19 December 2014

Back Next Year

I am taking a break. Best wishes to the friends and Fremden who read along here.

18 December 2014

The End of All Reading

Francesco Petrarca, Petrach's View of Human Life, tr. Susanna Dobson (London: Printed for John Stockdale, 1791), pp. 94-95:
The end of all reading should teach thee to be patient with those manners around thee thou canst not cure; and to leave unto the world the remedies thereof: to embrace love, to reverence the worthy, and mildly overpass the rest as so many little flies, who, if thou dost not mind, they will not have the power to annoy thee: that thy life is for the care of thy own proper business, not for the care over the lives of others: so shalt thou neither fear any, nor will any have cause to fear thee!

17 December 2014

Such a Tempting Form of Sport

George Gissing, Charles Dickens; A Critical Study (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1898), pp. 285-286:
As soon as a writer sits down to construct a narrative, to imagine human beings, or adapt those he knows to changed circumstances, he enters a world distinct from the actual, and, call himself what he may, he obeys certain laws, certain conventions, without which the art of fiction could not exist. Be he a true artist, he gives us pictures which represent his own favourite way of looking at life; each is the world in little, and the world as he prefers it. So that, whereas execution may be rightly criticized from the common point of view, a master's general conception of the human tragedy or comedy must be accepted as that without which his work could not take form. Dickens has just as much right to his optimism in the world of art, as Balzac to his bitter smile. Moreover, if it comes to invidious comparisons, one may safely take it for granted that "realism" in its aggressive shapes is very far from being purely a matter of art. The writer who shows to us all the sores of humanity, and does so with a certain fury of determination, may think that he is doing it for art's sake; but in very truth he is enjoying an attack upon the order of the universe — always such a tempting form of sport.

16 December 2014

Posthumous Publication

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, An Autobiography (London: Seeley & Co., 1897), p. 2:
The notion of being a dead man is not entirely displeasing to me. If the dead are defenceless, they have this compensating advantage, that nobody can inflict upon them any sensible injury; and in beginning a book which is not to see the light until I am lying comfortably in my grave, with six feet of earth above me to deaden the noises of the upper world, I feel quite a new kind of security, and write with a more complete freedom from anxiety about the quality of the work than has been usual at the beginning of other manuscripts.

12 December 2014

All Right for Journalism

H. Halliday Sparling, The Kelmscott Press and William Morris, Master-Craftsman (London: Macmillan, 1924), pp. 13-14:
Morris condemned the typewriter for creative work; it was "all right for journalism and the like; there's nothing to be said for that! For hastily written copy, which doesn't matter anyway, it may be desirable, or for a chap who can't write clearly — I daresay the Commonweal compositors would be glad enough were Blank to go in for one! — but it's out of place in imaginative work or work that's meant to be permanent. Anything that gets between a man's hand and his work, you see, is more or less bad for him. There's a pleasant feel in the paper under one's hand and the pen between one's fingers that has its own part in the work done. ... I always write with a quill because it's fuller in the hand for its weight, and carries ink better — good ink — than a steel pen. ... I don't like the typewriter or the pneumatic brush — that thing for blowing ink on to the paper — because they come between the hand and its work, as I've said, and again because they make things too easy. The minute you make the executive part of the work too easy, the less thought there is in the result. And you can't have art without resistance in the material. No! The very slowness with which the pen or the brush moves over the paper, or the graver goes through the wood, has its value. And it seems to me, too, that with a machine one's mind would be apt to be taken off the work at whiles by the machine sticking or what not."
A related post: Writing with a Pencil

10 December 2014

The Only Competent Tribunal

Matthew Arnold, "On Translating Homer," Selections from the Prose Writings of Matthew Arnold, ed. Lewis E. Gates (New York: Henry Holt, 1898), pp. 42-43:
No one can tell him [the translator] how Homer affected the Greeks: but there are those who can tell him how Homer affects them. These are scholars; who possess, at the same time with knowledge of Greek, adequate poetical taste and feeling. No translation will seem to them of much worth compared with the original; but they alone can say whether the translation produces more or less the same effect upon them as the original. They are the only competent tribunal in this matter: the Greeks are dead; the unlearned Englishman has not the data for judging; and no man can safely confide in his own single judgment of his own work. Let not the translator, then, trust to his notions of what the ancient Greeks would have thought of him; he will lose himself in the vague. Let him not trust to what the ordinary English reader thinks of him; he will be taking the blind for his guide. Let him not trust to his own judgment of his own work; he may be misled by individual caprices. Let him ask how his work affects those who both know Greek and can appreciate poetry; whether to read it gives the Provost of Eton, or Professor Thompson at Cambridge, or Professor Jowett here in Oxford, at all the same feeling which to read the original gives them.

9 December 2014

The Pressing of the Grapes

Frederic Taber Cooper, "The Technique of Translating," The Craftsmanship of Writing (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1911), pp. 267-268:
Remember that the translator is in a certain sense a dual personality; he must be on the one hand a born Frenchman, and a born Englishman or American on the other. Now, no one can be to the full extent these two things at once; and therefore no flawless piece of translating can be produced at a single sitting. The best way, then, is to saturate yourself with the foreign language, and make a first rough draft in English, as complete as possible, but clumsy in vocabulary and ragged in idiom. Put it away for a few days; and then, with the original out of sight and out of mind, proceed to recast and to refine. A good translation is like a good vintage; the first draft is simply the pressing of the grapes, — the best you can do is to make sure that you have expelled the juice to the last drop. But you must give it time to age, before it is ready to be put on the market.

5 December 2014

Gruß vom Krampus

Krampus contemplates his harvest of delicious, badly-behaved children:


Sei brav!

4 December 2014

Rise and Shine

Marcus Aurelius, To Himself  5.1, tr. Gerald H. Rendall (London: Macmillan, 1914), p. 45:
In the morning, when you feel loth to rise, I apply the aphorism, 'I am rising for man's work.' Why make a grievance of setting about that for which I was born, and for sake of which I have been brought into the world? Is the end of my existence to lie snug in the blankets and keep warm?' — 'It is more pleasant so.' — 'Is it for pleasure you were made? not for doing, and for action? Look at the plants, the sparrows, the ants, spiders, bees, all doing their business, helping to weld the order of the world. And will you refuse man's part? and not run the way of nature's ordering?'

3 December 2014

Hurrah for the Life of a Country Boy

E. Vernon Arnold, Roman Stoicism, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911), pp. 372-373 (footnotes omitted):
A more real happiness is reserved for the man who gives up town life for that of the country. For it is most natural to win sustenance from the earth, which is our common mother, and liberally gives back many times over what is entrusted to her; and it is more healthy to live in the open than to be always sheltering in the shade. It matters little whether one works on one's own land or on that of another; for many industrious men have prospered on hired land. There is nothing disgraceful or unbecoming in any of the work of the farm; to plant trees, to reap, to tend the vine, to thrash out the corn, are all liberal occupations. Hesiod the poet tended sheep, and this did not hinder him from telling the story of the gods. And pasturage is (says Musonius) perhaps the best of all occupations; for even farm work, if it is exhausting, demands all the energies of the soul as well as of the body, whereas whilst tending sheep a man has some time for philosophizing also.

It is true that our young men today are too sensitive and too refined to live a country life; but philosophy would be well rid of these weaklings.
Title from the chorus of The Country Life, sung by The Watersons.

2 December 2014

Advertisements

Charles Francis Keary, The Pursuit of Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910), p. 180:
[T]he tangible, physical advertisement is the plague of existence: every one must feel it to be so. It defaces the world, and involves, beside, a hundred practical inconveniences. It is almost impossible to discover the name of a railway-station among the posters which cover the station walls; or to distinguish the notes in a railway-guide from the advertisements which fill up every margin; or the table or contents of a magazine which is smothered up in the same way. You cannot open a book, without advertisements snowing down from between its pages: and all the landscape that you can see from a railway-carriage is made hideous by advertising boards. Soon I imagine, as people travel so much in motor cars, the highways will be decorated in like wise: already near a town you may see the beginning of this. Advertising has increased to a vast extent; and with its increase has come the moral degradation of the journals which are its mediums.

28 November 2014

Self-Sufficiency

Epictetus, Enchiridion (XLVIII) in The Works of Epictetus, tr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1890), p. 220:
The condition and characteristic of a vulgar person is that he never looks for either help or harm from himself, but only from externals. The condition and characteristic of a philosopher is that he looks to himself for all help or harm.

25 November 2014

A Bottom of Good Sense

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, ed. George Birkbeck Hill, Vol. IV (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1887), pp. 114-115:
Talking of a very respectable author, he told us a curious circumstance in his life, which was, that he had married a printer's devil. REYNOLDS. 'A printer's devil, Sir! Why, I thought a printer's devil was a creature with a black face and in rags.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir. But I suppose, he had her face washed, and put clean clothes on her. (Then looking very serious, and very earnest.) And she did not disgrace him; the woman had a bottom of good sense.' The word bottom thus introduced, was so ludicrous when contrasted with his gravity, that most of us could not forbear tittering and laughing; though I recollect that the Bishop of Killaloe kept his countenance with perfect steadiness, while Miss Hannah More slyly hid her face behind a lady's back who sat on the same settee with her. His pride could not bear that any expression of his should excite ridicule, when he did not intend it; he therefore resolved to assume and exercise despotick power, glanced sternly around, and called out in a strong tone, 'Where's the merriment?' Then collecting himself, and looking aweful, to make us feel how he could impose restraint, and as it were searching his mind for a still more ludicrous word, he slowly pronounced, 'I say the woman was fundamentally sensible;' as if he had said, hear this now, and laugh if you dare. We all sat composed as at a funeral.

24 November 2014

Re-Barbarization

Herbert Spencer, "Re-Barbarization," Facts and Comments (New York: D. Appleton, 1902), p. 184:
While bodily superiority is coming to the front, mental superiority is retreating into the background. It has long been remarked that a noted athlete is more honoured than a student who has come out highest from the examinations; and if there needs ocular proof we have it in the illustrated papers, which continually reproduce photographs of competing crews and competing teams, while nowhere do we see a photograph of, say, all the wranglers* of the year. How extreme is this predominance of athleticism is shown by the fact that Sir Michael Foster, when a candidate for the representation of the University of London, was described as specially fitted because he was a good cricketer! "All cricketers will, of course, vote for him," wrote in The Times a B.A. who had "played in the same eleven with him." Thus various changes point back to those medieval days when courage and bodily power were the sole qualifications of the ruling classes, while such culture as existed was confined to priests and the inmates of monasteries.
* A wrangler is a Cambridge University student who has obtained first-class honours in the mathematics tripos. The university stopped revealing their names in 1909. The names of the Boat Race crew are still published, though.

20 November 2014

A Good, Cosy, Dull Time

Samuel McChord Crothers, The Gentle Reader (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1910), pp. 5-6:
I sometimes fear that reading, in the old-fashioned sense, may become a lost art. The habit of resorting to the printed page for information is an excellent one, but it is not what I have in mind. A person wants something and knows where to get it. He goes to a book just as he goes to a department store. Knowledge is a commodity done up in a neat parcel. So that the article is well made he does not care either for the manufacturer or the dealer.

Literature, properly so called, is quite different from this, and literary values inhere not in things or even in ideas, but in persons. There are some rare spirits that have imparted themselves to their words. The book then becomes a person, and reading comes to be a kind of conversation. The reader is not passive, as if he were listening to a lecture on The Ethics of the Babylonians. He is sitting by his fireside, and old friends drop in on him. He knows their habits and whims, and is glad to see them and to interchange thought. They are perfectly at their ease, and there is all the time in the world, and if he yawns now and then nobody is offended, and if he prefers to follow a thought of his own rather than theirs there is no discourtesy in leaving them. If his friends are dull this evening, it is because he would have it so; that is why he invited them. He wants to have a good, cosy, dull time.

18 November 2014

Slippered Ease

Hamilton Wright Mabie, "A Comment on Some Recent Books," Essays from the Chap Book (Chicago: Herbert S. Stone & Co., 1896), pp. 158-159:
In our slippered ease, protected by orderly government, by written constitutions, by a police who are always in evidence, we sometimes forget of what perilous stuff we are made, and how inseparable from human life are those elements of tragedy which from time to time startle us in our repose, and make us aware that the most awful pages of history may be rewritten in the record of our own day. It will be a dull day if the time ever comes when uncertainty and peril are banished from the life of men. When the seas are no longer tossed by storms, the joy and the training of eye, hand, and heart in seamanship will go out. The antique virtues of courage, endurance, and high-hearted sacrifice cannot perish without the loss of that which makes it worth while to live; but these qualities, which give heroic fibre to character, cannot be developed if danger and uncertainty are to be banished from human experience. A stable world is essential to progress, but a world without the element of peril would comfort the body and destroy the soul. In some form the temper of the adventurer, the explorer, the sailor, and the soldier must be preserved in an orderly and peaceful society; that sluggish stability for which business interests are always praying would make money abundant, but impoverish the money-getters. There would be nothing worth buying in a community in which men were no longer tempted and life had no longer that interest which grows out of its dramatic possibilities.

17 November 2014

An Infallible Touchstone

Matthew Arnold, Essays in Criticism; Second Series (London: Macmillan, 1888), pp. 16-17:
Indeed there can be no more useful help for discovering what poetry belongs to the class of the truly excellent, and can therefore do us most good, than to have always in one's mind lines and expressions of the great masters, and to apply them as a touchstone to other poetry. Of course we are not to require this other poetry to resemble them; it may be very dissimilar. But if we have any tact we shall find them, when we have lodged them well in our minds, an infallible touchstone for detecting the presence or absence of high poetic quality, and also the degree of this quality, in all other poetry which we may place beside them.
A related post: Every Man's Anthology

13 November 2014

A Confounded Swindle

George Gissing, New Grub Street, Vol. I (London: Smith, Elder, 1891), pp. 303-304:
   'Oh,' pursued Jasper, 'when did you see Whelpdale last?'
   'Haven't seen him for a long time.'
   'You don't know what he's doing? The fellow has set up as a "literary adviser." He has an advertisement in The Study every week. "To Young Authors and Literary Aspirants" — something of the kind. "Advice given on choice of subjects, MSS. read, corrected, and recommended to publishers. Moderate terms." A fact! And what's more, he made six guineas in the first fortnight; so he says, at all events. Now that's one of the finest jokes I ever heard. A man who can't get anyone to publish his own books makes a living by telling other people how to write!'
   'But it's a confounded swindle!'
   'Oh, I don't know. He's capable of correcting the grammar of "literary aspirants," and as for recommending to publishers — well, anyone can recommend, I suppose.'
   Reardon's indignation yielded to laughter.
   'It's not impossible that he may thrive by this kind of thing.'
   'Not at all,' assented Jasper.

10 November 2014

Progress and Prosperity

Herbert Spencer, "Some Regrets," Facts and Comments (New York: D. Appleton, 1902), p.7:
I detest that conception of social progress which presents as its aim, increase of population, growth of wealth, spread of commerce. In the politico-economic ideal of human existence there is contemplated quantity only and not quality. Instead of an immense amount of life of low type I would far sooner see half the amount of life of a high type. A prosperity which is exhibited in Board-of-Trade tables year by year increasing their totals, is to a large extent not a prosperity but an adversity. Increase in the swarms of people whose existence is subordinated to material development is rather to be lamented than to be rejoiced over. We assume that our form of social life under which, speaking generally, men toil to-day that they may gain the means of toiling tomorrow, is a satisfactory form, and profess ourselves anxious to spread it all over the world; while we speak with reprobation of the relatively easy and contented lives passed by many of the peoples we call uncivilized.

9 November 2014

The Mess Table

H. Rex Freston, "The Mess Table," The Quest of Truth and Other Poems (Oxford: B. H. Blackwell, 1916), p. 38:
Sometimes, above the talk and wine
  That round the long white table flow,
There fall upon my startled ears,
  The voices that I used to know.

And looking round the lighted room,
  Each in his own familiar chair,
With laughing eyes that greet my eyes,
  I see the dead men sitting there.

The dead men's faces glow and shine
  With jest and laughter as of old;
The dead men's voices come and go;
  And yet my heart is strangely cold.

For one long moment they remain:
  And then, as through a mist, I see
The new men sitting in the chairs,
  Where once the dead men used to be.
Freston was killed in action at La Boisselle, France on January 24, 1916.

A related post: Strange to Think