27 September 2016

Best of Any Song

Wendell Berry, "Sabbath Poem I," A Timbered Choir  (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1998):
Best of any song
is bird song
in the quiet, but first
you must have the quiet.
Hat tip: Timberdrifter

20 September 2016

Like Some Dishonourable Insect

Frederick William Faber, Kindness (London: R. & T. Washbourne, 1901), p. 104:
What can be more unkind than to communicate our low spirits to others, to go about the world like demons, poisoning the fountains of joy? Have I more light because I have managed to involve those I love in the same gloom as myself? Is it not pleasant to see the sun shining on the mountains, even though we have none of it down in our valley? Oh the littleness and the meanness of that sickly appetite for sympathy which will not let us keep our tiny Lilliputian sorrows to ourselves! Why must we go sneaking about, like some dishonourable insect, and feed our darkness on other people's light?
A related post:

17 September 2016

The Irresistible Temptation to Say Clever Things

Frederick William Faber, Kindness (London: R. & T. Washbourne, 1901), p. 77:
In some respects a clever man is more likely to be kind than a man who is not clever, because his mind is wider, and takes in a broader range, and is more capable of looking at things from different points of view. But there are other respects in which it is harder for a clever man to be kind, especially in his words. He has a temptation, and it is one of those temptations which appear sometimes to border on the irresistible, to say clever things; and, somehow, clever things are hardly ever kind things. There is a drop either of acid or of bitter in them, and it seems as if that drop was exactly what genius had insinuated. I believe, if we were to make an honest resolution never to say a clever thing, we should advance much more rapidly on the road to heaven.

12 September 2016

Law and Medicine

Plato, The Republic, Book III, tr. H. Spens (London: J. M. Dent, 1919), pp. 92-93:
But can you pitch upon any greater mark of an ill and base education in a city than that there should be need of physicians and supreme magistrates, and that not only for the contemptible and low handicrafts, but for those who boast of having been educated in a liberal manner? Or doth it not appear to be base, and a great sign of want of education, to be obliged to observe justice pronounced on us by others, as our masters and judges, and to have no sense of it in ourselves?

Of all things, this, reply'd he, is the most base.

And do you not, said I, deem this to be more base still, when one not only spends a great part of life in courts of justice, as defendant and plaintiff, but from his ignorance of the beautiful imagines that he becomes renowned for this very thing, as being dextrous in doing injustice, and able to turn himself through all sorts of windings, and using every sort of subterfuge, thinks to get off, so as to evade justice, and all this for the sake of small and contemptible things, being ignorant how much better and more handsome it were so to regulate his life as not to stand in need of a sleepy judge?

This, reply'd he, is still more base than the other.

And to stand in need of the medicinal art, said I, not on account of wounds, or some epidemical distempers incident, but through sloth and such a diet as we mentioned, filled with rheums and wind, like lakes, obliging the skilful sons of Esculapius to invent new names to diseases, such as dropsies and catarrhs — do not you think this abominable?

8 September 2016

The Deepest and Most Accurate

Samuel Egerton Brydges, "The Heart," Gnomica (Geneva: W. Fick, 1824), pp. 36-37:
It may be safely observed, that no writer whose thoughts and sentiments the experience of mankind has found to be incorrect, — much less which the experience of mankind has disproved — has retained his seat in the temple of Fame. All the moral matter, which forms the basis of the works of Homer, Virgil, Cicero, etc. has been proved to be the deepest and most accurate, at which mere human wisdom could arrive.

These is a factitious or momentary enthusiasm, under which those who labour, may feel gratified by exaggerated representations consonant to their own prevailing temperament: but a more general and enlarged taste dissipates or rejects these partial colourings. Calm musing and sedate consideration break the clouds of error, and strip delusive coruscations of their brilliance. That, which vanishes before prolonged reflection, is of little value.

1 September 2016

The Object of Reading

Arnold Bennett, Things That Have Interested Me (New York: George H. Doran, 1921), pp. 55-65:
Study is not an end, but a means. I should blush to write down such a platitude, did I not know by experience that the majority of readers constantly ignore it. The man who pores over a manual of carpentry and does naught else is a fool. But every book is a manual of carpentry, and every man who pores over any book whatever and does naught else with it is deserving of an abusive epithet. What is the object of reading unless something definite comes of it? You would be better advised to play billiards. Where is the sense of reading history if you do not obtain from it a clearer insight into actual politics and render yourself less liable to be duped by the rhetoric of party propaganda? Where is the sense of reading philosophy if your own attitude towards the phenomena of the universe does not become more philosophical? Where is the sense of reading morals unless your own are improved? Where is the sense of reading biography unless it is going to affect what people will say about you after your funeral? Where is the sense of reading poetry or fiction unless you see more beauty, more passion, more scope for your sympathy, than you saw before?
Second series of this book here, third series here.

30 August 2016

Not a Problem to Be Solved

L. P. Jacks, The Alchemy of Thought (London: Williams and Norgate,) p. 54:
Like a picture by a great artist, like a flower by the wayside, our life is given, our experience is found. The world stands in its own right; it waits for no passport from the intelligence. As, on the one hand, we have not earned it by a price paid down, neither, on the other, do we receive it on condition of our own ability to understand or explain it. It is a free gift, given like the picture, neither to be sold for money nor harnessed to a purpose of whatsoever kind, but to be received on its own terms. To treat life as a conundrum, to regard the world as a problem, to withhold our full acceptance of things till their why and wherefore has been made clear, to value any moment of experience only so far forth as we can make it pay in the markets of thought, or submit to the shackles of descriptive speech — this is to reject the donum Dei, and therewithal to deprive ourselves of everything that makes it good to live. Waiting till we can "make something" of the world, the life of the world passes us by; waiting till we can explain experience, we experience nothing; the music sounds and we, preoccupied with desire to say what it is, as though its value hung on the interpretation it will receive from us, miss the music no less completely than if we heard it not at all.
A related post:

26 August 2016

The Great Man Theory

Frederic Harrison, The Meaning of History (New York: Macmillan, 1900) pp. 22-23:
There is one mode in which history may be most easily, perhaps most usefully, approached. Let him who desires to find profit in it, begin by knowing something of the lives of great men. Not of those most talked about, not of names chosen at hazard; but of the real great ones who can be shown to have left their mark upon distant ages. Know their lives, not merely as interesting studies of character, or as persons seen in a drama, but as they represent and influence their age. Not for themselves only must we know them, but as the expression and types of all that is noblest around them. Let us know those whom all men cannot fail to recognise as great —the Caesars, the Charlemagnes, the Alfreds, the Cromwells, great in themselves, but greater as the centre of the efforts of thousands.

We have done much towards understanding the past when we have learned to value and to honour such men. It is almost better to know nothing of history than to know with the narrow coldness of a pedant a record which ought to fill us with emotion and reverence. Our closest friends, our earliest teachers, our parents themselves, are not more truly our benefactors than they. To them we owe what we prize most — country, freedom, peace, knowledge, art, thought, and higher sense of right and wrong. What a tale of patience, courage, sacrifice, and martyrdom is the history of human progress! It affects us as if we were reading in the diary of a parent the record of his struggles for his children. For us they toiled, endured, bled, and died; that we by their labour might have rest, by their thoughts might know, by their death might live happily. For whom did these men work, if not for us?

23 August 2016

A Country Walk

Arnold Haultain, Of Walks and Walking Tours; An Attempt to Find a Philosophy and a Creed (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1914), p. 214:
There comes a time when nothing seems worth while; when gaiety palls, and even sorrow dulls instead of stirs; when nothing seems of any use, and one feels inclined to give up, to give up. — To such I would say, pull on thick boots, clutch a stout stick, and go for a country walk — rain or shine. — It sounds a preposterous remedy, but try it. Nature never gives up. Not a pygmy weed, trodden under foot of man, and covered up and overwhelmed with rival growths, but battles for its life with vim. Nor does it ask for what it battles. Neither does it question why more favoured plants are so carefully nurtured, and it, poor thing, is dragged up by the roots. — Take a country walk, and look at the weeds if at nothing else.
Related Posts:

19 August 2016

Don't Write a Novel

Paul Fussell, Bad; The Dumbing of America (New York: Touchstone Books, 1991) p. 55:
If you want to be remembered as a clever person and even as a benefactor of humanity, don't write a novel, or even talk about it: instead, compile tables of compound interest, assemble weather data running back seventy-five years, or develop in tabular form improved actuarial information. All more useful than anything "creative" most people could come up with, and less likely to subject the author to neglect, if not ridicule and contempt. In addition, it will be found that most people who seek attention and regard by announcing that they're writing a novel are actually so devoid of narrative talent that they can't hold the attention of a dinner table for thirty seconds, even with a dirty joke.

16 August 2016

Practical Philosophers Among the Mice

James Thomson (1834-1882), "On the Worth of Metaphysical Systems," Essays and Phantasies (London: Reeves and Turner, 1881), p. 301:
Let us imagine a small colony of mice in a great cathedral, getting a poor livelihood out of Communion crumbs and taper-droppings. Could any of them by much deep speculation comprehend the origin, the plan, the purpose of the cathedral, the meaning of the altar, the significance of the ritual, the clashing of the bells, the ringing of the chants, the thunderous trepidations of the organ? Yet a mouse explaining the final causes of all these things would be incomparably less absurd than is a divine or sage expounding the mysteries of Nature or God. The discreeter mice would limit themselves to noticing and remembering that certain periods and ceremonies were marked by more numerous tapers burning, whence came more grease on the floor, and by noting the spots where grease did more abound. These would be the practical philosophers among the mice, positivists or utilitarians; and if while grease was to be had, other mice lost their time in demonstrating that the final cause of a great Church festival was to increase the harvest of taper-droppings for their species, these shrewder mice would not stay to dispute the point with them, but would be off to their jolly feast of Candlemas.

10 August 2016

A Higher Being

Richard Whately, Selections From the Writings of Dr. Whately  (London: Richard Bentley, 1856), p. 65:
He who knows two languages is a higher being than he who knows but one; and the more dissimilar the better.
A related post: An Exquisite Mistress 

9 August 2016

This Rare Species of Human Beings

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Joyful Wisdom (§ 42), in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, tr. Thomas Common (New York: Macmillan, 1911), pp. 78-79:
Work and Ennui. — In respect to seeking work for the sake of the pay, almost all men are alike at present in civilised countries; to all of them work is a means, and not itself the end; on which account they are not very select in the choice of the work, provided it yields an abundant profit. But still there are rarer men who would rather perish than work without delight in their labour: the fastidious people, difficult to satisfy, whose object is not served by an abundant profit, unless the work itself be the reward of all rewards. Artists and contemplative men of all kinds belong to this rare species of human beings; and also the idlers who spend their life in hunting and travelling, or in love-affairs and adventures. They all seek toil and trouble in so far as these are associated with pleasure, and they want the severest and hardest labour, if it be necessary. In other respects, however, they have a resolute indolence, even should impoverishment, dishonour, and danger to health and life be associated therewith. They are not so much afraid of ennui as of labour without pleasure; indeed they require much ennui, if their work is to succeed with them. For the thinker and for all inventive spirits ennui is the unpleasant "calm" of the soul which precedes the happy voyage and the dancing breezes; he must endure it, he must await the effect it has on him: — it is precisely this which lesser natures cannot at all experience!
Die fröhliche Wissenschaft  is in Vol. 12 of the Musarion edition of Nietzsche's works but it is one of the volumes I have yet to find online. So for the original, see Vol. 5 of Alfred Kröner's edition (Stuttgart, 1921), pp. 78-79.

Related posts:

4 August 2016

Seek Not Your Fortune in the Dark, Dreary Mine

Gustave Abel, Le labeur de la prose (Paris: P.-V. Stock, 1902), pp. 42-43:
Ce qui est vraiment indispensable [when writing], c'est d'avoir à sa disposition un arsenal de mots assez fourni pour que l'on puisse y trouver, à point nommé, l'expression la plus appropriée à sa pensée et traduire les nuances les plus délicates du sentiment. L'écrivain qui sait tirer le meilleur parti de sa langue est celui qui en a dévoilé tous les secrets. Elle ressemble à une mine qui ne consent à livrer ses richesses qu'au prix des plus grands efforts. Mais dès qu'on a trouvé le filon et extrait le métal précieux, dès que les trésors s'offrent à profusion, l'Art sort triomphant des luttes qu'il a fallu soutenir. Le lecteur se doute rarement des fatigues intellectuelles qui sont cachées dans chaque ligne, dans chaque mot des œuvres qu'il admire le plus. Il n'a pas assisté au labeur déployé, à la lente préparation, à la ciselure patiente! Il ignore les veilles et les insomnies que ces pages ont parfois coûtées à leur auteur. Mais qu'importent les déboires et les souffrances qu'entraîne cette culture intensive de l'esprit si l'on sent en soi les forces voulues pour créer une belle floraison littéraire?

2 August 2016

The Enemies of Books

Edmond Werdet, Histoire du livre en France (Paris: E. Dentu, 1851), translated and quoted by William Blades in The Enemies of Books (London: Trübner & Co., 1880), pp. 43-44:
The Poet Boccacio, when travelling in Apulia, was anxious to visit the celebrated Convent of Mount Cassin, especially to see its library of which he had heard much. He accosted, with great courtesy, one of the Monks whose countenance attracted him, and begged him to have the kindness to show him the library.

'See for yourself,' said the Monk, brusquely, pointing at the same time to an old stone staircase, broken with age. Boccace hastily mounted in great joy at the prospect of a grand bibliographical treat. Soon he reached the room which was without key or even door as a protection to its treasures. What was his astonishment to see that the grass growing in the window sills actually darkened the room, and that all the books and seats were an inch thick in dust. In utter astonishment he lifted one book after another. All were manuscripts of extreme antiquity, but all were dreadfully dilapidated. Many had lost whole sections which had been violently extracted, and in many all the blank margins of the vellum had been cut away. In fact, the mutilation was thorough.

Grieved at seeing the work and the wisdom of so many illustrious men fallen into the hands of custodians so unworthy, Boccace descended with tears in his eyes. In the cloisters he met another Monk, and enquired of him how the MSS. had become so mutilated. 'Oh!' he replied, 'we are obliged, you know, to earn a few sous for our needs, so we cut away the blank margins of the Manuscripts for writing upon, and make of them small books of devotion which we sell to women and children.'

26 July 2016

The Worm Hole

Joseph Kaspar Sattler (1867-1931), "Der Wurmstich," Ein moderner Totentanz  (Berlin: J.A. Stargardt, 1912), p. 9:

21 July 2016

Translations Must Be Attempted

Arthur Jerome Eddy, Delight, the Soul of Art (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1902), pp. 35-36:
Translations must be attempted; they have their uses, but their value must not be over-estimated. In scientific, historical, and philosophical works their value is in proportion to the faithfulness with which they translate the exact language and intention of the original; and there are literal translations of poems, the sole aim of which is to render as exactly and literally as possible the words and meanings of the originals, but such translations are not in themselves works of art. The translator may delight in what he is so ploddingly and accurately and conscientiously accomplishing, but he delights not in either the thought or the manner of expressing the thought. There are, however, translations which are works of art, translations in which the translator delighted in both the thought and its expression, in which his own individuality is given full play. Such a translation is Fitzgerald's rendering of the "Rubaiyat" of Omar Khayyam. That Khayyam lived at Nishapur in the beginning of the twelfth century is known; that he was a tent-maker and an astronomer is also known; but what he really believed no man knows, and whether he belonged to this sect or that sect no man can tell; according to some, his poems contain mystic allusions to the Deity; according to others, he meant simply what he said and sang, the Epicurean philosophy, eat, drink, for to-morrow ye die. But what the Persian tent-maker really thought was of less importance to Fitzgerald than his own reflections suggested by the original. The original appealed to him; he accepted the old tent-maker at his word, and took delight in rendering in his own manner the original as he understood it; and yet with his translation he took infinite pains. He himself said, "I suppose very few people have ever taken such pains in translation as I have, though certainly not to be literal."

Edmund Dulac's illustration for quatrain XII of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
(New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1909)

15 July 2016

He Laughed to See Men Scramble for Dirty Silver

Jeremy Taylor, "The Epicure's Feast," Selections From the Works of Jeremy Taylor (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1865), pp. 93-95:
Maximus Tyrius considers concerning the felicity of Diogenes, a poor Sinopean, having not so much nobility as to be born in the better parts of Greece: but he saw that he was compelled by no tyrant to speak or do ignobly; he had no fields to till, and therefore took no care to buy cattle, and to hire servants; he was not distracted when a rent-day came, and feared not when the wise Greeks played the fool and fought who should be lord of that field that lay between Thebes and Athens; he laughed to see men scramble for dirty silver, and spend ten thousand Attic talents for the getting the revenues of two hundred philippics; he went with his staff and bag into the camp of the Phocenses, and the soldiers reverenced his person and despised his poverty, and it was truce with him whosoever had wars; and the diadem of kings and the purple of the emperors, the mitre of high priests and the divining-staff of soothsayers, were things of envy and ambition, the purchase of danger, and the rewards of a mighty passion; and men entered into them by trouble and extreme difficulty, and dwelt under them as a man under a falling roof, or as Damocles under the tyrant's sword, sleeping like a condemned man; and let there be what pleasure men can dream of in such broken slumbers, yet the fear of waking from this illusion, and parting from this fantastic pleasure, is a pain and torment which the imaginary felicity cannot pay for.

All our trouble is from within us; and if a dish of lettuce and a clear fountain can cool all my heats, so that I shall have neither thirst nor pride, lust nor revenge, envy nor ambition, I am lodged in the bosom of felicity; and, indeed, no men sleep so soundly as they that lay their head upon nature's lap. For a single dish, and a clean chalice lifted from the springs, can cure my hunger and thirst; but the meat of Ahasuerus's feast cannot satisfy my ambition and my pride. He, therefore, that hath the fewest desires and the most quiet passions, whose wants are soon provided for, and whose possessions cannot be disturbed with violent fears, he that dwells next door to satisfaction, and can carry his needs and lay them down where he pleases, — this man is the happy man; and this is not to be done in great designs and swelling fortunes.

12 July 2016

Napoleon's Reading Habits

Louis-Étienne Saint-Denis, Napoleon: From the Tuileries to St. Helena, tr. Frank Hunter Potter (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1922), pp. 188-189:
The Emperor was infinitely fond of reading. The Greek and Roman historians were often in his hands, especially Plutarch. He could appreciate this excellent author more than anyone else. Therefore The Lives of Illustrious Men always appeared on the shelves of his campaign libraries. He often read Rollin. The history of the middle ages, modern history, and particular histories occupied him only casually. The only religious book which he had was the Bible. He liked to read over in it the chapters which he had heard read in the ruins of the ancient cities of Syria. They painted for him the customs of those countries and the patriarchal life of the desert. It was, he said, a faithful picture of what he had seen with his own eyes. Every time that he read Homer it was with a new admiration. No one, in his view, had known what was truly beautiful and great better than this author; consequently he often took him up again and read him from the first page to the last.
Id., p. 190:
If the Emperor had in his hands a book which interested him he would never lay it down till he knew it thoroughly. He read with his thumb, as the Abbé de Pradt said, yet nothing of its contents escaped him, and he knew it so well that long afterward he could make a detailed analysis of it, and even cite textually, so to speak, the passages which had struck him the most. If he heard anything spoken of with which he was not familiar, or of which he knew nothing, he would have all the books in his library in which it might possibly be treated of brought to him at once. He was not satisfied with a superficial knowledge; he went into the matter as deeply as possible. This was the way in which he proceeded to enlighten himself and to furnish his mind.
I've done a cursory search on Gallica, but haven't been able to find the original Souvenirs.