31 March 2014

Better Than His Books

Edith Lister, "Some Recollections of George Gissing," The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. 300 (February 1906), pp. 11-18:
The book and the author are so much a part of one another that it has become a habit of mind with the lettered public to demand, almost as a right, the privilege of learning every detail, however insignificant, of the lives of their favourite writers. The features of a man's face; the clothes he wears; the food he eats; the wife he has married, and the children he has begotten, are all seemingly matters of vital interest to the readers of his books; and so vulgar curiosity satisfies itself with illustrated interviews, having neither the patience to wait until his death, nor the good-breeding to respect his very natural desire for privacy. In no author was this same desire for privacy more marked than in George Gissing, while possibly few stood more mentally aloof from their books than he did; even though the earlier works are, in a large measure, autobiographical, and it is by these earlier works, and these alone, that he claims remembrance. It is too early, as yet, to decide what place he will finally take among the writers of the late Victorian school, but, though prophecy is both thankless and unprofitable, it is safe to say that, never a popular author, he will be remembered when the men who outran him in public favour are wholly, and deservedly, forgotten. He wrote, in all, some five and twenty books, and, of these, six touch the high-water mark of excellence in the style that is peculiarly his own — repressed, yet full of power, vivid, though sombre in colouring.

I knew his books long before I knew the man who wrote them; they impressed me deeply, and have influenced me ever since, so that now, in thinking of certain types of character, as in walking down certain London streets, I find it almost impossible to form an independent judgment; but see both men and things through George Gissing's eyes rather than my own. I met him first in Surrey, and for one long summer it was my good fortune to see him nearly every day, to know him in varying moods, and to become his close friend. He spoke to me intimately of the subjects that lay nearest his heart, and I may, without vanity, say I learned to know a side of his character that has never expressed itself in print and was even unknown — if the wholly misleading obituary notices are any guide — to his oldest friends. He was essentially a loving man; a lover of the ideal and the beautiful; a lover of nature; a lover of animals — the old collie now lying by my side was his faithful friend, and remembered by him even in his last illness. The Gissing of the Surrey lanes, and the Gissing of the series of novels that have, with singular inappropriateness, been described as an English Comédie Humaine, were two persons distinct and apart, and it is of the man, rather than the books, that I would now speak. In those long lazy summer afternoons spent in a dreambound garden, or in the clear starlight nights when we walked through silent woods, or across a heather-scented common, he would talk by the hour, in that golden voice of his : could he but have written as he talked in those rare hours of expansion, his books would have been masterpieces.

He spoke much of himself; not with any hint of egoism, but as friend speaks to friend. He spoke of the early struggles that had bitten and eaten into his soul as a corrosive fluid leaving sores no after-draught of happiness was ever able to erase, for no one resented the insults and humiliations of more bitterly than George Gissing. Shortly before his death, he, perhaps unwisely, broke through the iron reserve and spoke continuously of himself — with garrulity that showed the weakening of mental power so painfully evident in his later works; and the story of the library that was bought at the price of his dinners, of the tutorship that nearly was lost for lack of a decent coat, and the London cellar where he wrote by the light of a grating continually darkened by the shadows of passers-by, all became public property. But when I knew him he was still proudly reticent, and would have resented any suggestion of an interview as an unnecessary prying into his private affairs.

His horror of poverty seems to have had birth in the disastrous visit to America (made when a very young man), of which he always spoke with almost painful emotion. A short story of his had been pirated in an American newspaper, and thinking he might find a market in the New World, he went to the States, only to be told that editors could "get as much of such stuff as they wanted without paying for it." Then followed a nightmare of poverty. He travelled for a time with an agent for gas-fittings; the agent did the necessary booming, and Gissing the practical demonstration, going to out-of-the-way country places and seeing an America few English people know. The gas-fitting partnership came suddenly to an end — I forget the exact reason, but believe Gissing was not smart enough for the business — and after came weeks of misery, when he kept body and soul together on dough-nuts, and learned to know all the hardness of human hearts towards poverty and misfortune. Only once did he meet with sympathy and kindness, and, strange to say, this was in a lawyer's office, where he found an old clerk, in shabby black, reading the Bible during the dinner-hour. The old man did his best to help him, and Gissing never forgot this strange friend, and often spoke of the incident as the one bright spot of colour in his drab-grey memories of America; but it is characteristic of his peculiar sensitiveness with reference to any personal experience that he never attempted to turn it into copy. He realised its value, however, suggesting that I might work it into a book. "Why not use it yourself?" was my somewhat natural question. "Because I never care to put my deepest feelings in print. Do you suppose I have ever drawn my ideal woman for one of my heroines ? She is for me, and not for the public."

Another time we were speaking, in desultory fashion, of the arguments for and against individual consciousness in a future state of existence, when I said, "But this does not interest you ?" "No," he answered, with almost exaggerated emphasis, " but I am well aware what a loss my lack of interest is to me. It means there is a whole side of human nature I do not understand, and this is why I so often fail to touch my readers' hearts. If I could write a book that recognised the spiritual side of man, where I now appeal to one reader I should then speak to thousands." If he had only been able to make the appeal he would have compared favourably with some of the great writers of the modern Russian school, who paint in quite as sombre colours as Gissing, but relieve the gloom by the hint of a soul hidden away somewhere in their human animals even when they are wallowing in the gutter. Gissing's characters wallow as convincingly as the Russians' — the mud is real, the people are real; but they have no poetry of melancholy, no spiritual aspirations, no suggestion of the soul buried in the flesh.

 His chief strength lies in his power of portrayal of a certain type of character to be found in the top mud of the submerged tenth, and not — as is often erroneously stated — in depicting the small vices and lesser virtues of the lower middle class. He draws a cruel character with delicate skill and deliberate finish, and his Clem Peckover in the "Nether World," is a very effective English rendering of Balzac's Madame Cibot in "Cousin Pons" : the Englishwoman is coarser in her wickedness and less of an artist in vice than her French prototype, but otherwise the two are identical. Clem Peckover was taken from the life, and was rather under- than overdrawn."She was a mercilessly cruel woman," he said once, "or rather she was not a woman but a fiend. And yet she is more true to life than an idealised heroine would be." Thyrza — the sweetest and possibly the most convincing of all his women characters — he affected to despise as "a piece of boyish idealism," but I have my own opinion on this point, and believe it was the only time he ever allowed himself to put in print a sketch, in half-tones, of his ideal woman; the book was one of his favourites, and I noticed that he was always pleased at any allusion to this study of two sisters where poverty, for once, is rainbow-tinted by love. "Demos" was another book he rated highly, and here the realism is more of the Russian than the French School. The description of the girl brought up in semi-refinement, married to the workman who has unexpectedly inherited a fortune and as unexpectedly loses it; the horrors of the vie intime in two small rooms, and of the man's brutal pleasure in humiliating, at every turn, the supposed fine-ladyism of his wife, are drawn by a master hand: Gissing spares us no details, but makes us realise the truth of the picture without disgusting us. In the "Odd Women," he discusses the problem of the surplus half-educated woman — unloved, undesired, a prey at last to drink through sheer misery — with a force and directness that almost robs it of our sympathy. He was an artist who painted an absolutely true picture (in the sense in which Hogarth's pictures are true) of London life in the late Seventies and the Eighties. Himself a Northcountryman, he was by adoption a son of the great city; he loved her, hated her, and knew her through and through. His descriptive powers are best when he is depicting atmospheric effects in London streets — as the flood of golden sunshine in "The Day of Silence" ("Human Odds and Ends") or the rainy night in the opening chapter of "The Unclassed." And yet he loved the country, and the scent of a Surrey lane or the shadow of Devon Goods was dearer to him ihan to many a man who has made a fortune by writing about them.

The influence of his early life never left him, and I often wonder what would have been the effect on Gissing the writer, if Gissing the man had served a less cruel apprenticeship when learning the trade of letters. Poverty had been his mistress: she had sat on his knee until he knew every line of her ugly face; to the day of his death, the horror of her never left him. He has been accused of a want of idealism, but it was in the poverty of the ideal, and not in the lack of it, that his real weakness lay. His grim mistress had taught him that a man's ambition should be limited to a modest income, an abundance of good food, and an easy life. On this modest income he insists until we weary of it, and feel, by the side of this grey-toned gospel of moderation, that the rank poverty of the "Nether World" seems bright-hued in comparison, with its primitive human passion; and its handsome Clem Peckover. As he himself said, the wider interests, the longing of the spirit for the unattainable he did not understand —
"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
 Or what's a heaven for?"
— Gissing's reach and grasp were identical, and he knew this far better than did his critics, great or small. I well remember when he made a bid for popularity with the "Town Traveller," he asked me, as a personal favour, not to read it, giving as his reason, "You like my books." I disobeyed him — and understood. It was then the old Gissing died, and a new man took his place who does not come into these recollections except in reference to the series of papers, "By the Ionian Sea." Those sketches he told in wonderful fashion, sitting in a little hedged-in Surrey garden on windless starbright nights, and holding a small audience of three spell-bound with the charm of his voice. I know they made a good book, but have preferred to keep the memory of them as something distinct and apart, and so have never read it. As a conversationalist, Gissing was a delightful surprise to those who only hew him from his books. Given the right setting and the right audience, he would astonish by his brilliancy and the absence of the note of reasoned despair that makes itself heard in all his serious writing. It is as a serious writer that he will be remembered; as the man who knew the life of the London poor in all its bitterness, and wrote with a depth of knowledge many an earnest philanthropist struggling to grasp the social problem might well envy.

His best work was done in the days of his youth- "The Nether World," "New Grub Street," "Demos," "The Unclassed," "The Odd Women," and that very remarkable collection of short stories, "Human Odds and Ends"; a wonderful output for a young man, but yet not one of them recalls the man himself, to those who knew and loved him. He was better than his books — tender where they are hard, bright where they are sombre; a very gentle spirit in a big body. I can remember so many acts of kindness to a young author; so many sage suggestions, so much ripe advice, and kindly painstaking criticism. Of all the men I ever met he was the most generous in his praise of his brother authors, and his delight at the heavy royalties some of them earned seemed a trifle pathetic to those of us who knew that he never achieved more than the modest income of which he used to write in his 'prentice days of hope and starvation. He was still a young man when he died, but his life had been over-full of cruel experiences, and his constitution was weakened by those early privations that are supposed, by comfortable arm-chair philosophers, to make such excellent training for budding talent.

George Gissing stands, a somewhat solitary figure, grey-toned against the brightly coloured background of his fellows of the pen — the popular authors of the many editions, and the luxurious ways of living; but it is a noble figure, and one not easily to be forgotten, either as the man or the writer. To me those long lazy summer days are a memory with which I would not willingly part, and even as I write, I can recall the kindly smile and the kindly voice of the man who was my friend; for whom I have a reverent admiration mingled with regret for those golden, unforgotten hours, when we
 "Tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky."
Alas! we shall tire the sun no more.
See also: Who Was E. M. Martin?

27 March 2014

A Swarm of Dunces and Windbags

Edwin Percy Whipple, "The Ludicrous Side of Life," Lectures on Subjects Connected with Literature and Life (Boston: Ticknor, Reed, & Fields, 1850), pp. 142-143:
Among the countless deceptions passed off on our sham-ridden race, let me direct your attention to the deception of dignity, as it is one which includes many others. Among those terms which have long ceased to have any vital meaning, the word dignity deserves a disgraceful prominence. No word has fallen so readily as this into the designs of cant, imposture and pretence; none has played so well the part of verbal scarecrow, to frighten children of all ages and both sexes. It is at once the thinnest and most effective of all the coverings under which duncedom sneaks and skulks. Most of the men of dignity, who awe or bore their more genial brethren, are simply men possessing the art of passing off their insensibility for wisdom, their dulness for depth; and of concealing imbecility of intellect under haughtiness of manner. Their success in this small game is one of the stereotyped satires on mankind. Once strip from these pretenders their stolen garments, once disconnect their show of dignity from their real meanness, and they would stand shivering and defenceless, objects of the tears of pity, or targets for the arrows of scorn. But it is the misfortune of this world's affairs, that offices, fitly occupied only by talent and genius, which despise pretence, should be filled by respectable stupidity and dignified emptiness, to whom pretence is the very soul of life. Manner triumphs over matter; and throughout society, politics, letters and science, we are doomed to meet a swarm of dunces and windbags, disguised as gentlemen, statesmen and scholars. 
Found via Addison Peale Russell's Library Notes (Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1882).

25 March 2014

Forever to Knock at the Same Doors

Émile Souvestre, An Attic Philosopher in Paris; A Peep at the World from a Garret, Being the Journal of a Happy Man (New York: D. Appleton, 1892), p. 75:
Solitude has the advantage or the danger of making us continually search more deeply into the same ideas. As our discourse is only with ourself, we always give the same direction to the conversation; we are not called to turn it to the subject which occupies another mind, or interests another's feelings; and so an involuntary inclination makes us return forever to knock at the same doors! 
Frontispiece to Un philosophe sous les toits
(Paris: Michel-Lévy Frères, 1872)

24 March 2014

Holy Poverty

Émile Souvestre, An Attic Philosopher in Paris; A Peep at the World from a Garret, Being the Journal of a Happy Man (New York: D. Appleton, 1892), pp. 44-45:
O beloved and gentle Poverty! pardon me for having for a moment wished to fly from thee, as I would from Want. Stay here forever with thy charming sisters, Pity, Patience, Sobriety, and Solitude; be ye my queens and my instructors; teach me the stern duties of life; remove far from my abode the weakness of heart and giddiness of head which follow prosperity. Holy poverty! teach me to endure without complaining, to impart without grudging, to seek the end of life higher than in pleasure, farther off than in power. Thou givest the body strength, thou makest the mind more firm; and, thanks to thee, this life, to which the rich attach themselves as to a rock, becomes a bark of which death may cut the cable without awakening all our fears.
This is the conclusion of the third chapter, in which the narrator decides not to enter into financial speculations that might have made him rich but could also have ruined him (or at the very least disturbed his peace of mind).

Illustrated edition of Un philosophe sous les toits: journal d'un homme heureux (Paris: Michel-Lévy Frères, 1872) here.

A related post: Too Much Concerned About a Little Poverty

21 March 2014

Spring's Melancholy Side

Alexander Smith, "On the Importance of a Man to Himself," Dreamthorp (London: Andrew Melrose, 1906), p. 164:
Spring has her melancholy side, and bears a sadder burden to the heart than Autumn, preaching of decay with all his painted woods. For the flowers that make sweet the moist places in the forest are not the same that bloomed the year before. Another lark sings above the furrowed field. Nature rolls on in her eternal course, repeating her tale of spring, summer, autumn, winter; but life in man and beast is transitory, and other living creatures take their places. It is quite certain that one or other of the next twenty springs will come unseen by me, will awake no throb of transport in my veins. But will it be less bright on that account? Will the lamb be saddened in the field? Will the lark be less happy in the air? The sunshine will draw the daisy from the mound under which I sleep, as carelessly as she draws the cowslip from the meadow by the riverside. The seasons have no ruth, no compunction. They care not for our petty lives.

19 March 2014

What Song Did the Sirens Sing?

W. Compton Leith (pseudonym of Ormonde Maddock Dalton, 1866-1945), Sirenica (London: John Lane, 1913), pp. 68-69:
Whosoever gives ear [to the Sirens' song], is straightway rapt far from the good common things that he might have loved; when he returns to them, they are transformed for him and hateful; he may no longer have the same pleasure of them; they satisfy his soul no more. The harmonies of life are become a vague dissonance, tuneless and persistent, like an Arab song. In the well of satisfaction rises a water of gall; the very duty fulfilled leaves behind it a remorse for something haply overlooked or misaccomplished; until another hour of vision comes, there is nothing but the life preoccupied, the doing without zeal, the hearkening without attention. Pursuing the smooth paven ways, he seems to himself sedulous over trivial aims, and provident of supervacuous ends; the vanity of all these things is so transparent to him that the business of material existence becomes a by-work, an idle labour of perfunction; what is it but a screen or cloak to interpose between curious eyes and the secret errantry of the soul? Let the Imagined Better Thing but distantly appear, and the beauty of all beside is discoloured in the contrast, as the hue of a lowlier stone pales before the royal glow of sards. For the desire of this, the good things of use, the deeds rich in content, are tedious to him and profitless; and if the absent mind have no success among these, how much less the absent soul? While he gives them his forced interest, impassioned longing for things beyond breaks in upon his labour and makes it vain.
Herbert James Draper, Ulysses and the Sirens (1909)

18 March 2014

My Notebook

Maurice de Guérin, Journal, tr. Edward Thorton Fisher (New York: Leypoldt & Holt, 1867), p. 115:
O my note-book, thou art not for me a heap of paper, something insensible, inanimate; no, thou livest, thou hast a soul, an understanding, love, kindness, compassion, patience, charity, sympathy, pure and unchangeable. Thou art for me what I have not found among men, that tender and devoted being who attaches himself to a feeble and sickly soul, who enfolds it in affection, who alone comprehends its language, divines the thoughts of its heart, sympathizes with its sorrows, partakes of the intoxication of its joys, lets it rest upon his bosom, or, in his turn, leans upon it for rest.

16 March 2014

The Opinion of the Few

Robert Ross, Aubrey Beardsley (London: John Lane, 1909), p.31:
Among artists and men of letters no less than with that great inartistic body, "the art-loving public," Aubrey Beardsley's name will always call forth wonder, admiration, speculation, and contempt. It should be conceded, however, that his work cannot appeal to everyone; and that many who have the highest perception of the beautiful see only the repulsive and unwholesome in the troubled, exotic expression of his genius. Fortunately, no reputation in art or letters rests on the verdict of majorities — it is the opinion of the few which finally triumphs.
Beardsley died on this day in 1898.

Aubrey Beardsley's frontispiece to
An Evil Motherhood, by Walt Ruding (1896)

13 March 2014

The Lineage of Ideas

Alexander Smith, "On the Writing of Essays," Dreamthorp (London: Andrew Melrose, 1906), pp. 28-29:
If a man is worth knowing at all, he is worth knowing well. The essayist gives you his thoughts, and lets you know, in addition, how he came by them. He has nothing to conceal; he throws open his doors and windows, and lets him enter who will. You like to walk round peculiar or important men as you like to walk round a building, to view it from different points, and in different lights. Of the essayist, when his mood is communicative, you obtain a full picture. You are made his contemporary and familiar friend. You enter into his humours and his seriousness. You are made heir of his whims, prejudices, and playfulness. You walk through the whole nature of him, as you walk through the streets of Pompeii, looking into the interior of stately mansions, reading the satirical scribblings on the walls. And the essayist's habit of not only giving you his thoughts, but telling you how he came by them, is interesting, because it shows you by what alchemy the ruder world becomes transmuted into the finer. We like to know the lineage of ideas, just as we like to know the lineage of great earls and swift race-horses. We like to know that the discovery of the law of gravitation was born of the fall of an apple in an English garden on a summer afternoon. Essays written after this fashion are racy of the soil in which they grow, as you taste the lava in the vines grown on the slopes of Etna, they say.

12 March 2014

The Candle of Death

Alexander Smith, "On the Writing of Essays," Dreamthorp (London: Andrew Melrose, 1906), p. 20:
Take the candle of death in your hand, and walk through the stately galleries of the world, and their splendid furniture and array are as the tinsel armour and pasteboard goblets of a penny theatre; fame is but an inscription on a grave, and glory the melancholy blazon on a coffin lid.

11 March 2014

I Must Go to School Again

George Gissing to his sister Margaret, from Rome on 17 December 1888, Letters of George Gissing to Members of His Family (London : Constable, 1927) , p. 262:
It is a wonderful thing to walk along the road [Via Appia], where generations of Romans have gone about their pleasure and their business, and to look at the vast ruin of tombs — robbed of their marble clothing — on this side and that. Now and then one finds a legible inscription. One I copied, and the translation is this: "This monument is erected to Marcus Caecilius. Stranger, I am grateful when you sit down by my resting place. May you prosper in business and in health, and may your sleep be without care!" The Latin spelling is very antique; it was written at least 2000 years ago.

Wherever you go it is the same. Everywhere the wonderful antiquity haunts you. The Roman life and literature becomes real in a way hitherto inconceivable. I must begin to study it all over again; I must go to school again and for the rest of my life. Ah, if only I could have come here years ago!

10 March 2014

Most Remarkable

George Gissing on his first trip to Rome, diary entry from 14 December 1888, Letters of George Gissing to Members of His Family (London : Constable, 1927), p. 264:
Woke early this morning an enjoyed wonderful happiness of mind. It occurs to me, is this not partly due to the fact that I spend my days solely in the consideration of beautiful things, wholly undisturbed by base necessities and considerations? In any case the experience is most remarkable.

7 March 2014

The Bibliomaniac's Prayer

Eugene Field, "The Bibliomaniac's Prayer," Book-Song, ed. Gleeson White (London: Elliot Stock, 1893), pp. 52-53:
Keep me, I pray, in wisdom's way,
  That I may truths eternal seek;
I need protecting care to-day.
  My purse is light, my flesh is weak;
So banish from my erring heart
  All baleful appetites and hints
Of Satan's fascinating art —
  Of first editions and of prints.
Direct me in some godly walk
  Which leads away from bookish strife,
That I with pious deed and talk
  May extra-illustrate my life.

But if, O Lord, it pleaseth Thee
  To keep me in temptation's way,
I humbly ask that I may be
  Most notably beset to-day.
Let my temptation be a book
  Which I shall purchase, hold, and keep,
Whereon when other men shall look,
  They'll wail to know I got it cheap.
Oh, let it such a volume be
  As in rare copperplates abounds ! —
Large paper, clean, and fair to see.
  Uncut, unique — unknown to Lowndes.
Lowndes: William Thomas Lowndes' The Bibliographer’s Manual of English Literature, published in 1834.

6 March 2014

Who Was E. M. Martin?

Thanks to Mike Gilleland at Laudator Temporis Acti I learn that Miss. Edith Lister (1867-1938) was the author of Wayside Wisdom.

Edith Lister and her sister Alys Lister lived with the publisher A. H. Bullen. According to an article by Pierre Coustillas in Vol. XIV, No. 2 (PDF) of The Gissing Newsletter, Bullen called the two women his cousins "but the relationship is obscure."

Besides serving as Bullen's secretary, Edith Lister wrote novels and articles under various pseudonyms, including E. M. Martin and Noel Ainslie. I am particularly interested by the fact she knew George Gissing (A. H. Bullen was Gissing's publisher until the late 1890s) and spent some time with him after his return from Italy in 1898.

After Gissing's death, Lister wrote a brief article about him for the Gentleman's Magazine. That number (February 1906) is one of the few volumes that isn't available on Archive.org, but I have managed to track down a copy. Since it's in the public domain, I plan to post Lister's recollection of Gissing at a later date (I need some time to scan it and extract the text, as it's too long to type).

I've also purchased a copy of E. M. Martin's The Happy Fields, which one bookseller describes as an "attempt to preserve these few peace pictures of a vanishing landscape and of those who once made it their home," and says it is "dedicated to those who love the countryside." This sounds promising.

5 March 2014

George Moore on Translation

George Moore, Confessions of a Young Man (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1904), pp. 138-141:
French translation is the only translation; in England you still continue to translate poetry into poetry, instead of into prose. We used to do the same, but we have long ago renounced such follies. Either of two things — if the translator is a good poet, he substitutes his verse for that of the original; — I don't want his verse, I want the original; — if he is a bad poet, he gives us bad verse, which is intolerable. Where the original poet put an effect of caesura, the translator puts an effect of rhyme; where the original poet puts an effect of rhyme, the translator puts an effect of caesura. Take Longfellow's "Dante." Does it give as good an idea of the original as our prose translation? Is it as interesting reading? Take Bayard Taylor's translation of "Goethe." Is it readable? Not to any one with an ear for verse. Will any one say that Taylor's would be read if the original did not exist. The fragment translated by Shelley is beautiful, but then it is Shelley. Look at Swinburne's translations of Villon. They are beautiful poems by Swinburne, that is all; he makes Villon speak of a "splendid kissing mouth." Villon could not have done this unless he had read Swinburne. "Heine," translated by James Thomson, is not different from Thomson's original poems; "Heine," translated by Sir Theodore Martin, is doggerel.


But in English blank verse you can translate quite as literally as you could into prose?


I doubt it, but even so, the rhythm of the blank line would carry your mind away from that of the original.


But if you don't know the original?


The rhythm of the original can be suggested in prose judiciously used; even if it isn't, your mind is at least free, whereas the English rhythm must destroy the sensation of something foreign. There is no translation except a word-for-word translation. Baudelaire's translation of Poe, and Hugo's translation of Shakespeare, are marvellous in this respect; a pun or joke that is untranslatable is explained in a note.


But that is the way young ladies translate — word for word!


No; 'tis just what they don't do; they think they are translating word for word, but they aren't. All the proper names, no matter how unpronounceable, must be rigidly adhered to; you must never transpose versts into kilometres, or roubles into francs;  — I don't know what a verst is or what a rouble is, but when I see the words I am in Russia. Every proverb must be rendered literally, even if it doesn't make very good sense; if it doesn't make sense at all, it must be explained in a note. For example, there is a proverb in German: "Quand le cheval est sellé il faut le monter;" in French there is a proverb: "Quand le vin est tiré il faut le boire." Well, a translator who would translate quand le cheval, etc., by quand le vin, etc., is an ass, and does not know his business. In translation, only a strictly classical language should be used; no word of slang, or even word of modern origin should be employed; the translator's aim should be never to dissipate the illusion of an exotic. If I were translating the "Assommoir" into English, I should strive after a strong, flexible, but colourless language, something — what shall I say? — a sort of a modern Addison.
Note: I don't know any German Sprichwort about riding saddled horses, and I don't understand why Moore has translated it into French in the first place.

3 March 2014

Know a Little More, Live a Little Less

Baltasar Gracián y Morales, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, tr. Joseph Jacobs (London: Macmillan & Co., 1904), pp. 149-150:
Know a little more, live a little less.

Some say the opposite. To be at ease is better than to be at business. Nothing really belongs to us but time, which even he has who has nothing else. It is equally unfortunate to waste your precious life in mechanical tasks or in a profusion of important work. Do not heap up occupation and thereby envy: otherwise you complicate life and exhaust your mind. Some wish to apply the same principle to knowledge, but unless one knows one does not truly live.

28 February 2014

Careless Readers

Anonymous, "On Careless Reading," Peace of Mind; Essays and Reflections from August 1914 to September 1917 (London: Andrew Melrose, 1918), p. 32:
One knows the type of person [who reads carelessly]. You meet him or her at dinner, and as the talk must, in deference to you, be "literary," he or she says: "I wonder if you read a most unusual novel which I read a week or two ago. I can't remember its title, but it was most striking. Now – isn't it provoking? – it's gone clean out of my mind." Willing to keep the conversational ball rolling, you suggest that the name of the author, or even of the publisher, might give you a clue, if the book was really a distinctive one. But no, the person "fond of reading" could remember neither; even the plot, or the subject of the story, could not be recalled. No doubt the novel had been read; no doubt the reader had thought it "unusual"; but it had left nothing but a blurred impression on the mind, as of an unfixed photograph that has been exposed to the light. In a little while there would be no impression at all, but only a kind of smudge on which no new real impression could be made. [...]

The people who forget the titles of books, and their authors – of course they never knew the names of their publishers – are, roughly speaking, people who could very well live without books, upon whom, indeed, books are probably incapable of making any educational impression. To me, people of this class would be much more interesting if they never mentioned books, or if they spoke of them only to say that they never read them.

26 February 2014

The Passion of the Unsuccessful

E. M. Martin, Wayside Wisdom; A Book for Quiet People (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1920), pp. 197-198:
There is a certain odd relationship between the old worm-eaten volumes and the silent meanly dressed people who steal in and fondly handle them. For books are the passion of the unsuccessful, the friends and companions of disappointment and of poverty; and if a rich man gathers together a fine library it is often the poor man, lean with longing, who has told him what to buy. Outside a second-hand book-shop I once saw a bright-eyed old woman in Workhouse bonnet and shawl looking wistfully at the trays full of books, until, unable to resist temptation, she took one up and began to read, lost to the noise of the street or the mud that splashed upon the pavement. I came closer and saw that it was a volume of Pascal's Pensées, but before I could speak she had placed it back on the tray and, moving quickly, disappeared down a side alley as a man came out of the shop. "If she had the money she'd be one of my best customers," he said, beginning to rearrange his wares. "She comes as often as she can get away, and I never disturb her, but let her read as long as she likes; she must have spent many an hour here." I wondered who the old woman had been whose hunger for books even the dull routine of the Workhouse had not stilled, and I have always regretted that in my surprise I let her go away empty-handed.
See also Who Was E. M. Martin?

25 February 2014

Life After Forty

Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon, or Many Things in Few Words to Those Who Think (New York: William Gowans, 1849), pp. 170-171:
It is a serious doubt, whether a wise man ought to accept of a thousand years of life, even provided that those three important advantages of health, youth, and riches, could be securely guaranteed unto him. But this is an offer that can never be refused, for it will never be made. Taking things as they really are, it must be confessed that life, after forty, is an anti-climax, gradual indeed, and progressive with some, but steep and rapid with others. It would be well if old age diminished our perceptibilities to pain, in the same proportion that it does our sensibilities to pleasure; and if life has been termed a feast, these favoured few are the most fortunate guests, who are not compelled to sit at the table, when they can no longer partake of the banquet. The misfortune is that body and mind, like man and wife, do not always agree to die together. It is bad when the mind survives the body; and worse still when the body survives the mind; but, when both these survive our spirits, our hopes, and our health, this is worst of all.

24 February 2014


Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, tr. Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), p. 69:
Of the nineteenth-century philosophers, Hegel put me off by his language, as arrogant as it was laborious; I regarded him with downright mistrust. He seemed to me like a man who was caged in the edifice of his own words and was pompously gesticulating in his prison.
A related post: Best Observed in the Nude