20 July 2015

Tour de France

Étienne Martin Saint-Léon, Le Compagnonnage, son histoire, ses coutumes, ses règlements et ses rites (Paris: Armand Colin, 1901), p. 257 (my translation):
Our compagnon is alone at last. He advances with a firm step but, despite his apparent equanimity, he is a little upset. He suffers from that vague sense of melancholy which visits us when we turn a new page in the book of life, a book leafed through so quickly. We feel it when we say goodbye, perhaps forever, to a place, to people, or to things we associate with fond memories: it is regret for a time that already belongs to the past, instinctive fear of the future, and the apprehension of a traveller who has just left a safe haven where he rested for a few hours, and resumes his journey into the unknown.
The original:
Notre compagnon est enfin seul. Il s'avance d'un pas ferme, mais, en dépit de son apparente impassibilité de tout à l'heure, il est un peu ému. Il éprouve cette vague mélancolie qui nous visite lorsque nous tournons une page nouvelle de ce livre de la vie si rapidement feuilleté, lorsque nous disons un adieu peut-être éternel à un lieu, à des êtres ou à des choses auxquels s'associe pour nous un souvenir heureux: regret d'un temps qui déjà appartient au passé, crainte instinctive de l'avenir, inquiétude du voyageur qui vient de quitter l'asile sûr où il s'est reposé quelques heures et qui reprend sa route vers l'inconnu.
I suppose everyone fantasizes about other lives. If I were 20 years younger and French, I should like nothing better than to learn a trade as a Compagnon du Devoir.

17 July 2015

Fond of Maps

R. L. Stevenson, An Inland Voyage (London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1878), p. 194:
I have always been fond of maps, and can voyage in an atlas with the greatest enjoyment. The names of places are singularly inviting; the contour of coasts and rivers is enthralling to the eye; and to hit, in a map, upon some place you have heard of before, makes history a new possession.

14 July 2015

A Middle Way

Otto Rank, Art and Artist, tr. Charles Francis Atkinson (New York: Knopf, 1932), p. 416:
Whereas the average man largely subordinates himself, both socially and biologically, to the collective, and the neurotic shuts himself deliberately off from both, the productive type finds a middle way, which is expressed in ideological experience and personal creativity. But since the artist must live as a human being and yet feels compelled to make this transitory life eternal in an intransient work, a compromise is set up between ideologized life and an individualized creativity — a balance which is difficult, impermanent, and in all circumstances painful, since creation tends to experience, and experience again cries out for artistic form.

9 July 2015

Advertising Books

Elbert Hubbard, "About Advertising Books," A Message to Garcia and Thirteen Other Things (East Aurora: Roycrofters Shop, 1901), p. 81:
The advertisement that secures recognition and really sells the book cannot be purchased — it cannot even be asked for — but must spring spontaneous from the sympathetic heart. To request it would be to lose it, for like love, it goes to him who does not ask for it, and passes in silence all those who plot, scheme and lie in wait. It goes only to the worthy: but alas! the worthy sometimes — aye, often, pine away of heart-hunger, and there is no hand to caress, nor gentle voice to soothe; and youth flies fast, and recognition comes only when it is no more desired, and when the presence of cool, all-enfolding death — strong deliveress — is more grateful than the applause of men

7 July 2015

Blessed Is He That Expecteth Nothing

G. K. Chesterton, Heretics (New York: Garden City Publishing, 1905) p. 65:
The truth is, that all genuine appreciation rests on a certain mystery of humility and almost of darkness. The man who said, "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed," put the eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely. The truth is "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised." The man who expects nothing sees redder roses than common men can see, and greener grass, and a more startling sun. Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall possess the cities and the mountains; blessed is the meek, for he shall inherit the earth. Until we realize that things might not be we cannot realize that things are. Until we see the background of darkness we cannot admire the light as a single and created thing.

3 July 2015

A Bottle of the Best

R. L. Stevenson, An Inland Voyage (London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1878), pp. 106-107:
If a man knows he will sooner or later be robbed upon a journey, he will have a bottle of the best in every inn, and look upon all his extravagances as so much gained upon the thieves. And, above all, where instead of simply spending, he makes a profitable investment for some of his money, when it will be out of risk of loss. So every bit of brisk living, and, above all, when it is healthful, is just so much gained upon the wholesale filcher, death. We shall have the less in our pockets, the more in our stomach, when he cries stand and deliver.

1 July 2015

A Library of One's Own

Augustine Birrell, "Book Buying," Collected Essays, Vol. I (London: Elliot Stock, 1899), pp. 324-325:
It is no doubt a pleasant thing to have a library left you. The present writer will disclaim no such legacy, but hereby undertakes to accept it, however dusty. But good as it is to inherit a library, it is better to collect one. Each volume then, however lightly a stranger's eye may roam from shelf to shelf, has its own individuality, a history of its own. You remember where you got it, and how much you gave for it; and your word may safely be taken for the first of these facts, but not for the second.

The man who has a library of his own collection is able to contemplate himself objectively, and is justified in believing in his own existence. No other man but he would have made precisely such a combination as his. Had he been in any single respect different from what he is, his library, as it exists, never would have existed. Therefore, surely he may exclaim, as in the gloaming he contemplates the backs of his loved ones, 'They are mine, and I am theirs.'

26 June 2015

By Still and Depopulated Waters

R. L. Stevenson, "On the Willebroek Canal," An Inland Voyage (London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1878), pp. 17-18:
Crop-headed children spat upon us from the bridges as we went below, with a true conservative feeling. But even more conservative were the fishermen, intent upon their floats, who let us go by without one glance. They perched upon sterlings and buttresses and along the slope of the embankment, gently occupied. They were indifferent like pieces of dead nature. They did not move any more than if they had been fishing in an old Dutch print. The leaves fluttered, the water lapped, but they continued in one stay, like so many churches established by law. You might have trepanned every one of their innocent heads and found no more than so much coiled fishing line below their skulls. I do not care for your stalwart fellows in india-rubber stockings breasting up mountain torrents with a salmon rod; but I do dearly love the class of man who plies his unfruitful art forever and a day by still and depopulated waters.

23 June 2015

A Routine Occupation

Herbert Read on the practicality of Coleridge's three hours of leisure, The Contrary Experience (London: Secker & Warburg, 1973), pp. 258-259:
A routine occupation imposes a rhythm on life, if only the repetition of regular hours, regular meals and constant movement. With such a rhythm it is comparatively easy to add, like an additional gear to a machine, a subordinate activity of two hours' daily application to a writing-desk. In short, such a life favours productivity of some sort; but it is more than doubtful whether such a productivity is more 'truly genial' than the irregular spurts of inspiration upon which a comparatively idle writer will depend. An eye on the clock is already a leakage in the forces of concentration. Neither continuous logical thought nor long imaginative flights are possible under such a condition. If to one's routine duties one adds a normal measure of sociability, more than twenty-four hours will often intervene between the periods given over to composition. I have known days, and sometimes weeks, lie between the beginning and the completion of a sentence!

21 June 2015


adj. belonging to or constituting a style of Latin writing that probably originated in Ireland in the 6th century and that is characterized by extreme obscurity intentionally produced by periphrasis, coinage of new words, and very liberal use of loanwords to express quite ordinary meanings.
Also the name of an interesting new blog.

17 June 2015

Father's Day

Gustave Flaubert, letter to Louise Colet (11 December 1852), Oeuvres complètes de Gustave Flaubert, Correspondance, Troisième série (Paris: Louis Conard, 1927), p. 63 (my translation):
The idea of bringing someone into life horrifies me. I would curse myself I were a father. — A son of mine, oh no, no, no! May all my flesh perish. I do not wish to transmit the difficulties and ignominies of existence to anyone.

L'idée de donner le jour à quelqu'un me fait horreur. Je me maudirais si j'étais père. — Un fils de moi, oh non, non, non ! que toute ma chair périsse, et que je ne transmette à personne l'embêtement et les ignominies de l'existence.
Related posts:

15 June 2015

My Little Difficulty

Theodore Dalrymple, The Pleasure of Thinking (London: Gibson Square Books, 2012), pp. 85-86:
Even now, affection embarrasses me, not the thing itself but the expression of it, physical or verbal as the case may be. Many are the people for whom I would gladly and unhesitatingly lay down my life; but not for anything would I hug them, or express any feeling for them. As to the suggestion that I should be able to overcome my little difficulty, because I have some inkling from whence it came, I can only refer him who makes it to Sonnet 129:
All this world well knows, yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
Of course Shakespeare was speaking of lust, not of the lower grades of human passion, such as mere affection; but that knowledge of the origin of any undesirable characteristic — an apparent coldness of heart in my case — is equivalent to overcoming it, and replacing it by something better is, I am afraid, a shallow modern superstition.

12 June 2015

Two Doctors

George Macaulay Trevelyan, "Walking," Clio, a Muse, and Other Essays Literary and Pedestrian (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1914), p. 56:
I have two doctors, my left leg and my right. When body and mind are out of gear (and those twin parts of me live at such close quarters that the one always catches melancholy from the other) I know that I have only to call in my doctors and I shall be well again. 

10 June 2015

Making Our Ancestors Live Again

George Macaulay Trevelyan, "Clio, a Muse," Clio, a Muse, and Other Essays Literary and Pedestrian (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1914), p. 17:
To recover some of our ancestors' real thoughts and feelings is the hardest, subtlest and most educative function that the historian can perform. It is much more difficult than to spin guesswork generalisations, the reflex of passing phases of thought or opinion in our own day. To give a true picture of any country, or man or group of men in the past requires industry and knowledge, for only the documents can tell us the truth, but it requires also insight, sympathy and imagination of the finest, and last but not least the art of making our ancestors live again in modern narrative.

8 June 2015

A Little Finger Thicker Than Your Loins

From Rudyard Kipling's convocation address to McGill University's class of 1907, reprinted as "Values in Life," Book of Words (New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1928):
When, to use a detestable phrase, you go out into “the battle of life”, you will be confronted by an organised conspiracy which will try to make you believe that the world is governed by the idea of wealth for wealth’s sake, and that all means which lead to the acquisition of that wealth are, if not laudable, at least expedient. Those of you who have fitly imbibed the spirit of our University — and it was not a materialistic University which trained a scholar to take both the Craven and the Ireland* in England — will violently resent that thought; but you will live and eat and move and have your being in a world dominated by that thought. Some of you will probably succumb to the poison of it.

Now, I do not ask you not to be carried away by the first rush of the great game of life. That is expecting you to be more than human, But I do ask you, after the first heat of the game, that you draw breath and watch your fellows for a while. Sooner or later, you will see some man to whom the idea of wealth as mere wealth does not appeal, whom the methods of amassing that wealth do not interest, and who will not accept money if you offer it to him at a certain price.

At first you will be inclined to laugh at this man and to think that he is not “smart” in his ideas. I suggest that you watch him closely, for he will presently demonstrate to you that money dominates everybody except the man who does not want money. You may meet that man on your farm, in your village, or in your legislature. But be sure that, whenever or wherever you meet him, as soon as it comes to a direct issue between you, his little finger will be thicker than your loins. You will go in fear of him: he will not go in fear of you. You will do what he wants: he will not do what you want. You will find that you have no weapon in your armoury with which you can attack him; no argument with which you can appeal to him. Whatever you gain, he will gain more.

I would like you to study that man. I would like you better to be that man, because from the lower point of view it doesn’t pay to be obsessed by the desire of wealth for wealth’s sake. If more wealth be necessary to you, for purposes not your own, use your left hand to acquire it, but keep your right for your proper work in life. If you employ both arms in that game you will be in danger of stooping; in danger, also, of losing your soul. But in spite of everything you may succeed, you may be successful, you may acquire enormous wealth. In which case I warn you that you stand in grave danger of being spoken and written of and pointed out as “a smart man”. And that is one of the most terrible calamities that can overtake a sane, civilised, white man in our Empire to-day.
* I assume this is a reference to Herbert Rose, who graduated from McGill in 1904 and went on to win these scholarships at Oxford.

4 June 2015

Art Galleries and Libraries

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. 39-40:
It is futile to imagine that the arts will penetrate our life in exact proportion to the number of art galleries, orchestras, and libraries that philanthropy may endow. Rather it is probable that a multiplication of art galleries (to take a separate example) is a mark of a diseased, not a healthy civilization. If paintings and sculptures are made for the purpose of being viewed in the carefully studied surroundings of art galleries, they have certainly lost their intimate connection with life. What is a picture for, if not to put on one’s own wall? But the principle of the art gallery requires me to think that a picture has some occult quality in itself and for itself that can only be appreciated on a quiet anonymous wall, utterly removed from the tumult of my private affairs.

The art gallery or art museum theory of art to which philanthropists and promoters would persuade us views art as a luxury quite beyond the reach of ordinary people. Its attempt to glorify the arts by setting them aside in specially consecrated shrines can hardly supply more than a superficial gilding to a national culture, if the private direction of that culture is ugly and materialistic — Keyserling would say, animalistic. The proposition is as absurd as this: Should we eat our meals regularly from crude, thick dishes like those used in Greek restaurants, but go on solemn occasions to a restaurant museum where somebody’s munificence would permit us to enjoy a meal on china of the most delicate design? The truly artistic life is surely that in which the aesthetic experience is not curtained of but is mixed up with all sorts of instruments and occupations pertaining to the round of daily life. It ranges all the way from pots and pans, chairs and rugs, clothing and houses, up to dramas publicly performed and government buildings. Likewise public libraries, which tend ever to become more immense and numerous, pervert public taste as much as they encourage it. For the patrons are by implication discouraged from getting their own books and keeping them at home. Their notion is that the state — or some local Maecenas — will take care of their taste for them, just as the police take care of public safety. Art galleries and libraries are fine enough in their way, but we should not be deceived into putting our larger hope in them.

2 June 2015

A Lift and a Shove

James Mangan (1803-1849), "A Sixty-Drop Dose of Laudanum," The Prose Writings of James Clarence Mangan, ed. D. J.  O'Donoghue (Dublin: O'Donoghue & Co., 1904), p. 224:
A translator from Spanish, French, High Dutch, &c. should always improve on his original if he can. Most continental writers are dull plodders, and require spurring and furbishing. I see no harm in now and then giving them a lift and a shove. If I receive two or three dozen of sherry for a dinner-party, and by some chemical process can convert the sherry into champagne, my friends are all the merrier, and nobody is a loser.

1 June 2015

The Humour of Rabelais

James Mangan (1803-1849), "A Sixty-Drop Dose of Laudanum," The Prose Writings of James Clarence Mangan, ed. D. J.  O'Donoghue (Dublin: O'Donoghue & Co., 1904), p. 208:
From the moment that any man tells me that he cannot understand the humour of Rabelais, I never care to speak to him, or to hear him speak to me, on literary topics.

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.

24 March 2015

A Scholar's Deathbed

Samuel Warren (1807-1877), "A Scholar's Deathbed," The Diary of a Late Physician, ed. Charles Wells (New York: Saalfield Publishing, 1905), p. 51:
"I have indulged in wild ambitious hopes — lived in absurd dreams of future greatness — been educated beyond my fortunes — and formed tastes and cherished feelings, incompatible with the station it seems I was born to — beggary or daily labour!"
Id, p. 54:
"The objects of my ambition," he said, "have been vague and general; I never knew exactly where, or what, I would be. Had my powers, such as they are, been concentrated on one point — had I formed a more just and modest estimate of my abilities — I might possibly have become something. Besides, doctor, I had no money — no solid substratum to build upon; there was the rotten point!"
Id, p. 56:
I on one occasion asked him, how it came to pass that a person of his superior classical attainments had not obtained some tolerably lucrative engagement as an usher or tutor? He answered, with rather a haughty air, that he would rather have broken stones on the highway. "To hear," said he, "the magnificent language of Greece, the harmonious cadences of the Romans, mangled and disfigured by stupid lads and duller ushers — oh! it would have been such a profanation as the sacred groves of old suffered, when their solemn silence was disturbed by a rude unhallowed throng of Bacchanalians. I should have expired, doctor!"

23 March 2015

Enthusiasm in the Sacred Fire

Mrs. Russell Barrington, The Life, Letters and Work of Frederic Leighton, Vol. I (London: George Allen, 1906), p. 203:
Many of us remember the days when enthusiastic disciples of the wonderful new art of photography prophesied that no other would soon be needed, and that the draughtsman's craft would before long cease to exist. And further, they maintained it only required the discovery of a means to photograph colour for the painter's art also to be demolished. Artists, however, knew better. What was valuable in the records of photography, and what was of most intrinsic worth in the records created through means of the human hand and eye, were absolutely incomparable quantities. The treatment of nature in a photographic picture, however admirable and complete, must always be lacking in the evidence of any preference, reverence, or enthusiasm in the sacred fire, in fact, which inspires the draughtsman's pencil and the painter's brush. Photography is indiscriminate; human art is selective, and is precious as it evinces and secures a choiceness in selection. However truthfully a photograph may record beauty of line and form in nature, it inevitably also records in its want of discrimination any facts which may exist in the view photographed; these counterbalance the effect of such beauty, and mar the subtle impression of charm which scenes in nature produce on a mind sensitive to beauty.
Vol. II here.

A related post: Photographs and Paintings

Not unrelated: The Stranglers' Golden Brown, a song in praise of opiates, filmed in Leighton House.

Frederic Leighton, Idyll (c. 1880)

19 March 2015

Light Reading

Herbert Spencer, "The Coming Slavery," The Man Versus the State (London: Williams & Norgate, 1902), p. 31:
Table-talk proves that nine out of ten people read what amuses them or interests them rather than what instructs them; and that the last thing they read is something which tells them disagreeable truths or dispels groundless hopes. That popular education results in an extensive reading of publications which foster pleasant illusions rather than of those which insist on hard realities, is beyond question.

17 March 2015

What Is Man?

Alcuin of York, "The Disputation of Pepin the most Noble and Royal Youth with Albinus the Scholastic," quoted in E. M. Wilmot-Buxton, Alcuin (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1922), p. 112:
What is Language?
   The Betrayer of the Soul.

What generates language?
   The tongue.

What is the tongue?
   The Whip of the Air.

What is Air?
   The Guardian of Life.

What is Life?
   The joy of the happy; the expectation of Death.

What is Death?
   An inevitable event; an uncertain journey; tears for the living; the proving of wills; the Stealer of men.

What is Man?
   The Slave of Death; a passing Traveller; a Stranger in his place.

13 March 2015

Volumes Without a Preface, an Index, or a Moral

George Gilfillan in the introduction to The Poetical Works of George Herbert; With Life, Critical Dissertation, and Explanatory Notes (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1853), p. v:
"Life," it has been said, "is a Poem." This is true, probably, of the life of the human race as a whole, if we could see its beginning and end, as well as its middle. But it is not true of all lives. It is only a life here and there, which equals the dignity and aspires to the completeness of a genuine and great Poem. Most lives are fragmentary, even when they are not foul — they disappoint, even when they do not disgust — they are volumes without a preface, an index, or a moral. It is delightful to turn from such apologies for life to the rare but real lives which God-gifted men, like Milton or Herbert, have been enabled to spend even on this dark and melancholy foot-breadth for immortal spirits, called the earth.
Hat tip: Anecdotal Evidence

12 March 2015

Common Fellows

William Morris, Hopes and Fears for Art (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1908), pp. 55-57:
I began by saying that part of the common and necessary advice given to Art students was to study antiquity; and no doubt many of you, like me, have done so; have wandered, for instance, through the galleries of the admirable museum of South Kensington, and, like me, have been filled with wonder and gratitude at the beauty which has been born from the brain of man. Now, consider, I pray you, what these wonderful works are, and how they were made; and indeed, it is neither in extravagance nor without due meaning that I use the word ‘wonderful’ in speaking of them. Well, these things are just the common household goods of those past days, and that is one reason why they are so few and so carefully treasured. They were common things in their own day, used without fear of breaking or spoiling — no rarities then — and yet we have called them ‘wonderful.’

And how were they made? Did a great artist draw the designs for them — a man of cultivation, highly paid, daintily fed, carefully housed, wrapped up in cotton wool, in short, when he was not at work? By no means. Wonderful as these works are, they were made by ‘common fellows,’ as the phrase goes, in the common course of their daily labour. Such were the men we honour in honouring those works. And their labour — do you think it was irksome to them? Those of you who are artists know very well that it was not; that it could not be. Many a grin of pleasure, I’ll be bound — and you will not contradict me — went to the carrying through of those mazes of mysterious beauty, to the invention of those strange beasts and birds and flowers that we ourselves have chuckled over at South Kensington. While they were at work, at least, these men were not unhappy, and I suppose they worked most days, and the most part of the day, as we do.

11 March 2015

Mad Swine

Haldane Macfall (1860-1928), The Splendid Wayfaring (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1913), pp. 191-192:
Live your life full — do not rush through a sordid day, threading your way through the vulgarities, to mean goals. Let no man crouch in dark corners fearful of forward-living, lest he fail to reach the heights.

The man who is merely rich in gold may be but a prisoner in a gilded cage, poorer in the splendid Emotions of life than the poorest of the poor. For, that man who accounts himself rich, and has no sympathy with the poor and the suffering about him; who knows naught of the wounds and the sorrows and the hunger and the agonies that vex his race, nor of the aspirations and high hopes that are the beacon-light to his fellow-men, is utterly poor — as he is wholly beneath contempt.

Is it riches to sit within the four walls of a narrow counting-house, day in day out, for seventy years, and know that you but possess gold?

Even the mightiest poet can at best but write a poem; it is the birthright of every man to live one.

They that grub for wealth as an end are like mad swine that bury their eyes in noisome swill, unsuspecting that life is a glorious pageant — and goes by.

10 March 2015

That Supremely Disagreeable Place

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, An Autobiography (London: Seeley & Co., 1897), p. 100:
The oddest result for a boy's first visit to London, was a quiet mental resolution of which I said nothing to anybody. What I thought and resolved inwardly may be accurately expressed in these words — "Every Englishman who can afford it ought to see London once, as a patriotic duty, and I am not sorry to have been there to have got the duty performed; but no power on earth shall ever induce me to go to that supremely disagreeable place again!"

6 March 2015

Good Legs With Plenty of Endurance

Maxim Gorky, Orlóff and His Wife, tr. Isabel F. Hapgood (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1901), p. 154:
A man must have been born in cultured society, in order to find within himself the patience necessary to live out the whole of his life in the midst of it, and never once desire to escape somewhere, away from the sphere of all those oppressive conventions, legalized by custom, of petty, malicious lies, from the sphere of sickly self-conceit, of sectarianism of ideas, of all sorts of insincerity, — in a word, from all that vanity of vanities which chills the emotions, and perverts the mind. I was born and reared outside that circle of society, and for that reason — a very agreeable one to me — I cannot take in its culture in large doses, without a downright necessity of getting out of its framework cropping up in me, and of refreshing myself, in some measure, after the extreme intricacy and unhealthy refinement of that existence.

In the country it is almost as intolerably tedious and dull as it is among educated people. The best thing one can do is to betake himself to the dives of the towns, where, although everything is filthy, it is still simple and sincere, or to set out for a walk over the fields and roads of his native land, which is extremely curious, affords great refreshment, and requires no outfit except good legs with plenty of endurance.

5 March 2015

The Dignity of Labour

Henri Lichtenberger, The Gospel of Superman, tr. J. M. Kennedy (New York: Macmillan, 1912), pp. 62-63:
The European of the present day who, in his artless rationalism, fancies that science leads to happiness, and that the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the final end of all civilisation, attempts to deny the misery of the people of slaves which is the sine qua non of modern society, he would deceive the galley-slaves of work as to their real condition by extolling the "dignity of labour," and gloss over the bankruptcy of science by declaring that it is more honourable to earn one's bread by the sweat of one's brow than to live in idleness. A poor sophism, this, and one which no more deceives anybody today — neither the proletariats, who are socialists; nor the rich, who no longer have any faith in their sole right to enjoyment. Let us then frankly acknowledge that slavery is the shameful and lamentable reverse side of all civilisation. We may mitigate it, make it less painful; we may render it easy for the serf to accept his fate — from this point of view the middle ages, with their feudal organisation had a great advantage over modern times. But so long as society exists, there will also exist powerful and privileged men who will found their splendour upon the misery of a multitude of creatures oppressed and exploited for their benefit.
Original French: La philosophie de Nietzsche (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1901)

3 March 2015


Thomas Lovell Beddoes, "Human Life: Its Value," Poems (London: William Pickering, 1851) p. 129:
How glorious to live! Even in one thought
The wisdom of past-times to fit together,
And from the luminous minds of many men
Catch a reflected truth; as, in one eye,
Light, from unnumbered worlds and furthest planets
Of the star-crowded universe, is gathered
Into one ray. —
Well, not that glorious; Beddoes committed suicide on 26 January 1849.

27 February 2015

Scripta Manent

From the cover of Le Livre, ed. Octave Uzanne (Paris:  A. Quantin, 1881):

26 February 2015

Socially Bankrupt

W. Compton Leith (pseudonym of Ormonde Maddock Dalton, 1866-1945), Apologia Diffidentis (London: John Lane, 1917), p. 178:
I have abandoned social obligations because I am unfitted to perform them well, and society high and low exists by their cheerful fulfilment. But I no longer rail at social law or decline to see anything but evil in conventions devised by the wisdom and refinement of centuries. If I refuse invitations and leave calls unpaid, it is because I am socially bankrupt: were I solvent I should redeem all debts.

22 February 2015

Life Is a Debt, Not a Gift

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. 390-391:
Life is given out to be a gift, while it is evident that every one would have declined such a gift if he could have seen it and tested it beforehand; just as Lessing admired the understanding of his son, who, because he had absolutely declined to enter life, had to be forcibly brought into it with the forceps, but was scarcely there when he hurried away from it again. On the other hand, it is then well said that life should be, from one end to the other, only a lesson; to which, however, any one might reply: “For this very reason I wish I had been left in the peace of the all-sufficient nothing, where I would have had no need of lessons or of anything else.” If indeed it should now be added that he must one day give an account of every hour of his life, he would be more justified in himself demanding an account of why he had been transferred from that rest into such a questionable, dark, anxious, and painful situation. To this, then, we are led by false views. For human existence, far from bearing the character of a gift, has entirely the character of a debt that has been contracted. The calling in of this debt appears in the form of the pressing wants, tormenting desires, and endless misery established through this existence. As a rule, the whole lifetime is devoted to the paying off of this debt; but this only meets the interest. The payment of the capital takes place through death. And when was this debt contracted? At the begetting.
cf. Life Is a Loan, Death the Repayment

19 February 2015

Making Interest

Henry James, letter to H. G. Wells (July 10, 1915), The Letters of Henry James, ed. Percy Lubbock, Vol. II (London:  Macmillian & Co., 1920), p. 508:
It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance, for our consideration and application of these things, and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.
Adam Phillips, "On Interest," London Review of Books (June 20, 1996):
People come for psychoanalysis when they are feeling under-nourished; and this – depending on one’s psychoanalytic preference – is either because what they have been given wasn’t good enough or because there is something wrong with their capacity for transformation. In [Henry] James’s terms, they are the failed artists of their own lives. They have been unable for whatever reason to make something sufficiently sustaining out of what was supposed to nourish them. They cannot make interest; the kind of interest, James intimates, that might make one love life.

17 February 2015

Valuable Property

George Haven Putnam, Books and Their Makers During the Middle Ages, Vol. I (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1896), p. 212:
The purchase of a manuscript during the fourteenth century was attended with almost as many formalities and precautions as are to-day considered necessary for the transfer of a piece of real estate. The dealer making the sale was obliged to give to the purchaser guarantees to the effect, first, that he was himself the owner or the duly authorised representative of the owner of the work; and, secondly, that the text of this was complete and correct, and as security for these guarantees he pledged his goods, and sometimes even his person. As a single example of a transaction illustrating this practice, I quote a contract cited by Du Breuil [1]. This bears date November, 1332, and sets forth that a certain Geoffrey de Saint Léger, a duly qualified clerc libraire, acknowledges and confesses that he has sold, ceded, and transferred to the noble gentleman Messire Gérard de Montagu, Avocat du Roi au Parlement (counsellor at the royal court), all right, title, and interest in a work entitled Speculum Historiale in consuetudines Parisienses, contained in four volumes bound in red leather. The consideration named is forty livres Parisian, the equivalent, according to the tables of de Wailly, of 1013 francs. The vendor pledges as security for the obligation under the contract all his worldly goods, together with his own person (tous et chacun de ses biens, et guarantie de son corps même), and the contract is attested before two notaries.

[1] Jacques Du Breuil, Le Théâtre des antiquités de Paris (Paris: Claude de la Tour, 1612), p. 608.

12 February 2015

As Stupid an Operation as Can Be Imagined

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life (London: Macmillan, 1887), p. 186:
To advance from a hundred pounds to a thousand is not an intellectual advance, and there is no intellectual interest in the addition of a cipher at the bankers'. Simply to accumulate money that you are never to use is, from the intellectual point of view, as stupid an operation as can be imagined. We observe, too, that the great accumulators, the men who are gifted by nature with the true instinct, are not usually such persons as we feel any ambition to become. Their faculties are concentrated on one point, and that point, as it seems to us, of infinitely little importance. We cannot see that it signifies much to the intellectual well-being of humanity that John Smith should be worth his million when he dies, since we know quite well that John Smith's mind will be just as ill-furnished then as it is now. In places where much money is made we easily acquire a positive disgust for it, and the curate seems the most distinguished gentleman in the community, with his old black coat and his seventy pounds a year. We come to hate money-matters when we find that they exclude all thoughtful and disinterested conversation, and we fly to the society of people with fixed incomes, not large enough for much saving, to escape the perpetual talk about investments. Our happiest hours have been spent with poor scholars, and artists, and men of science, whose words remain in the memory and make us rich indeed.
Related posts:

11 February 2015

The White Birds of Recollections

George Moore, Hail and Farewell, Vol. I (London: William Heinemann, 1919), p. 321:
Death is in such strange contradiction to life that it is no matter for wonder that we recoil from it, and turn to remembrances, and find recompense in perceiving that those we have loved live in our memories as intensely as if they were still before our eyes; and it would seem, therefore, that we should garner and treasure our past and forbear to regret partings with too much grief, however dear our friends may be; for by parting from them all their imperfections will pass out of sight, and they will become dearer and nearer to us. The present is no more than a little arid sand dribbling through the neck of an hour-glass; but the past may be compared to a shrine in the coigne of some sea-cliff, whither the white birds of recollections come to roost and rest awhile, and fly away again into the darkness. But the shrine is never deserted. Far away up from the horizon's line other white birds come, wheeling and circling, to take the place of those that have left and are leaving.
A related post: A Sure Investment

10 February 2015


Anthony Daniels, "France's 'Submission'," New Criterion (February 15, 2015):
Bravery and excitement have given way to comfort and convenience; degeneration is the inevitable and unavoidable result.
Hat tip: Laudator Temporis Acti

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Land of Cockaigne (1567)

A related post: The Melancholy Truth

6 February 2015

Ars Longa Vita Brevis

Alex Colville (1920-2013), quoted in Mark Cheetham, Alex Colville; The Observer Observed (Toronto: ECW Press, 1994), p. 18:
I want to live thousands of miles away from other artists. I hate the idea of artists meeting and talking. I don't care what they are doing, I just don't care.
Id., p. 21:
If you don't like Detroit, get out of Detroit, I would say. People should exercise their wills in these terms more fully perhaps than they do.
Id., p. 33 (concerning his time as a war artist):
In a certain sense I was writing letters home for these people, depicting their lives, the dugouts, the tanks, where they lived. I was making a kind of record. There is always this element in art. 'Life is short, but art is long.' A lot of these people were killed. They would be very interested in what I was doing, kind of astonished at it in a way.
Id., p. 37:
Normally people who are in the arts slot themselves in with what I would call the proletariat, and I don't. People find this baffling, and maybe irritating.
Id., p. 39 (on his time in Berlin):
I didn't really know what to think about the Germans... But I have a feeling they've faced certain things that other people haven't... They were the first to find out how terrible people — I mean they and others — can be. The Germans have this feeling, and I think they are right, that things can go to hell in a minute. Canadians are unbelievably naive about their capacity for evil.
Id., p. 47 (on leaving his job at Mount Allison):
I decided in February 1963 that I could not stay in a university because I found some of my colleagues literally intolerable. 
Id., p. 59:
Life is characterised by its lack of permanence. Art, I think, tries to compensate for this. Art tries to be permanent, tries to extract from the transitory, that which is durably meaningful.
Id., p. 76:
Painting should neither be fun nor primarily a means of self-expression. I regard paintings as things produced not to relieve the artist, not to serve him, but to serve other people who will look at them.
Id., p. 96:
'What's it all about?'; 'What's happening?'; 'What is life like?' Of course there are no specific answers to these questions, perhaps no answers at all, but people who work with this sort of question in mind do tend, I suggest, to produce work which is more interesting to some people who do not have a special interest in the visual arts.

Alex Colville, Main Street (1979)

Some video and audio clips of Colville:

4 February 2015


Paul Charles Dubois, L'Éducation de soi-même (Paris: Masson, 1909), p. 62 (my translation):
Freedom is not possible in a finite being, called into being without having desired it, limited in the length of his days, incapable of achieving perfection, always dependent on the environment in which he lives, and on the numerous influences that act on his body and his mind and which one might call educative.
La liberté n'est pas possible dans un être fini, appelé à l'existence sans l'avoir désiré, borné dans la durée de ses jours, incapable d'arriver à la perfection, toujours dépendant du milieu où il vit, de ces influences multiples qui agissent sur son corps et sur son esprit et qu'on peut qualifier d'éducatives.

30 January 2015

Pages and Paper

Elbert Hubbard, The Note Book of Elbert Hubbard, (New York: W.H. Wise, 1927), p. 42:
[A]s an authority on books Erasmus can still be read. He it was who fixed the classic page margin  twice as wide at the top as on the inside; twice as wide at the outside as at the top; twice as wide at the bottom as the side. And any printer who varies from this displays his ignorance of proportion.
Elbert Hubbard, Selected Writings of Elbert Hubbard, Vol. 9 (New York: W. H. Wise, 1922), p. 255:
A book on cheap paper does not convince. It is not prized, it is like a wheezy doctor with pigtail tobacco breath, who needs a manicure. A book should not only be true, it must be beautiful in order to help you on your way to Elysium, where there are no scamps and where lives Erasmus, rent-free, because he supplies fun and instruction for the boarders.
Villanova University has digitized Hubbard's magazine The Fra.

29 January 2015

Doves Type

T. J. Cobden-Sanderson's Doves Type has been recovered from the bed of the Thames:

Image from www.typespec.co.uk
More here.

28 January 2015

A Tendency to Sloth

Friedrich Nietzsche, "Schopenhauer as Educator," Thoughts Out of Season, tr. Adrian Collins, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, ed. Oscar Levy, Vol. II, Part II (London: T.N. Foulis, 1910), pp. 103-104:
When the traveller, who had seen many countries and nations and continents, was asked what common attribute he had found everywhere existing among men, he answered, "They have a tendency to sloth." Many may think that the fuller truth would have  been, "They are all timid." They hide themselves behind "manners" and "opinions." At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvellously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time. He knows this, but hides it like an evil conscience; — and why? From fear of his neighbour, who looks for the latest conventionalities in him, and is wrapped up in them himself. But what is it that forces the man to fear his neighbour, to think and act with his herd, and not seek his own joy? Shyness perhaps, in a few rare cases, but in the majority it is idleness, the "taking things easily," in a word the "tendency to sloth," of which the traveller spoke. He was right; men are more slothful than timid, and their greatest fear is of the burdens that an uncompromising honesty and nakedness of speech and action would lay on them.
Friedrich Nietzsche, "Schopenhauer als Erzieher," Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen, Nietzsche's Werke, Bd. I (Leipzig: C. G. Naumann, 1899), p. 387:
Jener Reisende, der viel Länder und Völker und mehrere Erdteile gesehen hatte und gefragt wurde, welche Eigenschaft der Menschen er überall wiedergefunden habe, sagte: sie haben einen Hang zur Faulheit. Manchen wird es dünken, er hätte richtiger und gültiger gesagt: sie sind alle furchtsam. Sie verstecken sich unter Sitten und Meinungen. Im Grunde weiß jeder Mensch recht wohl, daß er nur einmal, als ein Unikum, auf der Welt ist und daß kein noch so seltsamer Zufall zum zweitenmal ein so wunderlich buntes Mancherlei zum Einerlei, wie er es ist, zusammenschütteln wird: er weiß es, aber verbirgt es wie ein böses Gewissen – weshalb? Aus Furcht vor dem Nachbar, welcher die Konvention fordert und sich selbst mit ihr verhüllt. Aber was ist es, was den einzelnen zwingt, den Nachbar zu fürchten, herdenmäßig zu denken und zu handeln und seiner selbst nicht froh zu sein? Schamhaftigkeit vielleicht bei einigen und seltnen. Bei den allermeisten ist es Bequemlichkeit, Trägheit, kurz jener Hang zur Faulheit, von dem der Reisende sprach. Er hat Recht: die Menschen sind noch fauler als furchtsam und fürchten gerade am meisten die Beschwerden, welche ihnen eine unbedingte Ehrlichkeit und Nacktheit aufbürden würde.

26 January 2015

Sign for an Office Cubicle

George Haven Putnam, Books and Their Makers During the Middle Ages, Vol. I (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1896), pp. 153-154:
Isidore, Bishop of Seville (c. 560-636), possessed probably the largest collection of books at that time in Europe. It was contained in fourteen presses or armaria, each of which was ornamented with a bust and inscribed with verses. The series of verses concludes with the following notice addressed ad interventorem, a term which may be interpreted a talkative intruder:
Non patitur quemquam coram se scriba loquentem; 
Non est hic quod agas, garrule, perge foras. 

(The scribe allows no one to speak in his presence; there is nothing for you to do here, chatterbox, you had better go outside.)

23 January 2015

Justice Is the Moon

Arnold Bennett, The Human Machine (New York: George.H. Doran, 1911), pp. 46-47:
You remark sagely to your child: 'No, my child, you cannot have that moon, and you will accomplish nothing by crying for it. Now, here is this beautiful box of bricks, by means of which you may amuse yourself while learning many wonderful matters and improving your mind. You must try to be content with what you have, and to make the best of it. If you had the moon you wouldn't be any happier.' Then you lie awake half the night repining because the last post has brought a letter to the effect that 'the Board cannot entertain your application for,' etc. You say the two cases are not alike. They are not. Your child has never heard of Epictetus. On the other hand, justice is the moon. At your age you surely know that. 'But the Directors ought to have granted my application,' you insist. Exactly! I agree. But we are not in a universe of oughts. You have a special apparatus within you for dealing with a universe where oughts are flagrantly disregarded. And you are not using it. You are lying awake, keeping your wife awake, injuring your health, injuring hers, losing your dignity and your cheerfulness. Why? Because you think that these antics and performances will influence the Board? Because you think that they will put you into a better condition for dealing with your environment to-morrow? Not a bit. Simply because the [mental] machine is at fault.

21 January 2015

Frustrated Desire and Disappointment

Edwyn Bevan, Stoics and Sceptics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913), p. 70:
The Stoics, I think, saw with perfect truth that if you were going to allow any least entrance of love and pity into the breast, you admitted something whose measure you could not control, and might just as well give up the idea of inner tranquillity at once. Where love is, action cannot be without desire; the action of love has eminently regard to fruit, in the sense of some result beyond itself — the one thing that seems to matter is whether the loved person really is helped by your action. Of course you run the risk of frustrated desire and disappointment. The Stoic sage was never frustrated and never disappointed.

20 January 2015


Fredegarius Scholasticus, c. 600, quoted in George Haven Putnam, Books and Their Makers During the Middle Ages, Vol. I (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1896), p. 128:
The world is in its decrepitude. Intellectual activity is dead, and the ancient writers have no successors.

19 January 2015

Blessed Richard of Arnsberg

George Haven Putnam, Books and Their Makers During the Middle Ages, Vol. I (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1896), p. 11:
It was in the monasteries that were preserved such fragments of the classic literature as had escaped the general devastation of Italy; and it was to the labours of the monks of the West, and particularly to the labours of the monks of S. Benedict, that was due the preservation for the Middle Ages and for succeeding generations of the remembrance and the influence of the literature of classic times. For a period of more than six centuries, the safety of the literary heritage of Europe, one may say of the world, depended upon the scribes of a few dozen scattered monasteries. 
Id., p. 65:
In the monastery of Wedinghausen, near Arnsberg in Westphalia, there was a skilled and zealous scribe named Richard, an Englishman, who spent many years in adding to the library of the institution. Twenty years after his death [in 1190], when the rest of his body had crumbled into dust, the right hand, with which this holy work had been accomplished, was found intact, and has since been preserved under the altar as a holy relic.
From the Kloster Wedinghausen web site:

Richard of Arnsberg's right hand
Related posts:

15 January 2015

Exceptions to the Rule

Henri-Frédéric Amiel, Journal Intime, tr. Mrs. Humphry Ward (New York: A. L. Burt, c. 1895), pp. 338-339:
Life rushes on — so much the worse for the weak and the stragglers. As soon as a man's tendo Achillis gives way he finds himself trampled under foot by the young, the eager, the voracious. "Vae victis, vae debilibus!" yells the crowd, which in its turn is storming the goods of this world. Every man is always in some other man's way, since, however small he may make himself, he still occupies some space, and however little he may envy or possess, he is still sure to be envied and his goods coveted by some one else. Mean world! — peopled by a mean race! To console ourselves we must think of the exceptions — of the noble and generous souls. There are such. What do the rest matter!

13 January 2015

Never Suffered

Paul Léautaud, first conversation with Robert Mallet, Entretiens avec Rober Mallet (Paris: Mercure de France, 1951), pp. 27-28 (my translation):
RM: When you came to Paris, how much were you living on, exactly?

PL: I lived on 50 francs a month.

RM: That was very little.

PL: I never noticed, I do not know what poverty is. I do know know what it is! The word poverty itself has never come to my mind for me to use it.

RM: You do not...

PL: Poverty, I do not think about it, I have never suffered from it. I have never suffered from it!

RM: But still, one must have a minimum on which to live.

PL: For eight years I lived on a sort of cheese they call Bondon, I don't know if you are familiar with it.

RM: Yes, it's the cheese from Neufchâtel-en-Bray.

PL: This cheese cost four sous. Well, for eight years, I lunched and dined on four-sous cheese, a piece of bread, a glass of water, a little coffee, and I never suffered from it!

12 January 2015

A Standard of Speech

Nicholas Murray Butler, The Meaning of Education (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1915), pp. 138-139:
As one goes about in crowded places, a very common expression to meet the ear is this: "I says to him, says I." This is an expression that no human being would ever use if his ears really heard it. It is only because the speaker does not really hear it, does not know when he is using it, that he departs so entirely from the ordinary standards observed in our daily speech. A great many persons seem to think that correctness of speech is a matter of individual temperament, and that it is apt to accompany certain lackadaisical characteristics of manner. The truth is quite the contrary to this. Few things so completely reveal the kind of person one is as the sort of speech he uses. One need not use the speech of the formal lecturer; one need not use the long, involved words and phrases which sometimes mark the writing even of reputable authors; but any one who listens and who understands what he says and hears, who thinks and speaks with simple correctness and dignity, without affectation, without straining for effect, and especially without imitating the newspapers — that person is applying a standard of speech which indicates an advanced stage of civilization.

9 January 2015

With This Melancholy Charm

John Foster, "On a Man's Writing Memoirs of Himself," Essays in a Series of Letters (London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1833), pp. 15-16:
Some persons can recollect certain particular sentences or conversations which made so deep an impression, perhaps in some instances they can scarcely tell why, that they have been thousands of times recalled, while innumerable others have been forgotten; or they can revert to some striking incident, coming in aid of instruction, or being of itself a forcible instruction, which they seem even now to see as plainly as when it happened, and of which they will retain a perfect idea to the end of life. The most remarkable circumstances of this kind deserve to be recorded in the supposed memoirs. In some instances, to recollect the instructions of a former period will be to recollect too the excellence, the affection, and the death, of the persons who gave them. Amidst the sadness of such a remembrance, it will be a consolation that they are not entirely lost to us. Wise monitions, when they return on us with this melancholy charm, have more pathetic cogency than when they were first uttered by the voice of a living friend. It will be an interesting occupation of the pensive hour, to recount the advantages which we have received from the beings who have left the world, and to reinforce our virtues from the dust of those who first taught them.

8 January 2015

Dancing Apes

Lucian of Samosata, "The Fisher," The Works of Lucian, tr. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler, Vol. I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), p. 222:
These men are excellent friends so long as there is no gold or silver for them to dispute the possession of; exhibit but a copper or two, and peace is broken, truce void, armistice ended; their books are blank, their Virtue fled, and they so many dogs; some one has flung a bone into the pack, and up they spring to bite each other and snarl at the one which has pounced successfully. There is a story of an Egyptian king who taught some apes the sword-dance; the imitative creatures very soon picked it up, and used to perform in purple robes and masks; for some time the show was a great success, till at last an ingenious spectator brought some nuts in with him and threw them down. The apes forgot their dancing at the sight, dropped their humanity, resumed their apehood, and, smashing masks and tearing dresses, had a free fight for the provender. Alas for the corps de ballet and the gravity of the audience!

6 January 2015

Redundant Amplitude

Isaac Taylor, History of the Transmission of Ancient Books to Modern Times (Liverpool: Edward Howell, 1875), pp. 95-96:
[U]nless a universal devastation should take its course, at once, over every region of the civilised world, the literature now extant in books can neither perish, nor suffer corruption. A temple, a statue, a picture, or a gem is but one; and however durable may be the material of which it consists, it continually decays, and it is always destructible. The touch of the sculptor moulders from the chiselled surface; and the time will come when every monument of his genius shall have crumbled into dust, and when his fame — lost from the marble, shall live only in the works of the poets and historians who were his contemporaries.

Thus it is that the written records of distant ages, with the knowledge of which the intellectual, moral, and political well-being of mankind is inseparably connected, are secured from extinction by a mode of conservation that is less liable to extensive hazards than any other that can be imagined. If Man be cut off from the knowledge of the past, he becomes indifferent to the future, and thenceforward sinks into the rudeness and ferocity of the sensual life. The redundant amplitude, therefore, of the means by which this knowledge is preserved, only bears a due proportion to the importance of the consequences that depend upon its perpetuation.

5 January 2015

A Few Individuals

Isaac Taylor, History of the Transmission of Ancient Books to Modern Times (Liverpool: Edward Howell, 1875), pp. 88-89:
Learning and the sciences can flourish and advance only where there are the means of a wide and quick diffusion of the fruits of intellectual labour: but they may exist even under the almost total absence of such means. This was the case in Europe during the middle ages. Knowledge rested with the few whom the inward fire of native genius constrained to pursue it: and these few were often insulated from each other, and unknown beyond the walls within which they spent their lives; and often secluded also by their tastes, even from their fellows of the same society.

In every myriad of the human race, take the number where or when we may, there will be found a few individuals — born for thought; and if the vocation of nature is not always stronger than every obstacle, it is, for the most part, strong enough to overcome such as are of ordinary magnitude. Those who are thus endowed with the appetite for knowledge, will certainly follow the impulse, if the means of its acquirement are presented to them in early life.
A related post: Individuals

2 January 2015

Have You Wine and Music Still?

James Elroy Flecker, "To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence," The Collected Poems of James Elroy Flecker, ed. J.C. Squire (New York: Doubleday, 1916), pp. 75-76:
I who am dead a thousand years,
   And wrote this sweet archaic song,
Send you my words for messengers
   The way I shall not pass along.

I care not if you bridge the seas,
   Or ride secure the cruel sky,
Or build consummate palaces
   Of metal or of masonry.

But have you wine and music still,
   And statues and a bright-eyed love,
And foolish thoughts of good and ill,
   And prayers to them who sit above?

How shall we conquer? Like a wind
   That falls at eve our fancies blow,
And old Maeonides the blind
   Said it three thousand years ago.

O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
   Student of our sweet English tongue,
Read out my words at night, alone:
   I was a poet, I was young.

Since I can never see your face,
   And never shake you by the hand,
I send my soul through time and space
   To greet you. You will understand.
Tomorrow is the centenary of Flecker's death.