27 January 2017

Actively Suppressing Your Own Ability to Think

Matthew Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work (New York: Penguin Press, 2009), p. 81:
My efforts to read, comprehend, and write abstracts of twenty-eight academic journal articles per day required me to actively suppress my own ability to think, because the more you think, the more the inadequacies in your understanding of an author’s argument come into focus. This can only slow you down. The quota demanded that I suppress as well my sense of responsibility to others — not just the author of an article but also the hapless users of InfoTrac, who might naïvely suppose that my abstract reflects the contents of that article. So the job required both dumbing down and a bit of moral reeducation. Now, it is probably true that every job entails some kind of mutilation. Working as an electrician, you breathe a lot of unknown dust in crawl spaces, your knees get bruised, your neck gets strained from looking up at the ceiling while installing lights or ceiling fans, and you get shocked regularly, sometimes while on a ladder. Your hands are sliced up from twisting wires together, handling junction boxes made out of stamped sheet metal, and cutting metal conduit with a hacksaw. But none of this damage touches the best part of yourself.
A related post: Hack Writers

26 January 2017

Not a Profession or a Trade

Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), p. 200:
Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits — a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.
Related posts:

25 January 2017

In Praise of Travel

Thomas Coryat, Coryat's Crudities, Vol. I (Glasgow: James MacLehose and Sons, 1905), pp. 139-140:
[S]uch is the sweetnesse of travelling and seeing the world, such the pleasure, such the delight, that I thinke that man voyde of all sense, and of a stony hardnes, which cannot be said to be moved with so great pleasure, that he had rather remaine in his owne house, as it were in a prison or gaole, then to converse in the most beautifull Theatre of nature, and the full court of all delights. O sluggish, abject, servile, and most dejected minde of all, which includeth it selfe within the narrow bounds of his owne house, and doth in a manner banish it selfe into an Island. Truely I know not what greater punishment of deportation there can be, and of condemnation to eternal fetters, or to the mettall mines, then to be deprived and spoyled of all those things, which are to be seene by the admirable workmanship of nature in the heaven, earth and sea, and for whose sakes these spheares of our eyes, these lights, this sharpnes of sight, these senses were given unto us, that we might survay and contemplate all these things: these feete, these ankles, these motions, and faculties of running were graunted unto us, that we might goe unto and seeke for the most remote places: these handes, these fingers, these sinews were given unto us that we might touch and feele the miracles of the Omnipotent; and being knowen unto us by his workmanshippe, might magnifie that high Architect, and Artificer of all things.
Id., p. 146:
But what answer shall we make to those that complaine that money is spent by travell? Pray what are they that object this? Surely such as thinke nothing blessed, nothing glorious, nothing fortunate, nothing to be desired but onely riches. Verily they are most unworthy to whom nature should give any other sense, who had rather want those true and eternal riches, vertue, wisdome, and the knowledge of most worthy and profitable matters which are purchased by travel, then money. They are worthy to remaine for ever lame and blinde with their Mammon, and most unworthy to enjoy the benefites of nature, or and other pleasures which are procured by travell. As though the dice and dicing boxe, domesticall idlenesse, domesticall luxury, and the gulfe of domesticall gormandising, doth not farre exceed the necessary charges of travell. Surely the same gulfe of prodigality is at home that is abroad, the same occasion of wasting our fortunes and patrimony, the same good fellowship, the same diet, the same dishes.

cf. They Will Follow Thee at an Inch

24 January 2017

No Tools to Lend

"No Tools to Lend and My Reasons For It", a circular popular with tradesmen in Boston in the 1880s, from The Carpenter, Feb. 15, 1888, p. 7, col. 4:
  1. That one man is enough to use one set of tools.
  2. That no two men use the same tools alike, and by an inexperienced man using the tools of any mechanic, will never have tools in order to use himself.
  3. That the more I lend to a person who calculates to live by borrowing, the more I countenance a bad practice.
  4. That the tools and labor of the mechanic are his capital; with them he earns his bread.
The man who borrows my tools and does his work himself injures me in a twofold point of view, — he becomes a competitor with me at my expense, and returns my tools unfit for use. I worked hard for the money to purchase my tools and the benefit belongs to me. Would you make the mechanic poor, take from him his capital stock and get rich at his expense? If he is not worthy of your patronage, do not rob him; if he is dishonest, handle not his tools for fear of infection. Ye who are rich, blame not the man who asserts his rights. Remember that you do not like to be wronged; why, then, should you wrong your neighbor? When men get so as to give away their money, meat, stock, lumber, grain, and let their lands, houses, shops, horses and carriages, etc. gratuitously and live and support their families, then, and then only, can I lend my tools without sustaining an injury. The man who can prove the above untrue, is cordially invited to the trial.

Suitable for framing. Image from Positive Rake

19 January 2017

The Stoic Ideal

Matthew Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work (New York: Penguin Press, 2009), p. 34:
Since manual work has been subject to routinization for over a century, the nonroutinized manual work that remains, outside the confines of the factory, would seem to be resistant to much further routinization. There still appear developments around the margins; for example, in the last twenty years prefabricated roof trusses and stairways have eliminated some of the more challenging elements from the jobs of framers who work for large tract developers, and pre-hung doors have done the same for finish carpenters generally.  But still, the physical circumstances of the jobs performed by carpenters, plumbers, and auto mechanics vary too much for them to be executed by idiots; they require circumspection and adaptability. One feels like a man, not a cog in a machine. The trades are then a natural home for anyone who would live by his own powers, free not only of deadening abstraction but also of the insidious hopes and rising insecurities that seem to be endemic in our current economic life. Freedom from hope and fear is the Stoic ideal.

17 January 2017

A Thick and Stifling Curtain

William James Dawson, "What It Is That Endures," The Threshold of Manhood (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1889), pp. 87-88:
Men who spend many solitary hours with nature — men whose calling is in the great waters or the open fields — cannot help feeling something of the ghostly side of nature. For them there are presences on the solitary hills; there are voices in the wind; and there is the sense of unseen life touching them on all sides, to which the imagination is sensitive and conscious. But when men come to live in cities, they are like little children who crowd round the bright fire in a little room, and do their best to forget the illimitable mystery of the wide night that reigns without. There is no solitude; there is no time for silent communing; there is no chance for nature to find us. The veil between us and the angel-world seemed very thin in the days when the rushing of the wind over the wide moor at night seemed like the passing of many wings, and when the shimmering of the moonlight in the shadow of the trees was like the white gliding of heavenly presences. But here it is a thick and stifling curtain, and the sense of wonder slowly perishes within us. We have no sense that we are passing away.

13 January 2017

These Are Great Poems

R. S. Thomas, "Unposted," Collected Poems: 1945-1990  (London: J. M. Dent, 1993):
Dear friend unknown,
why send me your poems?
We are brothers, I admit;
but they are no good.
I see why you wrote them,
but why send them? Why not
bury them, as a cat its fæces?
You confuse charity and art.
They have not equal claims,
though the absence of either
will smell more or less the same.

I use my imagination:
I see a cramped hand gripping
a bent pen, or, worse perhaps,
it was with your foot you wrote.
You wait in an iron bed
for my reply. My letter
could be the purse of gold
you pay your way with past
the giant. Despair.

                     I lower my standards
and let truth hit me squarely
between the eyes. ‘These are great
poems,’ I write, and see heaven’s
slums with their rags flying,
cripples brandishing their crutches,
and the one, innocent of scansion,
who knows charity is short
and the poem for ever, suffering
my dark lie with all the blandness
with which the round moon suffers an eclipse.

R. S. Thomas, always ready with a kind word and a friendly smile

10 January 2017

It's Not a Race

Edward Everett Hale, "How to Travel," How to Do It (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1882), pp. 166-167:
Four or five hours [walking] on the road is all you want in each day. Even resolute idlers, as it is to be hoped you all are on such occasions, can get eight miles a day out of that, and that is enough for a true walking party. Remember all along, that you are not running a race with the railway train. If you were, you would be beaten certainly; and the less you think you are the better. You are travelling in a method of which the merit is that it is not fast, and that you see every separate detail of the glory of the world. What a fool you are, then, if you tire yourself to death, merely that you may say that you did in ten hours what the locomotive would gladly have finished in one, if by that effort you have lost exactly the enjoyment of nature and society that you started for.
A related post: A Country Walk

5 January 2017

Accepting the Worst

Lin Yutang, "The Importance of Loafing," The Importance of Living (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1938), p. 158:
Belief in our mortality, the sense that we are eventually going to crack up and be extinguished like the flame of a candle, I say, is a gloriously fine thing. It makes us sober; it makes us a little sad; and many of us it makes poetic. But above all, it makes it possible for us to make up our mind and arrange to live sensibly, truthfully and always with a sense of our own limitations. It gives peace also, because true peace of mind comes from accepting the worst. Psychologically, I think, it means a release of energy.
A related post: The Absolute Hopelessness of Everything

3 January 2017

He Is Born to Trouble

William James Dawson, "Job on Pessimism," The Threshold of Manhood (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1889), p. 184:
The old man is like a traveller who started long ago with a jocund company upon the mountain path; but as day wanes one by one his friends drop behind, and fall out of sight or hearing. One is lame and one is weary; the cloud rolls up and covers one, and the snowstorm blows and hides another: one sleeps beside some flowery hollow on the way, and one was smitten by the lightning or the avalanche: he alone is left, pressing on with failing heart to the solemn inn of death, which crowns the mountain summit, and where in awful solitude he lies down to die. He is born to trouble, and cannot escape trouble. Neither fame, nor honour, nor length of days can teach him any secret whereby he may elude that awful presence. The coin in which life pays itself to him may differ, as gold differs from silver or copper, but the mintage and superscription are the same.

19 December 2016

He Hears the Tumult, and Is Still

William Hazlitt, "On Living to One's-Self," Table Talk (London: J. M. Dent, 1908), p. 91:
He who lives wisely to himself and to his own heart, looks at the busy world through the loop-holes of retreat, and does not want to mingle in the fray. 'He hears the tumult, and is still.' He is not able to mend it, nor willing to mar it. He sees enough in the universe to interest him without putting himself forward to try what he can do to fix the eyes of the universe upon him. Vain the attempt! He reads the clouds, he looks at the stars, he watches the return of the seasons, the falling leaves of autumn, the perfumed breath of spring, starts with delight at the note of a thrush in a copse near him, sits by the fire, listens to the moaning of the wind, pores upon a book, or discourses the freezing hours away, or melts down hours to minutes in pleasing thought. All this while he is taken up with other things, forgetting himself. He relishes an author's style, without thinking of turning author. He is fond of looking at a print from an old picture in the room, without teasing himself to copy it. He does not fret himself to death with trying to be what he is not, or to do what he cannot. He hardly knows what he is capable of, and is not in the least concerned whether he shall ever make a figure in the world.

15 December 2016

An Ill-Natured Comfort

Thomas Gray to Thomas Wharton (11 December 1746), The Letters of Thomas Gray, Vol. I (London: George Bell and Sons, 1900), p. 150:
It is a foolish Thing, that one can't only not live as one pleases, but where & with whom one pleases, without Money. Swift somewhere says, that Money is Liberty; & I fear money is Friendship too & Society, and almost every external Blessing. It is a great, tho' ill-natured, Comfort to see most of those, who have it in Plenty, without Pleasure, without Liberty, & without Friends.

14 December 2016

Of Worms and the Man I Sing

A song attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, from a 15th century manuscript in the Cambridge University Library (MS Ee, vi.29, fol. 17v [s. XVI]), tr. Robert Kinsman, The Darker Vision of the Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), p. 54:
Tell me, o mortal man, tell me about the putridity of the worm;
Tell me o flesh, o dust, what good is the glory of flesh?
O mad wretch, why do you take pride in putridity?
Learn what you are, what you will be; remember that you will die.

First you were sperm, then stench, then food for worms,
Then dust, and thence nothing; what then, does a man have to be proud about?
As the rose pales when it feels the sun draw near,
So man will vanish: now he is, now he has ceased to be.
The original:
Dic homo mortalis, dic de putredine vermis;
Dic caro, dic pulvis, quid prodest gloria carnis?
Cur miser insanis, quare putredo superbis?
Disce quod es, quod eris; memor esto quod morieris.

Sperma prius, post factus olens, post vermibus esca,
Post cinis, inde nichil; unde superbit homo?
Ut rosa pallescit cum solem sentit adesse,
Sic homo vanescit: nunc est, nunc defuit esse.

Harmen Steenwijck, Vanitas (c. 1640)

12 December 2016

Not My Idea of Honourable Action

S. P. B. Mais, Why We Should Read (London: Grant Richards, 1921), p. 10:
It is extremely easy to pick holes, to adopt a negative attitude, to call down fire from heaven and make a show with the fists when your enemy is merely an author. That is not my idea of honourable action. If a book is bad (and I agree that most books are), let it die by itself. Professional critics only too frequently remind me of vultures: they crowd round the weak and the dying ready to devour.

The object of any man who enjoys life is to share his enjoyment with others. If a book appeals to me I want as many people as possible to derive the pleasure that I derived from it.
A related post: Deserving Oblivion

9 December 2016

Cold and Wet in Expensive Long Johns

Brian Farnworth, Some Practical Advice on Cold Weather Clothing; Technical Note 89-21 (Ottawa: Canadian Defence Research Establishment, 1989), p. 2:
There is a lot of hoopla in advertisements and newspaper articles about some types of materials being better than others. It is usually claimed that because a certain fibre is very fine, or hollow, or natural, or the product of space age technology, that it does the best job of keeping air still. None of this is true. Pretty well all clothing materials do a very good job of keeping air still (as long as the wind doesn't blow through them). A 10 mm thick layer of clothing creates a 10 mm thick layer of still air no matter what the fibres are made of or what shape they are.
Id., pp. 8-9:
No one has ever demonstrated that wicking fabrics next to the skin have any significant effect on warmth, coolness, wetness or dryness. Many people claim that they feel more comfortable in polypropylene than in cotton.... But then anyone who pays $50 for a set of underwear is not likely to admit he's been taken. The scientific evidence to date says that if you sweat into cotton underwear, you have wet cotton underwear. If you sweat into polypropylene underwear, you have wet polypropylene underwear. The water will not wick away. It may be that you'll find one more comfortable than the other, but neither one will be insulating if it's wet. 
Hat tip: WoodTrekker

7 December 2016

Everybody Needs a Hobby

Henry Trimen, "His Botanical Studies," John Stuart Mill: His Life and Works (Boston: James R. Osgood, 1873), p. 43:
If we would have a just idea of any man's character, we should view it from as many points, and under as many aspects, as we can. The side-lights thrown by the lesser occupations of a life are often very strong, and bring out its less obvious parts into startling prominence. Much especially is to be learned of character by taking into consideration the employment of times of leisure or relaxation; the occupation of such hours being due almost solely to the natural bent of the individual, without the interfering action of necessity or expediency. Most men, perhaps especially eminent men, have a "hobby," — some absorbing object, the pursuit of which forms the most natural avocation of their mind, and to which they turn with the certainty of at least satisfaction, if not of exquisite pleasure. The man who follows any branch of natural science in this way is almost always especially happy in its prosecution; and his mental powers are refreshed and invigorated for the more serious and engrossing if less congenial occupation of his life.

5 December 2016

Useful Expressions for Holiday Gatherings

Found under the "Critical of Persons" entry in Putnam's Handbook of Expression, compiled by Edwin Hamlin Carr (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1915), pp. 14-18:
  • He is a rather crabbed specimen of humanity
  • He is a selfish, graceless, thankless person
  • A man who never had a taste or emotion but what was sordid
  • He has a desert in his mind
  • He is a lazy, lolling sort of human

1 December 2016

A Life of Learned Sloth and Ignorance

William Hazlitt, Table Talk (London: J. M. Dent, 1908), pp. 70-71:
Books are less often made use of as 'spectacles' to look at nature with, than as blinds to keep out its strong light and shifting scenery from weak eyes and indolent dispositions. The book-worm wraps himself up in his web of verbal generalities, and sees only the glimmering shadows of things reflected from the minds of others. Nature puts him out. The impressions of real objects, stripped of the disguises of words and voluminous round-about descriptions, are blows that stagger him; their variety distracts, their rapidity exhausts him; and he turns from the bustle, the noise, and glare, and whirling motion of the world about him (which he has not an eye to follow in its fantastic changes, nor an understanding to reduce to fixed principles,) to the quiet monotony of the dead languages, and the less startling and more intelligible combinations of the letters of the alphabet. It is well, it is perfectly well. 'Leave me to my repose,' is the motto of the sleeping and the dead. You might as well ask the paralytic to leap from his chair and throw away his crutch, or, without a miracle, to 'take up his bed and walk,' as expect the learned reader to throw down his book and think for himself. He clings to it for his intellectual support; and his dread of being left to himself is like the horror of a vacuum. He can only breathe a learned atmosphere, as other men breathe common air. He is a borrower of sense. He has no ideas of his own, and must live on those of other people. The habit of supplying our ideas from foreign sources ' enfeebles all internal strength of thought,' as a course of dram-drinking destroys the tone of the stomach. The faculties of the mind, when not exerted, or when cramped by custom and authority, become listless, torpid, and unfit for the purposes of thought or action. Can we wonder at the languor and lassitude which is thus produced by a life of learned sloth and ignorance; by poring over lines and syllables that excite little more idea or interest than if they were the characters of an unknown tongue, till the eye closes on vacancy, and the book drops from the feeble hand! I would rather be a wood-cutter, or the meanest hind, that all day 'sweats in the eye of Phoebus, and at night sleeps in Elysium,' than wear out my life so, 'twixt dreaming and awake.

25 November 2016

Portable Cold Frame

Samuel Blackburn, "Portable Cold Frame," Problems in Farm Woodwork (Peoria, Ill. : Manual Arts Press, 1915), pp. 82-83:


I often sigh quietly to myself when I think about the hours I was forced to spend reading Roland Barthes, Mikhail Bakhtin, and similar foolishness when I could have been learning something useful from this book or Louis Roehl's Farm Woodwork (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1919):

Roehl's Farm Shop Work Bench, plans on pp. 16-19.

24 November 2016

One Who Walks in Trammels

Alexander Fraser Tytler, Essay on the Principles of Translation (London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1900), pp. 112-114:
To one who walks in trammels, it is not easy to exhibit an air of grace and freedom. It is difficult, even for a capital painter, to preserve in a copy of a picture all the ease and spirit of the original; yet the painter employs precisely the same colours, and has no other care than faithfully to imitate the touch and manner of the picture that is before him. If the original is easy and graceful, the copy will have the same qualities, in proportion as the imitation is just and perfect. The translator's task is very different: He uses not the same colours with the original, but is required to give his picture the same force and effect. He is not allowed to copy the touches of the original, yet is required by touches of his own, to produce a perfect resemblance. The more he studies a scrupulous imitation, the less his copy will reflect the ease and spirit of the original. How then shall a translator accomplish this difficult union of ease with fidelity? To use a bold expression, he must adopt the very soul of his author, which must speak through his own organs.
There is a lengthy footnote to this passage which quotes from Charles Batteux's Traité de la construction oratoire (Paris: Demonville, 1810).