25 August 2014


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


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


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. 

13 August 2014

The Most Happy Man

Paul Henri Thiry d'Holbach, The System of Nature, tr. H.D. Robinson (Boston: J.P. Mendum, 1889), p. 147:
If each individual were competent to the supply of his own exigencies, there would be no occasion for him to congregate in society, but his wants, his desires, his whims, place him in a state of dependance on others: these are the causes that each individual, in order to further his own peculiar interest, is obliged to be useful to those who have the capability of procuring for him the objects which he himself has not. A nation is nothing more than the union of a great number of individuals, connected with each other by the reciprocity of their wants, or by their mutual desire of pleasure; the most happy man is he who has the fewest wants, and the most numerous means of satisfying them. 
Si chaque homme se suffisait à lui-même, il n'aurait nul besoin de vivre en société; nos besoins, nos désirs, nos fantaisies nous mettent dans la dépendance des autres, et font que chacun de nous, pour son propre intérêt, est forcé d'être utile à des êtres capables de lui procurer les objets qu'il n'a pas lui-même. Une nation n'est que la réunion d'un grand nombre d'hommes liés les uns aux autres par leurs besoins ou leurs plaisirs; les plus heureux y sont ceux qui ont le moins de besoins, et qui ont le plus de moyens de les satisfaire.
French edition of 1770 on Gallica:
Vol. I
Vol. II 

11 August 2014

A Single Ray in a Sunset

Thomas Seccombe, in the introduction to George Gissing's The House of Cobwebs (London: Constable, 1906), pp. xxxi-xxxii:
Jasper [Milvain, the ambitious hack writer in New Grub Street] in the main is right — there is only a precarious place for any creative litterateur between the genius and the swarm of ephemera or journalists. A man writes either to please the hour or to produce something to last, relatively a long time, several generations — what we call 'permanent.' The intermediate position is necessarily insecure. It is not really wanted. What is lost by society when one of these mediocre masterpieces is overlooked? A sensation, a single ray in a sunset, missed by a small literary coterie! The circle is perhaps eclectic. It may seem hard that good work is overwhelmed in the cataract of production, while relatively bad, garish work is rewarded. But so it must be. 'The growing flood of literature swamps every thing but works of primary genius.' 

7 August 2014

My Unperfect Garden

Michel de Montaigne, bk. 1, ch. 19, The Essays of Montaigne, tr. John Florio, Vol. I (London: David Nutt, 1892), p. 81:
I would have a man to be doing, and to prolong his lives offices, as much as lieth in him, and let death seize upon me, whilest I am setting my cabiges, carelesse of her dart, but more of my unperfect garden.
Montaigne's tomb, Musée d'Aquitaine, Bordeaux

6 August 2014

Laugh or Cry II

Michel de Montaigne, bk. 1, ch. 50, The Essays of Montaigne, tr. John Florio, Vol. I (London: David Nutt, 1892), p. 350:
Democritus and Heraclitus were two Philosophers, the first of which, finding and deeming humane condition to be vaine and ridiculous, did never walke abroad, but with a laughing, scorneful and mocking countenance: Whereas Heraclitus taking pitie and compassion of the very same condition of ours, was continually scene with a sad, mournfull, and heavie cheere, and with teares trickling downe his blubbered eyes.
                             — Alter
Ridebat quoties a limine moverat unum
Protuleratque pedem, flebat contrarius alter. 
One from his doore, his foot no sooner past,
But straight he laught; the other wept as fast.
Juven. Sat. X. 28
I like the first humor best, not because it is more pleasing to laugh, than to weepe; but for it is more disdainfull, and doth more condemne us than the other. And me thinkes we can never bee sufficiently despised, according to our merit. Bewailing and commiseration, are commixed with some estimation of the thing moaned and wailed. Things scorned and contemned, are thought to be of no worth. I cannot be perswaded, there can be so much ill lucke in us, as there is apparant vanitie, nor so much malice, as sottishnesse. We are not so full of evill, as of voydnesse and inanitie. We are not so miserable, as base and abject.

5 August 2014

Laugh or Cry

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi, ch. XV, tr. Aubrey Stewart (London: George Bell and Sons, 1900):
We ought therefore to bring ourselves into such a state of mind that all the vices of the vulgar may not appear hateful to us, but merely ridiculous, and we should imitate Democritus rather than Heraclitus. The latter of these, whenever he appeared in public, used to weep, the former to laugh: the one thought all human doings to be follies, the other thought them to be miseries. We must take a higher view of all things, and bear with them more easily: it better becomes a man to scoff at life than to lament over it. Add to this that he who laughs at the human race deserves better of it than he who mourns for it, for the former leaves it some good hopes of improvement, while the latter stupidly weeps over what he has given up all hopes of mending.

4 August 2014

The Most Precious Thing in the World

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae, ch. VIII, tr. John W. Basore (London: William Heinemann, 1932):
I am often filled with wonder when I see some men demanding the time of others and those from whom they ask it most indulgent. Both of them fix their eyes on the object of the request for time, neither of them on the time itself; just as if what is asked were nothing, what is given, nothing. Men trifle with the most precious thing in the world; but they are blind to it because it is an incorporeal thing, because it does not come beneath the sight of the eyes, and for this reason it is counted a very cheap thing — nay, of almost no value at all. Men set very great store by pensions and doles, and for these they hire out their labour or service or effort. But no one sets a value on time; all use it lavishly as if it cost nothing. But see how these same people clasp the knees of physicians if they fall ill and the danger of death draws nearer, see how ready they are, if threatened with capital punishment, to spend all their possessions in order to live!

1 August 2014

Retirement Planning

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae, ch. III, tr. John W. Basore (London: William Heinemann, 1932):
You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last. You have all the fears of mortals and all the desires of immortals. You will hear many men saying: "After my fiftieth year I shall retire into leisure, my sixtieth year shall release me from public duties." And what guarantee, pray, have you that your life will last longer? Who will suffer your course to be just as you plan it? Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!

30 July 2014

If You Choose to Live in a Garret

George Gissing, New Grub Street, Vol. I (London: Smith, Elder, 1891), pp. 92-94:
'What is reputation? If it is deserved, it originates with a few score of people among the many millions who would never have recognised the merit they at last applaud. That's the lot of a great genius. As for a mediocrity like me — what ludicrous absurdity to fret myself in the hope that half-a-dozen folks will say I am "above the average!" After all, is there sillier vanity than this? A year after I have published my last book, I shall be practically forgotten; ten years later, I shall be as absolutely forgotten as one of those novelists of the early part of this century, whose names one doesn't even recognise. What fatuous posing!'

Amy looked askance at him, but replied nothing.

'And yet,' he continued, 'of course it isn't only for the sake of reputation that one tries to do uncommon work. There's the shrinking from conscious insincerity of workmanship — which most of the writers nowadays seem never to feel. "It's good enough for the market"; that satisfies them. And perhaps they are justified.

I can't pretend that I rule my life by absolute ideals; I admit that everything is relative. There is no such thing as goodness or badness, in the absolute sense, of course. Perhaps I am absurdly inconsistent when — though knowing my work can't be first rate — I strive to make it as good as possible. I don't say this in irony, Amy; I really mean it. It may very well be that I am just as foolish as the people I ridicule for moral and religious superstition. This habit of mine is superstitious. How well I can imagine the answer of some popular novelist if he heard me speak scornfully of his books. "My dear fellow," he might say, "do you suppose I am not aware that my books are rubbish? I know it just as well as you do. But my vocation is to live comfortably. I have a luxurious house, a wife and children who are happy and grateful to me for their happiness. If you choose to live in a garret, and, what's worse, make your wife and children share it with you, that's your concern." The man would be abundantly right.

28 July 2014


Jerome K. Jerome, "On Furnished Apartments," The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (Chicago: W.B. Conkey, 1900), pp. 139-140:
A good many great men have lived in attics and some have died there. Attics, says the dictionary, are "places where lumber is stored," and the world has used them to store a good deal of its lumber in at one time or another. Its preachers and painters and poets, its deep-browed men who will find out things, its fire-eyed men who will tell truths that no one wants to hear — these are the lumber that the world hides away in its attics.
Id., p. 145:
It is a long time ago now that I last saw the inside of an attic. I have tried various floors since but I have not found that they have made much difference to me. Life tastes much the same, whether we quaff it from a golden goblet or drink it out of a stone mug. The hours come laden with the same mixture of joy and sorrow, no matter where we wait for them. A waistcoat of broadcloth or of fustian is alike to an aching heart, and we laugh no merrier on velvet cushions than we did on wooden chairs. Often have I sighed in those low-ceilinged rooms, yet disappointments have come neither less nor lighter since I quitted them. Life works upon a compensating balance, and the happiness we gain in one direction we lose in another. As our means increase, so do our desires; and we ever stand midway between the two. When we reside in an attic we enjoy a supper of fried fish and stout. When we occupy the first floor it takes an elaborate dinner at the Continental to give us the same amount of satisfaction.

25 July 2014

Books Do Furnish a Room

Petrarch on book collectors, in Petrach's View of Human Life, tr. Susanna Dobson (London: Printed for John Stockdale, 1791), p. 86:
Some get books for learning sake; and many for the pleasure of boasting they have them; and who do furnish their chambers with what was invented to furnish their minds; who use them no otherwise than they do their Corinthian vessels, or their painted tables and images, to look at: there be others who esteem not the true price of books as they are indeed, but as they may sell them: a new practice crept in among the rich, whereby they attain one art more of concupiscence.
So far as I can tell, Dobson's book consists of selections from Petrarch's De remediis utriusque fortunae.

A related post: Books Are Real Friends

23 July 2014

Red in Tooth and Claw

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, tr. R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, Vol. III (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1909), pp. 392-393:
And to this world, to this scene of tormented and agonised beings, who only continue to exist by devouring each other, in which, therefore, every ravenous beast is the living grave of thousands of others, and its self-maintenance is a chain of painful deaths; and in which the capacity for feeling pain increases with knowledge, and therefore reaches its highest degree in man, a degree which is the higher the more intelligent the man is; to this world it has been sought to apply the system of optimism, and demonstrate to us that it is the best of all possible worlds. The absurdity is glaring. But an optimist bids me open my eyes and look at the world, how beautiful it is in the sunshine, with its mountains and valleys, streams, plants, animals, &c. &c. Is the world, then, a rareeshow? These things are certainly beautiful to look at, but to be them is something quite different. 

22 July 2014

Travellers at an Inn

Epictetus, Enchiridion (XI) in The Works of Epictetus, tr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1890), p. 220:
Never say of anything, "I have lost it;" but, "I have restored it." Has your child died? It is restored. Has your wife died? She is restored. Has your estate been taken away? That likewise is restored. "But it was a bad man who took it." What is it to you by whose hands he who gave it has demanded it again? While he permits you to possess it, hold it as something not your own; as do travellers at an inn.

18 July 2014

A Good Letter

John Cann Bailey (1864-1931), "Cowper," Studies in Some Famous Letters (London: Thomas Burleigh, 1899), p. 3:
It is at first sight a little doubtful what the characteristics of a good letter are. Some people think it merely a matter of conversation through the post; and there is certainly a good deal to be said for this theory, for the elaborately composed letter is the worst possible letter. Ease and naturalness, lightness of touch, the sense for the little things which are the staple of conversation and correspondence as well as of life, the ever-present consciousness that one is simply one's self and not an author or an editor, are of all qualities the most essential in a letter. A good letter is like a good present — a link between two personalities, having something of each in it. It is emphatically from one man, or woman, to another, in contrast, for instance, to a newspaper, which is from nobody or anybody to anybody or nobody.
Hat tip: First Known When Lost

17 July 2014

A Little Eccentricity

Alexander Smith, "On Vagabonds," Dreamthorp (London: Andrew Melrose, 1906), p. 257:
The fresh, rough, heathery part of human nature, where the air is freshest, and where the linnets sing, is getting encroached upon by cultivated fields. Every one is making himself and herself useful. Every one is producing something. Everybody is clever. Everybody is a philanthropist. I don't like it. I love a little eccentricity. I respect honest prejudices. I admire foolish enthusiasm in a young head better than a wise scepticism. It is high time, it seems to me, that a moral game-law were passed for the preservation of the wild and vagrant feelings of human nature.

14 July 2014

A Sorry Makeshift

Henrik Ibsen on prohibition, quoted in Josiah Flynt's My Life (New York: The Outing Publishing Company, 1908), pp. 171-172:
You can't make people good by law. Only that which a man does of his own free will and because he knows that it is the right thing to do, counts in this world. Legislating about morals is at best a sorry makeshift. Men will have to learn to legislate for themselves without any state interference, before human conduct is on a right basis.
Edvard Munch, Henrik Ibsen at the Grand Café (c. 1898)

10 July 2014

In the Mood for a Walk

John Burroughs, "Foot-Paths," Pepacton (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1881), p. 205:
The mood in which you set out on a spring or autumn ramble or a sturdy winter walk, and your greedy feet have to be restrained from devouring the distances too fast, is the mood in which your best thoughts and impulses come to you, or in which you might embark upon any noble and heroic enterprise. Life is sweet in such moods, the universe is complete, and there is no failure or imperfection anywhere. 

7 July 2014

Truly Humiliating

Bayard Taylor to George Henry Boker, April 4, 1852, The Life and Letters of Bayard Taylor (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1885)  pp. 227-228:
I cannot glory in the little I have accomplished, when I see so clearly how much more I might have done. And as for popular favor, good God, what is there so humiliating as to be praised for the exhibition of poverty and privation, for parading those very struggles which I would gladly have hidden forever, when that which I feel and know to be true to my art is passed by unnoticed! For I am not insensible that nine tenths of my literary success (in a publishing view) springs from those very "Views Afoot" which I now blush to read. I am known to the public not as a poet, the only title I covet, but as one who succeeded in seeing Europe with little money; and the chief merits accorded to me are not passion or imagination, but strong legs and economical habits. Now this is truly humiliating.
Vol. II here.

The Modern Library edition of Bayard Taylor's translation of Goethe's Faust here.

3 July 2014

Valuable Lessons in the Study of Human Nature

Bayard Taylor, Views A-foot; Europe Seen with Knapsack and Staff  (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1862), pp. 494-496:
To see Europe as a pedestrian requires little preparation, if the traveller is willing to forego some of the refinements of living to which he may have been accustomed, for the sake of the new and interesting fields of observation which will be opened to him. He must be content to sleep on hard beds, and partake of coarse fare; to undergo rudeness at times from the officers of the police and the porters of palaces and galleries; or to travel for hours in rain and storm without finding a shelter. The knapsack will at first be heavy upon the shoulders, the feet will be sore and the limbs weary with the day's walk, and sometimes the spirit will begin to flag under the general fatigue of body. This, however, soon passes over. In a week's time, if the pedestrian does not attempt too much on setting out, his limbs are stronger, and his gait more firm and vigorous; he lies down at night with a feeling of refreshing rest, sleeps with a soundness undisturbed by a single dream, that seems almost like death, if he has been accustomed to restless nights; and rises invigorated in heart and frame for the next day's journey. The coarse black bread of the peasant inns, with cheese no less coarse, and a huge mug of milk or the nourishing beer of Germany, have a relish to his keen appetite, which excites his own astonishment. And if he is willing to regard all incivility and attempts at imposition as valuable lessons in the study of human nature, and to keep his temper and cheerfulness in any situation which may try them, he is prepared to walk through the whole of Europe, with more real pleasure to himself, and far more profit, than if he journeyed in style and enjoyed the constant services of couriers and valets de place

2 July 2014

Hullo, I Say

Gerald Brenan, A Life of One's Own (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1962), pp. 150-151:
Our relations during this journey were not in the least like those of two friends travelling together. To judge by our surface manner they were much more offhand and distant. We had, for example, no names by which to call one another. To have used surnames would have seemed too formal, whereas Christian names were taboo because they were too intimate. We therefore addressed one another as 'Hullo' or 'I say', pronounced in a particular tone, and for more than thirty years stuck to that. This no doubt came from the fact that Hope [John Hope-Johnstone] shrank instinctively from any personal note in his dealings with people. Without being particularly reserved, he liked to keep others at a distance.

30 June 2014

Get Drunk

Lord Byron, Don Juan, Vol. I (London: Printed for the Booksellers, 1826), p. 140:

Man, being reasonable, must get drunk;
The best of life is but intoxication:
Glory, the grape, love, gold, in these are sunk
The hopes of all men, and of every nation;
Without their sap, how branchless were the trunk
Of life's strange tree, so fruitful on occasion:
But to return,— Get very drunk; and when
You wake with head-ache, you shall see what then.
Volume II of this edition here.

A related post: Enivrez-Vous

27 June 2014

No Handouts

Émile Zola, "L’argent dans la littérature", Messager de l'Europe (March 1880), quoted in Frederic Taber Cooper's The Craftsmanship of Writing (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1911), p. 15:
The State owes nothing to young writers; the mere fact of having written a few pages does not entitle them to pose as martyrs, because no one will print their work. A shoemaker who has made his first pair of shoes does not force the government to sell them for him. It is the workman's place to dispose of his work to the public. And if he can't do it, if he is a nobody, he remains unknown through his own fault, and quite justly so.
A related post: The Sons of Joy

25 June 2014


Josiah Flynt, My Life (New York: The Outing Publishing Company, 1908), p. 74:
Writing about my early years and bidding good-bye to them here in print has been a harder task than I expected. Bidding good-bye to them formally and physically years ago was not difficult. To reach twenty-one, then thirty, then — I always looked on thirty as a satisfying goal, the years seemed to come and go so slowly. Then, too, I realized, after a fashion, that my youth was considered pretty much of a fiasco, and I wanted to get just as far away from failure and disaster as possible. Now — well, perhaps it is better that I keep my thoughts to myself. I will say, however, that retrospection can bring with it some of the most mournful hours the mind has to wallow in.

23 June 2014

Old Wine, Old Books, Old Friends

Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, "What Is a Classic?" Essays by Sainte-Beuve, tr. Elizabeth Lee (London: Walter Scott, 1900), p. 12:
Happy those who read and read again, those who in their reading can follow their unrestrained inclination! There comes a time in life when, all our journeys over, our experiences ended, there is no enjoyment more delightful than to study and thoroughly examine the things we know, to take pleasure in what we feel, and in seeing and seeing again the people we love: the pure joys of our maturity. Then it is that the word classic takes its true meaning, and is defined for every man of taste by an irresistible choice. Then taste is formed, it is shaped and definite; then good sense, if we are to possess it at all, is perfected in us. We have neither more time for experiments, nor a desire to go forth in search of pastures new. We cling to our friends, to those proved by long intercourse. Old wine, old books, old friends.
The original, from Causeries du lundi, Vol. III (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1852), p. 54:
Heureux ceux qui lisent, qui relisent, ceux qui peuvent obéir à leur libre inclination dans leurs lectures! Il vient une saison dans la vie, où, tous les voyages étant faits, toutes les expériences achevées, on n'a pas de plus vives jouissances que d'étudier et d'approfondir les choses qu'on sait, de savourer ce qu'on sent, comme de voir et de revoir les gens qu'on aime: pures délices du cœur et du goût dans la maturité. C'est alors que ce mot de classique prend son vrai sens, et qu'il se définit pour tout homme de goût par un choix de prédilection et irrésistible. Le goût est fait alors, il est formé et définitif; le bon sens chez nous, s'il doit venir, est consommé. On n'a plus le temps d'essayer ni l'envie de sortir à la découverte. On s'en tient à ses amis, à ceux qu'un long commerce a éprouvés. Vieux vin, vieux livres, vieux amis.

19 June 2014

Ohne Worte laß uns scheiden

Hans Grünhut mit Orchester, Ohne Worte laß uns scheiden [Let us part without a word], from the film Ein Ausflug in's Leben (1931):

Max Raabe included this song in his Weimar compilation Übers Meer

18 June 2014

Criticism and Praise

Colley Cibber, An Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley Cibber, ed. Robert W. Lowe, Vol. I (London: J. C. Nimmo, 1889), pp. 53-54:
When a Work is apparently great it will go without Crutches; all your Art and Anxiety to heighten the Fame of it then becomes low and little. He that will bear no Censure must be often robb'd of his due Praise. Fools have as good a Right to be Readers as Men of Sense have, and why not to give their Judgements too? Methinks it would be a sort of Tyranny in Wit for an Author to be publickly putting every Argument to death that appear'd against him; so absolute a Demand for Approbation puts us upon our Right to dispute it; Praise is as much the Reader's Property as Wit is the Author's; Applause is not a Tax paid to him as a Prince, but rather a Benevolence given to him as a Beggar; and we have naturally more Charity for the dumb Beggar than the sturdy one. The Merit of a Writer and a fine Woman's Face are never mended by their talking of them: How amiable is she that seems not to know she is handsome!
Volume II of this edition here.

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.

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:
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

14 May 2014

The Musarion Edition of Nietzsche

I am trying to put together a digitized set of Friedrich Nietzsche's Gesammelte Werke (München: Musarion Verlag, 1920). There are 23 volumes in total.

Volume 1: Jugendschriften (1858-1868)
Volume 2: Kleinere Schriften (1869-1874)
Volume 3: Die Geburt der Tragödie (1869-1871)
Volume 4: Vorträge, Schriften und Vorlesungen (1871-1867)
Volume 5: Vorlesungen (1871-1876)
Volume 6: Philosophenbuch, Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen I & II (1872-1875)
Volume 7: Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen III & IV, Kleinere Schriften (1872-1876)
Volume 8: Menschliches, Allzumenschliches I
Volume 9: Menschliches, Allzumenschliches II
Volume 10: Morgenröthe
Volume 11: Aus der Zeit der Morgenröthe und der fröhliche Wissenschaft (1880-1882)
Volume 12: STILL SEARCHING Die fröhliche Wissenschaft
Volume 13: Also sprach Zarathustra (1883-1885)
Volume 14: Aus dem Zarathustra- und Umwerthungszeit (1882-1888)
Volume 15: STILL SEARCHING Jenseits von Gut und Böse (1885 - 1887)
Volume 16: Studien aus der Umwerthungszeit (1882-1888)
Volume 17: Der Fall Wagner; Götzen-Dämmerung; Der Antichrist; Nietzsche
contra Wagner; Kunst und Künstler
Volume 18: Die Wille zur Macht, erstes und zweites Buch (1884-1888)
Volume 19: Die Wille zur Macht, drittes und viertes Buch (1884-1888)
Volume 20: Dichtungen (1859-1888)
Volume 21: Autobiographische Schriften
Volume 22: Sachregister A-L
Volume 23: Sachregister M-Z

Max Klinger, Friedrich Nietzsche (c. 1904)
The National Gallery of Canada

13 May 2014

A Gregarious Animal?

H. L. Mencken, The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1908), p. 203:
Man, say the communists, is a gregarious animal and can be happy only in company with his fellows, and in proof of it they cite the fact that loneliness is everywhere regarded as painful and that, even among the lower animals, there is an impulse toward association. The facts set forth in the last sentence are indisputable, but they by no means prove the existence of an elemental social feeling sufficiently strong to make its satisfaction an end in itself. In other words, while it is plain that men flock together, just as birds flock together, it is going too far to say that the mere joy of flocking — the mere desire to be with others — is at the bottom of the tendency. On the contrary, it is quite possible to show that men gather in communities for the same reason that deer gather in herds: because each individual realizes (unconsciously, perhaps) that such a combination materially aids him in the business of self-protection. One deer is no match for a lion, but fifty deer make him impotent.

12 May 2014

The Gloom Is Always There

Walter Pater, "Charles Lamb," Appreciations (London: Macmillan, 1910), pp. 124-125:
The writings of Charles Lamb are an excellent illustration of the value of reserve in literature. Below his quiet, his quaintness, his humour, and what may seem the slightness, the occasional or accidental character of his work, there lies, as I said at starting, as in his life, a genuinely tragic element. The gloom, reflected at its darkest in those hard shadows of Rosamund Grey, is always there, though not always realised either for himself or his readers, and restrained always in utterance. It gives to those lighter matters on the surface of life and literature among which he for the most part moved, a wonderful force of expression, as if at any moment these slight words and fancies might pierce very far into the deeper soul of things. In his writing, as in his life, that quiet is not the low-flying of one from the first drowsy by choice, and needing the prick of some strong passion or worldly ambition, to stimulate him into all the energy of which he is capable; but rather the reaction of nature, after an escape from fate, dark and insane as in old Greek tragedy, following upon which the sense of mere relief becomes a kind of passion, as with one who, having narrowly escaped earthquake or shipwreck, finds a thing for grateful tears in just sitting quiet at home, under the wall, till the end of days. 

9 May 2014

Handyman Special

Charles Wagner, Courage (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1894), pp. 88-89:
The good exists; I shall prove it to you. Suppose that you found yourself in the midst of a large assembly, in a big hall, and that all of a sudden your neighbour said to you, "Do you know that everything here, the floor beneath you, the galleries, the columns, the walls, are rotten?" Do you think that you would believe what he said to you, and that this objection would not immediately present itself to your mind: "How is it possible for this rotten edifice to stand beneath the great weight of this assembly? There must still be some beams to hold, some parts of the wall that are solid, some columns that are strong." Such is the case in human society. The proof that certain good elements still exist is that this society has not yet gone to pieces. If there were only untrustworthy cashiers, venal writers, hypocritical priests, bribed officers, dishonest employees, men without conscience, women without modesty, homes that are disunited, ungrateful children, depraved young people, — we should long since have been buried beneath our own ruins. 
French original, Vaillance (Paris: Fischbacher, 1893), here.

7 May 2014

A Draught of Lethe

Eugene Lee-Hamilton, "Lethe," Sonnets of the Wingless Hours, (Portland: Thomas B. Mosher, 1908) p. 58:
I had a dream of Lethe, — of the brink
  Of sluggish waters, whither strong men bore
  Dead pallid loves; while others, old and sore,
Brought but their tottering selves, in haste to drink:

And having drunk, they plunged, and seemed to sink
  Their load of love or guilt for evermore,
  Reaching with radiant brow the sunny shore
That lay beyond, no more to think and think.

Oh, who will give me, chained to Memory's strand,
  A draught of Lethe, salt with final tears,
Were it one drop within the hollow hand?

Oh, who will rid me of the wasted years,
  The thought of life's fair structure vainly planned,
And each false hope that mocking reappears?

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, The Waters of Lethe by the Plains of Elysium (1880)

Hat tip: First Known When Lost

6 May 2014

The Artificial Dialect of Books

Thomas De Quincey, "Style," Representative Essays on the Theory of Style (New York: Macmillan, 1905), pp. 45-46:
Formerly the natural impulse of every man was spontaneously to use the language of life; the language of books was a secondary attainment, not made without effort. Now, on the contrary, the daily composers of newspapers have so long dealt in the professional idiom of books as to have brought it home to every reader in the nation who does not violently resist it by some domestic advantages. Time was, within our own remembrance, that, if you should have heard, in passing along the street, from any old apple-woman such a phrase as "I will avail myself of your kindness," forthwith you would have shied like a skittish horse; you would have run away in as much terror as any old Roman upon those occasions when bos loquebatur [the ox spoke]. At present you swallow such marvels as matters of course. The whole artificial dialect of books has come into play as the dialect of ordinary life. This is one form of the evil impressed upon our style by journalism: a dire monotony of bookish idiom has encrusted and stiffened all native freedom of expression, like some scaly leprosy or elephantiasis, barking and hide-binding the fine natural pulses of the elastic flesh.

5 May 2014


Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, tr. Richard Zenith (London: Penguin Classics, 2002), p. 42:
And so, not knowing how to believe in God and unable to believe in an aggregate of animals [i.e. human society], I, along with other people on the fringe, kept a distance from things, a distance commonly called Decadence. Decadence is the total loss of unconsciousness, which is the very basis of life. Could it think, the heart would stop beating.

For those few like me who live without knowing how to have life, what’s left but renunciation as our way and contemplation as our destiny? Not knowing nor able to know what religious life is, since faith isn’t acquired through reason, and unable to have faith in or even react to the abstract notion of man, we’re left with the aesthetic contemplation of life as our reason for having a soul. Impassive to the solemnity of any and all worlds, indifferent to the divine, and disdainers of what is human, we uselessly surrender ourselves to pointless sensation, cultivated in a refined Epicureanism, as befits our cerebral nerves.

2 May 2014

Nobleness of Mind

Cennino Cennini (1370-1440), The Book of the Art of Cennino Cennini, tr. Christiana J. Herringham (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1922), p. 6:
How some persons study the arts from nobleness of mind, and some for gain.

It is the impulse of a noble mind which moves some towards this art, pleasing to them through their natural love. The intellect delights in invention; and nature alone draws them, without any guidance from a master, through nobleness of mind; and thus delighting themselves, they next wish to find a master, and with him they place themselves in love of obedience, being in servitude that they may carry their art to perfection. There are some who follow the arts from poverty and necessity, also for gain, and for love of the art; but those who pursue them from love of the art and true nobleness of mind are to be commended above all others.
Sidney Farnsworth places the last line of this quote at the beginning of his Illumination and its Development in the Present Day (New York: George H. Doran, 1922).

1 May 2014

Each Epoch Brings its Own Shudder

Edgar Evertson Saltus, The Philosophy of Disenchantment (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1885), pp. 222-223:
From an endaemonist standpoint, the world does not seem to be much better off now than it was two or three thousand years ago; there are even some who think it has retrograded, and who turn to the civilization of Greece and Rome with longing regret; and this, notwithstanding the fact that from the peace and splendor of these nations cries of distress have descended to us which are fully as acute as any that have been uttered in recent years. Truly, to the student of history each epoch brings its own shudder. There have been ameliorations in one way and pacifications in another, but misery looms in tireless constancy through it all. Each year a fresh discovery seems to point to still better things in the future, but progress is as undeniably the chimera of the present century as the resurrection of the dead was that of the tenth; each age has its own, for no matter to what degree of perfection industry may arrive, and to whatever heights progress may ascend, it must yet touch some final goal, and meanwhile pessimism holds that with expanding intelligence there will come, little by little, the fixed and immutable knowledge that of all perfect things which the earth contains misery is the most complete.

30 April 2014

Wherefore the Whole Scene of Horror?

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

28 April 2014

A Man's Real Possession

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

25 April 2014

Tolerable Content

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

23 April 2014

Take No Pleasure in the Wonder of the Mob

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

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

22 April 2014

Why Go the Lonelier Way?

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

19 April 2014

No Securer Box

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

17 April 2014


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

16 April 2014


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

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

14 April 2014

He Nothing Shall Fulfil

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

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

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

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

11 April 2014

The Ancients Sang Their Solo in Peace

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

10 April 2014

A Magnificent but Painful Hippopotamus

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

8 April 2014

The Virtues and Loves of Dying Creatures

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

7 April 2014

So the Days Pass and Nothing Is Done

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

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

4 April 2014

The Great Lazar House of Society

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

3 April 2014

The Ugly and the Stupid

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

2 April 2014

Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna

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

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

Giovanni Boldini Ritratto della marchesa Casati (1911-1913)