17 June 2013

Fraud

Fred Ross in an article on the Art Renewal Center's web site:
Our 20th century has marked a period that celebrated the bizarre, the novel and the outrageous for its own sake. The defining parameter of greatness to Modernism is "has it ever been done before," "is it totally original where there is no derivation from any former schools of art," "does it outrage," "does it expand the definition of what can be called art?" I propose to you today that if everything is art then nothing is art. If I call a table a chair have I expanded the definition of the word table? Would this make me brilliant? If I call a hat a shirt have I expanded the definition of hat? If I call a nail a hammer, have I expanded the definition of the word nail? Am I now a genius? If I call screeching car wheels great music have I expanded the definition of music?

Or in reality have I perpetrated a fraud on the people who wanted to buy tables, hats, nails and music and instead got chairs, shirts, hammers and a headache?

Modernists have not expanded the definition of art at all. What they have done is attempted to destroy art, created icons that represent this destruction, and then called these icons the thing that they have destroyed i.e. works of art. A urinal or an empty canvas, hung on the wall of a museum, are especially pure examples of this. They are not works of art but symbols of the victory of the Huns, who have sacked the bastions and forums of our culture.
A related post: The Genesis of Modernism 

14 June 2013

A Fine Simian

David Cartwright, Schopenhauer: A Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), footnote on p. 88:
Heinrich Floris [Schopenhauer] must have suffered hardness of hearing for many years. A well-known anecdote concerns the announcement to his employees of Arthur's birth. One of them is alleged to have said to the gathering "If he will come to resemble his father, he will become a fine baboon." He did not respond.
This seemed strange when I first read it, but I think I've caught on now that I've come across the quote in Wilhelm Gwinner's biography. The German word for baboon is Pavian, and the word for man is Mann. Presumably, said quickly enough, the ends of the two sound enough alike that Schopenhauer's deaf father wouldn't have caught the slight. In my translation I have rendered it as:
Like his son, [Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer] had a wide face and had been hard of hearing since he was young, only to an even greater extent than Arthur. He had prominent and lively eyes, a short and upturned nose, and a large mouth. The latter was not much of a credit to him; on the afternoon of February 22nd he entered his office in a fever and stammered out the words "It's a boy!" to the assembled employees. The witty bookkeeper, counting on in his employer's poor hearing, rose and congratulated him heartily, saying: "If he is like his father, he will grow up to be a fine simian!"
I'm now going to use this line whenever someone shows me a male child.

12 June 2013

Ex Libris

A couplet composed by Charles Nodier (1780-1844) for his friend Guilbert de Pixérécourt (1773-1844), from Jules Janin's L'Amour des livres [The Love of Books] (Paris: J. Miard, 1866), p. 60. My translation:
Such is the sad fate of any book lent;
It is often lost, it is always bent.
The French:
Tel est le triste sort de tout livre prêté ;
Souvent il est perdu, toujours il est gâté. 

11 June 2013

Spineless People

Bettina Wegner in a Kennzeichen D TV program from 1978. My translation:


Interviewer: Could you sing a song from that time?

Wegner: Sure I can. This is a song for my children, for all children, and it applies to adults. It's called "Children".
The hands are so small,
With tiny fingers on them.
You should never hit them,
Or they will break.
The feet are so small,
With such little toes.
You should never step on them,
Or they won't be able to walk.
The ears are so small,
Sharp, and rightly so.
You should never shout,
Or they'll go deaf.
The mouths are so beautiful,
They express everything.
You should never forbid them to speak,
Or nothing more will ever come out.
The eyes are so clear,
They look at everything.
You should never cover them,
Or they won't be able to see.
Their souls are so tiny,
Open, and totally free.
You should never torment them,
Or they will fall apart.
It is such a little spine,
You can hardly see it.
You should never bend it,
Or it will snap.
[To raise] upright, clear-headed people,
Would be a fine goal:
Spineless people,
We have too many of them already.
The German lyrics:
Sind so kleine Hände
Winzige Finger dran.
Darf man nie drauf schlagen
Die zerbrechen dann.
Sind so kleine Füße
Mit so kleinen Zeh'n
Darf man nie drauf treten
Können sonst nicht gehen.
Sind so kleine Ohren
Scharf, und ihr erlaubt,
Darf man nie zerbrüllen
Werden davon taub.
Sind so schöne Münder
Sprechen alles aus.
Darf man nie verbieten
Kommt sonst nichts mehr raus.
Sind so klare Augen
Die noch alles sehn.
Darf man nie verbinden
Können sonst nichts mehr sehen.
Sind so kleine Seelen
Offen und ganz frei.
Darf man niemals quälen
Gehen kaputt dabei.
Ist so ein kleines Rückgrat
Sieht man fast noch nicht.
Darf man niemals beugen
Weil es sonst zerbricht.
Gerade, klare Menschen
wären ein schönes Ziel.
Leute ohne Rückgrat
Haben wir schon zuviel.

10 June 2013

Whether Men Do Laugh or Weep

Thomas Campion (1567-1620), "Whether Men Do Laugh or Weep," in The Book of Elizabethan Verse (London: Chatto & Windus, 1908), pp. 535-536:
Whether men do laugh or weep,
Whether they do wake or sleep,
Whether they die young or old,
Whether they feel heat or cold;
There is underneath the sun
Nothing in true earnest done.

All our pride is but a jest.
None are worst and none are best;
Grief and joy and hope and fear
Play their pageants everywhere:
Vain Opinion all doth sway,
And the world is but a play.

Powers above in clouds do sit,
Mocking our poor apish wit.
That so lamely with such state
Their high glory imitate.
No ill can be felt but pain,
And that happy men disdain.

7 June 2013

So Few of Us Are Brave

Richard King (pseudonym of Richard King Huskinson, 1879-1947), With Silent Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1917), pp. 111-112:
I often wonder what are really the regrets of people who are condemned to death. Properly speaking, they are supposed to repent their sins. But I'm sure they don't. More likely they weep for the joys they passed by from some cause or another. I'm perfectly certain that the thought which oppresses most people when they come to die is, not the wicked acts they have committed, but the time they wasted over people whose opinion and society wasn't worth a second's consideration. I can imagine that, after having fully and completely lived one's own life, death comes as a glorious climax. Annihilation to come when one has never really lived at all — that must indeed be tragedy. And yet that is how death finds most of us, even though we live to be eighty. It is not that we can't live so much as that the majority of us daren't live. I speak, alas! from experience. The years are passing, and behind me stretches an existence as noisy as a bear-garden, as joyless as a seaside promenade beneath a lowering sky, and very nearly as useless as if it had never been. Could I put back the clock twenty years.... Oh, but so many people are saying that! The thing is to face the present moment and to get as much pleasure out of it as one can. That is the only way to live life. Most of us are denying ourselves in every way for a future which usually never comes. It is not altogether our fault. When we are young we are influenced by other people, by society, by the "shams" which go to make up the conduct of the world. By the time we have discovered that our elders were all wrong, that society demands much and offers no real pleasure, and that the world is government by "authorities," than whom greater tyrants and more callous were never rulers in Hell, we are too old to strike out an existence of our own. We just fret and make the best of it. But what a condemnation of ourselves it is to own that we have only one life that we really know of, and we live it trying to make the best of it. The world is so full of joy and happiness and goodness if we are only courageous enough to look for them. But so few of us are brave. We are, nearly all of us, governed by somebody or something, and none of them rule over us either with sympathy or with love. Duty is an ideal we preach to other people.
A related post: Do You Like This Idea?

5 June 2013

Only Listeners Are Bored

Richard King (pseudonym of Richard King Huskinson, 1879-1947), With Silent Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1917), p. 100:
Have you ever noticed how difficult it is in life to be alone? Always have you to fight and still fight on for an acknowledgement of these hours of voluntary solitude which you seek, and which, after long periods of "giving out," are assuredly your due. People seem to dislike to see anybody enjoying themselves, by themselves. They call it being unsociable; but they mean that you are selfish. Secretly, in their heart of hearts, they believe that because you are alone, you must be feeling either depressed or dull. They imagine that your mood would immediately take upon itself a more roseate hue were they to intrude upon your solitude to prophesy to you concerning the weather. The more they love you the longer they will prophesy. They demand of you a confirmation of the idea that it will necessarily be fine in the afternoon because it rained before seven in the morning. They ask you innumerable questions; they inform you of things you did not want to know. They go on for hours, and they leave you under the impression that they found you on the verge of suicide, and straightway "cheered you up." But you, yourself, discarding the mask of pleasure you per force had assumed while they were with you, thank Heaven upon your knees that they are gone. Only listeners are bored. People who are always talking are always pleased with themselves. And the people who never sought the mental clarification of solitude are never silent. Their conversation becomes quite mechanical at last. These people always profess to love their fellow-creatures, and pride themselves upon having "hosts of friends." Life for them is scarcely to be considered worth living if fate forces them to spend a few days absolutely by themselves. They have no resources. Their dreams fled when they put up their hair. They exist from hour to hour in the hopeful expectancy of running across someone to whom to relate the trivialities of their day.

4 June 2013

Abnormal People

Richard King (pseudonym of Richard King Huskinson, 1879-1947), With Silent Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1917), pp. 46-47:
The abnormal person flees through life like a canary being pursued by sparrows. Nobody quite knows why the sparrows always persecute the bird which has escaped its cage, except that it is usually different from the type they are themselves, and a "difference," even in bird-life — which, after the life of the flowers, always seems to me to be nearest to perfect beauty in all creation — makes for enmity and hatred and jealousy and, if possible, death. Of course, there are heaps of people who aren't really abnormal at all, although they are dying to be thought above and apart from the crowd. They kind o' hunt with the hounds and dress up like the hare. They usually create a deep impression on themselves. The abnormal people I pity are the people who have been born, as it were, with a "kink" in their natures, people who cannot live the ordinary, law-abiding, moral, and respectable life of the multitude, as the multitude moulds its conduct by laws and religion and social customs. They are the people who suffer. They are the people who are really and cruelly lonely. If they are strong and brave they usually end either as social outcasts or in gaol. If they are weak, they shuffle through life furtively, pretending to be what they are not. And how they suffer — these really abnormal people! In their struggle for self-expression they are never victors. The Commonplace always wins in the long run, decry it as we may.

3 June 2013

The Ear Does the Work

W. Somerset Maugham, "After Reading Burke," in The Vagrant Mood (Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1969), pp. 130-131:
English is a language of harsh consonants, and skill is needed to avoid the juxtaposition of sounds that offend the hearing. Some authors are insensible to this and will use a word ending with a consonant, or even a pair of them, and put beside it a word beginning with the same one or the same pair (a fast stream); they will use alliteration (always dangerous in prose) and will write words that rhyme (thus producing an unpleasant jingle) without any feeling of discomfort. Of course the sense is the first thing, but the riches of the English language are such that it is seldom a sufficiently exact synonym cannot be found for the word that comes first to mind. It is seldom that an author is obliged to let something stand that grates up on his ear because only so can he say precisely what he wants to. One of the most valuable things that can be learnt from reading Burke is that, however unmanageable certain words may appear, it is possible by proper placing, the judicious admixture of long ones with short, by alternation of consonants and vowels and by alternation of accent, to secure euphony. Of course no one could write at all if he bore these considerations in his conscious mind; the ear does the work.

31 May 2013

The Influence of Ovid

Havelock Ellis, Impressions and Comments (London: Constable, 1914), pp. 226-227:
The pages of Ovid, as one glances across them, are like a gay southern meadow in June, variegated and brilliant, sweet and pensive and rather luxuriant, and here and there even a little rank. Yet they are swept by the air and the light and the rain of Nature, and so their seduction never grew stale. During sixteen centuries, while the world was spiritually revolutionised again and yet again, the influence of Ovid never failed; it entered even the unlikeliest places. Homer might be an obscure forgotten bard and Virgil become a fantastic magician, but Ovid, lifted beyond the measure of his genius, was for ever a gracious and exalted Influence, yet human enough to be beloved and with the pathos of exile clinging to his memory, filling the dreams of fainting monks at the feet of the Virgin, arousing the veneration of the Humanists, even inspiring the superb and exuberant poets of the English Renaissance, Marlowe and Shakespeare and Milton.
It has sometimes seemed to me that if it were given to the ghosts of the Great Dead to follow with sensitive eyes the life after life of their fame on earth, there would be none, not even the greatest — to whom indeed the vision could often bring only bitterness, — to find more reasonable ground for prolonged bliss than Ovid.

30 May 2013

The Art of Living

A. C. Benson, Escape, and Other Essays (London: Smith Elder, 1915), pp. 278-281:
[A]rt in its largest sense is the faculty we have of observing and comparing and wondering; and the people who make the most of life are the people who give their imagination wings; and then, too, comes in the further feeling, which leads us to try and shape our own life and conduct on the lines of what we admire and think beautiful; the dull word duty means that, that we choose what is not necessarily pleasant because for some mysterious reason we feel happier so; because, however much we may pretend to think otherwise, we are all of us at every moment intent upon happiness, which is a very different thing from pleasure, and sometimes quite contrary to it.
And so we come at last to the art of living, which is really a very delicate balancing and comparing of reasons, an attempt, however blind and feeble, to get at happiness; and the moment that this attempt ceases and becomes merely a dull desire to be as comfortable as we can, that moment the spirit begins to go down hill, and the value of life is over; unless perhaps we learn that we cannot afford to go down hill, and that every backward step will have to be painfully retraced, somewhere or other.
What, then, I would try to persuade anyone who is listening to me is that we must use our wills somehow to try experiments, to observe, to distinguish, to follow what we think fine and beautiful. It may be said that this is only a sort of religion, and indeed it is exactly that at which I am aiming. It is a religion, which is within the reach of many people who cannot be touched by what is technically called religion. Religion is a word that has unhappily become specialised. It stands for beliefs, doctrines, ceremonies, practices. But these may not, and indeed do not, suit many of us. The worst of definite religions is that they are too definite. They try to enforce upon us a belief in things which we find incredible, or perhaps think to be simply unknowable; or they make out certain practices to be important, which we do not think important. We must never do violence to our minds and souls by professing to believe what we do not believe, or to think things certain which we honestly believe to be uncertain; but at the same time we must remember that there is always something of beauty inside every religion, because religion involves a deliberate choice of better motives and better actions, and an attempt to exclude the baser and viler elements of life.

28 May 2013

Industrious Fellows

Robert Louis Stevenson, "An Apology for Idlers," in Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906), p. 31:
A happy man or woman is a better thing to find than a five-pound note. He or she is a radiating focus of good-will; and their entrance into a room is as though another candle had been lighted. We need not care whether they could prove the forty-seventh proposition; they do a better thing than that, they practically demonstrate the great Theorum of the liveableness of Life. Consequently, if a person cannot be happy without remaining idle, idle he should remain. It is a revolutionary precept; but thanks to hunger and the workhouse, one not easily to be abused; and within practical limits, it is one of the most incontestable truths in the whole Body of Morality. Look at one of your industrious fellows for a moment, I beseech you. He sows hurry and reaps indigestion; he puts a vast deal of activity out to interest, and receives a large measure of nervous derangement in return. Either he absents himself entirely from all fellowship, and lives a recluse in a garret, with carpet slippers and a leaden inkpot; or he comes among people swiftly and bitterly, in a contraction of his whole nervous system, to discharge some temper before he returns to work. I do not care how much or how well he works, this fellow is an evil feature in other people's lives. They would be happier if he were dead. They could easier do without his services in the Circumlocution Office, than they can tolerate his fractious spirits. He poisons life at the well-head. It is better to be beggared out of hand by a scapegrace nephew, than daily hag-ridden by a peevish uncle.

27 May 2013

Of All Wishes, Which Is the Best?

Søren Kierkegaard, from Either/Or, quoted in Parables of Kierkegaard, ed. Thomas C. Oden (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), p. 125:
Something wonderful has happened to me. I was caught up into the seventh heaven. There sat all the gods in assembly. By special grace I was granted the privilege of making a wish. "Wilt thou," said Mercury, "Have youth or beauty or power or a long life or the most beautiful maiden or any other glories we have in the chest? Choose, but only one thing." For a moment I was at a loss. Then I addressed myself to the gods as follows: "Most honorable contemporaries, I choose this one thing, that I may always have the laugh on my side." Not one of the gods said a word; on the contrary, they all began to laugh. From that I concluded that my wish was granted, and found that the gods knew how to express themselves with taste; for it would hardly have been suitable for them to have answered gravely: "Thy wish is granted."

24 May 2013

My Lost Days Congregate Behind Me

Étienne Pivert de Senancour, Obermann (Letter XLVI), tr. Arthur Edward Waite (London: William Rider & Son, 1909), p. 187:
I repeat to you that time flies with increasing swiftness in the measure that age changes. My lost days congregate behind me. They fill the vague space with their hueless shadows; they heap up their attenuated skeletons; it is the darksome semblance of a funereal pile. And if my restless glance turns seeking some repose upon the chain, more fortunate once, of days that prepare the future, their full forms and their brilliant images have well-nigh lost their beauty. The high colourings have paled; that veiled space which embellished them with heavenly grace in the magic of incertitude, discovers now their naked phantoms all barren and sorrowful. By the austere gleam which reveals them amidst the eternal night, I can see even now the last of all advancing alone over the abyss, and there is nothing in front of it.
The French is available on Gallica: Volume 1 and Volume 2
Matthew Arnold's essay on Obermann can be found in this volume of essays.

23 May 2013

Living in Lemprière

William Ernest Henley, "The Gods Are Dead," in Poems (London: David Nutt, 1898), p. 106:
The gods are dead? Perhaps they are! Who knows?
Living at least in Lemprière undeleted,
The wise, the fair, the awful, the jocose,
Are one and all, I like to think, retreated
In some still land of lilacs and the rose.

Once high they sat, and high o'er earthly shows
With sacrificial dance and song were greeted.
Once ... long ago. But now, the story goes,
The gods are dead.

It must be true. The world, a world of prose,
Full-crammed with facts, in science swathed and sheeted,
Nods in a stertorous after-dinner doze!
Plangent and sad, in every wind that blows
Who will may hear the sorry words repeated:
'The Gods are Dead!'
Lemprière: John Lemprière's Bibliotheca Classica

22 May 2013

Life's Great Conflagration

Søren Kierkegaard, Selections From the Writings of Kierkegaard, tr. L. M. Hollander (Austin: University of Texas, 1923), p. 44:
Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work. Therefore, whenever I see a fly settling, in the decisive moment, on the nose of such a person of affairs; or if he is spattered with mud from a carriage which drives past him in still greater haste; or the drawbridge opens up before him; or a tile falls down and knocks him dead, then I laugh heartily. And who, indeed, could help laughing? What, I wonder, do these busy folks get done? Are they not to be classed with the woman who in her confusion about the house being on fire carried out the fire-tongs? What things of greater account, do you suppose, will they rescue from life's great conflagration?
This is the only English translation of Kierkegaard I could find on Archive.org. However, I did come across this attractive edition of Either/Or in German.

cf. Hank on being burnt

20 May 2013

What Is Life?

Thomas de Quincey, "The Household Wreck," in The Collected Writings of Thomas de Quincey, ed. David Masson, Vol. XII (London: A & C Black, 1896), p. 158:
What is life? Darkness and formless vacancy for a beginning, or something beyond all beginning; then next a dim lotos of human consciousness, finding itself afloat upon the bosom of waters without a shore; then a few sunny smiles and many tears; a little love and infinite strife; whisperings from paradise and fierce mockeries from the anarchy of chaos; dust and ashes; and once more darkness circling round, as if from the beginning, and in this way rounding or making an island of our fantastic existence; that is human life; that the inevitable amount of man's laughter and his tears — of what he suffers and he does — of his motions this way and that way, to the right or to the left, backwards or forwards — of all his seeming realities and all his absolute negations — his shadowy pomps and his pompous shadows — of whatsoever he thinks, finds, makes or mars, creates or animates, loves, hates, or in dread hope anticipates. So it is, so it has been, so it will be, for ever and ever.
Thomas Carlyle answers the same question in verse.

16 May 2013

Sorrow Lurks Behind All Your Pleasures

Claude Tillier (1801-1844), My Uncle Benjamin, tr. by Adele Szold Seltzer (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1917), pp. 4-5:
[M]y opinion is that a man is a machine made expressly for suffering. He has only five senses through the whole surface of his body. In whatever spot he is pricked, he bleeds; in whatever spot he is burned, he gets a blister. The lungs, the liver, the bowels can give him no pleasure. But the lungs become inflamed and make him cough; the liver becomes obstructed and throws him into a fever; the bowels gripe and give him the colic. There is not a nerve, a muscle, a sinew under your skin that cannot make you howl with pain.
Your machinery is thrown out of gear every moment like a bad pendulum. You raise your eyes to heaven to invoke it, and a swallow's dung falls into them and sears them. You go to a ball, and you sprain your ankle and have to be carried home on a stretcher. To-day you are a great writer, a great philosopher, a great poet; a thread in your brain snaps; they bleed you, put ice on your head – in vain – to-morrow you will be only a poor madman.
Sorrow lurks behind all your pleasures; you are greedy rats whom it attracts with a bit of savory bacon. You are in your shady garden, and cry out, "Oh! what a beautiful rose!" and the rose pricks you; "Oh! what a beautiful pear!" there is a wasp on it, and the pear stings you.
You say, "God has made us to serve and to love him." It is not true. He has made us to suffer. The man who does not suffer is a badly-made machine, a defective creature, a moral cripple, one of nature's abortions. Death is not only the end of life, it is its cure. One is nowhere so well off as in the grave. If you believe me, you will order a coffin instead of a new overcoat. It is the only garment that does not make you feel uncomfortable.
French copy here.

15 May 2013

Dead-Alive, Hackneyed People

Robert Louis Stevenson, "An Apology for Idlers," in Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. William Lyon Phelps (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906), pp. 27-28:
There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. Bring these fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you will see how they pine for their desk or their study. They have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk: they cannot be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-mill. When they do not require to go to the office, when they are not hungry and have no mind to drink, the whole breathing world is a blank to them. If they have to wait an hour or so for a train, they fall into a stupid trance with their eyes open. To see them, you would suppose there was nothing to look at and no one to speak with; you would imagine they were paralysed or alienated; and yet very possibly they are hard workers in their own way, and have good eyesight for a flaw in a deed or a turn of the market. They have been to school and college, but all the time they had their eye on the medal; they have gone about in the world and mixed with clever people, but all the time they were thinking of their own affairs. As if a man's soul were not too small to begin with, they have dwarfed and narrowed theirs by a life of all work and no play; until here they are at forty, with a listless attention, a mind vacant of all material of amusement, and not one thought to rub against another, while they wait for the train. Before he was breeched, he might have clambered on the boxes; when he was twenty, he would have stared at the girls; but now the pipe is smoked out, the snuffbox empty, and my gentleman sits bolt upright upon a bench, with lamentable eyes. This does not appeal to me as being Success in Life.

14 May 2013

Not Wholesome in the Stomach

Thomas Fuller (1608-1661), "Mixt Contemplations in These Times," in Good Thoughts in Bad Times and Other Papers (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1863), pp. 198-199:
XIII. NO TITTLE OF TITLE
Two young gentlemen were comparing their revenues together, vying which of them were the best. My demesnes, saith the one, is worth two; but mine, saith the other, is worth four hundred pounds a year. My farms, saith the one, are worth four; but mine, saith the other, are worth eight hundred pounds a year.
My estate, saith the one, is my own; to which the other returned no answer, as conscious to himself that he kept what lawfully belonged to another.
I care not how small my means be, so they be my means; I mean my own, without any injury to others. What is truly gotten may be comfortably kept. What is otherwise may be possessed, but not enjoyed.
Upon the question, What is the worst bread which is eaten? One answered. In respect of the coarseness thereof, bread made of beans. Another said, Bread made of acorns. But the third hit the truth, who said, Bread taken out of other men's mouths, who are the true proprietaries thereof. Such bread may be sweet in the mouth to taste, but is not wholesome in the stomach to digest.

13 May 2013

Puny Modern Civilised Man

Havelock Ellis, Impressions and Comments (London: Constable, 1914), pp. 248-249:
The vast and complex machines to which our civilisation devotes its best energy are no doubt worthy of all admiration. Yet when one seeks to look broadly at human activity they only seem to be part of the scaffolding and material. They are not the Life itself.
To whatever sphere of human activity one turns one's attention to-day, one is constantly met by the same depressing spectacle of pale, lean, nervous, dyspeptic human creatures, restlessly engaged in building up marvellously complex machines and elaborate social organisations, all of which, they tell us, will make for the improvement of Life. But what do they suppose "Life" to be?
A giant's task demands a giant. When one watches this puny modern civilised Man engaged on tasks which do so much credit to his imagination and invention, one is reminded of the little boy who was employed to fill a large modern vat. He nearly completed the task. One day he disappeared. They found him at last with only his feet visible above the rim of the vat.

9 May 2013

Books for Refuge

H. M. Tomlinson, Old Junk (London: Andrew Melrose, 1918), pp. 223-224:
The best books for refuge in times of stress are of the "notebook" and "table-talk" kind. Poetry I have tried, but could not approach it. It is too distant. Romance, which many found good, would never hold my attention. But I had Samuel Butler's Note Books with me for two years in France [i.e., during the First World War], and found that the right sort of thing. You may begin anywhere. There are no threads to look for. And you may stop for a time, while some strange notion of the author's is in contest for the command of the intelligence with your dark, resurgent thoughts; but Butler always won. His mental activity is too fibrous, masculine, and unexpected for any nonsense. But I had to keep a sharp eye on Butler. His singular merits were discovered by others who had no more than heard of him, but found he was exactly what they wanted. If his volume of Note Books is not the best example of its sort we have, then I should be glad to learn the name of the best.
Charles Dana Gibson, A Widow and Her Friends (1900)

8 May 2013

Agricultural Pursuits

Louise-Victorine Ackermann (1813-1890), Pensées d'une solitaire [Thoughts of a Recluse]  (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1882), pp. 44-45. My translation:
Agricultural pursuits have a particular virtue: they calm, and they mollify. They are especially good after great pains or great disappointments. In those moments, it is as if the earth is offering man a foretaste of the definitive rest that it will give him one day.
The French:
Les occupations agricoles ont une vertu particulière : elles calment, elles émoussent. Elles sont surtout bonnes après de grandes douleurs ou de grands mécomptes. Il semble que la terre communique dès lors à l'homme un avant-goût de ce repos définitif qu'elle lui donnera quelque jour.

6 May 2013

I Do Not Often Weep

Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (London: Taylor & Hessey, 1823), pp. 53-54:
I do not often weep: for not only do my thoughts on subjects connected with the chief interests of man daily, nay hourly, descend a thousand fathoms “too deep for tears;” not only does the sternness of my habits of thought present an antagonism to the feelings which prompt tears — wanting of necessity to those who, being protected usually by their levity from any tendency to meditative sorrow, would by that same levity be made incapable of resisting it on any casual access of such feelings; but also, I believe that all minds which have contemplated such objects as deeply as I have done, must, for their own protection from utter despondency, have early encouraged and cherished some tranquillising belief as to the future balances and the hieroglyphic meanings of human sufferings. On these accounts I am cheerful to this hour, and, as I have said, I do not often weep. 

3 May 2013

A Coveted and Honourable Distinction

Jules Janin, L'Amour des livres [The Love of Books] (Paris: J. Miard, 1866), pp. 23-25. My liberal translation:
Athens and Rome are, in fact, mankind's two great teachers. They have left imperishable masterpieces which have become the most perfect models for modern art and intellect. For three centuries the spirits of Athens and Rome have reigned supreme over France. Their divine spark has animated the poets, orators, philosophers, and historians of our great age. Today it is only the prigs who, in their barbarous language, insist on heaping insults upon these elect men, men without whom this great nation would not exist, and they wanted to have these classical works placed on the index of forbidden books [1]. The public conscience was appalled, and while the Church itself -- the heads of western and eastern Christendom -- pointed out the merits of these great ancients, the most illiterate of men took the side of those who would profane eloquence. A glorious accomplishment! Still, we acknowledge that, in these evil days, the study and admiration of the classics have fallen off terribly. This is due to the invasion of all kinds of sciences, each of which requires its own special language, as well as to the abominable bifurcation of the French educational system (a shame and a dishonour). And then too there is the influence of foreign languages. We have borrowed all kinds of words and adopted the jargon of travelling salesmen.
But for minds that are noble and naturally refined, for those who honestly aspire to the beautiful, this lack of respect for the ancients must be an irresistible encouragement to the serious study and contemplation of these masterpieces. Before long, if the fatal bifurcation remains in effect (you must forgive me for using this barbarous term; it comes from the University itself, the same one that educated that nasty writer Mr. Fortoul) [2], it will soon be rare to find learned men capable of reading the languages of Homer and Virgil -- and this in the nation of Racine and Voltaire, Molière and Bossuet! Alas, in the degenerate days which are not far off you can be sure that, among the men La Bruyère called "honest people", it will be a coveted and honourable distinction to be able to read the Iliad and Aeneid in the original, as the great minds of old once did.
Notes:
  1. I'm not sure what Janin is talking about here, although I haven't spent much time trying to find out. Presumably some contemporary group wanted to have certain classical works (Plato? Catullus? Who knows.) placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, but I'm not sure which French group was agitating in the mid 1800s, or which works they wanted banned. Perhaps Janin was only speaking in general terms.
  2. The "bifurcation" refers to the French educational reforms of 1850, which required students to choose between two streams of study; classical (arts) and modern (sciences). I believe Mr. Fortoul authored a report recommending the system.
For a time I toyed with translating L'Amour des livres, but much of it is just a discussion of the specific books and editions that Janin believed every learned person should have. It's all sound advice, I'm sure, but if someone is interested in collecting fine copies of French classics, I imagine he or she would be able (and prefer) to read the book in French.

Englishing Janin is good fun, but there's not much point in translating a book that nobody would want or need. So, I've decided to post some of the more amusing bits over the next few weeks and forget the rest. Anyone who'd like to read the original can download a copy from Gallica.

Some previous excerpts:

Update: Mike Gilleland writes with a link to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum for note #1 above, and points out that classical authors sometimes appeared on it, e.g. Lucian in the 1559 index

2 May 2013

A Circle of Books

A. C. Benson, Escape, and Other Essays (London: Smith Elder, 1915), pp. 283-284:
I believe very little in setting the foot on books, as sailors take possession of an unknown isle. One must make experiments, just to see what are the kind of books which nurture and sustain one; and then I believe in arriving at a circle of books, which one really knows through and through, and reads at all times and in all moods, till they get soaked and enriched with all sorts of moods and associations. I have a dozen such, which I read and mark and scribble in, write when and where I read them, and who were my companions. Of course the same books do not always last through one's course. You grow out of books as you grow out of clothes; and I sometimes look at old favourites, and find myself lost in wonder as to how I can ever have cared for them like that! They seem now like little antechambers and corridors, through which I have passed to something far more noble and gracious. But all the time we must be trying to weave the books really into life, not let them stand like ornaments on a shelf. 

1 May 2013

An Education in Words

Arthur Machen, Far Off Things (London: Martin Secker, 1922), p. 88:
And then there was the old-fashioned grammar school education, of which it must be said, by friends and foes, that it is an education in words. One spent one's time, unconsciously, in weighing the values of words in English and Greek and Latin, in rendering one tongue into another, in estimating the exact sense of an English sentence before translating it into one or another of the old tongues. So that a boy who could do decent Latin prose must first have mastered the exact sense and significance of his English original, and then he must also have made himself understand to a certain extent, not only the logic but the polite habit of each language. I remember when I was a very small boy rendering "Put to the sword" literally into "Gladio positi." "Well," said my master, "there is no reason on earth why the Romans shouldn't have said 'gladio positi,' but as a matter of fact they did say 'ferro occisi' — killed with iron." And if one thinks of it, he who has mastered that little lesson has also mastered the larger lesson that literature is above logic, that there are matters in it which transcend plain common sense.

30 April 2013

The Gift of Reading

Robert Louis Stevenson, "Books Which Have Influenced Me," in Essays in the Art of Writing (London: Chatto & Windus, 1905), pp. 87-89:
The gift of reading, as I have called it, is not very common, nor very generally understood. It consists, first of all, in a vast intellectual endowment — a free grace, I find I must call it — by which a man rises to understand that he is not punctually right, nor those from whom he differs absolutely wrong. He may hold dogmas; he may hold them passionately; and he may know that others hold them but coldly, or hold them differently, or hold them not at all. Well, if he has the gift of reading, these others will be full of meat for him. They will see the other side of propositions and the other side of virtues. He need not change his dogma for that, but he may change his reading of that dogma, and he must supplement and correct his deductions from it. A human truth, which is always very much a lie, hides as much of life as it displays. It is men who hold another truth, or, as it seems to us, perhaps, a dangerous lie, who can extend our restricted field of knowledge, and rouse our drowsy consciences. Something that seems quite new, or that seems insolently false or very dangerous, is the test of a reader. If he tries to see what it means, what truth excuses it, he has the gift, and let him read. If he is merely hurt, or offended, or exclaims upon his author’s folly, he had better take to the daily papers; he will never be a reader.

29 April 2013

Too Much Concerned About a Little Poverty

Robert Louis Stevenson, "The Morality of the Profession of Letters," in Essays in the Art of Writing (London: Chatto & Windus, 1905), pp. 50-51:
Literature, like any other art, is singularly interesting to the artist; and, in a degree peculiar to itself among the arts, it is useful to mankind. These are the sufficient justifications for any young man or woman who adopts it as the business of his life. I shall not say much about the wages. A writer can live by his writing. If not so luxuriously as by other trades, then less luxuriously. The nature of the work he does all day will more affect his happiness than the quality of his dinner at night. Whatever be your calling, and however much it brings you in the year, you could still, you know, get more by cheating. We all suffer ourselves to be too much concerned about a little poverty; but such considerations should not move us in the choice of that which is to be the business and justification of so great a portion of our lives; and like the missionary, the patriot, or the philosopher, we should all choose that poor and brave career in which we can do the most and best for mankind.
Some related posts:
Afraid to Be Poor
The Sons of Joy
The Surest Foundation 

24 April 2013

An Exquisite Mistress

George Moore, Memoirs of My Dead Life (London: Heinemann, 1906), p. 45:
[By] acquiring a fatherland more ideal than the one birth had arrogantly imposed, because deliberately chosen, I have doubled my span of life. Do I not exist in two countries? Have I not furnished myself with two sets of thoughts and sensations? Ah! the delicate delight of owning un pays ami — a country where you may go when you are weary to madness of the routine of life, sure of finding there all the sensations of home, plus those of irresponsible caprice. The pleasure of a literature that is yours without being wholly your own, a literature that is like an exquisite mistress, in whom you find consolation for all the commonplaces of life!
Illustration from the Gazette du bon ton (April 1914)

22 April 2013

Not a Reasonable Life

Henry George (1839-1897), The Crime of Poverty; An Address Delivered in the Opera House, Burlington, Iowa, April 1, 1885 (Cincinnati: The Joseph Fels Fund, 1910), pp. 12-13:
Here is a man working hour after hour, day after day, week after week, in doing one thing over and over again, and for what? Just to live. He is working ten hours a day in order that he may sleep eight, and may have two or three hours for himself when he is tired out and all his faculties are exhausted. That is not a reasonable life; that is not a life for a being possessed of the powers that are in man, and I think every man must have felt it for himself. I know that when I first went to my trade I thought to myself that it was incredible that a man was created to work all day long just to live. I used to read the Scientific American, and as invention after invention was heralded in that paper, I used to think to myself that when I became a man it would not be necessary to work so hard. But, on the contrary, the struggle for existence has become more and more intense. People who want to prove the contrary get up masses of statistics to show that the condition of the working classes is improving. Improvement that you have to take a statistical microscope to discover does not amount to anything.

19 April 2013

Oh, for a Place in the Country!

Martial, Epigram 2.38:
Quid mihi reddat ager quaeris, Line, Nomentanus?
Hoc mihi reddit ager: te, Line, non video.
Translated by James Michie:
You ask me what I get
Out of my country place.
The profit, gross or net,
Is never seeing your face.

18 April 2013

Monkey Business

Guy de Maupassant visits Algernon Charles Swinburne and his friend George Powell in Dieppe and describes the life they lived there in the late 1860s, from Julian Barnes' article "An Unlikely Lunch," in The Public Domain Review:
Yes, they lived there together, satisfying themselves with monkeys or with young servant lads of fourteen or fifteen, sent out to Powell from England every three months or so: little servant boys of exquisite cleanness and freshness. The monkey that slept in Powell’s bed and shat in it every night was hanged by the servant boy, partly out of jealousy but also out of annoyance at having to change the sheets all the time. The house was full of strange noises and the shadows of sadism; one night, Powell was seen and heard firing a revolver in the garden at a black man. Those two were real Sadeian heroes, who wouldn’t have held back even from crime. Then this house, so full of living mystery, was suddenly silent, suddenly empty. Powell just disappeared, and no one knew how he had got away. No carriage was ever called for him, and no one had met him on the roads.
As for the lunch menu:
Maupassant’s later versions also elaborate on the suspicious protein the Englishmen served. In his 1882 account, he strongly suspects that it might have been monkey, not least because it was said to be common knowledge in Etretat that “this Englishman [Powell] ate only monkey – boiled, roasted, sautéed, or in a confit”. By the time of the 1891 account, Maupassant claims he had knowingly eaten spit-roasted monkey – indeed, the joint had been ordered in his honour from a purveyor of exotic meats in Le Havre. However, “The mere smell of the dish as I entered the house made me feel queasy, and the dreadful taste of the animal permanently removed all subsequent desire ever again to repeat such a meal.” 
This gastronomic queasiness did not imply any broader moral or social revulsion; quite the contrary. Maupassant, doubtless hoping to provoke readers of Le Gaulois, concluded his 1882 account thus: “The world would be a lot jollier if one came across ménages like that one a little more often.”

16 April 2013

Cheese After Six Courses

William Johnson Cory (1823-1892) in a letter to Rev. E. D. Stone (Oct. 4, 1882), from Extracts from Letters and Journals, ed. Francis Warre Cornish (Oxford: Privately Printed, 1895), p. 486:
Our enjoyment of German music is unforced; our enjoyment of German poetry is a sort of cheese after six courses; our enjoyment of German prose is mere ἐθελοδουλεία [voluntary slavery].
I scout and hiss the notion of German being equivalent to Greek because of its copiousness, or because of its making the student use every muscle of the mind by compelling him to deal with varieties of style. Greek is not commensurate with German, because it contains about twenty several kinds of style or method, whilst in German there is only the difference between childishly simple verse structure and monstrously clumsy prose structure...

15 April 2013

The Defeat of Despair

Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York: Free Press, 1973), p. 199:
The defeat of despair is not mainly an intellectual problem for an active organism, but a problem of self-stimulation via movement. Beyond a given point man is not helped more by "knowing," but by living and doing in a partly self-forgetful way. As Goethe put it, we must plunge into experience and then reflect on the meaning of it. All reflection and no plunging drives us mad; all plunging and no reflection, and we are brutes.
The quote from Goethe is found in the Prelude to Faust, tr. Bayard Taylor:
Grasp the exhaustless life that all men live!
Each shares therein, though few may comprehend:
Where'er you touch, there 's interest without end. 
The original:
Greift nur hinein ins volle Menschenleben!
Ein jeder lebt's, nicht vielen ist's bekannt,
Und wo Ihr's packt, da ist's interessant.

11 April 2013

Unprofitable Conversation

Joachimus Fortius Ringelbergius (c.1499 - c.1536), De Ratione Studii, tr. G. B. Earp (London: Simpkin & Marshall, 1830), pp. 64-65:
Should any one court your society, who is more desirous to embrace the follies and vanities of youth than to excel in literary pursuits, avoid his company and fly immediately to your studies; for it is better that such an one stigmatize you with a want of politeness, than that you should waste your time. Regard not what indolent or unthinking men may say of you; but always keep in view the opinion of posterity. How many useful volumes might we not write during those hours which are too often devoted to idle and unprofitable conversation! If we were to keep an account of the time so wasted but for a year, we should find it to amount to a very considerable portion of the whole. There is no portion of time so brief that we might not make some advancement towards excellence. The space of life remaining even to young men is but short, perhaps ten, twenty, or thirty years at most; and yet, they almost invariably live as though they were certain of surviving a thousand.
Thomas De Quincey did not think highly of Ringelberg's work. From a footnote to "Letters to a Young Man Whose Education Has Been Neglected," in The Art of Conversation and Other Papers (Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Black, 1863), p. 29:
It is one of those books which have been written most evidently not merely by a madman (as many thousands have), but by a madman under a high paroxysm of his malady; and, omitting a few instances of affectation and puerilty, it is highly affecting. It appears that the author, though not thirty years of age at the date of his book, was afflicted with the gravel — according to his belief, incurably; and much of the book was actually written in darkness (on waxen tablets, or on wooden tablets, with a stylus formed of charred bones), during the sleepless nights of pain consequent upon his disease.
Gravel: kidney stones

9 April 2013

The Religion of Smug Ease

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Joyful Wisdom (§ 338), in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, tr. Thomas Common (New York: Macmillan, 1911), pp. 265-267:
That from which we suffer most profoundly and personally is almost incomprehensible and inaccessible to every one else: in this matter we are hidden from our neighbour even when he eats at the same table with us. Everywhere, however, where we are noticed as sufferers, our suffering is interpreted in a shallow way; it belongs to the nature of the emotion of pity to divest unfamiliar suffering of its properly personal character: — our "benefactors" lower our value and volition more than our enemies. In most benefits which are conferred on the unfortunate there is something shocking in the intellectual levity with which the compassionate person plays the role of fate: he knows nothing of all the inner consequences and complications which are called misfortune for me or for you! The entire economy of my soul and its adjustment by "misfortune," the uprising of new sources and needs, the closing up of old wounds, the repudiation of whole periods of the past — none of these things which may be connected with misfortune preoccupy the dear sympathiser. He wishes to succour and does not reflect that there is a personal necessity for misfortune; that terror, want, impoverishment, midnight watches, adventures, hazards and mistakes are as necessary to me and to you as their opposites, yea, that, to speak mystically, the path to one's own heaven always leads through the voluptuousness of one's own hell. No, he knows nothing thereof. The "religion of compassion" (or "the heart") bids him help, and he thinks he has helped best when he has helped most speedily! If you adherents of this religion actually have the same sentiments towards yourselves which you have towards your fellows, if you are unwilling to endure your own suffering even for an hour, and continually forestall all possible misfortune, if you regard suffering and pain generally as evil, as detestable, as deserving of annihilation, and as blots on existence, well, you have then, besides your religion of compassion, yet another religion in your heart (and this is perhaps the mother of the former) — the religion of smug ease. Ah, how little you know of the happiness of man, you comfortable and good-natured ones! — for happiness and misfortune are brother and sister, and twins, who grow tall together, or, as with you, remain small together!
The original:
Das, woran wir am tiefsten und persönlichsten leiden, ist fast allen anderen unverständlich und unzugänglich: darin sind wir dem Nächsten verborgen, und wenn er mit uns aus einem Topfe ißt. Überall aber, wo wir als Leidende bemerkt werden, wird unser Leiden flach ausgelegt; es gehört zum Wesen der mitleidigen Affektion, daß sie das fremde Leid des eigentlich Persönlichen entkleidet – unsre »Wohltäter« sind mehr als unsre Feinde die Verkleinerer unsres Wertes und Willens. Bei den meisten Wohltaten, die Unglücklichen erwiesen werden, liegt etwas Empörendes in der intellektuellen Leichtfertigkeit, mit der da der Mitleidige das Schicksal spielt: er weiß nichts von der ganzen inneren Folge und Verflechtung, welche Unglück für mich oder für dich heißt! Die gesamte Ökonomie meiner Seele und deren Ausgleichung durch das »Unglück«, das Aufbrechen neuer Quellen und Bedürfnisse, das Zuwachsen alter Wunden, das Abstoßen ganzer Vergangenheiten – das alles, was mit dem Unglück verbunden sein kann, kümmert den lieben Mitleidigen nicht: er will helfen und denkt nicht daran, daß es eine persönliche Notwendigkeit des Unglücks gibt, daß mir und dir Schrecken, Entbehrungen, Verarmungen, Mitternächte, Abenteuer, Wagnisse, Fehlgriffe so nötig sind wie ihr Gegenteil, ja daß, um mich mystisch auszudrücken, der Pfad zum eigenen Himmel immer durch die Wollust der eigenen Hölle geht. Nein, davon weiß er nichts: die »Religion des Mitleidens« (oder »das Herz«) gebietet zu helfen, und man glaubt am besten geholfen zu haben, wenn man am schnellsten geholfen hat! Wenn ihr Anhänger dieser Religion dieselbe Gesinnung, die ihr gegen die Mitmenschen habt, auch wirklich gegen euch selber habt, wenn ihr euer eigenes Leiden nicht eine Stunde auf euch liegen lassen wollt und immerfort allem möglichen Unglücke von ferne her schon vorbeugt, wenn ihr Leid und Unlust überhaupt als böse, hassenswert, vernichtungswürdig, als Makel am Dasein empfindet: nun, dann habt ihr, außer eurer Religion des Mitleidens, auch noch eine andere Religion im Herzen, und diese ist vielleicht die Mutter von jener – die Religion der Behaglichkeit. Ach, wie wenig wißt ihr vom Glücke des Menschen, ihr Behaglichen und Gutmütigen! denn das Glück und das Unglück sind zwei Geschwister und Zwillinge, die miteinander großwachsen oder, wie bei euch, miteinander – klein bleiben
A related post: Comfort-Loving Vulgarity

5 April 2013

Darüber muß man schweigen

Christina Rossetti, "Life," from New Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1896), p. 169:
Oh intolerable life which all life long
   Abidest haunted by one dread of death —
   Is such life life? When one considereth,
Then black seems almost white, and discord song.
Alas this solitude where swarms a throng!
   Life slowly grows, and dwindles breath by breath —
   Slowly grows on us, and no word it saith,
Its cords made long and all its pillars strong.
Life wanes apace — a life that but deceives,
   And works and reigns like life, and yet is dead:
Where is the life that dies not but that lives?
The sweet long life immortal, ever young,
The life that wooes us with a silver tongue,
   Whither? Much said, and much more left unsaid.
Update: In an email to me, Stephen Pentz of First Known When Lost points out that the authoritative text of this poem can be found in Time Flies; A Reading Diary (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1897), pp. 214-215:
Scarce tolerable life, which all life long
   Is dominated by one dread of death, —
   Is such life, life?  if so, who pondereth
May call salt sweetness or call discord song.
Ah me, this solitude where swarms a throng!
   Life slowly grows and dwindles breath by breath:
   Death slowly grows on us; no word it saith,
Its cords all lengthened and its pillars strong.
Life dies apace, a life that but deceives:
   Death reigns as tho' it lived, and yet is dead:
Where is the life that dies not but that lives?
   The sweet long life, immortal, ever young,
   True life that wooes us with a silver tongue
Of hope, much said and much more left unsaid.
"Note her brother's omission of 'Death' at the beginning of line 7," he writes. "That makes quite a difference, doesn't it?"

4 April 2013

Having Reached the Age of Forty

Sébastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort, Oeuvres complètes de Chamfort, Vol. I (Paris: Chaumerot Jeune, 1824), pp. 406-407. My 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 leading a retired life, of work, and they bored me to tears with pedantic sermons on the subject. Having reached 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 cease tormenting me and saying that I should return; I have been accused of being a misanthrope and so on. What to make of this strange difference? Men have a need to find fault with everything.
The original:
Quand j'étais jeune, ayant les besoins des passions, et attiré par elles dans le monde, forcé de chercher, dans la société et dans les plaisirs, quelques distractions à des peines cruelles, on me prêchait l'amour de la retraite, du travail, et on m'assommait de sermons pédantesques sur ce sujet. Arrivé à quarante ans, ayant perdu les passions qui rendent la société supportable, n'en voyant plus que la misère et la futilité, n'ayant plus besoin du monde pour échapper à des peines qui n'existaient plus, le goût de la retraite et du travail est devenu très vif chez moi, et a remplacé tout le reste; j'ai cessé d'aller dans le monde: alors, on n'a cessé de me tourmenter pour que j'y revinsse; j'ai été accusé d'être misantrope, etc. Que conclure de cette bizarre différence? Le besoin que les hommes ont de tout blâmer. 

3 April 2013

Some Strictly Determined Law

A. C. Benson, The Silent Isle (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1910), pp. 104-105:
Who does not remember friends of college days, graceful and winning creatures, lost in the sense of their own significance, who had nothing, it may be, particular to say, no great intellectual grip, no suggestiveness, yet moving about in a mysterious paradise of their own, full of dumb emotion, undefined longing, and with a deep sense of the romantic possibilities of life. Alas, as the days move on and the crisis delays, as life brings the need of labour, the necessity of earning money, as love and friendship lose their rosy glow and settle down into comfortable relations, the disillusionment spreads and widens. I do not say that the nearer view of life is not more just, more wholesome, more manly. It is but the working of some strictly determined law. The dreams fade, become unreal and unsubstantial; though not rarely, in some glimpse of retrospect, the pilgrim turns, ascends a hillock by the road, and sees the far-off lines, the quiet folds, of the blue heights from which he descended in the blithe air of the morning, and knows that they were desirable. Perhaps the happiest of all are those who, as the weary day advances, can catch a sight of some no less beautiful hills ahead of him, their hollows full of misty gold, where the long journey may end; and then, however wearily the sun falls on the dusty road and the hedged fields to left and right, he knows that the secrets of the earlier day are beautiful secrets still, and that the fine wonder of youth has yet to be satisfied. 

1 April 2013

The Only Safe Rule

Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Controversy, tr. T. Bailey Saunders:
The only safe rule, therefore, is that which Aristotle mentions in the last chapter of his Topica: not to dispute with the first person you meet, but only with those of your acquaintance of whom you know that they possess sufficient intelligence and self-respect not to advance absurdities; to appeal to reason and not to authority, and to listen to reason and yield to it; and, finally, to cherish truth, to be willing to accept reason even from an opponent, and to be just enough to bear being proved to be in the wrong, should truth lie with him. From this it follows that scarcely one man in a hundred is worth your disputing with him. You may let the remainder say what they please, for every one is at liberty to be a fool — desipere est jus gentium. Remember what Voltaire says: La paix vaut encore mieux que la vérité. Remember also an Arabian proverb which tells us that on the tree of silence there hangs its fruit, which is peace.

28 March 2013

How Little Knows the Translator

Erik Schwimmer, "Causerie On Translation," in the The Spike (The Victoria University College Review), Vol. XLIII, No. 72 (1944), p. 13:
[Translation] is a curious activity, as it seems rather like changing something, a living phenomenon, into the complete nothingness that is one's own being. The French or Latin or Greek is a burning reality, the translation — some piece of that void — our self — and just as trivial. We started with the uncompromising desire to say just what our model had said in his own tongue and ended with a dead fragment of self. 
Or is there perhaps something eternal that stuck in our translation? Has our urge and our ingenuity resulted in something that quite miraculously succeeded in reflecting the beauty perceived? How little knows the translator, when he fights the inassailable brilliance of the original, line after line with his little skill, anxious to let neither the breath nor the lovely vestment be lost. 
If one studies translations of verse one watches the scene of countless adventures searching to catch and preserve something of the eternal which is their model. They use all the postures which adventurers use in real life. Some are only Pharisees, some are like Pilate, but others are like Icarus. A few even like Perseus bring the head of their Medusa safely home.

27 March 2013

The Drunken Consciousness

Arthur Symons (1865-1945), "The Absinthe Drinker," from Songs of the Vine with a Medley for Maltworms, selected and edited by William G. Hutchison (London: A.H. Bullen, 1904), p. 240:
Gently I wave the visible world away.
  Far off, I hear a roar, afar yet near.
  Far off and strange, a voice is in my ear,
And is the voice my own? The words I say
Fall strangely, like a dream, across the day:
  And the dim sunshine is a dream. How clear,
  New as the world to lover's eyes, appear
The men and women passing on their way!

The world is very fair. The hours are all
  Linked in a dance of mere forgetfulness.
    I am at peace with God and man. O glide,
Sands of the hour-glass that I count not, fall
  Serenely: scarce I feel your soft caress,
    Rocked on this dreamy and indifferent tide.

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Longmans, Green & Co, 1902), p. 378:
The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour. Sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says no; drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes. It is in fact the great exciter of the Yes function in man. It brings its votary from the chill periphery of things to the radiant core. It makes him for the moment one with truth. Not through mere perversity do men run after it. To the poor and the unlettered it stands in the place of symphony concerts and of literature; and it is part of the deeper mystery and tragedy of life that whiffs and gleams of something that we immediately recognize as excellent should be vouchsafed to so many of us only in the fleeting earlier phases of what in its totality is so degrading a poisoning. The drunken consciousness is one bit of the mystic consciousness, and our total opinion of it must find its place in our opinion of that larger whole.

26 March 2013

RSS Owl

With the imminent demise of the Google Reader service, I take it that most people are fleeing to Feedly, and a few others to places like NewsBlur and The Old Reader. For my part, I've decided to install RSSOwl and use it to keep up with the various blogs I read.

On the off chance that any of my few Google Reader subscribers are looking for a replacement, I can tell you that RSSOwl is working nicely on my eight-year-old laptop (which is running Bodhi Linux 2.1.0).

RSSOwl is also available for Windows and Mac OS. It is free, and open source.

Raoul Dufy, "Le Hibou,"
from Guillaume Apollinaire's Le Bestiaire
(Paris: Deplanche, Éditeur d'Art, 1911)

25 March 2013

A Freak of Nature

Erich Fromm, The Revolution of Hope (New York: Lantern Books, 2011), p. 69:
Man is born as a freak of nature, being within nature and yet transcending it. He has to find principles of action and decision making which replace the principles of instincts. He has to have a frame of orientation which permits him to organize a consistent picture of the world as a condition for consistent actions. He has to fight not only against the dangers of dying, starving, and being hurt, but also against another danger which is specifically human: that of becoming insane. In other words, he has to protect himself not only against the danger of losing his life but also against the danger of losing his mind.

22 March 2013

To Forget the Idle or Venomous Chatter

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft  (London: Archibald Constable, 1912), p. 132:
Not long ago, I awoke one morning and suddenly thought of the Correspondence between Goethe and Schiller; and so impatient did I become to open the book that I got up an hour earlier than usual. A book worth rising for; much better worth than old Burton, who pulled Johnson out of bed. A book which helps one to forget the idle or venomous chatter going on everywhere about us, and bids us cherish hope for a world “which has such people in’t.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe died on this day in 1832.

The Briefwechsel zwischen Schiller und Goethe (published by the Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft) is available on Archive.org:
Volume 1
Volume 2

L. Dora Schmitz's translation, Correspondence Between Schiller and Goethe (published by George Bell & Sons), is available on Google Books:
Volume 1
Volume 2


20 March 2013

The Wisdom of the Wise

Ernest Dowson, "Wisdom," from The Poems of Ernest Dowson (London: John Lane, 1909), p. 164:
Love wine and beauty and the spring,
  While wine is red and spring is here,
And through the almond blossoms ring
  The dove-like voices of thy Dear.

Love wine and spring and beauty while
  The wine hath flavour and spring masks
Her treachery in so soft a smile
  That none may think of toil and tasks.

But when spring goes on hurrying feet,
  Look not thy sorrow in the eyes,
And bless thy freedom from thy sweet:
  This is the wisdom of the wise.

19 March 2013

Cretinism and Bad Drains

H. M. Tomlinson (1873-1958), "The Marne," from Waiting for Daylight (London: Cassell, 1922), p. 54:
I can give, as a rule, but a slack attention to military history, and my interest in war itself is, fundamentally, the same as for cretinism and bad drains. I merely wonder why it is, and wish it were not.

18 March 2013

Common Newspaper Style

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from the entry for April 21, 1832 in The Table Talk and Omniana of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, (London: Oxford University Press, 1917), p. 176:
Common phrases are, as it were, so stereotyped now by conventional use, that it is really much easier to write on the ordinary politics of the day in the common newspaper style, than it is to make a good pair of shoes. An apprentice has as much to learn now to be a shoemaker as ever he had; but an ignorant coxcomb, with a competent want of honesty, may very effectively wield a pen in a newspaper office, with infinitely less pains and preparation than were necessary formerly.

15 March 2013

The Mutability of Things

George Moore, Memoirs of My Dead Life (London: Heinemann, 1906), pp. 321-322:
As soon as we reach the age of reflection the thought of death is never long out of our minds. It is a subject on which we are always thinking. We go to bed thinking that another day has gone, that we are another day nearer our graves. Any incident suffices to remind us of death. That very morning I had seen two old blue-bottles huddled together in the corner of a pane, and at once remembered that a term of life is set out for all things — a few months for the blue-bottle, a few years for me. One forgets how one thought twenty years ago, but I am prone to think that even the young meditate very often upon death; it must be so, for all their books contain verses on the mutability of things, and as we advance in years it would seem that we think more and more on this one subject, for what is all modern literature but a reek of regret that we are but bubbles on a stream?

13 March 2013

Palm Trees in Whitechapel

H. M. Tomlinson (1873-1958), "Magazines," from Waiting for Daylight (London: Cassell, 1922), pp. 49-50:
With several exceptions, the mass of English magazines and reviews may be dismissed in a few seconds. The exceptions usually are not out yet, or one has seen them. It used not to be so, and that is what makes me think it is the producers, and not the readers, who require skilled attention. It is startling to turn to the magazines of twenty or thirty years ago, and to compare them with what is thought good enough for us. I was looking through such a magazine recently, and found a poem by Swinburne, a prose-romance by William Morris, and much more work of a quality you would no more expect to find in a current magazine than you would palm trees in Whitechapel.

12 March 2013

Pain Is a Great Angel

A. C. Benson, "Epilogue," At Large (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1908), p. 338:
Pain is a great angel, but we must wrestle with him, until he bless us! and the blessings he can bring us are first a wholesome shame at our old selfish ingratitude in the untroubled days, when we took care and pleasure greedily; and next, if we meet him faithfully, he can make our heart go out to all our brothers and sisters who suffer in this brief and troubled life of ours. For we are here to learn something, if we can but spell it out; and thus it is morbid to indulge regrets and remorse too much over our failures and mistakes; for it is through them that we learn. We must be as brave as we can, and dare to grudge no pang that brings us nearer to the reality of things.
 Alexander Louis Leloir, Lutte de Jacob avec l'ange (1865)

11 March 2013

Indignities of All Kinds

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, tr. Anthony Ludovici (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1910), p. 333:
910 
The type of my disciples. — To such men as concern me in any way I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities of all kinds. I wish them to be acquainted with profound self-contempt, with the martyrdom of self-distrust, with the misery of the defeated: I have no pity for them; because I wish them to have the only thing which to-day proves whether a man has any value or not, namely, the capacity of sticking to his guns.

The original, from Nietzsches Gesammelte Werke, Vol. 19 (München, Musarion Verlag, 1920), p. 289:
Typus meiner Jünger. – Solchen Menschen, welche mich etwas angehn, wünsche ich Leiden, Verlassenheit, Krankheit, Mißhandlung, Entwürdigung – ich wünsche, daß ihnen die tiefe Selbstverachtung, die Marter des Mißtrauens gegen sich, das Elend des Überwundenen nicht unbekannt bleibt: ich habe kein Mitleid mit ihnen, weil ich ihnen das einzige wünsche, was heute beweisen kann, ob einer Werth hat oder nicht – daß er Stand hält.

8 March 2013

That Is Translation

Hilaire Belloc in the second part of his essay "On Translation," from The Bookman, October 1931, pp. 179-185:
Transmute boldly: render the sense by the corresponding sense without troubling over the verbal difficulties in your way. Where such rendering of sense by corresponding sense involves considerable amplification, do not hesitate to amplify for fear of being verbose. For instance, if you come across the French word "constater", which in point of fact you do in nearly all official documents with which you may have to deal, you must always replace it by a full English sentence, even so ample as, "We note without further comment", or "We note for purposes of future reference", or in another connection, "We desire to put on record". In the same way there are whole French phrases which should justly be put into a shorter form in English. Take such a sentence as this: "Il-y-avait dans cet homme je ne sais quoi de suffisance". The right translation of this would not be: "There was in this man I know not what of self-sufficiency"; the right translation is rather, more briefly, "There was a touch of complacency about him". Sometimes, even often, a whole passage must be thus transmuted, a whole paragraph thrown into a new form, if we would justly render the sense of the original; and the general rule should stand that, after having grasped as exactly as possible all that the original stands for, with the proportion between its various parts, the distinction between what is emphasized and what is left on a lower plane, we should say to ourselves, not "How shall I make this foreigner talk English?", but "What would an Englishman have said to express this same?" That is translation. That is the very essence of the art: the resurrection of an alien thing in a native body; not the dressing of it up in native clothes but the giving to it of native flesh and blood.
The first part of the essay can be found here.

6 March 2013

Get Off My Lawn

W. E. Henley, "Heine," in Views and Reviews, Vol. I (London: David Nutt, 1892), pp. 79-80:
We hate to see [the original work] tampered with; we are on thorns as the translator approaches, and we resent his operations as an individual hurt, a personal affront. What business has he to be trampling among our borders and crushing our flowers with his stupid hobnails? Why cannot he carry his zeal for topsy-turvy horticulture elsewhere? He comes and lays a brutal hand on our pet growths, snips off their graces, shapes them anew according to his own ridiculous ideal, paints and varnishes them with a villainous compound of his contrivance, and then bids us admire the effect and thank him for its production! Is any name too hard for such a creature? and could any vengeance be too deadly? If he walked into your garden and amused himself so with your cabbages, you could put him in prison. But into your poets he can stump his way at will, and upon them he can do his pleasure. And he does it. How many men have brutalised the elegance, the grace, the winning urbanity of Horace! By how many coarse and stupid fingers has Catullus been smudged and fumbled and mauled! To turn Faust into English (in the original metres) is a fashionable occupation; there are more perversions of the Commedia than one cares to recall; there is scarce a great or even a good work of the human mind but has been thus bedevilled and deformed.
[...]
The fact is, the translator too often forgets the difference between his subject and himself; he is too often a common graveyard mason that would play the sculptor. And it is not nearly enough for him to be a decent craftsman. To give an adequate idea of an artist’s work a man must be himself an artist of equal force and versatility with his original. The typical translator makes clever enough verses, but Heine’s accomplishment is remote from him as Heine’s genius. He perverts his author as rhyme and rhythm will. No charge of verbal inaccuracy need therefore be made, for we do not expect a literal fidelity in our workman. Let him convey the spirit of his original, and that, so far as meaning goes, is enough. But we do expect of him a something that shall recall his author’s form, his author’s personality, his author’s charm of diction and of style.
A related post: Like Dishes of Meat Twice Drest

5 March 2013

Night(soil) Thoughts

Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1973), p. 31:
Nature's values are bodily values, human values are mental values, and though they take the loftiest flights they are built upon excrement, impossible without it, always brought back to it. As Montaigne puts it, on the highest throne in the world man sits on his arse. Usually the epigram makes people laugh because it seems to reclaim the world from artificial pride and snobbery and to bring things back to egalitarian values. But if we push the observation even further and say men sit not only on their arse, but over a warm and fuming pile of their own excrement — the joke is no longer funny. The tragedy of man's dualism, his ludicrous situation, becomes too real. The anus and its incomprehensible, repulsive product represents not only physical determinism and boundness, but the fate as well of all that is physical: decay and death.
Id, pp. 33-34:
Excreting is the curse that threatens madness because it shows man his abject finitude, his physicalness, the likely unreality of his hopes and dreams. But even more immediately, it represents man's utter bafflement at the sheer non-sense of creation: to fashion the sublime miracle of the human face, the mysterium tremendum of radiant feminine beauty, the veritable goddesses that beautiful women are; to bring this all out of nothing, out of the void, and make it shine in noonday; to take such a miracle and put miracles again within it, deep in the mystery of eyes that peer out — the eye that gave even the dry Darwin a chill; to do all this, and to combine it with an anus that shits! It is too much. Nature mocks us, and poets live in torture.

4 March 2013

Holiday Reading

H. M. Tomlinson (1873-1958), "Holiday Reading," from Waiting for Daylight (London: Cassell, 1922), p. 63:
I make the same mistake whenever the chance of a holiday broadens and brightens. A small library, reduced by a process of natural selection, helps to make weighty the bag. But I do not at once close the bag; a doubt keeps it open; I take out the books again and consider them. When the problem of carrying those volumes about faces me, it is a relief to discover how many of them lose their vital importance. Yet a depraved sense of duty, perhaps the residue of what such writers as Marcus Aurelius have done for me, refuses to allow every volume to be jettisoned. It imposes, as a hair shirt, several new and serious books which there has been no time to examine. They are books that require a close focus, a long and steady concentration, a silent immobility hardly distinguishable from sleep. This year for instance I notice Jung’s Analytical Psychology confidently expecting to go for a holiday with me. I feel I ought to take some such stern reminder of mortality, and, in addition, out of a sentimental regard for the past, a few old books, for my faith is not dead that they may put a new light on the wonderful strangeness of these latter days. I take these, too.
A related post: A Travelling Library

1 March 2013

An Incentive to Debauchery

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), "The Spirit Of Wine," in Songs of the Vine with a Medley for Maltworms, selected and edited by William G. Hutchison (London: A.H. Bullen, 1904), p. 257:
The Spirit of Wine
Sang in my glass, and I listened
With love to his odorous music,
His flushed and magnificent song.

— 'I am health, I am heart, I am life!
For I give for the asking
The fire of my father, the Sun,
And the strength of my mother, the Earth.
Inspiration in essence,
I am wisdom and wit to the wise,
His visible muse to the poet,
The soul of desire to the lover,
The genius of laughter to all.

'Come, lean on me, ye that are weary!
Rise, ye faint-hearted and doubting!
Haste, ye that lag by the way!
I am Pride, the consoler;
Valour and Hope are my henchmen;
I am the Angel of Rest.

'I am life, I am wealth, I am fame:
For I captain an army
Of shining and generous dreams;
And mine, too, all mine, are the keys
Of that secret spiritual shrine,
Where, his work-a-day soul put by,
Shut in with his saint of saints -
With his radiant and conquering self -
Man worships, and talks, and is glad.

'Come, sit with me, ye that are lovely,
Ye that are paid with disdain,
Ye that are chained and would soar!
I am beauty and love;
I am friendship, the comforter;
I am that which forgives and forgets.' —

The Spirit of Wine
Sang in my heart, and I triumphed
In the savour and scent of his music,
His magnetic and mastering song.
Henley's poem is based on Charles Baudelaire's L'Âme du vin, which came into renewed notoriety a few years ago when the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives prevented a French wine merchant from exporting to the country because he had included several lines from the poem on the label of his Château Haut Gay. The American authorities banned the product on the grounds that Baudelaire's verse was "an incentive to debauchery".