26 September 2012

The Sons of Joy

Robert Louis Stevenson, "A Letter to a Young Gentleman Who Proposes to Embrace the Career of Art," Scribner's Magazine, Vol. IV, No. 3, September 1888, p. 379:
The first duty in this world is for a man to pay his way; when that is quite accomplished, he may plunge into what eccentricity he likes; but emphatically not till then. Till then, he must pay assiduous court to the bourgeois who carries the purse. And if in the course of these capitulations he shall falsify his talent, it can never have been a strong one, and he will have preserved a better thing than talent -- character. Or if he be of a mind so independent that he cannot stoop to this necessity, one course is yet open: he can desist from art, and follow some more manly way of life.
I speak of a more manly way of life, it is a point on which I must be frank. To live by a pleasure is not a high calling; it involves patronage, however veiled; it numbers the artist, however ambitious, along with dancing girls and billiard markers. The French have a romantic evasion for one employment, and call its practitioners the Daughters of Joy. The artist is of the same family, he is of the Sons of Joy, chose his trade to please himself, gains his livelihood by pleasing others, and has parted with something of the sterner dignity of man.
Id., p. 380:
If you adopt an art to be your trade, weed your mind at the outset of all desire of money. What you may decently expect, if you have some talent and much industry, is such an income as a clerk will earn with a tenth or perhaps a twentieth of your nervous output. Nor have you the right to look for more; in the wages of the life, not in the wages of the trade, lies your reward; the work is here the wages. It will be seen I have little sympathy with the common lamentations of the artist class. Perhaps they do not remember the hire of the field labourer; or do they think no parallel will lie? Perhaps they have never observed what is the retiring allowance of a field officer; or do they suppose their contributions to the arts of pleasing more important than the services of a colonel? Perhaps they forget on how little [Jean-François] Millet was content to live; or do they think, because they have less genius, they stand excused from the display of equal virtues?

25 September 2012

Don't Make Your House in My Mind

Percy Lubbock in the introduction to A. C. Benson's Diary (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1926), p. 18:
"Don't make your house in my mind" -- that was a phrase [Benson] used to quote from Aristophanes, and one could see how instinctively he put out his hands and warded off the danger of encroachment. Nobody must invade his mind, force his inclination, "hustle" him -- it was a frequent word of his, he ruffled and bristled at the suggestion. He clutched his liberty; he never surrendered a jot of it -- and not only that, but if ever on any pretext it was threatened, in love or strife, he lost all scruple in protecting himself, he thought of nothing but to rout and disable the intruder. Why should people desire to press in upon him, when he was always so ready to meet them in the doorway and talk agreeably on the threshold? It was not as though he was stiff with them out there, or distant in his greeting; far from it indeed -- he talked with the utmost freedom, he would frankly answer any question they liked to ask. Less than anybody was he disposed to make a secret of his privacy; it was for all who cared to hear him tell about it. But that must suffice -- and why should it not? He thought it might suffice, as in the lives of others it was all he dreamed ot demanding for himself. Anyhow he could not admit the kind of interference which asks for more than can be told upon the threshold; and if more was insisted on, if a place and a lodging was required in the seclusion of his mind -- then there was likely to be trouble. 

24 September 2012

Honest Diversion

Michel de Montaigne, "On Books," Essays, trans. Charles Cotton, Vol. II (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1913), p. 87:
I seek, in the reading of books, only to please myself by an honest diversion; or, if I study, 'tis for no other science than what treats of the knowledge of myself, and instructs me how to die and how to live well.  
The original:
Je ne cherche aux livres qu'à m'y donner du plaisir par un honnête amusement : ou si j'étudie, je n'y cherche que la science qui traite de la connaissance de moi-même, et qui m'instruise à bien mourir et à bien vivre.

20 September 2012

Cui Bono

Thomas Carlyle, Critical and Miscellaneous EssaysVol. I (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1881), p. 471:
What is Hope? A smiling rainbow
Children follow through the wet;
’Tis not here, still yonder, yonder:
Never urchin found it yet.

What is Life? A thawing iceboard
On a sea with sunny shore; --
Gay we sail; it melts beneath us;
We are sunk, and seen no more.

What is Man? A foolish baby,
Vainly strives, and fights, and frets;
Demanding all, deserving nothing; --
One small grave is what he gets.

19 September 2012

Peculiarly Attractive to a Half-Baked Mind

E. M. Forster, Howards End (New York: Vintage Books, 1921), pp. 50-51:
And the voice [of John Ruskin] rolled on, piping melodiously of Effort and Self-Sacrifice, full of high purpose, full of beauty, full even of sympathy and the love of men, yet somehow eluding all that was actual and insistent in Leonard's life. For it was the voice of one who had never been dirty or hungry, and had not guessed successfully what dirt and hunger are.
Leonard listened to it with reverence. He felt that he was being done good to, and that if he kept on with Ruskin, and the Queen's Hall Concerts, and some pictures by Watts, he would one day push his head out of the grey waters and see the universe. He believed in sudden conversion, a belief which may be right, but which is peculiarly attractive to a half-baked mind. It is the bias of much popular religion: in the domain of business it dominates the Stock Exchange, and becomes that "bit of luck" by which all successes and failures are explained. "If only I had a bit of luck, the whole thing would come straight. . . . He's got a most magnificent place down at Streatham and a 20 h.p. Fiat, but then, mind you, he's had luck. . . . I'm sorry the wife's so late, but she never has any luck over catching trains." Leonard was superior to these people; he did believe in effort and in a steady preparation for the change that he desired. But of a heritage that may expand gradually, he had no conception: he hoped to come to Culture suddenly, much as the Revivalist hopes to come to Jesus.

18 September 2012

Washing Vegetables

Diogenes Laërtius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, tr. Robert Drew Hicks, Vol. I (London: Heinemann, 1925):
Diogenes, washing the dirt from his vegetables, saw [Aristippus] passing and jeered at him in these terms, "If you had learnt to make these your diet, you would not have paid court to kings," to which his rejoinder was, "And if you knew how to associate with men, you would not be washing vegetables."

17 September 2012

The Kingdom of Chance and Error

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, tr. E. F. J. Payne, Vol. I (New York: Dover Publications, 1969), p. 324:
Anyone who has awakened from the first dreams of youth; who has considered his own and others' experience; who has looked at life in the history of the past and of his own time, and finally in the works of the great poets, will certainly acknowledge the result, if his judgement is not paralysed by some indelibly imprinted prejudice, that this world of humanity is the kingdom of chance and error. These rule in it without mercy in great things as in small; and along with them folly and wickedness also wield the scourge. Hence arises the fact that everything better struggles through only with difficulty; what is noble and wise very rarely makes its appearance, becomes effective, or meets with a hearing, but the absurd and perverse in the realm of thought, the dull and tasteless in the sphere of art, and the wicked and fraudulent in the sphere of action, really assert a supremacy that is disturbed only by brief interruptions. On the other hand, everything excellent or admirable is always only an exception, one case in millions; therefore, if it has shown itself in a lasting work, this subsequently exists in isolation, after it has outlived the rancour of its contemporaries. It is preserved like a meteorite, sprung from an order of things different from that which prevails here. But as regards the life of the individual, every life-history is a history of suffering, for, as a rule, every life is a continual series of mishaps great and small, concealed as much as possible by everyone, because he knows that others are almost always bound to feel satisfaction at the spectacle of annoyances from which they are for the moment exempt; rarely will they feel sympathy or compassion. But perhaps at the end of his life, no man, if he be sincere and at the same time in possession of his faculties, will ever wish to go through it again. Rather than this, he will much prefer to choose complete non-existence.

14 September 2012

Sic tu recoli merearis!

by A. C. Benson

O soul, my soul, before thou comst to die,
  Set one deep mark upon the face of time,
  Let one absorbing laughter, one grave rhyme
Ring in the heedless wind that hurries by.

Yon smooth-limbed beech, that hangs upon the slope
  With branching spray, with firm and shapely arm,
  Hath, could'st thou write it, a bewildering charm
Would gild thy name beyond thy utmost hope!

O soul, my soul, be true, laborious, just, --
  And some chance word, some penetrating smile,
    Flashed with no purpose, no impulsive aim,
Shall live, and breed strong thoughts, when thou art dust;
    And mount, and gather strength, and roll in flame
  Beyond the utmost Orient's utmost isle!

From The Yellow Book, VII (January, 1895), p.191.

13 September 2012

Everything Was Different

Eileen Power, Medieval People (London: Methuen, 1924), pp. 15-6:
The fact is that the Romans were blinded to what was happening to them [i.e., that the empire was collapsing] by the very perfection of the material culture which they had created. All around them was solidity and comfort, a material existence which was the very antithesis of barbarism. How could they foresee the day when the Norman chronicler would marvel over the broken hypocausts of Caerleon? How could they imagine that anything so solid might conceivably disappear? Their roads grew better as their statesmanship grew worse and central heating triumphed as civilization fell.
But still more responsible for their unawareness was the educational system in which they were reared. Ausonius and Sidonius and their friends were highly educated men and Gaul was famous for its schools and universities. The education which these gave consisted in the study of grammar and rhetoric, which was necessary alike for the civil service and for polite society; and it would be difficult to imagine an education more entirely out of touch with contemporary life, or less suited to inculcate the qualities which might have enabled men to deal with it. The fatal study of rhetoric, its links with reality long since severed, concentrated the whole attention of men of intellect on form rather than on matter. The things they learned in their schools had no relation to the things that were going on in the world outside and bred in them the fatal illusion that tomorrow would be as yesterday, that everything was the same, whereas everything was different.

12 September 2012

Perfectly Contented

Johann Georg Zimmermann, Solitude (London: Thomas Tegg, 1827), p. 37:
Solitude, indeed, affords a pleasure to an author of which no one can deprive him, and which far exceeds all the honours of the world. He not only anticipates the effect his work will produce, but while it advances towards completion, feels the delicious enjoyment of those hours of serenity and composure which his labours procure. What continued and tranquil delight flows from successive composition! Sorrows fly from this elegant occupation. Oh! I would not exchange one single hour of such private tranquility and content for all those flattering illusions of public fame with which the mind of Tully was so incessantly intoxicated. A difficulty surmounted, a happy moment seized, a proposition elucidated, a sentence neatly and elegantly turned, or a thought happily expressed, are salutary and healing balms, counter-poisons to melancholy, and belong exclusively to a wise and well formed Solitude.
To enjoy himself without being dependent on the aid of others ; to devote to employments, not perhaps entirely useless, those hours which sorrow and chagrin would otherwise steal from the sum of life, is the great advantage of an author: and with this advantage alone I am perfectly contented.

11 September 2012

The Course of Obvious Wisdom

William Wallace, Epicureanism (New York: Pott, Young & Co., 1880), pp. 163-4:
The Epicurean accepts the existence of an orderly society as a condition of a satisfactory life, but he does not admit that it has a right to demand his services. "When safety on the side of man has been tolerably secured, it is by quiet and by withdrawing from the multitude that the most complete tranquillity is to be found." "A wise man will not enter upon political life unless something extraordinary should occur." "The free man," says Metrodorus, "will laugh his free laugh over those who are fain to be reckoned in the list with Lycurgus and Solon." A man ought not to make it his aim to save his country, or to win a crown from them for his abilities. Political life, which in all ages has been impossible for those who had not wealth, and who were unwilling to mix themselves with vile and impure associates, was not to the mind of Epicurus. If he be condemned for this, there are many nobler and deeper natures in the records of humanity who must be condemned on the same account. But it is hard to see why he should be charged with that as a fault which is the common practice of mankind, and which in a period of despotism, of absolute monarchy, is the course of obvious wisdom. And, above all, it is not the duty of a philosopher to become a political partisan, and spend his life in the atmosphere of avaricious and malignant passions.

10 September 2012

The Winds of Folly and Desolation

George Moore, Celibates (London: Walter Scott, 1895), pp. 364-5:
His happiness and ambitions appeared to him less than the scattering of a little sand on the sea-shore. Joy is passion, passion is suffering; we cannot desire what we possess; therefore desire is rebellion prolonged indefinitely against the realities of existence; when we attain the object of our desire, we must perforce neglect it in favour of something still unknown, and so we progress from illusion to illusion. The winds of folly and desolation howl about us; the sorrows of happiness are the worst to bear, and the wise soon learn that there is nothing to dream of but the end of desire.

7 September 2012

Dreadfully Vulnerable

Joseph Wood Krutch, Human Nature and the Human Condition (New York: Random House, 1959), p. 145:
Within a generation, our way of life was revolutionized so completely that we can hardly imagine how existence was possible before the automobile and the telephone. What is more ominous is the fact that, by now, we actually could not do without them. Technology made large populations possible; large populations now make technology indispensable. A really drastic breakdown anywhere in the chain of mutually dependent machines would soon bring the whole complex to a halt. And by comparison with the consequences of cities deprived of power and unable either to bring in the goods they consume to get rid of rubbish they discard, the Black Death would be merely an unfortunate incident. Our very power, or rather our dependence upon it, has made us dreadfully vulnerable.
Alex Colville, Horse and Train (1954)

6 September 2012

The Bones of Dreamers and Visionaries

A. C. Benson, Where No Fear Was (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1914), pp. 234-5:
Men and women do not make pilgrimages to the graves and houses of eminent jurists and bankers, political economists or statisticians: these have done their work, and have had their reward. Even the monuments of statesmen and conquerors have little power to touch the imagination, unless some love for humanity, some desire to uplift and benefit the race, have entered into their schemes and policies. No, it is rather the soil which covers the bones of dreamers and visionaries that is sacred yet, prophets and poets, artists and musicians, those who have seen through life to beauty, and have lived and suffered that they might inspire and tranquillise human hearts. The princes of the earth, popes and emperors, lie in pompous sepulchres, and the thoughts of those who regard them, as they stand in metal or marble, dwell most on the vanity of earthly glory. But at the tombs of men like Virgil and Dante, of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, the human heart still trembles into tears, and hates the death that parts soul from soul.

5 September 2012

A Thing to Cherish

Edward Tyas Cook, The Life of John Ruskin, Vol. I (London, George Allen, 1912), p. 147:
The great books, some one has said, are those which come home with a personal appeal, making the reader feel that they were written expressly for him. Such was the effect which Ruskin's book produced upon [William] Holman Hunt in his early days. A fellow-student, he said, " one Telfer -- with whom wherever he wanders, be everlasting peace! -- spoke to me of Modern Painters; and when he recognised my eagerness to learn of its teachings all he could tell me, he gained permission from Cardinal Wiseman, to whom it belonged, to lend it to me for twenty-four hours. To get through the book I sat up most of the night, and I had to return it ere I made acquaintance with a quota of the good there was in it. But of all its readers none could have felt more strongly than myself that it was written expressly for him. When it had gone, the echo of its words stayed with me, and they gained a further value and meaning whenever my more solemn feelings were touched." It is a thing to cherish in the literary and artistic history of the Victorian era, this picture of the great Pre-Raphaelite painter burning the midnight oil over a borrowed copy of Modern Painters.

3 September 2012

The Crime of Bringing a Being Into the World

George Moore, Confessions of a Young Man (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1904), pp. 270-1:
You say that no ideal illumines the pessimist's life, that if you ask him why he exists, he cannot answer, and that Schopenhauer's arguments against suicide are not even plausible causistry. True, on this point his reasoning is feeble and ineffective. But we may easily confute our sensual opponents. We must say that we do not commit suicide, although we admit it is a certain anodyne to the poison of life -- an absolute erasure of the wrong inflicted on us by our parents -- because we hope by noble example and precept to induce others to refrain from love. We are the saviours of souls. Other crimes are finite; love alone is infinite. We punish a man with death for killing his fellow; but a little reflection should make the dullest understand that the crime of bringing a being into the world exceeds by a thousand, a millionfold that of putting one out of it. 

1 September 2012

Comfort-Loving Vulgarity

A. C. Benson, Where No Fear Was (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1914), pp. 83-85:
Greedy vanity in the more robust, lack of moral courage and firmness in the more sensitive, with a social organisation that aims at a surface dignity and a cheap showiness, are the ingredients of this devil's cauldron [of plodding, conventional home life]. The worst of it is that it has no fine elements at all. There is a nobility about real tragedy which evokes a quality of passionate and sincere emotion. There is something essentially exalted about a fierce resistance, a desperate failure. But this abject, listless dreariness, which can hardly be altered or expressed, this miserable floating down the muddy current, where there is no sharp repentance or fiery battling, nothing but a mean abandonment to a meaningless and unintelligible destiny, seems to have in it no seed of recovery at all. 
The dark shadow of professional anxiety is that it has no tragic quality; it is like ploughing on day by day through endless mud-flats. One does not feel, in the presence of sharp suffering or bitter loss, that they ought not to exist. They are there, stern, implacable, august; stately enemies, great combatants. There is a significance about their very awfulness. One may fall before them, but they pass like a great express train, roaring, flashing, things deliberately and intently designed; but these dull failures which seem not the outgrowth of anyone's fierce longing or wilful passion, but of everyone's laziness and greediness and stupidity, how is one to face them? It is the helpless death of the quagmire, not the death of the fight or the mountain-top. Is there, we ask ourselves, anything in the mind of God which corresponds to comfort-loving vulgarity, if so strong and yet so stagnant a stream can overflow the world? The bourgeois ideal! One would rather have tyranny or savagery than anything so gross and smug. 
And yet we see high-spirited and ardent husbands drawn into this by obstinate and vulgar-minded wives. We see fine-natured and sensitive women engulfed in it by selfish and ambitious husbands. The tendency is awfully and horribly strong, and it wins, not by open combat, but by secret and dull persistence. And one sees too -- I have seen it many times -- children of delicate and eager natures, who would have flourished and expanded in more generous air, become conventional and commonplace and petty, concerned about knowing the right people and doing the right things, and making the same stupid and paltry show, which deceives no one.

31 August 2012

The Price of Books

George Orwell in Books vs. Cigarettes, an As I Please essay published in the Tribune on February 8, 1946:
It is difficult to establish any relationship between the price of books and the value one gets out of them. "Books" includes novels, poetry, text books, works of reference, sociological treatises and much else, and length and price do not correspond to one another, especially if one habitually buys books second-hand. You may spend ten shillings on a poem of 500 lines, and you may spend sixpence on a dictionary which you consult at odd moments over a period of twenty years. There are books that one reads over and over again, books that become part of the furniture of one's mind and alter one's whole attitude to life, books that one dips into but never reads through, books that one reads at a single sitting and forgets a week later: and the cost, in terms of money, may be the same in each case.

30 August 2012

How Many Idiots?

Sébastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort, Oeuvres complètes de Chamfort, Vol. II (Paris: Chaumerot Jeune, 1824), p. 5. My translation:
People were refuting some opinion or other that Mr. M. had of a work, telling him the public judged it differently: "The public! The public!" he said. "How many idiots does it take to make a public?"

29 August 2012

A Repudiated Conservative

Morley Roberts on George Gissing's politics in The Private Life of Henry Maitland (London: Eveleigh Nash, 1912), p. 174:
He had once, as he owned, been touched by Socialism, probably of a purely academic kind; and yet, when he was afterwards withdrawn from such stimuli as had influenced him to think for once in terms of sociology, he went back to his more natural despairing conservative frame of mind. He lived in the past, and was conscious every day that something in the past that he loved was dying and must vanish. No form of future civilisation, whatever it might be, which was gained by means implying the destruction of what he chiefly loved, could ever appeal to him. He was not even able to believe that the gross and partial education of the populace was better than no education at all, in that it must some day inevitably lead to better education and a finer type of society. It was for that reason that he was a Conservative. But he was the kind of Conservative who would now be repudiated by those who call themselves such, except perhaps in some belated and befogged country house.

27 August 2012

The Silent Retreat of the Mind

Johann Georg Zimmermann, Solitude (London: Thomas Tegg, 1827), pp. 129-30:
The wise man, in the midst of the most tumultuous pleasures, frequently retires within himself, and silently compares what he might do with what he is doing. Surrounded by, and even when accidentally engaged in, the excesses of intoxication, he associates only with those warm and generous souls whose highly elevated minds are drawn towards each other by the most virtuous inclinations and sublime sentiments. The silent retreat of the mind within itself has more than once given birth to enterprises of the greatest importance and utility; and it is not difficult to imagine that some of the most celebrated actions of mankind were first inspired among the sounds of music, or conceived amidst the mazes of the dance. Sensible and elevated minds never commune more closely with themselves than in those places of public resort in which the low and vulgar, surrendering themselves to illusion and caprice, become incapable of reflection, and blindly suffer themselves to be overwhelmed by the surrounding torrent of folly and distraction.
A search for a digital version of the original Über die Einsamkeit turns up a mess of jumbled editions and misnumbered volumes in both Archive.org and Google Books. There is a complete scanned edition (Troppau: s.n., 1785) in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

24 August 2012

Maugham on Posterity

W. Somerset Maugham, Cakes and Ale (New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1930), p. 137:
The elect sneer at popularity; they are inclined even to assert that it is a proof of mediocrity; but they forget that posterity makes its choice not from among the unknown writers of a period, but from among the known. It may be that some great masterpiece which deserves immortality has fallen still-born from the press, but posterity will never hear of it; it may be that posterity will scrap all the best sellers of our day, but it is among them it must choose.

23 August 2012

Bathroom Ruminations

Edmund Wilson, A Piece of My Mind (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1956):
I have had a good many more uplifting thoughts, creative and expansive visions — while soaking in comfortable baths or drying myself after bracing showers — in well-equipped American bathrooms than I have ever had in any cathedral. Here the body purges itself, and along with the body, the spirit. Here the mind becomes free to ruminate, to plan ambitious projects. The cathedrals, with their distant domes, their long aisles and their high groinings, do add stature to human strivings; their chapels do give privacy for prayer. But the bathroom, too, shelters the spirit, it tranquillizes and reassures, in surroundings of a celestial whiteness, where the pipes and faucets gleam and the mirror makes another liquid surface, which will render you, shaved, rubbed and brushed, a nobler and more winning appearance. Here, too, you may sing, recite, refresh yourself with brief readings, just as you do in church; and the fact that you do it without a priest and not as a member of a congregation is, from my point of view, an advantage. It encourages self-dependence and prepares one to face the world, fortified, firm on one’s feet, serene and with a mind like a diamond.

22 August 2012

Like Leaves Scattered and Blown

Hugh Blair, Sermons, Vol. II (Dublin: William Colles, 1784), p. 26:
[S]tudy to acquire the habit of attention to thought. No study is more important; for in proportion to the degree in which this habit is possessed, such commonly is the degree of intellectual improvement. It is this power of attention which in a great measure distinguishes the wise and the great from the vulgar and trifling herd of men. The latter are accustomed to think, or rather to dream, without knowing the subject of their thoughts. In their unconnected rovings, they pursue no end; they follow no track. Everything floats loose and disjointed on the surface of their mind; like leaves scattered and blown about on the face of the waters.

21 August 2012

Petrarch on Posterity

Petrarch in a letter to Tommaso di Messina in 1326, quoted in James Harvey Robinson's Petrarch (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1914), p. 406:
Let us look for a moment at those whose writings have become famous. Where are the writers themselves? They have turned to dust and ashes these many years. And you long for praise? Then you, too, must die. The favour of humanity begins with the author's decease; the end of life is the beginning of glory. If it begins earlier, it is abnormal and untimely. Moreover, so long as any of your contemporaries still live, although you may begin to get possession of what you desire, you may not have its full enjoyment. Only when the ashes of a whole generation have been consigned to the funeral urn do men begin to pass an unbiased judgment, free from personal jealousy. Let the present age harbour any opinion it will of us. If it be just, let us receive it with equanimity; if unjust, we must appeal to unprejudiced judges, -- to posterity, seeing that a fair-minded verdict can be obtained nowhere else. 

20 August 2012

How About This?

A. Y. Jackson, A Painter's Country (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Co, 1967), p. 65:
On a sketching trip, when one is working with oil colours on card or wood panels a great problem is how to carry around wet sketches. Boxes can be made with slots to put the sketches in, but they are clumsy things to carry about. Dr. [Frederick] Banting found a solution to this difficulty. He broke a wooden match into five little pieces, and before the sketch was too dry he put the pieces of match right in the paint (in the direction of the brush strokes), one near each corner and one in the centre; in this way they left no mark. When he was ready to leave the place where he had been sketching, he made a bundle of the sketches and tied them tight with a cord. I have adopted this method and had no trouble with wet sketches since. Banting once said, "People who don't like me say that after insulin I will never make another discovery. Well, how about this?"
A. Y. Jackson, Northern Lake (1928)

17 August 2012

Books Are Real Friends

Sir John Lubbock, The Pleasures of Life (New York: D. Appleton, 1887), pp. 49-50:
This feeling that books are real friends is constantly present to all who love reading. "I have friends," said Petrarch, "whose society is extremely agreeable to me; they are of all ages and of every country. They have distinguished themselves both in the cabinet and in the field, and obtained high honors for their knowledge of the sciences. It is easy to gain access to them, for they are always at my service, and I admit them to my company, and dismiss them from it, whenever I please. They are never troublesome, but immediately answer every question I ask them. Some relate to me the events of past ages, while others reveal to me the secrets of Nature. Some teach me how to live, and others how to die. Some by their vivacity, drive away my cares and exhilarate my spirits; while others give fortitude to my mind, and teach me the important lesson how to restrain my desires, and to depend wholly on myself. They open to me, in short, the various avenues of all the arts and sciences, and upon their information I may safely rely in all emergencies. In return for all their services, they only ask me to accommodate them with a convenient chamber in some comer of my humble habitation, where they may repose in peace; for these friends are more delighted by the tranquility of retirement than with the tumults of society."
I have not had time to find the original passage in Petrarch. I do, however, have the time to curse the vandal who ripped several pages from the University of Toronto's copy of Conrad Rawski's translation of Petrarch's De remediis utriusque fortunae: May some hitherto unknown insect lay its eggs upon his eyes, causing him excruciating pain as the larvae devour first his sight and then his entire head from within.

A related post: Books Are the Departed Souls of Men

16 August 2012

Miserable Egotism

W. Hale White, The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford (London: T. F. Unwin, 1881), p. 133:
"With regard to immortality," he said, "I never know what men mean by it. What self is it which is to be immortal? Is it really desired by anybody that he should continue to exist for ever with his present limitations and failings? Yet if these are not continued, the man does not continue, but something else, a totally different person. I believe in the survival of life and thought. People think it is not enough. They say they want the survival of their personality. It is very difficult to express any conjecture upon the matter, especially now when I am weak, and I have no system -- nothing but surmises. One thing I am sure of -- that a man ought to rid himself as much as possible of the miserable egotism which is so anxious about self, and should be more and more anxious about the Universal."

15 August 2012


Anthony Powell, A Buyer's Market (London: Heinemann, 1952):
The illusion that egoists will be pleased, or flattered, by interest taken in their habits persists throughout life; whereas, in fact, persons like Widmerpool, in complete subjection to the ego, are, by the nature of that infirmity, prevented from supposing that the minds of others could possibly be occupied by any subject far distant from the egoist’s own affairs.

14 August 2012

Dull and Meaningless Toil

Stephen Leacock, The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice (Toronto: S. B. Gundy, 1920), pp. 22-4:
The record of the age of machinery is known to all. But the strange mystery, the secret that lies concealed within its organization, is realized by but few. It offers, to those who see it aright, the most perplexing industrial paradox ever presented in the history of mankind. With all our wealth, we are still poor. After a century and a half of labor-saving machinery, we work about as hard as ever. With a power over nature multiplied a hundred fold, nature still conquers us. And more than this. There are many senses in which the machine age seems to leave the great bulk of civilized humanity, the working part of it, worse off instead of better. The nature of our work has changed. No man now makes anything. He makes only a part of something, feeding and tending a machine that moves with relentless monotony in the routine of which both the machine and its tender are only a fractional part. 
For the great majority of the workers, the interest of work as such is gone. It is a task done consciously for a wage, one eye upon the clock. The brave independence of the keeper of the little shop contrasts favorably with the mock dignity of a floor walker in an "establishment." The varied craftsmanship of the artisan had in it something of the creative element that was the parent motive of sustained industry. The dull routine of the factory hand in a cotton mill has gone. The life of a pioneer settler in America two hundred years ago, penurious and dangerous as it was, stands out brightly beside the dull and meaningless toil of his descendant.

13 August 2012

Deserving Oblivion

Oscar Wilde, "The Critic as Artist," Oscar Wilde: The Oxford Authors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 256:
To know the vintage and quality of a wine one need not drink the whole cask. It must be perfectly easy in half an hour to say whether a book is worth anything or worth nothing. Ten minutes are really sufficient, if one has the instinct for form. Who wants to wade through a dull volume? One tastes it, and that is quite enough -- more than enough, I should imagine. I am aware that there are many honest workers in painting as well as in literature who object to criticism entirely. They are quite right. Their work stands in no intellectual relation to their age. It brings us no new element of pleasure. It suggests no fresh departure of thought, or passion, or beauty. It should not be spoken of. It should be left to the oblivion that it deserves.

10 August 2012

The Iniquity of Oblivion

Kenneth Grahame, "The Iniquity of Oblivion," The Yellow Book, VII (January, 1895), 197-9:
[I]t is impossible not to realise, in sad seriousness, that of all our recollection has once held, by far the larger part must be by this time in the realm of the forgot; and that every day some fresh delightful little entity pales, sickens, and passes over to the majority. Sir Thomas Browne has quaintly written concerning the first days of the young world, "when the living might exceed the dead, and to depart this world could not be properly said, to go unto the greater number"; but in these days of crowded thought, of the mind cultured and sensitised to receive such a swarm of impressions, no memory that sighs its life out but joins a host far exceeding what it leaves behind. 'Tis but a scanty wallet that each of us carries at his back. Few, indeed, and of a sorry mintage, the thin coins that jingle therein. Our gold, lightly won, has been as lightly scattered, along waysides left far behind. Oblivion, slowly but surely stalking us, gathers it with a full arm, and on the floor of his vast treasure-house stacks it in shining piles.  
And if it is the larger part that has passed from us, why not also the better part? Indeed, logic almost requires it; for to select and eliminate, to hold fast and let go at will, is not given to us. As we jog along life's highroad, the knowledge of this inability dogs each conscious enjoyment, till with every pleasant experience comes also the annoying reflection, that it is a sheer toss-up whether this is going to be a gain, a solid profit to carry along with us, or fairy gold that shall turn to dust and nothingness in a few short mornings at best. As we realise our helplessness in the matter, we are almost ready to stamp and to swear. Will no one discover the chemical which shall fix the fleeting hue? That other recollection, now -- that humiliating, that disgusting experience of ten years ago -- that is safe enough, permanent, indestructible, warranted not to fade. If in this rag-fair we were only allowed to exchange and barter, to pick and choose! Oblivion, looking on, smiles grimly. It is he that shall select, not we; our part is but to look on helplessly, while -- though he may condescend to leave us a pearl or two -- the bulk of our jewels is swept into his pocket. 

9 August 2012

Everything That Once Made Life Sweet

Philip Larkin, All What Jazz (London: St. Martin's Press, 1970), p. 18:
Sometimes I imagine them [my readers]; sullen fleshy inarticulate men, stockbrokers, sellers of goods, living in thirty-year-old detached houses among the golf courses of Outer London, husbands of ageing and bitter wives they first seduced to Artie Shaw's 'Begin the Beguine' or the Squadronaires' 'The Nearness of You'; fathers of cold-eyed lascivious daughters on the pill, to whom Ramsay MacDonald is coeval with Rameses II, and cannabis-smoking jeans-and-bearded Stuart-haired sons whose oriental contempt for 'bread' is equalled only by their insatiable demand for it; men to whom a pile of scratched coverless 78s in the attic can awaken memories of vomiting blindly from small Tudor windows to Muggsy Spanier's 'Sister Kate', or winding up a gramophone in a punt to play Armstrong's 'Body and Soul'; men whose first coronary is coming like Christmas; who drift, loaded helplessly with commitments and obligations and necessary observances, into the darkening avenues of age and incapacity, deserted by everything that once made life sweet.
Larkin was born on this day in 1922.

8 August 2012

A Twiddle of the Pen

Charles Ricketts (1866-1931) on the ampersand in A Defence of the Revival of Printing (London: Hacon and Ricketts, 1899), p. 15:

Paul van Capelleveen has been blogging about Ricketts for more than a year.

7 August 2012

The Future of Germany

Heinrich Heine travels through time and reports on the Euro crisis... from Section 25 of "Germany: A Winter's Tale", The Complete Poems of Heinrich Heine, trans. Hal Draper, (Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1982), p. 532:
"Do you see? It's in the corner there --
Old, torn and weather-beaten,
The leather's ripped from off the back
And the cushion is all moth-eaten. 
"But go and lift that cushion up,
That cushion so soiled and spotty:
Behold, you'll see a circular hole,
And under it -- a potty. 
"It is an enchanted pot in which
There are magical forces brewing,
And stick your head into the hole
It's the future you'll be viewing -- 
"The future of Germany before your eyes
Like a billowing phantasm;
But do not shudder if from the mess
Exhales a foul miasm!" -- 
She spoke, and laughed a peculiar laugh,
But I wasn't afraid for a minute,
I eagerly went to the fearsome hole
And stuck my head right in it. 
The things I saw there I can't reveal --
My oath makes it unlawful;
But I can tell you this much now:
My God, the smell was awful! 

The original:
Deutschland: Ein Wintermärchen 
Siehst Du, dort in dem Winkel steht
Ein alter Sessel, zerrissen
Das Leder der Lehne, von Mottenfraß
Zernagt das Polsterkissen. 
Doch gehe hin und hebe auf
Das Kissen von dem Sessel,
Du schaust eine runde Öffnung dann,
Darunter ein Kessel --
Das ist ein Zauberkessel, worin
Die magischen Kräfte brauen,
Und steckst du in die Ründung den Kopf,
So wirst du die Zukunft schauen -- 
Die Zukunft Deutschlands erblickst du hier,
Gleich wogenden Phantasmen,
Doch schaudre nicht, wenn aus dem Wust
Aufsteigen die Miasmen! 
Sie sprachs und lachte sonderbar,
Ich aber ließ mich nicht schrecken,
Neugierig eilte ich den Kopf
In die furchtbare Ründung zu stecken. 
Was ich gesehen, verrate ich nicht,
Ich habe zu schweigen versprochen,
Erlaubt ist mir zu sagen kaum,
O Gott! was ich gerochen!

6 August 2012

The Agathopèdes

Via Eric Poindron, I discover Arthur Dinaux's Les sociétés badines, bachiques, littéraires et chantantes (Paris: Bachelin-Deflorenne, 1867) -- a history of jesting, drinking, literary, and singing clubs. On page 8 of the first volume there is an entry for the Agathopèdes. My translation:
This jesting club was founded in Brussels around 1850 by several writers and wits who amused themselves by publishing a very small number of works of eccentric buffoonery. The society held burlesque contests, imitated Rabelais' joyous inventiveness in their derisive foolishness, and was fairly notorious.  
At the Agathopèdes, or Pig Fanciers, members assumed or were given nicknames that corresponded to their qualities or even their faults. Initially these names were taken from the Roman de Renart; there was Mr. Fox etc.  
A certain amount of laughter, more merry than significant, accompanied this kind of baptism. The society also proposed questions for resolution, and awarded prizes and medals.
The description of the club runs to several pages and covers ceremonial garb, the motto (amis comme cochons -- "thick as pigs", as in "thick as thieves"), the submission of papers ("must be written legibly in Latin, French, or Dutch"), and so on.

There is also an article about the society on the French version of Wikipedia, where it says members founded the club in order to spend their evenings "sheltered from finks, noise, music, and other inconveniences."

3 August 2012

The Great and Reasonable Revolution

George Moore, Confessions of a Young Man (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1904), p. 134:
The world is dying of machinery; that is the great disease, that is the plague that will sweep away and destroy civilisation; man will have to rise against it sooner or later... Capital, unpaid labour, wage-slaves, and all the rest -- stuff ... Look at these plates; they were painted by machinery; they are abominable. Look at them. In old times plates were painted by hand, and the supply was necessarily limited to the demand, and a china in which there was always something more or less pretty was turned out; but now thousands, millions of plates are made more than we want, and there is a commercial crisis; the thing is inevitable. I say the great and the reasonable revolution will be when mankind rises in revolt, and smashes the machinery and restores the handicrafts.

2 August 2012

Empty and Bored

Alfred de Musset, La confession d'un enfant du siècle (Paris: Larousse, 1900), p. 15. My translation:
So young people found a use for their latent energy by affecting despair. To rail against glory, religion, love, and everything in the world is a great consolation for those who do not know what do; they mock themselves, and prove themselves right by doing so. And then it is pleasant to believe onself wretched when one is simply empty and bored. 

31 July 2012

Seen From Behind

Jules Troubat, Notes et pensées (Paris: L. Sauvaitre, 1888), p. 25. My translation:
Pedants only show the underside of their knowledge. They do not know how to make people love Greek literature: what they write resembles Gobelins tapestries, seen from behind.

30 July 2012

Muta Persona

Abraham Cowley, "Of Obscurity", The Essays of Abraham Cowley (New York: Scribner, Welford & Co., 1869), pp. 35-6:
I account a person who has a moderate mind and fortune, and lives in the conversation of two or three agreeable friends, with little commerce in the world besides; who is esteemed well enough by his few neighbours that know him, and is truly irreproachable by anybody; and so after a healthful quiet life, before the great inconveniences of old age, goes more silently out of it than he came in (for I would not have him so much as cry in the exit); this innocent deceiver of the word, as Horace calls him, this muta persona, I take to have been more happy in his part, than the greatest actors that fill the stage with show and noise, nay, even than Augustus himself, who asked with his last breath, whether he had not played his farce very well.

27 July 2012

A Parlous Condition

Joseph Wood Krutch, Human Nature and the Human Condition (New York: Random House, 1959), p. 136:
Nothing more clearly distinguishes a method of education from a technique of indoctrination than the fact that education demands from the subject some effort, especially some effort of attention, while propaganda does not. The advertiser will go to any length to make everything easy. The educator will see to it that something is expected of his pupil. He knows that no one can learn anything worth knowing unless he is willing to learn, as well as willing to be taught. He knows that learning how to learn is more important than any specific thing he can "communicate." And the grand question has now become whether or not the new techniques of mass communication inevitably and by their very nature weaken the power to learn at the same time that they make being taught so easy. 
What so many enthusiasts of communication will not realize is that there is a point beyond which everything should not be made varied, vivid, picturesque, dramatic, and "interesting." A time is sure to come when something which needs very much to be learned cannot possibly be made as vivid, picturesque, dramatic, and interesting as certain other things. And when that time comes, only the individual who can turn his attention to what is most important, rather than allow it to be captured by what is most interesting, is capable of being educated. A population entrusted with the power to make decisions but incapable of sustained attention is in a parlous condition.

26 July 2012

Thus Vanished Heine

F. Max Müller, Auld Lang Syne (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), pp. 59-60:
I never came to know Heine. I knew he was in Paris when I was there in 1846, but he was already in such a state of physical collapse that a friend of mine who knew him well, and saw him from time to time, advised me not to go and see him. However, one afternoon as I and my friend were sitting on the Boulevard, near the Rue Richelieu, sipping a cup of coffee, "Look there," he said, "there comes Heine!" I jumped up to see, my friend stopped him, and told him who I was. It was a sad sight. He was bent down, and dragged himself slowly along, his spare greyish hair was hanging round his emaciated face, there was no light in his eyes! He lifted one of his paralysed eyelids with his hand and looked at me. For a time, like the blue sky breaking from behind grey October clouds, there passed a friendly expression across his face, as if he thought of days long gone by. Then he moved on, mumbling a line from Goethe, in a deep, broken, and yet clear voice, as if appealing for sympathy : -- "Das Maulthier sucht im Düstern seinen Weg." [The mule seeks its way in the gloom] 
Thus vanished Heine, the most brilliant, sparkling, witty poet of Germany. I have seen him, that is all I can say, as Saul saw Samuel, and wished he had not seen him. However, we travel far to see the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, of Nineveh and Memphis, and the ruins of a mind such as Heine's are certainly as sad and as grand as the crumbling pillars and ruined temples shrouded under the lava of Vesuvius.
Heine made a slight change to Goethe's original: Das Maulthier sucht im Nebel seinen Weg [The mule seeks its way in the fog], which is a line from Mignon's song in Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre.

25 July 2012

Being Polite

Arthur Schopenhauer, Selected Essays, trans. T. Bailey Saunders (New York: A. L. Burt, 1892), pp. 163-4.
It is a wise thing to be polite; consequently, it is a stupid thing to be rude. To make enemies by unnecessary and willful incivility, is just as insane a proceeding as to set your house on fire. For politeness is like a counter -- an avowedly false coin, with which it is foolish to be stingy. A sensible man will be generous in the use of it. It is customary in every country to end a letter with the words: -- "your most obedient servant" -- votre très-humble serviteur -- suo devotissimo servo . (The Germans are the only people who suppress the word servant -- diener -- because, of course, it is not true!) However, to carry politeness to such an extent as to damage your prospects, is like giving money where only counters are expected. 
Wax, a substance naturally hard and brittle, can be made soft by the application of a little warmth, so that it will take any shape you please. In the same way, by being polite and friendly, you can make people pliable and obliging, even though they are apt to be crabbed and malevolent. Hence politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax. 
Of course, it is no easy matter to be polite; in so far, I mean, as it requires us to show great respect for everybody, whereas most people deserve none at all; and again in so far as it demands that we should feign the most lively interest in people, when we must be very glad that we have nothing to do with them. To combine politeness with pride is a masterpiece of wisdom.
The German source is Section 36 of the Paränesen und Maximen at the end of the first volume of Parerga und Paralipomena (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1877), p. 492.

24 July 2012

Dreary Vices, Drearier Virtues

Oscar Wilde, "The Decay of Lying", The Oxford Authors: Oscar Wilde (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 199-220:
M. Zola, true to the lofty principle that he lays down in one of his pronunciamientos on literature, "L'homme de génie n'a jamais d'esprit," is determined to show that, if he has not got genius, he can at least be dull. And how well he succeeds! He is not without power. Indeed at times, as in Germinal, there is something almost epic in his work. But his work is entirely wrong from beginning to end, and wrong not on the ground of morals, but on the ground of art. From any ethical standpoint it is just what it should be. The author is perfectly truthful, and describes things exactly as they happen. What more can any moralist desire? We have no sympathy at all with the moral indignation of our time against M. Zola. It is simply the indignation of Tartuffe on being exposed. But from the standpoint of art, what can be said in favour of the author of L'Assommoir, Nana and Pot-Bouille? Nothing. Mr. Ruskin once described the characters in George Eliot's novels as being like the sweepings of a Pentonville omnibus, but M. Zola's characters are much worse. They have their dreary vices, and their drearier virtues. The record of their lives is absolutely without interest. Who cares what happens to them? In literature we require distinction, charm, beauty and imaginative power. We don't want to be harrowed and disgusted with an account of the doings of the lower orders.
A related post: A Few Crude Needs, Wants, and Desires

23 July 2012

A Bit of a Bore

W. Somerset Maugham, Cakes and Ale (New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1930), p. 140:
When the thing of beauty has given me the magic of its sensation my mind quickly wanders; I listen with incredulity to the persons who tell me that they can look with rapture for hours at a view or a picture. Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose : you can smell it and that is all: that is why the criticism of art, except in so far as it is unconcerned with beauty and therefore with art, is tiresome. All the critic can tell you with regard to Titian's Entombment of Christ, perhaps of all the pictures in the world that which has most pure beauty, is to go and look at it. What else he has to say is history, or biography, or what not. But people add other qualities to beauty -- sublimity, human interest, tenderness, love -- because beauty does not long content them. Beauty is perfect, and perfection (such is human nature) holds our attention but for a little while. The mathematician who after seeing Phèdre asked: "Qu'est-ce que ça prouve?" was not such a fool as he has been generally made out. No one has ever been able to explain why the Doric temple of Paestum is more beautiful than a glass of cold beer except by bringing in considerations that have nothing to do with beauty. Beauty is a blind alley. It is a mountain peak which once reached leads nowhere. That is why in the end we find more to entrance us in El Greco than in Titian, in the incomplete achievement of Shakespeare than in the consummate success of Racine. Too much has been written about beauty. That is why I have written a little more. Beauty is that which satisfies the aesthetic instinct. But who wants to be satisfied? It is only to the dullard that enough is as good as a feast. Let us face it: beauty is a bit of a bore.

20 July 2012

The Instinct or Pride of the Elephant

Sébastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort, Oeuvres complètes de Chamfort, Vol. I (Paris: Chaumerot Jeune, 1824), pp. 441-2. My own translation:
It is unfortunate for mankind, and perhaps fortunate for tyrants, that poor and wretched people do not have the instinct or pride of the elephant, which does not breed in captivity.

19 July 2012

A Death-Croaking Prophet

Henry Miller, Sexus (New York: Grove Press, 1965), p. 18:
A writer woos his public just as ingnominiously as a politician or any other mountebank; he loves to finger the great pulse, to prescribe like a physician, to win a place for himself, to be recognized as a force, to receive the full cup of adulation, even if it be deferred a thousand years. He doesn't want a new world which might be established immediately, because he knows it would never suit him. He wants an impossible world in which he is the uncrowned puppet ruler dominated by forces utterly beyond his control. He is content to rule insidiously -- in the fictive world of symbols -- because the very thought of contact with rude and brutal realities frightens him. True, he has a greater grasp of reality than other men, but he makes no effort to impose that higher reality on the world by force of example. He is satisfied just to preach, to drag along in the wake of disasters and catastrophes, a death-croaking prophet always without honor, always stoned, always shunned by those who, however unsuited for their tasks, are ready and willing to assume responsibility for the affairs of the world. 

18 July 2012

What Have I Said Amiss?

George Gissing, Born in Exile (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1896), p. 266:
'You don't believe, then,' said Sidwell, 'that democracy is the proper name for the state into which we are passing?' 
'Only if one can understand democracy as the opening of social privileges to free competition amongst men of trade. And social privilege is everything; home politics refer to nothing else.' 
Fanny, true to the ingenuous principle of her years, put a direct question: 
'Do you approve of real democracy, Mr. Peak?' 
He answered with another question: 
'Have you read the "Life of Phokion" in Plutarch?' 
'No, I'm sorry to say.' 
'There's a story about him which I have enjoyed since I was your age. Phokion was once delivering a public speech, and at a certain point the majority of his hearers broke into applause; whereupon he turned to certain of his friends who stood near and asked, "What have I said amiss?"' 
Fanny laughed. 
'Then you despise public opinion?' 
'With heart and soul!'

17 July 2012

The Surest Foundation

William Cobbett, Advice to Young Men (New York: John Doyle, 1846) p. 53:
This shame of being thought poor, is not only dishonourable in itself, and fatally injurious to men of talent; but it is ruinous even in a pecuniary point of view, and equally destructive to farmers, traders, and even gentlemen of landed estate. It leads to everlasting efforts to disguise one's poverty: the carriage, the servants, the wine, (oh, that fatal wine!) the spirits, the decanters, the glasses, all the table apparatus, the dress, the horses, the dinners, the parties, all must be kept up; not so much because he or she who keeps or gives them, has any pleasure arising therefrom, as because not to keep and give them, would give rise to a suspicion of the want of means so to give and keep; and thus thousands upon thousands are yearly brought into a state of real poverty by their great anxiety not to be thought poor. Look round you, mark well what you behold, and say if this be not the case. In how many instances have you seen most amiable and even most industrious families brought to ruin by nothing but this! Mark it well; resolve to set this false shame at defiance, and when you have done that, you have laid the first stone of the surest foundation of your future tranquillity of mind. There are thousands of families, at this very moment, who are thus struggling to keep up appearances.

16 July 2012

Shrieking After Immortality

George Moore evaluates the work of Jules and Edmond de Goncourt in Confessions of a Young Man (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1904), pp. 134-5:
Goncourt is not an artist, notwithstanding all his affectation and outcries; he is not an artist. Il me fait l'effet of an old woman shrieking after immortality and striving to beat down some fragment of it with a broom. Once it was a duet, now it is a solo. They wrote novels, history, plays, they collected bric-à-brac -- they wrote about their bric-à-brac; they painted in water-colours, they etched -- they wrote about their water-colours and etchings; they have made a will settling that the bric-à-brac is to be sold at their death, and the proceeds applied to founding a prize for the best essay or novel, I forget which it is. They wrote about the prize they are going to found; they kept a diary, they wrote down everything they heard, felt, or saw, radotage de vieille femme; nothing must escape, not the slightest word; it might be that very word that might confer on them immortality; everything they heard, or said, must be of value, of inestimable value. A real artist does not trouble himself about immortality, about everything he hears, feels and says; he treats ideas and sensations as so much clay wherewith to create.
Edmond de Goncourt died on this day in 1896.

13 July 2012


W. N. P. Barbellion, The Journal of a Disappointed Man (London: Chatto & Windus, 1919), p. 62:
A young but fat woman sitting in the sun and oozing moisture is as nasty as anything in Baudelaire.

12 July 2012

Seven Years

Jacques Roergas de Serviez, The Roman Empresses, translated by Bysse Molesworth, Vol. II  (New York: H.S. Nichols, 1913), p. 9:
[The Emperor Hadrian] was very inconstant in his friendships, he persecuted all those whom he had loved, and to whom he was under the greatest obligations. This odd and unaccountable conduct soon after induced Similis, an officer of great honor and merit, to retire into the country, where, far from tumults, business and courts, he passed seven years in calm and quiet solitude, and reckoned that his whole life till then went for nothing, informing all the world of it by ordering this epitaph to be written upon his tomb :  
Hic jacet Similis,
Cujus setas multorum annorum fuit,
Ipse septem dumtaxat annos vixit.  
Here lies Similis,
Who was in the world many years,
But only lived seven.
He died in the 76th year of his age.

11 July 2012

Literature Is a Private Club

Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach, from his collection of aphorisms Abälard und Heloise (Ansbach: Carl Brügel, 1834), pp. 8-9. My own translation:
Life is like a coffee house that stands open to everyone without distinction, while literature is a private club, a closed society with its own statutes; it is only open to us, and our thoughts and feelings, after prior selection, deliberation, and discernment.

10 July 2012

Practicing Patience

Arthur Schopenhauer, Selected Essays, translated by T. Bailey Saunders (New York: A. L. Burt, 1892), p. 142:
The art of putting up with people may be learned by practicing patience on inanimate objects, which, in virtue of some mechanical or general physical necessity, oppose a stubborn resistance to our freedom of action -- a form of patience which is required every day. The patience thus gained may be applied to our dealings with men, by accustoming ourselves to regard their opposition, wherever we encounter it, as the inevitable outcome of their nature, which sets itself up against us in virtue of the same rigid law of necessity as governs the resistance of inanimate objects. To become indignant at their conduct is as foolish as to be angry with a stone because it rolls into your path. And with many people the wisest thing you can do, is to resolve to make use of those whom you cannot alter.
The source for this quote is Section 21 of the Paränesen und Maximen at the end of the first volume of Parerga und Paralipomena (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1877), p. 478.

The search feature in the link above is useless. I read somewhere (in David Cartwright's biography, I think) that Schopenhauer insisted his works be typeset in Fraktur -- a sound aesthetic choice, but sometimes OCR software is unable to digest it.

9 July 2012

When My Hour Comes

George Moore, Confessions of a Young Man (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1904), p. 253:
That I may die childless — that when my hour comes I may turn my face to the wall saying, I have not increased the great evil of human life — then, though I were murderer, fornicator, thief, and liar, my sins shall melt even as a cloud. But he who dies with children about him, though his life were in all else an excellent deed, shall be held accursed by the truly wise, and the stain upon him shall endure for ever.

6 July 2012

Let Him Ask No Other Blessedness

Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present, Book III, Chapter XI:
Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness. He has a work, a life-purpose; he has found it, and will follow it! How, as a free-flowing channel, dug and torn by noble force through the sour mud-swamp of one's existence, like an ever-deepening river there, it runs and flows; -- draining off the sour festering water, gradually from the root of the remotest grass-blade; making, instead of pestilential swamp, a green fruitful meadow with its clear-flowing stream.

Rubricated and Resplendent

The title page of a book published by J. M. Dent in 1904, a couple years before the launch of the Everyman's Library:

Delightful. Pity there's no way to sniff the bindings. You could spray some of this around your screen, but I doubt it would be musty enough.

5 July 2012

Habitually Cheerful

Alexander Bain (1818-1903), Practical Essays (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1884), p. 6:
To bid a man be habitually cheerful, he not being so already, is like bidding him treble his fortune, or add a cubit to his stature. The quality of a cheerful, buoyant temperament partly belongs to the original cast of the constitution -- like the bone, the muscle, the power of memory, the aptitude for science or for music; and is partly the outcome of the whole manner of life. In order to sustain the quality, the physical (as the support of the mental) forces of the system must run largely in one particular channel; and, of course, as the same forces are not available elsewhere, so notable a feature of strength will be accompanied with counterpart weaknesses or deficiencies.

4 July 2012

The Little Touches

Harry Thurston Peck, What Is Good English? (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1899), pp. 40-2:
The enlightened person may be soonest recognised in what he says and writes; for it is in language that the little touches are most truly omnipresent. In a positive way these cannot be defined. They are perceptible most of all in a perfect harmony between word and phrase and the occasion when the word and phrase are uttered. The nice tact, the instinctive adaption of means to end, the delicate understanding of just how far one may go in any given direction, the mental modulations, so to speak, the shadings, the tintings, the half-lights, the recognition of eternal fitness -- these are nowhere so immediately felt as when men and women begin to frame their thoughts in language; and they depend not at all upon recorded rule and precept, nor upon anything that can be taught and learned, but they spring out of that finer taste which may indeed be cultivated and still more refined, yet which is itself the fairy birth-gift that insures enlightenment to its possessor; for it goes with sanity and judgment, and it is both coloured by humour and directed by a sense of true proportion.  
As rule and precept have nothing to do with the little touches, it is impossible to classify these and describe them in a satisfactory way. The most that can be done is to give some illustration of those usages which show their absence and which may, perhaps, explain them negatively; for there are certain things in language which an enlightened person will not do, and there are certain other things which instantly rank the one who perpetrates them with the unenlightened -- that is, with those who lack the little touches.  
In the first place, there is nothing quite so vulgar as the perpetual dread of seeming to be vulgar. The enlightened person is not vulgar, simply because it is utterly impossible for him to be so. The unenlightened person dreads vulgarity, yet he lacks the nice discrimination which divides the easy and the natural from the wholly crude. To adapt one's language to the subject of one's discourse, to the occasion, and to the hearer, is the ultimate test of true refinement and of taste. In public oratory, for example, the speaker who cannot discriminate and feel the instinctive appropriateness or inappropriateness of a particular manner is one who is always in danger of mistaking bombast for inspired eloquence, and windy gabble for fluency and ease. He will talk to a bucolic audience about cattle-raising and farming in precisely the same vein as that in which he would urge a reluctant Senate to declare a war; and on some really stately and momentous occasion he will babble commonplaces or descend to vulgar jocularity.  
In private life, the unenlightened person is very apt to dread colloquialisms. He will wish to speak book-language in recounting the most casual incidents of life. He is always "perusing" a book instead of reading it; he always "retires" and never goes to bed; he "disrobes" and does not undress; he will promise to "correspond" but not to write; he will ask you to "desist" but not to stop. If he is extremely unenlightened he will say that he is "partial" to such and such a thing, and perhaps at table will offer to "assist" you to the cheese. This sort of person is almost as low as the one who takes pleasure in alluding to his "social position" and with whom men and women are always "ladies" and "gentlemen."

3 July 2012

Not Attempting Too Much

Samuel Butler, The Note Books of Samuel Butler (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1917), p. 103-4.
The greatest secret of good work whether in music, literature or painting lies in not attempting too much; if it be asked, "What is too much?" the answer is, "Anything that we find difficult or unpleasant." We should not ask whether others find this same thing difficult or no. If we find the difficulty so great that the overcoming it is a labour and not a pleasure, we should either change our aim altogether, or aim, at any rate for a time, at some lower point. It must be remembered that no work is required to be more than right as far as it goes; the greatest work cannot get beyond this and the least comes strangely near the greatest if this can be said of it.

2 July 2012

As a Voice of Conscience

George Moore, Confessions of a Young Man (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1904), p. 62:
Books are like individuals; you know at once if they are going to create a sense within the sense, to fever, to madden you in blood and brain, or if they will merely leave you indifferent, or irritable, having unpleasantly disturbed sweet intimate musings as might a draught from an open window. Many are the reasons for love, but I confess I only love woman or book, when it is as a voice of conscience, never heard before, heard suddenly, a voice I am at once endearingly intimate with.

28 June 2012

An Unwholesome State of Mind

Margaret Nevinson, Life's Fitful Fever (London: A & C Black, 1926):
Unless a way out can be found, the struggle ends in what psychologists call 'frustration', an unwholesome state of mind, leading to cynicism, envy, hatred, and malice towards the more fortunate, and bitter discontent. The sharpest sting to my mind was the consciousness that the years were passing, that the keen powers of mind and body, the vigour and ambition of youth, do not last forever. Above all, the brightness of the imagination clouds in the thick mists of age and experience, and the night cometh when no man can work.

27 June 2012

How Long It Takes

Paul Léautaud, Journal Littéraire, from the entry for January 9th, 1904, my own translation:
How long it takes to dare to be oneself. It is not that you are yourself very late, no, it really is what I say: you need a great deal of time before you decide to show yourself as you are, freed from worrying about what is admired, about what you once naively tried to imitate, forcing yourself to like it, despite the secret difference you felt within.

26 June 2012

Our Personal Connection to What is Wrong

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1977), p. 19:
Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live.

25 June 2012

The Folio Volumes of Life

Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach (1804-1872), from his collection of aphorisms Abälard und Heloise (Ansbach: Carl Brügel, 1834), p. 8. My own translation:
Books are short excerpts from the wide-ranging folio volumes of life, and the only person who fulfills the writer's high calling is the one who sorts through the many bad things they sometimes contain and only reads out the best parts, separating the useless from the necessary and the common from the noble.

22 June 2012

A Few Crude Needs, Wants, and Desires

Joseph Wood Krutch, Human Nature and the Human Condition (New York: Random House, 1959), pp. 108-10:
[S]ince the mid-nineteenth century, more and more fiction in all its forms has become more and more subservient to scientific, sociological, and psychological theories; the writer seems less anxious to have us recognize ourselves than to make sure that what he writes could be taken to illustrate some scientific or sociological thesis he has accepted. At least from the time of George Eliot onward, many of the most important novelists tended to assume that fiction should illustrate "laws." Zola's endlessly reiterated thesis is that heredity and environment determine the character and the conduct of his characters, who are thus predictable products which circumstance has produced. Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy is another extreme example in which the hero is presented as in no sense a moral agent but again as only what he cannot help but be. Even where the thesis is less explicit, the tendency is very often to stress, not the individuality of the characters, but the extent to which they illustrate the "plight of the worker," the "limitations of the bourgeois mentality" or the "psychology of the postwar generation." 
Thus literature has come to be a less and less effective corrective while the sociology upon which it leans so heavily becomes more and more drab as it more and more insolently disregards the intangibles and reduces human nature to the few crude needs, wants, and desires which it can recognize and measure. 
It cannot, so it seems, give any account of either man or human life which does not leave out nearly everything which makes living interesting, enjoyable or significant. Though the Sociological Man is not quite so simple as that Economic Man who is nothing except producer and consumer, he is less likely to be recognized as a mere abstraction. If he is more than merely producer and consumer he is nevertheless motivated only by "needs," subject only to "pressures," desirous only of such unexalted goods as "security" and "status."

21 June 2012

Writing From One's Own Mind

George Gissing to his friend Eduard Bertz on Dec. 6th 1896, The Collected Letters of George Gissing, Vol. 6 (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1995):
I believe that success comes and comes only of writing from one's own mind. Even the foolish books that succeed are strongly marked by the foolish personality of their authors. There is no such thing as getting a public by trying to do so.

20 June 2012

Hopelessly Unremunerative

Andrew Lang, How to Fail in Literature (London: Field & Tuer, 1890), pp. 88-9:
In an unpublished letter of Mr. Thackeray's, written before he was famous, and a novelist, he says how much he likes writing on historical subjects, and how he enjoys historical research. The work is so gentlemanly, he remarks. Often and often, after the daily dreadful lines, the bread and butter winning lines on some contemporary folly or frivolity, does a man take up some piece of work hopelessly unremunerative, foredoomed to failure as far as money or fame go, some dealing with the classics of the world, Homer or Aristotle, Lucian or Molière. It is like a bath after a day's toil, it is tonic and clean; and such studies, if not necessary to success, are, at least, conducive to mental health and self-respect in literature.

19 June 2012

In Praise of Scribes

P. S. Allen, The Age of Erasmus (Oxford: Clarendon, 1914), pp. 261-2:
But the new invention [of books made with moveable type] was not universally acclaimed. Trithemius with his conservative mind quickly detected some weaknesses; and in 1492 he composed a treatise 'In praise of scribes', in vain attempt to arrest the flowing tide. 'Let no one say, "Why should I trouble to write books, when they are appearing continually in such numbers? for a moderate sum one can acquire a large library." What a difference between the results achieved! A manuscript written on parchment will last a thousand years: books printed on paper will scarcely live two hundred. Besides, there will always be something to copy: not everything can be printed. Even if it could, a true scribe ought not to give up. His pen can perpetuate good works which otherwise would soon perish. He must not be amazed by the present abundance that he sees, but should look forward to the needs of the future. Though we had thousands of volumes, we must not cease writing; for printed books are never so good. Indeed they usually pay little heed to ornament and orthography.' It is noticeable that only in this last point does Trithemius claim for manuscripts superior accuracy. In the matter of permanence we may wonder what he would have thought of modern paper.

18 June 2012

The Mediocre Man

Joseph Wood Krutch, Human Nature and the Human Condition (New York: Random House, 1959), pp. 92-3:
The words we choose to define or suggest what we believe to be important facts exert a very powerful influence upon civilization. A mere name can persuade us to approve or disapprove, as it does, for example, when we describe certain attitudes as "cynical" on the one hand or "realistic" on the other. No one wants to be "unrealistic" and no one wants to be "snarling". Therefore his attitude toward the thing described may very well depend upon which designation is current among his contemporaries; and the less critical his mind, the more influential the most commonly used vocabulary will be. 
It is for this reason that, even as a mere verbal confusion, the use of "normal" to designate what ought to be called "average" is of tremendous importance and serves not only to indicate but actually to reinforce the belief that average ability, refinement, intellectuality, or even virtue is an ideal to be aimed at. Since we cannot do anything to the purpose until we think straight and since we cannot think straight without properly defined words it may be that the very first step toward an emancipation from the tyranny of "conformity" should be the attempt to substitute for "normal", as commonly used, a genuine synonym for "average". 
Fortunately, such a genuine and familiar synonym does exist. That which is "average" is also properly described as "mediocre". And if we were accustomed to call the average man, not "the common man" or still less "the normal man", but "the mediocre man" we should not be so easily hypnotized into believing that mediocrity is an ideal to be aimed at.

15 June 2012

Absolute Rot

Since tomorrow is Bloomsday, here is Evelyn Waugh on James Joyce:

14 June 2012

Engaged Isolation

Marilynne Robinson in Writing Life (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2006):
If one were looking for things to compare, for their engaged isolation, with the reading of a novel, they would be dreaming, meditation, and prayer.

13 June 2012

What Should One Think of Humanity?

Sébastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort, Oeuvres complètes de Chamfort, Vol. I (Paris: Chaumerot Jeune, 1824), p. 435. My own translation:
When one considers that, after thirty or forty centuries of work and genius, the end result is that three hundred million men spread all over the globe have been delivered up to thirty despots, most of them ignorant imbeciles, each of whom is managed by three or four villains (sometimes stupid ones), what should one think of humanity, and what can one expect of it in future?

12 June 2012


W. Hale White, Autobiography of Mark Rutherford (London: T. F. Unwin, 1881):
For my own part I cannot be enthusiastic about politics, except on rare occasions when the issue is a very narrow one. There is so much that requires profound examination, and it disgusts me to get upon a platform and dispute with ardent Radicals or Conservatives who know nothing about even the rudiments of history, political economy, or political philosophy, without which it is as absurd to have an opinion upon what are called politics as it would be to have an opinion upon an astronomical problem without having learned Euclid.

11 June 2012

The Depth of My Ambition

C. H. Middleton, Village Memories (London: Cassell and Company, 1941), pp. 162-4:
There is surely something wrong with a system which drives every intelligent youth away from the country village, because there is no longer a living there for him. But isn't there also something wrong with a philosophy that teaches us to measure success by monetary values only, rather than by the happiness attained? I have never despised money, I have never known enough about it to do that, but surely it is but the means to an end; and if the end can be attained without the means, why worry? I never could see the sense of spending three-quarters of a lifetime in a feverish struggle to get money to spend in the last quarter, which, as often as not, never arrives. I want to enjoy life now, not wait until I'm seventy. I have known several village lads who have left home and got on in the world, and have been successful, but I am not convinced that they finished up any happier than their rosy-cheeked brothers who stayed at home. 
Perhaps if I had swotted and worked hard years ago, I, too, might have been successful. I might have invented a new form of high explosive or poison gas and become famous. I might have made so much money that by this time perhaps I should have been undergoing a cure for something or other at a foreign spa; and perhaps I should have earned this little epitaph, which would surely be appropriate on many a marble tombstone:
He squandered health in search of wealth
To gold became a slave
Then spent his wealth in search of health
But found only a grave.
As it is, I suppose I must be counted one of life's -- I won't say failures, but mediocrities; but a very contented one. I am one of those lucky people who are satisfied with their lot, and know when they are well off. I enjoy a good breakfast every morning, and I've got a pleasant job which suits me very nicely, and I wouldn't change it for the directorship of a soap factory at ten thousand a year. I suppose I ought to be ashamed to say it, but the height, or shall I say depth, of my ambition is a pension of two or three hundred a year, and the time and opportunity to enjoy my garden, where I can grow roses and sweet peas and live close to Nature, and perhaps help a few others to appreciate the real good things in life, and to make the most of this brief stay on earth.
To put Mr. Middleton's aspirations in context: £250 in 1941 would be about £10,500 today, or $16,700 Canadian.

8 June 2012

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London (London: Victor Gollancz, 1933):
We went several days on dry bread, and then I was two and a half days with nothing to eat whatever. This was an ugly experience. There are people who do fasting cures of three weeks or more, and they say that fasting is quite pleasant after the fourth day; I do not know, never having gone beyond the third day. Probably it seems different when one is doing it voluntarily and is not underfed at the start. 
The first day, too inert to look for work, I borrowed a rod and went fishing in the Seine, baiting with bluebottles. I hoped to catch enough for a meal, but of course I did not. The Seine is full of dace, but they grew cunning during the siege of Paris, and none of them has been caught since, except in nets. On the second day I thought of pawning my overcoat, but it seemed too far to walk to the pawnshop, and I spent the day in bed, reading The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. It was all that I felt equal to, without food. Hunger reduces one to an utterly spineless, brainless condition, more like the after-effects of influenza than anything else. It is as though one had been turned into a jellyfish, or as though all one’s blood had been pumped out and luke-warm water substituted. 

6 June 2012

Not Well Employed

Joseph Wood Krutch, Human Nature and the Human Condition (New York: Random House, 1959), p. 57:
Referring to a depression in his own day, Thoreau once wrote to a friend: "If thousands are thrown out of employment, it suggests that they were not well employed." To most readers who come upon that casual remark for the first time it seems merely heartless: "If there is no useful work for these thousands of people to do, then just let them starve." But there is another way of looking at it. If you are thinking not only of their plight but of how they came to be plunged into it, then Thoreau's remark goes straight to the heart of the matter. A major fraction of the population is engaged in making things which nobody needs. All the arts of publicity are proving insufficient to persuade a sufficient number of people that they even "want" them. Is there nothing better that that the now unemployed could have been working at? Must they boondoggle on a gigantic scale? Must boondoggling be accepted as the foundation of our economy? Or are there tasks upon which all might be "well employed"? Is our definition of what constitutes the good life the real reason they are not?

5 June 2012

Only in Looking Back

George Gissing, Born in Exile (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1896), pp. 248-9:
It belongs to the pathos of human nature that only in looking back can one appreciate the true value of those long tracts of monotonous ease which, when we are living through them, seem of no account save in relation to past or future; only at a distance do we perceive that the exemption from painful shock was in itself a happiness, to be rated highly in comparison with most of those disturbances known as moments of joy. 

4 June 2012

The Desire for Useless Things

Joseph Wood Krutch, Human Nature and the Human Condition (New York: Random House, 1959), pp. 35-6:
[P]resent-day human nature does not spontaneously desire all the material things which our economic health demands that it should have. It may once have been necessary to restrain man's lust to own, to consume, and to waste; but this lust is no longer adequate to the needs of present-day industry. We cannot be trusted to buy enough things. In the public interest a vast co-ordinated effort must be made to sell them to us. Neither is it enough to satisfy mere "needs", even though it be recognized that such "needs" grow as they are fed. They still do not grow fast enough. They must be created; and it must also be recognized that many of them are not only created but are also in themselves "psychological". As the head of one large New York advertising agency jubilantly pointed out, a study revealed that "of some 500 classified wants, only 96 were necessary." But what, in plain language, are "created psychological needs" except the desire for useless things which people have been persuaded that they want?

1 June 2012

Push an Acorn Into the Ground

George Orwell in A Good Word for the Vicar of Bray, an As I Please essay that appeared in the Tribune on 26 April 1946:
A thing which I regret, and which I will try to remedy some time, is that I have never in my life planted a walnut. Nobody does plant them nowadays -- when you see a walnut it is almost invariably an old tree. If you plant a walnut you are planting it for your grandchildren, and who cares a damn for his grandchildren? Nor does anybody plant a quince, a mulberry or a medlar. But these are garden trees which you can only be expected to plant if you have a patch of ground of your own. On the other hand, in any hedge or in any piece of waste ground you happen to be walking through, you can do something to remedy the appalling massacre of trees, especially oaks, ashes, elms and beeches, which has happened during the war years.  
Even an apple tree is liable to live for about 100 years, so that the Cox I planted in 1936 may still be bearing fruit well into the twenty-first century. An oak or a beech may live for hundreds of years and be a pleasure to thousands or tens of thousands of people before it is finally sawn up into timber. I am not suggesting that one can discharge all one's obligations towards society by means of a private re-afforestation scheme. Still, it might not be a bad idea, every time you commit an antisocial act, to make a note of it in your diary, and then, at the appropriate season, push an acorn into the ground.