30 April 2014

Wherefore the Whole Scene of Horror?

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, tr. R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, Vol. III (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1909), p. 112:
Yunghahn* relates that he saw in Java a plain far as the eye could reach entirely covered with skeletons, and took it for a battlefield; they were, however, merely the skeletons of large turtles, five feet long and three feet broad, and the same height, which come this way out of the sea in order to lay their eggs, and are then attacked by wild dogs (Canis rutilans), who with their united strength lay them on their backs, strip off their lower armour, that is, the small shell of the stomach, and so devour them alive. But often then a tiger pounces upon the dogs. Now all this misery repeats itself thousands and thousands of times, year out, year in. For this, then, these turtles are born. For whose guilt must they suffer this torment? Wherefore the whole scene of horror? To this the only answer is: it is thus that the will to live objectifies itself.
* This is an error in Haldane and Kemp's translation. It should read "Junghuhn" as in Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn (1809-1864), author of Java; Seine Gestalt, Pflanzendecke und Innere Bauart, tr. J. K. Hasskarl (Leipzig: Arnoldische Buchhandlung, 1857).

28 April 2014

A Man's Real Possession

Alexander Smith, "On Death and the Fear of Dying," Dreamthorp (London: Andrew Melrose, 1906), pp. 57-58:
In life there is nothing more unexpected and surprising than the arrivals and departures of pleasure. If we find it in one place to-day, it is vain to seek it there to-morrow. You cannot lay a trap for it. It will fall into no ambuscade, concert it ever so cunningly. Pleasure has no logic; it never treads in its own footsteps. Into our commonplace existence it comes with a surprise, like a pure white swan from the airy void into the ordinary village lake; and just as the swan, for no reason that can be discovered, lifts itself on its wings and betakes itself to the void again, it leaves us, and our sole possession is its memory. And it is characteristic of pleasure that we can never recognise it to be pleasure till after it is gone. Happiness never lays its finger on its pulse. If we attempt to steal a glimpse of its features it disappears. It is a gleam of unreckoned gold. From the nature of the case, our happiness, such as in its degree it has been, lives in memory. We have not the voice itself; we have only its echo. We are never happy; we can only remember that we were so once. And while in the very heart and structure of the happy moment there lurked an obscure consciousness of death, the memory in which past happiness dwells is always a regretful memory. This is why the tritest utterance about the past, youth, early love, and the like, has always about it an indefinable flavour of poetry, which pleases and affects. In the wake of a ship there is always a melancholy splendour. The finest set of verses of our modern time describes how the poet gazed on the "happy autumn fields," and remembered the "days that were no more." After all, a man's real possession is his memory. In nothing else is he rich, in nothing else is he poor.
A related post: Nothing More Secure

25 April 2014

Tolerable Content

Edward FitzGerald to John Allen, 29 April 1839, Letters of Edward FitzGerald, Vol. I (London: Macmillan & Co., 1910), pp. 59-60:
Here I live with tolerable content: perhaps with as much as most people arrive at, and what if one were properly grateful one would perhaps call perfect happiness.  Here is a glorious sunshiny day: all the morning I read about Nero in Tacitus lying at full length on a bench in the garden: a nightingale singing, and some red anemones eyeing the sun manfully not far off.  A funny mixture all this: Nero, and the delicacy of Spring: all very human however.  Then at half past one lunch on Cambridge cream cheese: then a ride over hill and dale: then spudding up some weeds from the grass ... So runs the world away.  You think I live in Epicurean ease: but this happens to be a jolly day: one isn’t always well, or tolerably good, the weather is not always clear, nor nightingales singing, nor Tacitus full of pleasant atrocity.  But such as life is, I believe I have got hold of a good end of it.
Volume II here.

23 April 2014

Take No Pleasure in the Wonder of the Mob

Baltasar Gracián y Morales, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, tr. Joseph Jacobs (London: Macmillan & Co., 1904), pp. 16-17:
Common in Nothing.

First, not in taste. O great and wise, to be ill at ease when your deeds please the mob! The excesses of popular applause never satisfy the sensible. Some there are such chameleons of popularity that they find enjoyment not in the sweet savours of Apollo but in the breath of the mob. Secondly, not in intelligence. Take no pleasure in the wonder of the mob, for Ignorance never gets beyond wonder. While vulgar folly wonders wisdom watches for the trick.
A related post: What Have I Said Amiss?

22 April 2014

Why Go the Lonelier Way?

W. Compton Leith (pseudonym of Ormonde Maddock Dalton, 1866-1945), Sirenica (London: John Lane, 1913), pp. 104-106:
If in young life the Sirens' music float towards you over still waters, put the helm about while it is yet an uncertain sound; let those whose ears are closed lash you to the mast until the echoes are heard no longer. Beware lest for a moment's heedlessness your days be consumed away, lest kindred, fatherland, and friends be lost to you, and your bones lie bleaching upon that shore. Believe it not, when pride or flattery would persuade that you are of a force to meet the insidious danger; none are of that force, not even the heroes and the slayers of many dragons. If fortune offers peace of happiness, with all its estimable solid gain, its neighbourhood of minds and profitable communions, why go the lonelier way, consorting with shadows, feeding upon vanity of dreams? You are like to become among men as the poplar among the trees, too sensitive to dwell in commonality, whitening the wayside with a floss that none shall spin. Be wise, return among the happy of mankind for whom laws are framed and politics constructed; who, trenching themselves within a pale and taming down ambitions, receive their certain wages in the weighed gold of tranquillity.
Otto Greiner, Odysseus und die Sirenen (c. 1900)

19 April 2014

No Securer Box

George Mackenzie (1636-1691), Essays Upon Several Moral Subjects (London: Printed for Brown et al., 1713), pp. 139-140:
The World is a Comedy, where every Man acts that Part which Providence hath assigned him; and as it is esteemed more noble to look on than to act; so really I known no securer Box from which to behold it than a safe Solitude; and it is easier to feel than to express the Pleasure which may be taken in standing aloof, and in contemplating the Reelings of the Multitude, the Excentrick Motions of Great Men, and how Fate recreates itself in their Ruin; as if it fed them with Success, as the Romans fed their Gladiators, who served for nothing else, but in beating one another to recreate disinterested Beholders.

17 April 2014


Roger Scruton, The Uses of Pessimism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 133-134:
It is inherently questionable to believe that there is a continuous moral progress, moving forward with the speed of science, still more questionable to believe that there is artistic or spiritual progress marching beside it. Virtually no poet since Homer has surpassed him, and in the arts, in religious thought and in philosophical speculation, we are as likely to encounter a decline from one generation to the next as an improvement. Even if there is knowledge of a sort contained in high culture, it is not knowledge that accumulates in an orderly or linear way. It is a matter of wisdom, not expertise, of an imaginative grasp of the human condition rather than the search for theories with which to explain it.

16 April 2014


Roger Scruton, The Uses of Pessimism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 185-186:
Professors in the humanities learned from their French mentors [Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida] that there is a way of writing that will always be considered 'profound', provided only that it is (a) subversive and (b) unintelligible. As long as a text can be read as in some way against the status quo of Western culture and society, undermining its claim to authority or truth, it does not matter that it is gibberish. On the contrary, that is merely a proof that its argument operates at a level of profundity that makes it immune to criticism.

It is, of course, not only modern leftism that has had recourse to the hermetic strategy by way of protecting its illusions. The original discipline of theology was prodigal of nonsense, and the hermetic science of alchemy provided a more secular version of it, which Ben Johnson adequately satirized in The Alchemist. Whenever impossible aims and unbelievable doctrines take up position in the human psyche, offering spurious hopes and factitious solutions, gobbledygook assembles in the wings, awaiting its moment.
Related posts:

14 April 2014

He Nothing Shall Fulfil

Harold Monro, "He meditates in silence all the day," Before Dawn (London: Constable & Co., 1911), p. 120:
He meditates in silence all the day,
Reclining in an atmosphere of dreams:
Meanwhile the bravest moments slip away,
And life is wasted in its crystal streams.

Out of his lips the smoke curls dreamily
Upward, and wreathes about his careless hair;
If you may speak by chance, still silent, he
But gazes at you with a vacant stare.

Thus dwelling in a world where shadows seem
Reality, what succour shall he give?
What value may be set upon his dream.
Who has not learnt, and cannot learn -- to live?

Though he may prate of Purpose and of Will,
Propounding many schemes with perfect art,
I know he nothing, nothing shall fulfil --
Because he lacks a true and valiant heart.

11 April 2014

The Ancients Sang Their Solo in Peace

Joseph Joubert, Joubert; A Selection from his Thoughts, tr. Katharine Lyttelton (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1899), p. 143:
In writing, the ancients had a mind more at ease than we. They were not embarrassed by a thousand considerations that are forced upon us, concerning a crowd of books already known to our readers, which we cannot help perpetually combating or recalling. Being obliged thus to be either in harmony or in discord with all existing books, we sing our part in the midst of clamour; whilst the ancients sang their solo in peace.
Colour scans of Pensées, essais et maximes de J. Joubert, suivis de Lettres à ses amis et précédés d'une notice sur sa vie, son caractère et ses travaux (Paris: Charles Gosselin, 1842) on Gallica:
Volume I
Volume II

10 April 2014

A Magnificent but Painful Hippopotamus

H. G. Wells, Boon (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1915), pp. 107-108:
Having first made sure that he has scarcely anything left to express, [Henry James] then sets to work to express it, with an industry, a wealth of intellectual stuff that dwarfs Newton. He spares no resource in the telling of his dead inventions. He brings up every device of language to state and define. Bare verbs he rarely tolerates. He splits his infinitives and fills them up with adverbial stuffing. He presses the passing colloquialism  into his service. His vast paragraphs sweat and struggle; they could not sweat and elbow and struggle more if God Himself was the processional meaning to which they sought to come. And all for tales of nothingness.... It is leviathan retrieving pebbles. It is a magnificent but painful hippopotamus resolved at any cost, even at the cost of its dignity, upon picking up a pea which has got into a corner of its den. Most things, it insists, are beyond it, but it can, at any rate, modestly, and with an artistic singleness of mind, pick up that pea....

8 April 2014

The Virtues and Loves of Dying Creatures

Roger Scruton, The Uses of Pessimism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 11-12:
Poetry, drama, portraiture and music show us that mortality is inextricably woven into the human scheme of things: that our virtues and our loves are the virtues and loves of dying creatures; that everything that leads us to cherish one another, to sacrifice ourselves, to make sublime and heroic gestures, is predicated on the assumption that we are vulnerable and transient, with only a fleeting claim on the things of this world.

7 April 2014

So the Days Pass and Nothing Is Done

Joseph Conrad to Edward Garnett (29 March 1898), Letters from Joseph Conrad, 1895-1924 (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1928), pp. 134-135:
I sit down religiously every morning, I sit down for eight hours every day — and the sitting down is all. In the course of that working day of 8 hours I write 3 sentences which I erase before leaving the table in despair. There's not a single word to send you. Not one! And time passes — and McClure [Conrad's publisher] waits — not to speak of Eternity for which I don't care a damn. Of McClure however I am afraid.

I ask myself sometimes whether I am bewitched, whether I am the victim of an evil eye? But there is no "jettatura" in England — is there? I assure you — speaking soberly and on my word of honour — that sometimes it takes all my resolution and power of self control to refrain from butting my head against the wall. I want to howl and foam at the mouth but I daren't do it for fear of waking that baby and alarming my wife. It's no joking matter. After such crises of despair I doze for hours still half conscious that there is that story I am unable to write. Then I wake up, try again — and at last go to bed completely done-up. So the days pass and nothing is done. At night I sleep. In the morning I get up with the horror of that powerlessness I must face through a day of vain efforts.
Hat tip: Stephen Pentz at First Known When Lost

4 April 2014

The Great Lazar House of Society

Robert Southey to John May (26 June 1797), The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1849), pp. 98-99:
There was a time when I believed in the persuadibility of man, and had the mania of man-mending. Experience has taught me better. After a certain age the organs of voice cannot accommodate themselves to the utterance of a foreign pronunciation; so it is with the mind, it grows stiff and unyielding, like our sinews, as we grow older. The ablest physician can do little in the great lazar house of society; it is a pest-house that infects all within its atmosphere. He acts the wisest part who retires from the contagion; nor is that part either a selfish or a cowardly one; it is ascending the ark, like Noah, to preserve a remnant which may become the whole.

3 April 2014

The Ugly and the Stupid

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (London: Ward, Lock & Co., 1891), p. 5:
There is a fatality about all physical and intellectual distinction, the sort of fatality that seems to dog through history the faltering steps of kings. It is better not to be different from one's fellows. The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world. They can sit at their ease and gape at the play. If they know nothing of victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat. They live as we all should live — undisturbed, indifferent, and without disquiet. They neither bring ruin upon others, nor ever receive it from alien hands.

2 April 2014

Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna

This link leads to a virtual tour of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome.

Room 18 (magenta section, bottom right of the map) is devoted to the Belle Époque, with paintings by Giovanni Boldini and Giuseppe De Nittis.

Giovanni Boldini Ritratto della marchesa Casati (1911-1913)

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