25 April 2016

The Wretched Poet Coleridge

John Mortimer, Clinging to the Wreckage (London: Penguin Books, 2010), p. 56:
‘How do you get on with those women who live next door. The ones you’re always visiting?’ my father asked.

‘They’re very interesting. They knew Jean Cocteau,’ and I added, in the hope of shocking him at last, ‘Cocteau smoked opium.’

‘Oh, never smoke opium,’ my father warned me. ‘Gives you constipation. Terrible binding effect.’ And he added one of his best lines, ‘Have you ever seen the pictures of the wretched poet Coleridge? He smoked opium. Take a look at Coleridge, he was green about the gills and a stranger to the lavatory.’

Washington Allston, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1814)

21 April 2016

About to Live

Edward Young, Night Thoughts  (London: William Tegg and Co., 1859), p. 19:
Of man's miraculous mistakes, this bears
The palm, "That all men are about to live,"                 400
For ever on the brink of being born.
All pay themselves the compliment to think
They one day shall not drivel; and their pride
On this reversion takes up ready praise,
At least their own; their future selves applauds;      405
How excellent that life they ne'er will lead!

19 April 2016

Other People's Lives

Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing (New York: Free Press, 2012), p. 127:
Most of my married friends now have children, the rewards of which appear to be exclusively intangible and, like the mysteries of some gnostic sect, incommunicable to outsiders. It’s as if these people have joined a cult: they claim to be happier and more fulfilled than ever before, even though they live in conditions of appalling filth and degradation, deprived of the most basic freedoms and dignity, and owe unquestioning obedience to a pampered sociopathic master whose every whim is law... They’re frantic and haggard and constantly exhausted, getting through the days on a sleep deficit of three years, complaining about how busy and circumscribed their lives are, as though they hadn’t freely chosen it all.
Id., p. 130:
One of the hardest things to look at is the life we didn’t lead, the path not taken, potential left unfulfilled. In stories, those who look back — Lot’s wife, Eurydice — are irrevocably lost. Looking to the side instead, to gauge how our companions are faring, is a way of glancing at a safer reflection of what we cannot directly bear, like Perseus seeing the Gorgon safely mirrored in his shield. It’s the closest we can get to a glimpse of the parallel universe in which we didn’t ruin that relationship years ago, or got that job we applied for, or made that plane at the last minute. So it’s tempting to read other people’s lives as cautionary fables or repudiations of our own, to covet or denigrate them instead of seeing them for what they are: other people’s lives, island universes, unknowable.

18 April 2016

Drab Uniformity

Evelyn Waugh, "I See Nothing But Boredom... Everywhere," Daily Mail (28 December 1959), reprinted in A Little Order, ed. Donat Gallagher (London: Eyre Methuen, 1977), pp. 47-48:
I see nothing ahead but drab uniformity. The motor-car has already destroyed its own usefulness. Suppose, as seems most unlikely, it once more is rendered mobile by making the whole country into a speedway and a car-park, there will be no inducement to go anywhere because all buildings will look the same, all shops sell the same produce, all people say the same things in the same voices. Foreign travel will be scarcely more attractive for the elderly and experienced. One went abroad to observe other ways of living, to eat unfamiliar foods and see strange buildings. In a few years' time the world will be divided into zones of insecurity which one can penetrate only at the risk of murder and tourist routes along which one will fly to chain hotels, hygienic, costly and second-rate.

13 April 2016

A House Furnished with Books

Henry Ward Beecher, "The Duty of Owning Books," Eyes and Ears (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1862), p. 155:
Give us a house furnished with books rather than furniture! Both, if you can, but books at any rate! To spend several days in a friend's house, and hunger for something to read, while you are treading on costly carpets, and sitting upon luxurious chairs, and sleeping upon down, is as if one were bribing your body for the sake of cheating your mind.

Is it not pitiable to see a man growing rich, augmenting the comforts of home, and lavishing money on ostentatious upholstery, upon the table, upon every thing but what the soul needs? We know of many and many a rich man's house where it would not be safe to ask for the commonest English classics. A few gairish annuals on the table, a few pictorial monstrosities, together with the stock religious books of his "persuasion," and that is all! No poets, no essayists, no historians, no travels or biographies, no select fictions, or curious legendary lore. But the wall-paper cost three dollars a roll, and the carpets four dollars a yard!

Books are the windows through which the soul looks out. A house without books is like a room without windows.

12 April 2016

Poorly-Paid Musicians

Henry Ward Beecher, "Are Birds Worth Their Keeping?" Eyes and Ears (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1862), p. 132:
Although birds undertake to furnish you with the most admirable amusement, and with music such as no orchestra could be hired to give, they do not charge you a penny for their services. You never have to wake them. You have no care of their toilet. You are asked to provide nothing for their breakfast, nothing for dinner, nothing for supper. They draw on you for no linen for their beds, and no space for tenement room. They come to you early in spring; they stay with you till the red leaves grow brown, and even then they leave a rear-guard to watch the winter, and every bright day till after January is sentinelled with some faithful, simple bird on duty.

7 April 2016

A Continuous but Thin Thread

Richard Church, Plato's Mistake (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1941), pp. 24-25:
The fact is that the great majority of people at any one time and any one place or sphere of life are content with an extremely low standard of taste in the arts and literature. The best books, the immortal books, are always being bought and read, but by only a few people at a time. For example, the cheap editions of Turgeniev's novels sell about fifty copies each a year. I think that if the sales of such books as Dante's Divine Comedy, Milton's Paradise Lost, Wordsworth's Prelude, Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici, or Gilbert Murray's Religio Grammatici were examined it would be found that their annual sales were not more than a few hundred copies each per year. The immortality of the best is a continuous, but thin thread.

6 April 2016

Don't Skip the Preface

Henry Peacham, The Compleat Gentleman (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906), p. 54:
And ere you begin a booke, forget not to reade the Epistle; for commonly they are the best laboured and penned. For as in a garment, whatsoever the stuffe be, the owner (for the most part) affecteth a costly and extraordinary facing; and in the house of a countrey Gentleman, the porch, of a Citizen, the carved gate and painted postes carry away the Glory from the rest; so is it with our common Authors, if they have any wit at all, they set it like Velvet before, though the backe, like (a bankerupts doublet) be but of poldavy or buckram.

4 April 2016

The Blessing of a Lettered Recess

Edward Young, "Conjectures on Original Composition," English Critical Essays, ed. Edmund D. Jones (London: Oxford University Press, 1922), pp. 271-272:
To men of letters, and leisure, it [the act of reading and composition] is not only a noble amusement, but a sweet refuge; it improves their parts, and promotes their peace: it opens a back-door out of the bustle of this busy and idle world into a delicious garden of moral and intellectual fruits and flowers; the key of which is denied to the rest of mankind. When stung with idle anxieties, or teased with fruitless impertinence, or yawning over insipid diversions, then we perceive the blessing of a lettered recess. With what a gust do we retire to our disinterested and immortal friends in our closet, and find our minds, when applied to some favourite theme, as naturally, and as easily quieted and refreshed, as a peevish child (and peevish children are we all till we fall asleep) when laid to the breast? Our happiness no longer lives on charity; nor bids fair for a fall, by leaning on that most precarious and thorny pillow, another's pleasure, for our repose. How independent of the world is he who can daily find new acquaintance, that at once entertain, and improve him, in the little world, the minute but fruitful creation, of his own mind?
Spare a (night) thought for Edward Young, who died on April 5, 1765.

1 April 2016

A Portrait of John Nash

Ronald Blythe remembers the artist John Northcote Nash (1893-1977) in his Jan. 15 column for The Church Times, via the Wormingford blog:
Perched on a three-legged stool, muffled to the ears, he would shape the water in the fields, fag in mouth, his big grey eyes not only drawing everything in sight, but bringing it into this vision, and returning to the farmhouse with a full sketchbook. This would be carried to the studio and turned into watercolours and oils.

He liked bits of agricultural toil: a hurdle, the tumbling shed, the byre, and particularly his mighty thatched barn — although all that was in it, during the abandonment of farming here, would have been his Ford Herald car, so packed with fishing rods and old military uniforms that the lad — myself — had to squeeze beside him.

He was devoted to plants, but John was none too caring where the farm itself was concerned; and, taking him morning tea, I once saw snow on his face.

Both he and his wife, Christine, also an artist, possessed beautiful voices, which came from the long ago, possibly the late 1890s. These they left behind when they went, plus an avalanche of books with their names on the flyleaves. Their Proust contained instructions on how to read it.

After tea, they would sit side by side on the hefty piano stool, and thump out Schubert, humming bits and laughing. The piano was a 1920s Steinway. Now and then there was a muffled sound, until the cats were evicted.

John Nash and Christine Kühlenthal, c. 1920
Blythe donated this picture to the National Portrait Gallery

31 March 2016

The Good People of Ontario

Walt Whitman, Walt Whitman's Diary in Canada, ed. William Sloane Kennedy (Boston : Small, Maynard & Co., 1904), pp. 43-44:
If the most significant trait of modern civilization is benevolence (as a leading statesman has said), it is doubtful whether this is anywhere illustrated to a fuller degree than in the province of Ontario. All the maimed, insane, idiotic, blind, deaf and dumb, needy, sick and old, minor criminals, fallen women, foundlings, have advanced and ample provision of house and care and oversight, at least fully equal to anything of the kind in any of the United States probably indeed superior to them. In Ontario for its eighty-eight electoral ridings, each one returning a member of parliament, there are four Insane Asylums, an Idiot Asylum, one Institution for the Blind, one for the Deaf and Dumb, one for Foundlings, a Reformatory for Girls, one for Women, and no end of homes for the old and infirm, for waifs, and for the sick.... Some of the good people of Ontario have complained in my hearing of faults and fraudulencies, commissive or emissive, on the part of the government, but I guess said people have reason to bless their stars for the general fairness, economy, wisdom, and liberality of their officers and administration.
Clearly Walt never had to pay income tax in Ontario.

29 March 2016

Mushroom Celebrity

Richard Whately, Thoughts and Apophthegms (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1856), p. 309:
Mushroom-celebrity is the result of puzzle-headedness. A man hardly can rise to very sudden popularity without being (along with some cleverness), somewhat puzzle-headed. For the way to rise to rapid celebrity is to be a plausible advocate of prevailing doctrines; and especially to defend, with some eloquence and novelty, something which men like to believe, but have no good reason for believing. And this a skillful dissembler will never do so well as one who is himself the dupe of his own fallacies, and brings them forward, therefore, with an air of simple earnestness which implies his being, with whatever ingenuity and eloquence, puzzle-headed. A very clear-headed man must always perceive some of the truths which are generally overlooked, and must have detected some of the popular fallacies; in short, he must be somewhat in advance of the οἱ πολλοί of his contemporaries: and if he has the courage to speak his mind fairly, he must wait till the next generation, at least, for his popularity.

23 March 2016

Philosophical Works in a Foreign Language

Richard Whately, Thoughts and Apophthegms (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1856), p. 195:
One great advantage in studying philosophical works in a foreign language, is that an idea which one has to comprehend, or express, in a foreign language, is more distinctly understood by the mind, and the errors arising from the ambiguity, and other defects of language, more easily detected. — Many a voluminous treatise, the Author would throw into the fire, if he could but be persuaded to translate it into Greek. Besides this prevention of the errors arising from the ambiguity of language, the very difficulty excites the attention so as to fix the thoughts better in the memory; meat that requires a good deal of chewing, is sometimes more digestible and nutritive, than spoon-meat that is swallowed whole.
A related post: A Test of Lucidity

Another edition: Selections From the Writings of Dr. Whately  (London: Richard Bentley, 1856)

21 March 2016

Disturbing the Ashes of the Dead

Charles Robert Maturin, Sermons (London: Archibald Constable, 1819), pp. 10-11:
Life is full of death; the steps of the living cannot press the earth without disturbing the ashes of the dead — we walk upon our ancestors — the globe itself is one vast churchyard. Cities are built on the ruins of those that have mouldered away, and now serve as the foundation for the pride of modern improvement. Animal life, like vegetable, seems destined to decay, that it may become the bed from which human vegetation is to spring again, fresh, presumptuous, and triumphant, to be cut down, and afford place for a new successor. The ocean is full of the dead and of their spoils — we are surrounded on every side by those who have passed away, by their remains, or by their recollections. Oh! how populous is futurity, how alive is the grave ! —

"This is the desert, this the solitude."1

Millions, countless millions more than are now alive, are gone before us, and the generations that are yet to be born will be born to people the tomb. Reflection teaches these awful lessons to a few, and well for those who are taught by her — if we refuse her, we shall have a sterner teacher, even experience, whose trembling pupils we must all become, whether we will hear, or whether we will forbear.
1. A line from Edward Young's Night Thoughts

I read somewhere (I no longer remember where and can't be bothered to look it up) that Charles Baudelaire wanted to translate Maturin's novel Melmoth the Wanderer  but was passed over in favour of someone else.

17 March 2016

Mind Unfettered

Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, Prison Life: Six Years in Six English Prisons (New York : P. J. Kenedy, 1874), pp. 211-212:
As I was doing my share of the "orderly" work next morning I noticed hanging on the wall a card, on which was my name. Opposite was written: "This prisoner to be well watched, and the gas to be left lighting in his cell all night." When I went to my cell I began thinking, and thought I must be a desperate character. Friends ask me, now that I am in the world, "Had I any thought at all of release when I was in prison?" It is said, "Hope springs eternal in the human breast," but the springs of my hope were nearly always dried up by continually witnessing these signs of special anxiety regarding me.

I don't know what my masters must have taken me for. If they were not fond of me, they were particularly careful of me. Hoping anything from these people, and acting so as not to have that hope frustrated, would make me their slave — would wear me off my feet. No. I kept myself a free man in prison; while they had my body bound in chains, I felt that I owed them no allegiance, that I held my mind unfettered — that I was not their slave.
A related post: Must I Whine as Well?

15 March 2016

Three Stages

Charles Buxton, Notes of Thought  (London: John Murray, 1883), p. 12:
Most intellectual labour (say of the author, speaker, artist) carries the labourer through three stages of feeling: the first, of exultation while creating; the second, of anxiety gilded with hope in bringing his creation before the world; the third, of flat mortification in looking back on it, and finding that it is very bad, and that the world does not care a bean about it.

10 March 2016

The Phone is a Tool, Not an Extension of Self

Martin Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking, tr. John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund, (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), pp. 53-54:
For all of us, the arrangements, devices, and machinery of technology are to a greater or lesser extent indispensable. It would be foolish to attack technology blindly. It would be shortsighted to condemn it as the work of the devil. We depend on technical devices; they even challenge us to ever greater advances. But suddenly and unaware we find ourselves so firmly shackled to these technical devices that we fall into bondage to them.

Still we can act otherwise. We can use technical devices, and yet with proper use also keep ourselves so free of them, that we may let go of them any time. We can use technical devices as they ought to be used, and also let them alone as something which does not affect our inner and real core. We can affirm the unavoidable use of technical devices, and also deny them the right to dominate us, and so to warp, confuse, and lay waste our nature.
Related posts:

9 March 2016

A Hard-Working Journalist

James Huneker, "Gautier the Journalist," The Pathos of Distance (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1921), p. 265:
[Théophile] Gautier played the role of an easy-going boulevardier; in private he bitterly complained of his slavery to the Grub street of his beloved Paris. Nevertheless this same journalism was his salvation, otherwise he might have found himself in the wretched condition of his friends Charles Baudelaire, Petrus Borel, Gerard de Nerval, and Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. What distinguished him from these bohemians of genius was his capacity for work. He possessed a giant's physique and his nerves were seemingly of steel. He once wrote:
"There is this much good in journalism, that it mixes you up with the crowd, humanises you by perpetually giving you your own measure, and preserves you from the infatuations of solitary pride."1
Id., pp. 266-277:
The truth about him is that he was a hard-working journalist, a good husband and loving father; solicitous of the welfare of his family and unrelaxing in his labours. Over his desk hung this grim reminder: "A daily newspaper appears daily." He never forgot it, and from his atelier at Neuilly he sent his daily stint of columns, poorly remunerated as he was for them. He never went into debt like his friend Balzac. If you haven't read his books you may well imagine him an unromantic and honest business man instead of a composer of most fantastic, delightful dreams and romances.
My footnote:

1. I have not found the source for this quote, but I didn't spend much time looking.

7 March 2016

They Are Scum

W. Somerset Maugham, "Books of the Year," Sunday Times (25 December, 1955), reprinted in A Traveller in Romance, ed. John Whitehead (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1984), p. 122:
They do not go to university to acquire culture, but to get a job, and when they have got one, scamp it. They have no manners, and are woefully unable to deal with any social predicament. Their idea of a celebration is to go to a pubic house and drink six beers. They are mean, malicious, and envious. They will write anonymous letters to harass a fellow undergraduate and listen in to a telephone conversation that is no business of theirs. Charity, kindliness, generosity, are qualities which they hold in contempt. They are scum. They will in due course leave the university. Some will doubtless sink back, perhaps with relief, into the modest class from which they emerged; some will take to drink, some to crime and go to prison. Others will become schoolmasters and form the young, or journalists and mould public opinion. A few will go into Parliament, become Cabinet Ministers and rule the country. I look upon myself as fortunate that I shall not live to see it.
This is supposed to be a review of Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, but apart from the quote above Maugham uses most of the article to discuss the merits of Félicien Marceau's Bergère légère and The Letters of Pliny the Younger. He describes the latter as "a most enjoyable bedtime book".

1 March 2016

A Restless and Swarming Anthill

Carl Hilty, Happiness, tr. Francis Greenwood Peabody (New York: Macmillan, 1903), pp. 73-74:
If one could observe the modern world as a bird might look down upon it, and at the same time could distinguish the details of its life, he would see beneath him a picture like that of a restless and swarming anthill, where even the railway trains, as they cross and recross each other by night and day, would be enough to bewilder his brain. Something of this bewilderment is, in fact, felt by almost every one who is involved in the movement of the time. There are a great many people who have not the least idea why they are thus all day long in a hurry. People whose circumstances permit complete leisure are to be seen rushing through the streets, or whirling away in a train, or crowding out of the theatre, as if there were awaiting them at home the most serious tasks. The fact is that they simply yield to the general movement. One might be led to fancy that the most precious and most unusual possession on earth was the possession of time. We say that time is money, yet people who have plenty of money seem to have no time; and even the people who despise money are constantly admonishing us, and our over-worked children, to remember the Apostle's saying, and "to redeem the time." Thus the modern world seems pitiless in its exhortation to work. Human beings are driven like horses until they drop. Many lives are ruined by the pace, but there are always more lives ready like horses to be driven. 

Much happiness can be found
in an attractive title page.

Related posts:

28 February 2016

Use This Time as an Aristocrat Would

Cal Newport, Deep Work (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016), p. 99:
[Arnold] Bennett suggests [in How to Live on 24 Hours a Day] that his typical man see his sixteen free hours as a “day within a day,” explaining, “during those sixteen hours he is free; he is not a wage-earner; he is not preoccupied with monetary cares; he is just as good as a man with a private income.” Accordingly, the typical man should instead use this time as an aristocrat1 would: to perform rigorous self-improvement — a task that, according to Bennett, involves, primarily, reading great literature and poetry.

Bennett wrote about these issues more than a century ago. You might expect that in the intervening decades, a period in which this middle class exploded in size worldwide, our thinking about leisure time would have evolved. But it has not. If anything, with the rise of the Internet and the low-brow attention economy it supports, the average forty-hour-a-week employee — especially those in my tech-savvy Millennial generation — has seen the quality of his or her leisure time remain degraded, consisting primarily of a blur of distracted clicks on least-common-denominator digital entertainment. If Bennett were brought back to life today, he’d likely fall into despair at the lack of progress in this area of human development.

To be clear, I’m indifferent to the moral underpinnings behind Bennett’s suggestions. His vision of elevating the souls and minds of the middle class by reading poetry and great books feels somewhat antiquated and classist2. But the logical foundation of his proposal, that you both should and can make deliberate use of your time outside work, remains relevant today...

My notes:
1.  Presumably this refers to aristocrats such as the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury or the 1st Viscount Bolingbroke and not inbred halfwits who only view the world from between a horse's ears.
2. Insert the sound of Andrew groaning and breaking wind simultaneously.

Related Posts:

25 February 2016

Professorial E-mail Sorting

Cal Newport, Deep Work (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016), p. 118:
As a graduate student at MIT, I had the opportunity to interact with famous academics. In doing so, I noticed that many shared a fascinating and somewhat rare approach to e-mail: Their default behavior when receiving an e-mail message is to not respond.

Over time, I learned the philosophy driving this behavior: When it comes to e-mail, they believed, it’s the sender’s responsibility to convince the receiver that a reply is worthwhile. If you didn’t make a convincing case and sufficiently minimize the effort required by the professor to respond, you didn’t get a response.
Id., p. 119:
Professorial E-mail Sorting: Do not reply to an e-mail message if any of the following applies:
  • It’s ambiguous or otherwise makes it hard for you to generate a reasonable response.
  • It’s not a question or proposal that interests you.
  • Nothing really good would happen if you did respond and nothing really bad would happen if you didn’t.

24 February 2016

Here the Struggle Ends

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit  (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1923):
There are men who, at the bottom of the ladder, battle to rise; they study, struggle, keep their wits alive and eventually get up to a place where they are received as an equal among respectable intellectuals. Here they find warmth and comfort for their pride, and here the struggle ends, and a death of many years commences. They could have gone on living.

22 February 2016

Wir schaffen das

Ambrose Bierce, A Cynic Looks at Life (Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Co. 1912), pp. 11-12:
The tree is known by its fruit. Ours is bearing crab-apples. If the body politic is constitutionally diseased, as I verily believe; if the disorder inheres in the system; there is no remedy. The fever must burn itself out, and then Nature will do the rest. One does not prescribe what time alone can administer. We have put our criminals and dunces into power; do we suppose they will efface themselves? Will they restore to us the power of governing them? They must have their way and go their length. The natural and immemorial sequence is: tyranny, insurrection, combat. In combat everything that wears a sword has a chance — even the right. History does not forbid us to hope. But it forbids us to rely upon numbers; they will be against us.

17 February 2016

A Fool's Trick

David Christie Murray in The Art of Authorship, ed. George Bainton (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1890), p. 217:
There are some things which cannot be made comprehensible to the common mind; but the affectation of obscurity, the wrapping a mere farthing's-worth of meaning in a whole bale of verbiage, is a fool's trick and no more.
Related posts:

16 February 2016

Life Is Short and Hard

W. Somerset Maugham on Still Life with Bottle, Glass, and Loaf, quoting a passage from his novel Christmas Holiday  in "Paintings I Have Liked," A Traveller in Romance, ed. John Whitehead (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1984), p. 51:
It’s so humble, so natural, so friendly; it’s the bread and wine of the poor who ask no more than that they should be left in peace, allowed to work and eat their simple food in freedom. It’s the cry of the despised and rejected. It tells you that whatever their sins men at heart are good. That loaf of bread and that flagon of wine are symbols of the joys and sorrows of the meek and lowly. They ask for your mercy and your affection; they tell you that they’re of the same flesh and blood as you. They tell you that life is short and hard and the grave is cold and lonely. It’s not only a loaf of bread and a flagon of wine; it’s the mystery of man’s lot on earth, his craving for a little friendship and a little love and the humility of his resignation when he sees that even they must be denied him.
 Imitator of Jean-Siméon Chardin, Still Life with Bottle, Glass, and Loaf 

See Laudator Temporis Acti for more on this painting.

15 February 2016

Manure

Charles Buxton, Notes of Thought  (London: John Murray, 1883), p. 95:
Reading spreads facts, like manure, over the surface of the mind; but it is thought that ploughs them in.

11 February 2016

Noble Bohemianism

Philip G. Hamerton, "The Noble Bohemianism," Human Intercourse (London: Macmillan, 1884), pp. 297-298:
A true Bohemian, of the best kind, knows the value of mere shelter, of food enough to satisfy hunger, of plain clothes that will keep him sufficiently warm, and in the things of the mind he values the liberty to use his own faculties as a kind of happiness in itself. His philosophy leads him to take an interest in talking with human beings of all sorts and conditions, and in different countries. He does not despise the poor, for, whether poor or rich in his own person, he understands simplicity of life, and if the poor man lives in a small cottage, he too has probably been lodged less spaciously still in some small hut or tent. He has lived often, in rough travel, as the poor live every day. I maintain that such tastes and experiences are valuable both in prosperity and in adversity. If we are prosperous, they enhance our appreciation of the things around us, and yet at the same time make us really know that they are not indispensable, as so many believe them to be; if we fall into adversity, they prepare us to accept lightly and cheerfully what would be depressing privations to others. I know a painter who in consequence of some change in the public taste fell into adversity at a time when he had every reason to hope for increased success. Very fortunately for him, he had been a Bohemian in early life, a respectable Bohemian be it understood, and a great traveller, so that he could easily dispense with luxuries. "To be still permitted to follow art is enough," he said, so he reduced his expenses to the very lowest scale consistent with that pursuit, and lived as he had done before in the old Bohemian times. He made his old clothes last on, he slung a hammock in a very simple painting-room, and cooked his own dinner on the stove. With the canvas on his easel and a few books on a shelf he found that if existence was no longer luxurious it had not yet ceased to be interesting. 
Related posts:

9 February 2016

The Good Writer Never Applies to a Foundation

William Faulkner in an interview with The Paris Review in 1956:
The writer doesn’t need economic freedom. All he needs is a pencil and some paper. I’ve never known anything good in writing to come from having accepted any free gift of money. The good writer never applies to a foundation. He’s too busy writing something. If he isn’t first rate he fools himself by saying he hasn’t got time or economic freedom. Good art can come out of thieves, bootleggers, or horse swipes. People really are afraid to find out just how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are. Nothing can destroy the good writer. The only thing that can alter the good writer is death. Good ones don’t have time to bother with success or getting rich.
Related posts:

8 February 2016

Soaked in History

George Macaulay Trevelyan, The Recreations of an Historian (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1919), p. 32:
History and literature cannot be fully comprehended, still less fully enjoyed, except in connection with one another. I confess I have little love either for "Histories of Literature," or for chapters on "the literature of the period," hanging at the end of history books like the tail from a cow. I mean, rather, that those who write or read the history of a period should be soaked in its literature, and that those who read or expound literature should be soaked in history. The "scientific" view of history that discouraged such interchange and desired the strictest specialisation by political historians, has done much harm to our latter-day culture. The mid Victorians at any rate knew better than that. 

4 February 2016

The Lost Art of Phrenology

Wilhelm von Gwinner wrote three biographies of his friend Arthur Schopenhauer: in 1862, 1878, and 1910. His granddaughter Charlotte von Gwinner edited and annotated them, producing a couple more versions in 1922 and 1963.

I just received a copy of the one published at Leipzig by F. A. Brockhaus in 1910, and discover that it contains this glorious foldout:

Translation: A geometrically accurate outline of 
Schopenhauer's skull, based on a plaster cast

2 February 2016

An Affected Style

Thomas Gordon Hake, Memoirs of Eighty Years (London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1892), pp. 85-86:
When a man begins to write and finds he can hardly spell his name, he looks at Bolingbroke for style, or at Goldsmith, and gets help from both; but woe to him if he falls in love with such rickety writers as were De Quincy, or Carlyle! Both had bandy pens. As a man gets older, if he has anything to say, he is contented with being himself, and covering his thoughts with words that exactly fit them, as the skin fits a race-horse. An affected style betrays an affected character, with its self-respect in abeyance. He finds that some long words contain his idea ready made, but he does better to shun them, and express it in his own way...

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.

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.
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16 October 2015

The Magic Bean

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

12 October 2015

A Vicious Extravagance

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

8 October 2015

Kings and Thieves

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

6 October 2015

A Charlatan

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

1 October 2015

Where Is the Poetry?

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