said, "that will sum up my life." The last thing he did say before dying in his sleep was, "Foutez-moi la paix," ["Leave me the hell alone."] which was more typical.

27 March 2012

Dead Rats

From Antonio Tabucchi's novel Indian Nocturn, via Eric Poindron's blog (always a source of interesting things). My own translation from the French version:
As a profession, I do something different, I look for dead rats...
I dig around in old records, I look for ancient chronicles, for things that have been swallowed up by time. 
This is my profession, this is what I call dead rats.

26 March 2012

Applause, Envy, Respect?

Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin (Toronto: Seal Books, 2001), p. 119:
Why is it we want so badly to memorialize ourselves? Even while we are still alive. We wish to assert our existence, like dogs peeing on fire hydrants. We put on display our framed photographs, our parchment diplomas, our silver-plated cups; we monogram our linen, we carve our names on trees, we scrawl them on washroom walls. It's all the same impulse. What do we hope from it? Applause, envy, respect? Or simply attention, of any kind we can get? 
At the very least we want a witness. We can't stand the idea of our own voices falling silent finally, like a radio running down. 

23 March 2012

The Genesis of Modernism

Philip Larkin in the introduction to All What Jazz (London: St. Martin's Press, 1970):
I am sure there are books in which the genesis of modernism is set out in full. My own theory is that it is related to an imbalance between the two tensions from which art springs: these are the tension between the artist and his material and between the artist and his audience, and that in the last seventy-five years or so the second of these has slackened or even perished. In consequence the artist has become over-concerned with his material (hence an age of technical experiment), and, in isolation, has busied himself with the two principal themes of modernism, mystification and outrage. Piqued at being neglected, he has painted portraits with both eyes on the same side of the nose, or smothered a model with paint and rolled her over a blank canvas. He has designed a dwelling-house to be built underground. He has written poems resembling the kind of pictures typists make with their machine during the coffee break, or a novel in gibberish, or a play in which the characters sit in dustbins. He has made a six-hour film of someone asleep. He has carved human figures with large holes in them. And parallel to this activity ("every idiom has its idiot," as an American novelist has written) there has grown up a kind of critical journalism designed to put it over. The terms and the arguments vary with the circumstances, but basically the message is : Don't trust your eyes, or ears, or understanding. They'll tell you this is ridiculous, or ugly, or meaningless. Don't believe them. You've got to work at this after all, you don't expect to understand anything as important as art straight off, do you? I mean, this is pretty complex stuff: if you want to know how complex, I'm giving a course of ninety-six lectures at the local college, starting next week, and you'd be more than welcome. The whole thing's on the rates, you won't have to pay. After all, think what asses people have made of themselves in the past by not understanding art -- you don't want to be like that, do you? Keep the suckers spending.

22 March 2012

Magnificent Monotony

Friedrich Nietzsche on the role of schools in society, from The Will to Power, Vol. II, translated by Anthony M. Ludovici (Edinburgh: T. N. Foulis, 1910), pp. 321-2:
The object is to make man as useful as possible, and to make him approximate as nearly as one can to an infallible machine: to this end he must be equipped with machine-like virtues (he must learn to value those states in which he works in a most mechanically useful way, as the highest of all: to this end it is necessary to make him as disgusted as possible with the other states, and to represent them as very dangerous and despicable). 
Here is the first stumbling-block: the tediousness and monotony which all mechanical activity brings with it. To learn to endure this -- and not only to endure it, but to see tedium enveloped in a ray of exceeding charm: this hitherto has been the task of all higher schools. To learn something which you don't care a fig about, and to find precisely your "duty" in this "objective" activity: to learn to value happiness and duty as things apart; this is the invaluable task and performance of higher schools. It is on this account that the philologist has, hitherto, been the educator per se: because his activity, in itself, affords the best pattern of magnificent monotony in action; under his banner youths learn to "swat"; the first prerequisite for the thorough fulfilment of mechanical duties in the future (as State officials, husbands, slaves of the desk, newspaper readers, and soldiers).

21 March 2012

The Retrospection of Events

Ely Bates in Rural Philosophy (London: Longman and Rees, 1804), p. 261:
The pleasure we derive from the perusal of ancient history is partly because it is ancient. The mind, being formed for what is infinite, is naturally delighted with an image of unlimited duration as well as of unbounded space. The retrospection of events, which are faintly discerned in the depth of past ages, is not less pleasing than the view of an extensive prospect, where the dusky hills in the extremity of the horizon are scarcely distinguishable from the clouds.

20 March 2012

And suddenly it stands beside you

What follows is my translation of a poem by Joachim Ringelnatz (1883-1934). It's not very good but it may be the best one available, since a search on Google Books turned up no other English version:
And suddenly it stands beside you 
And suddenly you look out and realize:
How much sorrow has come to you,
How much friendship has quietly slipped away,
Taking all laughter from you. 
In the days you ask, bewildered.
But the days echo emptily.
Then you stifle your complaints...
You don't ask anyone anymore. 
Finally you learn to fall in line,
Tamed by worries.
You don't want to deceive yourself,
And you choke down what grieves you. 
Senseless and poor is how life seems,
It has gone on far too long. ---
And suddenly -- it stands beside you,
Leaning on you --
What you had longed for, for so long. 

Und auf einmal steht es neben dir 
Und auf einmal merkst du äußerlich:
Wieviel Kummer zu dir kam,
Wieviel Freundschaft leise von dir wich,
Alles Lachen von dir nahm. 
Fragst verwundert in die Tage.
Doch die Tage hallen leer.
Dann verkümmert Deine Klage...
Du fragst niemanden mehr. 
Lernst es endlich, dich zu fügen,
Von den Sorgen gezähmt.
Willst dich selber nicht belügen
Und erstickst, was dich grämt. 
Sinnlos, arm erscheint das Leben dir,
Längst zu lang ausgedehnt. – – –
Und auf einmal – –: Steht es neben dir,
An dich angelehnt – –
Das, was du so lang ersehnt.
Recited by Fritz Stavenhagen on Youtube

19 March 2012

An Uncomfortable Distinction

Frank Swinnerton, George Gissing; A Critical Study (London: Martin Secker, 1912), p. 85:
The sense of life as a maelstrom, resistless and inexorable, is Gissing's bugbear; failure, grief, inability to struggle against odds, sad handicaps of temperament, endless compromise with the idea of happiness; again and again we find him expressing these things, until his world seems peopled only by satisfied vulgarians and those to whom social intercourse is abhorrent. And while these preoccupations rob his work of resilience and warmth, they do at the same time lend it an uncomfortable distinction. He was a conscious malcontent, not a revolutionary, because he was just as much a social as a religious agnostic; but repelled by the superficial ugliness of active existence. He was all the time trying sincerely to express, in terms of art and morality, his own sedentary notion of life, the notion of an educated and sensitive student (never a mystic), consciously out of place: "There have always been two entities -- myself and the world, and the normal relation between these two has been hostile."

16 March 2012

Within the Limits of his Instrument

Sir Cecil Parrott in the introduction to Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1974), p. xxi, on the difficulties of translating the novel into English:
A further complication is the richness of Czech 'bad language' as compared with our own. In common with other Slavic languages and with German, Czech can boast a wide range of words of abuse in all shades of intensity. We cannot match these in Britain, where -- no doubt under the influence of puritanism -- the bulk of our own terms of abuse are too mild and our strong expressions are limited to one or two hackneyed obscenities. Czech words of abuse generally involve domestic animals, excrement or the parts of the body connected with it. The English relate mainly to sexual functions or perversions, although there is in this respect a narrow area of common ground between the two languages. If the reader finds a certain monotony in the words chosen by the translator I hope he will realize that the bandsman has to operate within the limits of his instrument.

15 March 2012

Ruptures and Farewells

Georges Perec, Les choses (Paris: Éditions 10/18, 1965), my translation:
They dreamed of living in the countryside, away from all temptation. Their lives would be frugal and unclouded. They would have a house of white stone, situated at the entrance of a village, warm corduroy pants, sturdy shoes, a heavy coat, a metal-tipped cane, a hat, and every day they would go for long walks in the forests. Then they would return and make themselves tea and toast, like the English. They would put logs on the fire, they would listen to a quartet they never tired of hearing, they would read the great novels they never had time to read, and they would receive their friends.  
These countryside escapes were frequent, but they rarely reached the stage of becoming a real project. It's true that, two or three times, they wondered what kind of work they could find in the countryside: there wasn't any. One day it occurred to them that they might become teachers, but they were instantly disgusted at the thought of overcrowded classrooms and exhausting days. They formed a vague notion of being wandering booksellers, or making pottery in a rustic, abandoned farmhouse in Provence. Then they liked to imagine that they would only live in Paris for three days a week, earning enough money to live comfortably in Yonne or Loiret the rest of the time. But these embryonic beginnings never went very far. They did not consider the real possibilities, or rather, the impossibilities.
They dreamed of abandoning their work, dropping everything, and going off on an adventure. They dreamed of starting all over again, from scratch. They dreamed of ruptures and farewells.

14 March 2012

Into the Greek Mind

Mary Watts describes G. F. Watts' self-education in George Frederick Watts; The Annals of an Artist's Life, Vol. I (New York: George H. Doran, 1913), pp. 14-5:
His health preventing him from attending, with any sort of regularity, any classes or school, he was taught, or taught himself as best he could, at home. He learnt to read fairly early, his father giving a good direction to his boy's choice of books. Later in life he could not hear without something like indignation of boys who were indifferent to and wasteful of advantages which had been withheld from him; perhaps above all that of robust health. But Poverty may also bring her gift of compensation; want of means made the books few, yet, as they were choice, the limitation had this advantage that he read them over and over again till they became a part of his world and of his being. Without the imposition of dreary tasks of grammar, he entered freely and of his own choice into the Greek mind, through such translations as were accessible to him. The Iliad perhaps the first and best beloved of all, he read and re-read until gods and heroes were his friends and acquaintances; he thought of them as such, judged critically of their words and actions, and was deeply moved by all that was noble and beautiful and restrained; he knew this to be a very living school, and every fibre of his being answered to the splendour of the great epic. And so, while ill-health held him back from all pleasures of the more active sort, there was given instead this leisure, in which his imaginative mind could roam the windy plains of Troy, or climb the heights of Olympus. Moving through the dim light of a London atmosphere, in his dull little room he saw "the bright-eyed Athene in the midst bearing the holy aegis, that knoweth neither age nor death," and dreamed that he too might be an aegis-bearer of that which cannot grow old, the utterance of the human mind in the language of an art.
An earlier post on G.F. Watts: Found Drowned

13 March 2012


Ichabod Artichoke writing in The Opal; A Monthly Periodical of the State Lunatic Asylum (Utica, NY: The Asylum, 1858), p. 136. (Google Books link here)
Some bores do not seem to be aware that they are trespassing upon people's time and patience; that they are trespassing upon the good nature of others which they have no right to do, and that they cause insanity. I have for forty-six years been the victim of bores, and have the disease in a chronic form. As sure as my name is Artichoke, my good nature has well nigh been the ruin of me: they should be requested to retire to their rooms till they can control themselves, and only present themselves again till they have put a buckwheat cake, some eye-salve, or a postage stamp over their labial and dental developments.
I cannot tell whether Mr. Artichoke was genuinely disturbed, or some kind of running joke among The Opal's editorial staff. No matter, as his prescription for dealing with bores is sound.

Note: The postnomial E.P. in the byline stands for "Ex-Patient".

12 March 2012

Young Schopenhauer

William Wallace describes Schopenhauer's affection for his dog Butz in The Life of Arthur Schopenhauer (London: Walter Scott, 1890), p. 174:
Of this dog he was very fond, noting its looks and movements with philosophic eye, and so attentive to its wants, that if, for example, a regimental band passed the house, he would get up in the midst of an earnest conversation, to put a seat by the window in a convenient position for his little friend to gaze out. The children of the neighbourhood soon came to know the poodle, and when they came home from their play on the Main-Quai they would, among other experiences, recount to their parents how they had seen "young Schopenhauer" sitting at his window.

9 March 2012


William Penn in Fruits of Solitude; Reflections and Maxims Relating to the Conduct of Human Life (London: Harvey and Darton, 1841), p. 58:
Remember the proverb Bene qui latuit, bene vixit; They are happy that live retiredly. If this be true, princes and their grandees, of all men, are the unhappiest: for they live least alone; and they that must be enjoyed by every body, can never enjoy themselves as they should. It is the advantage little men have upon them; they can be private, and have leisure for family comforts, which are the greatest worldly contents men can enjoy. But they that place pleasure in greatness, seek it there; and, we see, rule is as much the ambition of some natures, as privacy is the choice of others.

8 March 2012

Facebook Is a Kind of Self-Prostitution

Ernst Pöppel, Professor of Medical Psychology at Munich University, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (11.05.2010). My translation:
Multitasking is utter nonsense and, strictly speaking, impossible; in a window of time that lasts a few minutes, it is only possible to do several things in rapid succession. If I do this all day long, I have allowed myself to become an instrument of the information, and I do not really know what I have done. 
That is everyday life for most people. Should they come to terms with it?
No, they must learn to distance themselves from it. The ability to do so has, unfortunately, been lost in recent years. Ten minutes into a 45 minute lecture, many students are no longer receptive and shut down. 
What they can do about it?
It would help if phones in Germany were turned off for one hour a day. Apart from this, we need some ego strength: the ability to not always go to the phone when it rings, to not respond to every e-mail immediately, even though it may be expected. 
But if one holds back one can become isolated on social networking sites.
Sure, there are fears about losing membership in a particular group, of being excluded. However,  on these networks self-dramatization often plays a larger role than communication. 
In what way?
Facebook, for example, is a kind of self-prostitution; intimate disclosure without commitment. One does not really open up, but one wants to display oneself. It is to some extent self-communication -- a public diary that simply appears to be communication. 

7 March 2012

The Finest of all Intellectual Exercises

Cyril Connolly, The Condemned Playground (London: Routledge, 1945), p. 41:
Translating from one language to another is the finest of all intellectual exercises; compared to it, all other puzzles, from the bridge problem to the crossword, seem footling and vulgar.

6 March 2012

Behind an Impenetrable Shrub

Louis Blanc writing about anonymous journalism in Letters on England, Vol. II, translated by James Hutton and L. J. Trotter (London: Samson Low, Son, and Marston, 1867), p. 169:
For it is certainly not the part of a proud spirit to hide itself behind anonymity. To shirk the moral responsability of one's words is a proceeding which cannot be reconcilable with the sentiment of personal dignity. The individual is badly protected where his reputation is exposed to darts hurled by an unknown hand; neither is it comfortable to the rules of fair play that a man should be authorised to conceal himself behind an impenetrable shrub, in order to fire thence, without peril, on his enemy as he passes.

5 March 2012

The Love of Property

James Boswell, entry for February 9th, 1763 in Boswell's London Journal (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1950), p. 186:
The love of property is strongly implanted in mankind. Property, to be sure, gives us a power of enjoying many pleasures which it can purchase; and as society is constituted, a man has a high degree of respect from it. Let me, however, beware of allowing this passion to take deep root. It may engross my affections and give me a meanness of spirit and a cold indifference to every manly and spirited pursuit. And when we consider what one gains, it is merely imaginary. To keep the golden mean between stinginess and prodigality is the point I should aim at. If a man is prodigal, he cannot be truly generous. His money is foolishly dissipated without any goodness on his part, and he has nothing to be generous with. On the other hand, a narrow man has a hard, contracted soul. The finer feelings are bound up, and although he has the power, he never can have the will to be generous. The character worthy of imitation is the man of economy, who with prudent attention knows when to save and when to spend, and acts accordingly.

2 March 2012

Misery and Happiness

John Donne, from Meditation XIII in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions:
We say that the world is made of sea and land, as though they were equal; but we know that there is more sea in the Western than in the Eastern hemisphere. We say that the firmament is full of stars, as though it were equally full; but we know that there are more stars under the Northern than under the Southern pole. We say the elements of man are misery and happiness, as though he had an equal proportion of both, and the days of man vicissitudinary, as though he had as many good days as ill, and that he lived under a perpetual equinoctial, night and day equal, good and ill fortune in the same measure. But it is far from that; he drinks misery, and he tastes happiness; he mows misery, and he gleans happiness; he journeys in misery, he does but walk in happiness; and, which is worst, his misery is positive and dogmatical, his happiness is but disputable and problematical: all men call misery misery, but happiness changes the name by the taste of man.

1 March 2012


For St. David's Day, here is a hymn in Welsh -- sung by Cerys Matthews:

The Varied Experiences of Life

The recently deceased philosopher and theologian John Hick, in Death and Eternal Life (London: Collins, 1976), p. 408:
Generally the varied experiences of life bring some growth in understanding of oneself, in acceptance of others, in willingness for sacrifice, and some expansion of the capacity to love and be loved. Very often, in these ways men and women take in the course of their lives a smaller or larger step towards their full humanization. But too often people are so treated by life that they never have the opportunity, or sufficient opportunity, to develop their properly human potential, and end their lives as hard, selfish, embittered personalities who have turned their backs upon the possibilities of human fellowship. Or worse, men become possessed by evil and perhaps live and die as enemies of mankind. Thus in this life a few men and women advance a great deal and may come to be recognized as saints; most perhaps advance a certain amount; whilst yet others fail to advance at all, or even degenerate towards a sub-human condition.

29 February 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 8

I am translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English. In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week.

This will be the last installment -- at least for a while. Two months of Weimar Wednesdays is sufficient; my Google ranking has improved, and anyone searching for an English translation of the book will discover that one is in the works. A little joke to finish things off...
In the spring of 1919 a joke was making the rounds:
A man hurries down a dark street.
“Psst! Robert! Where are you going?” asks another man.
“To the gambling club, to break the bank!”
“Do you have a system?”
“No, I have a hand grenade!”

28 February 2012


W. N. P. Barbellion, The Journal of a Disappointed Man (London: Chatto & Windus, 1919), pp. 40-41:
Youth is an intoxication without wine, some one says. Life is an intoxication. The only sober man is the melancholiac, who, disenchanted, looks at life, sees it as it really is, and cuts his throat. If this be so, I want to be very drunk. The great thing is to live, to clutch at our existence and race away with it in some great and enthralling pursuit. Above all, I must beware of all ultimate questions -- they are too maddeningly unanswerable -- let me eschew philosophy and burn Omar.

27 February 2012

Quiet Hostility

George Gissing to his friend Eduard Bertz, from The Collected Letters of George Gissing: 1863 - 1880, Vol. 2 (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1990), p. 84:
The so-called civilized world is of course full of rampant barbarians -- most of them reckless of everything in the furious chase of after wealth and power. More likely than not, they will bring about terrible things in the immediate future. Be it our part to live in quiet hostility to all such baseness.

25 February 2012

Shagged to Buggery

Philip Larkin in a letter to his friend Jim Sutton, quoted in Andrew Motion's Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life (London: Faber & Faber, 1993), p. 186:
My great trouble, as usual, is that I lack desires. Life is to know what you want, and to get it. But I don't feel I desire anything. I am unconvinced of the worth of literature. I don't want money or position. I find it easier to abstain from women than sustain the trouble of them and the creakings of my own monastic personality. In fact I feel as if the growing shoots of my character -- though they must be more than shoots by now -- had turned in on each other and were mutually neutralizing each other. Or that I had been 'doctored' in some way and my central core dripped on with acid. Shagged to buggery, that's what I be.

24 February 2012


Al Purdy on leaving his job at the mattress factory, in his autobiography Reaching for the Beaufort Sea (Madiera Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 1993), p. 144:
There was the feeling that things had gotten away on me somehow; I was no longer in control of my life. I'd quit that crummy job at which I made the top wages of $1.65 an hour, and was terrified to be leaving it! That job had been a large part of my world, at least had made the other more important parts financially possible. My feelings before leaving Vancouver Bedding must have been exactly the same as those of millions of other people stuck in boring poorly paid jobs and who keep working at them all their lives. Now I was making a discovery, the same one other quitters make; it's terrifying, but also exhilerating. Quitting is a word with disgrace attached, but it frequently makes good sense.
Ibid, p. 227
[S]omething irrational had stirred in my brain. It said: stop wasting your life conventionally, waste it yourself, unconventionally. And I said: who are you to tell me what to do with my life? (You hafta treat these inner voice know-it-alls as if you have some rights too.) So I went. 

23 February 2012

Heroic Service

In the appendix to Arthur Schopenhauer's Prize Essay on the Freedom of the Will (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 94-5, professor Bryan Magee pays homage to Schopenhauer's main English translator, Eric F. J. Payne (1895-1983), who learned German in order to be able to read the philosopher in the original:
Payne was continuing to work on the translation of Schopenhauer's other writings. But publishers were even less enthusiastic about investing in the secondary works than they had been about investing in the primary one, and the rejections and disappointments piled up as Payne went on producing more and more translations. He did have one or two early successes, but there was a long period in his life when he had completed the translation of many volumes without any perceptible hope of their publication; and yet he was still working full-time at producing new ones, obscurely confident that somehow it would come right in the end. And somehow it did. [...]
By making Schopenhauer's entire output available to English speakers with no German, and doing so in the teeth of literally decades of discouragement, Payne has performed a more heroic service for philosophy in the English-speaking world than anything he accomplished as a professional soldier. People nowadays are coming more and more to regard Schopenhauer as one of the truly great philosophers; and, this being so, more and more of them are finding themselves in Eric Payne's debt as the years go by. For this he deserves to be remembered. A short, stocky man with a squarish head and merry eyes, he surprisingly resembled certain portraits of Schopenhauer. Anyone who believes in reincarnation, as presumably all of Eric's Buddhist readers do, might be tempted to wonder... Those of us who do not noted the resemblance merely, and teased him about it. But, physical resemblance or no, there can be few individuals since Schopenhauer who have done so much for his philosophy.

22 February 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 7

I am translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English. In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week.

The subject of this installment is Max Klante, who ran a Ponzi scheme offering 600% returns and conveniently accepted after-hours deposits at the cafés he owned:
Yes, he knew how to bind his followers to him, holding assemblies in the Circus Busch where they crowned him with laurels and hoisted him on their shoulders. He raised their hopes with new ideas and plans, and they remained faithful to him -- he wanted to take over a major liquor company and start a whole line of cocktail bars. Cocktail and juice bars were all the rage back then, and they were like gold mines. And so the Klante system hit paydirt ... 
But after a few weeks it became obvious that this seam of ore was really fool's gold. Klante could no longer meet the demands of his creditors and fled to a sanatorium, pleading chronic illness. But this could not protect him from the investigation launched by the public prosecutor. 
His overly credulous creditors filed 90 million marks' worth of claims. His racehorses, his mansion, and his cars covered only a tiny fraction of that sum. The money had been offered up by people who had once considered him a saviour, and now they wanted to crucify him.
According to the Wikipedia article on Klante (only available in German), his scheme was so popular that there were branches in most major cities.

21 February 2012

A Perfectly Suitable Smile

Guy Vanderhaeghe, Man Descending (Toronto: Macmillan, 1982), p. 189:
A last cursory inspection of the bathroom and I spring open the door and present my wife with my best I'm-a-harmless-idiot-don't-hit-me-smile. Since I've been unemployed I practice my smiles in the mirror whenever time hangs heavy on my hands. I have one for every occasion. This particular one is a faithful reproduction. Art imitating Life. The other day, while out for a walk, I saw a large black Labrador taking a crap on somebody's doorstep. We established instant rapport. He grinned hugely at me while his body trembled with exertion. His smile was a perfect blend of physical relief, mischievousness, and apology for his indiscretion. A perfectly suitable smile for my present situation.

20 February 2012

The Sickest of All Sick Things

Since today is Family Day in the province of Ontario, here is a clip of Charles Bukowski talking about starvation, art, and family life:

18 February 2012

Non amo te, Sabidi

W. N. P. Barbellion, The Journal of a Disappointed Man (London: Chatto & Windus, 1919), p. 101:
For any one who is not simply a Sheep or Cow or whose nervous organisation is a degree more sensitive than the village blacksmith's, it is a besetting peril to his peace of mind to be constantly moving about an independent being, with loves and hates, and a separate identity among other separate identities, who prowl and prowl around like the hosts of Midian -- ready to snarl, fight, seize you, bore you, exasperate you, to arouse all your passions, call up all the worst from the depths where they have lain hidden... A day spent among my fellows goads me to a frenzy by the evening. I am no longer fit for human companionship. People string me up to concert pitch. I develop suspicions of one that he is prying, of another that he patronises. Others make me horribly anxious to stand well in their eyes and horribly curious to know what they think of me. Others I hate and loathe -- for no particular reason. There is a man I am acquainted with concerning whom I know nothing at all. He may be Jew, Gentile, Socinian, Pre-adamite, Anabaptist, Rosicrucian -- I don't know, and I don't care, for I hate him. I should like to smash his face in. I don't know why... In the whole course of our tenuous acquaintance we have spoken scarce a dozen words to each other. Yet I should like to blow up his face with dynamite.

17 February 2012

Misery and Futility

Sébastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort, Oeuvres complètes de Chamfort, Vol. I (Paris: Chaumerot Jeune, 1824), p. 407. My own translation:
When I was young I was driven by passions, and they drew me into the world. I was forced to look, in society and in pleasures, for a little respite from painful aches. People used to preach to me about the joys of solitude, of work, and they bored me to tears with pedantic sermons on the subject. Having arrived at the age of forty and having lost the passions that made society bearable, I now see only misery and futility in it. I do not need people to escape from aches that no longer exist. I have developed a very strong taste for solitude and work, and it has replaced all the rest; I have ceased to go out into the world. Now people will not stop tormenting me and saying that I should return; they accuse me of being a misanthrope and so on. What to make of this strange difference? The need that men have to find fault with everything.

16 February 2012

To a Blocked Writer

From Ten Spurts of Venom, by Joseph S. Salemi (via Anecdotal Evidence):
You claim you're blocked, and can't squeeze out the words?
You're constipated, so we're spared your turds.

Something Finer

The appeal of Pre-Raphaelite art, from E. P. Thompson's biography of William Morris (New York: Pantheon Books, 1955), p. 57:
"Why is it," asked Thomas Dixon, a working man from Sunderland, writing to William Michael Rossetti about The Germ, "these pictures and essays being so realistic, yet produce on the mind such a vague and dreamy sensation, approaching as it were the Mystic Land of a Bygone Age? ... There is in them the life which I long for, and which to me never seems realizable in this life." 
So it seemed to many other men and women, dissatisfied with the poverty of their lives, and finding their sense of loss reflected in these canvasses, their yearning for something finer, more "ideal". It was as if the human spirit was being driven to more and more remote regions, but was still struggling to keep alive. As Burne-Jones once declared: "The more materialistic Science becomes, the more angels shall I paint."

15 February 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 6

For the last few Wednesdays I have been posting excerpts from the book I am translating, Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). This week, I offer a change of pace -- some music from Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester, who will be on tour in North America starting next week.

While studying to become an opera singer at the Universität der Künste Berlin, Raabe met several other students who shared his enthusiasm for music from the 1920s and 1930s. They formed the Palast Orchester in 1986 and have become quite a success.

Here is Gib mir den letzten Abschiedskuss (Give Me the Last Goodbye Kiss):

For those who speak German, here is a clip of Raabe discussing the Übers Meer album, which is made up entirely of songs from the Weimar period.

14 February 2012

The Academic Nature

Philip Larkin in a letter to Monica Jones on 15th September 1959, from Letters to Monica (London: Faber & Faber, 2010):
[T]he break up of the library meant that a good deal of wooden shelving could be had cheap, and strange sights were seen -- Wood in on Sunday, gaping speculatively round, people who never set foot in the library between end of term and beginning of term (and not often otherwise) were running in as easily as rats. The intoxicating spicy Trade Winds of Something for Nothing bring our jolly mariners out of the hold as limber as weasels -- my God! I've never known a safer bet than that academic people will be round you like wasps round a jar if you so much as whisper 'no charge'. They will carry off anything no matter how useless. There were people bearing away mouldy spars on the grounds that it would be 'cheap even as fire wood', like some crazed medieval yokels. Don't you think that in the academic nature filthy meanness reaches a pitch when it is a streak of pure romanticism -- as if the famished search of the sandalled swine for the Lost Teat of the World were some Grail Quest instilled in childhood?
The "Wood in on Sunday" is Arthur Wood, Larkin's deputy at Hull University library.

13 February 2012

Yellow Pebbles

John Ruskin, The Veins of Wealth (New York: John B. Alden, 1885), p. 32-33:
[A]n accumulation of real property is of little use to its owner, unless, together with it, he has commercial power over labour. Thus, suppose any person to be put in possession of a large estate of fruitful land, with rich beds of gold in its gravel, countless herds of cattle in its pastures: houses, and gardens, and storehouses full of useful stores; but suppose, after all, that he could get no servants? In order that he may be able to have servants, some one in his neighbourhood must be poor; and in want of his gold -- or his corn. Assume that no one is in want of either, and that no servants are to be had. He must, therefore, bake his own bread, make his own clothes, plough his own ground, and shepherd his own flocks. His gold will be as useful to him as any other yellow pebbles on his estate. His stores must rot, for he cannot consume them. He can eat no more than another man could eat, and wear no more than another man could wear. He must lead a life of severe and common labour to procure even ordinary comforts; he will be ultimately unable to keep either houses in repair, or fields in cultivation; and forced to content himself with a poor man's portion of cottage and garden, in the midst of a desert of waste land, trampled by wild cattle, and encumbered by ruins of palaces, which he will hardly mock at himself by calling "his own". 
The most covetous of mankind would, with small exultation, I presume, accept riches of this kind on these terms. What is really desired, under the name of riches, is, essentially, power over men; in its simplest sense, the power of obtaining for our own advantage the labour of servant, tradesman, and artist; in wider sense, authority of directing large masses of the nation to various ends (good, trivial, or hurtful, according to the mind of the rich person). And this power of wealth of course is greater or less in direct proportion to the poverty of the men over whom it is exercised, and in inverse proportion to the number of persons who are as rich as ourselves, and who are ready to give the same price for an article of which the supply is limited.

11 February 2012

Manipulated by the Marketers

Clive Hamilton, The Freedom Paradox (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin,  2009), pp. 56-7:
Deception is essential to modern marketing. It is not true that a particular brand of margarine will impart a happy family life or that a sports car will deliver sexual allure. Yet the purpose of advertising is to convince us that these things are true. Supporters of the market who might suggest that this is just harmless fun and that consumers know how to apply a degree of scepticism need to explain why year after year billions of dollars are committed to such a futile activity and why such a large proportion of the world's creative talent is employed by marketing agencies. 
For [Friedrich] Hayek, a person's freedom hinged on 'whether he can expect to shape his course of action in accordance with his present intentions, or whether somebody else can so manipulate the conditions so as to make him act according to that person's will rather than his own'. Is this not the point we have reached, where in every decision the 'essential data' of our lives have been created or manipulated by the marketers, so that our will is bent to another's purpose?

10 February 2012

The Last Kick

W. N. P. Barbellion, The Journal of a Disappointed Man (London: Chatto & Windus, 1919), p. 42:
My body is chained to me -- a dead weight. It is my warder. I can do nothing without first consulting it and seeking its permission. I jeer at its grotesqueness. I chafe at the thongs it binds on me. On this bully I am dependent for everything the world can give me. How can I preserve my amour propre when I must needs be for ever wheedling and cajoling a despot with delicate meats and soft couches? -- I who am proud, ambitious, and full of energy! In the end, too, I know it intends to carry me off... I should like though to have the last kick and, copying De Quincey, arrange to hand it over for dissection to the medical men -- out of revenge. 'Hope thou not much: fear thou not at all' -- my motto of late. 

9 February 2012

The Absolute Hopelessness of Everything

In Tropic of Cancer (New York: Grove Press, 1961), Henry Miller writes about taking one of Gandhi’s disciples to a brothel in Paris. Unfamiliar with Continental plumbing, the young Indian causes a stir when he relieves himself in the bidet. The incident puts Henry into a philosophical frame of mind:
And so I think what a miracle it would be if this miracle which man attends eternally should turn out to be nothing more than these two enormous turds which the faithful disciple dropped in the bidet. What if at the last moment, when the banquet table is set and the cymbals clash, there should appear suddenly, and wholly without warning, a silver platter on which even the blind could see that there is nothing more, and nothing less, than two enormous lumps of shit. That, I believe, would be more miraculous than anything which man has looked forward to. It would be miraculous because it would be undreamed of. It would be more miraculous than even the wildest dream because anybody could imagine the possibility but nobody ever has, and probably nobody ever again will. 
Somehow the realization that nothing was to be hoped for had a salutary effect upon me. For weeks and months, for years, in fact, all my life I had been looking forward to something happening, some extrinsic event that would alter my life, and now suddenly, inspired by the absolute hopelessness of everything, I felt relieved, as though a great burden had been lifted from my shoulders. At dawn I parted company with the young Hindu, after touching him for a few francs, enough for a room. 
Walking toward Montparnasse I decided to let myself drift with the tide, to make not the least resistance to fate, no matter in what form it presented itself. Nothing that had happened to me thus far had been sufficient to destroy me; nothing had been destroyed except my illusions. I myself was intact. The world was intact. Tomorrow there might be a revolution, a plague, an earthquake; tomorrow there might not be left a single soul to whom one could turn for sympathy, for aid, for faith. It seemed to me that the great calamity had already manifested itself, that I could be no more truly alone than at this very moment. I made up my mind that I would hold on to nothing, that I would expect nothing, that henceforth I would live as an animal, a beast of prey, a rover, a plunderer.

8 February 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 5

I am translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English. In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week.

In this installment, Ostwald describes the gambling craze:

An irresistible urge to gamble had taken hold of every segment of society. After the pressure of the war, there was a rash of gaming and dancing. A lot of people needed a way to relieve their overwrought nerves. There was also the ongoing economic squeeze, the secret and subtle inflation sickness. Everybody felt as if the floor was pitching and rolling beneath their feet. Many wanted to lose this sense of uncertainty in gaming, or numb themselves, while others were attracted by the money and the dazzling bustle.   
This was not simply the case in Berlin, but also in Chemnitz, Dresden, Breslau, Hamburg, Essen, Krefeld, and all over Germany. In the spa town of Nauheim the casino had to be closed. For a while at the beginning of 1919, gambling had been permitted throughout the night, since restricting opening hours only encouraged underground gaming dens. If the legitimate casinos closed at midnight, the gambling fiends would simply change locations; everything had been prepared earlier and was waiting in a hidden room nearby, so that only the bank had to be opened. By removing restrictions on gaming hours, the police hoped to put an end to the underground clubs. In fact, the casinos grew at such a rapid pace that by the middle of September they were all shut down. But not much was improved as a result. The registered clubs were soon allowed to reopen for card playing and other games. Only those places accused of rigged gaming were closed, such as the Schlesische Hof in Salzbrunn in July of 1919, and the casino in Bad Harzburg in July of 1921.

7 February 2012

Cheated and Angry

Philip Larkin in a letter to his friend Jim Sutton, quoted in Andrew Motion's Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life (London: Faber & Faber, 1993), p. 133:
What do I believe would comfort me? Not much, as I grow increasingly pessimistic. I believe that the world is composed for the most part of people so unlike me that we think each other mad and wicked. I know I can't save it or it save me, and I doubt whether it can save itself or I save myself. I believe that human beings can do nothing for one another except provide amusement, which is pleasant but does not last. By amusement I include everything from an evening at the cinema to a love affair. I believe when I am old I shall bitterly regret having wasted my life, which I may have done. This is because I shall never attain the absolute -- in other words the continued ecstasy -- because it doesn't exist. Therefore in addition to being afraid of death I shall feel cheated and angry.

6 February 2012

Not Quite So Foolish

Sébastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort, Oeuvres complètes de Chamfort, Vol. I (Paris: Chaumerot Jeune, 1824), p. 405. My own translation from the French:
In seeing or suffering the pain associated with extreme emotions, in love or in friendship, whether it results from the death of someone you love or from accidents in life, one is tempted to believe that dissipation and frivolity are not quite so foolish, and that life is hardly worth more than what regular people make of it.

4 February 2012

An Enormous Power of Enjoyment

Gabrielle Fleury reports on George Gissing's final days, from The Collected Letters of George Gissing: 1901-1903, Vol. 9 (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1990), p. 281:
In one of the dreadful nights of the last week, after dolorous moaning, he said: "Oh, but I must not give way to these feelings, it is unworthy of me, unmanly, and besides unphilosophical. If I am to die, well, it is by law of Nature; I must not rebel against it. And I have to remember that there are some things in my life for which I must be thankful. I have had an enormous power of enjoyment, so that, in spite of all my poverty and miseries, I have enjoyed life more than more fortunate people. And I have done work which, I think, will not be forgotten tomorrow. Then I have known you, my girlie..."
In her recollections (Id., p. 314) Fleury records one of Gissing's frequent sayings:
When something troubles or worries you, only think of the importance it will have in some fifty years hence, and you will feel how futile these things in fact are.

3 February 2012

Happier Alone

Sébastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort, Oeuvres complètes de Chamfort, Vol. I (Paris: Chaumerot Jeune, 1824), p. 396. My own translation from the French:
One is happier alone than amongst others. Does this not stem from the fact that, in solitude, one thinks about things, while in society one is forced to think about people?

2 February 2012

Unutterably Bloody

The second Lord Redesdale's xenophobia, described by his daughter Jessica Mitford and quoted in Virginia Nicholson's Among the Bohemians (New York: Harper Collins, 2002), p. 224:
According to my father, outsiders included not only Huns, Frogs, Americans, blacks and all other foreigners, but also other people's children, the majority of my older sister's acquaintances, almost all young men -- in fact, the whole teeming population of the earth's surface, except for some, though not all, of our relations and a very few tweeded, red-faced country neighbours to whom my father for some reason had taken a liking.
Nicholson goes on to discuss the contemporary distain for travel:
'Abroad' was 'unutterably bloody', a place fit only for perverts and pinkos; if you didn't fall foul of the bad drains you were liable to be shot by anarchists or buggered by dagos. It was a place where people spat in railway carriages, where the food was full of nasty garlic and grease, and where you were lucky if you just got away with flatulence and rancid indigestion.

1 February 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 4

I am in the midst of translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English. In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week.

Today's lesson: Should your country experience hyperinflation, think twice before ordering the roast beef...
When gourmets tucked into pot roasts in the hotels and small restaurants where "everything was on offer", their consciences were not troubled by the fact it all came from the black market. 
Mind you, what they took for roast beef was often a piece of some old cart horse. If they were lucky, it was a race horse. In 1923, when the sale of horse flesh was permitted but there was still a lack of meat, many thoroughbred horses were stolen and sold off to slaughter. Animals that were worth several thousand marks in peace time were sold for just a few marks and delivered to the horse butcher.

31 January 2012

It Was Bliss

From an interview with the British artist Kathleen Hale (1898-2000) in Virginia Nicholson's Among the Bohemians (New York: Harper Collins, 2002), p. 30:
I found Kathleen living in a small basement room in an old people's home on the outskirts of Bristol. The walls of her room were adorned with her own drawings, lino cuts and metal compositions. Though rather deaf, she was vigorous and somewhat formidable. Her springy iron-grey hair was cropped short, and she wore a blue caftan top with a silver necklace. She talked about the past, but also about the present, and her relationships with other 'greyheads' in the home, who to her surprise had turned out to be fascinating individuals. Halfway through our interview she mischievously produced an illicit bottle of gin which we drank from plastic cups. Encouraged, I said I thought that despite the extreme hardship of her early life, I was under the impression that she had enjoyed it: 
'Oh yes, it was absolutely wonderful, and not hard all the time by any means, and the difficult parts like having to stay indoors because you couldn't face going past a bun shop, well, that was all part of it, part of the general plan I had of how to live. But oh, my dear, it was freedom, it really was, it was bliss.'

30 January 2012

A Travelling Library

Ottoline Morrell describes the travelling library she devised for her European tour in 1896. From Memoirs of Lady Ottoline Morrell: A Study in Friendship, 1873-1915 (New York: Knopf, 1964), p. 45:
I had also another brilliant idea, which was to put strong pockets all around the thick, full, red cape I wore, into which I packed a rampart of books. It made my cape extraordinarily heavy, and I had to walk with the utmost balance and care not to fall over. It was surprising and rather hard to anyone whom I happened to knock against. 
In Ottoline; The Life of Lady Ottoline Morrell (London: Chatto & Windus, 1976), p. 29, Sandra Jobson Darroch says that these pockets were crammed with volumes of Ruskin.

28 January 2012

Closing a Good Book

George Gissing to Edith Sichel, July 20th, 1889:
Up to a year ago I used to give a great deal of time to the Greeks and Romans; for whatever reason, I am now seldom disposed for them. Yet I know very well that, if I put modern thoughts aside and sat down to some of the old men for a fortnight, I should be (for the time) the most contented of pedants. Do you not sometimes experience this trouble in giving each taste and faculty its reasonable opportunities? It is so hard to renounce pleasures of the intellect. Sometimes I say, in closing a good book, "That I shall never again read," and the thought is saddening.
The Collected Letters of George Gissing: 1889 - 1891, Vol. 4
(Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1990), p. 89.

26 January 2012

Everyone Does This Sort of Thing

Louis Thomas, Curiosités sur Baudelaire (Paris: Albert Messein, 1912), pp. 26-7.
My own translation:
One day, Baudelaire’s landlord complained that he was making an unbearable racket. 
"I do not know what you are talking about," he replied graciously.  "When I am at home I behave like all respectable people." 
"I'm sorry, but we hear you moving furniture and banging the floor at all hours of the day and night," answered the landlord. 
Baudelaire took a serious tone. "Once again, I give you my word that nothing out of the ordinary takes place. I chop wood in the living room and drag my mistress around the floor by her hair. Everyone does this sort of thing, and you have absolutely no right to concern yourself."

25 January 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 3

I am in the midst of translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English. In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week.

The following excerpt describes the theft of valuable metals. This sort of thing has already returned to my part of the world -- not long ago Toronto police reported that brass nameplates and flower urns were being removed from cemeteries and sold as scrap. I haven't seen any VIA Rail trousers yet, though...
During the inflation every little item, especially raw materials, took on an incredibly high value. In the regulated economy, the most basic foodstuffs were available for fractions of a cent. Currency depreciation had made rent nearly meaningless. Eventually it cost about as much to rent a two room apartment for a year as it used to for a week. But copper and bronze had great value. They had to be purchased from abroad at a high price. 
And now the doorhandles and brass rods that held down carpets were being stolen, and soon even the carpets themselves. In the end, thieves risked going after public monuments. Prudent municipalities had some statues locked away in warehouses. Thieves stooped so low as to rob graves. In Stahnsdorf they stole metal funerary urns, and a woman praying in the St Pauli cemetery on Berlin's Seestrasse saw them carry off a bronze monument weighing three hundred pounds. They stole grave fences and borders everywhere. Yes, even the manhole covers over the sewer system appealed to the metal thieves. The couplings and leather straps were stolen from railway cars, and the plush covers were cut away from the seats. Some people even went around wearing trousers that had the same pattern as railway upholstery.

24 January 2012

W. R. Paton

While reading Michael Gilleland's blog I became curious about William Roger Paton (1857-1921), who translated Greek texts for the Loeb Classical Library. At first I could find very little information online apart from a brief obituary in the American Journal of Archaeology (Vol. XXVI, 1922, p. 90) saying that he had studied at Oxford, married a woman from the Greek island of Samos, and died there on April 21st in the town of Vathy. A more vigorous search turned up two more substantial references:

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Erinnerungen 1848-1914 (Leipzig: K. F. Koehler, 1929), pp. 227-8. My own translation from the German:
The most important [of my English correspondents] was W. Paton, who had approached me with questions while he was collecting inscriptions on Kos. I didn't have enough free time for them then, but we maintained an active correspondence from that day on, even into the early years of the Great War. He was stuck working as a junior teacher at the British school in the south because he had fallen in love with a beautiful Greek woman from Kalymnos. He owned a plot of land in Myndos and was later compelled to move to Chios and Lesbos for his sons' sake, since this is where the Greek high schools were. 
Unenthusiastic about archaeological research he drifted from one author to another until he finally settled on Plutarch's Moralia, working without the hostility of the clever but undisciplined and unreliable Bernardakis, who gave me a hard time because I dared to describe his messy edition as a chore. We both laboured on Plutarch for many years; in the end Paton died while the first volume was at the printer, but the edition is secure, even if I do not live to see its completion. As far as I can tell, criticism here is most difficult; one must get used to the apathy of the philological audience when one is working on texts that will be heavily consulted by the public. 
Paton must have had a deep need to speak about very intimate things, since he discussed them more and more in his letters to me. In this way I came to know the character of an extraordinary man from Scotland. Despite a long life in completely different circumstances he was a gentleman in the fullest sense, and he was still an Englishman despite his freedom from certain ties. However, he did he not have the haughty demeanor that is found in a particular kind of Englishman -- the same demeanor that could also be found in a corresponding type of travelling German before the war.
He was appropriately proud of his great nation and the British Empire. As a true patriot he was willing to admit the validity of another's patriotism and pride. United in this spirit, we good friends sent our sons off to face each other on the battlefield.

J. H. Fowler, The Life and Letters of Edward Lee Hicks (London: Christophers, 1922), pp. 91-2:
At this time [Hicks] became associated with another Greek scholar, Mr. W. R. Paton, who took up his abode in the Island of Cos and made a careful collection of the inscriptions to be found there. Hicks collaborated in the deciphering and interpretation of the inscriptions, and wrote the introduction for the Inscriptions of Cos (Clarendon Press, 1891). A friendship grew up between the two men, unlike as they were, the one equally at home in the practical and in the theoretical life, the other a dilettante scholar who became at last so completely "orientalized" (to use his own expression) that he was reluctant to revisit England, and who never earned anything in his life till he was paid for his translations from the Greek Anthology in the Loeb Library. Nevertheless, he did visit England and Hulme Hall; and he most kindly set down for this biography his impression of the visit some time before his own lamented death in May [sic], 1921:
Vathy, Samos, Greece.  
I was deeply grieved to hear of the death of my dear master and friend, the late Bishop of Lincoln. When I first came to know him, I was more or less a novice in Greek epigraphy, a science of which he had complete command. I happened to discover some very interesting inscriptions in the island of Cos, which I communicated to him before publishing ; and as I was at the time residing there, he advised me to collect all the inscriptions of that island, and offered to join me in publishing them, as we did. Of course, that led to most cordial relations, and I fully learnt to estimate aright his skill and judgment. I also had the privilege of meeting him personally, both at my own house in Scotland, where the late Mr. Theodore Bent and Professor W. M. Ramsay were present, and I had the full advantage of the conversation of these three distinguished people, and also at his own house at Manchester, where he was then Principal of Hulme Hall , and obviously very popular with the young men there.  
He was then an honorary Canon of Worcester (I think) and had a fair amount of leisure, although devoted to the cause of temperance and social reform. When he was appointed to a regular Canonry at Manchester itself, entailing the care of a large and poor parish, I confess I was sorry. He possessed unique qualifications for the study of Greek inscriptions, and such qualified epigraphists are few, whereas many others might have worked with equal zeal and devotion among the poor at Manchester. But, of course, whatever he did, he always threw his heart into it, which is the great secret of success, when the heart is supported by an intellect like his. He had not abandoned his interest in Greek epigraphy. A few years ago a Coan stone, my copy of which I had lost, but which I mentioned in our book, saying that some one in a yacht had bought it and carried it off, and it might turn up, did turn up in a garden somewhere in the country in England, and luckily was acquired by the British Museum. It is a very important and interesting ritual document, and the Bishop helped them to read and edit it, and wrote to me about it.  
W. R. Paton

There also appears to be a note on Paton in Text and Tradition: Studies in Greek History and Historiography in Honor of Mortimer Chambers (Claremont: Regina Books, 1999), but I do not have access to it.

Update: Mike Gilleland was kind enough to consult David Gill's entry on Paton in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and sent me these two quotes:
It seems that at this time Paton was offered a chair at Oxford, presumably the newly created Wykeham chair of ancient history filled by Myres in 1910, but he declined. His daughter Sevasti Augusta, in her unpublished memoirs, linked her father's decision to Paton's feelings about how Oscar Wilde had been treated; she recalled Paton 'could never work with a People who were capable of confusing the great Artist with the man'.
A glimpse into Paton's character is provided by Oscar Wilde. Paton had written to his old friend Wilde on his release from Pentonville in 1897, and Wilde responded, "I have often heard from others of your sympathy and unabated friendship … I hope you are happy, and finding Greek things every day".

How Fortunate Sometimes Is Our Ignorance

Henry Miller, The Time of the Assassins; A Study of Rimbaud (New York: New Directions, 1962), pp. 107-108:
Why is it, I ask myself, that I adore Rimbaud above all other writers? I am no worshipper of adolescence, neither do I pretend to myself that he is as great as other writers I might mention. But there is something in him that touches me as the work of no other man does. And I come to him through a language that I have never mastered! Indeed, it was not until I foolishly tried to translate him that I began to properly estimate the strength and the beauty of his utterances. In Rimbaud I see myself as in a mirror. Nothing he says is alien to me, however wild, absurd or difficult to understand. To understand one has to surrender, and I remember distinctly making that surrender the first day I glanced at his work. I read only a few lines that day, a little over ten years ago, and trembling like a leaf I put the book away. I had the feeling then, and I have it still, that he had said all for our time. It was as though he had put a tent over the void. He is the only writer whom I have read and reread with undiminished joy and excitement, always discovering something new in him, always profoundly touched by his purity. Whatever I say of him will always be tentative, nothing more than an approach -- at best an aperçu. He is the one writer whose genius I envy; all the others, no matter how great, never arouse my jealousy. And he was finished at nineteen! Had I read Rimbaud in my youth I doubt that I would ever have written a line. How fortunate sometimes is our ignorance.

23 January 2012

Tremendous Caveman Instincts

When the poet and translator Roy Campbell married Mary Garman without his father's consent, he was cut off from the family purse. In the early 1920s the couple moved to North Wales:
The stable they rented cost 1£ 16s a year. Five pounds a month paid for everything else, though books accounted for half of this budget. That left about 12s 6d a week for all their bodily needs -- in other words, next to nothing. [...] The couple settled down in their mud-floored stable to read Dante, Rabelais, Milton and the Elizabethans -- 'living on the continual intoxication of poetry for two years'. Roy, who had tremendous caveman instincts, went trapping for rabbits and game for the pot, and they collected gulls' eggs from the cliff face. He poached and scavenged, and sometimes the locals would bring them gifts of potatoes or fuel. It was a heady life, and cheap.
From Virginia Nicholson's Among the Bohemians (New York: Harper Collins, 2002), pp. 22-3.

21 January 2012


Henry Miller, The Time of the Assassins; A Study of Rimbaud (New York: New Directions, 1962), p. 59:
Here I should like to amplify a point I touched on earlier, the matter of communication between poet and audience. In applauding Rimbaud's use of the symbol I mean to emphasize that in this direction lies the true trend of the poet. There is a vast difference, in my mind, between the use of a more symbolic script and the use of a more highly personal jargon which I referred to as "gibberish". The modern poet seems to turn his back on his audience, as if he held it in contempt. In self-defense he will sometimes liken himself to the mathematician or the physicist who has now come to employ a sign language wholly beyond the comprehension of most educated people, and esoteric language understandable only to the members of his own cult. He seems to forget that he has a totally different function than these men who deal with the physical or the abstract world. His medium is the spirit and his relation to the world of men and women is a vital one. His language is not for the laboratory, but for the recesses of the heart. If he renounces the power to move us his medium becomes worthless.

20 January 2012

Life Without a Permanent Income

Henry Miller on Arthur Rimbaud's decision to move to Northeast Africa:
How did a man of genius, a man of great energies, great resources, manage to coop himself up, to roast and squirm, in such a miserable hole? Here was a man for whom a thousand lives were not sufficient to explore the wonders of the earth, a man who broke with friends and relatives at an early age in order to experience life in its fullness, yet year after year we find him marooned in this hell-hole. How do you explain it? We know, of course, that he was straining at the leash all the time, that he was revolving countless schemes and projects to liberate himself, and liberate himself not only from Aden but from the whole world of sweat and struggle. Adventurer that he was, Rimbaud was nevertheless obsessed with the idea of attaining freedom, which he translated into terms of financial security. At the age of twenty-eight he writes home that the most important, the most urgent, thing for him is to become independent, no matter where. What he omitted to add was, and no matter how. He is a curious mixture of audacity and timidity. He has the courage to venture where no other white man has ever set foot, but he has not the courage to face life without a permanent income.
Henry Miller, The Time of the Assassins; A Study of Rimbaud
(New York: New Directions, 1962), pp. 7-8.

19 January 2012

Captains of Industry

Supposing the captain of a frigate saw it right, or were by any chance obliged, to place his own son in the position of a common sailor; as he would then treat his son, he is bound always to treat every one of the men under him. So, also, supposing the master of a manufactory saw it right, or were by any chance obliged, to place his own son in the position of an ordinary workman; as he would then treat his son, he is bound always to treat every one of his men. This is the only effective, true, or practical rule which can be given on this point of political economy. 
And as the captain of a ship is bound to be the last man to leave his ship in case of wreck, and to share his last crust with the sailors in case of famine, so the manufacturer, in any commercial crisis or distress, is bound to take the suffering of it with his men, and even to take more of it for himself than he allows his men to feel; as a father would in a famine, shipwreck, or battle, sacrifice himself for his son. 
John Ruskin, The Roots of Honour (New York: John B. Alden, 1885), p. 28-9.

18 January 2012

Do You Like This Idea?

Eternal recurrence as a thought experiment, taken from the 2007 film When Nietzsche Wept and posted at a friend's request:

Weimar Wednesday: No. 2

I am in the midst of translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English.

In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week. This passage comes to mind whenever I hear James Kunstler talk about the United States degenerating into a garage sale nation:

Berlin's Scheunenviertel district had become a real fairgrounds. The roads between Alexanderplatz, Schönhauser and Rosentaler Tor were packed with crowds so dense that the trams could only progress by constantly ringing their bells. People selling ladies' underwear, suspenders, army boots, blankets, newspapers, gingerbread, and sausages filled the neighbourhood with their junk and their loud cries. A group formed around each merchant as he proclaimed the merits of his wares. But really people were just curious. 
Troops surrounded or marched through the neighbourhood almost every week, and sometimes every day, arresting or expelling the unruly peddlers. But most of the traders and gamblers returned once the troops had disappeared. 
Occasionally there were other clashes. A soldier had taken part in a game and, because he had lost, wanted to arrested its organizer. The crowd grew rebellious and began shouting: "Kill the bastard!" The soldier was going to defend himself with a hand grenade, but he was knocked to the ground before he could use it. The grenade exploded, and the flying shrapnel injured a woman and her daughter as well as a young boy on his feet and arms.

17 January 2012

A Masterful Display

Hugh Garner describes his first Canadian Authors Association meeting:
It wasn't as bad as I'd expected it to be, it was worse. I found myself perched on a collapsible chair on the outer perimeter of a group of chitty-chatty elderly ladies whose broadened A's, mink stoles and social pretensions matched perfectly their complete ignorance of contemporary writing. They looked to me like the offspring of Crimean War field officers and Dickensian almshouse gruel-servers, which they probably were. Their twitterings were composed largely of Can Lit name-droppings (first names, if you please) of writers deceased, defunct and deplored. God, how I wished I'd stashed a pint of rye in my inside pocket! 
Things got underway with a welcoming speech by a sour-pussed broad who probably spent her daylight hours chasing kids off her lawn, between composing prose that would turn the gut of a pterodactyl. She then introduced the "distinguished speaker of the evening," who turned out to be some old guy in a brown tweed suit from Kingston, Ontario, who would give us "an entertaining and informative talk on Service," spoken with a capital S. 
I found myself becoming interested, for while I've never been a Robert W. Service fan, and can only recite a couple lines of his poetry, at least a talk about him promised to get the meeting much closer to earth than I'd imagined it could ever get. 
The speaker, to polite applause like the fluttering of fans, jumped right into his subject, and riding the thermal updrafts of his verbosity like a bespectacled hawk, soared off into an incoherence that would put shame to poetry critics of a college quarterly. It was a masterful display of socio-literary bullshit. As a matter of fact it took me almost a quarter of an hour to realize that the Service he was talking about was not the author of the Songs of a Sourdough but the service of such laudable petit-bourgeouis organizations as the Rotary, Kiwanis and Lion's Clubs.
One Damn Thing After Another (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1973), p. 201.

16 January 2012

Positively Necrological

Although the literary reception may be deadly, the bookish soiree is positively necrological. These affairs are usually put on by a group of ex-Girl Guides who have given in to a strange urge to broaden their minds as well as their hips. Through a dulcet-toned doll on the entertainment committee, they manage to rope in several people who have a nodding acquaintance with the written word. The first of these affairs I attended became my last at the precise moment that an Amazon with a mustache like Marshall Budyenny's stepped to the podium to recite a piece of her own poesy called, "Light of Life -- Past Enduring." I may be mistaken about the title however, for due to the mood I was in by then, and by the way she stretched her a's, it sounded like "Light the light, Pa's appearing," -- which would have been an improvement, come to think of it.
Hugh Garner in his autobiography One Damn Thing After Another, (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1973), pp. 86-7.

14 January 2012

A Creaturely Life

In this interview on WFIU Public Radio, Wendell Berry discusses some of the changes he's seen over his life:
Up until the end of the Second World War, the life that I experienced in my part of the country, and on the farms I visited and played on and worked on, our life was predominantly creaturely. After the war, it became dominantly and increasingly mechanical. And I think the change from a creaturely life to a mechanical life is a profound change, and in many ways it has been devastating -- not to me, but to the country itself.
Asked to elaborate, he says:
We've tried in the sciences and in other ways to understand the creatures as machines. But I think that's a failure. There is no real resemblance between creatures and machines and there is no resemblance between the relationship that a person has with a machine and the relationship one has with an animal -- particularly a working animal, draft animals, or working dogs, or hunting dogs for that matter. It really is a radically different order of life.

13 January 2012

A Classical Disposition

In an essay published by the New English Review, British psychiatrist Anthony Daniels (alias Theodore Dalrymple) explains why this blog's comment feature has been disabled -- not everyone has a classical disposition.
The putting of pen to paper, to say nothing of the act of posting the resultant letter, requires more deliberation than sitting at a computer and firing off an angry e-mail or posting on a website. By their very physical nature, then, letters are likely to be less intemperate than e-mails. 
The question now arises as to whether it is a good thing that people should be able now so easily to express their rage, irritation, frustration and hatred. Here, I think, we come to a disagreement between those of classical, and those of romantic, disposition. 
According to the latter, self-expression is a good in itself, irrespective of what is expressed. Indeed, such people are likely to believe that any sentiment that does not find its outward expression will turn inward and poison the person who has not been able to express it. Better to strangle a new-born babe and all that. 
The person of more classical disposition does not believe this. On the contrary, he believes that there are some things that are much better not expressed at all. He counterbalances his belief in the value of freedom of opinion with that in the value of freedom from opinion. He believes that rage will not decrease with its habitual expression, but rather increase with it.
The bit about strangling babies is a reference to a line in William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell: "Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires."

12 January 2012

Found Drowned

Richard Jefferies, the former curator of the George Frederic Watts gallery in Surrey, discusses a couple of Watts' social-realist works, including Found Drowned (painted in the late 1840s). He finishes by suggesting why it's such a popular postcard:

Jefferies has done a number of other videos on Watts' paintings, and they can be found by scrolling further down on this person's Youtube account.

11 January 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 1

I am in the midst of translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English.

In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week. I also know that marketing people are keen on using "practical" excerpts to drum up book sales. So, here is the first in a series of lessons from the Weimar inflationary period.

Should your country enter an inflationary death spiral, don't send things by mail:
In recent years at the Wilmersdorf post office quite a few packages were either stolen or had a substantial portion of their contents removed. A significant number of front-line staff were involved in these thefts. 
Very valuable property was taken and in such amounts that criminals were able to do a roaring trade. The list of stolen items, in so far as they could be identified during the initial investigations, reads like a department store inventory. They stole food of all kinds, as well as fabrics, furs, laundry, silver spoons, and watches. 
The shop steward Mr. K. was the head of the gang. He used his wife to shift some of the stolen goods while he moved other items through his mistress, who worked as an assistant at the post office and also served on the workers' council. The post office manager Mr. B., who used to be a city councillor, played a leading role, as did the mail clerks Mr. M. and Mr. W. 
Mr. M. stole U.S. dollar bills, cheques, as well as letters, while Mr. W. had already served three months in prison for taking dollar bills out of the mail. The main buyer of the stolen goods was the merchant Mr. H. 
The accused Mr. K. had managed to gain the post office superintendent's trust and was put in charge of the package sorting crew. Packages were sorted in a separate room in the basement, and Mr. K. was supposed to monitor the operation.  Mr. K. was a member of the workers' council along with Mr. B., and he made very sure that unreliable people were taken off the job. 
Mr. K. is said to have told his work crew that they did not need to worry about being found out: as shop steward he would take full responsibility, so each man could take whatever he wanted from the packages. The postal workers were happy to comply with these orders. 
In addition to the people from the post office (who were mainly managers, clerks, and assistants), most of the male defendants' wives were also charged.

10 January 2012

Absolutely Safe

In The Riddle of the World: A Reconsideration of Schopenhauer's Philosophy, Barbara Hannan describes getting up in the middle of the night to watch a total eclipse of the moon, and gaining a better understanding of what Arthur Schopenhauer meant when he wrote about the sublime. From page 106:
All my personal worries and woes went away for a little while, as I watched the moon slowly drift into the shadow of the earth. A bright, full moon slowly became the thinnest of crescents, then disappeared, and there was a dusky, reddish disk, only faintly glowing... and then, it passed behind drifting clouds and was gone. I don’t know why, but everything that torments me in my daily life -- health and money problems for myself and my loved ones, for example -- seemed suddenly nothing to worry about.  
The slow dance of the earth around the sun, and the moon around the earth, made the troubles of human beings seem like nothing more than a momentary, meaningless tickle in the great, indifferent universe. The stately motions of the heavenly bodies were going on long before I ever came to be, and would continue when I, and all people, were long gone. The eclipse didn't care if I was watching it or not. These thoughts did not make me sad; instead, they comforted me and made me feel completely unthreatened, absolutely safe.

9 January 2012

The Public Stomach

"Tremendous activity in the publishing world! Like everything else, this will be overdone; in a few years, I am afraid, the bankruptcy of publishers (hitherto rare) will become common. All these new men cannot possibly thrive and the public stomach will at last refuse the loads of rubbish cast upon it."

-- George Gissing to Edgar Harrison, December 29th, 1891.

The Collected Letters of George Gissing: 1889 - 1891, Volume 4
(Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1990), p. 346.

Update: For those with an interest in the publishing business, today's post from Mike Shatzkin is a contemporary take on what, in my days as a book editor, I used to refer to as the "Throw Enough Shit Against a Wall" acquisitions strategy.

7 January 2012

The Leading Motive

All of you have the trial of yourselves in your own power; each may undergo at this instant, before his own judgement seat, the ordeal by fire. Ask yourselves what is the leading motive which actuates you while you are at work.

I do not ask you what your leading motive is for working -- that is a different thing; you may have families to support -- parents to help -- brides to win; you may have all these, or other such sacred and pre-eminent motives, to press the morning's labour and prompt the twilight thought. But when you are fairly at that work, what is the motive then which tells upon every touch of it?

If it is the love of that which your work represents -- if, being a landscape painter, it is love of hills and trees that moves you -- if, being a figure painter, it is love of human beauty and human soul that moves you -- if, being a flower or animal painter, it is love, and wonder, and delight in petal and in limb that move you, then the Spirit is upon you, and the earth is yours, and the fulness thereof.

But if, on the other hand, it is petty self-complacency in your own skill, trust in precepts and laws, hope for academical or popular approbation, or avarice of wealth, -- it is quite possible that by steady industry, or even by fortunate chance, you may win the applause, the position, the fortune, that you desire; -- but one touch of true art you will never lay on canvas or on stone as long as you live.

-- John Ruskin

The Two Paths (New York: John B. Alden, 1885), p. 35.

5 January 2012

The Idea of a Camel

A Frenchman, an Englishman, and a German were commissioned, it is said, to give the world the benefit of their views on that interesting animal, the Camel. Away goes the Frenchman to the Jardin des Plantes, spends an hour there in rapid investigation, returns, and writes a feuilleton, in which there is no phrase the Academy can blame, but also no phrase which adds to the general knowledge. He is perfectly satisfied, however, and says, Le voilà, le chameau! The Englishman packs up his tea-caddy and a magazine of comforts; pitches his tent in the East; remains there two years studying the Camel in its habits; and returns with a thick volume of facts, arranged without order, expounded without philosophy, but serving as valuable materials for all who come after him. The German, despising the frivolity of the Frenchman, and the unphilosophic matter-of-factness of the Englishman, retires to his study, there to construct the Idea of a Camel from out of the depths of his own Moral Consciousness. And he is still at it.

-- George Henry Lewes

The Life and Works of Goethe, Vol. II (London: David Nutt, 1855), p. 201.

4 January 2012

Be Boorish

"That evil of small-town life of which you speak is only too likely to distress you, to some extent, wherever you settle. No intellectual man who flees to the country ever wholly escapes these annoyances. One ought, in truth, to be boorish; it is the only way to keep a clear space round about one. A gentle demeanor is a fearful provocative of Philistine onslaught."

George Gissing to his friend Eduard Bertz, April 2nd, 1889.

The Letters of George Gissing to Eduard Bertz, 1887-1903
(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1961), p. 54.

3 January 2012

The Gluttony of Business

[A] man holds it his duty to be temperate in his food, and of his body, but for no duty to be temperate in his riches, and of his mind. He sees that he ought not to waste his youth and his flesh for luxury; but he will waste his age, and his soul, for money, and think he does no wrong, nor know the delirium tremens of the intellect for disease. But the law of life is that a man should fix the sum he desires to make annually, as the food he desires to eat daily; and stay when he has reached the limit, refusing increase of business, and leaving it to others, so obtaining due freedom of time for better thoughts. How the gluttony of business is punished, a bill of health for the principals of the richest city houses, issued annually, would show in a sufficiently impressive manner.

John Ruskin, Munera Pulveris (New York: John B. Alden, 1885), pp. 124-5.