26 September 2013

Mental Mountaineering

Richard Le Gallienne, How to Get the Best Out of Books (New York: Baker and Taylor, 1904), pp. 6-7:
Some of the books that give us the finest pleasure need the closest application for their enjoyment. There is always a certain spiritual and mental effort necessary to be made before we tackle the great books. One might compare it to the effort of getting up to see the sun rise. It is no little of a tug to leave one's warm bed, — but once we are out in the crystalline morning air, wasn't it worth it? Perhaps our finest pleasures always demand some such austerity of preparation. That is the secret of the truest epicureanism. Books like Dante's "Divine Comedy," or Plato's dialogues, will not give themselves to a lounging reader. They demand a braced, attentive spirit. But when the first effort has been made, how exhilarating are the altitudes in which we find ourselves, what a glow of pure joy is the reward which we are almost sure to win by our mental mountaineering.
Lawren Harris, Mount Thule, Bylot Island  (1930) 

25 September 2013

Cultivation of the Mind

Baron Jérome-Frédéric Pichon (1812-1896) in a letter to Georges Vicaire (1853-1921), quoted in the Almanach du Bibliophile (1899), p. 94. My translation:
For many people the newspaper has killed the book, and the education of today's youth is certainly not the same as ours, which in those days was confined to a thorough study of antiquity's greatest works. It was a wonderful and enriching cultivation of the mind, making one fit for all kinds of study in the same way that successively working and fertilizing the land prepares it for bountiful harvests. The modern reformers have not understood this. People do not speak Latin any more, so why learn it? They did not realize that, when one learns Latin, one learns something more than just how to speak it. The knowledge or ignorance of that admirable language is instantly apparent in works written in our own French, that noble and dignified daughter of Latin.
Pour beaucoup de gens, le journal a tué le livre, et surtout l'éducation de la jeunesse actuelle n'est pas la même que la nôtre. Celle-ci se bornait autrefois à l'étude approfondie des chefs-d'œuvre de l'antiquité. C'était une admirable et féconde culture de l'esprit. Elle le rendait propre à toutes les études et le préparait, comme les labours successifs et les engrais disposent la terre à produire de riches moissons. Les réformateurs modernes ne l'ont pas compris. On ne parle plus le latin, pourquoi l'apprendre? Ils n'ont pas su que, quand on apprenait le latin, on apprenait autre chose qu'à le parler. La connaissance ou l'ignorance de cette admirable langue se fait sentir immédiatement dans les ouvrages écrits dans la notre, cette noble et digne fille du latin.  
Detail from the cover of the Almanach du Bibliophile for 1899
"J'y perds mon latin," says the younger to the older man.

24 September 2013

How Brief the Hours

Thomas Bird Mosher, in the foreward to his 1913 catalogue of books:
Out of the myriad books of all the ages now accessible how brief the hours that even the man of greatest leisure can give to them. Is it strange that all sorts of absurdities should flourish in the matter of pointing out the best one hundred or best one thousand — the only true three foot or five foot shelf — and the inevitable excellent series which "everyman" should possess? It comes, as we view it ourselves, that one has to decide first of all which of two widely diverse courses of reading one should take, — the practical , dry-as-dust necessary routine book of facts — or follow on the starry track of those "precious minims" which find us young and always keep us so. Are we reading for business purposes or for that wider outlook which Literature alone has power to bestow? If, for the former, then the biblia-a-biblia of Charles Lamb's amused contempt; the half hours with the worst authors as Edward FitzGerald put it; the books reeking with self-help are the ones required. If, on the other hand, we are assured of somewhat else than mere commercial values, then, by the intensive method, we must turn to the little parcels of man's bequests to Time — the lifeblood of the ages garnered in prose and verse — such as I have long ago given my heart to and would by what I publish persuade you along the same sunlit road. 

23 September 2013

To Sip the Full Pleasure of a Library

Richard Jefferies, quoted in Amphora, ed. Thomas Bird Mosher (Portland: Thomas Bird Mosher, 1912), p. 15:
Is there anything so delicious as the first exploration of a great library — alone — unwatched? You shut the heavy door behind you slowly, reverently, lest a noise should jar on the sleepers of the shelves. For as the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus were dead and yet alive, so are the souls of the authors in the care of their ancient leathern binding. You walk gently round the walls, pausing here to read a title, there to draw out a tome and support it for a passing glance — half in your arms, half against the shelf. The passing glance lengthens till the weight becomes too great, and with a sigh you replace it, and move again, peering up at those titles which are foreshortened from the elevation of the shelf, and so roam from folio to octavo, from octavo to quarto, till at last, finding a little work whose value, were it in the mart, would be more than its weight in gold, you bear it to the low leather-covered arm-chair and enjoy it at your ease. But to sip the full pleasure of a library you must be alone, and you must take the books yourself from the shelves. A man to read must read alone. He may make extracts, he may work at books in company; but to read, to absorb, he must be solitary.

20 September 2013

There Were Giants in Those Days

Francis Thompson (1859-1907), Health and Holiness (London: J. Masters & Co., 1905), pp. 24-25:
When we look at Italy of the Renascence, at England of the sixteenth century, we are amazed. There were giants in those days. Those were the days of virtu — when the ideal of men was vital force, to do everything with their whole strength. And they did it. In good and in evil they redounded. Pecca fortiter, said Luther; and they sinned strongly. Ezzelin fascinating men with the horror of his tyranny. Aretin blazoning his lusts and infamies, Sforza ravening his way to a throne, Caesar Borgia conquering Italy with a poisoned sword, would have sneered at the scented sins of the present day. The seething energies of our sixteenth century, — fighting, hating, stabbing, plotting, throwing out poetry in splendid reckless floods and cataracts, seem to emanate from beings of another order than ourselves.

19 September 2013

Going Nowhere

Holbrook Jackson, Romance and Reality (London: Grant Richards, 1911), pp. 17-19:
The man who is not going Somewhere nowadays is very rare indeed. The habit is rapidly becoming an instinct. I hardly ever meet people who are not going Somewhere; or if they are not actually doing so it is merely because circumstances are against them; they have work to do, money to earn, masters to serve, homes to support. As it is they devote their spare moments to planning journeys to remote places for the holidays. Journeying has become a part of the ritual of life. The wedding trip is as much a circumstance of getting married as the honeymoon used to be; and you no longer hear of merchants retiring from business and taking things easily; they retire from business, nowadays, to devote themselves to travel. This journeying is always, as I say, purposeful; people are always going Somewhere; and, just as the act of going Somewhere has become a kind of social ritual, so certain places have become the symbols and impedimenta of the ritual. Their names are adorably familiar to all purposeful travellers — Florence and Rome; the Bernese Oberland and the Trossachs; parts of Holland, Belgium, France; Cairo, Morocco, the Land of the Midnight Sun (vide Guide-Books), and even, for the extra wealthy, Japan. It is a far-flung list, but yet a narrow one, for the ritual of going Somewhere, or, to give it its real name, the art of the tourist, imposes upon you the necessity of keeping on the beaten track. Somewhere is a place to which everybody has been or "ought" to go; it has been written about, praised, defined. 
Now when I say that I prefer going to Nowhere, I would not have you jump to the conclusion that I am a contrary person. Were you to do so you would do me an injustice. Nowhere is simply my favourite destination, and I get so much pleasure in going there, that it is not easy for me to imagine why people put themselves to so much trouble in going elsewhere.

18 September 2013

Spiritual Food

Harry Lyman Koopman, The Booklover and His Books (Boston: The Boston Book Company, 1917), p. 107:
If the reader does not at the outset make provision in his daily reading for the best books, the days and the months will go by, and the unopened volumes will look down upon him from his shelves in dumb reproof of his neglect and reminder of his loss. In truth it is all a matter of the balance of gain. What we rate highest we shall find room for. If we cannot have our spiritual food and satisfy all our other wants, perhaps we shall find that some of our other wants can do with less satisfaction. 

16 September 2013

Dignified Oblivion

Thomas Carlyle, letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson (January 27, 1867), in The Correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1834-1872, Vol. II (Boston: Ticknor & Co., 1888) p. 339:
To set about writing my own Life would be no less than horrible to me; and shall of a certainty never be done. The common impious vulgar of this earth, what has it to do with my life or me? Let dignified oblivion, silence, and the vacant azure of Eternity swallow me; for my share of it, that, verily, is the handsomest, or one handsome way, of settling my poor account with the canaille of mankind extant and to come.
Volume I here.

13 September 2013

The Largest and Widest Life

Haldane Macfall (1860-1928), in the forward to The Splendid Wayfaring (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1914), p. ix:
Men follow after strange gods, and at the end of their little strut upon the stage, as the curtain rings down, they complain bitterly that life is a hollow thing! Aforetime they bowed to the god of war or bent the knee to this thing or another that they set up as their ideal; to-day it is wealth. Men who have built or hoarded vast "fortunes" are solemnly interviewed for the envious, are accepted as great men, and affirm that money-getting is their chief incentive to life. God! what a tragedy for a people!
When all's said, and the worship done, a very vulgar dullard, if he give all his powers to it, can, and often does, hoard great wealth — indeed, he is at times a criminal against society. But even the significance of his wayfaring for himself does not lie in his wealth nor in his lack of wealth — greatness is not wealth nor lack of wealth, whatever else it may be. The significance of a man for himself rests in the largeness of the range of his adventure in living; the significance of his wayfaring for others rests in the amount whereby he has increased the realm of life for his fellows.
We live a little mean day, so petty indeed that most men — honest fellows — deem themselves as having lived who go to their graves the narrow life-long slaves of a paltry wage, content to have earned just that wage, as though earning a wage were life! nay, proud to be able to say as they lie a-dying that they have walked without tripping in a little parish. They are even acclaimed "good citizens"! But the largest and widest life is for him who dares the fullest adventure — who has become partaker in all that life can give. And by the Arts alone shall he know the fullest life; and by lack of the Arts shall he know the meanest.

11 September 2013

A Bit of a Poseur

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Ausgewählte Schriften, ed. Eugen Reichel (Leipzig: Phillip Reclam, 1879), p. 160. My translation:
In order to learn how to speak a foreign language really well, and actually speak it in society with a native accent, one must have not only a good memory and a good ear, but to a certain extent one must also be a bit of a poseur.
Um eine fremde Sprache recht gut sprechen zu lernen, und wirklich in Gesellschaft zu sprechen mit dem eigentlichen Akzent des Volks, muß man nicht allein Gedächtnis und Ohr haben, sondern auch in gewissem Grad ein kleiner Geck sein.

10 September 2013

A Human Lentil

Richard King (pseudonym of Richard King Huskinson, 1879-1947), With Silent Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1917), pp. 65-66:
Take it from me; the man or woman who has never played truant from the ideal for which he lives is just a human lentil with all the dulness of that estimable and most uninteresting vegetable. It is the man and woman who, having fallen, rise again who get there at the end of time. Sometimes I rather fancy that we have to fall in order to rise, but Tennyson has, of course, put that idea into some haunting lines in "In Memoriam." At any rate, the person whose character and temperament never lead him into temptation, who is content, and more than content — smugly self satisfied — to go on day in, day out, being dully respectable — respectability founded upon no personal conviction but merely upon an inherited tradition — will never reach any great heights. He may not fall, but he certainly will not rise, and his life will be merely one long jog-trot between blinkers along the Dull Road of Conventionality which leads from the Congress of Old Women into the Kingdom of Deathless Yawns.

9 September 2013

The Melancholy Truth

A. C. Benson, The Silent Isle (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1910), pp. 140-141:
What we lack is true originality, tranquil force; we are all occupied in trying to startle and surprise, to make a sensation. How little the [ancient] Greeks cared for that! It was beauty and charm, delicate colour, fine subtlety of which they were in search; they held all things holy, yet nothing solemn. Their dignity was not a pompous dignity, but the dignity of high tragedy, of unconquerable courage and ruthless fate; not the dignity of the well-appointed house and the tradition of excellent manners.
Of course our love of wealth and comfort is to a certain extent responsible for this. We have been thrown off our balance by the vast and rapid development of the resources of the earth, the binding of natural forces to do our bidding; it is the most complicated thing in the world nowadays to live the simple life; and not until we can gain a rich simplicity, not until we can recover an interest in ideas rather than an appetite for comforts, will our force and vitality return to us.
We are all too anxious to do the right thing and to be known to the right people; but unfortunately for us the right people are not the people of vivacity and intellectual zest, but the possessors of industrial wealth or the inheritors of scrupulous traditions and historical names. The sad fact, the melancholy truth, is that we have become vulgar; and until we can purge ourselves of vulgarity, till we can realise the ineffable ugliness of pomposity and pretension and ostentation, we shall effect nothing.
A related post: Comfort-Loving Vulgarity

6 September 2013

In Favour of Peace

Paul Léautaud, Propos d'un jour (Paris: Mercure de France, 1947), p. 45. My translation:
All peoples are in favour of peace, no government is.
Tous les peuples sont pour la paix, aucun gouvernement ne l'est.

5 September 2013

Content to Live Laborious Days and to Die Poor

John Rothwell Slater, Printing and the Renaissance (New York: W. E. Rudge, 1921), pp. 13-15
[Aldus Manutius' plan] was nothing less than to issue practically the whole body of classic literature, Greek as well as Latin, in editions distinguished from all that had preceded in two important respects. First, they were to be not reprints of received uncritical texts but new revisions made by competent scholars based upon a comparison of all the best available manuscripts. Secondly, they were to be printed not in ponderous and costly folios but in small octavos of convenient size, small but clear type, and low price. This was not primarily a commercial venture like the cheap texts of the classics issued in the nineteenth century by Teubner and other German publishers, but resembled rather in its broad humanistic spirit such a recent enterprise as the Loeb Classical Library. The purpose in each case was to revive and encourage the reading of the classics not alone by schoolboys but by men of all ages and all professions. But there is this important difference, that Mr. Loeb is a retired millionaire who employs scholars to do all the work and merely foots the bill, while Aldus was a poor man dependent upon such capital as he could borrow from his patrons, and had at the same time to perform for himself a large part of the editorial labors on his books. Mr. Loeb commands the latest and most complete resources of the modern art of printing; Aldus helped to make that art. Mr. Loeb's editors may employ when they choose the style of type known as italic; Aldus invented it. Mr. Loeb's publishers have at their command all the advertising and selling machinery of a great modern business concern, and yet they do not, and probably can not, make the classics pay for themselves, but must meet the deficits out of an endowment. Aldus had to organize his own selling system, his advertising had to be largely by private correspondence with scholars and book-sellers throughout Europe laboriously composed with his own hand; yet it was imperative that the business become as soon as possible self-supporting, or at least that losses in one quarter should be recouped by profits in another.
It was in his edition of Virgil, 1501, that Aldus first employed the new cursive or sloping letter which later came to be known in English printing as italic type. According to tradition he copied it closely from the handwriting of the Italian poet Petrarch. The type was very compact, covering many more words on a page than the roman of that day, and was used as a body type, not as in our day for isolated words and phrases set apart for emphasis or other distinction from the rest of the text. Aldus also, though not the first to cast Greek type, gave his Greek fonts an elegance which was soon imitated, like the italic, by other printers. By the introduction of small types which were at the same time legible, and by adopting for his classical texts a small format suitable for pocket-size books, Aldus invented the modern small book. No longer was it necessary for a scholar to rest a heavy folio on a table in order to read; he might carry with him on a journey half a dozen of these beautiful little books in no more space than a single volume of the older printers. Furthermore, his prices were low. The pocket editions or small octavos sold for about two lire, or forty cents in the money of that day, the purchasing power of which in modern money is estimated at not above two dollars.
This popularizing of literature and of classical learning did not meet with universal favor amongst his countrymen. We read of one Italian who warned Aldus that if he kept on spreading Italian scholarship beyond the Alps at nominal prices the outer barbarians would no longer come to Italy to study Greek, but would stay at home and read their Aldine editions without adding a penny to the income of Italian cities. Such a fear was not unfounded, for the poorer scholars of Germany and the Netherlands did actually find that they could stay at home and get for a few francs the ripest results of Italian and Greek scholarship. This gave Aldus no concern; if he could render international services to learning, if he could help to set up among the humbler scholars of other lands such a fine rivalry of competitive coöperation as already existed among such leaders as Erasmus and Sir Thomas More, he should be well content to live laborious days and to die poor. Both these he did; but he gathered around him such a company of friends and collaborators as few men have enjoyed; he must have breathed with a rare exhilaration, born of honest and richly productive toil, the very air of Athens in her glory; and he must have realized sometimes amid the dust and heat of the printing shop that it was given to him at much cost of life and grinding toil to stand upon the threshold of the golden age alike of typography and of the revival of learning.

4 September 2013

The Wartime Press

F. A. Voigt, Combed Out (London: Swarthmore Press, 1920), pp. 139-141:
There never was in all the world an infamy as great as the infamy of our war-time Press. A horde of unscrupulous liars and hirelings spat hatred and malice from safe and comfortable positions. They played the hero when no danger threatened. They defied an enemy who could not reach them. They boasted of the deeds they had not done. They gloried in the victories they did not win. They mouthed frantic protestations of injured innocence when they should have felt the burden of guilty shame. They were mawkishly sentimental when they should have felt keen grief and horror. They denounced murder and they urged others to commit murder. They spewed their venomous slime into every spring of healing water. At a time when clear thinking and balanced judgments were needed more desperately than ever before, they squirted into the air thick clouds of lies, and half-truths, and misleading phrases, and judgments distorted by hatred and warped by malice. And as for those who were either lured on to perpetrate the great iniquity by grandiose and seductive falsehoods or were dragged from their homes and families and sent unwilling to the slaughter, these miserable slaves the Press of all countries urged on, one against the other, brutally deaf to their misery, representing them as glad and cheerful when they had reached the extreme of human suffering, magnifying them into heroes of epic proportions (before they donned their dingy garb of war they were "lice" that had to be "combed out"), endowing them with absurdly impossible virtues — when they were just ordinary human beings in misfortune with no ambition except to live in peace and comfort — and at the same time bestowing lofty patronage upon them and calling them "Tommies" and sending them cigarettes, chocolates and advice, as though they were children to be petted, with no will or intelligence of their own.
The Press, the cinema, the atrocity placards, and propagandist leaflets, they all practised the same deliberate and colossal deceit and kindled hatred against the enemy. And so successful was this diabolical conspiracy that hatred became second nature to vast masses of people. To think evil of the enemy was an article of national faith, and to question this faith, or still more to repudiate it, that was heresy of the most heinous kind. Religion died long ago, but the cult of nationalism that replaced it was infinitely more pernicious in its intolerance and cruelty than religion at its very worst.
Individually men are often good, but collectively men are always bad. The national mob had never been so powerful, nor had it ever been so servile, and that was why its passions were those of the coward and not of the brave man; that was why chivalry and generosity and fair-mindedness were execrated, and only hatred and boastfulness and vindictive malice were allowed to live.

3 September 2013

A Splendid Stroke of Time-Thrift

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life (London: Macmillan, 1887), pp. 372-373:
Your abstinence from newspaper reading is not a new experiment in itself, though it is new in reference to your particular case, and I await its effects with interest. I shall be curious to observe the consequences, to an intellect constituted as yours is, of that total cutting off from the public interests of your own century which an abstinence from newspapers implies. It is clear that, whatever the loss may be, you have a definite gain to set against it. The time which you have hitherto given to newspapers, and which may be roughly estimated at about five hundred hours a year, is henceforth a valuable time-income to be applied to whatever purposes your best wisdom may select. When an intellectual person has contrived by the force of one simple resolution to effect so fine an economy as this, it is natural that he should congratulate himself. Your feelings must be like those of an able finance minister who has found means of closing a great leak in the treasury — if any economy possible in the finances of a State could ever relatively equal that splendid stroke of time-thrift which your force of will has enabled you to effect. In those five hundred hours, which are now your own, you may acquire a science or obtain a more perfect command over one of the languages which you have studied. Some department of your intellectual labours which has hitherto been unsatisfactory to you, because it was too imperfectly cultivated, may henceforth be as orderly and as fruitful as a well-kept garden. You may become thoroughly conversant with the works of more than one great author whom you have neglected, not from lack of interest, but from want of time. You may open some old chamber of the memory that has been dark and disused for many a year; you may clear the cobwebs away, and let the fresh light in, and make it habitable once again.
(I quote Hamerton out of context; his conclusion is that someone who abandons newspapers loses more than he gains. I disagree.)

2 September 2013

The Worth of a Book

Paul Léautaud, Propos d'un jour (Paris: Mercure de France, 1947), p. 58. My translation:
The worth of a book is not determined by its qualities or faults. It depends entirely on this: that no one but the author could have written it. Any book that someone other than the author could have written is fit for the garbage can.
Ce qui fait le mérite d'un livre, ce ne sont pas ses qualités ou ses défauts. Il tient tout entier en ceci: qu'un autre que son auteur n'aurait pu l'écrire. Tout livre qu'un autre que son auteur aurait pu écrire est bon à mettre au panier.

30 August 2013

What End Do We Propose Ourselves?

Étienne Pivert de Senancour, Obermann (Letter LXIII), tr. Arthur Edward Waite (London: William Rider & Son, 1909), pp. 255-256:
Every cause is hidden, each end deceptive. Every form changes, all duration slips away; and the agony of the insatiable heart is but the blind course of a meteor wandering in the void where it must be lost. Nothing is possessed as we anticipate, nothing known as it is. We perceive relations only, not essences. We do not make use of things, but of their images. Sought without us and impenetrable within us, Nature is dark everywhere. "I feel," is the sole affirmation for him who would have truth only. And that which constitutes the certitude of my existence is also its torture. I do feel, I do exist, but it is to be consumed by unconquerable desires, to be plunged in the sorcery of a fantastic world, to be overwhelmed by its voluptuous deception.
What! Is happiness not the first law of human nature, pleasure not the first motive spring of the sensible world? If we do not seek pleasure, what end do we propose ourselves? If to live be merely to exist, what need have we to live? We can discover neither the first cause nor the true motive of any being; the wherefore of the universe remains inaccessible to individual intelligence. The end of our existence is unknown to us; every act of life is void of object; our desires, our cares, our affections are ridiculous, if these acts do not tend to pleasure, if these affections do not propose it to themselves.

29 August 2013

The Use of Knowledge

Grant Allen, "William Herschel, Bandsman," in Biographies of Working Men (New York: E. & J. B. Young, 1890), pp. 109-111:
Poor Carolina was horrified at the house at Datchet, which seemed terribly desolate and poor, even to her modest German ideas; but William [Herschel] declared his willingness to live permanently and cheerfully upon "eggs and bacon" now that he was at last free to do nothing on earth but observe the heavens. Night after night he and Carolina worked together at their silent task — he noting the small features with his big telescope, she "sweeping for comets" with a smaller glass or "finder." Herschel could have had no more useful or devoted assistant than his sister, who idolized him with all her heart. Alexander, too, came to stay with them during the slack months at Bath, and then the whole strength of the family was bent together on their labour of love in gauging the heavens.
But what use was it all? Why should they wish to go star-gazing? Well, if a man cannot see for himself what use it was, nobody else can put the answer into him, any more than they could put into him a love for nature, or for beauty, or for art, or for music, if he had it not to start with. What is the good of a great picture, a splendid oratorio, a grand poem? To the man who does not care for them, nothing; to the man who loves them, infinite. It is just the same with science. The use of knowledge to a mind like Herschel's is the mere possession of it. With such as he, it is a love, an object of desire, a thing to be sought after for its own sake; and the mere act of finding it is in itself purely delightful. "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies; and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her." So, to such a man as Herschel, that peaceful astronomer life at Datchet was indeed, in the truest sense of those much-abused words, "success in life." If you had asked some vulgar-minded neighbour of the great Sir William in his later days whether the astronomer had been a successful man or not, he would doubtless have answered, after his kind, "Certainly. He has been made a knight, has lands in two counties, and has saved £35,000." But if you had asked William Herschel himself, he would probably have said, with his usual mixture of earnestness and humility, "Yes, I have been a very fortunate man in life. I have discovered Uranus, and I have gauged all the depths of heaven, as none before ever gauged them, with my own great telescope."

28 August 2013

What Fools Think

Grant Allen, "John Gibson, Sculptor," in Biographies of Working Men (New York: E. & J. B. Young, 1890), pp. 80-81:
For twenty-seven years Gibson remained at Rome, working assiduously at his art, and rising gradually but surely to the very first place among then living sculptors. His studio now became the great centre of all fashionable visitors to Rome. Still, he made no effort to get rich, though he got rich without wishing it; he worked on merely for art's sake, not for money. He would not do as many sculptors do, keep several copies in marble of his more popular statues for sale; he preferred to devote all his time to new works. "Gibson was always absorbed in one subject," says Lady Eastlake, "and that was the particular work or part of a work — were it but the turn of a corner of drapery — which was then under his modelling hands. Time was nothing to him; he was long and fastidious." His favourite pupil, Miss Hosmer, once expressed regret to him that she had been so long about a piece of work on which she was engaged. "Always try to do the best you can," Gibson answered. "Never mind how long you are upon a work — no. No one will ask how long you have been, except fools. You don't care what fools think."

27 August 2013

Pity the Poor Rich Men

Izaak Walton (1594-1683) and Charles Cotton (1630-1687), The Compleat Angler, or the Contemplative Man's Recreation (London: Cassell & Co., 1909), pp. 22-23:
And for you that have heard many grave, serious men pity Anglers; let me tell you, Sir, there be many men that are by others taken to be serious and grave men, whom we contemn and pity. Men that are taken to be grave, because nature hath made them of a sour complexion; money-getting men, men that spend all their time, first in getting, and next, in anxious care to keep it; men that are condemned to be rich, and then always busy or discontented: for these poor rich men, we Anglers pity them perfectly, and stand in no need to borrow their thoughts to think ourselves so happy. No, no, Sir, we enjoy a contentedness above the reach of such dispositions, and as the learned and ingenuous Montaigne says – like himself, freely, "When my Cat and I entertain each other with mutual apish tricks, as playing with a garter, who knows but that I make my Cat more sport than she makes me? Shall I conclude her to be simple, that has her time to begin or refuse, to play as freely as I myself have? Nay, who knows but that it is a defect of my not understanding her language, for doubtless Cats talk and reason with one another, that we agree no better: and who knows but that she pities me for being no wiser than to play with her, and laughs and censures my folly, for making sport for her, when we two play together?"
Thus freely speaks Montaigne concerning Cats; and I hope I may take as great a liberty to blame any man, and laugh at him too, let him be never so grave, that hath not heard what Anglers can say in the justification of their art and recreation; which I may again tell you, is so full of pleasure, that we need not borrow their thoughts, to think ourselves happy.

26 August 2013

An Ideal of Decency

Robert Louis Stevenson, "Pulvis et Umbra," in Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906), pp. 176-177:
What a monstrous spectre is this man, the disease of the agglutinated dust, lifting alternate feet or lying drugged with slumber; killing, feeding, growing, bringing forth small copies of himself; grown upon with hair like grass, fitted with eyes that move and glitter in his face; a thing to set children screaming; — and yet looked at nearlier, known as his fellows know him, how surprising are his attributes! Poor soul, here for so little, cast among so many hardships, filled with desires so incommensurate and so inconsistent, savagely surrounded, savagely descended, irremediably condemned to prey upon his fellow lives: who should have blamed him had he been of a piece with his destiny and a being merely barbarous? And we look and behold him instead filled with imperfect virtues: infinitely childish, often admirably valiant, often touchingly kind; sitting down, amidst his momentary life, to debate of right and wrong and the attributes of the deity; rising up to do battle for an egg or die for an idea; singling out his friends and his mate with cordial affection; bringing forth in pain, rearing with long-suffering solicitude, his young. To touch the heart of his mystery, we find in him one thought, strange to the point of lunacy: the thought of duty; the thought of something owing to himself, to his neighbour, to his God: an ideal of decency, to which he would rise if it were possible; a limit of shame, below which, if it be possible, he will not stoop. The design in most men is one of conformity; here and there, in picked natures, it transcends itself and soars on the other side, arming martyrs with independence; but in all, in their degrees, it is a bosom thought: — Not in man alone, for we trace it in dogs and cats whom we know fairly well, and doubtless some similar point of honour sways the elephant, the oyster, and the louse, of whom we know so little: — But in man, at least, it sways with so complete an empire that merely selfish things come second, even with the selfish: that appetites are starved, fears are conquered, pains supported; that almost the dullest shrinks from the reproof of a glance, although it were a child's; and all but the most cowardly stand amid the risks of war; and the more noble, having strongly conceived an act as due to their ideal, affront and embrace death. Strange enough if, with their singular origin and perverted practice, they think they are to be rewarded in some future life: stranger still, if they are persuaded of the contrary, and think this blow, which they solicit, will strike them senseless for eternity.

23 August 2013

A Strangely Vivid Understanding of Other Ages

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life (London: Macmillan, 1887), pp. 327-328:
It is a traditional habit of mankind to see only the disadvantages of solitude, without considering its compensations; but there are great compensations, some of the greatest being negative. The lonely man is lord of his own hours and of his own purse; his days are long and unbroken, he escapes from every form of ostentation, and may live quite simply and sincerely in great calm breadths of leisure. I knew one who passed his summers in the heart of a vast forest, in a common thatched cottage with furniture of common deal, and for this retreat he quitted very gladly a rich fine house in the city. He wore nothing but old clothes, read only a few old books, without the least regard to the opinions of the learned, and did not take in a newspaper. On the wall of his habitation he inscribed with a piece of charcoal a quotation from De Sénancour to this effect: “In the world a man lives in his own age; in solitude, in all the ages.” I observed in him the effects of a lonely life, and he greatly aided my observations by frankly communicating his experiences. That solitude had become inexpressibly dear to him, but he admitted one evil consequence of it, which was an increasing unfitness for ordinary society, though he cherished a few tried friendships, and was grateful to those who loved him and could enter into his humor. He had acquired a horror of towns and crowds, not from nervousness, but because he felt imprisoned and impeded in his thinking, which needed the depths of the forest, the venerable trees, the communication with primæval nature, from which he drew a mysterious yet necessary nourishment for the peculiar activity of his mind. I found that his case answered very exactly to the sentence he quoted from De Sénancour; he lived less in his own age than others do, but he had a fine compensation in a strangely vivid understanding of other ages. Like De Sénancour, he had a strong sense of the transitoriness of what is transitory, and a passionate preference for all that the human mind conceives to be relatively or absolutely permanent. This trait was very observable in his talk about the peoples of antiquity, and in the delight he took in dwelling rather upon everything which they had in common with ourselves than on those differences which are more obvious to the modern spirit. His temper was grave and earnest, but unfailingly cheerful, and entirely free from any tendency to bitterness. The habits of his life would have been most unfavorable to the development of a man of business, of a statesman, of a leader in practical enterprise, but they were certainly not unfavorable to the growth of a tranquil and comprehensive intellect, capable of “just judgment and high-hearted patriotism.” He had not the spirit of the newspapers, he did not live intensely in the present, but he had the spirit which has animated great poets, and saints, and sages, and far-seeing teachers of humanity. Not in vain had he lived alone with Nature, not in vain had he watched in solemn twilights and witnessed many a dawn. There is, there is a strength that comes to us in solitude from that shadowy, awful Presence that frivolous crowds repel!

22 August 2013

The Habits of Highly Effective People

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life (London: Macmillan, 1887), pp. 152-153:
Little books are occasionally published in which we are told that it is a sin to lose a minute. From the intellectual point of view this doctrine is simply stupid. What the Philistines call wasted time is often rich in the most varied experience to the intelligent. If all that we have learned in idle moments could be suddenly expelled from our minds by some chemical process, it is probable that they would be worth very little afterwards. What, after such a process, would have remained to Shakespeare, Scott, Cervantes, Thackeray, Dickens, Hogarth, Goldsmith, Molière? When these great students of human nature were learning most, the sort of people who write the foolish little books just alluded to would have wanted to send them home to the dictionary or the desk. Töpffer and Claude Tillier, both men of delicate and observant genius, attached the greatest importance to hours of idleness. Töpffer said that a year of downright loitering was a desirable element in a liberal education; whilst Claude Tillier went even farther, and boldly affirmed that “le temps le mieux employé est celui que l’on perd [the time best spent is the time that one loses].”
Let us not think too contemptuously of the miscalculators of time, since not one of us is exempt from their folly. We have all made miscalculations, or more frequently have simply omitted calculation altogether, preferring childish illusion to a manly examination of realities; and afterwards as life advances another illusion steals over us not less vain than the early one, but bitter as that was sweet. We now begin to reproach ourselves with all the opportunities that have been neglected, and now our folly is to imagine that we might have done impossible wonders if we had only exercised a little resolution. We might have been thorough classical scholars, and spoken all the great modern languages, and written immortal books, and made a colossal fortune. Miscalculations again, and these the most imbecile of all; for the youth who forgets to reason in the glow of happiness and hope, is wiser than the man who overestimates what was once possible that he may embitter the days which remain to him.

21 August 2013

The Indirect Utilities of Knowledge

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life (London: Macmillan, 1887), pp. 95-98:
Whatever you study, some one will consider that particular study a foolish waste of time.
If you were to abandon successively every subject of intellectual labour which had, in its turn, been condemned by some adviser as useless, the result would be simple intellectual nakedness. The classical languages, to begin with, have long been considered useless by the majority of practical people — and pray, what to shopkeepers, doctors, attorneys, artists, can be the use of the higher mathematics? And if these studies, which have been conventionally classed as serious studies, are considered unnecessary notwithstanding the tremendous authority of custom, how much the more are those studies exposed to a like contempt which belong to the category of accomplishments! What is the use of drawing, for it ends in a worthless sketch? Why should we study music when after wasting a thousand hours the amateur cannot satisfy the ear? A quoi bon modern languages when the accomplishment only enables us to call a waiter in French or German who is sure to answer us in English? And what, when it is not your trade, can be the good of dissecting animals or plants?
To all questionings of this kind there is but one reply. We work for culture. We work to enlarge the intelligence, and to make it a better and more effective instrument. This is our main purpose; but it may be added that even for our special labours it is always difficult to say beforehand exactly what will turn out in the end to be most useful. 
More than all other men have authors reason to appreciate the indirect utilities of knowledge that is apparently irrelevant. Who can tell what knowledge will be of most use to them? Even the very greatest of authors are indebted to miscellaneous reading, often in several different languages, for the suggestion of their most original works, and for the light which has kindled many a shining thought of their own. And authors who seem to have less need than others of an outward help, poets whose compositions might appear to be chiefly inventive and emotional, novelists who are free from the restraints and the researches of the historian, work up what they know into what they write; so that if you could remove every line which is based on studies outside the strict limits of their art, you would blot out half their compositions.

20 August 2013

A Tame Uniformity in Our Domiciles

An anonymous author in "Old Houses," The Cornhill Magazine, Vol. XIII (January-June, 1866), 611-616 (at 611):
To have to live in a row of houses built by contract, all at the same time, and all exactly alike, in which it is impossible to tell your own dwelling, except by looking at the number on the door, has always seemed to me one of the chief objections to life in a town, and one of the most pathetic and aggravating of the minor troubles of humanity. Mr. Podsnap, or any other type of the respectable, may think me a monomaniac — perhaps I am.
I hold that by submitting to, or worse still, by rejoicing in, a tame uniformity in our domiciles, we, of our own accord, deprive ourselves of one of the highest privileges of reason, and degrade ourselves by submission to one of the necessities under which instinct labours. Bees build their cells by exact rule and predetermined angle, a mavis's nest is recognized as one all the world over, and probably has not altered by one iota in its architecture since time began. Rabbit-burrows and mole-galleries have gained nothing in their construction from the experience of hundreds of generations. To man alone is the privilege given of impressing not merely a generic or specific character, but a stamp of individual peculiarity on his home.

19 August 2013

The Most Comical of Comedies

Friedrich Nietzsche, "We Philologists" (§12), tr. J. M. Kennedy, in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Vol. 8 (New York: Macmillan, 1911), p. 116:
Most men are obviously in the world accidentally: no necessity of a higher kind is seen in them. They work at this and that; their talents are average. How strange! The manner in which they live shows that they think very little of themselves: they merely esteem themselves in so far as they waste their energy on trifles (whether these be mean or frivolous desires, or the trashy concerns of their everyday calling). In the so-called life's calling, which everyone must choose, we may perceive a touching modesty on the part of mankind. They practically admit in choosing thus: "We are called upon to serve and to be of advantage to our equals — the same remark applies to our neighbour and to his neighbour; so everyone serves somebody else; no one is carrying out the duties of his calling for his own sake, but always for the sake of others: and thus we are like geese which support one another by the one leaning against the other. When the aim of each one of us is centred in another, then we have all no object in existing; and this 'existing for others' is the most comical of comedies." 

16 August 2013

A Heap of Unfulfilled Ambitions

Richard King (pseudonym of Richard King Huskinson, 1879-1947), With Silent Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1917), pp. 106-107:
What a sad story it would make were we all to keep a diary, on one side of which we wrote what we intended doing, and upon the other what we actually did. Most of us set forth when we are young with the enthusiasm to remove mountains. Alas! as we look back on our lives, we realise only too clearly that the most we ever did was to kick over a molehill. It is all heartrendingly disappointing. There seems to be something in Destiny — or does it lie within our own natures? — which comes between us and all our glorious aims, leaving us nothing but a heap of unfulfilled ambitions at the end. So few of us can go straight ahead along the pathway which we feel our lives ought to lead ; we are always being turned from our intentions by other people, or by love, or by pity, or by hatred, or by loss of money or health. Thus, most of us become mere thistledown, blown hither and thither in the wind, to settle at last on a desolate sand dune. And we feel that we ought to have been such rockets! Each one of us feels he ought to have been a rocket. So often disappointment makes us bitter, or hard, or merely callous. Our bad intentions go as a rule unpunished; just as our good ones usually go without reward. This lack of Justice in life is one of life's greatest mysteries. It even puzzles those who believe in God. We are always finding excuses or reasons for acts of Providence which, to our own inner conscience, are the reverse of what is Just and Right. But Providence is never shamed. It still goes on gaily, allowing the square peg to die in the round hole, the innocent to suffer for the guilty, the good for the bad, the weak for the strong, those of good intentions for those who never had any at all. 

15 August 2013

The Quest Will Continue

William Dana Orcutt in the forward to the third edition of In Quest of the Perfect Book: Reminiscences & Reflections of a Bookman (Boston: Little, Brown, 1926):
A writer may be born who combines the wisdom of Solomon, the power of analysis of Henry James, the understanding of Plato, the philosophy of Emerson, and the style of Montaigne. This manuscript may be transformed into a book by a printer who can look beyond his cases of type, and interpret what Aldus, and Jenson, and Etienne, and Plantin saw, with the artistic temperament of William Morris and the restraint of Cobden-Sanderson. There may be a binding that represents the apotheosis of Italian, French, and English elegance. A reader may be developed through the evolution of the ages competent to appreciate the contents and the physical format of such a volume, "for what we really seek is a comparison of experiences."
Until then the Quest will continue, going constantly onward and upward. Its lure will keep us from slipping back upon false satisfaction and a placid but — shall I say? — a dangerous contemplation of the humanistic idyll.
This scan of an earlier edition seems to be a little clearer than the one above.

14 August 2013

Strong Meat for Mature Minds

Harry Lyman Koopman, The Booklover and His Books (Boston: The Boston Book Company, 1917), pp. 68-69:
Byron speaks of reading and hating Horace as a schoolboy, but no normal person can hate Horace any more than he can hate Washington Irving. It is possible, however, that pupils who have to read Irving's "Sketch Book" with the fear of a college entrance examination before their minds may have no affection even for him. So some of us may have something to unlearn in our reading of Vergil and Horace, for we must approach their works as strong meat for mature minds. Vergil's theme is nothing less than the glorification of the Roman state through its divinely ordered and heroic founding. School children seldom read more than the six books of the "Aeneid" required for college; but the other six, though of much less varied interest, are necessary for the appreciation of the poem. The whole is a work that no one can afford to pass over in his search for the burning words that keep alive the thought of other ages. Very different in theme and manner is the poetry of Horace. He is the most modern of all the men of old, far more modern than our own Puritan ancestors. His mixture of grace and shrewdness, poetic charm and worldly wisdom, we find nowhere else. The bulk of his work is not large, and this fact, as in the case of Gray and Keats and Poe, is rather in his favor, because the reader can easily become familiar with it all, though then he will sigh for more. Horace wears well; the older we grow the better we like him. He has love songs for youth, political poems for maturity, and satires for old age. After we have lived with him for half a century he becomes more real to us than most of our acquaintances in the flesh. Roman literature is not without other great names to attract the student; but these two must not be overlooked by the most general or the most selective reader. 

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.