29 January 2016

Iggy Pop, Classicist

Iggy Pop outlines the benefits of reading Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, from "Caesar Lives," Classics Ireland  (Vol 2), 1995:
  1. I feel a great comfort and relief knowing that there were others who lived and died and thought and fought so long ago; I feel less tyrannized by the present day.
  2. I learn much about the way our society really works, because the system-origins — military, religious, political, colonial, agricultural, financial — are all there to be scrutinized in their infancy. I have gained perspective.
  3. The language in which the book is written is rich and complete, as the language of today is not.
  4. I find out how little I know.
  5. I am inspired by the will and erudition which enabled Gibbon to complete a work of twenty-odd years. The guy stuck with things.
"I urge anyone who wants life on earth to really come alive for them to enjoy the beautiful ancestral ancient world," concludes Iggy.

Gentleman and Scholar

28 January 2016

A Line of Incidents

Charles Buxton, Notes of Thought  (London: John Murray, 1883), p. 58:
Alas! alas! for the mere trifle that threw us in the way of our misfortune! How ineffably small a change would have saved us! It cuts us to the heart to think that a friend's call, a word lightly spoken, a chance meeting, gave us the petty shove into the bottomless abyss!

In each separate case this is so. And yet there is a want of manly good sense in this lamentation. For are we to expect no calamities ? And if they are to come, the chain that ends with them is sure to have links as feeble as those we are bewailing. Our regret is, practically, a regret not for the smallness of the cause that brought this evil upon us, but for the existence of evil itself.

Moreover, 'tis as broad as it is long. If our misfortunes were tumbled upon our heads by trifles so too were our fortunes. You may trace your present happiness, not less than your unhappiness, along a line of incidents, which, at some points, a fly's weight would have snapped asunder.

26 January 2016

Crowd Pleasers

Charles Buxton, Notes of Thought  (London: John Murray, 1883), p. 26:
The world gives his rewards according to a definite and, perhaps, a sound principle. He honours those who give him pleasure. The thing the world wants is, to be pleased; not to be made wiser, or better, or, in the long run, happier; but to have, at once, on the spot, a feeling of enjoyment. Let a man but give him this feeling of enjoyment, and he will clothe that man in royal apparel, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, "Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour." You grumble, because you have done far nobler work for him, yet he leaves you dressed in frieze, to ride your own donkey at your own sweet will. But you have no right to be cross. You have given him good things, no doubt: but you have not given him the one thing he wanted.

25 January 2016

Something Contemptible About Our Civilisation

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn Of Day  (§163), tr. J. M. Kennedy (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1924), p. 167:
Against Rousseau. If it is true that there is something contemptible about our civilisation, we have two alternatives: of concluding with Rousseau that, "This despicable civilisation is to blame for our bad morality," or to infer, contrary to Rousseau's view, that "Our good morality is to blame for this contemptible civilisation. Our social conceptions of good and evil, weak and effeminate as they are, and their enormous influence over both body and soul, have had the effect of weakening all bodies and souls and of crushing all unprejudiced, independent, and self-reliant men, the real pillars of a strong civilisation: wherever we still find the evil morality to-day, we see the last crumbling ruins of these pillars." Thus let paradox be opposed by paradox! It is quite impossible for the truth to lie with both sides: and can we say, indeed, that it lies with either? Decide for yourself. 

Friedrich Nietzsche, Morgenröthe, in Gesammelte Werke, Vol. 10 (München: Musarion Verlag, 1920), p. 152:
Gegen Rousseau. — Wenn es wahr ist, dass unsere Civilisation etwas Erbärmliches an sich hat: so habt ihr die Wahl, mit Rousseau weiterzuschliessen, „diese erbärmliche Civilisation ist Schuld an unsrer schlechten Moralität”, oder gegen Rousseau zurückzuschliessen „unsere gute Moralität ist Schuld an dieser Erbärmlichkeit der Civilisation. Unsere schwachen unmännlichen gesellschaftlichen Begriffe von gut und böse und die ungeheure Ueberherrschaft derselben über Leib und Seele haben alle Leiber und alle Seelen endlich schwach gemacht und die selbständigen unabhängigen unbefangnen Menschen, die Pfeiler einer starken Civilisation, zerbrochen: wo man der schlechten Moralität jetzt noch begegnet, da sieht man die letzten Trümmer dieser Pfeiler”. So stehe denn Paradoxon gegen Paradoxon! Unmöglich kann hier die Wahrheit auf beiden Seiten sein: und ist sie überhaupt auf einer von beiden? Man prüfe.

20 January 2016

Tomato Cans

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit  (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1923):
If one is a painter the purest freedom must exist at the time of painting. This is as much as to say that a painter may give up his hope of making his living as a painter but must make it some other way. This is generally true, although some do, by a freak of appreciation, make enough while going their way to live sufficiently well. Perhaps this happens, but I am not sure but that there is some curtailing of the purity of the freedom.

I was once asked by a young artist whether he could hope to make any money out of his work if he continued in his particular style of painting. He happened to be a man of considerable talent and had great enthusiasm in his work. But I knew there was no public enthusiasm for such work. I remembered he had told me that before he got really into art he had made a living by designing labels for cans, tomato cans and the like. I advised him to make tomato-can labels and live well that he might be free to paint as he liked. It happened also that eventually people did buy his early pictures, although he was as far from pleasing by what he was doing at this time as ever before. He now lived on the sale of his old pictures and was as free to paint his new ones as he had been in the days of tomato cans.

18 January 2016

Egocentric Masturbatory Self-Analysis

Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise (New York: Macmillan, 1941), pp. 51-52:
The aim of his [Marcel Proust's] book was how to revive his past and he discovered that by remembering everything that had happened, and by relying on intuitive visions produced by familiar smells and noises, such a revival was possible. And where he failed to revive it, his style, that blend of unselective curiosity with interminable qualification, would carry on like a lumbering, overcrowded, escaped tram that nobody can stop.

Proust lives rather through his extrovert satirical scenes, his balls and dinner-parties, the great ironical spectacle of the vanity of human wishes displayed by the Baron de Charlus and the Duchesse de Guermantes and through the delightful pictures which he provides of the countryside and his neighbours, the plain of Chartres, the coast, the quiet streets which Swann climbed in the Faubourg St. Germain. Where his egocentric masturbatory self-analysis begins to function and his anxiety neurosis about his grandmother or Albertine, love or jealousy, comes into play, then all is tedious and unreal, like that asthma which his psychiatrist said he was unwilling to cure since something more unpleasant would be bound to take its place.

15 January 2016

Genteel Volumes in Decayed Circumstances

Eugene Field, The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac (New York : Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905), pp. 156-157:
As for myself, I urge upon all lovers of books to provide themselves with bookplates. Whenever I see a book that bears its owner's plate I feel myself obligated to treat that book with special consideration. It carries with it a certificate of its master's love; the bookplate gives the volume a certain status it would not otherwise have. Time and again I have fished musty books out of bins in front of bookstalls, bought them and borne them home with me simply because they had upon their covers the bookplates of their former owners. I have a case filled with these aristocratic estrays, and I insist that they shall be as carefully dusted and kept as my other books, and I have provided in my will for their perpetual maintenance after my decease.

If I were a rich man I should found a hospital for homeless aristocratic books, an institution similar in all essential particulars to the institution which is now operated at our national capital under the bequest of the late Mr. Cochrane. I should name it the Home for Genteel Volumes in Decayed Circumstances.
For more on this subject see Lew Jaffe's Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie.

13 January 2016

That Vast Machine

Edwin Muir, We Moderns (New York: Knopf, 1920), p. 34:
It has been observed again and again that as societies — forms of production, of government, and so on — become more complex, the mastery of the individual over his destiny grows weaker. In other words, the more man subjugates "nature," the more of a slave he becomes. The industrial system, for instance, which is the greatest modern example of man's subjugation of nature, is at the same time the greatest modern example of man's enslavement.
Id., p. 35:
In this age, therefore, in which man appears as the helpless appendage of a machine too mighty for him, it is natural that theories of Determinism should flourish. It is natural, also, that the will should become weak and discouraged, and, consequently, that the power of creation should languish. And so the world of art has withered and turned barren. The artist needs above all things a sense of power; it is out of the abundance of this sense that he creates. But confronted with modern society, that vast machine, and surrounded by its hopeless mechanics and slaves, he feels the sense dying within him; nor does the evil cease there, for along with the sense of power, power itself dies.
A related post: Where Is the Poetry?

11 January 2016

The World Is Ugly Enough

James Huneker, Egoists (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1909), p. 179:
Huysmans never betrayed the slightest interest in doctrines of equality; for him, as for Baudelaire, socialism, the education of the masses, or democratic prophylactics were hateful.... Nothing was more horrible to him than the idea of universal religion, universal speech, universal government, with their concomitant universal monotony. The world is ugly enough without the ugliness of universal sameness. Variety alone makes this globe bearable. He did not believe in art for the multitude, and the tableau of a billion humans bellowing to the moon the hymn of universal brotherhood made him shiver — as well it might.

8 January 2016

Ephemerist

Christian Ludwig, Dictionary: English, German and French (Saalbach: Leipzig and Frankfurt, 1736), p. 219:
Ephemerist, S. ein calender-macher, oder verfasser eines tag-buches, un faiseur d'almanacs, ou un journaliste.

7 January 2016

One Laurel Leaf

Henri de Régnier, "Ode," Vestigia Flammae (Paris: Mercure de France, 1921), pp. 58-59:
J'aurais dû te donner tous les soins de ma vie,
          O beau laurier luisant,
Jusques à renforcer ta racine assouvie
          Du tribut de mon sang,

De l'immortel éclat de ton feuillage sombre
          Enorgueillir mes yeux,
Et ne point, d'un seul pas, m'éloigner de ton ombre;
          De toi seul anxieux

Écouter pour seul chant celui de ton murmure,
          Aède aérien,
Et, le regard tourné vers la gloire future,
          Y conformer le mien!

Mais, hélas! trop longtemps j'ai délaissé la cime
          Du mont où tu poussais
El ma flûte peureuse a craint le vent sublime
          Qui hante les sommets.

C'est pourquoi, repentants, lorsqu'au soir de mon âge
          Mes pas te reviendront,
Je n'aurai pas le droit que ton amer feuillage
          S'entrelace à mon front.

Heureux, n'étant de ceux que la branche couronne
          De son honneur altier,
Si, dans mes faibles mains, tu laisses en aumône
          Une feuille, ô Laurier!

Herbert James Draper, Figure with a Laurel Wreath

5 January 2016

Cheerful Prospect

Philip Larkin, letter to Barbara Pym (July 18, 1971), via The Paris Review:
Has anyone ever done any work on why memories are always unhappy? I don’t mean really unhappy, as of blacking factories, but sudden stabbing memories of especially absurd or painful memories that one is suffused and excoriated by — I have about a dozen, some 30 years old, some a year or even less, & once one arrives, all the rest follows. I suppose if one lives to be old one’s entire waking life will be spent turning on the spit of recollection over the fires of mingled shame, pain or remorse. Cheerful prospect!

4 January 2016

Vulgarity

Arthur Schopenhauer in a footnote to The Wisdom of Life, tr. T. Bailey Saunders (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1890), p. 36:
Vulgarity is, at bottom, the kind of consciousness in which the will completely predominates over the intellect, where the latter does nothing more than perform the service of its master, the will. Therefore, when the will makes no demands, supplies no motives, strong or weak, the intellect entirely loses its power, and the result is complete vacancy of mind. Now will without intellect is the most vulgar and common thing in the world, possessed by every blockhead, who, in the gratification of his passions, shows the stuff of which he is made. This is the condition of mind called vulgarity, in which the only active elements are the organs of sense, and that small amount of intellect which is necessary for apprehending the data of sense.
For the original see "Aphorismen zur Lebensweisheit," Parerga und Paralipomena, Arthur Schopenhauer's Sämmtliche Werke, Vol. V (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1874), p. 356.

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

House-proud

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.