9 March 2017

I've Always Liked Beans on Toast

Seneca, "Letter XVIII," Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium, tr. Richard M. Gummere, Vol. I (Loeb Classical Library; London: Heinemann, 1917), pp. 119-121:
I shall give you also a lesson: Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: "Is this the condition that I feared?" It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence. In days of peace the soldier performs manoeuvres, throws up earthworks with no enemy in sight, and wearies himself by gratuitous toil, in order that he may be equal to unavoidable toil. If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes. Such is the course which those men have followed who, in their imitation of poverty, have every month come almost to want, that they might never recoil from what they had so often rehearsed.

You need not suppose that I mean meals like Timon's, or "paupers' huts," or any other device which luxurious millionaires use to beguile the tedium of their lives. Let the pallet be a real one, and the coarse cloak; let the bread be hard and grimy. Endure all this for three or four days at a time, sometimes for more, so that it may be a test of yourself instead of a mere hobby. Then, I assure you, my dear Lucilius, you will leap for joy when filled with a pennyworth of food, and you will understand that a man's peace of mind does not depend upon Fortune; for, even when angry she grants enough for our needs.

There is no reason, however, why you should think that you are doing anything great; for you will merely be doing what many thousands of slaves and many thousands of poor men are doing every day. But you may credit yourself with this item, – that you will not be doing it under compulsion, and that it will be as easy for you to endure it permanently as to make the experiment from time to time. Let us practise our strokes on the "dummy"; let us become intimate with poverty, so that Fortune may not catch us off our guard. We shall be rich with all the more comfort, if we once learn how far poverty is from being a burden.
Related posts:

7 March 2017

Misanthropy Is the Result

Arthur Schopenhauer, "Antimoral Incentives," The Basis of Morality, tr. Arthur Brodrik Bullock (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1903), pp. 155-156:
Ill-will, in its lower degrees, is very frequent, indeed, almost a common thing; and it easily rises in the scale. Goethe is assuredly right when he says that in this world indifference and aversion are quite at home. — (Wahlverwandtschaften, Part I., chap. 3.) It is very fortunate for us that the cloak, which prudence and politeness throw over this vice, prevents us from seeing how general it is, and how the bellum omnium contra omnes is constantly waged, at least in thought. Yet ever and anon there is some appearance of it: for instance, in the relentless backbiting so frequently observed; while its clearest manifestation is found in all outbreaks of anger, which, for the most part, are quite disproportional to their cause, and which could hardly be so violent, had they not been compressed — like gunpowder — into the explosive compound formed of long cherished brooding hatred. Ill-will usually arises from the unavoidable collisions of Egoism which occur at every step. It is, moreover, objectively excited by the view of the weakness, the folly, the vices, failings, shortcomings, and imperfections of all kinds, which every one more or less, at least occasionally, affords to others. Indeed, the spectacle is such, that many a man, especially in moments of melancholy and depression, may be tempted to regard the world, from the aesthetic standpoint, as a cabinet of caricatures; from the intellectual, as a madhouse; and from the moral, as a nest of sharpers. If such a mental attitude be indulged, misanthropy is the result.
The original can be found in the third section of Schopenhauer's Preisschrift über die Grundlage der Moral, specifically on p. 199 of Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1891).

Related posts:

3 March 2017

More Books and Fewer Clothes

A. Edward Newton, The Amenities of Book Collecting and Kindred Affections (London: John Lane at The Bodley Head, 1920), p. 123:
There is a joy in mere ownership [of books]. It may be silly, or it may be selfish; but it is a joy, akin to that of possessing land, which seems to need no defense. We do not walk over our property every day; we frequently do not see it; but when the fancy takes us, we love to forget our cares and responsibilities in a ramble over our fields. In like manner, and for the same reason, we browse with delight in a corner of our library in which we have placed our most precious books. We should buy our books as we buy our clothes, not only to cover our nakedness, but to embellish us; and we should buy more books and fewer clothes.

1 March 2017

Twitter Would Fall Silent

Katherine E. Conway (1853-1927), "When Silence Is Golden," A Lady and Her Letters (Boston: Pilot Publishing Company, 1895), pp. 51-52:
If you have received a captious, fretful, bitter, unjust, or even spiteful and impertinent letter, the best rebuke you can possibly give the writer is absolutely to ignore it. To "talk back" with your pen puts the offender on her mettle. After she sent that letter, ten to one she would have been glad to call it back. She had a bad quarter of an hour thinking how you would receive it. But your answer comes at once, full of annoyance and pain. She begins to justify herself, and your peace of mind and dignity suffer.

Pay no apparent attention to the unjust or impertinent letter. Give its writer time to think it over, and, in all probability, she will eventually see her blunder and try to repair it. If she does not, you are still the gainer by ceasing to hold intercourse with her.

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

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).

22 November 2016

Living for the Next Meal

Iris Tree, "How Often, When the Thought of Suicide," Poems (London: John Lane, at The Bodley Head, 1920), p. 27:
How often, when the thought of suicide
With ghostly weapon beckons us to die,
The ghosts of many foods alluring glide
On golden dishes, wine in purple tide
To drown our whim. Things danced before the eye
Like tasselled grapes to Tantalus: The sly
Blue of a curling trout, the battened pride
Of ham in frills, complacent quails that lie
Resigned to death like heroes — July peas,
Expectant bottles foaming at the brink —
White bread, and honey of the golden bees —
A peach with velvet coat, some prawns in pink,
A slice of beef carved deftly, Stilton cheese,
And cup where berries float and bubbles wink.

Augustus John, Portrait of Iris Tree (c. 1919)

21 November 2016

Fit for Nothing Else

Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams; An Autobiography  (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1918), p. 211:
Yet the press was still the last resource of the educated poor who could not be artists and would not be tutors. Any man who was fit for nothing else could write an editorial or a criticism. The enormous mass of misinformation accumulated in ten years of nomad life could always be worked off on a helpless public, in diluted doses, if one could but secure a table in the corner of a newspaper office. The press was an inferior pulpit; an anonymous schoolmaster; a cheap boarding-school; but it was still the nearest approach to a career for the literary survivor of a wrecked education.

16 November 2016

The Child Imposes on the Man

John Dryden, The Hind and the Panther  3.387-391 (London: Macmillan, 1900), p. 56:
By education most have been misled;
So they believe, because they so were bred.
The priest continues what the nurse began,
And thus the child imposes on the man.

14 November 2016

Are My Pickaxes and Shovels in Good Order?

John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies (Portland, Thomas B. Mosher, 1905), pp. 17-18:
When you come to a good book, you must ask yourself, "Am I inclined to work as an Australian miner would? Are my pickaxes and shovels in good order, and am I in good trim myself, my sleeves well up to the elbow, and my breath good, and my temper?" And, keeping the figure a little longer, even at cost of tiresomeness, for it is a thoroughly useful one, the metal you are in search of being the author's mind or meaning, his words are as the rock which you have to crush and smelt in order to get at it. And your pickaxes are your own care, wit, and learning; your smelting furnace is your own thoughtful soul. Do not hope to get at any good author's meaning without those tools and that fire; often you will need sharpest, finest chiselling, and patientest fusing, before you can gather one grain of the metal.
I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again: the earthly paradise for bibliophiles is at hand. There are several copies of this edition on Abebooks for $10.

A related post:

11 November 2016

Gut, daß ich nicht dichten kann

Karl Wasserzieher writing from Ostend in November 1914, in Kriegsbriefe deutscher Studenten, ed. Philipp Witkop (Gotha: Friedrich Andreas Perthes, 1916), p. 21:
Gut, daß ich nicht dichten kann — sonst wüßte ich nicht, wo ich anfangen sollte. Besonders jetzt, wo der Gruß zugleich ein Abschiedsgruß sein könnte: denn soeben kommt der Befehl, uns für alle Fälle mit den letzten vier Geschützen marschbereit zu halten. Wo fange ich an? Schöpfe ich Verse aus dem dunklen Schwarz der Wogen und reihe sie auf eine goldne Schnur, die ich aus Sonnenfäden spinne? Oder bewundere ich das tiefe Grün mit den blendend weißen Schaumkronen, deren Weiß ganz dicht am Strand in Goldbraun übergeht? Weiter links wieder grüßt tiefes Blau herüber, und überall, millionenfach die weißen anschäumenden Wogen, darüber Möven, das Gleichgewicht haltend gegen den sausenden Sturmwind , der hoch in den Lüften singt und pfeift und heult, als wenn ein ganzes Höllengeisterheer losgelassen wäre. Wolkenbilder, die wie eine Luftflotte auf uns zusegeln, goldgerändert von der Sonne, die hinter mir aufgegangen und ihre Strahlen durch die Wolken bricht wie auf einem altbiblischen Gemälde — wieder immer wieder faßt uns tiefes Mitleid um die Menschheit. Und man versteht nicht, wie Menschenhaß und -hader bestehen kann vor dieser gigantischen, majestätischen Schönheit des ewigen Meeres, über dem die Sonne auf den glitzernden silbernen Schaumwellen in sieghaftem Glänze liegt.
I don't have a copy, but this book has been translated by A. F. Wedd as German Students' War Letters (Philadelphia: Pine Street Books, 2002).

10 November 2016

9 November 2016

This Resolution I Make and Will Keep

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft  (London: Archibald Constable, 1912), pp. 89-90:
I have been reading one of those prognostic articles on international politics which every now and then appear in the reviews.  Why I should so waste my time it would be hard to say; I suppose the fascination of disgust and fear gets the better of me in a moment’s idleness.  This writer, who is horribly perspicacious and vigorous, demonstrates the certainty of a great European war, and regards it with the peculiar satisfaction excited by such things in a certain order of mind.  His phrases about “dire calamity” and so on mean nothing; the whole tenor of his writing proves that he represents, and consciously, one of the forces which go to bring war about; his part in the business is a fluent irresponsibility, which casts scorn on all who reluct at the “inevitable.”  Persistent prophecy is a familiar way of assuring the event.

But I will read no more such writing.  This resolution I make and will keep.  Why set my nerves quivering with rage, and spoil the calm of a whole day, when no good of any sort can come of it?  What is it to me if nations fall a-slaughtering each other?  Let the fools go to it!  Why should they not please themselves?  Peace, after all, is the aspiration of the few; so it always was, and ever will be.  But have done with the nauseous cant about “dire calamity.”  The leaders and the multitude hold no such view; either they see in war a direct and tangible profit, or they are driven to it, with heads down, by the brute that is in them.  Let them rend and be rent; let them paddle in blood and viscera till — if that would ever happen — their stomachs turn.  Let them blast the cornfield and the orchard, fire the home.  For all that, there will yet be found some silent few, who go their way amid the still meadows, who bend to the flower and watch the sunset; and these alone are worth a thought.

7 November 2016

Yesterday's Thought Is Worth Considering Again

Stephen Graham, The Gentle Art of Tramping  (London: Robert Holden & Co., 1927), pp. 73-74:
The artist's notebook is free for sketches, notes, impressions of moments, bon mots, poems, things overheard, maps and plans, names of friends and records of their idiosyncrasies, paradoxes, musical notations, records of folk-songs and other songs which you copy in order that you may sing for years afterwards. But it should not contain too much banal detail, such as petty accounts, addresses, druggists' prescriptions, number of season-ticket and fire-insurance policy, memos to send rent. These things are apt to clutter up your book, and when you come to Old Year's Night, and sit waiting for the chime of bells which rings in another year — and you have your day book before you, and you go over its pages, you do not want to pause on a scrawled laundry list or some Falstaffian account of wine and bread consumed at such and such an inn.

The artist's day-book is his own living gospel  — something coming after Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — and should be sacred to him, if he is not merely a flippant and cynical fellow seeing life in large part as a buffonade.

A thought recorded, one that is your own, written down the day when it occurred, is a mental snap-shot, and is at least as valuable as the photographs you may make on your journey. Yesterday's thought is worth considering again, if only as the stepping-stone of your dead self.

The thoughts of some people are constant, but of others varying and contradictory. It is like landscape. Some live their lives in the sight of a great range of mountains — they live in the presence of certain ever-abiding thoughts; others change their mental scenery from day to day, in the shallows and flats of the low country. But we all have our epochal days, our epochal thoughts. We turn to a page in our note-book and say: "On this day the thought occurred to me in the light of which I have lived ever since." You draw two candles there, with light rays, to show the thought of the year.
Id., pp. 215-216:
It is in the description that the keeping of a diary becomes artistic. All description is art, and in describing an event, an action or a being, you enter to some extent into the joy of art. You are more than the mere secretary of life, patiently taking down from dictation, more than life's mere scribe; you become its singer, the expressor of the glory of it. With a verbal description goes also sketching, the thumb-nail sketch, the vague impression, the pictorial pointer. There is no reason for being afraid of bad drawing in one's own personal travel diary; the main thing is that it be ours and have some relationship to our eyes and the thing seen.

I have seldom gone on a tramp, or a long vagabondage, without seeing things that made the heart ache with their beauty or pathos, and other things that set the mind a-tingle with intellectual curiosity. I do not refer to great episodes, glimpses of important shows and functions, but to little things, unexpected visions of life! Some were unforgettable in themselves and seemingly needed not tablets other than those of memory, and yet it was a great addition to inner content and happiness to describe them as they occurred in my day-book of travel.

It is good also, after describing something that has specially affected one, to add one's observations, the one line perhaps that records one's mind at the time.

For these, and for other reasons, the artists note-book, the diary, the common and uncommonplace book, the day-book of the soul are to be placed as part of the equipment of life, when faring forth, be it on pilgrimage, be it on tramp, or be it merely on the common round of daily life. Every entry is a shade of self-confession, and the whole when duly entered is a passage of self-knowledge.
A related post: The Diarist

3 November 2016

Freed From Servile Bands

Henry Wotton (1568 - 1639), "Character of a Happy Life," in The Book of Elizabethan Verse (London: Chatto & Windus, 1908), pp. 515-516:
How happy is he born and taught
That serveth not another's will;
Whose armour is his honest thought,
And simple truth his utmost skill!

Whose passions not his masters are;
Whose soul is still prepared for death,
Not tied unto the world with care
Of public fame, or private breath;

Who envies none that chance doth raise,
Or vice; who never understood
How deepest wounds are given by praise,
Nor rules of state, but rules of good;

Who hath his life from rumours freed,
Whose conscience is his strong retreat;
Whose state can neither flatterers feed,
Nor ruin make accusers great;

Who God doth late and early pray
More of His grace than gifts to lend;
And entertains the harmless day
With a well-chosen book or friend;

— This man is freed from servile bands
Of hope to rise, or fear to fall;
Lord of himself, though not of lands;
And having nothing, yet hath all.

Note to self: The University of Toronto has digitized Logan Pearsall Smith's Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907): Volume I, Volume II

31 October 2016

Indignantly, Penitentially

Thomas De Quincey, "Conversation," The Lost Art of Conversation, ed. Horatio Sheafe Krans (New York: Sturgis & Walton Co., 1910), pp. 30-31:
Too constantly, when reviewing his own efforts for improvement, a man has reason to say (indignantly, as one injured by others; penitentially, as contributing to this injury himself), "Much of my studies has been thrown away; many books which were useless, or worse than useless, I have read; many books which ought to have been read, I have left unread; such is the sad necessity under the absence of all preconceived plan; and the proper road is first ascertained when the journey is drawing to its close." 

28 October 2016

Sterilization of the Unfit

Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1938), pp. 100-101:
Somewhere in our adult life, our sentimental nature is killed, strangled, chilled or atrophied by an unkind surrounding, largely through our own fault in neglecting to keep it alive, or our failure to keep clear of such surroundings. In the process of learning "world experience," there is many a violence done to our original nature, when we learn to harden ourselves, to be artificial, and often to be cold-hearted and cruel, so that as one prides oneself upon gaining more and more worldly experience, his nerves become more and more insensitive and benumbed — especially in the world of politics and commerce. As a result, we get the great "go-getter" pushing himself forward to the top and brushing everybody aside; we get the man of iron will and strong determination, with the last embers of sentiment, which he calls foolish idealism or sentimentality, gradually dying out in his breast. It is that sort of person who is beneath my contempt. The world has too many cold-hearted people. If sterilization of the unfit should be carried out as a state policy, it should begin with sterilizing the morally insensible, the artistically stale, the heavy of heart, the ruthlessly successful, the cold-heartedly determined and all those people who have lost the sense of fun in life — rather than the insane and the victims of tuberculosis. For it seems to me that while a man with passion and sentiment may do many foolish and precipitate things, a man without passion or sentiment is a joke and a caricature. Compared with Daudet's Sappho, he is a worm, a machine, an automaton, a blot upon this earth. Many a prostitute lives a nobler life than a successful business man.

26 October 2016

The Gentle Art of Tramping

Stephen Graham, The Gentle Art of Tramping (London: Robert Holden & Co., 1927), pp. 73-74:
The virtue to be envied in tramping is that of being able to live by the way. In that indeed does the gentle art of tramping consist. If you do not live by the way, there is nothing gentle about it. It is then a stunt, a something done to make a dull person ornamental. I listen with pained reluctance to those who claim to have walked forty or fifty miles a day. But it is a pleasure to meet the man who has learned the art of going slowly, the man who disdained not to linger in the happy morning hours, to listen, to watch, to exist. Life is like a road; you hurry, and the end of it is grave. There is no grand crescendo from hour to hour, day to day, year to year; life's quality is in moments, not in distance run.

25 October 2016

A Picture Frame

Douglas McMurtrie, The Golden Book (New York: Covici · Friede, 1934), pp. 380-381:
The object of any work of art is to evoke an emotion. Does a poem of real moment run a better chance of gaining its object if it comes to us in the crowded columns of a newspaper or on a page not only clear typographically but beautiful as well? We react to art not through one sense only at a time. It is on rare occasions that we can see a work of art in any medium independent of its environment. We sense unconsciously other impressions than that of the object nominally holding our attention. This is certainly true of books, or so many people would not appreciate finely made books. And it is worthy of note that the modern books most in demand by present-day connoisseurs are those, not of the severely plain school, but those in which the creative fancy of the designer has made his contribution to the book as a work of art, helping — in only a small degree perhaps — to present it in the manner best calculated to gain the appreciation of the individual of good taste. As a picture frame executed by a master of the framing art can help present a great oil painting in a more favorable way to those who view it than to show the canvas stretched bare over its frame, so can the artist in bookmaking present to the reader an opus in the literary field in a way favorable to its esthetic appreciation.
Related posts:

21 October 2016

The Ugliest of All Civilizations

William Inge, The Idea of Progress (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1920), pp. 13-14:
It is also an unproved assumption that the domination of the planet by our own species is a desirable thing, which must give satisfaction to its Creator. We have devastated the loveliness of the world; we have exterminated several species more beautiful and less vicious than ourselves; we have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form. If it is progress to turn the fields and woods of Essex into East and West Ham, we may be thankful that progress is a sporadic and transient phenomenon in history. It is a pity that our biologists, instead of singing paeans to Progress and thereby stultifying their own speculations, have not preached us sermons on the sin of racial self-idolatry, a topic which really does arise out of their studies. 'L'anthropolatrie, voilà l'ennemi ' is the real ethical motto of biological science, and a valuable contribution to morals.
Id., pp. 30-31:
There is much to support the belief that there is a struggle for existence among ideas, and that those tend to prevail which correspond with the changing needs of humanity. It does not necessarily follow that the ideas which prevail are better morally, or even truer to the laws of Nature, than those which fail. Life is so chaotic, and development so sporadic and one-sided, that a brief and brilliant success may carry with it the seeds of its own early ruin. The great triumphs of humanity have not come all at once. Architecture reached its climax in an age otherwise barbarous; Roman Law was perfected in a dismal age of decline; and the nineteenth century, with its marvels of applied science, has produced the ugliest of all civilizations. 

20 October 2016

Beats Getting Your Hands Dirty

Edward Carpenter, My Days and Dreams; Being Autobiographical Notes (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1921), pp. 284-285:
Talking about the gulf fixed between the Old and the New, and especially between the mentality of the downright manual worker and that of the artist — at one time we had an artist friend staying with us who was rather down on his luck and making only a poor living. He was working on a landscape picture, and every morning used to sit in one of my fields and close to the wall which divided it from the high-road. An old road-mender (the same who had told me years before how he remembered the Commons "going in" i.e. being enclosed) — a good old man but bowed with age and labour — used to come that way every morning to his work; and every morning, as sure as Fate, made some patronizing remark to the painter, which at last enraged the latter beyond endurance. "That's a nice pastime for you, young man." And then the next morning, "I see you're amusin' yoursen again, young man"; and so on. ("Pastime, indeed! amusing myself! I wish the old fool had to do it instead of me. But I'll be even with him yet!") So the next morning the artist inveigled the old man into conversation, and after submitting meekly to more patronage, said:
"Well you see I have to do this for my living."

"Do it for your livin', do ye?"

"Yes."

"Do you sell them paintin's, then?"

"Of course I do."

Old Man (a little taken aback) : "And how much might you get for a thing like that?"

Artist (stretching a point) : "Well I might get ten pounds."

Old Man (astonished) : "Ten pun! well I never!"

Artist (following up) : "Or I might get more of course."

Old Man (thoughtfully and with deep respect) : "Ten pun! Well, I never and sittin' down to it too!"

16 October 2016

Not Yet Rich Enough

Agnes Repplier, Essays in Idleness (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1893), pp. 101-103:
It can hardly be denied that the lack of scholarship — of classical scholarship especially — at our universities is due primarily to the labor-worship which is the prevalent superstition of our day, and which, like all superstitions, has gradually degraded its god into an idol, and lost sight of the higher powers and attributes beyond. The student who is pleased to think a knowledge of German "more useful" than a knowledge of Greek; the parent who deliberately declares that his boys have "no time to waste" over Homer; the man who closes the doors of his mind to everything that does not bear directly on mathematics, or chemistry, or engineering, or whatever he calls "work;" all these plead in excuse the exigencies of life, the absolute and imperative necessity of labor.

It would appear, then, that we have no fortunati, that we are not yet rich enough to afford the greatest of all luxuries — leisure to cultivate and enjoy "the best that has been known and thought in the world." This is a pity, because there seems to be money in plenty for so many less valuable things. The yearly taxes of the United States sound to innocent ears like the fabled wealth of the Orient; the yearly expenditures of the people are on no rigid scale; yet we are too poor to harbor the priceless literature of the past because it is not a paying investment, because it will not put bread in our mouths nor clothes on our shivering nakedness. "Poverty is a most odious calling," sighed Burton many years ago, and we have good cause to echo his lament. Until we are able to believe, with that enthusiastic Greek scholar, Mr. Butcher, that "intellectual training is an end in itself, and not a mere preparation for a trade or a profession;" until we begin to understand that there is a leisure which does not mean an easy sauntering through life, but a special form of activity, employing all our faculties, and training us to the adequate reception of whatever is most valuable in literature and art; until we learn to estimate the fruits of self-culture at their proper worth, we are still far from reaping the harvest of three centuries of toil and struggle; we are still as remote as ever from the serenity of intellectual accomplishment.

13 October 2016

Let the Trees Remind Us

Iain Crichton Smith, "As Time Draws Near ," New Collected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 2011):
As time draws near
the end of our days
and the plates fall

away from our knees,
let us not be afraid
of the unsponsored dark.

Heavy grave sin
is weighing your head.
There are shining in darkness

panoramas of terror.
Each nightly picture
is God in his ire.

But for us in autumn
let the trees remind us
of our reasonable sequence,

that like birds we travel
from darkness to darkness
briefly through the hall,

where there remains
the clinking of glasses,
the redness of wine,

though we lie starkly
in our effigies
which will not rise,

pen or sword in hand.
It is an achieved grand
tableau that we leave,

say, turning at the door,
putting on a glove,
and entering the sunset’s

enormous concert.
Surely that is better
than on stumbling feet

in the warmth of wetness
squalidly survive.
Live O live,

all you young ones
who take our places
in this hypothesis

of sun and cloud.
May it be with pride
we applaud your litheness

in this panorama,
this drama of our days.
O yes with pride

that we step outwards
into the darkness
closing our eyes

on the last flickering page.

It is time to let the birds migrate without anguish
through the skies of the immediate
towards a fated destination.

It is time to turn the blow lamp on dogma
and inhabit this blue. 

I assume that "like birds we travel" refers to the sparrow in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People. See First Known When Lost for an interesting post on the subject.

12 October 2016

The Poorest Way to Face Life

Theodore Roosevelt, "Citizenship in a Republic," History as Literature and Other Essays (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913), pp. 142-4:
Let the man of learning, the man of lettered leisure, beware of that queer and cheap temptation to pose to himself and to others as the cynic, as the man who has outgrown emotions and beliefs, the man to whom good and evil are as one. The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twisted pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt.

There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering disbelief toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes second to achievement. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticise work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life's realities — all these are marks, not, as the possessor would fain think, of superiority, but of weakness. They mark the men unfit to bear their part manfully in the stern strife of living, who seek, in the affectation of contempt for the achievements of others, to hide from others and from themselves their own weakness. The rôle is easy; there is none easier, save only the rôle of the man who sneers alike at both criticism and performance.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into a fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world.

11 October 2016

6 October 2016

A New Sahara

Stephen Graham, "The Message From the Hermit," A Tramp's Sketches (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1912), pp. 363-364:
The great fact of the human world to-day is the tremendous commercial machine which is grinding out at a marvellous acceleration the smaller and meaner sort of man, the middle class, the average man, "the damned, compact, liberal majority," to use the words of Ibsen, and the world daily becomes "more Chinese." The rocks are fraying one another down to desert sand, and mankind becomes a new Sahara.

3 October 2016

O Lord, Hear My Prayer

Dick Humelbergius Secundus,  "Evening Prayer of a Half Starved Hungry Poet," Apician Morsels; or, Tales of the Table, Kitchen, and Larder (London: Whittaker, Treacher and Co., 1829), pp. 113-114:
Grant me such a command of ideas and words, beef-steaks, mutton-chops and caper sauce, that I may have no occasion to hunt, day and night, with a hungry belly, for hemistiches and lack of rhymes, without, often, being able to find good ones, which is the very reason that I am often more unfortunate than if I were actually working in the mines, quarries, and plantations. I beg of ye to inspire me from time to time with some new subjects, that I may not be obliged to fag in the paths previously trodden and rendered threadbare by others; and that I may cease to repeat, as I have often done, and continue to do, even to disgust, that which has been said, whistled, and sung, a thousand times before. Give me strength patiently to support the calamities of poetic life; the malignity, but more frequently the ignorance and bombast of bad critics, as well as the severity and truth of just ones — the fall and other accidents which people of my precarious calling are heir to. Grant also that I may neither become inflated with pride, nor crack my skin with joy, on the least triumph I may obtain. Grant also that the intestine war, so long carried on, under the superintendence of Æolus, between my little guts and large ones, may cease; and that the wrinkles and collapsed sides of my stomach may be shaken out and distended with some of the good things of this life, of which it has long and patiently been deprived.

1 October 2016

A Danger to the Community

Douglas Goldring, Reputations (London: Chapman & Hall, 1920), p. 129:
A cordon sanitaire should be drawn round the admirers of Gissing's heroes. Such people are a danger to the community. To be a Gissing type is to be a plague-carrier; to admire one is, perhaps, even worse.
Id., p. 131:
To me this book [The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft] has a reek of corruption and decay; it smells fouler than a rotting corpse. Faugh! Better the twilight of the drunkard and the debauchee than this sentimental death-in-life. The spectacle conjured up of Henry Ryecroft in his library makes me want to throw open every door and window in the house. Perhaps the reason is that though I love the contents of good books, I am not a "bibliophile," and I detest libraries. To my mind a book which is a real book should send the reader back to life refreshed and stimulated, instead of providing him with a dusty funk-hole in which he can shelter from that mental struggle which ought to be perpetual between the cradle and the grave.
This made me smile. Gissing's Ryecroft is one of my favourite books.

27 September 2016

Best of Any Song

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

20 September 2016

Like Some Dishonourable Insect

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

17 September 2016

The Irresistible Temptation to Say Clever Things

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

12 September 2016

Law and Medicine

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

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

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

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

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

8 September 2016

The Deepest and Most Accurate

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

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

1 September 2016

The Object of Reading

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