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.

18 August 2015

The Rational Side of Life

Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Interview in Télé Magazine (January 11, 1958), my translation:
Let's return to television. It is useful for people who do not go out, such as my wife for example. I have a set upstairs, but I never go up to it. It is a fabulous means of propaganda. It is also — alas! — a way of dumbing things down, in the sense that people come to rely on what they are shown. They no longer imagine. They look. They lose their sense of judgement, and they easily succumb to laziness.
Television is dangerous for people.
Alcoholism, gossip, and politics already make morons out of them. Was it really necessary to add something more?
But you have to admit it, there is no fighting against progress. Have you ever tried swimming up the Niagara Falls? No. Nobody can stop the forward march of television. It will soon change all modes of reasoning. It is an ideal instrument for the masses. It replaces everything, it eliminates all effort, it provides a great deal of peace and quiet to parents. Children are fascinated by this phenomenon.
The tragedy today is that one thinks effortlessly.
We knew Latin much better when there was no Latin grammar book. If you simplify the effort, the brain works less. The brain is a muscle: it becomes flaccid.
Here's an example: women had calf muscles during the occupation. They used to walk. Today mechanics have triumphed, and we live in the kingdom of beautiful cars. Women don't have legs any more, they are hideously ugly. The men have paunches.
Civilization the whole world over is doomed by the rational side of life.
The original, via Le pas grand-chose
Revenons à la télévision. Elle est utile pour les gens qui ne sortent pas, pour ma femme par exemple. J'ai un poste, au premier étage, mais je ne monte jamais. C'est un prodigieux moyen de propagande. C'est aussi, hélas ! un élément d'abêtissement, en ce sens que les gens se fient à ce qu'on leur montre. Ils n'imaginent plus. Ils voient. Ils perdent la notion de jugement, et ils se prêtent gentiment à la fainéantise.
La TV est dangereuse pour les hommes.
L'alcoolisme, le bavardage et la politique en font déjà des abrutis. Était-il nécessaire d'ajouter encore quelque chose?
Mais il faut bien l'admettre. On ne réagit pas contre le progrès. Vous arriverait-il d'essayer de remonter les chutes du Niagara à la nage ? Non. Personne ne pourra empêcher la marche en avant de la TV. Elle changera bientôt tous les modes de raisonnement. Elle est un instrument idéal pour la masse. Elle remplace tout, elle élimine l'effort, elle accorde une grande tranquillité aux parents. Les enfants sont passionnés par ce phénomène.
Il y a un drame aujourd'hui : on pense sans effort.
On savait bien mieux le latin lorsqu'il n'y avait pas de grammaire latine. Si vous simplifiez l'effort, le cerveau travaille moins. Le cerveau, c'est un muscle : il devient flasque.
Un exemple, les femmes avaient du mollet sous l'Occupation. Elles marchaient. Aujourd'hui, c'est le triomphe de la mécanique, nous sommes au royaume des belles voitures. Les femmes n'ont plus de jambes, elles sont affreusement laides. Les hommes ont du ventre.
C'est toute la civilisation du monde qui est condamnée par le côté raisonnable de la vie.

17 August 2015

The Part of a Great Man

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, "On Providence," Moral Essays, tr. John W. Basore, Vol. I (Loeb Classical Library; London: Heinemann, 1928), pp. 24-27:
Success comes to the common man, and even to commonplace ability; but to triumph over the calamities and terrors of mortal life is the part of a great man only. Truly, to be always happy and to pass through life without a mental pang is to be ignorant of one half of nature. You are a great man; but how do I know it if Fortune gives you no opportunity of showing your worth? You have entered as a contestant at the Olympic games, but none other besides you; you gain the crown, the victory you do not gain. You have my congratulations — not as a brave man, but as if you had obtained the consulship or praetorship; you have enhanced your prestige. In like manner, also, I may say to a good man, if no harder circumstance has given him the opportunity whereby alone he might show the strength of his mind, "I judge you unfortunate because you have never been unfortunate; you have passed through life without an antagonist; no one will know what you can do, — not even yourself." For if a man is to know himself, he must be tested; no one finds out what he can do except by trying. And so some men have presented themselves voluntarily to laggard misfortune, and have sought an opportunity to blazon forth their worth when it was about to pass into obscurity. Great men, I say, rejoice oft-times in adversity, as do brave soldiers in warfare.
The original:
Prosperae res et in plebem ac vilia ingenia deveniunt; at calamitates terroresque mortalium sub iugum mittere proprium magni viri est. Semper vero esse felicem et sine morsu animi transire vitam ignorare est rerum naturae alteram partem. Magnus vir es; sed unde scio, si tibi fortuna non dat facultatem exhibendae virtutis? Descendisti ad Olympia, sed nemo praeter te: coronam habes, victoriam non habes. Non gratulor tamquam viro forti, sed tanquam consulatum praeturamve adepto; honore auctus es. Item dicere et bono viro possum, si illi nullam occasionem difficilior casus dedit in qua una vim animi sui ostenderet: "Miserum te iudico, quod numquam fuisti miser. Transisti sine adversario vitam; nemo sciet quid potueris, ne tu quidem ipse." Opus est enim ad notitiam sui experimento; quid quisque posset nisi temptando non didicit. Itaque quidam ipsi ultro se cessantibus malis obtulerunt et virtuti iturae in obscurum occasionem per quam enitesceret quaesierunt. Gaudent, inquam, magni viri aliquando rebus adversis, non aliter quam fortes milites bello.
Related posts:

12 August 2015

Thralls of the Quack

Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present (Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co. 1890), pp. 75-76:
An election, whether managed directly by ballot-box on public hustings, or indirectly by force of public opinion, or were it even by open alehouses, landlords' coercion, popular club-law, or whatever electoral methods, is always an interesting phenomenon. A mountain tumbling in great travail, throwing up dustclouds and absurd noises, is visibly there; uncertain yet what mouse or monster it will give birth to.

Besides it is a most important social act; nay, at bottom, the one important social act. Given the men a People choose, the People itself, in its exact worth and worthlessness, is given. A heroic people chooses heroes, and is happy; a valet or flunkey people chooses sham-heroes, what are called quacks, thinking them heroes, and is not happy. The grand summary of a man's spiritual condition, what brings out all his herohood and insight, or all his flunkeyhood and horn-eyed dimness, is this question put to him, What man dost thou honour? Which is thy ideal of a man; or nearest that? So too of a People: for a People too, every People, speaks its choice, — were it only by silently obeying, and not revolting, — in the course of a century or so.
Id., pp. 82-83:
It is written, 'if we are ourselves valets, there shall exist no hero for us; we shall not know the hero when we see him; ' — we shall take the quack for a hero; and cry, audibly through all ballot-boxes and machinery whatsoever, Thou art he: be thou King over us!

What boots it? Seek only deceitful Speciosity, money with gilt carriages, 'fame' with newspaper-paragraphs, whatever name it bear, you will find only deceitful Speciosity; godlike Reality will be forever far from you. The Quack shall be legitimate inevitable King of you; no earthly machinery able to exclude the Quack. Ye shall be born thralls of the Quack, and suffer under him, till your hearts are near broken, and no French Revolution or Manchester Insurrection, or partial or universal volcanic combustions and explosions, never so many, can do more than change the figure of your Quack; the essence of him remaining, for a time and times.

11 August 2015

What Have You Done With Your Master, Slave?

Xavier Mellery, L'immortalité, c. 1890:

Image from the Musée Fin-de-Siècle, Brussels
The lines at the bottom are attributed to Victor Hugo:
Squelette réponds-moi: Qu'as-tu fait de ton âme
Flambeau, qu'as-tu fait de ta flamme?
Cage déserte, qu'as-tu fait
De ton bel oiseau qui chantait?
Volcan qu'as-tu fait de ta lave?
Qu'as-tu fait de ton maître, esclave?
My (insipid) translation:
Answer me, skeleton: What have you done with your soul?
Torch, what have you done with your flame?
Empty cage, what have you done
With your pretty bird that used to sing?
Vulcano, what have you done with your lava?
What have you done with your master, slave?
According to Louis de Bellemare, Hugo wrote these impromptu lines on the shoulder blade of a skeleton that belonged to Roger de Beauvoir. See Les dernières années d'Alexandre Dumas (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1883), p. 84.

7 August 2015

How Far I Am

Eugène Delacroix, letter to Jean-Baptiste Pierret (1818), quoted in Dorothy Bussy, Eugene Delacroix (London: Duckworth and Co., 1912), p.12:
I think of Poussin in his retirement, delighting in the study of the human heart and the masterpieces of the ancients, little heeding Richelieu's academies and pensions; I think of Raphael in his mistress' arms, passing from the Fornarina to the St. Cecilia, composing his sublime pictures as easily as other people breathe and speak — all with simplicity and gentle inspiration. Oh, my friend, when I think of these great models, I feel only too deeply how far I am, not only from their divine spirit, but even from their modest candour.

4 August 2015

Forget It

Publius Syrus, The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus, tr. Darius Lyman (Cleveland: L. E. Barnard, 1856), p. 43:
A noble spirit finds a cure for injustice in forgetting it.
The original and in French, from Sentences de Publius Syrus, tr. Francis Levasseur (Paris: Panckouke, 1825), pp. 42-43:
Magnanimo injuriae remedium oblivio est. 
Pour l'homme magnanime, l'oubli est le remède de l'injure.
Hat tip: Hisperic.

Related posts:

2 August 2015

To Have Enjoy'd the Sun

Matthew Arnold, "Empedocles on Etna" (lines 397-406), The Poems of Matthew Arnold  (London: Oxford University Press, 1922), p. 111:
   Is it so small a thing
   To have enjoy'd the sun,
   To have lived light in the spring,
   To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanced true friends, and beat down baffling foes;
   That we must feign a bliss
   Of doubtful future date,
   And while we dream on this
   Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose?

28 July 2015

No Coward

James Elroy Flecker, "No Coward's Song," The Collected Poems of James Elroy Flecker, ed. J.C. Squire (New York: Doubleday, 1916), p. 125:
I am afraid to think about my death,
When it shall be, and whether in great pain
I shall rise up and fight the air for breath
Or calmly wait the bursting of my brain.

I am no coward who could seek in fear
A folk-lore solace or sweet Indian tales:
I know dead men are deaf and cannot hear
The singing of a thousand nightingales.

I know dead men are blind and cannot see
The friend that shuts in horror their big eyes,
And they are witless — O, I'd rather be
A living mouse than dead as a man dies.

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.