28 October 2015

It Is Their Nature

Basil Anderton, "The Lure of Translation,"  Sketches From a Library Window (Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, 1922), p. 58:
Translators, being artists in language, act like other artists: like actors who impersonate different characters; like musicians who are impelled to play particular instruments, or composers who adapt, let us say, folk-tunes or other themes to new conditions of musical composition; or like painters who take, for instance, old historical subjects and re-express them in the fashion of their own period and their own nationality. One is tempted to say, first of all and in a general sense, that men translate because "it is their nature." They do it because they are driven by inward impulse to this mode of self-expression. They do it because they enjoy doing it: enjoy it, that is, with the bitter-sweet joy that accompanies all intellectual or artistic effort.

23 October 2015

Bene Qui Latuit, Bene Vixit

James Thomson (1834-1882), "The Speedy Extinction of Evil and Misery," Essays and Phantasies (London: Reeves and Turner, 1881), p. 97:
I confess that the tortures and indignities to which in these days celebrated men are subject, both while living and when dead, have so horrified me, that I immensely prefer the most ignoble obscurity to the most noble reputation. For while alive the famous man has neither peace nor privacy, being the common property of all the idle busybodies and malicious or foolish newsmongers who may care to seize on him, destroying his comfort and devastating his time. And when dead his case is even worse. The repose of the tomb is no repose for him. Lecturers lecture on him, preachers preach on him; biographers serve him up in butter and treacle, or in acrid vinegar, to a lickerous and palled public, exposing all his weaknesses, follies, misfortunes, errors, and defects.

21 October 2015

They Will Follow Thee at an Inch

Justus Lipsius, Of Constancie, tr. John Stradling (London: Richard Johnes, 1594), p. 5:
But you will say [...] that the daylie beholding of strange fashions, men, and places doth refresh and lighten the mind loaden with oppressions. No (Lipsius) you are deceived. For, to tell you the trueth plainlie, I doe not so much derogate from peregrination and travelling, as though it bare no sway over men and their affections: yes verily it avayleth, but yet thus farre, to the expelling of some small tediousnes and wearinesse of our mindes, not to the curing of maladies rooted so deeply, as that these externall medicines cannot plucke them up. Musicke, wine, and sleepe have oftentimes quenched the first enkindled sparkes of anger, sorrow, and love: But never weeded out any settled or deepe rooted griefe. Likewise I say, that travelling might perhaps cure superficiall skarres, but not substantiall sores. For, these first motions having their originall from the body, doe sticke in the body or at the most doe but cleave to the utter velme of the mind (as a man may say). And therefore no marvell is it, though with a spoonge they be lightly washed away: Otherwise it is of olde festered affections, which hold their seat, yea & scepter in the castle of the mind. When thou hast gone far, and wandred everie sea and shore, thou shalt neither drowne them in the deepe sea, nor burie them in the bowels of the earth. They will follow thee at an inch: And (as the Poet saith), foule care will sit close in the skirtes of footman and horseman.
Related posts:

16 October 2015

The Magic Bean

Arthur Machen, Far Off Things (London: Martin Secker, 1922), pp. 124-125:
[W]hat is called genius is not only of many varying degrees of intensity, but also very distinctly of two parts or functions. There is the passive side of genius, that faculty which is amazed by the strange, mysterious, admirable spectacle of the world, which is enchanted and rapt out of our common airs by hints and omens of an adorable beauty everywhere latent beneath the veil of appearance. Now I think that every man or almost every man is born with the potentiality at all events of this function of genius. Os homini sublime dedit, cœlumque tueri: man, as distinct from the other animals, carries his head on high so that he may look upon the heavens; and I think that we may say that this sentence has an interior as well as an exterior meaning. The beasts look downward, to the earth, not only in the letter but in the spirit; they are creatures of material sensation, living by far the greatest part of their lives in a world of hot and cold, hunger and thirst and satisfaction. Man, on the other hand, is by his nature designed to look upward, to gaze into the heavens that are all about him, to discern the eternal in things temporal. Or, as the Priestess of the Holy Bottle defines and distinguishes: the beasts are made to drink water, but men to drink wine. This, the receptive or passive part of genius, is, I say, given to every human being, at least potentially. We receive, each one of us, the magic bean, and if we will plant it it will undoubtedly grow and become our ladder to the stars and the cloud castles. Unfortunately the modern process, so oddly named civilisation, is as killing to this kind of gardening as the canker to the rose; and thus it is that if I want a really nice chair, I must either buy a chair that is from a hundred to a hundred and fifty years old, or else a careful copy or replica of such a chair. It may appear strange to Tottenham Court Road and the modern furniture trade; but it is none the less true that you cannot design so much as a nice arm-chair unless you have gone a little way at all events up the magic beanstalk.

12 October 2015

A Vicious Extravagance

John Drinkwater, The World and the Artist (London: Bookman's Journal, 1922), p. 17:
The first thing that we have to consider in the ordering of our lives is that to each one of us is given a definite and limited fund of energy to expend, and our most serious responsibility is to see that none of this is wasted or misapplied. I know of no better summary of the derelict instinct of these later generations, of which we must dare to hope that we are the last, than Mr. Gordon Bottomley's cry against the energy that addresses itself always to the devising of "machines for making more machines." It is a vicious extravagance that permeates our society. Men employ their most precious cunning to make three engines in a week, for no positive excellence in the feat and with no other thought than that beyond that they may be able to make six; they learn a new language in a month, then in a week, then they will telescope all languages into one, and hope, no doubt, for the happy day when speech will be quickened into a telegraphic code; which event will prove to be but a stage towards some yet more fortunate dispensation; they bombard cities at a range of twenty miles, of seventy, cherishing yet, it may be, designs on the moon, and they make money with a single zeal for making more money. And it is all, we are told, vigour and intensity of life. Every age has its delusions, but there has never been a delusion sorrier and more contemptible than this.
Hat tip: First Known When Lost

8 October 2015

Kings and Thieves

St. Augustine, The City of God (Book IV, chapter iv), tr. Marcus Dods, Vol. I (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1913), pp. 139-140:
Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, "What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor."*
* Nonius Marcell. borrows this anecdote from Cicero, De Repub. iii.

6 October 2015

A Charlatan

Roger Scruton on Michel Foucault's Les mots et les choses, from Gentle Regrets (London: Continuum, 2005), p. 35:
It is an artful book, composed with a satanic mendacity, selectively appropriating facts in order to show that culture and knowledge are nothing but the 'discourses' of power. The book is not a work of philosophy but an exercise in rhetoric. Its goal is subversion, not truth, and it is careful to argue — by the old nominalist sleight of hand that was surely invented by the Father of Lies — that 'truth' requires inverted commas, that it changes from epoch to epoch, and is tied to the form of consciousness, the episteme, imposed by the class that profits from its propagation. The revolutionary spirit, which searches the world for things to hate, has found in Foucault a new literary formula. Look everywhere for power, he tells his readers, and you will find it. Where there is power there is oppression. And where there is oppression there is the right to destroy. In the street below my window [during the Paris riots of 1968] was the translation of that message into deeds. 
Id., p. 36:
Foucault is dead from AIDS, contracted during well-funded tours as an intellectual celebrity. However his books are on university reading lists all over Europe and America. His vision of European culture as the institutionalized form of oppressive power is taught everywhere as gospel, to students who have neither the culture nor the religion to resist it. Only in France is he widely regarded as a charlatan.

1 October 2015

Where Is the Poetry?

R. S. Thomas, "A Frame for Poetry," Selected Prose, ed. Sandra Anstey (Bridgend: Seren, 1995), p. 72:
We are told with increasing vehemence that this is a scientific age, and that science is transforming the world, but is it not also a mechanized and impersonal age, an analytic and clinical one; an age in which under the hard glass of affluence there can be detected the murmuring of the starved heart and the uneasy spirit? “The voice of Rachel crying for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” The old themes of poetry are outmoded, we are told. Nothing is in itself un-poetical and true poets can as well make poetry about tractors and conveyor belts as about skylarks and nightingales. In theory, yes, but in practice where is the poetry?

29 September 2015


Theodore Low De Vinne, The Practice of Typography: A Treatise on Title-Pages (New York: The Century, 1902), pp. 7-8:
[T]here were good reasons why a printed book should not be impersonal. Careful printers who tried to correct a faulty manuscript copy might be confounded with careless printers who gave little heed to editing or proof-reading. There were also piratical printers who stole the editorial work of more painstaking rivals, and sold faulty reprints as the work of their honest rivals, but always at lower price. After some unpleasant experiences consequent on unwary purchases from unknown printers, the critical reader began to discover the relative merit of books. Before he bought a new book he looked for the imprint of a reputable printer as some guaranty of its accuracy. A book without attest was like a bit of silverware without the official stamp; it might be good, it might be bad, but the latter conclusion was oftener reached. When the fifteenth century closed, the printers of good standing in all countries put their names at the end of their books.
A colophon in the shape of a Venetian wine-cup, from an edition of
Petrarch by Bartholomew Valdezocchio, made at Padua in 1472. 

24 September 2015

The Improvement of the Mind

Isaac Watts, The Improvement of the Mind (London: James Brackstone, 1741), p. 13:
A well-furnish'd Library and a capacious Memory, are indeed of singular Use toward the Improvement of the Mind; but if all your Learning be nothing else but a mere Amassment of what others have written, without a due Penetration into their Meaning, and without a judicious Choice and Determination of your own Sentiments, I do not see what Title your Head has to true Learning, above your Shelves.
Hat tip: Anecdotal Evidence

22 September 2015

Travel for Travel's Sake

Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (London: Chatto and Windus, 1919), p. 57:
For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilisation, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints. Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting, who can annoy himself about the future?

17 September 2015

My Time Is My Own

The demon Screwtape offers his nephew the demon Wormwood advice on tempting a human into sin, C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Letter XXI, (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1946):
Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied. The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered. Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him. It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tête-à-tête with the friend), that throw him out of gear. Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption, “My time is my own”. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.

You have here a delicate task. The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defence. The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels.

Luca Signorelli, Four Demons Inspecting a Book (c. 1500)

Laudator Temporis Acti has posted another favourite passage of mine from this book on The Historical Point of View.

15 September 2015

Plain Simple English Words

R. S. Thomas, "Words and the Poet," quoted in Christopher Morgan R. S. Thomas: Identity, Environment, Deity (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), p. 94:
At times there comes the desire to write with great precision and clarity, words so simple and moving that they bring tears to the eyes, or, if you like, as Wordsworth said, are 'too deep for tears' ... This is where the one syllable, the four letter words come into their own. They can have a particular force. One remembers lines such as that by Wilfred Owen in 'Futility': 'Was it for this the clay grew tall?' Plain simple English words, yet so often they are the best. It is a case of 'central peace subsisting at the heart of endless agitation'. Art is not simple, and yet about so much of the best, whether in painting, poetry or music, there is a kind of miraculous simplicity.

10 September 2015

One Fine Way to Keep Sane

Charles Rowley, Fifty Years of Work Without Wages (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911), pp. 34-35:
Now Manchester is exceptionally fortunate for those who are blessed with these desires [to go on long walks] and who will seize their opportunity. In a few hours we can be in the heart of the loveliest parts of Derbyshire. For inexpensive week-ends, for good walkers, the finest of Welsh or Lake Country scenery can be at our feet in a little more time. During Saturday afternoon, Sunday, and Monday, losing only one day from work hours, and with a pound in your pocket, you can enjoy, if you have the capacity, the finest things our islands afford. Indeed, some of our most enchanting experiences have been gained for a much smaller sum. You form a good plan — that is essential if you are to get to the heart of the best in nature — you take your Sunday midday meal in your satchel, and you trudge along to your heart's delight, wet or fine. That is one fine way to keep sane, to build up character, to enjoy keenly the best about us. Our current temptations to money-spending do not result in half the joy and satisfaction of these simpler, truer methods.

A hard-working labourer was asked by the clergyman of his parish why he got so drunk every week-end when he drew his wages. Said he, "It's the shortest way out of Manchester." We found ways not so short but much more effectual.
According to the Bank of England inflation calculator, a "pound in your pocket" in 1911 would be the equivalent of about £105 today.

8 September 2015

Everything You Have Learned Remains Yours

Leslie Meisels, Suddenly the Shadow Fell (Toronto: Azrieli Foundation, 2015), p. 59:
The psychological effects of my experiences [during the Holocaust] taught me certain things that formed a philosophy that I have lived ever since. Life in the concentration camp [Bergen-Belsen], especially watching the leadership in our barracks and acquiring the simple knowledge of how to measure and cut bread rations precisely, taught me a great deal. I saw how people who were well educated and broad-minded stood out from the crowd, how they were able to adapt to their situation more easily than others. People looked up to them and they became leaders. I came to the conclusion that no matter what circumstance life puts a person in, even if everything you have is taken away, as long as you live, no one can take away your knowledge. Everything you have learned remains yours and can help you. For me, this produced a thirst for knowledge and a will to learn, which has never changed.

4 September 2015

The Lowest and Narrowest Compass

Lord Shaftesbury, Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (Birmingham: John Baskerville, 1773),  pp. 115-116:
You have heard it (my Friend!) as a common saying, that Interest governs the World. But, I believe, whoever looks narrowly into the affairs of it will find that Passion, Humour, Caprice, Zeal, Faction, and a thousand other Springs, which are counter to Self-Interest, have as considerable a part in the Movements of this Machine. There are more Wheels and Counter-Poises in this Engine than are easily imagined. 'Tis of too complex a kind to fall under one simple View, or be explained thus briefly in a word or two. The Studiers of this Mechanism must have a very partial Eye to overlook all other Motions besides those of the lowest and narrowest compass. 'Tis hard that in the Plan or Description of this Clock-work no Wheel or Balance should be allowed on the side of the better and more enlarg'd Affections; that nothing should be understood to be done in Kindness or Generosity, nothing in pure Good-Nature or Friendship, or through any social or natural Affection of any kind: when, perhaps, the main Springs of this Machine will be found to be either these very natural Affections themselves, or a compound kind deriv'd from them, and retaining more than one half of their Nature.

2 September 2015

Professor Horrendo

Gregory Rabassa, If This Be Treason (New York: New Directions, 2005), pp. 42-43:
Too often the review of a translated book is assigned to a person whose field is the literature of the language involved. The character is the one Sara Blackburn [an editor at Pantheon Books] so neatly dubbed Professor Horrendo. After he has dealt with the work in question, he will then roll up his sleeves and proceed to slice into the translation. His glee is almost visible. When alternatives are suggested they are inevitably of the tin-ear variety. These are people who would improve things by whitewashing Vermeer's yellow wall. Other reviewers will simply judge the flow of the English prose (poetry is too fugitive to go into here and I've written more of it than I've translated). Positive terms like "smooth," "flowing," and such are used along with negative ones like "awkward," "clumsy," and others. I have seen "efficient," whatever that might mean, but that was delivered by the same pedantic twerp who had gone tooth and nail after a translation of mine without realizing that he was reading uncorrected proofs. This varied cohort makes up what Alastair Reid calls the translation police. In doing so I think he must have police brutality in mind rather than law and order.
Rabassa quoted in Clifford Landers, Literary Translation: A Practical Guide (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2001), p. 25:
In his anality he [Prof. Horrendo] fetches his dictionary and finds that on page twenty the translation reads 'chair' where the true meaning of the original was 'stool.' This is usually done in defense of the integrity of the author, but often ... not knowing that the author, who knows English quite well, has checked and approved the translation. Professor Horrendo has long been our bane, and we should be thankful when a far-sighted editor gives a translation to a writer than to a scholar for review.
cf. The Only Competent Tribunal

31 August 2015

The Hating and Fighting Impulses

William James, Is Life Worth Living? (Philadelphia: S. Burns Weston, 1896), pp. 31-32:
There are in most men instinctive springs of vitality that respond healthily when the burden of metaphysical and infinite responsibility rolls off. The certainty that you now may step out of life whenever you please, and that to do so is not blasphemous or monstrous, is itself an immense relief. The thought of suicide is now no longer a guilty challenge and obsession.
"This little life is all we must endure;
The grave's most holy peace is ever sure."
says Thomson [in The City of Dreadful Night]; adding, "I ponder these thoughts, and they comfort me." Meanwhile we can always stand it for twenty-four hours longer, if only to see what to-morrow's newspaper will contain or what the next postman will bring. But far deeper forces than this mere vital curiosity are arousable, even in the pessimistically-tending mind; for where the loving and admiring impulses are dead, the hating and fighting impulses will still respond to fit appeals. This evil which we feel so deeply is something which we can also help to overthrow, for its sources, now that no "Substance" or "Spirit" is behind them, are finite, and we can deal with each of them in turn. It is, indeed, a remarkable fact that sufferings and hardships do not, as a rule, abate the love of life; they seem, on the contrary, usually to give it a keener zest.
Id., p. 37:
To the suicide, then, in his supposed world of multifarious and immoral Nature, you can appeal, and appeal in the name of the very evils that make his heart sick there, to wait and see his part of the battle out. And the consent to live on, which you ask of him under these circumstances, is not the sophistical "resignation" which devotees of cowering religions preach. It is not resignation in the sense of licking a despotic deity's hand. It is, on the contrary, a resignation based on manliness and pride.

26 August 2015

A Nest of Unfledged Birds

William Cobbett, "Making Bread," Cottage Economy (New York: John Doyle, 1833) p. 53:
It ought to be a maxim with every master and every mistress, never to employ another to do that which can be done as well by their own servants. The more of their money that is retained in the hands of their own people, the better it is for them altogether. Besides, a man of a right mind must be pleased with the reflection, that there is a great mass of skill and ability under his own roof. He feels stronger and more independent on this account, all pecuniary advantage out of the question. It is impossible to conceive any thing more contemptible than a crowd of men and women living together in a house, and constantly looking out of it for people to bring them food and drink, and to fetch their garments to and fro. Such a crowd resemble a nest of unfledged birds, absolutely dependent for their very existence on the activity and success of the old ones.

Yet, on men go, from year to year, in this state of wretched dependence, even when they have all the means of living within themselves, which is certainly the happiest state of life that any one can enjoy.

24 August 2015

In Summer, Under Shady Tree

W. H. Davies, "The Sluggard," Collected Poems (London: Jonathan Cape, 1921), p. 65
A jar of cider and my pipe,
   In summer, under shady tree;
A book of one that made his mind
   Live by its sweet simplicity:
Then must I laugh at kings who sit
   In richest chambers, signing scrolls;
And princes cheered in public ways,
   And stared at by a thousand fools.

Let me be free to wear my dreams.
   Like weeds in some mad maiden's hair.
When she believes the earth has not
   Another maid so rich and fair;
And proudly smiles on rich and poor.
   The queen of all fair women then:
So I, dressed in my idle dreams,
   Will think myself the king of men.