30 October 2014

Long Autumn Evenings

Richard King (pseudonym of Richard King Huskinson, 1879-1947), Over the Fireside with Silent Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1921), pp. 60-61:
I sometimes think the man who first said that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" must have said it in November. The autumn is full of good intentions — just as spring is full of holiday and hope, and summer of heat and dolce far niente. But, just as the first warm day in June fills you with a physical vitality which you feel convinced that you must live for ever, so autumn makes you realise that life is fleeting and the mind has not yet reached its full development, nor intellectual ambition its complete fruition. Perhaps it is the touch of winter in the air which braces your mind and soul and gives you the impression that, given the long autumn evenings over the fire undisturbed, your brain will soon be capable of tackling the removal of mountains. If you are unutterably silly (as so many of us are — alas ! for the world's sanity; but thank heaven for the world's humour!) you will plan a whole curriculum of intellectual labour for the quiet evenings over the fireside. Oh, the books — good books, I mean — you will read! Oh, the subjects you will study! Perhaps you will learn Russian, or maybe something strange and out-of-the-ordinary, like Arabic! You dream of the moment when, speaking quite casually, you will inform your friends that you are reading the whole of the novels of Balzac; that you are studying for the law and hope to pass your "Final" "just for the fun of the thing"; that you are learning Persian, and intend to retranslate the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and discover other Eastern philosophers. In fact, there is no end to the things you intend to do in the autumn evenings over the fireside when your labours of the day are over. Briefly, you are going to "cultivate your mind" ; and when people talk about "cultivating their minds," they usually regard the mind as a kind of intellectual allotment which anyone can till — given determination, an easy-chair near a big fire, and the long, long autumn evenings.

27 October 2014

The Past Is a Work of Art

Max Beerbohm, "Lytton Strachey," Mainly on the Air (London: Heinemann, 1957), pp. 179-180:
[There is] a great charm in the past. Time, that sedulous artist, has been at work on it, selecting and rejecting with great tact. The past is a work of art, free from irrelevancies and loose ends. There are, for our vision, comparatively few people in it, and all of them are interesting people. The dullards have all disappeared — all but those whose dullness was so pronounced as to be in itself for us an amusing virtue. And in the past there is so blessedly nothing for us to worry about. Everything is settled. There's nothing to be done about it  nothing but to contemplate it and blandly form theories about this or that aspect of it.

24 October 2014

Liberation from One's Time

Hamilton Wright Mabie, Books and Culture (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1896), pp. 193-194:
Beyond all other means of enfranchisement, the book liberates a man from imprisonment within the narrow limits of his own time; it makes him free of all times. He lives in all periods, under all forms of government, in all social conditions; the mind of antiquity, of mediaevalism, of the Renaissance, is as open to him as the mind of his own day, and so he is able to look upon human life in its entirety.

22 October 2014

Impertinent and Senseless

Jan Tschichold, "The Importance of Tradition in Typography," The Form of the Book; Essays on the Morality of Good Design, tr. Hajo Hadeler (Vancouver: Hartley & Marks, 1991), p. 31:
The typography of old books is a precious legacy, well worthy of continuation. It would be both impertinent and senseless to alter drastically the form of the European book. What has proved practical and correct over centuries, like the quad indent — should this be displaced by a so-called "experimental typography"? Only indisputable improvements would make sense. Real and true experiments have a purpose: they serve research, they are the means to find the truth and lead to evidence and proof. In themselves, experiments are not art. Infinite amounts of energy are wasted because everybody feels he has to make his own start, his own beginning, instead of getting to know what has already been done. It is doubtful that anyone who doesn't want to be an apprentice will ever become a master.

20 October 2014

A Cure for Debility

Arnold Bennett, "Mind Callisthenics," The Reasonable Life (London: A.C. Fifield, 1907), p. 19:
Tell a man that he should join a memory class, and he will hum and haw, and say, as I have already remarked, that memory isn't everything; and, in short, he won't join the memory class, partly from indolence, I grant, but more from false shame. (Is not this true?) He will even hesitate about learning things by heart. Yet there are few mental exercises better than learning great poetry or prose by heart. Twenty lines a week for six months: what a cure for debility! The chief, but not the only, merit of learning by heart as an exercise is that it compels the mind to concentrate. And the most important preliminary to self-development is the faculty of concentrating at will. 

16 October 2014

By Heart

Beatrice Warde, "By Heart," written during the London Blitz and quoted in Francis Meynell's My Lives (London: Bodley Head, 1971), p. 176:
When will you understand?
Mark what I say:
Whatever you hold in your hand
Will be blown away.

Must you learn for yourself?
Listen, take warning:
Whatever you leave on the shelf
Will be gone by morning.

Soon you must play your part.
What are you learning?
Get it by heart! By heart!
I have seen books burning.
A related post: Every Man's Anthology

13 October 2014

Newspapers Make Me Sick

Henry Miller to Emil Schnellock, sometime in the spring of 1925, in Letters to Emil, ed. George Wickes (New York: New Directions, 1989), p. 14:
[W]hen I took the newspaper along with me tonight, to glance at during my repast, I realized what a long way off all that is. I didn't look at the newspaper. I wrapped it up and carried it home again. Newspapers make me sick. What good are they to me? Do I want to know what the rest of the world is doing? There's nothing the matter with my imagination. I know they're buggering one another, bitching up the works, fighting, scrapping, bedevilling themselves and making of this vale of tears a bed of thorns. Thank you, I'd rather go home, pretend I'm an artist and write some flapdoodle. I suppose, in the last analysis, it comes down to this: that I really want to escape reality. I suppose I want to dream clean sheets, good meals, happy endings and all the rest of it. And I suppose, further, that I'm one of those lily-livered pups who hasn't guts enough to go out and get a he-man's job and slave eight hours, maybe ten, for some guy who knows a little less than I do.

9 October 2014

The Pursuit of Happiness

Luc de Clapiers, Marquis of Vauvenargues, The Reflections and Maxims, tr. F .G. Stevens (London: Humphrey Milford, 1940), pp. 20-21:
People find happiness both in wisdom and folly, virtue and vice. Contentment is no index of true worth.

La raison et l'extravagance, la vertu et le vice ont leurs heureux: le contentement n'est pas la marque du mérite.
If neither fame nor worth make men happy, does so-called happiness deserve to be the object of their longing? Would a man of even moderate courage deign to accept fortune, peace of mind or prudence, on pain of sacrificing the strength of his convictions or suppressing the soar of his spirit?

Si la gloire et si le mérite ne rendent pas les hommes heureux, ce que l'on appelle bonheur mérite-t-il leurs regrets? Une âme un peu courageuse daignerait-elle accepter ou la fortune, ou le repos d'esprit, ou la modération, s'il fallait leur sacrifier la vigueur de ses sentiments, et abaisser l'essor de son génie?

7 October 2014

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Professor Kevin C. Klement has published an edition of Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that puts the original German alongside both the Ogden/Ramsey and the Pears/McGuinness translations. Some impressive typesetting:


PDFs and LATEX source available on his site.

6 October 2014

Soci Malorum

Henri-Frédéric Amiel, Journal Intime, tr. Mrs. Humphry Ward (New York: A. L. Burt, c. 1895), pp. 316-317:
Very few individuals deserve to be listened to, but all deserve that our curiosity with regard to them should be a pitiful curiosity — that the insight we bring to bear on them should be charged with humility. Are we not all ship-wrecked, diseased, condemned to death? Let each work out his own salvation, and blame no one but himself; so the lot of all will be bettered. Whatever impatience we may feel toward our neighbor, and whatever indignation our race may rouse in us, we are chained one to another, and, companions in labor and misfortune, have everything to lose by mutual recrimination and reproach. Let us be silent as to each other's weakness, helpful, tolerant, nay, tender toward each other! Or, if we cannot feel tenderness, may we at least feel pity! May we put away from us the satire which scourges and the anger which brands; the oil and wine of the good Samaritan are of more avail. We may make the ideal a reason for contempt; but it is more beautiful to make it a reason for tenderness.

1 October 2014

Priceless Possessions

Sir John Lubbock, "The Value of Time," The Pleasures of Life, (Chicago: W. B. Conkey Co., 1900), pp. 74-75:
Some years ago I paid a visit to the principal lake villages of Switzerland in company with a distinguished archaeologist, M. Morlot. To my surprise I found that his whole income was £100 a year, part of which, moreover, he spent in making a small museum. I asked him whether he contemplated accepting any post or office, but he said certainly not. He valued his leisure and opportunities as priceless possessions far more than silver or gold, and would not waste any of his time in making money.

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.