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.

7 July 2016

Anonymous and Impersonal Serfdom

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Wanderer and His Shadow, in Human, All Too Human; Part II, tr. Paul V. Cohn (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1924), p. 310:
§220 REACTION AGAINST THE CIVILISATION OF MACHINERY. The machine, itself a product of the highest mental powers, sets in motion hardly any but the lower, unthinking forces of the men who serve it. True, it unfetters a vast quantity of force which would otherwise lie dormant. But it does not communicate the impulse to climb higher, to improve, to become artistic. It creates activity and monotony, but this in the long run produces a counter-effect, a despairing ennui of the soul, which through machinery has learnt to hanker after the variety of leisure. 
Id., p. 342:
§288 HOW FAR MACHINERY HUMILIATES. Machinery is impersonal; it robs the piece of work of its pride, of the individual merits and defects that cling to all work that is not machine-made in other words, of its bit of humanity. Formerly, all buying from handicraftsmen meant a mark of distinction for their personalities, with whose productions people surrounded themselves. Furniture and dress accordingly became the symbols of mutual valuation and personal connection. Nowadays, on the other hand, we seem to live in the midst of anonymous and impersonal serfdom. We must not buy the facilitation of labour too dear. 
For the original see Vol. 9 of the Musarion edition, pages 302 and 333.

Related posts:

5 July 2016

The Somme Centenary

A. E. Coppard, "The Glorious Survivors," Hips & Haws (Waltham St Lawrence: Golden Cockerel Press, 1922), p. 29:
We like you, Glorious Dead:
You are so amiable, amenable.
For two moments a year
We share your creditable silence,
It is so profitable and so profound,
You help us to think thoughts peaceful and holy,
And we are dumb,
Ecstatically insane.

But you, Insuperable Residuum,
What is to be done with you
Who died a threefold death and yet survive?
You are anachronisms,
Unpeaceable things like Russians and Irishmen.
Do not speak of ideals, do not shout of triumph,
(Before whose smoking gun
Bloodless as a reed the dead one lies):
No one has ever seen a vision without fear,
And we who are whole need not to see visions,
We need only peace and humility.
Once having lived the life of the dead
Why can't you hawk your collar studs in silence
And vend your matches with a meeker air?
We can praise, O devoutly we can praise
The glorious death of the dead,
But the death of the living why should we magnify?
If we cannot think our peaceful and holy thoughts
We must vomit;
And remember,
We have truncheons for you, guns for you,
Ah, we can give you bayonets and beans!

30 June 2016

We Are What We Read

Louise Collier Wilcox, The Human Way (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1909), p. 26:
We are what we read almost as much as we are what we think. When we express an opinion of a book we label ourselves. The romantic will hunt through books for romance, the historian for statistics and facts, the statesman for policy and methods, the poet for beauty and ideals, and the philosopher for everything. We take from the author mainly the gift of our sleeping selves — some portion of us so quiescent we hardly recognise it till some one of the great band of embodiers brings it up to the rim of consciousness. We draw out a clearer, better-defined outline of our blurred and dim perceptions. After all, even in books, the statement holds true that we receive but what we give. Or at best, we receive what we are fitted to extract. 

24 June 2016

Walking

Arthur Hugh Sidgwick, Walking Essays (London: Edward Arnold, 1912), pp. 177-178:
There is no human relation which walking cannot promote: with whomsoever you would be friends, you must first do the things in which walking so conspicuously assists — that is, you must clear the brain of feathers and fireworks, settle the mind well back on itself, and link the present firmly on to the past. For some, maybe, the aged and infirm, the walking days are over; and to these you can only talk. But you will find, if you are fortunate, that you are not debarred from their friendship. It is not only that they may speak to you of the walks of their youth, enlarging the distances and diminishing the times, for the abasement of the present generation, while you sit admiring the kindly law of nature by which memory passes so easily into imagination. Even if they have not been walkers, there is still a kinship between you; for the sixtieth year is like the eighteenth mile — the point at which you settle into your stride for the last stage, and the essence of the preceding miles begins to distil itself in your brain, emerging clear and translucent from the turbid mass of experience. Remember the metaphor which Socrates used to Cephalus. 'I love,' he said, 'talking to the very old; for, it seems to me, we ought to ask them, as men far advanced on a track which we too may have to walk, what it is like, rough and difficult or easy and smooth.' 

21 June 2016

L'honnête homme

Émile Amiel in the preface to his biography of Erasmus (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1889), pp. vi-vii (my translation):
In our utilitarian age people have said and repeated in every way that higher education, as it has been constituted since the sixteenth century, no longer meets the needs of democracy, which lives, they say, upon industry, trade, and agriculture. This is only true up to a point; it has not been demonstrated that the study of letters, properly understood, is inappropriate for these three sources of wealth. Nor has it been shown that a scholar, blessed with a sharp mind, is unsuited to business. However, these are two ways of misunderstanding the question. Besides the fact that man does not live by bread alone, our opponents forget the paramount thing, namely that college does not and should not claim to prepare students to take up lucrative careers immediately. That is the job of technical schools. College only seeks to accomplish one thing, namely the regular and concurrent development of all the faculties. For the mind as for the body it should be a plain gymnasium in the Greek sense of the word, where the wrestler prepares himself for the struggle of life. In the simplest terms, it is a training ground where the mind learns to learn. It need not be concerned about the immediate application of knowledge, which is the responsibility of graduate or professional schools. The humanities are intended to form what in the seventeenth century was known as l'honnête homme, which is to say a gentleman in the literary and moral sense, one able to take his place in a society he is called to serve according to his own lights. Let us ask no more of them.
Related posts:

18 June 2016

Hallmark Holidays

Roland Jaccard, La tentation nihiliste (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1989), my translation:
Wanting to have children is wanting to take revenge for one's past. For a woman it is to make a gift of her hate to her own mother and for a man it is to compete with his father or with God in the idiotic fantasy of posterity. And for each couple it is a remedy for despair. When life has failed to live up to our expectations, when we have given up on our own self-creation, when we have the foreboding thought that everything is screwed, instead of heading off to the morgue we gather our family and those who are close to us in a place that is even more sinister because it is more vulgar: motherhood.

Vouloir des enfants, c'est vouloir se venger de son passé. C'est pour la femme faire don à sa propre mère de sa haine et pour l'homme rivaliser avec son père ou avec Dieu dans le fantasme imbécile d'une postérité. Et c'est pour chaque couple un remède au désespoir. Quand la vie a trompé nos attentes, quand on a renoncé à se créer soi-même, quand on pressent que tout est foutu, alors plutôt que de se rendre à la morgue, on convie sa famille et ses proches dans un lieu plus sinistre encore, parce que plus kitsch : la maternité. 

15 June 2016

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Jeremy Taylor, The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying (London: Bickers and Son, 1873), p. 45:
But if we could from one of the battlements of Heaven espy how many men and women at this time lie fainting and dying for want of bread, how many young men are hewn down by the sword of War, how many poor Orphans are now weeping over the graves of their father, by whose life they were enabled to eat; if we could but hear how many Mariners and Passengers are at this present in a storm, and shriek out because their keel dashes against a Rock or bulges under them, how many people there are that weep with want, and are mad with oppression, or are desperate by too quick a sense of a constant infelicity; in all reason we should be glad to be out of the noise and participation of so many evils. This is a place of sorrows and tears, of great evils and a constant calamity: let us remove from hence, at least in affections and preparation of mind.
Related posts:

13 June 2016

An Occasional Bitterness of the Spirit

Herbert Read, "The Artist's Dilemma," The Contrary Experience  (London: Secker & Warburg, 1973), pp. 269-270:
Each artist must find an individual solution to the dilemma which is implicit in his acceptance of society. To a few who are favoured by tradition and wealth the solution may come easily; they have probably nothing to fear but the uneasy conscience of the rentier and the envy of their colleagues. But for most artists some form of sacrifice or renunciation is involved: they must surrender their isolation; they must  subordinate their artistic ideals to the baser demands of entertainment. Or they may prefer to keep their ideals and curtail their ambitions. But this alternative is apt to bring with it an occasional bitterness of the spirit. One willingly throws ballast overboard so long as it consists of replaceable things; but when we come to the children of our imagination, then the hand is reluctant.

7 June 2016

The Sea

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1923):
Why do we love the sea? It is because it has some potent power to make us think things we like to think.
Robert Henri, Girl Seated by the Sea (1893)

For more on this subject, visit First Known When Lost.

6 June 2016

No Mere Elegant Trifling

John Morley, "On the Study of Literature," Studies in Literature  (London: Macmillan, 1901), pp. 218-219:
Literature consists of all the books — and they are not so many — where moral truth and human passion are touched with a certain largeness, sanity, and attraction of form. My notion of the literary student is one who through books explores the strange voyages of man's moral reason, the impulses of the human heart, the chances and changes that have overtaken human ideals of virtue and happiness, of conduct and manners, and the shifting fortunes of great conceptions of truth and virtue. Poets, dramatists, humorists, satirists, masters of fiction, the great preachers, the character-writers, the maxim-writers, the great political orators — they are all literature in so far as they teach us to know what makes literature, rightly sifted and selected and rightly studied, not the mere elegant trifling that it is so often and so erroneously supposed to be, but a proper instrument for a systematic training of the imagination and sympathies, and of a genial and varied moral sensibility.

3 June 2016

High Among the Wise Masters of Life

John Morley, "Aphorisms," Studies in Literature (London: Macmillan, 1901), pp. 68-69
Horace's Epistles are a mine of genial, friendly, humane observation. Then there is none of the ancient moralists to whom the modern, from Montaigne, Charron, Ralegh, Bacon, downwards, owe more than to Seneca. Seneca has no spark of the kindly warmth of Horace; he has not the animation of Plutarch; he abounds too much in the artificial and extravagant paradoxes of the Stoics. But, for all that, he touches the great and eternal commonplaces of human occasion — friendship, health, bereavement, riches, poverty, death — with a hand that places him high among the wise masters of life. All through the ages men tossed in the beating waves of circumstance have found more abundantly in the essays and letters of Seneca than in any other secular writer words of good counsel and comfort. And let this fact not pass, without notice of the light that it sheds on the fact of the unity of literature, and of the absurdity of setting a wide gulf between ancient or classical literature and modern, as if under all dialects the partakers in Graeco-Roman civilisation, whether in Athens, Rome, Paris, Weimar, Edinburgh, London, Dublin, were not the heirs of a great common stock of thought as well as of speech.
A note to myself: The UofT has digitized the 1601 edition of Pierre Charron's De la sagesse.

1 June 2016

Fame in a Footnote

Arthur Helps, Brevia (London: Bell and Daldy, 1871), pp. 77-78:
In a company of learned men there was talk about posthumous fame. Some said that it was a strong motive to exertion with many persons. Others maintained that its potency as a motive was very small indeed, except with a few half-crazy people, like Alexander the Great. All agreed that it was a foolish motive as applied to the mass of men, because anything that was worthy of the name of "fame" was unattainable for them.

A man writes an elaborate work upon a learned subject. In a few years' time, another man writes an elaborate work upon the same learned subject, and is kind enough to allude to the former author in a foot-note. Twenty or thirty years afterwards, this second man's work is also absorbed in a similar manner; and his labours, too, are chronicled in a foot-note. Now, the first man's fame, if you come to look at it carefully, is but small. His labours are kindly alluded to in a foot-note of a work which is also kindly alluded to in a foot-note of a work published forty or fifty years hence.

Surely this fame in a foot-note is not much worth having.

30 May 2016

A Lesson of Profound Humility

Arthur Helps, Thoughts in the Cloister and the Crowd  (London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1901), pp. 15-16:
When we consider the incidents of former days, and perceive, while reviewing the long line of causes, how the most important events of our lives originated in the most trifling circumstances; how the beginning of our greatest happiness or greatest misery is to be attributed to a delay, to an accident, to a mistake; we learn a lesson of profound humility.
A related post: A Line of Incidents

26 May 2016

That Explains Everything

Evelyn Waugh in a review of Henry Green's novel Living, from Graphic magazine (14 June, 1930), reprinted in A Little Order, ed. Donat Gallagher (London: Eyre Methuen, 1977), p. 81:
A few days ago I came upon an illuminating paragraph in a Sunday newspaper. It was in the column where a lady of fashion dispenses advice to those who consult her about their private concerns. A correspondent wrote "... I am not outstandingly brilliant at anything. I can't leave home as my mother is delicate, but I want to do something to earn not less than £3 a week. I've tried chicken farming and it doesn't pay." The answer was, "You might get a job as a reader to a publisher ... that or book reviewing."

That explains everything about our literary critics: they are young ladies, not outstandingly brilliant at anything, who have failed to make a success with poultry.

25 May 2016

Shoulder the Sky and Drink Your Ale

A. E. Housman, "IX," Last Poems (London: Grant Richards, 1922), pp. 24-25:
The chestnut casts his flambeaux, and the flowers
Stream from the hawthorn on the wind away,
The doors clap to, the pane is blind with showers.
Pass me the can, lad; there's an end of May.

There's one spoilt spring to scant our mortal lot,
One season ruined of our little store.
May will be fine next year as like as not:
Oh ay, but then we shall be twenty-four.

We for a certainty are not the first
Have sat in taverns while the tempest hurled
Their hopeful plans to emptiness, and cursed
Whatever brute and blackguard made the world.

It is in truth iniquity on high
To cheat our sentenced souls of aught they crave,
And mar the merriment as you and I
Fare on our long fool's-errand to the grave.

Iniquity it is; but pass the can.
My lad, no pair of kings our mothers bore;
Our only portion is the estate of man:
We want the moon, but we shall get no more.

If here to-day the cloud of thunder lours
To-morrow it will hie on far behests;
The flesh will grieve on other bones than ours
Soon, and the soul will mourn in other breasts.

The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.
An unpaid endorsement: Muskoka Brewery's Detour  India Pale Ale is glorious.

20 May 2016

Creatures of Time and Space

R. S. Thomas, "The Making of a Poem," Selected Prose, ed. Sandra Anstey (Bridgend: Seren, 1995), p. 87:
But creatures of time and space as we all are, we are yet haunted by dreams of eternity and we have a conception of ourselves as arresting the flow of time. When we love somebody, or we see something beautiful, or when we are experiencing something very wonderful or very strange which has a dreamlike quality about it, there is on that occasion something within us which wants to arrest this and keep it for ever, and we know that in so far as we are creatures of time and space this does not seem to be possible. Almost before we have really had our attention drawn to it either we have passed on or it has gone in the slip-stream and is no more. Most of us would feel that if only we had the gift of language, or if only we had the hand of the painter, or if only we were musicians, we should try to formalize and crystallize or trap this evanescent experience, and arrest it and take it out of the time-flow. And this is surely what the better poets are able to do.
Related posts:

18 May 2016

The Spectacle of Human Folly

Auguste-Barthélemy Glaize, Le spectacle de la folie humaine (1873):

Painting at the Musée des beaux-arts d'Arras, image from Gregory Lejeune

16 May 2016

Resort to Books or Memory

Charles Horton Cooley, Human Nature and the Social Order (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1902), p. 208:
No one can permanently maintain a standard of honor in his own mind if he does not conceive of some other mind or minds as sharing and corroborating this standard. If his immediate environment is degrading he may have resort to books or memory in order that his imagination may construct a better environment of nobler people to sustain his standard; but if he cannot do this it is sure to fall. Sentiments of higher good or right, like other sentiments, find source and renewal in intercourse. On the other hand, we cannot separate the idea of honor from that of a sincere and stable private character. We cannot form a habit of thought about what is admirable, though it be derived from others, without creating a mental standard. A healthy mind cannot strive for outward honor without, in some measure, developing an inward conscience training himself from the outside in, as Goethe says.

13 May 2016

Fifteenth-Century People

Peter Ackroyd, The Life of Thomas More  (London: Vintage, 1999), pp. 33-34:
The 'frankness' of fifteenth-century people about the body and its functions has often been observed; if you believe human nature is to be fallen from grace, and irredeemably flawed, then there is no reason to be discreet or fastidious about its natural properties. It might be useful, even beneficial, to exploit or parody them.
Related posts:

10 May 2016

The Vowing Age

V. S. Pritchett, Midnight Oil (London: Chatto & Windus, 1971), p. 14:
My earliest pleasure was therefore in being alone; and to be alone in Paris, knowing nobody, was an intoxication; it was like being on the dizzy brink of knowing everybody. I felt I was drinking the lights of the city and the words I heard spoken by passers-by... I walked to the Place de la Concorde and there by the bridge in the shade of the warm trees looked over the stone wall into the river. I was instantly under a spell. The water looked still yet it rustled like a dress. I had never seen water and stone in such pleasant conversation, the stone moonish, shading to saffron like the cheese of Brie, the water womanish and velvet. My solemn young eyes were seeing order and feeling united. I was so moved that I could feel myself grow into a new being. I repeated to myself my vow — for I was at the vowing age — never to leave France and I was so entranced that tears came to my eyes.

6 May 2016

Mother's Day

Roland Jaccard, L'âme est un vaste pays  (Paris: Grasset, 1984), my translation:
A mother and her little girl are beside me. The mother constantly devalues her child, criticizing her, humiliating her. It is something I have often observed: a daughter has no worse enemy than her mother. Across the generations, each one takes revenge for the harm her own mother inflicted.

A côté de moi, une mère et sa fillette. La mère ne cesse de dévaloriser son enfant, de la critiquer, de l’humilier. Je l’ai souvent observé : il n’y a pas de pire ennemi pour une fille que sa mère. A travers les générations, chacune se venge de ce que sa propre mère lui a infligé.
A related post: Women Who Procreate

5 May 2016

Forget the Lusitania

Melville Hastings, Lieutenant in the 52nd Battalion (Manitoba Regiment), Canadian Expeditionary Force, quoted in The War Letters of Fallen Englishmen, ed. Laurence Housman (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1930), pp. 123-124:
I write this outside a German dug-out wrecked by one of our sixty-pounders. The explosion has thrown five men lifeless down the stairway. Their boy officer, a young Absalom, is suspended head downwards by one of his Bluchers from two viced beams in the roof. Get the harrowing details out of the mind; remember only the faithful service.

It seems to me that so many of our journals urge the remembering of the worthless, the forgetting of the worth remembering. "Remember the Lusitania, remember Nurse Cavell." Rather keep them out of the mind. Heaven consists largely in thinking of mothers and wives and children and other things that are thus beautiful. Get the habit. Increase Heaven by thinking of the homely, fat but selfless Frau and the lad who hangs from the ceiling by his foot. Hell consists largely in thinking of our own nastiness. We cannot forget them even when forgiven, and so this Hell survives, but other people's nastiness we can forget quite easily. Forget the Lusitanias, the Louvains — there are paid servants of the State who will attend to these....

German food and British food, examine them closely, they are the same. The same in terms of stomach, of ears, of eyes or of the immortal soul. A week since I was lying out in no man's land. A little German dog trotted up and licked my British face. I pulled his German ears and stroked his German back. He wagged his German tail. My little friend abolished no man's land, and so in time can we.

According to the Queen's University archives,
 Hastings died of wounds on 3 October 1918.
He is buried in the Etaples Military Cemetery.

3 May 2016

The Importance of Style

John Mortimer, Clinging to the Wreckage (London: Penguin Books, 2010), p. 79:
And the  writers I admired, an ill-assorted gallery now peopled by Dickens, Chekhov, Firbank (for the dialogue), Evelyn Waugh, P. G. Wodehouse, Raymond Chandler and Lytton Strachey (who still seems to me to have had the best prose style of any writer this century, and to be the only true genius of the Bloomsbury Group), could hardly be said to have had the documentary approach. What they all had in common, I suppose, apart from an admirable determination to entertain, was a belief in the importance of style and a preference for trying to catch some fleeting truth in a web of artifice, rather than bashing it on the head with a camera and a tape-recorder.

29 April 2016

Disappointed

Evelyn Waugh, "Was Oxford Worth While?" Daily Mail (21 June 1930), reprinted in A Little Order, ed. Donat Gallagher (London: Eyre Methuen, 1977), p. 16:
All the misunderstanding of the value of university life seems to me to come from two extreme heresies. On the one hand are those who expect a University to be a kind of insurance company into which so much money is paid and from which so much, eventually, is extracted. They expect a B.A. degree to be a badge which will gain them instant preference over poorer competitors, and in nine cases out of ten they are disappointed.

On the other hand, there are those who expect Oxford to be like an Oxford novel. A place of easy living, subtle conversations, and illuminating friendships. They expect it to be a kind of microcosm of eighteenth-century Whig society, combined with infinitely sophisticated modernism. They, too, are disappointed.
See also: 100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School

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.

19 February 2016

Women Who Procreate

Roland Jaccard, L'âme est un vaste pays (Paris: Grasset, 1984), my translation:
I cannot prevent myself from thinking poorly of women who procreate. They loose a great deal of their humanity in my eyes. Knowing that this is a stupid prejudice is not enough to rid me of it.
Je ne puis m’empêcher d’avoir une piètre opinion des femmes qui procréent. Elles perdent beaucoup de leur humanité à mes yeux. Savoir que c’est un préjugé stupide ne suffit pas à me l’enlever.
As far as I know only one of Jaccard's books (on Louise Brooks) has been translated into English. I'm not sure how I would describe his work... he is a nihilist, a pessimist. I might call him a more refined version of Bukowski, but that is a poor comparison. He regularly uploads haïkus visuels to his YouTube channel: some are humorous, others vulgar, still others discuss Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and the joys of family life.

Related posts:

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.
Still Life with Bottle, Glass, and Loaf, National Gallery #1258

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.