29 September 2014

An Ugly, Bitter Emotion

Robert C. Solomon, "Nietzsche ad hominem," The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 210:
[Resentment] is an expression of weakness and impotence. Nietzsche is against resentment because it is an ugly, bitter emotion which the strong and powerful do not and cannot feel. Strong personalities who are politically or economically oppressed may also experience the most powerful feelings of resentment, but in them that emotion may even be a virtue. The difference, Nietzsche says, is that they act on it. They do not let it simmer and stew and "poison" the personality. There is also petty resentment, and sometimes Nietzsche makes the case against resentment in those terms. Resentment is an emotion that does not promote personal excellence but rather dwells on competitive strategy and thwarting others. It does not do what a virtue or proper motive ought to do — for Nietzsche as for Aristotle — and that is to inspire excellence and self-confidence in both oneself and others.
Related posts:

25 September 2014

Success

Arnold Bennett, "The Secret of Content," The Reasonable Life (London: A.C. Fifield, 1907), p. 39:
If human nature were more perfect than it is, success in life would mean an intimate knowledge of one's self and the achievement of a philosophic inward calm, and such a goal might well be reached by the majority of mortals.
A related post: Know Thyself

23 September 2014

An Event in One's History

Hamilton Wright Mabie, Books and Culture (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1896), p. 39:
To get at the heart of books we must live with and in them; we must make them our constant companions; we must turn them over and over in thought, slowly penetrating their innermost meaning; and when we possess their thought we must work it into our own thought. The reading of a real book ought to be an event in one's history; it ought to enlarge the vision, deepen the base of conviction, and add to the reader whatever knowledge, insight, beauty, and power it contains.

22 September 2014

Inferior to the Original

Matthew Arnold, preface to "Merope," The Poems of Matthew Arnold (London: Oxford University Press, 1922),  pp. 284-285:
[A] translation is a work not only inferior to the original by the whole difference of talent between the first composer and his translator: it is even inferior to the best which the translator could do under more inspiring circumstances. No man can do his best with a subject which does not penetrate him: no man can be penetrated by a subject which he does not conceive independently.
A related post: Get Off My Lawn

19 September 2014

The Twelfth Century

Arnold Bennett, "The Secret of Content," The Reasonable Life (London: A.C. Fifield, 1907), p. 57:
The mind can only be conquered by regular meditation, by deciding beforehand what direction its activity ought to take, and insisting that its activity takes that direction; also by never leaving it idle, undirected, masterless, to play at random like a child in the streets after dark. This is extremely difficult, but it can be done, and it is marvellously well worth doing. The fault of the epoch is the absence of meditativeness. A sagacious man will strive to correct in himself the faults of his epoch. In some deep ways the twelfth century had advantages over the twentieth. It practised meditation.
Eugène Grasset, Méditation (1897)

18 September 2014

Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus

Arnold Bennett, How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day (Garden City: Doubleday, 1910), pp. 65-67:
By the regular practice of concentration (as to which there is no secret — save the secret of perseverance) you can tyrannise over your mind (which is not the highest part of you) every hour of the day, and in no matter what place. The exercise is a very convenient one. If you got into your morning train with a pair of dumb-bells for your muscles or an encyclopaedia in ten volumes for your learning, you would probably excite remark. But as you walk in the street, or sit in the corner of the compartment behind a pipe, or "strap-hang" on the Subterranean, who is to know that you are engaged in the most important of daily acts? What asinine boor can laugh at you?

I do not care what you concentrate on, so long as you concentrate. It is the mere disciplining of the thinking machine that counts. But still, you may as well kill two birds with one stone, and concentrate on something useful. I suggest — it is only a suggestion — a little chapter of Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus.

Do not, I beg, shy at their names. For myself, I know nothing more "actual," more bursting with plain common-sense, applicable to the daily life of plain persons like you and me (who hate airs, pose, and nonsense) than Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus. Read a chapter — and so short they are, the chapters! — in the evening and concentrate on it the next morning. You will see. 

17 September 2014

We Search Out Dead Men's Words

Matthew Arnold, "Empedocles on Etna" (lines 317-341), The Poems of Matthew Arnold (London: Oxford University Press, 1922), pp. 108-109:
   Look, the world tempts our eye,
   And we would know it all!
   We map the starry sky,
   We mine this earthen ball,
We measure the sea-tides, we number the sea-sands ;

   We scrutinize the dates
   Of long-past human things,
   The bounds of effac'd states,
   The lines of deceas'd kings ;
We search out dead men's words, and works of dead men's hands;

   We shut our eyes, and muse
   How our own minds are made,
   What springs of thought they use,
   How righten'd, how betray'd;
And spend our wit to name what most employ unnam'd;

   But still, as we proceed,
   The mass swells more and more
   Of volumes yet to read,
   Of secrets yet to explore.
Our hair grows grey, our eyes are dimm'd, our heat is tamed.

   We rest our faculties,
   And thus address the Gods:
   'True science if there is,
   It stays in your abodes;
Man's measures cannot mete the immeasurable All;

15 September 2014

They Do Take It All So Seriously

Lucian of Samosata, "Charon," The Works of Lucian, tr. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler, Vol. I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), pp. 178-179:
Charon: [observing humanity] How absurd it all is!

Hermes: My dear Charon, there is no word for the absurdity of it. They do take it all so seriously, that is the best of it; and then, long before they have finished scheming, up comes good old Death, and whisks them off, and all is over! You observe that he has a fine staff of assistants at his command; — agues, consumptions, fevers, inflammations, swords, robbers, hemlock, juries, tyrants, — not one of which gives them a moment's concern so long as they are prosperous; but when they come to grief, then it is Alack! and Well-a-day! and Oh dear me! If only they would start with a clear understanding that they are mortal, that after a brief sojourn on the earth they will wake from the dream of life, and leave all behind them, — they would live more sensibly, and not mind dying so much. As it is, they get it into their heads that what they possess they possess for good and all; the consequence is, that when Death's officer calls for them, and claps on a fever or a consumption, they take it amiss; the parting is so wholly unexpected.

12 September 2014

Empty Garrulousness

David Bentley Hart in the May issue of First Things:
Journalism is the art of translating abysmal ignorance into execrable prose. At least, that is its purest and most minimal essence. There are, of course, practitioners of the trade who possess talents of a higher order — the rare ability, say, to produce complex sentences and coherent paragraphs — and they tend to occupy the more elevated caste of “intellectual journalists.” These, however, are rather like “whores with hearts of gold”: more misty figments of tender fantasy than concrete objects of empirical experience. Most journalism of ideas is little more than a form of empty garrulousness, incessant gossip about half-heard rumors and half-formed opinions, an intense specialization in diffuse generalizations. It is something we all do at social gatherings — creating ephemeral connections with strangers by chattering vacuously about things of which we know nothing — miraculously transformed into a vocation.

10 September 2014

Photographs and Paintings

Bliss Carman, "Realism in Letters," The Friendship of Art (Boston: L.C. Page & Co., 1904), pp. 120-121:
As we go about this lovely world, scenes and incidents attract us and enchant us for a moment or for longer. And these scenes we delight to recall. We travel, and we bring home photographs of the places we have visited, reminders of our happy hours. It would seem that nothing could be more faithful than these mechanically accurate reproductions of the face of nature. And yet they are not wholly satisfying; a fleeting glimpse preserved in a sketch in pencil or water-colour may be far more satisfactory. The photograph reproduces a hundred details which the eye missed when it first came upon the scene; and at the same time misses the charm and the atmosphere with which we ourselves may have endowed the place as we gazed upon it. The sketch, on the other hand, omits these details, just as our eye omitted them originally, and yet preserves the atmosphere of our first delighted vision. Can it be said then that the photograph is more true than the painting? More true to the object, yes; but not more true to our experience of the object. And that is the important thing; that is what art must always aim at.
A related post: A Nice Day

8 September 2014

Philanthropists

James Elroy Flecker, "Philanthropists," Collected Prose (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1920), pp. 79-80:
My heart goes black with fury and horror when I read their Wills. The only consolation one has is that there is another of them dead. Ten thousand pounds to the Wigan Home for Cats, five thousand to the Society for the Suppression of Sunday Amusements, a thousand for the Syrian Lunatic Asylum on Mount Lebanon, and fifty pounds a year (altered by a pencil-stroke to twenty-five) for their old and faithful clerk, Mr. Jinks.

One knows that the philanthropist himself, for all his riches, got nothing out of life but a sense of his own importance. It was he who once prevented Maud Allan* dancing in Manchester, and it was he who made Manchester. He never travelled except to Lucerne or Nice. Yet he had enough money to have wandered round the world. He might have stood on the slope of Tanagra, and seen the reflection of the snow-topped mountains of Euboea glide like swans on the still blue waters of the Euripus. He might have floated down the Tigris from Mosul to Bagdad in a raft of skins and been potted by Arabs from the bank. He might have walked beneath heavy Indian skies and understood in a flash, standing in the monstrous shadow of an ancient god, the secret of all Empires. He might have smoked opium with dim Chinese and travelled in his dreams right out of the world to starry isles and planetary oceans. He did none of these things.
* Maud Allan in The Vision of Salomé, c. 1906

4 September 2014

The Translator and the Children

James Elroy Flecker, "The Translator and the Children," The Collected Poems of James Elroy Flecker, ed. J.C. Squire (New York: Doubleday, 1916), p. 45:
While I translated Baudelaire,
Children were playing out in the air.
Turning to watch, I saw the light
That made their clothes and faces bright.
I heard the tune they meant to sing
As they kept dancing in a ring;
But I could not forget my book,
And thought of men whose faces shook
When babies passed them with a look.

They are as terrible as death,
Those children in the road beneath.
Their witless chatter is more dread
Than voices in a madman's head:
Their dance more awful and inspired,
Because their feet are never tired,
Than silent revel with soft sound
Of pipes, on consecrated ground,
When all the ghosts go round and round.

2 September 2014

Unmerited Prosperity

Lucian of Samosata, "Timon the Misanthrope," The Works of Lucian, tr. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler, Vol. I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), p. 33:
Thus in disgrace with fortune, I have betaken me to this corner of the earth, where I wear the smock-frock and dig for sixpence a day, with solitude and my spade to assist meditation. So much gain I reckon upon here — to be exempt from contemplating unmerited prosperity; no sight so offends the eye as that.

29 August 2014

The Life of Benvenuto Cellini

The cover, title page, and first page of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini, edited and translated by John Addington Symonds (New York: Brentano's, 1906):


Is the earthly paradise for bibliophiles at hand? There are a few sets of this handsome two volume edition on Abebooks for less than $25.

27 August 2014

A Noiseless Lamp and a Book

Philip G. Hamerton, Human Intercourse (London: Macmillan, 1884), pp. 69-71:
The peculiar peril of blood-relationship is that those who are closely connected by it often permit themselves an amount of mutual rudeness (especially in the middle and lower classes) which they never would think of inflicting upon a stranger. In some families people really seem to suppose that it does not matter how roughly they treat each other. They utter unmeasured reproaches about trifles not worth a moment’s anger; they magnify small differences that only require to be let alone and forgotten, or they relieve the monotony of quarrels with an occasional fit of the sulks. Sometimes it is an irascible father who is always scolding, sometimes a loud-tongued matron shrieks “in her fierce volubility.” Some children take up the note and fire back broadside for broadside; others wait for a cessation in contemptuous silence and calmly disregard the thunder. Family life indeed! domestic peace and bliss! Give me, rather, the bachelor’s lonely hearth with a noiseless lamp and a book! The manners of the ill-mannered are never so odious, unbearable, exasperating, as they are to their own nearest kindred. How is a lad to enjoy the society of his mother if she is perpetually “nagging” and “nattering” at him? How is he to believe that his coarse father has a tender anxiety for his welfare when everything that he does is judged with unfatherly harshness? Those who are condemned to live with people for whom scolding and quarrelling are a necessary of existence must either be rude in self-defence or take refuge in a sullen and stubborn taciturnity. Young people who have to live in these little domestic hells look forward to any change as a desirable emancipation. They are ready to go to sea, to emigrate. I have heard of one who went into domestic service under a feigned name that he might be out of the range of his brutal father’s tongue.

25 August 2014

Standardised

Norman Douglas, Alone (New York: Robert M. McBride, 1922), pp. 46-48:
Talk to a simple creature, farmer or fisherman — well, there is always that touch of common humanity, that sense of eternal needs, to fashion a link of conversation. From a professional — lawyer, doctor, engineer — you may pick up some pungent trifle which yields food for thought; it is never amiss to hearken to a specialist. But the ordinary man of the street, the ordinary man or woman of society, of the world — what can they tell you about art or music or life or religion, about tailors and golf and exhaust-pipes and furniture — what on earth can they tell you that you have not heard already? A mere grinding-out of commonplaces! How often one has covered the same field! They cannot even put their knowledge, such as it is, into an attractive shape or play variations on the theme; it is patter; they have said the same thing, in the same language, for years and years; you have listened to the same thing from other lips, in the same language, for years and years. How one knows it all beforehand — every note in that barrel-organ of echoes! One leaves them feeling like an old, old man, vowing one will never again submit to such a process of demoralization, and understanding, better than ever, the justification of monarchies and tyrannies: these creatures are born to act and think and believe as others tell them. You may be drawn to one or the other, detecting an unusual kindliness of nature or some endearing trick; for the most part, one studies them with a kind of medical interest. How comes it that this man, respectably equipped by birth, has grown so warped and atrophied, an animated bundle of deficiencies?

Life is the cause — life, the onward march of years. It has a cramping effect; it closes the pores, intensifying one line of activity at the expense of all the others; often enough it encrusts the individual with a kind of shell, a veneer of something akin to hypocrisy. Your ordinary adult is an egoist in matters of the affections; a specialist in his own insignificant pursuit; a dull dog. Dimly aware of these defects, he confines himself to generalities or, grown confidential, tells you of his little fads, his little love-affairs — such ordinary ones! Like those millions of his fellows, he has been transformed into a screw, a bolt, a nut, in the machine. He is standardised.

22 August 2014

Reactionary

Ivor Brown, Mind Your Language (Chester Springs: Dufour Editions, 1962), pp. 29-30:
Reactionary is another long and ill-used Latin word. Reaction began life as a term used in physics, meaning 'the repulsion or resistance exerted by a body in opposition to the impact or pressure of another body'. When it is applied to human conduct a reactionary should be one who objects to and resists a code of morals or a social policy. Obviously resistance can take many forms. A person can resist or react against Conservatism as well as Socialism or Communism. So a politician of the Left who reacts against the Right can reasonably be called a reactionary. But he never is.

Reactionary has become a Left Wing term of abuse and its use has been extended to the arts. Those who believe themselves advanced think that they have disposed of those who do not keep up with their tastes by using words of this kind in place of argument. That has worked both ways in the past: the lovers of tradition dismissed the innovators with contemptuous reference to half-baked minds and callow presumption. Now the supporters of novelty retort with reactionary, fuddy-duddy, and the like. But throwing words about proves nothing and to tie the label reactionary onto anything of which you disapprove is as ineffectual as it is easy. The word should describe opposition in general and not stupid opposition. One person can react as much against the abstract work of Picasso as another reacts against landscapes faithful to nature or portraits which can be recognised as pictures of a human being. A further irritating usage of reaction is to substitute it for opinion. People engaged in a Brains Trust or Quiz are constantly asked what is their reaction instead of what do they feel or think. Here again plain words like view or opinion would suffice. There is no need to turn to a Latin word fetched from a chemist's laboratory.

21 August 2014

On the Lees of Life

A. C. Benson, The Joyous Gard, (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1913), pp. 82-83:
I am sure that there are many people who, looking back at their youth, are conscious that they had something stirring and throbbing within them which they have somehow lost; some vision, some hope, some faint and radiant ideal. Why do they lose it, why do they settle down on the lees of life, why do they snuggle down among comfortable opinions? Mostly, I am sure, out of a kind of indolence. There are a good many people who say to themselves, "After all, what really matters is a solid defined position in the world; I must make that for myself, and meanwhile I must not indulge myself in any fancies; it will be time to do that when I have earned my pension and settled my children in life." And then when the time arrives, the frail and unsubstantial things are all dead and cannot be recovered; for happiness cannot be achieved along these cautious and heavy lines.

19 August 2014

Exhortation

Paul Henri Thiry d'Holbach, The System of Nature, tr. H.D. Robinson (Boston: J.P. Mendum, 1889), p. 162:
Cease then, O mortal! to let thyself be disturbed with phantoms, which thine own imagination or imposture hath created. Renounce thy vague hopes; disengage thyself from thine overwhelming fears, follow without inquietude the necessary routine which nature has marked out for thee; strew the road with flowers if thy destiny permits; remove, if thou art able, the thorns scattered over it. Do not attempt to plunge thy views into an impenetrable futurity; its obscurity ought to be sufficient to prove to thee that it is either useless or dangerous to fathom. Only think then, of making thyself happy in that existence which is known to thee. If thou wouldst preserve thyself, be temperate, moderate, and reasonable: if thou seekest to render thy existence durable, be not prodigal of pleasure. Abstain from every thing that can be hurtful to thyself, or to others. Be truly intelligent; that is to say, learn to esteem thyself, to preserve thy being, to fulfil that end which at each moment thou proposest to thyself. Be virtuous, to the end that thou mayest render thyself solidly happy, that thou mayest enjoy the affections, secure the esteem, partake of the assistance of those beings whom nature has made necessary to thine own peculiar felicity. Even when they should be unjust, render thyself worthy of thine own love and applause, and thou shall live content, thy serenity shall not be disturbed: the end of thy career shall not slander a life which will be exempted from remorse.

15 August 2014

That Odd Little Chap

Jerome K. Jerome, "On Memory," The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (Chicago: W.B. Conkey, 1900), p. 168:
I like to sit and have a talk sometimes with that odd little chap that was myself long ago. I think he likes it too, for he comes so often of an evening when I am alone with my pipe, listening to the whispering of the flames. I see his solemn little face looking at me through the scented smoke as it floats upward, and I smile at him; and he smiles back at me, but his is such a grave, old-fashioned smile. We chat about old times; and now and then he takes me by the hand, and then we slip through the black bars of the grate and down the dusky glowing caves to the land that lies behind the firelight. There we find the days that used to be, and we wander along them together. He tells me as we walk all he thinks and feels. I laugh at him now and then, but the next moment I wish I had not, for he looks so grave I am ashamed of being frivolous.