13 August 2013

To the Reader

The epigraph to Henry Stevens' Recollections of Mr. James Lenox of New York and the Formation of His Library (London: H. Stevens & Son, 1886):
Who faulteth not, liveth not; who mendeth faults is commended: The Printer hath faulted a little: it may be the author oversighted more. Thy paine (Reader) is the least; then erre not thou most by misconstruing or sharpe censuring; least thou be more uncharitable, then either of them hath been heedlesse: God amend and guide us all.
— Robartes on Tythes 4° Camb. 1613.  

12 August 2013


Henry Stevens, Who Spoils Our New English Books: Asked and Answered (London: Chiswick Press, 1884), pp. 1-3:
The manufacture of a beautiful and durable book costs little if anything more, it is believed, than it does to manufacture a clumsy and unsightly one. Good taste, skill and severe training are as requisite and necessary in the proper production of books as in any other of the fine arts. The well-recognized 'lines of beauty' are, in our judgment, as essential and well defined in the one case as in the other.
Books are both our luxuries and our daily bread. They have become to our lives and happiness prime necessities. They are our trusted favourites, our guardians, our confidential advisers, and the safe consumers of our leisure. They cheer us in poverty, and comfort us in the misery of affluence. They absorb the effervescence of impetuous youth, and while away the tedium of age. You may not teach ignorance to a youth who carries a favourite book in his pocket; and to a man who masters his appetites a good book is a talisman which insures him against the dangers of overspeed, idleness, and shallowness.
Why then let our books, like some of our manufactures, run to false cheapness and to shoddy? and Who are their Shoddimites? are our questions to-day. The disagreeable fact that our books are deteriorating in quality is assumed for the present and taken for granted. The fault exists and is daily becoming more and more manifest. We do not just now charge much dishonesty to any particular party, but content ourselves with naming the adulteration, and hinting that in all probability the fault lies somewhere between the uncritical consumer and the untrained manufacturer. Let both parties and their intermediates or coadjutors look to their laurels.

8 August 2013

A Few Baskets of Strawberries

William Mathews (1818-1909), "Study of the Modern Languages," in Hours with Men and Books (Chicago: S.C. Griggs, 1878), p.265:
The question is not whether a knowledge of French and German is desirable per se, but whether it is not too dearly purchased. Is it worth the heavy tax which our youth pay for it? Cannot the weary days, weeks, months, and even years, which are spent in acquiring what, after all, is usually but the merest smattering of those tongues, be more profitably spent upon English literature and the sciences? There is hardly any subject upon which so much illusion prevails as upon the supposed ease with which a modern language can be mastered. We hear it daily remarked that French and Italian are very easy, and that German, though presenting some difficulties, is by no means hard to acquire. Now the truth, to which, sooner or later, every student is forced to open his eyes, is, that the acquisition of any language, as Mr. Lincoln said of the crushing of the Rebellion, is "a big job." The mastering of a foreign tongue, even the easiest, is the work, not of a day, but of years, and years of stern, unremitting toil.
Id, p. 268:
He is a poor economist who looks only at the value of an acquisition without counting the cost. If a young man can begin his studies early and continue them till his twenty-first year, by all means let him study French and German. But in no case would we have him study those tongues at the expense of utter ignorance or the merest surface-knowledge of his own language and its literature, and of the physical sciences. That the two latter branches of knowledge are far more essential than the former to both his success and happiness, we cannot doubt. Unfortunately, the majority of our young men are compelled to plunge into business so early that they are forced to elect between the two acquisitions; they cannot have both. For such persons to choose the French and German, and neglect the sciences and their own noble tongue and its literature, is as absurd as it would be for a laborer to stint himself all the year in meat or bread that he may enjoy a few baskets of strawberries in April. We yield to no one in our admiration of Montaigne, Pascal, Molière, Cuvier, and Sainte-Beuve, or of Goethe, Schiller, Lessing, Richter, and Heine; but we do, nevertheless, echo most heartily the words of Thomas DeQuincey, himself a consummate linguist, when he declares that it is a pitiable spectacle to see young persons neglecting the golden treasures of their own literature, and wasting their time on German, French and Italian authors, comparatively obscure, and immeasurably inferior in quality.

7 August 2013

Bathing as a Rite

Havelock Ellis, Impressions and Comments (London: Constable, 1914), pp. 210-211:
The act of bathing in the sea, rightly considered, is a sacred act, and is so recognised in many parts of the world. It should not be made as commonplace as a mere hygienic tubbing, nor be carried out by a crowd of clothed persons in muddy water. No profane unfriendly eye should be near, the sun must be bright, the air soft, the green transparent sea should ripple smoothly over the rocks, as I see it below me now, welling rhythmically into rock-basins and plashing out with a charge of bubbling air and a delicious murmur of satisfied physiological relief. Enter the sea in such a manner, on such a day, and the well-tempered water greets the flesh so lovingly that it opens like a flower with no contraction of hostile resistance. The discomforting sensation of the salt in the nostrils becomes a delightful and invigorating fragrance as it blends with the exhilaration of this experience. So to bathe is more than to bathe. It is a rite of which the physical delight is a symbol of the spiritual significance of an act of Communion with Nature, to be stored up with one's best experiences of Fine Living. 

5 August 2013


Friedrich Nietzsche, "We Philologists" (§90), tr. J. M. Kennedy, in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Vol. 8 (New York: Macmillan, 1911), p. 152:
The following is one way of carrying on classical studies, and a frequent one: a man throws himself thoughtlessly, or is thrown, into some special branch or other, whence he looks to the right and left and sees a great deal that is good and new. Then, in some unguarded moment, he asks himself: "But what the devil has all this to do with me?" In the meantime he has grown old and has become accustomed to it all; and therefore he continues in his rut — just as in the case of marriage.

1 August 2013

As a Bird Sings

Samuel Butler, The Note Books of Samuel Butler (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1917), p. 170:
Literature is an art; article-writing, when a man is paid for it, is a trade and none the worse for that; but pot-boilers are one thing and genuine pictures are another. People have indeed been paid for some of the most genuine pictures ever painted, and so with music, and so with literature itself — hard-and-fast lines ever cut the fingers of those who draw them — but, as a general rule, most lasting art has been poorly paid, so far as money goes, till the artist was near the end of his time, and, whether money passed or no, we may be sure that it was not thought of. Such work is done as a bird sings — for the love of the thing; it is persevered in as long as body and soul can be kept together, whether there be pay or no, and perhaps better if there be no pay.
Related posts:
The Sons of Joy
Books for Refuge

30 July 2013

Only the Magnificent

Daniel Berkeley Updike, Printing Types; Their History, Forms, and Use, Vol. II (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1922), p. 174:
[The type designer Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813)] cared nothing about printing as a means to popular instruction. He did not despise the masses — he forgot all about them! He was a court printer, existing by the patronage of the Lucky Few. His editions were intended to be livres d'apparat. He not alone saw no harm in making them so, but the bigger and more pretentious they were, the better he liked them. In fact, he openly said so, and told Renouard, the French publisher, "Je ne veux que du magnifique, et je ne travaille pas pour le vulgaire des lecteurs." [I want only the magnificent, and I do not work for the common herd of readers.]
Volume I of Updike's book can be found here.

An example of Bodoni's Roman font (1775)

29 July 2013

Two Hours a Day

Arthur Schopenhauer, from Chapter II of "Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life", in Parerga and Paralipomena, tr. E. F. J. Payne (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974). pp. 324-325:
Now, it is certain that nothing contributes less to cheerfulness than wealth and nothing contributes more than health. The lower classes or the workers, especially those in the country, have the more cheerful and contented faces; peevishness and ill-humour are more at home among the wealthy upper classes. Consequently, we should endeavour above all to maintain a high degree of health, the very bloom of which appears as cheerfulness. The means to this end are, as we know, avoidance of all excesses and irregularities, of all violent and disagreeable emotions, and also of all mental strain that is too great and too prolonged, two hours' brisk exercise every day in the open air, many cold baths, and similar dietetic measures. Without proper daily exercise no one can remain healthy; all the vital processes demand exercise for their proper performance, exercise not only of the parts wherein they occur, but also of the whole.
John Stuart Blackie, On Self Culture (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1875), pp.41-43:
Every young student ought to make a sacred resolution to move about in the open air at least two hours every day. If he does not do this, cold feet, the clogging of the wheels of the internal parts of the fleshly frame, and various shades of stomachic and cerebral discomfort, will not fail in due season to inform him that he has been sinning against Nature, and, if he does not amend his courses, as a bad boy he will certainly be flogged; for Nature is never, like some soft-hearted human masters, over-merciful in her treatment. But why should a student indulge so much in the lazy and unhealthy habit of sitting? A man may think as well standing as sitting, often not a little better; and as for reading in these days, when the most weighty books may be had cheaply, in the lightest form, there is no necessity why a person should he bending his back, and doubling his chest, merely because he happens to have a book in his hand.
There is, in fact, no necessary connection, in most cases, between the knowledge which a student is anxious to acquire, and the sedentary habits which students are so apt to cultivate. A certain part of his work, no doubt, must be done amid books; but if I wish to know Homer, for instance, thoroughly, after the first grammatical and lexicographical drudgery is over, I can read him as well on the top of Ben Cruachan, or, if the day be blasty, amid the grand silver pines at Inverawe, as in a fusty study. A man's enjoyment of an Aeschylean drama or a Platonic dialogue will not be diminished, but sensibly increased, by the fragrant breath of birches blowing around him, or the sound of mighty waters rushing near.

26 July 2013

It's an Up and Down Life, My Friends

Arthur Ransome and a friend prove the truth of Oscar Wilde's maxim: The only thing that can console one for being poor is extravagance. From Bohemia in London (London: Stephen Swift, 1912), pp. 207-209:
I had lived once for over a week on a diet of cheese and apples — cheap yellow cheese and apples at twopence or a penny halfpenny a pound. A friend, also impoverished, was sharing my expenses and my diet, and slept in a small room in the same house. Our two sleeping boxes, for they were no more, were on the ground floor, and a large fat postman, our landlord, slept in the basement underneath. On the Wednesday of the second week, by the three o'clock post, came a letter for my friend, from a literary agent, containing a cheque for twenty-five pounds TWENTY-FIVE POUNDS! I believe the tears came into our eyes at the sight of that little slip of magenta-coloured paper. We shook hands hysterically, and then remembering that the bank closed at four unshaved as we were, without collars, with baggy trousers, we took a hansom for the town. The cheque was cashed, and that somehow seemed a marvel, as the five-pound notes and the gold were slid over the counter in a way most astonishingly matter-of-fact. We went out of the bank doors with a new dignity, paid the cabby, and walked the Strand like giants. It became quite a question what place was best worthy of the honour of entertaining us to tea. Wherever it was I fancy a small cafe it did its duty, and we sat, refreshed and smoking (new opened packets of the best tobacco) while we planned our evening.

At half-past six we went up to Soho, and crossed Leicester Square with solemnity, as befitted men with an aim in life, and that so philanthropic as to dine better that night than ever in their lives before. There was no undignified hurry about our walk, but there was no lingering. I was rebuked for glancing at the window of a print shop, and in my turn remonstrated equally gravely with him for dallying over some pretty editions at a bookseller's in Shaftesbury Avenue.

We dined at one of our favourite little restaurants: we dined excellently, drank several bottles of wine, and had liqueur glasses of rum emptied into our coffees. We smoked, paid the bill, and went out into the narrow Soho street. Just opposite, at the other side, where we could not help seeing it as we hesitated on the pavement, was another of our favourite feeding places. The light was merry through the windows, the evening was young, and without speaking a word, we looked at each other, and looked at each other again, and then, still without speaking, walked across the street, went in at the inviting door, and had dinner over again an excellent dinner, good wine, and rum in coffee as before.

Remember the week's diet of apples and cheese before you condemn us. We argued it out as we smoked over our second coffees, and convinced ourselves clearly that if our two dinners had been spread evenly and with taste over our last ten most ill-nourished days, we should not yet have had the food that honest men deserve. That being so, we stood upon our rights, and gave clear consciences to our grateful stomachs. 
Pyotr Konchalovsky, Still Life: Bread, Ham, and Wine (1948)

24 July 2013

How to Be Happy

George Moore, Confessions of a Young Man (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1904), p. 142:
How to be happy! — not to read Baudelaire and Verlaine, not to enter the Nouvelle Athènes, unless perhaps to play dominoes like the bourgeois over there, not to do anything that would awake a too intense consciousness of life, — to live in a sleepy country side, to have a garden to work in, to have a wife and children, to chatter quietly every evening over the details of existence. We must have the azaleas out to-morrow and thoroughly cleansed, they are devoured by insects; the tame rook has flown away; mother lost her prayer-book coming from church, she thinks it was stolen. A good, honest, well-to-do peasant, who knows nothing of politics, must be very nearly happy; — and to think there are people who would educate, who would draw these people out of the calm satisfaction of their instincts, and give them passions! The philanthropist is the Nero of modern times.
The Nouvelle Athènes: a café in Paris (on Place Pigalle, long gone now), popular with impressionist painters in the late 19th century.

22 July 2013

Only Folly and Shame

Thomas Paine, "Anti-Monarchal Essay," in The Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Moncure Daniel Conway, Vol. III (New York: Putnam, 1906), p. 106:
Whether one jests or reasons, there is found in this idea of hereditary royalty only folly and shame. What then is this office, which may be filled by infants or idiots? Some talent is required to be a simple workman; to be a king there is need to have only the human shape, to be a living automaton. We are astonished when reading that the Egyptians placed on the throne a flint, and called it their king. We smile at the dog Barkouf, sent by an Asiatic despot to govern one of his provinces. But monarchs of this kind are less mischievous and less absurd than those before whom whole peoples prostrate themselves. The flint and the dog at least imposed on nobody. None ascribed to them qualities or characters they did not possess. They were not styled 'Father of the People,' — though this were hardly more ridiculous than to give that title to a rattle-head whom inheritance crowns at eighteen. Better a mute than an animate idol.

The Bile of Misanthropy

Johann Georg Zimmermann, Solitude (London: Thomas Tegg, 1827), pp. 238-239:
Disgusted by the vices and follies of the age, the mind becomes insensibly impressed with a hatred toward the species, and loses, by degrees, that mild and humane temper which is so indispensably necessary to the enjoyment of social happiness. Even he who merely observes the weak or vicious frailties of his fellow-creatures with an intention to study philosophically the nature and disposition of man, cannot avoid remembering their defects without severity, and viewing the character he contemplates with contempt, especially if he happens to be the object of their artifices, and the dupe of their villainies. Contempt is closely allied with hatred; and hatred of mankind will corrupt, in time, the fairest mind: it tinges, by degrees, every object with the bile of misanthropy; perverts the judgement; and at length looks indiscriminately with an evil eye on the good and bad; engenders suspicion, fear, jealousy, revenge, and all the black catalogue of unworthy and malignant passion: and when these dreadful enemies have extirpated every generous sentiment from the breast, the unhappy victim abhors society, disclaims his species, sighs, like St. Hyacinth, for some distant and secluded island, and, with savage barbarity, defends the inviolability of its boundaries by the cruel repulsion, and, perhaps, the death, of those unhappy mortals whom misfortune may drive, helpless and unpitied, to its inhospitable shores.
German edition (Troppau: s.n., 1785) available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

19 July 2013

The Jolliest of the Irregulars

Arthur Ransome, Bohemia in London (London: Stephen Swift, 1912), pp. 205-206:
The men who really care for their art, who wish above all things to do the best that is in them, do not take the way of the world and the regular salaries of the newspaper offices. They stay outside, reading, writing, painting for themselves, and snatching such golden crumbs as fall within their reach from the tables of publishers, editors, and picture-buyers. They make a living, as it were, by accident. It is a hard life and a risky one; it is deliciously exciting at first, to leap from crag to crag, wherever a slight handhold will preserve you from the abyss, but the time soon comes when you are tired, and wonder, with dulled heart and clouded brain, is it worth while or no? Those who are strong enough to continue are given their own souls to carry in their hands, and those who admit defeat, surrender them, and, knowing in their hearts that they have sold themselves, hide their sorrow in a louder clamour after an easier quest.
The jolliest of the irregulars, in spite of the anxiety of their life, are those who carry on a guerrilla warfare for fame and a long struggle for improvement, never having been caught or maimed by the newspaper routine, or by the drudgery of commercial art work. (For artists as well as writers have an easy way to a livelihood, which they also must have strength to resist.) Some men live as free lances by selling their articles to such papers as are willing to admit their transcendent worth, and ready to pay some small nominal rate, a guinea a thousand words perhaps, for the privilege of printing them. Many live by reviewing, getting half a dozen books a week from different papers, reading or skimming them, and writing as long a paragraph as the editor will allow on each volume. The artists coax dealers into buying small pictures at a cheap rate, satisfying their pride by contemplation of the vastly larger price at which their purchasers seem to value them as soon as they appear in the glamour of the window. Others again, artists and writers, too — these, perhaps, the most sincere and admirable of the lot — refuse any degradation of their art, and live hand to mouth by any sort of work that offers. There was one man who wrote poems in the intervals of stage carpentry, and another who made dolls while compiling a history of philosophy. Some, indeed, seem able to live on nothing at all, and these are more cheerful than the rest whose stomachs are less accommodating.
A related post: It Was Bliss

17 July 2013

The Basic Query

Arnold Bennett, The Plain Man and His Wife (New York: G. Doran, 1913), pp. 23-24:
All fundamental questions resolve themselves finally into the following assertion and inquiry about life: "I am now engaged in something rather tiresome. What do I stand to gain by it later on?" That is the basic query. It has forms of varying importance. In its supreme form the word "eternity" has to be employed. And the plain man is, to-day, so sensitive about this supreme form of the question that, far from asking and trying to answer it, he can scarcely bear to hear it even discussed — I mean discussed with candour. In practise a frank discussion of it usually tempts him to exhibitions of extraordinary heat and bitterness, and wisdom is thereby but obscured. Therefore he prefers the disadvantage of leaving it alone to the dissatisfaction of attempting to deal with it. The disadvantage of leaving it alone is obvious. Existence is, and must be, a compromise between the claims of the moment and the claims of the future — and how can that compromise be wisely established if one has not somehow made up one's mind about the future? It cannot. But — I repeat — I would not blame the plain man. I would only just hint to him, while respecting his sensitiveness, that the present hour is just as much a part of eternity as another hour ten thousand years off.

16 July 2013

A Garden and a View of the Sea

Richard King (pseudonym of Richard King Huskinson, 1879-1947), Over the Fireside with Silent Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1921), pp. 195-197:
I hope when I am old that Fate will give me a garden and a view of the sea. I should hate to decay in a suburban row and be carried away at the end of all my mostly fruitless longings in a hearse; the seven minutes' wonder of the small children of the street, who will cry, "Oo-er" when my coffin is borne out by poor men whose names I can't ever know! Not that it really matters, I suppose; and yet, we all of us hope to satisfy our artistic sense, especially when we're helpless to help ourselves. Yes, I should like to pass the twilight of my life in a garden from which there would be a view of the sea. A garden is nearly always beautiful, and the sea always, always promises adventure, even when we have reached that time of life when to "pass over" is the only chance of adventure left to us. It seems to beckon us to leave the monotonous in habits, people and things in general, and seek renewed youthfulness, the thrill of novelty, the promise of romance amid lands and people far, far away. And we all of us hope that we may not die before we have had one real adventure. Adventure, I suppose, always comes to the really adventurous, but so many people are only half-adventurous; they have all the yearning and the longing, but Nature has bereft them of the power to act. So they wait for adventure to come to them, the while they grow older and staler all the time. And sometimes it never does come to them; or, perhaps, it only comes to them too late. There are some, of course, who never feel this wild longing to escape. They are the human turnips; and, so long as they have a plot of ground on which to expand and grow, they look for nothing else other than to be "mashed" from time to time by someone of the opposite sex. These people are quite content to live and die in a row, and to have an impressive funeral is to them a sufficient argument for having lived at all. But their propinquity is one of the reasons why I should not like to grow old in a crowd.

15 July 2013

Everybody'd Go Crackers

Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (New York: Knopf, 1973), pp. 198-199:
Televisions, he though scornfully when she'd gone, they'd go barmy if they had them taken away. I'd love it if big Black Marias came down all the streets and men got out with hatchets to go in every house and smash the tellies. Everybody'd go crackers. They wouldn't know what to do. There'd be a revolution, I'm sure there would, they'd blow up the Council House and set fire to the Castle. It wouldn't bother me if there weren't any television sets, though, not one bit.

12 July 2013

Bibliothecam Vendat

Charles Nodier (1780-1844), in an essay written when Guilbert de Pixérécourt (1773-1844) sold off his library, from the Bulletin du Bibliophile, No. IX, Vol. III (October, 1834), quoted in a footnote to Souvenirs de la révolution et de l'empire, Vol. I (Paris: Charpentier, 1864), pp. 362-363. My translation:
When Joseph Scaliger wanted to sum up the harshest torments a literary man could face, he said: Lexicon contextat [Let him put together a dictionary]. If he had wanted to give an idea of the most extreme sorrow, he probably would have said: Bibliothecam vendat [Let him sell his library]... There is always something infinitely sad about the decision of a literary man to sell his books. I do not say this applies to vulgar types who care little for books and for literary people, but to intelligent and sensitive souls. One must not speak harshly of one's contemporaries: I still know three or four such men. Books are much like friends who stood close by in happier days, but whom one must watch disappear in times of adversity. Philosophy teaches us that this is not a new usage, and experience teaches us that it is not rare.
However, it would not be so difficult to lose one's library if one had the consolation of placing the whole of it into the careful protection of an enlightened and attentive owner, someone who would know how to enjoy it, and who would take pleasure in allowing others to do the same. Knowing this, one would feel something like the bitter-sweet sadness of a father who can never kiss his dear child again, but who knows that he has been placed in a good home. Unfortunately, things do not work this way. These books, these fraternal and almost twinned treasures which glow together in their combined harmony, will scatter like the last exiled members of an illustrious race, their shameful fate decided at the auction block: Disjectae membra Bibliothecae [The scattered fragments of a library]. Good taste will take away a few of them, ostentation will have many more, and ignorance will have the rest. We no longer live in an age where wealthy men pride themselves on an elegant and well-chosen collection of books. The library of a rich man in the 19th century consists of the Stock Market Journal and the Almanac of Commerce, dressed up in cheap cardboard bindings that I wouldn't bestow upon them them.
At one time, opulence that had been acquired through honest but more or less mechanical industry liked to compensate for its origins by supporting the arts and letters... Money served to make life more beautiful, and did itself credit with this noble custom. "We have enough money," said Louis XI's greedy minister Coytier. "What we need now is honour." Today one can never have enough money; and the thing that people who have a lot of money require is more money. As a result there will no longer be a decent amateur library in France twenty years from now unless a few zealous and obstinate men put one together at the cost of their everyday comforts — until the fatal day dawns when it is handed over to an auctioneer in order to prevent it from being seized by the bailiff.

11 July 2013

The Bottom of the Pot

Michel de Montaigne, "Not to Judge of Our Happiness Till After Death," [18.1] in The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, tr. Charles Cotton, Vol. I (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1913), p. 63:
[T]he very felicity of life itself, which depends upon the tranquillity and contentment of a well-descended spirit, and the resolution and assurance of a well-ordered soul, ought never to be attributed to any man till he has first been seen to play the last, and, doubtless, the hardest act of his part. There may be disguise and dissimulation in all the rest: where these fine philosophical discourses are only put on, and where accident, not touching us to the quick, gives us leisure to maintain the same gravity of aspect; but, in this last scene of death, there is no more counterfeiting: we must speak out plain, and discover what there is of good and clean in the bottom of the pot,
Nam vera; voces tum demum pectore ab imo
Ejiciuntur; et eripitur persona, manet res.

Then at last truth issues from the heart;
the visor's gone, the man remains. — Lucretius, iii. 57.
The French:
[Le] bonheur de nostre vie, qui dépend de la tranquillité et contentement d'un esprit bien né, et de la resolution et asseurance d'un'ame reglée, ne se doive jamais attribuer à l'homme, qu'on ne luy aye veu jouer le dernier acte de sa comedie, et sans doute le plus difficile. En tout le reste il y peut avoir du masque: ou ces beaux discours de la Philosophie ne sont en nous que par contenance; ou les accidens, ne nous essayant pas jusques au vif, nous donnent loysir de maintenir tousjours nostre visage rassis. Mais à ce dernier rolle de la mort et de nous, il n'y a plus que faindre, il faut parler François, il faut montrer ce qu'il y a de bon et de net dans le fond du pot.
It would cost thousands to buy a hard copy of the 1635 edition of the Essais pictured above, but a colour facsimile can be downloaded for free from the Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes or from Gallica.fr.

9 July 2013

The Happiest Day

Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (London: Taylor & Hessey, 1823), pp. 127-128:
If any man, poor or rich, were to say that he would tell us what had been the happiest day in his life, and the why and the wherefore, I suppose that we should all cry out — Hear him! Hear him! — As to the happiest day, that must be very difficult for any wise man to name, because any event that could occupy so distinguished a place in a man’s retrospect of his life, or be entitled to have shed a special felicity on any one day, ought to be of such an enduring character as that (accidents apart) it should have continued to shed the same felicity, or one not distinguishably less, on many years together. To the happiest lustrum, however, or even to the happiest year, it may be allowed to any man to point without discountenance from wisdom. 

8 July 2013

Tarry the Lord's Leisure

A. C. Benson, "The Scene," At Large (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1908), pp. 17-18:
We tend to believe that a man is lost unless he is overwhelmed with occupation, unless, like the conjurer, he is keeping a dozen balls in the air at once. Such a gymnastic teaches a man alertness, agility, effectiveness. But it has got to be proved that one was sent into the world to be effective, and it is not even certain that a man has fulfilled the higher law of his being if he has made a large fortune by business. A sagacious, shrewd, acute man of the world is sometimes a mere nuisance; he has made his prosperous corner at the expense of others, and he has only contrived to accumulate, behind a little fence of his own, what was meant to be the property of all. I have known a good many successful men, and I cannot honestly say that I think that they are generally the better for their success. They have often learnt self-confidence, the shadow of which is a good-natured contempt for ineffective people; the shadow, on the other hand, which falls on the contemplative man is an undue diffidence, an indolent depression, a tendency to think that it does not very much matter what any one does. But, on the other hand, the contemplative man sometimes does grasp one very important fact — that we are sent into the world, most of us, to learn something about God and ourselves; whereas if we spend our lives in directing and commanding and consulting others, we get so swollen a sense of our own importance, our own adroitness, our own effectiveness, that we forget that we are tolerated rather than needed, it is better on the whole to tarry the Lord's leisure, than to try impatiently to force the hand of God, and to make amends for His apparent slothfulness.

4 July 2013

What Happiness Is to Be Gained?

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler No. 135 (July 2, 1751), in The Works of Samuel Johnson, Vol. V (London: J. Johnson et al., 1806), pp. 406-407:
At this time of universal migration, when almost every one, considerable enough to attract regard, has retired, or is preparing with all the earnestness of distress to retire, into the country; when nothing is to be heard but the hopes of speedy departure, or the complaints of involuntary delay; I have often been tempted to inquire what happiness is to be gained, or what inconvenience to be avoided, by this stated recession? Of the birds of passage, some follow the summer and some the winter, because they live upon sustenance which only summer or winter can supply; but of the annual flight of human rovers it is much harder to assign the reason, because they do not appear either to find or seek any thing which is not equally afforded by the town and country.

2 July 2013

Day After Day, Year After Year

Robert Tressall, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (London: Grant Richards, 1914), p. 76:
Extraordinary as it may appear, none of them took any pride in their work: they did not 'love' it. They had no conception of that lofty ideal of 'work for work's sake', which is so popular with the people who do nothing. On the contrary, when the workers arrived in the morning they wished it was breakfast-time. When they resumed work after breakfast they wished it was dinner-time. After dinner they wished it was one o'clock on Saturday.
So they went on, day after day, year after year, wishing their time was over and, without realizing it, really wishing that they were dead.

1 July 2013

Against This Backdrop of Nothingness

Rüdiger Safranski, Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, tr. Shelley Frisch (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002), pp. 23-24:
Boredom, from which art provides a refuge, becomes terrifying — the yawning abyss of being. When people are bored, they regard the moment as an empty passage of time. External events, as well as people's sense of self, become inconsequential. The phases of life lose their intentional tension and cave in on themselves like a soufflé removed from the oven too soon. Routines and habits that otherwise provide stability suddenly prove to be nothing more than façades. Finally, the eerie scenario of boredom reveals a moment of true feeling. When people find nothing to do with themselves, nothingness besets them. Against this backdrop of nothingness, art performs its task of self-stimulation — a virtually heroic enterprise, because people on the verge of a breakdown need to be entertained. Art steps in as a bridge to prevent succumbing to nihilist ennui. Art helps us live; without it, life cannot stem the onslaught of meaninglessness.

28 June 2013

Listening to Time Breathe

Louise-Victorine Ackermann (1813-1890), Pensées d'une solitaire [Thoughts of a Recluse]  (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1882), p. 33. My translation:
I like to listen to my clock tick in the silence of the night. The regular sound of its pendulum seems to me like the beating of a heart. It is as if I am listening to Time breathe.
The French:
J'écoute avec plaisir marcher mon horloge dans le silence de la nuit. Le bruit régulier de son balancier me fait l'effet des battements d'un cœur. Il me semble que j'entends respirer le Temps.

26 June 2013

Walking Alone in the Endless Days of Summer

Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (London: Taylor & Hessey, 1823), pp. 174-175:
I have had occasion to remark, at various periods of my life, that the deaths of those whom we love, and indeed the contemplation of death generally, is (cæteris paribus) more affecting in summer than in any other season of the year. And the reasons are these three, I think: first, that the visible heavens in summer appear far higher, more distant, and (if such a solecism may be excused) more infinite; the clouds, by which chiefly the eye expounds the distance of the blue pavilion stretched over our heads, are in summer more voluminous, massed and accumulated in far grander and more towering piles. Secondly, the light and the appearances of the declining and the setting sun are much more fitted to be types and characters of the Infinite. And thirdly (which is the main reason), the exuberant and riotous prodigality of life naturally forces the mind more powerfully upon the antagonist thought of death, and the wintry sterility of the grave. For it may be observed generally, that wherever two thoughts stand related to each other by a law of antagonism, and exist, as it were, by mutual repulsion, they are apt to suggest each other. On these accounts it is that I find it impossible to banish the thought of death when I am walking alone in the endless days of summer; and any particular death, if not more affecting, at least haunts my mind more obstinately and besiegingly in that season.

25 June 2013

A Dismal Fungus

Robert Louis Stevenson, "Aes Triplex," in Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. William Lyon Phelps (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906), pp. 45-54 (at pp. 50-51):
As courage and intelligence are the two qualities best worth a good man's cultivation, so it is the first part of intelligence to recognise our precarious estate in life, and the first part of courage to be not at all abashed before the fact. A frank and somewhat headlong carriage, not looking too anxiously before, not dallying in maudlin regret over the past, stamps the man who is well armoured for this world.
And not only well armoured for himself, but a good friend and a good citizen to boot. We do not go to cowards for tender dealing; there is nothing so cruel as panic; the man who has least fear for his own carcass, has most time to consider others. That eminent chemist who took his walks abroad in tin shoes, and subsisted wholly upon tepid milk, had all his work cut out for him in considerate dealings with his own digestion. So soon as prudence has begun to grow up in the brain, like a dismal fungus, it finds its first expression in a paralysis of generous acts. The victim begins to shrink spiritually; he develops a fancy for parlours with a regulated temperature, and takes his morality on the principle of tin shoes and tepid milk. The care of one important body or soul becomes so engrossing, that all the noises of the outer world begin to come thin and faint into the parlour with the regulated temperature; and the tin shoes go equably forward over blood and rain. To be overwise is to ossify; and the scruple-monger ends by standing stockstill.
The title of Stevenson's essay comes from Horace's Odes (1.3.9-10):
illi robur et aes triplex
   circa pectus erat 
That man had oak and triple bronze around his heart

21 June 2013

Get Ye to Your Garden

Richard King (pseudonym of Richard King Huskinson, 1879-1947), With Silent Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1917), pp. 61-62:
I would say to the bitter of spirit and the unhappy, and to all those for whom life and friendship and love have proved illusions, "Get ye to your garden, and henceforth the only hurting delusion in life will be the failure of the seed to live up to its illustration in the catalogue." But perhaps the whole secret lies in the fact that gardening is a hobby which needs your spare time all the time, and that no agony of regret can enter a mind in which every waking moment is spent in doing or making up for what has been left undone. For a garden is never finished; that is its engrossing charm. Over a collection of books or a collection of beetles only a limited portion of time can be spent, while golf loses much of its fascination when the sun has sunk to rest and no living person is at hand to hear how you foozled your drive at the ninth tee. But a man infatuated with his garden has no time for any relaxation except sleeping and eating. The moment he becomes slack signs of his negligence become only too apparent. His work is really never done. But hope and the promise held out by Mr. Sutton and Mr. Carter bear him along until the time comes when every moment not spent outside upon his knees seems like time uselessly thrown away. And always he is being purified and made simpler and nearer to God, as all of us are who work with nature amid beauty. I wonder if any gardener has ever been really bad; or rather I wonder whether it is possible for a man to remain unregenerate and wicked who really loves his garden.
Mr. Sutton and Mr. Carter: Sutton's Seeds and Carter's Tested Seed Company

A related post: Agricultural Pursuits

20 June 2013

Poetry and Push-Pin

W. Somerset Maugham, "Reflections on a Certain Book," in The Vagrant Mood (Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1969), pp. 158-192 (at pp. 190-191):
Jeremy Bentham startled the world many years ago by stating in effect that if the amount of pleasure obtained from each be equal there is nothing to choose between poetry and push-pin. [...] The indignant retort to Bentham's statement was that spiritual pleasures are obviously higher than physical pleasures. But who say so? Those who prefer spiritual pleasures. They are in a miserable minority, as they acknowledge when they declare that the gift of aesthetic appreciation is a very rare one. The vast majority of men are, as we know, are both by necessity and choice preoccupied with material considerations. Their pleasures are material. They look askance at those who spend their lives in the pursuit of art. That is why they have attached a depreciatory sense to the word aesthete, which means merely one who has a special appreciation of beauty. How are we going to show that they are wrong? How are we going to show that there is something to choose between poetry and push-pin? I surmise that Bentham chose push-pin for it's pleasant alliteration with poetry. Let us speak of lawn tennis. It is a popular game which many of us can play with pleasure. It needs skill and judgement, a good eye and a cool head. If I get the same amount of pleasure out of playing it as you get from looking at Titian's Entombment of Christ in the Louvre, by listening to Beethoven's Eroica, or by reading Eliot's Ash Wednesday, how are you going to prove your pleasure is better and more refined than mine? Only, I should say, by manifesting that this gift you have of aesthetic appreciation has a moral effect on your character.

18 June 2013

Look Well at the Stars

Hamilton Wright Mabie (1846-1916), "The Year of Wandering," in Essays on Work and Culture (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1898), pp. 44-52 (at 47-48):
It is the born drudge alone who is content to go from the school to the office or the shop without so much as asking the elementary questions about life. The aspiring want to know what is behind the occupation; they must discover the spiritual necessity of work before they are ready to bend to the inevitable yoke. Strong natures are driven by the very momentum of their own moral impulse to explore the world before they build in it and unite themselves with it; the imagination must be fed with beauty and truth before they are content to choose their task and tools. It is often a sign of greatness in a man that he does not quickly fit into his place or easily find his work. Let him look well at the stars before he bends to his task; he will need to remember them when the days of toil come, as they must come, at times, to every man. Let him see the world with his own eyes before he gives to fortune those hostages which hold him henceforth fast-bound in one place.

17 June 2013


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:
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.
  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.