16 June 2014

Vacancy Is Not Leisure

E. T. Campagnac, "Silence, Meditation, and Pain," Society and Solitude (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1922), p. 215:
If the popular demand for education were a demand for the opportunity to reflect, it would be of a nobler quality than it can now generally claim to be. Instead of that it is put forward with arguments for efficiency, for success, for getting on; and getting on means too often getting out of the class, the profession, the trade, in which a man's forbears were and in which he might not unnaturally remain, and getting into another class, or profession or trade to which he arrives nouveau riche, awkward or blasé or both. It is too rarely a demand to enter that world in which "parables" are spoken. We may look forward, if we choose to indulge our fancy, to a day when the progress of mechanical invention shall have enabled men to do in minutes what now they must take hours to do; but vacancy is not leisure and cannot yield wisdom; or we may forecast a day when mechanical invention shall have spent its energies, and when for sheer lack of the material of "civilisation" — coal, for instance, being exhausted — we shall hail the return of Nature with fields green once more and skies clear; yet Nature will prove herself a hard mistress and bind burdens upon men's backs which they will hardly bear.

13 June 2014

Unrecht

Friedrich Nietzsche, Aphorism 386 in Part I of Menschliches, Allzumenschliches, Gesammelte Werke, Vol. 8 (München: Musarion Verlag, 1920), p. 288. My translation:
Reasonable Unreason: In the maturity of age and understanding, a man comes to feel that his father was wrong to beget him.

Vernünftige Unvernunft: In der Reife des Lebens und des Verstandes überkommt den Menschen das Gefühl, daß sein Vater Unrecht hatte, ihn zu zeugen.
Bust of Nietzsche on the cover of Jugend magazine (1901)

12 June 2014

Old Favourites

Joseph Shaylor, The Fascination of Books (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent, 1912), p. 1:
When the mind is weary with the toil and care of a busy life and thought comes only by exertion, it is then a real pleasure to peruse some volume made precious either by the influence it has had upon our conduct and life, or by the characteristics with which the volume is associated. It is then that our whole being is stirred and thought awakens thought while the echoes of an intellectual past come with a welcome contrast to the restlessness of a strenuous present; the senses are again quickened and imagination makes real a world peopled with characters grown familiar by association.

10 June 2014

The Diarist

W. N. P. Barbellion, Enjoying Life (London: Chatto & Windus, 1919), pp. 13-14:
For the diarist, the most commonplace things of daily life are of absorbing interest. Each day, the diarist finds himself born into a world as strange and beautiful as the dead world of the day before. The diarist lives on the globe for all the world as if he lodged on the slopes of a mountain, and unlike most mountain dwellers, he never loses his sense of awe at his situation. Life is vivid to him. "And so to bed," writes Mr. Secretary Pepys, a hundred times in his diary, and we may be sure that each time he joined Mrs. Pepys beneath the coverlet he felt that the moment which marked the end of his wonderful day was one deserving careful record.

9 June 2014

Lovers, Friends, and Acquaintances

W. Robertson Nicoll, A Bookman's Letters (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915), pp. 224-225:
You ought to have three kinds of books. There is a verse in one of the Psalms: 'Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into the darkness.' Lover, friend, acquaintance. Your individuality is the centre, round it and near it is the little circle of love those who are your nearest and dearest. Round that is a larger concentric circle of friends, and then round that is a very large circle of acquaintances. All the people you know are lovers, friends, and acquaintances. I say the same thing about books. Certain books you love, and they are the special books, the books you want to read every year, the books you would not be without, the books which you bind in morocco, the books you would keep at all costs. Find the books that you love, and then find your friends among books. By friends I mean excellent books, though not the books that appeal most immediately and sharply. I love Boswell's Life of Johnson; Lockhart's Life of Scott is my friend. That is not to disparage Lockhart's Life of Scott. It is simply to say that the one book has certain greater qualities than the other it is the difference between lover and friend.

Among the lovers you should have at least one poet. I am told that poetry is coming to something very good in these days, and I am glad to hear it. But it is a comfort that much good poetry has been written already, quite enough to go on with. Find the poet that you love. You can only hope to love a few, but you may have many friends.

Your mental life will be determined by your lovers and your friends ; but, if you have lovers and friends, there is no reason why you should not have a great number of acquaintances. A public man said recently that he had 4000 acquaintances, and one may certainly know 4000 books. In the world of books it is essential to have acquaintances, if it were only for this that the acquaintanceships help us to appreciate our lovers and our friends. Life, however, is a very poor thing for those who have no lovers and no friends, but only acquaintances. And so the mind is a desert mind that has only acquaintances among books. But when the higher society is made sure it will be very easy and very pleasant to enlarge the circle of our acquaintances even to the end.

5 June 2014

Let the Past Remain in Peace

Eugene Lee-Hamilton, "Meeting of Ghosts," Sonnets of the Wingless Hours (Portland: Thomas B. Mosher, 1908), p. 65:
When years have passed, is't wise to meet again?
   Body and Mind have changed; and is it wise
   To take old Time, the Alterer, by surprise,
And see how he has worked in human grain?

We think that what once was, must still remain;
   Ourself a ghost, we bid a ghost arise;
   Two spectres look into each other's eyes,
And break the image that their hearts contain.

Mix not the Past and Present: let the Past
   Remain in peace within its jewelled shrine,
And drag it not into the hum and glare;

Mix not two faces in the thoughts that last;
   The one thou knewest, fair in every line,
And one unknown, which may be far from fair.

4 June 2014

We Degenerate into Hideous Puppets

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (London: Ward, Lock & Co., 1891), p. 34:
The laburnum will be as yellow next June as it is now. In a month there will be purple stars on the clematis, and year after year the green night of its leaves will hold its purple stars. But we never get back our youth. The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty becomes sluggish. Our limbs fail, our senses rot. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to.

3 June 2014

Words and Phrases

Adam Sisman, An Honourable Englishman (New York: Random House, 2010), pp. 108-109:
Hugh [Trevor-Roper] wrote a portrait of "Logan Pearsall Smith in old age," which he sent to his subject for approval. In it he summarized the philosophy of "the Sage of Chelsea" thus: "that humanity is ridiculous, but that there is pleasure in observing its antics even amid our own gesticulations, and that it is redeemed from utter meaninglessness by its ideals, though many of these are very odd; and that style is an ideal too, style of living, style of writing, born of disinterested thought and sweat to ennoble and preserve the thoughts and memory of an else insignificant existence." He repeated one of Smith's aphorisms: "The indefatigable pursuit of an unattainable Perfection, even though it consists of nothing more than the pounding of an old piano, is what alone gives meaning to our life on this unavailing star."

Smith was as much concerned with style as with scholarship. He endlessly polished his Trivia, seeking Hugh's suggestions for improvements forty years after the first edition had been published. No care was too great in the quest for perfect prose, no effort too much. "Words & phrases are the only things that matter," he wrote to Hugh early in their friendship. Two weeks before his death in 1946, Smith was asked if he had discovered any purpose to life. "Yes," he replied: "there is one thing that matters — to set a chime of words tinkling in the minds of a few fastidious people."
Also see Patrick Kurp's Gleams and Flashes of Light

2 June 2014

Be Able to Forget

Baltasar Gracián y Morales, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, tr. Joseph Jacobs (London: Macmillan & Co., 1904), p. 158:
CCLXII
Be able to Forget.

It is more a matter of luck than of skill. The things we remember best are those better forgotten. Memory is not only unruly, leaving us in the lurch when most needed, but stupid as well, putting its nose into places where it is not wanted. In painful things it is active, but neglectful in recalling the pleasurable. Very often the only remedy for the ill is to forget it, and all we forget is the remedy. Nevertheless one should cultivate good habits of memory, for it is capable of making existence a Paradise or an Inferno. The happy are an exception who enjoy innocently their simple happiness.
A related post: Forget, Don't Forgive

30 May 2014

Bad at Parties

Johanna Schopenhauer in a letter to her nineteen-year-old son Arthur Schopenhauer in 1807, telling him he was not welcome to live in her home, quoted in Wilhelm Gwinner's Arthur Schopenhauer, aus persönlichem Umgange dargestellt (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1862), pp. 26-27. My translation:
In order to be happy I need to know that you are happy, but I do not need to see it first-hand. I have always said that it would be very difficult to live with you, and the closer I observe you, the greater this difficulty appears to be, at least to my eyes. I will not conceal it from you that, so long as you are the way you are, I would rather make any sacrifice than come to this decision. I am well aware of your good points. I am not shying away from your nature or inner qualities, but rather your outward manner, your opinions, your judgements, and your habits. Simply put, I cannot share your views about anything that concerns the outside world. Your moroseness, your complaints about things that cannot be avoided, your bizarre judgements which you pronounce like an oracle without allowing anyone to speak against them — these things oppress me and ruin my good humour without being of any benefit to you. Your nasty disputations, your lamentations over the stupidity of the world and human suffering disturb my nights and give me bad dreams.
Title from this clip of True Detective.

29 May 2014

A Test of Lucidity

Adam Sisman, An Honourable Englishman (New York: Random House, 2010), pp. 61-62:
Hugh [Trevor-Roper] employed [Alfred Jules] Ayer's categories as a purgative for his prose, rejecting rhetoric, slovenly language, ambiguity or emotive obscurity, and aspiring to limpidity and austerity of style. It became one of his cardinal rules that no sentence of his should have to be read twice in order to be understood. No concept was too difficult to be expressed clearly. A useful test of lucidity was to translate a phrase from English into Latin; the necessary effort of understanding revealed any non-sense, tautology or ambiguity.

28 May 2014

The Life Beautiful

Charles Baudelaire, "The Glass Vendor," Baudelaire; His Prose and Poetry, tr. F. P. Sturm (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919), p. 127:
At length [the glass vendor] appeared. I examined all his glasses with curiosity, and then said to him: "What, have you no coloured glasses? Glasses of rose and crimson and blue, magical glasses, glasses of Paradise? You are insolent. You dare to walk in mean streets when you have no glasses that would make one see beauty in life?" And I hurried him briskly to the staircase, which he staggered down, grumbling.

I went on to the balcony and caught up a little flower pot, and when the man appeared in the doorway beneath I let fall my engine of war perpendicularly upon the edge of his pack, so that it was upset by the shock and all his poor walking fortune broken to bits. It made a noise like a palace of crystal shattered by lightning. Mad with my folly, I cried furiously after him: "The life beautiful! the life beautiful!"

27 May 2014

The Wolf Pack

Wilfred Trotter, Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1921), pp. 150-151:
The functional value of herd instinct in the wolf is to make the pack irresistible in attacking and perpetually aggressive in spirit. The individual must, therefore, be especially sensitive to the leadership of the herd. The herd must be to him, not merely as it is to the protectively gregarious animal, a source of comfort, and stimulus, and general guidance, but must be able to make him do things however difficult, however dangerous, even however senseless, and must make him yield an absolute, immediate, and slavish obedience. The carrying out of the commands of the herd must be in itself an absolute satisfaction in which there can be no consideration of self. Towards anything outside the herd he will necessarily be arrogant, confident, and inaccessible to the appeals of reason or feeling. This tense bond of instinct, constantly keyed up to the pitch of action, will give him a certain simplicity of character and even ingenuousness, a coarseness and brutality, in his dealings with others, and a complete failure to understand any motive unsanctioned by the pack. He will believe the pack to be impregnable and irresistible, just and good, and will readily ascribe to it any other attribute which may take his fancy however ludicrously inappropriate.

The strength of the wolf pack as a gregarious unit is undoubtedly, in suitable circumstances, enormous. This strength would seem to depend on a continuous possibility of attack and action. How far it can be maintained in inactivity and mere defence is another matter....

26 May 2014

A Sure Investment

Sara Teasdale, "The Coin," Flame and Shadow (New York: Macmillan, 1920), p. 24:
Into my heart's treasury
   I slipped a coin
That time cannot take
   Nor a thief purloin, —
Oh better than the minting
   Of a gold-crowned king
Is the safe-kept memory
   Of a lovely thing.
Related posts:
Nothing More Secure
A Winter Hoard
A Man's Real Possession

23 May 2014

Incurable Frivolousness

W. N. P. Barbellion, Entry for 15 May 1915, The Journal of a Disappointed Man (London: Chatto & Windus, 1919), pp. 125-126:
Spent the day measuring the legs and antennae of lice to two places of decimals!

To the lay mind how fantastic this must seem! Indeed, I hope it is fantastic. I do not mind being thought odd. It seems almost fitting that an incurable dilettante like myself should earn his livelihood by measuring the legs of lice. I like to believe that such a bizarre manner of life suits my incurable frivolousness.

I am a Magpie in a Bagdad bazaar, hopping about, useless, inquisitive, fascinated by a lot of astonishing things: e.g., a book on the quadrature of the circle, the gubbertushed fustilugs passage in Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, names like Mr Portwine or Mr Hogsflesh, Tweezer's Alley or Pickle Herring Street, the excellent, conceitful sonnets of Henry Constable or Petticoat Lane on a Sunday morning.

Colossal things such as Art, Science, etc., frighten me. I am afraid I should develop a thirst that would make me wish to drink the sea dry. My mind is a disordered miscellany. The world is too distracting. I cannot apply myself for long.

22 May 2014

The Habit of Being Alive

Arthur Ransome, "Art for Life's Sake," Portraits and Speculations (London: Macmillan, 1913), pp. 17-18:
Art is itself life. Its function is to increase our consciousness of life, to make us more than wise or sensitive, to transform us from beings overwhelmed by the powerful stream of unconscious living to beings dominating that stream, to change us from objects acted upon by life to joyful collaborators in that reaction. By its means we become conscious gainers by life's procreative activity. No longer hiding our faces from that muddied storm that sweeps irresistibly from the future to the past, a medley of confused figures, a babel of cries of joy, of laughter, of sorrow, of pain, by its means we lift our heads, and, learning from the isolation of moments in eternity, to imagine the isolation of all such moments, we conquer that storm, and accept pain, joy, laughter or sorrow, with equal gratitude, in our continually realised desire to feel ourselves alive.
Id., p. 34:
We ask from an artist opportunities of conscious living, which, taken as they come, multiply the possibilities of their recurrence, turn us into artists, and help us to contract the habit of being alive.

21 May 2014

The Little Count of All My Wealth

Thomas Bastard (1566-1618), Epigram 36, Book 3, Chrestoleros; Seven Bookes of Epigrames (Manchester: Printed for the Spenser Society, 1888), p. 74:
The peasant Corus of his wealth does boast,
Yet he scarce worth twice twenty pounds at most.
I chanc’de to worde once with this lowlie swayne,
He calde me base, and beggar in disdaine.
To try the trueth hereof I rate myself.
And cast the little count of all my wealth.
See how much Hebrew, Greeke, and Poetry,
Latin, Rhetorique, and Philosophye,
     Reading, and sense in sciences profound,
     All valued, are not worth forty pounds.
A related post: I Am, in Fact, an Incompetent

19 May 2014

A Nice Day

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, tr. Richard Zenith (London: Penguin Classics, 2002), p. 73:
Literature – which is art married to thought, and realization untainted by reality – seems to me the end towards which all human effort would have to strive, if it were truly human and not just a welling up of our animal self. To express something is to conserve its virtue and take away its terror. Fields are greener in their description than in their actual greenness. Flowers, if described with phrases that define them in the air of the imagination, will have colours with a durability not found in cellular life.

What moves lives. What is said endures. There’s nothing in life that’s less real for having been well described. Small-minded critics point out that such-and-such poem, with its protracted cadences, in the end says merely that it’s a nice day. But to say it’s a nice day is difficult, and the nice day itself passes on. It’s up to us to conserve the nice day in a wordy, florid memory, sprinkling new flowers and new stars over the fields and skies of the empty, fleeting outer world.

16 May 2014

Dr. Epictetus Will See You Now

Carlo Strenger, Individuality, the Impossible Project (Madison: International Universities Press, 1998), pp. 54-55:
The psychoanalytic insistence on the tragic dimension of life entails a model of freedom. The influence of the past and of the total dependence in childhood must be accepted. The losses, pains, and traumas of the past must be acknowledged and mourned; we must all come to terms with the fact that we had the particular childhood we had, even though it does not correspond to our needs and desires. Denying the past only enslaves us by turning it into a perpetual present. The attempt to undo and avoid pains, trauma and unfulfilled desire con­demns us to be unconsciously tyrannized by the past (Wollheim, 1984). The psychoanalytic ethic is stoic: We must accept the limits of our power.
A related post: Must I Whine as Well?

15 May 2014

From Knowing to Doing

Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Conduct of Life (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1871):
"Enlarge not thy destiny," said the oracle: "endeavor not to do more than is given thee in charge." The one prudence in life is concentration; the one evil is dissipation: and it makes no difference whether our dissipations are coarse or fine; property and its cares, friends, and a social habit, or politics, or music, or feasting. Everything is good which takes away one plaything and delusion more, and drives us home to add one stroke of faithful work. Friends, books, pictures, lower duties, talents, flatteries, hopes, — all are distractions which cause oscillations in our giddy balloon, and make a good poise and a straight course impossible. You must elect your work; you shall take what your brain can, and drop all the rest. Only so, can that amount of vital force accumulate, which can make the step from knowing to doing. No matter how much faculty of idle seeing a man has, the step from knowing to doing is rarely taken. 'Tis a step out of a chalk circle of imbecility into fruitfulness. Many an artist lacking this, lacks all: he sees the masculine Angelo or Cellini with despair. He, too, is up to Nature and the First Cause in his thought. But the spasm to collect and swing his whole being into one act, he has not.
cf. The False Humility of the Frog