18 December 2015

Wearisome, Especially if Prolonged

Philip G. Hamerton, Human Intercourse (London: Macmillan, 1884), pp. 65-66:
Owing to natural refinement, and to certain circumstances of which he intelligently availed himself, one member of a family is a cultivated gentleman, whose habitual ways of thinking are of rather an elevated kind, and whose manners and language are invariably faultless. He is blessed with very near relations whose principal characteristic is loud, confident, overwhelming vulgarity. He is always uncomfortable with these relations. He knows that the ways of thinking and speaking which are natural to him will seem cold and uncongenial to them; that not one of his thoughts can be exactly understood by them; that his deficiency in what they consider heartiness is a defect he cannot get over. On the other hand, he takes no interest in what they say, because their opinions on all the subjects he cares about are too crude, and their information too scanty or erroneous. If he said what he felt impelled to say, all his talk would be a perpetual correction of their clumsy blunders. He has, therefore, no resource but to repress himself and try to act a part, the part of a pleased companion; but this is wearisome, especially if prolonged. The end is that he keeps out of their way, and is set down as a proud, conceited person, and an unkind relative. In reality he is simply refined and has a difficulty in accommodating himself to the ways of all vulgar society whatever, whether composed of his own relations or of strangers. Does he deserve to be blamed for this? Certainly not. He has not the flexibility, the dramatic power, to adapt himself to a lower state of civilization; that is his only fault. His relations are persons with whom, if they were not relations, nobody would expect him to associate; but because he and they happen to be descended from a common ancestor he is to maintain an impossible intimacy. He wishes them no harm; he is ready to make sacrifices to help them; his misfortune is that he does not possess the humour of a Dickens that would have enabled him to find amusement in their vulgarity, and he prefers solitude to that infliction.

16 December 2015

One of My Bedside Books

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft  (London: Archibald Constable, 1912), pp. 154-155:
Many a time, when life went hard with me, I have betaken myself to the Stoics, and not all in vain.  Marcus Aurelius has often been one of my bedside books; I have read him in the night watches, when I could not sleep for misery, and when assuredly I could have read nothing else.  He did not remove my burden; his proofs of the vanity of earthly troubles availed me nothing; but there was a soothing harmony in his thought which partly lulled my mind, and the mere wish that I could find strength to emulate that high example (though I knew that I never should) was in itself a safeguard against the baser impulses of wretchedness.
If I were sent into exile and only
able to bring a handful of books,
I would find room in my bag for
this Pléiade edition of the Stoics. 

14 December 2015

A Grand Goal

William Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 2-3:
If you lack a grand goal in living, you lack a coherent philosophy of life.

Why is it important to have such a philosophy? Because without one, there is a danger that you will mislive — that despite all your activity, despite all the pleasant diversions you might have enjoyed while alive, you will end up living a bad life. There is, in other words, a danger that when you are on your deathbed, you will look back and realize that you wasted your one chance at living. Instead of spending your life pursuing something genuinely valuable, you squandered it because you allowed yourself to be distracted by the various baubles life has to offer.
A related post: Do You Like This Idea?

10 December 2015

From Within

Procopius, History of the Wars, tr. H. B. Dewing, Vol. II (London: William Heinemann, 1916), pp. 13-16:
Among the youths in the army whose beards had not yet grown, but who had just come of age, he [Alaric] chose out three hundred whom he knew to be of good birth and possessed of valour beyond their years, and told them secretly that he was about to make a present of them to certain of the patricians in Rome, pretending that they were slaves. And he instructed them that, as soon as they got inside the houses of those men, they should display much gentleness and moderation and serve them eagerly in whatever tasks should be laid upon them by their owners; and he further directed them that not long afterwards, on an appointed day at about midday, when all those who were to be their masters would most likely be already asleep after their meal, they should all come to the gate called Salarian and with a sudden rush kill the guards, who would have no previous knowledge of the plot, and open the gates as quickly as possible.
cf. Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. IV (Oxford: D. A. Talboys, 1827), p. 130:
But they [the Romans] were unable to guard against the secret conspiracy of their slaves and domestics, who either from birth or interest were attached to the cause of the enemy. At the hour of midnight the Salarian gate was silently opened, and the inhabitants were awakened by the tremendous sound of the Gothic trumpet. Eleven hundred and sixty-three years after the foundation of Rome, the Imperial city, which had subdued and civilised so considerable a part of mankind, was delivered to the licentious fury of the tribes of Germany and Scythia. 

9 December 2015

The Good Dishes

Gaius Musonius Rufus, "On Furnishings," in Cora Lutz, "Musonius Rufus, the Roman Socrates", Yale Classical Studies 10 (1947), 3-147 (at 125-126):
In general, one would rightly judge what is good and bad in furnishings by these three criteria: acquisition, use, and preservation. Whatever is difficult to obtain or not convenient to use or not easy to protect is to be judged inferior; but what we acquire with no difficulty and use with satisfaction and find easy to keep is superior. For this reason earthenware and iron and similar vessels are much better than those of silver or gold, because their acquisition is less trouble since they are cheaper, their usefulness is greater since we can safely expose them to heat and fire (which cannot be done with others), and guarding them is less of a problem, for the inexpensive ones are less likely to be stolen than the expensive ones. No small part of preserving them too is keeping them clean, which is a more expensive matter with costly ones. Just as a horse which is bought for a small price but is able to fulfill many needs is more desirable than one which does little although he was bought for a great price, so in the matter of furnishings the cheaper and more serviceable are better than the more costly and less serviceable ones. Why is it, then, that the rare and expensive pieces are sought after rather than those which are available and cheap? It is because the things which are really good and fine are not recognized, and in place of them those which only seem good are eagerly sought by the foolish. As madmen often think that black is white, so foolishness is next of kin to madness.

7 December 2015

Both Are Alike

Palladius of Galatia, "Counsels to Lausus," The Paradise, or Garden of the Holy Fathers, Vol. I (London: Chatto & Windus, 1907), p. 80:
I. To do good to the fool and to bury the dead; both are alike.

An admirable title page

2 December 2015


Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967), pp. 184-185:
One of the important features of the family territory is that it must be easily distinguished in some way from all the others. Its separate location gives it a uniqueness, of course, but this is not enough. Its shape and general appearance must make it stand out as an easily identifiable entity, so that it can become the 'personalized' property of the family that lives there. This is something which seems obvious enough, but which has frequently been overlooked or ignored, either as a result of economic pressures, or the lack of biological awareness of architects. Endless rows of uniformly repeated, identical houses have been erected in cities and towns all over the world. In the case of blocks of flats the situation is even more acute. The psychological damage done to the territorialism of the families forced by architects, planners and builders to live under these conditions is incalculable. Fortunately, the families concerned can impose territorial uniqueness on their dwellings in other ways. The buildings themselves can be painted different colours. The gardens, where there are any, can be planted and landscaped in individual styles. The insides of the houses or flats can be decorated and filled with ornaments, bric-a-brac and personal belongings in profusion. This is usually explained as being done to make the place 'look nice'.

In fact, it is the exact equivalent to another territorial species depositing its personal scent on a landmark near its den. When you put a name on a door, or hang a painting on a wall, you are, in dog or wolf terms, for example, simply cocking your leg on them and leaving your personal mark there. Obsessive 'collecting' of specialized categories of objects occurs in certain individuals who, for some reason, experience an abnormally strong need to define their home territories in this way.

24 November 2015

The Indistinctness of Their Own Conceptions

Hugh Blair, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (Basil: J. L. Legrand, 1789), p. 212:
Authors sometimes plead the difficulty of their subject, as an excuse for the want of Perspicuity. But the excuse can rarely, if ever, be sustained. For whatever a man conceives clearly, that it is in his power, if he will be at the trouble, to put into distinct propositions, to express clearly to others: and upon no subject ought any man to write, where he cannot think clearly. His ideas, indeed, may, very excusably, be on some subjects incomplete or inadequate; but still, as far as they go, they ought to be clear; and, wherever this is the case, Perspicuity in expressing them is always attainable. The obscurity which reigns so much among many metaphysical writers is, for the most part, owing to the indistinctness of their own conceptions. They see the object but in a confused light; and, of course, can never exhibit it in a clear one to others.
A related post: Mumbo Jumbo

20 November 2015

We Are Men, Not Insects

John Ruskin, The Mystery of Life (New York: T.Y. Crowell & Co, 1907), pp. 38-39:
Because you have no heaven to look for, is that any reason that you should remain ignorant of this wonderful and infinite earth, which is firmly and instantly given you in possession? Although your days are numbered, and the following darkness sure, is it necessary that you should share the degradation of the brute, because you are condemned to its mortality; or live the life of the moth, and of the worm, because you are to companion them in the dust? Not so; we may have but a few thousands of days to spend, perhaps hundreds only — perhaps, tens; nay, the longest of our time and best, looked back on, will be but as a moment, as the twinkling of an eye; still, we are men, not insects; we are living spirits, not passing clouds. . . . Let us do the work of men while we bear the form of them; and, as we snatch our narrow portion of time out of Eternity, snatch also our narrow inheritance of passion out of Immortality — even though our lives be as a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

18 November 2015

Timid and Industrious Animals

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, tr. Henry Reeve, Vol. II (New York: The Colonial Press, 1899), pp. 332-333:
I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest — his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind; as for the rest of his fellow-citizens, he is close to them, but he sees them not — he touches them, but he feels them not; he exists but in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country. Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness: it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances — what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range, and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things: it has predisposed men to endure them, and oftentimes to look on them as benefits.

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned them at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
The original, from Oeuvres complètes d'Alexis de Tocqueville, Vol. III (Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, 1864), pp. 518-521:
Je veux imaginer sous quels traits nouveaux le despotisme pourrait se produire dans le monde: je vois une foule innombrable d'hommes semblables et égaux qui tournent sans repos sur eux-mêmes pour se procurer de petits et vulgaires plaisirs, dont ils emplissent leur âme. Chacun d'eux, retiré à l'écart, est comme étranger à la destinée de tous les autres: ses enfants et ses amis particuliers forment pour lui toute l'espèce humaine; quant au demeurant de ses concitoyens, il est à côté d'eux, mais il ne les voit pas; il les touche et ne les sent point; il n'existe qu'en lui-même et pour lui seul, et s'il lui reste encore une famille, on peut dire du moins qu'il n'a plus de patrie.

Au-dessus de ceux-la s'élève un pouvoir immense et tutélaire, qui se charge seul d'assurer leur jouissance et de veiller sur leur sort. Il est absolu, détaillé, régulier, prévoyant et doux. Il ressemblerait à la puissance paternelle si, comme elle, il avait pour objet de préparer les hommes à l'âge viril; mais il ne cherche, au contraire, qu'à les fixer irrévocablement dans l'enfance; il aime que les citoyens se réjouissent, pourvu qu'ils ne songent qu'à se réjouir. Il travaille volontiers à leur bonheur; mais il veut en être l'unique agent et le seul arbitre; il pourvoit à leur sécurité, prévoit et assure leurs besoins, facilite leurs plaisirs, conduit leurs principales affaires, dirige leur industrie, règle leurs successions, divise leurs héritages; que ne peut-il leur ôter entièrement le trouble de penser et la peine de vivre?

C'est ainsi que tous les jours il rend moins utile et plus rare l'emploi du libre arbitre; qu'il renferme l'action de la volonté dans un plus petit espace, et dérobe peu a peu chaque citoyen jusqu'à l'usage de lui-même. L'égalité a préparé les hommes à toutes ces choses: elle les a disposés à les souffrir et souvent même à les regarder comme un bienfait.

Après avoir pris ainsi tour à tour dans ses puissantes mains chaque individu, et l'avoir pétri à sa guise, le souverain étend ses bras sur la société tout entière; il en couvre la surface d'un réseau de petites règles compliquées, minutieuses et uniformes, à travers lesquelles les esprits les plus originaux et les âmes les plus vigoureuses ne sauraient se faire jour pour dépasser la foule; il ne brise pas les volontés, mais il les amollit, les plie et les dirige; il force rarement d'agir, mais il s'oppose sans cesse à ce qu'on agisse; il ne détruit point, il empêche de naître; il ne tyrannise point, il gêne, il comprime, il énerve, il éteint, il hébète, et il réduit enfin chaque nation a n'être plus qu'un troupeau d'animaux timides et industrieux, dont le gouvernement est le berger.

4 November 2015

Enwrapped in a Shroud of Indifference

Henri Murger, The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter (Paris: Société des Beaux-Arts, 1905), p. xxxviii:
In artistic struggles it is almost the same as in war, the whole of the glory acquired falls to the leaders; the army shares as its reward the few lines in a despatch. As to the soldiers struck down in battle, they are buried where they fall, and one epitaph serves for twenty thousand dead.

So, too, the crowd, which always has its eyes fixed on the rising sun, never lowers its glance towards that underground world where the obscure workers are struggling; their existence finishes unknown and without sometimes even having had the consolation of smiling at an accomplished task, they depart from this life, enwrapped in a shroud of indifference.
Henri Murger, Scènes de la vie de Bohème (Paris: Larousse, 1900), p. 21:
Il en est dans les luttes de l'art à peu près comme à la guerre: toute la gloire conquise rejaillit sur le nom des chefs; l'armée se partage pour récompenses les quelques lignes d'un ordre du jour. Quant aux soldats frappés dans le combat, on les enterre là où ils sont tombés, et une seule épitaphe suffit pour vingt mille morts.

De même aussi la foule, qui a toujours les yeux fixés vers ce  qui s'élève, n'abaisse jamais son regard jusqu'au monde souterrain où luttent les obscurs travailleurs; leur existence s'achève inconnue, et, sans avoir même quelquefois la consolation de sourire à une œuvre terminée, ils s'en vont de la vie ensevelis dans un linceul d'indifférence.
Illustration from the 1850 edition

2 November 2015

I Will Never Be Hungry Again

Maria Massey Barringer, "Fricassee of Squirrels," a recipe from Dixie Cookery, included as part of Edward Mitchell's $5000 a Year on the Farm and How I Made it in Five Years' Time  (Philadelphia: John E. Potter, 1882), p. 26:
Put two young squirrels into a pot with two ounces of butter, one or two ounces of ham, some salt and pepper, and just water enough to cover them. Let them stew slowly until tender. Take them up, and pour half a teacup of cream and a beaten yoke of egg into the gravy, and when it has boiled five minutes, pour over the squirrels in the dish.  Some persons prefer a wine glass of red wine, and omit the cream and egg.

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.