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

22 February 2014

The Most Peaceable Disposition

Heinrich Heine, Scintillations from the Prose Works of Heinrich Heine, tr. Simon Adler Stern (New York: Holt & Williams, 1873), p. 83:
I have the most peaceable disposition. My desires are a modest cottage with thatched roof — but a good bed, good fare, fresh milk and butter, flowers by my window, and a few fine trees before the door. And if the Lord wished to fill my cup of happiness, He would grant me the pleasure of seeing some six or seven of my enemies hanged on those trees. With a heart moved to pity, I would, before their death, forgive the injury they had done me during their lives. Yes, we ought to forgive our enemies — but not until they are hanged.
The original, from Aphorismen und Fragmente:
Friedliche Gesinnung. Wünsche: bescheidene Hütte, Strohdach, aber gutes Bett, gutes Essen, Milch und Butter, sehr frisch, vor dem Fenster Blumen, vor der Türe einige schöne Bäume, und wenn der liebe Gott mich ganz glücklich machen will, läßt er mir die Freude erleben, daß an diesen Bäumen etwa sechs bis sieben meiner Feinde aufgehängt werden - Mit gerührtem Herzen werde ich ihnen vor ihrem Tode alle Unbill verzeihen, die sie mir im Leben zugefügt - ja, man muß seinen Feinden verzeihen, aber nicht früher, als bis sie gehenkt worden.

21 February 2014

Redites-moi des choses tendres

Aldous Huxley, Two or Three Graces (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), p. 113:
In a foreign language one can talk of subjects, one can unconcernedly use words, the uttering, the mention of which in one's native idiom would horribly embarrass.
cf. The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases (PDF) by Boaz Keysar, Sayuri L. Hayakawa, and Sun Gyu An

I look forward to reading Aneta Pavlenko's The Bilingual Mind, to be published by the Cambridge University Press next month.

Title of this post from here.

20 February 2014

A Beast of Muddy Brain

Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639), "The People," The Sonnets of Michael Angelo Buonarroti and Tommaso Campanella, tr. John Addington Symonds (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1878), p. 143:
The people is a beast of muddy brain,
    That knows not its own force, and therefore stands
    Loaded with wood and stone; the powerless hands
    Of a mere child guide it with bit and rein:
One kick would be enough to break the chain;
    But the beast fears, and what the child demands,
    It does; nor its own terror understands.
    Confused and stupefied by bugbears vain.
Most wonderful! with its own hand it ties
    And gags itself — gives itself death and war
    For pence doled out by kings from its own store.
Its own are all things between earth and heaven;
    But this it knows not; and if one arise
    To tell this truth, it kills him unforgiven.

19 February 2014


W. Compton Leith (pseudonym of Ormonde Maddock Dalton, 1866-1945), Apologia Diffidentis (London: John Lane, 1917), pp. 116-117:
An old watchmaker, whose window overlooked a wide meadow, used ever and again to lay down his instruments to gaze out upon the expanse of green, pasturing upon it a wandering vague regard, and absorbing from it an assuagement of his wearied senses which, he said, served him more effectually after these bright interludes. The province of Metaphysics should be to us as to this wise workman his field; not a place to dream our days away in, but for occasional resort; in which we may forget the infinitesimal in healing visions of broad space and colour. I counsel every lonely man to satisfy what has been described as the common metaphysical instinct, and according to his powers to become a metaphysician. There is no discipline which so well consists with solitude, none which so instantly enfranchises the mind from the tyranny of mean self-interest or vain and envious polemics. Men do not grow sour and quarrelsome about the Absolute: everything that is polemical is inspired, as Michelet once said, by some temporal and momentary interest. The man who has climbed to the Idalian spring comes down benevolent. He does not grudge this toiling ant his grain, that snarling dog his bone, but is content to live serene, in the certainty that his soul has great provision, and that though all human things are small, each is worth its while. Into his hand there is given a scale by which life is known in its fair proportions; a tranquil joy, disturbed neither by dirges nor Epinician odes, is poured into his heart and exalts him above distraction. He respects himself as akin to that great Self whose perfection shall one day be known; he understands the passion for the ideal through which men die young; he wonders at envy and in the happiness of enfranchisement would have all men free.

18 February 2014

The French

Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not ... (New York: T. Seltzer, 1924), Part II, Chapter II:
The French he admired: for their tremendous efficiency, for their frugality of life, for the logic of their minds, for their admirable achievements in the arts, for their neglect of the industrial system, for their devotion, above all, to the eighteenth century.

17 February 2014

So Naive

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1998), p. 150:
I don't know how anybody who pretends to know anything about history can be so naive as to suppose that after all these centuries of corrupt and imperfect social systems, there is eventually to evolve something perfect and pure out of them – the good out of the evil, the unchanging and stable and eternal out of the variable and mutable, the just out of the unjust. But perhaps revolution is a contradiction of evolution, and therefore means the replacement of the unjust by the just, of the evil by the good. And yet it is still just as naive to suppose that members of the same human species, without having changed anything but their minds, should suddenly turn around and produce a perfect society, when they have never been able, in the past, to produce anything but imperfection and, at best, the barest shadow of justice.

14 February 2014

Like an Animal

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1998), p. 91:
What could I make of so much suffering? There was no way for me, or for anyone else in the family, to get anything out of it. It was a raw wound for which there was no adequate relief. You had to take it, like an animal. We were in the condition of most of the world, the condition of men without faith in the presence of war, disease, pain, starvation, suffering, plague, bombardment, death. You just had to take it, like a dumb animal. Try to avoid it, if you could. But you must eventually reach the point where you can't avoid it any more. Take it. Try to stupefy yourself, if you like, so that it won't hurt so much. But you will always have to take some of it. And it will all devour you in the end.

Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and so trivial that one can say it is no longer objective at all. It is his own existence, his own being, that is at once the subject and the source of his pain, and his very existence and conciousness is his greatest torture.

12 February 2014

Empty-Handed at the End and at the Beginning

Addison Peale Russell, Library Notes (Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co., 1879), p. 14:
We think ourselves of great importance in the eyes of others, when we are only so in our own. Calmly considering it, what can be more astonishing than vanity in a middle-aged person? Know as much as it is possible for a human being to know in this world, he cannot know enough to justify him in being vain of his knowledge. Good as it is possible for a human being to be, he cannot be good enough to excuse a conceit of his goodness. Yet how common it is for full-grown ignorance to have conceit of wisdom, and for ordinary virtue to assume the airs of saintship. How we shall one day wonder, looking back at the world we have left, at the nearly invisible mites, like ourselves, tossing their heads in pride, and gathering their skirts in self-righteousness, that we were ever as vain and shameless as they, and that the little things of life ever so engrossed us. Alas, to learn and unlearn is our fate; to gather as we climb the hill of life, to scatter as we descend it: empty-handed alike at the end and at the beginning.
Thanks to Laudator Temporis Acti for introducing me to this author.

11 February 2014

Beautiful Lie the Dead

Stephen Phillips (1864-1915), "Beautiful Lie the Dead," Lyrics and Dramas (London: John Lane - The Bodley Head, 1913), p. 8:
Beautiful lie the dead;
Clear comes each feature;
Satisfied not to be,
Strangely contented.

Like ships, the anchor dropped,
Furled every sail is;
Mirrored with all their masts
In a deep water.

10 February 2014

The Perfect Eremite

W. Compton Leith (pseudonym of Ormonde Maddock Dalton, 1866-1945), Apologia Diffidentis (London: John Lane, 1917), pp. 56-58:
A shy nature upon this plane of susceptibility suffers anguish from an uncontrollable body; and even in peaceful moments the memory of the discomfitures so inflicted may distort a man's whole view of the world around him. He is impatient of the wit which demands a versatility in response beyond his powers, and persuades himself into contempt of those ephemeral arts to which his nature cannot be constrained. Irritated at the injustice which places so high in the general scale of values accomplishments which he cannot practise, shrinking from the suave devices of gesture and expression which in his own case might quickly pass into antic or grimace, he withdraws more and more from the places where such arts win esteem to live in a private world of inner sentiment. As he leaves this sure retreat but rarely himself, so he forbids ingress to others; and becoming yearly a greater recluse, he confines himself more and more within the walls of his forbidden city. The mind which may have been fitted to expand in the free play of intellectual debate or to explore the high peaks of idea, loses its power of flight in this cave where it dwells with a company of sad thoughts, until at last the sacrifice is complete and the perfect eremite is formed.

7 February 2014

Offspring of Body, Mind, and Heart

W. Compton Leith (pseudonym of Ormonde Maddock Dalton, 1866-1945), Apologia Diffidentis (London: John Lane, 1917), pp. 121-123:
As my reading is incessant, so also is my writing. For the happiness of man is in his fertility, and of barrenness comes the worst despair. To be happy is to have issue—children, or books written, or things beautifully wrought, or monuments of goodness to live after you, if only in the memory of some tiny hamlet of the folded hills. This is the law of life that Diotima knew, by which flower and tree, animal and man, fulfil the end of their creation; and man in nothing more surely proves his lordship than by his many-handed hold upon posterity. For the lower creation is procreant in one way, but man in many; who may have offspring not of body alone but of mind and heart, and be so redeemed from the grim dismay of childlessness. The greatest human happiness is to be fertile in every way, a thing granted rarely in the world we know; the next, perhaps, is that of the parent who gives all of himself to his family, not tilling any field beyond the charmed walls confining his desire. The author sure of his fame, the born artist, the benefactor of his kind, are also happy, seeing their offspring grow in years and in the power of making a brighter world.

But he is miserable who, aspiring to follow these, feels his force wane within him while he remains yet fatherless; or who has sons stillborn, or weakly, or dishonoured. I question whether sheer degradation into evil brings more pain to man than such sense of sterility or frustrate parentage. But it is no small part of human redemption that none need know the interminable misery. A man may have neither sons nor genius, but in the dark hour he can go out and give, if it be only a penny or a kind word, and on that foundation build a temple to receive his thanksgiving. To give of yourself is good. This is that grand agreement and œcumenical consent to which those words quod ab omnibus quod ubique in deed and truth may be applied. For this reason meanness is of the deeps, and avarice groans in the lowest zone of hell. And if there are faces of blank and permanent despair upon your path, be sure that these are not masks of whole men, but of those who wilfully abstained from joy and have received the greater damnation. My children are mostly writings, poor weakly creatures dying inarticulate and unchristened, tenderly remembered by myself only, but at least no nuisance to the world. I loved them at their birth, I hold them in remembrance, though they were ever of a hectic and uncertain beauty.
Title page of Apologia Diffidentis

5 February 2014


Vincent McNabb, Old Principles and the New Order (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1942), pp. 117-118:
Some men wrest a living from nature; and it is Work. Some men wrest a living from those who wrest a living from nature; and it is Trade. Some men wrest a living from those who wrest a living from those who wrest a living from nature; and it is Finance.

4 February 2014

Housman Modernized

Ivor Brown, I Commit to the Flames (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1934), pp. 211-216:
It is understandable that the Very Modern should dislike what is ordinarily known as poetry, just as others dislike cricket or cod liver oil. What I cannot understand is why they are so cantankerous about it. People who dislike cricket or cod's liver peaceably avoid these things. They do not go into the street and play with a steel bar for bat and an old kettle as the ball, crying 'This is the Real, Active Cricket. All that stuff at Lord's is the corpse of cricket.' But this is exactly what the Very Modern Poets do. They write something which bears no relation to any sort of poetry and then noisily assert that this is the only real poetry and that all the other fellows are Down among the Dead Men. I would respect this judgment more if they declined to use the word poetry at all. Let them stop cutting up their prose into segments that give an outer semblance of attempted poetry. Let them say that poetry died when the motor car came in and that there shall be no more trifling with this deplorable and outworn art. Let them proclaim spasmodic prose as the only voice which can articulate the opinions of the rising generation. That, though foolish, would at least be consistently foolish. What is so tiresome is their insistence on using the title when they kill the thing. A Commissar who murders a king does at least forbear to wear a crown and call himself a Little Father. That form of idiocy is monopolised by the lads and lasses of the Active Group.

The emotional criterion of poetry was overstated by Professor Housman in his famous lecture. 'Meaning is of the intellect, poetry is not', is a phrase which obviously needs qualification. It certainly does not divorce poetry from meaning, but it too rigidly separates heart and brain. None the less the ordinary reader of poetry - and, since there are not a great many people who read poetry without scholastic compulsion, the ordinary reader is an extraordinary person - probably agrees with the Housman test of emotional response.

Either the poet rings the bell or he does not. 'I think that to transfuse emotion - not to transmit thought, but to set up in the reader's sense a vibration corresponding to what was felt by the writer -is the peculiar function of poetry.' We recognise poetry by physical occurrence. Housman quotes Eliphaz the Temanite; 'A spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up.' The body is the arbiter; there are, as Mr. Tappertit would say, 'wibrations'. Sometimes it is perilous to be thus set a-shivering. 'Experience has taught me,' Housman continues, 'when I am shaving of a morning, to keep watch over my thoughts because, if a line of poetry strays into my memory, my skin bristles so that the razor ceases to act.' He also attributes to the power of poetry watery eyes, a constriction of the throat, and a stabbing sensation in the pit of the stomach.

Few of us, I suppose, are quite so powerfully vibrated as a Housman; we might even manage to shave with a book of poetry on the dressing table. At the same time he, with his own genius, has made it difficult not to vibrate physically as he drops his words upon our senses.
'Could man be drunk for ever
With liquor, love, or fights,
Lief should I rise at morning
And lief lie down of nights.

But men at whiles are sober
And think by fits and starts
And, if they think, they fasten
Their hands upon their hearts.'
One shudders for the state of the Housman epidermis should he remember his own poetry with razor in hand. The Modernist would simply scream out his parrot-cry about Dead Stuff. 'Lief' is an old word; you do not say in a public-house 'Lief would I have a pint of bitter'; therefore the word must not occur in any Active Poem. The Activist would, I suppose, argue that Housman is making an intellectual judgment on the desirability of escape. This ought to be stated with the 'hard matter-of-fact skeleton of poetic logic' or 'as dryly and unfeelingly as a schoolmistress would explain a mathematical problem'. It must be done, too, in the language used by a liquorish, lecherous, combative man. Perhaps the Activist version would run something like this. Mr. Pound, at any rate, has my full permission to use it in his next posy of contemporary flowers.
that's O.K.
      whose booze?
      oozy booze
kiddo I'm bottled
dames and janes and socks
on the jaw
brain stabs
belly vomits mind-stuff
O gemme a woman gemme booze
That fulfils all the canons of poesy as practised by the Shock Troops; perhaps the typography is inadequate. A few capital letters in the middle of the words might assist the 'matter-of-fact skeleton of poetic logic'. There might be some high rational significance in writing 'boOze' or 'vOmits'. Possibly the question-mark after the second 'booze' is a trifle old-world.

3 February 2014


Michael Wharton, The Missing Will (London: The Hogarth Press, 1984), p. 155:
I also thought of writing an Anatomy of Boredom, on the lines of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, and made some notes on this fascinating subject on which I was so well qualified to write. But the more I thought about it the more mysterious and unfathomable it seemed. It would be necessary to trace it back to the time, if time it could be called, before the Fall of the Rebel Angels. It would be necessary to deal with all aspects of Accidie, the deadly sin of which, out of all the deadly sins, I was most guilty. The prevalence of Accidie in mediaeval monasteries, where the monks must have drowsed away on summer afternoons, fuddled on the strong ale of which, according to the records, they had such a generous allowance ... no wonder the manuscripts they were supposed to be copying were full of textual corruptions which hundreds of years later were to delight the rigorous mind of Professor Housman ... The sin of Accidie, alone, I thought, was a lifetime's study, and that was only one strand in the great Anatomy of Boredom.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Land of Cockaigne (1567)

31 January 2014

Character and Circumstances

Henry Scott Holland, "Character and Circumstance," Creed and Character (London: Rivingtons, 1887), pp. 333-335:
If a man is the creature of circumstances we call him a man without character; changing with all the changing hours, he has no self-identity; and character is that with which we identify a man. Character is vital and vigorous so far only as it insists on making itself free room for action amid the thronging events, and it dies down as soon as it fails to hold itself aloof and separate from circumstances. Character is the reaction from circumstances. It is the inner movement which encounters and withstands the shock of change and outward things. And it must, therefore, issue from a life that directs itself. Character, that is, must be personal. If men were machines moved from without, they could have no character. If the soul were a function of the body, it could have no character. Whenever we impute character to material things we do it by a metaphor. Individuality, self-identity, these are the secrets which constitute and create character; and character, therefore, supposes always a central core of individual life which is cut off from all its surroundings, a stranger that this outward world cannot own nor any web of circumstances explain; a mysterious, unearthly presence, which is intended to creep forward, out of its dim wrapping of flesh and feelings, and slowly to emerge like a plant, disclosing itself petal after petal like a flower, detaching itself from all that encircles it, from country, home, father, mother, and sister and brother, asserting itself day by day with evergrowing distinctness as a separate and unique fact upon the earth; different from every other being that ever was born; something utterly and profoundly alone, a person with a character.

Character and circumstances — these, then, are at deadly war with one another. And, now, how does this character show itself? By what methods does it grow? It grows by one way only — by acts, by choice, by judgments. Its decisions show what it is; each decision that it makes strengthens a bent, deepens a groove, determines a current, builds up a sentiment. Each decision that it forms creates the character. And what is it, then, that demands of it its decisions, its acts, its judgments? Its old foe — circumstance. Circumstances press upon it, they hustle and throng all round it, amid the throng it must judge and choose and decide. Circumstances are, therefore, essential to its growth, to its history. Without the necessity to act it could never come to a decision, and without coming to a decision character would be utterly unshapen, asleep. Circumstances must be there to evoke it, to force upon it alternatives, to wait upon its direction, to elicit its judgments.
A related post: Character

30 January 2014

A Dedicated Man

Henry Scott Holland, "Edward Burne-Jones," Personal Studies (London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1905), p. 250:
Such friends they were [in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood]! And, above all, at the heart of the companionship was that peculiar and rare friendship of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, which was to last unbroken till death, and which was to tell, with such thrilling effect, upon the imaginative development of England. Rare, indeed, is it for two men, of creative artistic power, to come together as boys: to grow together as men: to live together, through life, working together for the same ends, co-operating in the same production, completing each other, in the full communion of delightful and incessant intercourse, in perfect trust, and joy, and love, from end to end of their careers. Has there ever been an intimacy so fortunate, so fertile, so happy, and so exquisitely fulfilled ? The very story of it, embalmed in this book [i.e. Georgiana Burne-Jones' Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones], is enough to revive our flagging belief in all that man might be and do, if only now and again things did but fall out right.
Id, p. 261:
An artist was for Burne-Jones a dedicated man, with a responsibility to discharge as real as any others. That responsibility asked for his whole being, and he would serve his generation best by giving himself up to that and nothing else. Again and again he had to assert this principle for himself, resisting all attempts to make him speak, etc. He had a passion for work as such, and believed that there was absolutely no end to it. "What do we want to be wrenched from our work for? I should like to stop in this room for 439 years and never be taken out of it." At another time he made a bigger demand. "I should like to go on working in this studio for 17,000 years — but why seventeen? Why not 70,000?" 
Edward Burne-Jones, The Pilgrim at the Gate of Idleness (1884)

29 January 2014

High Tide

Aldous Huxley, Two or Three Graces (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), p. 129:
There was suddenly, so to speak, a high tide within me; along dry, sand-silted, desolate channels of my being life strongly and sparklingly flowed. ... All those whom we find sympathetic exercise, in a greater or lesser degree, this moon-like influence upon us, drawing up the tides of life till they cover what had been, in an antipathetic environment, parched and dead. But there are certain individuals who, by their proximity, raise a higher tide, and in a vastly greater number of souls.

24 January 2014

To Know Oneself of the Earth, Earthy

W. J. Dawson, The Quest of the Simple Life (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1907), pp. 81-82:
There was a time when I had a vivid horror of death; and as I look back, and analyse my sensations, I believe this horror was in large part the work of cities. It sprang from the constant vision of deformity, the presence of hospitals, newspaper narratives of tragic accidents, and the ghastly cheerfulness of metropolitan cemeteries. To die with a window open to the trampling of a clamorous, unconcerned street seemed a thing sordid and unendurable. To be whisked away in a plumed hearse to a grave dug out of the debris of a hundred forgotten graves was the climax of insult. It happened to me once to see a child buried in what was called a common grave. It was a grave which contained already half a dozen little coffins; it was a mere dust-bin of mortality, and it seemed so profane a place that no lustration of religion could give it sanctity. Dissolution met the mind there in more than its native horror; it had the superimposed horror of indecency and wilful outrage. But in the wide wholesome spaces of the world, and beneath the clean stars, death seems not undesirable. A country life gives one the pleasant sense of kinship with the earth. It is no longer an offence to know oneself of the earth, earthy. I was so much engaged in the love and study of things whose life was brief that the thought of death became natural. I saw constantly in flowers and birds, and domestic creatures, the little round of life completed and relinquished without regret. I saw also how the aged peasant gathered up his feet and died, like a tired child falling asleep at the close of a long day. Death is in reality no more terrible than birth; but it is only the natural man who can so conceive it. He who lives in constant kinship with the earth will go to his rest on the earth's bosom without repugnance. I knew very well the place where I should be buried; it was beneath a clean turf kept sweet by mountain winds; and the place seemed desirable. Having come back by degrees to a life of entire kinship with the earth, having shared the seasons and the storms, it seemed but the final seal set upon this kinship, that I should dissolve quietly into the elements of things, to find perhaps my resurrection in the eternally renewed life of Nature.

23 January 2014

A Page of Sir Thomas

Leslie Stephen, "Sir Thomas Browne," Hours in a Library, Vol. II (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1907), pp. 39-40:
One should often stop to appreciate the full flavour of some quaint allusion, or lay down the book to follow out some diverging line of thought. So read in a retired study, or beneath the dusty shelves of an ancient library, a page of Sir Thomas seems to revive the echoes as of ancient chants in college chapels, strangely blended with the sonorous perorations of professors in the neighbouring schools, so that the interferences sometimes produce a note of gentle mockery and sometimes heighten solemnity by quaintness.

That, however, is not the spirit in which books are often read in these days. We have an appetite for useful information, and an appetite for frivolous sentiment or purely poetical musing. We cannot combine the two after the quaint fashion of the old physician. And therefore these charming writings have ceased to suit our modern taste; and Sir Thomas is already passing under that shadow of mortality which obscures all, even the greatest, reputations, and with which no one has dwelt more pathetically or graphically than himself. 
All four volumes of this handsome edition:
Volume I
Volume II
Volume III
Volume IV
Edwaert Collier, Vanitas (1698)

21 January 2014

The Happiest Thing I Know

Jean-François Millet, quoted in Alfred Sensier, La vie et l'oeuvre de J.-F. Millet  (Paris: A. Quantin, 1881), p.  130. My translation (apart from the couplet from La Fontaine, which I have lifted from Helena de Kay's version):
I admit, at the risk of sounding like a socialist, that the human side touches me most in art, and if I were able to do as I wished, or at least to try, I would not do anything that was not the result of an impression received from some aspect of nature, be it from landscapes or figures. It is never the joyous side that appears to me; I don't know where it is, and I have never seen it. The happiest thing I know is the calm and silence which one enjoys with so much delight in either the forests or the ploughed fields, no matter whether they are good for farming or not. You will grant that this is very dreamy, and a very sad dream, albeit an exquisite one.

You are seated beneath the trees feeling all the well-being and all the tranquillity that one is capable of enjoying; you see some poor figure laden with firewood emerge from a little pathway. This figure's unexpected and striking appearance brings you back instantly to the sad human condition, weariness. It always gives you an impression similar to the one La Fontaine expresses in his fable of the woodcutter:
What pleasure has he had since the day of his birth?
Who so poor as he in the whole wide earth?
Sometimes in the fields, although the land is poorly suited to cultivation, you see figures hoeing and digging. Once in a while one of them stands up, "straightens his kidneys" as they say, and wipes his brow with the back of his hand. "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread."

Is this the jolly, frolicking work that certain people want us to believe in? Nevertheless it is here that, for me, true humanity and great poetry are found.
Jean-François Millet, Mort et le bûcheron (1859)

20 January 2014

A Nice Peat Fire

Helen Thomas, A Memory of W. H. Davies (Edinburgh: The Tragara Press, 1973), p. 6:
[W. H. Davies] had heard that literary people burnt peat and felt it incumbent upon himself to do the same. He asked Edward's [i.e. the war poet Edward Thomas] advice about this and where he could store the peat in his tiny flat, and Edward suggested teasingly that he should burn his books and stack the slabs of peat on their edges on the bookshelves! However, he ordered the peat and he was in agony lest it arrive when he was out and give rise to unwanted speculations from the shopkeeper below. So he stayed in day after day. At last the peat arrived and having nowhere else to put it he arranged the slabs as a sort of hearthrug in front of the fireplace, and having settled that to his satisfaction, he was free to go out once more. What was his dismay when returning home one day he found a crowd outside the house, smoke pouring from the windows and people running up and down his staircase. A spark had set his peat alight, and the firemen had entered his room and were busy dowsing it with water; the whole street was interested and excited. This was the nightmare occurrence which Davies dreaded above all others, this intrusion into his privacy, — and that was the end of the peat. After he was content with unpoetic coal. 
Harold Knight, Portrait of W. H. Davies (early 1900s)

17 January 2014

The True Joy in Life

George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (Westminster: Archibald Constable, 1903), pp. xxxi-xxxii:
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. And also the only real tragedy in life is the being used by personally minded men for purposes which you recognize to be base. All the rest is at worst mere misfortune or mortality: this alone is misery, slavery, hell on earth; and the revolt against it is the only force that offers a man's work to the poor artist, whom our personally minded rich people would so willingly employ as pandar, buffoon, beauty monger, sentimentalizer and the like.

15 January 2014

The Dreariest of Assemblages

Aldous Huxley, Two or Three Graces (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), p. 9:
I have noticed that, as a general rule, people of decided individuality very rarely continue their schoolboy acquaintanceships into later life. It is only to be expected. The chances that they will have found in the tiny microcosm of school the sort of friends they will like when they are grown up — grown out of recognition — are obviously very small. Coteries whose bond of union consists in the fact that their component members happened to be at the same school at the same time are generally the dreariest of assemblages. It could scarcely be otherwise; men who have no better reasons for associating with one another must be colourless indeed, and insipid. 

14 January 2014

A Paradise for Bibliophiles

Olivier Bessard Banquy, a professor at the University of Bordeaux Montaigne who specializes in literature and publishing, interviewed on the ridiculously-named myboox.fr (my translation):
Actually, there can be no doubt that the people who buy books designed by Diane de Selliers are quite old. The publisher's business is a beautiful one that works because there is no risk of loss – they are essentially classic texts accompanied by very attractive illustrations – but they are aimed at older generations who have a taste for finer things and wallets that are bulging thanks to the thirty prosperous years that followed the Second World War. The generations that made it possible for publishers like Diane de Selliers to exist will soon disappear, and the following generations will probably attach more value to the clean lines of an iPhone than to the softness of Holland paper. It is unlikely that there will  be many people prepared to pay more than a few Euros for computer files that have been downloaded from Amazon; these files will be cultural by-products, poorly edited but carried along by the buzz created by little on-line geniuses. It will be, paradoxically, a paradise for bibliophiles: Real treasures will probably be selling for very little since no one will be competing to own them.
Hat tip: Le Bibliomane Moderne

13 January 2014

The Mockery of Life

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, "The Mockery of Life," The Love-Lyrics and Songs of Proteus (London: The Kelmscott Press, 1892), pp. 183-185:
God! What a mockery is this life of ours!
Cast forth in blood and pain from our mother's womb,
Most like an excrement, and weeping showers
Of senseless tears: unreasoning, naked, dumb,
The symbol of all weakness and the sum:
Our very life a sufferance. — Presently,
Grown stronger, we must fight for standing-room
Upon the earth, and the bare liberty
To breathe and move. We crave the right to toil.
We push, we strive, we jostle with the rest.
We learn new courage, stifle our old fears,
Stand with stiff backs, take part in every broil.
It may be that we love, that we are blest.
It may be, for a little space of years,
We conquer fate and half forget our tears.

And then fate strikes us. First our joys decay.
Youth, with its pleasures, is a tale soon told.
We grow a little poorer day by day.
Old friendships falter. Loves grow strangely cold.
In vain we shift our hearts to a new hold
And barter joy for joy, the less for less.
We doubt our strength, our wisdom, and our gold.
We stand alone, as in a wilderness
Of doubts and terrors. Then, if we be wise,
We make our terms with fate and, while we may,
Sell our life's last sad remnant for a hope.
And it is wisdom thus to close our eyes.
But for the foolish, those who cannot pray,
What else remains of their dark horoscope
But a tall tree and courage and a rope ?

And who shall tell what ignominy death
Has yet in store for us; what abject fears
Even for the best of us; what fights for breath;
What sobs, what supplications, what wild tears;
What impotence of soul against despairs
Which blot out reason? — The last trembling thought
Of each poor brain, as dissolution nears,
Is not of fair life lost, of Heaven bought
And glory won. 'Tis not the thought of grief;
Of friends deserted; loving hearts which bleed;
Wives, sisters, children who around us weep.
But only a mad clutching for relief
From physical pain, importunate Nature's need:
The search as for a womb where we may creep
Back from the world, to hide, — perhaps to sleep.

9 January 2014

If a Man Will Be Content With Oatmeal

William James Dawson (1854-1928), "On Losing Money," The Book of Courage (New York: F. H. Revell, 1911), pp. 89-90:
It is a sad irony on the human wisdom which has been contriving plans of living for so many centuries that, after all, with average men, the largest expenses of life go to keeping up appearances. The worst of this kind of expense is that a man pays a part of his soul with his money; for nothing puts so heavy a mortgage on the spirit as this base business of keeping up appearances. Thoreau found by actual experiment that he could live as well as he desired on less than one hundred dollars a year. Without recommending, or attempting to practise Thoreau's methods, we may profitably recollect that some of the greatest men have known how to live greatly on less money than a rich man spends for his cigars in a twelvemonth. Emerson lived loftily and well on the most exiguous rewards, and Carlyle laid the foundations of his fame in the austere poverty of Craigenputtock. The ironical motto of the early Edinburgh reviewers was to the effect that they cultivated literature on a little oatmeal, and if a man will be content with oatmeal he can go a long way in literature. At all events, when we find men who, by common consent, are the superiors of princes, living upon less than princes pay their grooms, it is obvious that money does not play a high part in the best forms of human achievement.
Ozias Leduc, Nature morte, étude à la lumière d’une chandelle (1893)

8 January 2014

The Immutability of Our Lot

A. C. Benson, The Silent Isle (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1910), p. 74:
I felt that the thing one ought to aim at doing was to look experience steadily in the face, whether sweet or bitter, to interrogate it firmly, to grasp its significance. If one cowers away from it, if one tries to distract and beguile the soul, to forget the grief in feverish activity, well, one may succeed in dulling the pain as by some drug or anodyne; but the lesson of life is thereby deferred. Why should one so faint-heartedly persist in making choice of experiences, in welcoming what is pleasant, what feeds our vanity and self-satisfaction, what gives one, like the rich fool, the sense of false security of goods stored up for the years? We are set in life to feel insecure, or at all events to gain stability and security of soul, not to prop up our failing and timid senses upon the pillows of wealth and ease and circumstance. The man whom I entirely envy is the man who walks into the dark valley of misfortune or sickness or grief, or the shadow of death, with a curious and inexpressible zest for facing and interrogating the presences that haunt the place. For a man who does this, his memory is not like a land where he loves to linger upon the sunlit ridges of happy recollection, but a land where in reflection he threads in backward thought the dark vale, the miry road, the craggy rift up which he painfully climbed; the optimism that hurries with averted glance past the shadow is as false as the pessimism that hurries timidly across the bright and flowery meadow. The more we realise the immutability of our lot, the more grateful we become for our pains as well as for our delights. 
Caspar David Friedrich, Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (1818)

7 January 2014

The Century Guild of Artists

Several volumes of the Century Guild of Artists' Hobby Horse magazine, published between 1886 and 1889, available on Google Books:

Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4

I believe Thomas Bird Mosher used this magazine as a source (uncredited) for some of the ornaments in his books.

6 January 2014

The Cave of the Unborn

Thomas Hardy, "The Unborn," Twentieth Century Poetry, ed. Harold Monro (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), p. 26:
I rose at night and visited
   The Cave of the Unborn:
And crowding shapes surrounded me
For tidings of the life to be,
Who long had prayed the silent Head
   To speed their advent morn.

Their eyes were lit with artless trust,
   Hope thrilled their every tone;
"A scene the loveliest, is it not?
A pure delight, a beauty-spot
Where all is gentle, true and just,
   And darkness is unknown?"

My heart was anguished for their sake,
   I could not frame a word;
But they descried my sunken face,
And seemed to read therein, and trace
The news that pity would not break,
   Nor truth leave unaverred.

And as I silently retired
   I turned and watched them still:
And they came helter-skelter out,
Driven forward like a rabble rout
Into the world they had so desired,
   By the all-immanent Will.

2 January 2014

I Am, in Fact, an Incompetent

W. J. Dawson, Masterman and Son (New York: F. H. Revell, 1909), p. 81:
"Let me reckon up my capital," he thought as the train rushed on; "let me ascertain my authentic stock-in-trade. I have some knowledge of Greek literature and Roman history, but it is probable that in all this train-load of human creatures there are not half a dozen who would attach the least value to my knowledge. I can decipher old French chronicles with fair success; I know enough of music to understand the theory of counterpoint, and enough of poetry to construct a decent sonnet; and, so far as I can see, these are not commodities which possess any marketable value. I have thirty pounds given me by my mother; but if my life depended upon my earning thirty pence, I know no possible method by which I might wrest the most wretched pittance from the world's closed fist. I am, in fact, an incompetent, but through no fault of my own. It seems that I have been elaborately trained to do a great number of things which no one wants done, but not one of the things for which the world makes eager compensation. What were mere pastime to the savage is to me an inaccessible display of effort; left alone with the whole open world for my kingdom, it is doubtful if I could build a house, grow a potato, bake a loaf, or secure the barest means of life. Such is my deplorable condition that it is possible — no, entirely certain, that the poorest emigrant in this rushing freight of men and women would scruple to change places with me."

31 December 2013

The True Ideal of Human Life

W. J. Dawson, The Quest of the Simple Life (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1907), pp. 67-70:
The more I reflect upon the matter the more am I convinced that one of the great curses of civilisation is the division of labour which makes us dependent upon other people to a degree which destroys individual efficiency. Thrown back upon himself as a dweller in a wilderness, any man of ordinary capacity soon develops efficiency for kinds of work which he would never have attempted in a city, simply because a city tempts him at every point to delegate his own proper toil to others. I can conceive of few things that would do more to create a genuine pride of home than to insist that no man should possess a house except by building it for himself, after the old primitive principle of the earliest social communities. To build thus is to mix sentiment with the mortar, and the house thus created is a place to which affections and memories cling; whereas the mere tenancy of a cube of rotten bricks, thrown together by the jerry-builder — of which we know no more than the amount of rent which is charged for it — is incapable of nourishing any sentiment, and is, in any case, not a home but a lodging.


I shall perhaps fall under the suspicion of morbid sensitiveness when I confess that I never took my weekly wage in London without a qualm and a compunction, for I could never make myself believe that I had really earned it. What had I done? I had simply performed a few arithmetical processes which any schoolboy might have done as well. My labour, such as it was, was absorbed instantly in the commercial operations of a great firm. I could not trace it, and I had no means of estimating its value. The money I took for it seemed therefore to come to me by a sort of legerdemain. That some one thought it worth while to pay me was ostensible proof that my work was really worth something; but so little able was I to penetrate the processes that resulted in this judgment, so vivid was the sense of some ingenious jugglery in the whole business, that I did not know whether I had been cheated or was a cheat, in living by a kind of labour that cost me so little. How different was my feeling now! At the end of an hour's spade-work, I saw something actually done, of which I was the indisputable author. When I laid down the saw and plane and hammer, and stretched my aching back, I saw something growing into shape, which I myself had created. There was no jugglery about this; there was immediate intimate relation between cause and effect. And thence I found a kind of joy in my work, which was new and exquisite to me. I stood upon my own feet, self-possessed, self-respecting, efficient for my own needs, and conscious of a definite part in the great rhythm of infinite toil which makes the universe. It is only when a man works for himself that this kind of joy is felt. So enamoured was I of this new joy, that had it been possible I would have possessed nothing that was not the direct result of my own labour. I would have liked to have spun the wool for my own clothes, and have tanned the leather for my own boots. I would have liked to grow the corn for my own bread, and have killed my own meat, as the savage or the primitive settler does. In this respect the savage or the primitive settler approaches much nearer the true ideal of human life than the civilised man, for the true ideal is that every man shall be efficient for his own needs, with as little dependence as possible on others.

30 December 2013

The Dullest Men in All the World

W. J. Dawson, The Quest of the Simple Life (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1907), pp. 14-15:
[G]ranted that some degree of competence is needed for a free and various use of life, is it worth while to destroy the power of living in attaining the means to live? What is a man better for his wealth if he does not know how to use it? A fool may steal a ship, but it takes a wise man to navigate her towards the islands of the Blest. I am told sometimes that there is a romance in business; no doubt there is, but it is pretty often the romance of piracy; and the pleasures of the rich man are very often nothing better than the pleasures of the pirate: a barbaric wading in gold, a reckless piling up of treasure, which he has not the sense to use. As long as there are shouting crews upon the sea and flaming ships, he is happy; but give him at last the gold which he has striven to win, and he knows nothing better than to sit like the successful pirate in a common ale-house, and make his boast to boon companions. I believe that the dullest men in all the world are very rich men; and I have sometimes thought that it cannot need a very high order of intelligence to acquire wealth, since some of the meanest of mankind appear to prosper at the business. A certain vulpine shrewdness of intelligence seems the thing most needed, and this may coexist with a general dulness of mind which would disgrace a savage.

24 December 2013

A Canadian Winter

Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (London: Taylor & Hessey, 1823), pp. 138-139:
I put up a petition annually for as much snow, hail, frost, or storm, of one kind or other, as the skies can possibly afford us.  Surely everybody is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a winter fireside, candles at four o’clock, warm hearth-rugs, tea, a fair tea-maker, shutters closed, curtains flowing in ample draperies on the floor, whilst the wind and rain are raging audibly without,
And at the doors and windows seem to call,
As heav’n and earth they would together mell;
Yet the least entrance find they none at all;
Whence sweeter grows our rest secure in massy hall. 
Castle of Indolence
All these are items in the description of a winter evening which must surely be familiar to everybody born in a high latitude.  And it is evident that most of these delicacies, like ice-cream, require a very low temperature of the atmosphere to produce them; they are fruits which cannot be ripened without weather stormy or inclement in some way or other.  I am not “particular,” as people say, whether it be snow, or black frost, or wind so strong that (as Mr.  says) “you may lean your back against it like a post.”  I can put up even with rain, provided it rains cats and dogs; but something of the sort I must have, and if I have it not, I think myself in a manner ill-used; for why am I called on to pay so heavily for winter, in coals and candles, and various privations that will occur even to gentlemen, if I am not to have the article good of its kind?  No, a Canadian winter for my money, or a Russian one, where every man is but a co-proprietor with the north wind in the fee-simple of his own ears.

23 December 2013

Brook Type

An example of Lucien Pissaro's Brook font, The Art of the Book, ed. Charles Holme (London: The Studio, 1914), p. 25:

The Eragny Press edition of Areopagitica (1903)
cf. Gargoyle

20 December 2013

A Book About Books

Anthony Sillem, The Barrow in Newport Court; A Memoir of the Rare Book Trade (Hastings: The Hungry Hornet Press, 2011), pp. 53-54:
Book-collecting is something that tends to claim its devotees in early middle age, when disposable incomes are starting to reach a reasonable level [....] Why people start collecting books in the first place is, of course, a matter of conjecture, but there can be a kind of logical development to it. Most book buyers never get beyond the stage of reading paperbacks and I would agree that there is something very appetising about a newly purchased Penguin: like a delicious and nourishing slice from a freshly baked loaf. But a slice of bread soon grows stale and a well-read paperback quickly turns into a dreary looking object and then falls to bits. Over the years I have had to replace my Peter Whigham Penguin translation of Catullus and my A. C. Graham translation of 'Poems of the Late T'ang' over and over again. The next stage, then, is to buy the books that one intends to read more than once in hardbound form — not always as easy as it used to be. The old Oxford Standard Authors editions of the English poets, formerly stoutly bound in cloth and intended to last the student for many readings into his old age, are now only available in paperback, intended to last the student merely until he has taken his English degree and returned to his Playstation.

Once the reader has become accustomed to buying hardbacks then a temporal element can come into play. The best edition of his text may have been out of print for some years, even decades. He purchases a copy from his local secondhand bookseller and finds himself the owner of a handsome volume, well printed, strongly and attractively bound in high quality cloth and, if he is lucky, with collotype plates, gilt top and bevelled edges. Whilst hunting the shelves for his prize he picks up a copy of a favourite novel of his youth redolent of its period. It is the beginning of a first edition collection. And so on.
This memoir will appeal to anyone with a fondness for books and booksellers. It was a serendipitous discovery; I found it while browsing through Mr. Sillem's stock on Abebooks. At the end of each chapter he includes a list of books he associates with that period in his life — a nice touch.

19 December 2013

The Thirteenth Chapter of Gargantua

Charles Nodier, The Bibliomaniac, tr. Frank H. Ginn (Cleveland: The Rowfant Club, 1900), pp. 18-19:
It is twenty years since Theodore withdrew from society, to work or to be idle, which of the two nobody knew. He dreamed, and no one read his dreams. He passed his life among his books, and occupied himself only with them. This caused some of his friends to think that Theodore was writing a book which would make all other books useless; but evidently they were all mistaken. Theodore was too much the student not to know that that book was written three hundred years ago. It is the thirteenth chapter of the first book of Rabelais.

18 December 2013

Sufficient Unto the Day Is the Evil Thereof

William James Dawson (1854-1928), "On Old Age," The Book of Courage (New York: F. H. Revell, 1911), pp. 196-197:
We can accommodate ourselves to almost any situation if we have to, and it should not be difficult to accommodate ourselves to age. Raleigh, after all his adventurous wanderings, can settle down for twelve years in the Tower and write his History of the World, and Argyle slept in a prison as soundly as he had ever slept. Old age is much more a mental conception than an actual fact, a ghost that seems dreadful until we approach it, when it turns out to be nothing more than moonshine. At twenty, fifty seems a great age; when we reach fifty we are surprised to find that the road we travel is much the same, but the company is better. If there is less beating of drums and shrilling of trumpets, there are more victorious names inscribed upon our banners ; if there are fewer rainbows in the sky, there is wider sunlight. A great part of the wisdom of life lies in the simple art of living a day at a time. An old Federal soldier once told me the story of his sixteen months' imprisonment in a Southern prison. The conditions were deplorable. There was little food, much sickness, the men were clothed in rags, and great numbers of them died. "How did you survive?" I asked. "Why, I said to myself the first day, 'I shall be released tomorrow'; and every day I repeated to myself that this was no doubt my last day. I just lived a day at a time." He added further that the men who died the soonest were those of a melancholy temperament, who spent their time brooding over their unhappy lot. As I listened to the story, I realized that this cheerful old fellow had discovered the only philosophy of life that is of practical value and utility. He made it his one business to get through the present hour the best way he could; and that is, after all, the chief business for us all.

17 December 2013

The Books That Never Can Be Mine

Andrew Lang, "Ballade of the Unattainable," Books and Bookmen (New York: George J. Coombes, 1886), pp. 174-175:
The Books I cannot hope to buy,
Their phantoms round me waltz and wheel,
They pass before the dreaming eye,
Ere Sleep the dreaming eye can seal.
A kind of literary reel
They dance; how fair the bindings shine!
Prose cannot tell them what I feel, —
The Books that never can be mine!

There frisk Editions rare and shy,
Morocco clad from head to heel;
Shakespearian quartos; Comedy
As first she flashed from Richard Steele;
And quaint De Foe on Mrs. Veal;
And, lord of landing net and line,
Old Izaak with his fishing creel, —
The Books that never can be mine!

Incunables! for you I sigh,
Black letter, at thy founts I kneel,
Old tales of Perrault's nursery,
For you I'd go without a meal!
For Books wherein did Aldus deal
And rare Galliot du Pré I pine.
The watches of the night reveal
The Books that never can be mine!


Prince, hear a hopeless Bard's appeal;
Reverse the rules of Mine and Thine;
Make it legitimate to steal
The Books that never can be mine!
Found via Bertrand Hugonnard-Roche, who notes that Octave Uzanne caught Andrew Lang plagiarising in one of the essays in this book.

12 December 2013

Graveyard Masonry

A note to the handful of regular readers:

I won't be posting over the next few days. When I resume next week I plan to change the layout, so please forgive the mess while construction is under way.

I've also grown tired of seeing my name in large red letters and am changing the blog's title to Graveyard Masonry. It's taken from a line in this essay by W. E. Henley:
The fact is, the translator too often forgets the difference between his subject and himself; he is too often a common graveyard mason that would play the sculptor.
I think it's doubly appropriate since most of the authors I read are long dead.

The address will remain the same (www.andrewickard.ca), but when I eventually change the title you may find it listed under G instead of A in RSS readers.

Caspar David Friedrich, Friedhof im Schnee (1826)

11 December 2013

The Last Resource of Ignorance

Paul Ponder, Noctes Atticae, or Reveries in a Garret; Containing Short, and Chiefly Original, Observations on Men and Books, Vol II (Bath: Richard Cruttwell, 1825), pp. 194-195:
A little wit, with a convenient share of ill-nature, will enable a man to be satirical; but it requires a good deal of sense to praise worthy objects, as in such there is a great quantity of matter of the best sort, and they require commensurate abilities and judgement to give them their share and kind of encomium. The last resource of ignorance is a sneer, when the person is conscious he can give no answer; and herein the intended satire falls on the feeble attempt to be satirical. 
Found via Laudator Temporis Acti.

10 December 2013

The Rich Soil of Sorrow

Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), "On the Relation of Life and Character to Literature," Talks to Writers (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1920), pp. 27-29:
The lover of literature has a medicine for grief that no doctor can furnish; he can always transmute his pain into something precious and lasting. None of us in this world can expect to be very happy; the proportion of happiness to unhappiness in the average human life has been estimated as something less than one-third. No matter how healthy or strong or fortunate you may be, every one of you must expect to endure a great deal of pain; and it is worth while for you to ask yourselves whether you cannot put it to good use. For pain has a very great value to the mind that knows how to utilize it. Nay, more than this must be said; nothing great ever was written, or ever will be written, by a man who does not know pain. All great literature has its source in the rich soil of sorrow; and that is the real meaning of the famous verses of Goethe:
Who ne'er his bread in sorrow ate, —
Who ne'er the lonely midnight hours,
Weeping upon his bed has sat, —
He knows ye not, ye Heavenly powers.
Of course it is only the young man who sits upon his bed at midnight and weeps; he is weak only for want of experience. The mature man will not weep, but he will turn to literature in order to compose his mind; and he will put his pain into beautiful songs or thoughts that will help to make the hearts of all who read them more tender and true.

Remember, I do not mean that a literary man should write only to try and forget his suffering. That will do very well for a beginning, for a boyish effort. But a strong man ought not to try to forget in that way. On the contrary, he should try to think a great deal about his grief, to think of it as representing only one little drop in the great sea of the world's pain, to think about it bravely, and to put his thoughts about it into beautiful and impersonal form. Nobody should allow himself for a moment to imagine that his own particular grief, that his own private loss, that his own personal pain, can have any value in literature, except in so far as it truly represents the great pain of human life.
The quote comes from a poem in Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre:
Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß,
Wer nie die kummervollen Nächte
Auf seinem Bette weinend saß,
Der kennt euch nicht, ihr himmlischen Mächte!
Franz Schubert set the poem to music in his Gesänge des Harfners (Op. 12, No. 3), D480.

6 December 2013

Writing with a Pencil

Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace (Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2002), pp. 74-75:
[A] computer, I am told, offers a kind of help that you can’t get from other humans; a computer will help you to write faster, easier, and more. For a while, it seemed to me that every university professor I met told me this. Do I, then, want to write faster, easier, and more? No. My standards are not speed, ease, and quantity. I have already left behind too much evidence that, writing with a pencil, I have written too fast, too easily, and too much. I would like to be a better writer, and for that I need help from other humans, not a machine. The professors who recommended speed, ease, and quantity to me were, of course, quoting the standards of their universities. The chief concern of the industrial system, which is to say the present university system, is to cheapen work by increasing volume. But implicit in the professors’ recommendation was the idea that one needs to be up with the times. The pace-setting academic intellectuals have lately had a great hankering to be up with the times. They don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses: as intellectuals, they know that they are supposed to be Nonconformists and Independent Thinkers living at the Cutting Edge of Human Thought. And so they are all a-dither to keep up with the times — which means adopting the latest technological innovations as soon as the Joneses do. Do I wish to keep up with the times? No. My wish simply is to live my life as fully as I can. In both our work and our leisure, I think, we should be so employed. And in our time this means that we must save ourselves from the products that we are asked to buy in order, ultimately, to replace ourselves.

5 December 2013

Gruß vom Krampus

The Kurrentschrift on the card reads:
Sei nur brav und niemals keck
Dann der Krampus schaut um's Eck
My translation:
Only be good and never lippy, because Krampus is looking around the corner.

4 December 2013

The False Humility of the Frog

Robert Lynd, "The Cult of Dullness," Books & Authors (London: R. Cobden-Sanderson, 1922), pp. 147-148:
The ordinary writer sets out with the hope of qualifying for a place in the temple of fame: he ends too often by merely qualifying for a place in the Dunciad. He may be a man of one talent, which would serve well enough if put to proper uses, but he prefers to hide it and to pretend that it is ten, railing all the while at others on the ground that they have only five. I used to think that it was un-Christian of the Founder of Christianity to give the man with one talent so poor a name compared to the man with five or the man with ten. But I have long since come to see that in doing so he spoke out of a profound knowledge of human nature. The man with one talent is the most likely of all to make no use of it. He does not see that even his poverty may be turned into riches, as is obvious when one remembers such Lilliputian and immortal poets as Lovelace. He is blinded by a sense of his insignificance. He has the false humility of the frog, which is not content to be a first-rate frog but must try to swell itself into a bull.
Sengai Gibon (1750-1837), Meditating Frog

3 December 2013

The Melancholy Aspidistra

Harold Monro (1879-1932), "Aspidistra Street," Strange Meetings (London: The Poetry Bookshop, 1917), p. 42:
Go along that road, and look at sorrow.
Every window grumbles.
All day long the drizzle fills the puddles,
Trickles in the runnels and the gutters,
Drips and drops and dripples, and drops and dribbles,
While the melancholy aspidistra
Frowns between the parlour curtains.

Uniformity, dull Master! -
Birth and marriage, middle-age and death;
Rain and gossip: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday...

Sure, the lovely fools who made Utopia
Planned it without any aspidistra.
There will be a heaven on earth, but first
We must banish from the parlour
Plush and poker-work and paper flowers,
Brackets, staring photographs and what-nots,
Serviettes, frills and etageres,
Anti-macassars, vases, chiffoniers;

And the gloomy apidistra
Glowering through the window-pane,
Meditating heavy maxims,
Moralising to the rain.
I wonder if this poem inspired George Orwell's novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Orwell would have been about 15 when it was published.

Mark Gertler, Still Life with Aspidistra (1926)

2 December 2013

An Artist's Day

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life (London: Macmillan, 1887), pp. 336-337:
You cannot take a bit out of another man’s life and live it, without having lived the previous years that led up to it, without having also the assured hopes for the years that lie beyond. The attempt is constantly made by amateurs of all kinds, and by men of temporary purposes, and it always fails. The amateur says when he awakes on some fine summer morning, and draws up his blind, and looks out on the dewy fields: “Ah, the world of nature is beautiful to-day: what if I were to lead the life of an artist?” And after breakfast he seeks up his old box of watercolour and his block-book, and stool, and white umbrella, and what not, and sallies forth, and fixes himself on the edge of the forest or the banks of the amber stream. The day that he passes there looks like an artist’s day, yet it is not. It has not been preceded by the three or four thousand days which ought to have led up to it; it is not strong in the assured sense of present skill, in the calm knowledge that the hours will bear good fruit. So the chances are that there will be some hurry, and fretfulness, and impatience, under the shadow of that white parasol, and also that when the day is over there will be a disappointment. You cannot put an artist’s day into the life of any one but an artist. 
Gustave Caillebotte, Autoportrait au Chevalet (c. 1879)