27 May 2015

The Development of Oneself

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1923):
Is it not fine to see the development of oneself? The finding of one's own tastes. The final selection of a most favorite theme; the concentration of all one's forces on that theme; its development; the constant effort to find its clearest expression in the chosen medium; an effort of expression which commenced with the beginning of the idea, and follows its progress step by step, becoming a technique born of the theme itself and special to it. The continuation through years, new elements entering as life goes on, each step differing, yet all the same. A simple theme on which a life is strung.
Robert Henri, Lady in Black with Spanish Scarf  (1910)

25 May 2015

Three Hours of Leisure

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ed. John Shawcross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), pp. 152-153:
NEVER PURSUE LITERATURE AS A TRADE. With the exception of one extraordinary man, I have never known an individual, least of all an individual of genius, healthy or happy without a profession, that is, some regular employment, which does not depend on the will of the moment, and which can be carried on so far mechanically that an average quantum only of health, spirits, and intellectual exertion are requisite to its faithful discharge. Three hours of leisure, unannoyed by any alien anxiety, and looked forward to with delight as a change and recreation, will suffice to realize in literature a larger product of what is truly genial, than weeks of compulsion. Money, and immediate reputation form only an arbitrary and accidental end of literary labour. The hope of increasing them by any given exertion will often prove a stimulant to industry; but the necessity of acquiring them will in all works of genius convert the stimulant into a narcotic.

20 May 2015

The Marketing Character

Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be? (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), pp. 127-128:
The aim of the marketing character is complete adaptation, so as to be desirable under all conditions of the personality market. The marketing character personalities do not even have egos (as people in the nineteenth century did) to hold onto, that belong to them, that do not change. For they constantly change their egos, according to the principle: "I am as you desire me."

Those with the marketing character structure are without goals, except moving, doing things with the greatest efficiency: if asked why they must move so fast, why things have to be done with the greatest efficiency, they have no genuine answer, but offer rationalizations such as, "in order to create more jobs," or "in order to keep the company growing." They have little interest (at least consciously) in philosophical or religious questions, such as why one lives, and why one is going in this direction rather than in another. They have their big, ever-changing egos, but none has a self, a core, a sense of identity. The "identity crisis" of modern society is actually the crisis produced by the fact that its members have become selfless instruments, whose identity rests upon their participation in the corporations (or other giant bureaucracies), as a primitive individual's identity rested upon membership in the clan.

18 May 2015


Donald Davidson (1893-1968), "A Mirror for Artists,"  I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978), pp. 34-35:
It is common knowledge that, wherever it can be said to exist at all, the kind of leisure provided by industrialism is a dubious benefit. It helps nobody but merchants and manufacturers, who have taught us to use it in industriously consuming the products they make in great excess over the demand. Moreover, it is spoiled, as leisure, by the kind of work that industrialism compels. The furious pace of our working hours is carried over into our leisure hours, which are feverish and energetic. We live by the clock. Our days are a muddle of "activities," strenuously pursued. We do not have the free mind and easy temper that should characterize true leisure. Nor does the separation of our lives into two distinct parts, of which one is all labor — too often mechanical and deadening — and the other all play, undertaken as a nervous relief, seem to be conducive to a harmonious life. The arts will not easily survive a condition under which we work and play at cross-purposes. We cannot separate our being into contradictory halves without a certain amount of spiritual damage. The leisure thus offered is really no leisure at all; either it is pure sloth, under which the arts take on the character of mere entertainment, purchased in boredom and enjoyed in utter passivity, or it is another kind of labor, taken up out of a sense of duty, pursued as a kind of fashionable enterprise for which one's courage must be continually whipped up by reminders of one's obligation to culture.
A related post: Bear the Smell Stoically

13 May 2015

Fireside Purposes

James Fitzjames Stephen, "Luxury," The Cornhill Magazine, Vol. II (1860), 345–53 (at 351).
Give a man a specific thing to make or to write, and pay him well for it, and you may with a little trouble secure an excellent article; but the ability which does these things so well, might have been and ought to have been trained to far higher things, which for the most part are left undone, because the clever workman thinks himself bound to earn what will keep himself, his wife, and his six or seven children, up to the established standard of comfort. What was at first a necessity, perhaps an unwelcome one, becomes by degrees a habit and a pleasure, and men who might have done memorable and noble things, if they had learnt in time to consider the doing of such things a subject worth living for, lose the power and the wish to live for other than fireside purposes.

11 May 2015

A Permanent Loss of Happiness

Thomas Hardy, A Pair of Blue Eyes (London: Osgood, McIlvaine & Co., 1895), p. 280:
There are disappointments which wring us, and there are those which inflict a wound whose mark we bear to our graves. Such are so keen that no future gratification of the same desire can ever obliterate them: they become registered as a permanent loss of happiness. 
This quote is one of the first selected by Alfred Hyatt in The Pocket Thomas Hardy (London: Chatto & Windus, 1906).

8 May 2015

5 May 2015


Bruce Rogers (1870-1957), quoted in Paul Bennett, Bruce Rogers of Indiana (Providence: Domesday Press, 1936), pp. 11-12:
I went at bookmaking somewhat as the French tackle a problem in other fields of design. They like to make models, do a few things and then change their style. I had no special principles, except to make as good a job as I knew how to get done. If you speak about my 'style' you will have to say it's a sort of eclecticism. There's some good in practically all styles. The thing, as I saw it, was to take the different periods and do the best I could with them, to get the best out of them.

I don't particularly care for so-called 'originality' in books. Little touches of the designer's personality are bound to creep in, but books should primarily embody the quality of the text, the author's personality if possible; and not be merely a medium for the printer's self-expression. Perhaps the secret of book-making development is to go on doing the thing over and over, with improvement and variation in details.

2 May 2015

Royal Birth

Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, III vi, tr. H. R. James (London: Elliot Stock, 1897), p. 115:
Then, again, who does not see how empty, how foolish, is the fame of noble birth? Why, if the nobility is based on renown, the renown is another's! For, truly, nobility seems to be a sort of reputation coming from the merits of ancestors. But if it is the praise which brings renown, of necessity it is they who are praised that are famous. Wherefore, the fame of another clothes thee not with splendour if thou hast none of thine own.
The opening pages of this section from a copy of De consolatione philosophie on Gallica, with commentary by St. Thomas Aquinas (Lyon: Johannes Faber, c. 1500):

A related post: Only Folly and Shame

24 April 2015

A More Refined Race

Angelica Garnett, Deceived With Kindness (London: Pimlico, 1995), p. 69:
Vanessa [Bell] was an ardent Francophile and believed that the French were vastly superior to the English in all departments of practical life: better mechanics, electricians, dressmakers, cooks, better at inventing domestic gadgets, at making easels, stretchers, canvases, and paints. So sensible to have paperback books, to dress their children in black pinafores and allow them to stay up late, to have invented the siesta and go to market every day returning with such delicious bread, to have invented champagne, Petit Larousse and mayonnaise. She could not say their plumbing was as good as that of the English (those were the days when there was often no more than a hole in the ground and usually a smell of human excrement near one's picnic site), but in every other way they were a more refined race, not least in their sympathy for artists.
A related post: The French

22 April 2015

A Barbaric Act

Theodore Dalrymple, The Pleasure of Thinking (London: Gibson Square Books, 2012), pp. 36-37:
Because of the importance, one might almost say the sacred quality, of books in the development and transmission of our civilisation, the wilful destruction of books has always appeared a barbaric act. If we saw a man deliberately tearing a book to shreds, even one without any great value, a trashy novel say, we would think him a brute. But the destruction of books en masse by the public authorities has never augured well for civilization, let alone for freedom.
I am reminded of the federal government's purge of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries last year. See here and here.

17 April 2015

Don't Look Back

William Osler, A Way of Life (London: Constable, 1913), pp. 27-28
As a vaccine against all morbid poisons left in the system by the infections of yesterday, I offer "a way of life." "Undress," as George Herbert says, "your soul at night," not by self-examination, but by shedding, as you do your garments, the daily sins whether of omission or of commission, and you will wake a free man, with a new life. To look back, except on rare occasions for stock-taking, is to risk the fate of Lot's wife. Many a man is handicapped in his course by a cursed combination of retro- and intro-spection, the mistakes of yesterday paralysing the efforts of to-day, the worries of the past hugged to his destruction, and the worm Regret allowed to canker the very heart of his life.
Thomas Eakins, Retrospection (1880)
A related post: Forget, Don't Forgive

14 April 2015

Systematically Ascetic or Heroic

William James, Principles Of Psychology, Vol. 1 (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1918), pp. 126-127:
Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically ascetic or heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than that you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. Asceticism of this sort is like the insurance which a man pays on his house and goods. The tax does him no good at the time, and possibly may never bring him a return. But if the fire does come, his having paid it will be his salvation from ruin. So with the man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things. He will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and when his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.

10 April 2015

Depressingly Scientific

Barbara Pym, Excellent Women (London: Penguin Classics, 2006), p. 78:
'These are quite obviously the books that nobody reads,' said Rocky, studying their titles. 'But it's a comfort to know that they are here if you ever should want to read them. I'm sure I should find them more entertaining than the more up-to-date ones. Wild Beasts and their Ways; Five Years with the Congo Cannibals; With Camera and Pen in Northern Nigeria; Sunshine and Storm in Rhodesia. I wish people still wrote books with titles like that. Nowadays I believe it simply isn't done to show a photograph of "The Author with his Pygmy Friends" — we have become too depressingly scientific.'

9 April 2015

A Brief Parenthesis

Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Fragment XXIX, "Insignificance of the World," Poems (London: William Pickering, 1851) p. 116:
Why what's the world and time? a fleeting thought
In the great meditating universe,
A brief parenthesis in chaos.

7 April 2015

Sadder and Wiser

Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism (New York: Vintage Books, 2006), pp. 108-109:
It's a disturbing idea, that depressed people see reality correctly while non-depressed people distort reality in a self-serving way. As a therapist I was trained to believe that it was my job to help depressed patients both to feel happier and to see the world more clearly. I was supposed to be the agent of happiness and of truth. But maybe truth and happiness antagonize each other. Perhaps what we have considered good therapy for a depressed patient merely nurtures benign illusions, making the patient think his world is better than it actually is. There is considerable evidence that depressed people, though sadder, are wiser.
A related post: Enivrez-Vous

2 April 2015

The Cup of Life

A. C. Benson, The Joyous Gard, (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1913), pp. 211-212:
One must not use life like the Passover feast, to be eaten with loins girded and staff in hand. It is there to be lived, and what we have to do is to make the quality of it as fine as we can.
We must provide then, if we can, a certain setting for life, a sufficiency of work and sustenance, and even leisure; and then we must give that no further thought. How many men do I not know, whose thought seems to be "when I have made enough money, when I have found my place, when I have arranged the apparatus of life about me, then I will live as I should wish to live." But the stream of desires broadens and thickens, and the leisure hour never comes!
We must not thus deceive ourselves. What we have to do is to make life, instantly and without delay, worthy to be lived. We must try to enjoy all that we have to do, and take care that we do not do what we do not enjoy, unless the hard task we set ourselves is sure to bring us something that we really need. It is useless thus to elaborate the cup of life, if we find, when we have made it, that the wine which should have filled it has long ago evaporated.
A related post: Retirement Planning

31 March 2015

Portrait of the Artist as a Snail

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, A Painter's Camp (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1882), p. 244:
In my opinion, a snail is the perfect type of what an artist upon his travels ought to be. The snail goes alone and slowly, at quite a rational pace; stops wherever he feels inclined, and carries his house with him. Only I fear that the snail does not give that active attention to the aspects of nature which ought to be the constant habit of the artist. 

27 March 2015

The Heaviest of Responsibilities

D. H. Lawrence, The White Peacock (London: William Heinemann, 1911), pp. 432-433:
Having reached that point in a woman's career when most, perhaps all of the things in life seem worthless and insipid, she had determined to put up with it, to ignore her own self, to empty her own potentialities into the vessel of another or others, and to live her life at second hand. This peculiar abnegation of self is the resource of a woman for the escaping of the responsibilities of her own development. Like a nun, she puts over her living face a veil, as a sign that the woman no longer exists for herself: she is the servant of God, of some man, of her children, or may be of some cause. As a servant, she is no longer responsible for her self, which would make her terrified and lonely. Service is light and easy. To be responsible for the good progress of one's life is terrifying. It is the most insufferable form of loneliness, and the heaviest of responsibilities.

26 March 2015

Regime Change

Adam Phillips, "Against Self-Criticism", London Review of Books, Vol. 37, No. 5 (March, 2015) 13-16:
The books we read in adolescence often have an extraordinary effect on our lives. They are, among other things, an attempt at regime change. In Freud’s language we could say that we free ourselves of our parents’ ideals for us by using the available culture to make up our own ego-ideals, to evolve a sense of our own affinities beyond the family, to speak a language that is more our own. In the self-fashioning of adolescence, books (or music or films) begin really to take, to acquire a subtle but far-reaching effect that lasts throughout a person’s life.