8 May 2017

All the Meanings They Have Worn

Walter Raleigh (1861-1922), Style (London: Edward Arnold, 1897), pp. 25-26:
Words are piled on words, and bricks on bricks, but of the two you are invited to think words the more intractable. Truly, it was a man of letters who said it, avenging himself on his profession for the never-ending toil it imposed, by miscalling it, with grim pleasantry, the architecture of the nursery. Finite and quite rigid words are not, in any sense that holds good of bricks. They move and change, they wax and wane, they wither and burgeon; from age to age, from place to place, from mouth to mouth, they are never at a stay. They take on colour, intensity, and vivacity from the infection of neighbourhood; the same word is of several shapes and diverse imports in one and the same sentence; they depend on the building that they compose for the very chemistry of the stuff that composes them. The same epithet is used in the phrases "a fine day" and "fine irony," in "fair trade" and "a fair goddess." Were different symbols to be invented for these sundry meanings the art of literature would perish. For words carry with them all the meanings they have worn, and the writer shall be judged by those that he selects for prominence in the train of his thought. A slight technical implication, a faint tinge of archaism, in the common turn of speech that you employ, and in a moment you have shaken off the mob that scours the rutted highway, and are addressing a select audience of ticket-holders with closed doors. A single natural phrase of peasant speech, a direct physical sense given to a word that genteel parlance authorises readily enough in its metaphorical sense, and at a touch you have blown the roof off the drawing-room of the villa, and have set its obscure inhabitants wriggling in the unaccustomed sun. In choosing a sense for your words you choose also an audience for them.

5 May 2017

He Has Ransacked a Thousand Minds

Sydney Smith (1771-1845), "On the Conduct of the Understanding," Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy (London: Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1855), p. 95:
There are instances to the contrary; but, generally speaking, the life of all truly great men has been a life of intense and incessant labour. They have commonly passed the first half of life in the gross darkness of indigent humility, — overlooked, mistaken, contemned, by weaker men, — thinking while others slept, reading while others rioted, feeling something within them that told them they should not always be kept down among the dregs of the world; and then, when their time was come, and some little accident has given them their first occasion, they have burst out into the light and glory of public life, rich with the spoils of time, and mighty in all the labours and struggles of the mind. Then do the multitude cry out "a miracle of genius!" Yes, he is a miracle of genius, because he is a miracle of labour; because instead of trusting to the resources of his own single mind, he has ransacked a thousand minds; because he makes use of the accumulated wisdom of ages, and takes as his point of departure the very last line and boundary to which science has advanced; because it has ever been the object of his life to assist every intellectual gift of nature, however munificent, and however splendid, with every resource that art could suggest, and every attention diligence could bestow.
A portion of this quote set out in Henry Lewis Johnson's Historic Design in Printing (Boston: The Graphic Arts Company, 1923), p. 82:

4 May 2017


Sir Thomas Browne, "Christian Morals," Religio Medici and Other Essays  (Manchester: Sherratt and Hughes, 1902), pp. 152-153:
Bring candid eyes unto the perusal of men's works, and let not Zoilism or detraction blast well-intended labours. He that endureth no faults in men's writings must only read his own, wherein, for the most part, all appeareth white. Quotation mistakes, inadvertency, expedition, and human lapses, may make not only moles but warts in learned authors; who, notwithstanding, being judged by the capital matter, admit not of disparagement. I should unwillingly affirm that Cicero was but slightly versed in Homer, because in his work, De Gloria, he ascribed those verses unto Ajax, which were delivered by Hector. What if Plautus, in the acount of Hercules, mistaketh nativity for conception? Who would have mean thoughts of Apollinaris Sidonius, who seems to mistake the river Tigris for Euphrates; and, though a good historian and learned bishop of Auvergne had the misfortune to be out in the story of David, making mention of him when the ark was sent back by the Philistines upon a cart; which was before his time? Though I have no great opinion of Machiavel's learning, yet I shall not presently say that he was but a novice in Roman history, because he was mistaken in placing Commodus after the Emperor Severus. Capital truths are to be narrowly eyed; collateral lapses and circumstantial deliveries not to be too strictly sifted. And if the substantial subject be well forged out, we need not examine the sparks which irregularly fly from it.

2 May 2017

Pull Your Finger Out

Sir Thomas Browne, "Christian Morals," Religio Medici and Other Essays  (Manchester: Sherratt and Hughes, 1902), pp. 147-148:
Since thou hast an alarum in thy breast, which tells thee thou hast a living spirit in thee above two thousand times in an hour; dull not away thy days in slothful supinity and the tediousness of doing nothing. To strenuous minds there is an inquietude in over quietness, and no laboriousness in labour; and to tread a mile after the slow pace of a snail, or the heavy measures of the lazy of Brazilia, were a most tiring penance, and worse than a race of some furlongs at the Olympicks. The rapid courses of the heavenly bodies are rather imitable by our thoughts, than our corporeal motions; yet the solemn motions of our lives amount unto a greater measure than is commonly apprehended. Some few men have surrounded the globe of the earth; yet many in the set locomotions and movements of their days have measured the circuit of it, and twenty thousand miles have been exceeded by them.

26 April 2017

Dirty Hippies

Camille Paglia, "Ninnies, Pedants, Tyrants and Other Academics," The New York Times (May 5, 1991):
The 60's attempted a return to nature that ended in disaster. The gentle nude bathing and playful sliding in the mud at Woodstock were a short-lived Rousseauistic dream. My generation, inspired by the Dionysian titanism of rock, attempted something more radical than anything since the French Revolution. We asked: why should I obey this law? And: why shouldn't I act on every sexual impulse? The result was a descent into barbarism.

25 April 2017

Indirect Strategies

Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, Willpower (London: Penguin Books, 2012), p. 28:
Emotional control is uniquely difficult because you generally can’t alter your mood by an act of will. You can change what you think about or how you behave, but you can’t force yourself to be happy. You can treat your in-laws politely, but you can’t make yourself rejoice over their month-long visit. To ward off sadness and anger, people use indirect strategies, like trying to distract themselves with other thoughts, or working out at the gym, or meditating. They lose themselves in TV shows and treat themselves to chocolate binges and shopping sprees. Or they get drunk.

20 April 2017

Childish and Silly

Charles Ritchie, entry for 8 November 1941, The Siren Years: A Canadian Diplomat Abroad 1937-1945  (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2001), p. 131:
I have been reading with singularly little pleasure some modern poetry in Horizon magazine. What can you expect of poets who keep on thinking about the “happiness of the common people”, as if happiness could be an “ideal”. They remind me of those thick-headed Babbitts who drew up the American Declaration of Independence and who announced the “pursuit of happiness” as a political aim. The poets’ contemporary left-wing opinions have no real political significance; they have not faced up to the fact that the new world for which they are rooting will be just as immoral and selfish as the old. They still believe in Santa Claus. To me that makes all the they have to hint about the future childish and silly.

18 April 2017

Epitaph for a Career in Journalism

George du Maurier, Trilby (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1901), p. 23:
As some things are too sad and too deep for tears, so some things are too grotesque and too funny for laughter.

12 April 2017

In All Humility

Elizabeth Robins Pennell, Whistler: The Friend (Philadelphia: J. P. Lippincott, 1930), p. 40:
Whatever their training, whoever their master, they [the Parisian art students of the mid 19th century] were not taught to despise the past. No valiant cry from youth then of "Down with the Louvre! Down with the Old Masters!" Youth went reverently to the Louvre to worship, to copy, to endeavour to learn at least a little of what the old Masters had to teach.... The youth of that earlier generation, in their simplicity, visited the Louvre in all humility and hoped by studying its masterpieces to become masters in their turn.

Winslow Homer, Art-students and Copyists in the Louvre Gallery
(Harper’s Weekly, January 11, 1868)

11 April 2017

Travelling Companions

Patrick Kurp at Anecdotal Evidence mentioned a while ago that he collects stories of reading in extremis. This put me in mind of an old post on Le Blog du Bibliophile which transcribed a couple of handwritten notes found inside a 1530 edition of Petrarch.

The first, signed Edmund Parsons, dates from 1913 and reads: "To buy this book I sold a sleeved pullover". The second note is dated 1944 and unsigned: "Bought Verona Autumn 1944 when being deported into Germany".

Hugues' blog post ends (my translation):
A friend said to me recently: "When things are not going well, it does a world of good to immerse oneself in a book." He is right, whether we struggle, make unreasonable sacrifices, or take distant journeys [in order to acquire them], books are travelling companions that bring us moments of happiness and comfort which are often unsurpassed.
You'd need to give up more than your sweater for a copy today: the 1558 edition is selling for $943.50. The 1552 edition has been scanned and is available on Archive.org.

9 April 2017

The Old Lie

Wilfred Owen, "Dulce et Decorum Est," Poems of Wilfred Owen (London: Chatto and Windus, 1933), p. 66:
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Related posts:

4 April 2017

Birthday Thoughts

Blaise Pascal, Pensées 205 (tr. W. F. Trotter)
When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space which I fill, and even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I am frightened, and am astonished at being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been alloted to me? Memoria hospitis unius diei praetereuntis.
Quand je considère la petite durée de ma vie absorbée dans l’éternité précédente et suivante, memoria hospitis unius diei praetereuntis, le petit espace que je remplis et même que je vois abîmé dans l’infinie immensité des espaces que j’ignore et qui m’ignorent, je m’effraie et m’étonne de me voir ici plutôt que là, car il n’y a point de raison pourquoi ici plutôt que là, pourquoi à présent plutôt que lors. Qui m’y a mis? Par l’ordre et la conduite de qui ce lieu et ce temps a‑t‑il été destiné à moi?

31 March 2017

Literature Exists to Please

Augustine Birrell, "The Office of Literature," The Collected Essays & Addresses of the Rt. Hon. Augustine Birrell, Vol. 3 (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1922), pp. 55-56:
Cooks, warriors, and authors must be judged by  the effects they produce: toothsome dishes, glorious victories, pleasant books — these are our demands. We have nothing to do with ingredients, tactics, or methods. We have no desire to be admitted into the kitchen, the council, or the study. The cook may clean her saucepans how she pleases — the warrior place his men as he likes — the author handle his material or weave his plot as best he can — when the dish is served we only ask, Is it good? when the battle has been fought, Who won? when the book comes out. Does it read?

Authors ought not to be above being reminded that it is their first duty to write agreeably — some very disagreeable men have succeeded in doing so, and there is therefore no need for anyone to despair. Every author, be he grave or gay, should try to make his book as ingratiating as possible. Reading is not a duty, and has consequently no business to be made disagreeable. Nobody is under any obligation to read any other man's book.

Literature exists to please — to lighten the burden of men's lives; to make them for a short while forget their sorrows and their sins, their silenced hearths, their disappointed hopes, their grim futures — and those men of letters are the best loved who have best performed literature's truest office.

27 March 2017


Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 363:
Individuals whose life is without meaning hate themselves, for their weakness, and hate life, for making them weak. This hatred manifests itself in absolute identification with destructive power, in its mythological, historical and biological manifestations; manifests itself in the desire for the absolute extinction of existence. Such identification leads man to poison whatever he touches, to generate unnecessary misery in the face of inevitable suffering, to turn his fellows against themselves, to intermingle earth with hell – merely to attain vengeance upon God and his creation.
Cf. Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly, "J.-K. Huysmans," Le Roman contemporain (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1902), pp. 281-282:
«Après les Fleurs du mal, — dis-je à Baudelaire, — il ne vous reste plus, logiquement, que la bouche d'un pistolet ou les pieds de la croix.» Baudelaire choisit les pieds de la croix. Mais l'auteur d'À Rebours les choisira-t-il?
       My translation:
I told Baudelaire that, after Les Fleurs du mal, the only logical choice left to him was between the muzzle of a pistol and the foot of the cross. Baudelaire chose the foot of the cross. But will the author of À Rebours make the same choice?

Décadence: It's not all beer and skittles

24 March 2017

Everything He Touches Turns to Ashes

Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 263:
Denial of the heroic promotes decadence, equally – absolute rejection of the order of tradition; absolute rejection of order itself. This pattern of apprehension and behavior seems far removed from that of the fascist – but the decadent is just as arrogant as his evidently more rigid peer. He has merely identified himself absolutely with no thing, rather than with one thing. He is rigidly convinced of the belief that nothing matters – convinced that nothing is of value, despite the opinions of (clearly-deluded, weak and despicable) others; convinced that nothing is worth the effort. The decadent functions in this manner like an anti-Midas – everything he touches turns to ashes.
Id., p. 268:
The decadent says, “there is no such thing as to know” – and never attempts to accomplish anything. Like his authoritarian counterpart, he makes himself “immune from error,” since mistakes are always made with regards to some valued, fixed and desired end. The decadent says “look, here is something new, something inexplicable; that is evidence, is it not, that everything that I have been told is wrong. History is unreliable; rules are arbitrary; accomplishment is illusory. Why do anything, under such circumstances?” But he is living on borrowed time – feeding, like a parasite, on the uncomprehended body of the past. If he works sufficiently hard, and saws off the branch on which he is sitting, then he will fall, too, into the jaws of the thing he ignored.
A related post: Decadence

20 March 2017

The Sad Fact That They Are Slaves

William Morris in The Art of Authorship, ed. George Bainton (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1890), p. 61:
If I may venture to advise you as to what to advise [young people who are interested in becoming authors], it would be that you should warn them off art and literature as professions, as bread-winning work, most emphatically. If I were advising them, I should advise them to learn as soon as possible the sad fact that they are slaves, whatever their position may be, so that they might turn the whole of their energies towards winning freedom, if not for themselves, yet for the children they will beget. Under such conditions art and literature are not worth consideration.
Edward Burne-Jones, illustration for A Dream of John Ball (1888) 

A related post: Three Hours of Leisure

15 March 2017

Exceptionally Dear to the Heart of the Recluse

Thomas Seccombe, "The Work of George Gissing; An Introductory Survey," The House of Cobwebs (London: Constable, 1906), p. ix:
Upon the larger external rings of the book-reading multitude it is not probable that Gissing will ever succeed in impressing himself. There is an absence of transcendental quality about his work, a failure in humour, a remoteness from actual life, a deficiency in awe and mystery, a shortcoming in emotional power, finally, a lack of the dramatic faculty, not indeed indispensable to a novelist, but almost indispensable as an ingredient in great novels of this particular genre. In temperament and vitality he is palpably inferior to the masters (Dickens, Thackeray, Hugo, Balzac) whom he reverenced with such a cordial admiration and envy. A 'low vitality' may account for what has been referred to as the 'nervous exhaustion' of his style. It were useless to pretend that Gissing belongs of right to the 'first series' of English Men of Letters. But if debarred by his limitations from a resounding or popular success, he will remain exceptionally dear to the heart of the recluse, who thinks that the scholar does well to cherish a grievance against the vulgar world beyond the cloister.

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