28 February 2017

Not in It for the Money

Peter Sichel, CIA station chief in Berlin after the Second World War, in an epilogue to Lucas Delattre's A Spy at the Heart of the Third Reich, tr. George A. Holoch Jr. (New York: Grove Press, 2005), p. 238:
Good intelligence sources are usually those who, for ideological reasons, do not agree with the policies of their government. They make contact with "the opposition" and volunteer their information. In this manner the Russians and we have gathered high-level intelligence over the last eighty years. Only rarely are "agents" recruited through subterfuge or the offer of money or blackmail. Ideology is still the great motivator and Fritz Kolbe is the ideal example of such a freedom fighter.
I haven't seen the original Fritz Kolbe: Un Espion au coeur du IIIe Reich (Paris: Éditions Denoël, 2003) but this is an admirable translation; it reads like a novel. The book lacks an index, but does have copious end notes.

27 February 2017

The Moral Error of Ingratitude

Matthew Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work (New York: Penguin Press, 2009):
The idea of autonomy denies that we are born into a world that existed prior to us. It posits an essential aloneness; an autonomous being is free in the sense that a being severed from all others is free. To regard oneself this way is to betray the natural debts we owe to the world, and commit the moral error of ingratitude. For in fact we are basically dependent beings: one upon another, and each on a world that is not of our making.

22 February 2017

Something of a Dinosaur

Keith Thomas, "Diary," London Review of Books,  June 10, 2010, pp. 36-37:
In the end, we all have to make excerpts from the books and documents we read. In the 16th and 17th centuries, scholars tended to read books in an extrapolatory way, selecting passages to be memorised or copied into common-place books. Sometimes they kept their excerpts in the order in which they came across them. More usually, they tried to arrange them under predetermined headings: virtues and vices, perhaps, or branches of knowledge. Properly organised, a good collection of extracts provided a reserve of quotations and aphorisms which could be used to support an argument or adorn a literary composition. As the historian Thomas Fuller remarked, ‘A commonplace book contains many notions in garrison, whence the owner may draw out an army into the field on competent warning.’
The truth is that I have become something of a dinosaur. Nowadays, researchers don’t need to read early printed books laboriously from cover to cover. They have only to type a chosen word into the appropriate database to discover all the references to the topic they are pursuing. I try to console myself with the reflection that they will be less sensitive to the context of what they find and that they will certainly not make the unexpected discoveries which come from serendipity.

17 February 2017

A Double Wall of Centuries

James Russell Lowell, "Library of Old Authors", My Study Windows (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913), pp. 290-291:
What a sense of security in an old book which Time has criticised for us! What a precious feeling of seclusion in having a double wall of centuries between us and the heats and clamors of contemporary literature! How limpid seems the thought, how pure the old wine of scholarship that has been settling for so many generations in those silent crypts and Falernian amphorae of the Past! No other writers speak to us with the authority of those whose ordinary speech was that of our translation of the Scriptures; to no modern is that frank unconsciousness possible which was natural to a period when yet reviews were not; and no later style breathes that country charm characteristic of days ere the metropolis had drawn all literary activity to itself, and the trampling feet of the multitude had banished the lark and the daisy from the fresh privacies of language. Truly, as compared with the present, these old voices seem to come from the morning fields and not the paved thoroughfares of thought.

16 February 2017

An Inner Richness of the Soul

Lin Yutang, "The Importance of Loafing," The Importance of Living (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1938), p. 155:
No, the enjoyment of an idle life doesn't cost any money. The capacity for true enjoyment of idleness is lost in the moneyed class and can be found only among people who have a supreme contempt for wealth. It must come from an inner richness of the soul in a man who loves the simple ways of life and who is somewhat impatient with the business of making money. There is always plenty of life to enjoy for a man who is determined to enjoy it. If men fail to enjoy this earthly existence we have, it is because they do not love life sufficiently and allow it to be turned into a humdrum routine existence.

13 February 2017

Valentine's Day

C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1960), p. 169:
There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable.
Not unrelated:

10 February 2017

To What End Wouldst Thou Live Longer?

Robert Dodsley, The Economy of Human Life (DeLand, Florida: Clifford Anderson Owens, 1910), pp. 78-79:
Complain not with the fool of the shortness of thy time. Remember that with thy days thy cares are shortened. Take from the period of thy life the useless parts of it, and what remaineth? Take off the time of thine infancy, the second infancy of age, thy sleep, thy thoughtless hours, thy days of sickness, and even at the fullness of years, how few seasons hast thou truly numbered! He who gave thee life as a blessing, shortened it to make it more so. To what end would longer life have served thee? Wishest thou to have had an opportunity of more vices? As to the good, will not he who shortened thy span, be satisfied with the fruits of it?

To what end, O child of sorrow! wouldst thou live longer? To breathe, to eat, to see the world? All this thou hast done often already. Too frequent repetition, is it not monotonous? Or is it not superfluous? Wouldst thou improve thy wisdom and virtue? Alas! what are thou to know? Or who is it that shall teach thee? Badly thou employest the little thou hast; dare not therefore to complain that more is not given thee.

8 February 2017

Gathering Nectar

Madame Guyon, A Short Method of Prayer,  tr. A. W. Marston (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, & Searle, 1875), pp. 6-7:
Take the truth which has presented itself to you, and read two or three lines, seeking to enter into the full meaning of the words, and go on no further so long as you find satisfaction in them; leave the place only when it becomes insipid. After that, take another passage, and do the same, not reading more than half a page at once.

It is not so much from the amount read that we derive profit, as from the manner of reading. Those people who get through so much do not profit from it; the bees can only draw the juice from the flowers by resting on them, not by flying round them.
The original from the Moyen court et très-facile de faire oraison (Lyon: A. Briasson, 1686), pp. 7-8:
Vous prendrez votre vérité telle que vous la voudrez choisir, & vous en lirez ensuite deux ou trois lignes pour les digérer & goûter, tâchant d'en prendre le suc , & de vous tenir arrêté à l'endroit que vous lisez tant que vous y trouvez du goût, & ne passant point outre que cet endroit ne vous soit rendu insipide.

Après cela il faut en reprendre autant, & faire demême, ne lisant pas plus de demi-page à la fois. Ce n'est pas tant la quantité de la lecture qui profite que la manière de lire. Ces gens qui courent si fort, ne profitent pas, non plus que les abeilles ne peuvent tirer le suc des fleurs qu'en s'y reposant, & non en les parcourant.

6 February 2017

Substituting the Hovel for the Palace

Ralph Adams Cram, Walled Towns (Boston: Marshall Jones, 1919), p. 20:
The nineteenth-century superstition that life proceeds after an inevitable system of progressive evolution, so defiant of history, so responsible in great degree for the many delusions that made the [First World] war not only possible but inevitable, finds few now to do it honour. The soul is not forever engaged in the graceful industry of building for itself ever more stately mansions; it is quite as frequently employed in defiling and destroying those already built, and in substituting the hovel for the palace.

3 February 2017

Wilderness Survival

Maurice Francis Egan, Confessions of a Book-Lover (Garden City: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1922), p. 61:
Who is more amusingly cheerful than Montaigne, who more amusingly wise, who so well bred and attractive, who knew the world better and took it only as the world? Give me the old volume of Montaigne and a loaf of bread — no Victrola singing to me in the wilderness ! — a thermos bottle, and one or two other things, and I can still spend the day in any wild place!

1 February 2017

A Fragmentary Ability

Albert Schweitzer, The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization, tr. C. T. Campion (London: A. & C. Black, 1923), pp. 21-22:
Human labour is organized and co-ordinated so that specialization may enable individuals to make the highest and most effective possible contribution. The results obtained are amazing, but the spiritual significance of the work for the worker suffers. There is no call upon the whole man, only upon some of his faculties, and this has a reflex effect upon his nature as a whole. The faculties which build up personality and are called out by comprehensive and varied tasks are ousted by the less comprehensive ones, which from this point of view are, in the general sense of the word, less spiritual. The artisan of to-day does not understand his trade as a whole in the way in which his predecessor did. He no longer learns, like the latter, to work the wood or the metal through all the stages of manufacture; many of these stages have already been carried out by men and machines before the material comes into his hands. Consequently his reflectiveness, his imagination, and his skill are no longer called out by ever varying difficulties in the work, and his creative and artistic powers are atrophied. In place of the normal self-consciousness which is promoted by work into the doing of which he must put his whole power of thought and his whole personality, there comes a self-satisfaction which is content with a fragmentary ability which, it may be admitted, is perfect, and this self-satisfaction is persuaded by its perfection in mastering details to overlook its imperfection in dealing with the whole.
A related post: Anonymous and Impersonal Serfdom

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