26 September 2017

Bad Art and Bad Manners

Norman MacCaig, at about the 7 minute mark in the film A Man in My Position:
Interviewer: Lucidity, is this an important word for you?

MacCaig: I think it is, very much so. I don't mind a poem being difficult, if the poem is about a thing that is difficult to say. But if a poem seems to me willfully obscure, or obscure because the man has not got his mind clear about what he is writing about, then, to use a phrase I have used before, I consider it to be not only bad art, but bad manners, because poetry is surely a communication.
A related post: A Fool's Trick

21 September 2017

Witnesses to Destruction

Camille Mauclair, Henri Le Sidaner (Paris: Georges Petit & Henri Floury, 1928), pp. 174-175 (my translation):
Mechanization requires intrusive changes, and every day it destroys irreplaceable cultural landmarks. We watch as a sly vandalism spoils and deadens everything with the exasperating consent of an indifferent public. Speculators lay waste to the forests, and where there was once a cluster of trees worthy of the painter Théodore Rousseau, we now find a sawmill in the midst of an empty plain. The heirs to the old country estates are unable to pay the crushing taxes and are selling up and parcelling off their land: Housing developers will fill it with twenty ridiculous and commonplace boxes. The factory's chimney and turbines disgrace and defile the lovely river. The village church falls into disrepair, and the local wiseacres look forward to the eventual collapse of this “temple of superstition.” Every day, somewhere, a porch or an arch is pulled down. The soft, thatched roof is proscribed. Cement and corrugated steel, convenient and hideous, take the place of stone and slate. The merchant cartel plunders the countryside, removing its furnishings and period ornaments and replacing them with modern junk. Provincial talent creates masterpieces, but they are pushed aside in favour of trends from Paris that are Parisian in name alone. The regional educational system is so poor that it will be impossible to rebuild things once people realize the terrible mistake they made when they threw it all away. The decent and sensible French have resisted tenaciously, but the domestic and religious attitudes that were suited to this old way of life are still under harsh attack. We are indeed witnesses to destruction: It will continue for a long while yet, but it is only a matter of time. Whatever regret or disgust we may feel, it is our right and duty as artists to struggle for these places and this society as our forefathers did for theirs — to preserve them in pictures, to honour their beauty, and to show how much we loved them.
Henri Le Sidaner, Clair de lune à Gerberoy (1904)

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20 September 2017

A Fart in the Wind

Atticus Greene Haygood,  Jack-Knife and Brambles (Nashville: Publishing House of the M. E. Church, South: 1894), pp. 144-145:
No writer makes the world shake; but an egotist thinks he can, and the anticipation makes him delirious with delight. And he believes it does shake; to borrow a characterization of a panic-hunting person from a witty friend, "he mistakes the rumblings of his own bowels for the premonitions of an earthquake."

19 September 2017

The Gate of Sorrow

Carl Hilty, Happiness, tr. Francis Greenwood Peabody (New York: Macmillan, 1903), pp. 121-122:
Suffering, then, lies on the road to life, and one must expect to meet it if he would be happy. Many a person, when he sees this lion in his path, turns about and contents himself with something less than happiness. And yet it is also true, as experience teaches, that in our misfortunes, as in our enjoyments, imagination greatly outruns reality. Our pain is seldom as great as our imagination pictures it. Sorrow is often the gate which opens into great happiness. Thus the true life calls for a certain severity of dealing, as if one should say to himself: "You may like to do this thing, or you may not like to do it, but you must do it"; and true education rests on these two foundation stones, love of truth and courage for the right. Without them, education is worthless.
For the German see Hilty's Glück, Vol. I (Frauenfeld: Huber & Co., 1907), pp. 209-210.

A related post:

15 September 2017

A Prayer for England

George Borrow, The Bible in Spain (London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1907), pp. 459-460:
O England! long, long may it be ere the sun of thy glory sink beneath the wave of darkness! Though gloomy and portentous clouds are now gathering rapidly around thee, still, still may it please the Almighty to disperse them, and to grant thee a futurity longer in duration and still brighter in renown than thy past! Or if thy doom be at hand, may that doom be a noble one, and worthy of her who has been styled the Old Queen of the waters! May thou sink, if thou dost sink, amidst blood and flame, with a mighty noise, causing more than one nation to participate in thy downfall! Of all fates, may it please the Lord to preserve thee from a disgraceful and a slow decay; becoming, ere extinct, a scorn and a mockery for those self-same foes who now, though they envy and abhor thee, still fear thee, nay, even against their will, honour and respect thee.

Arouse thee, whilst yet there is time, and prepare thee for the combat of life and death! Cast from thee the foul scurf which now encrusts thy robust limbs, which deadens their force, and makes them heavy and powerless! Cast from thee thy false philosophers, who would fain decry what, next to the love of God, has hitherto been deemed most sacred, the love of the mother land!

13 September 2017

All Leading to Dark Passages

John Keats, letter to John Hamilton Reynolds (May 3rd, 1818), Letters of John Keats to his Family and Friends, ed. Sidney Colvin (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891), p. 107-108:
I compare human life to a large Mansion of Many apartments, two of which I can only describe, the doors of the rest being as yet shut upon me — The first we step into we call the infant or thoughtless Chamber, in which we remain as long as we do not think — We remain there a long while, and notwithstanding the doors of the second Chamber remain wide open, showing a bright appearance, we care not to hasten to it; but are at length imperceptibly impelled by the awakening of the thinking principle within us we no sooner get into the second Chamber, which I shall call the Chamber of Maiden-Thought, than we become intoxicated with the light and the atmosphere, we see nothing but pleasant wonders, and think of delaying there for ever in delight: However among the effects this breathing is father of is that tremendous one of sharpening one's vision into the heart and nature of Man — of convincing one's nerves that the world is full of Misery and Heartbreak, Pain, Sickness, and oppression — whereby this Chamber of Maiden Thought becomes gradually darkened, and at the same time, on all sides of it, many doors are set open — but all dark — all leading to dark passages — We see not the balance of good and evil — we are in a mist — we are now in that state — We feel the "burden of the Mystery."

8 September 2017

Silly and Shiftless

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn of Day, tr. J. M. Kennedy, in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Vol. 9 (New York: Macmillan, 1911), p. 257:
§280

CHILDLIKE — Those who live like children — those who do not have to struggle for their daily bread, and do not think that their actions have any ultimate signification — remain childlike.
The original, from Vol. 10 of the Musarion edition, p. 230:
Kindlich. — Wer lebt wie die Kinder — also nicht um sein Brod kämpft und nicht glaubt, dass seinen Handlungen eine endgültige Bedeutung zukomme — bleibt kindlich.

6 September 2017

Baudelaire in Brussels

An exposition on Charles Baudelaire opens at the Brussels City Museum tomorrow:
Between swear words and insults, the exhibition offers visitors the opportunity to discover 1860s Brussels as seen through the eyes of Baudelaire, their guide. This was the Brussels of the waning years of Leopold I's reign, of the Senne, of black soap, and of the first photographs. To soften the dark outlook of the author, special guests – some of whom were Baudelaire's friends or acquaintances, such as Nadar, Victor Hugo, the Stevens brothers, Camille Lemonnier, Georges Barral – complement the portrait drawn of the town.
Portrait of Baudelaire by Félix Vallotton (1902)

They are selling my translation of Five Days in Brussels with Charles Baudelaire  in the museum shop, so if you visit don't forget to pick up copies for all your friends and family. The book is also available on Amazon.

1 September 2017

The Value of a Noble, Inspiriting Text

Arthur Conan Doyle, Through the Magic Door  (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1907), pp. 17-18:
This is one of the things which human society has not yet understood—the value of a noble, inspiriting text. When it does we shall meet them everywhere engraved on appropriate places, and our progress through the streets will be brightened and ennobled by one continual series of beautiful mental impulses and images, reflected into our souls from the printed thoughts which meet our eyes. To think that we should walk with empty, listless minds while all this splendid material is running to waste. I do not mean mere Scriptural texts, for they do not bear the same meaning to all, though what human creature can fail to be spurred onwards by "Work while it is day, for the night cometh when no man can work." But I mean those beautiful thoughts—who can say that they are uninspired thoughts?—which may be gathered from a hundred authors to match a hundred uses. A fine thought in fine language is a most precious jewel, and should not be hid away, but be exposed for use and ornament.

29 August 2017

Questions Unasked

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn of Day, tr. J. M. Kennedy, in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Vol. 9 (New York: Macmillan, 1911), pp. 197-198:
§196

THE MOST PERSONAL QUESTIONS OF TRUTH.  — What am I really doing, and what do I mean by doing it? That is the question of truth which is not taught under our present system of education, and consequently not asked, because there is no time for it. On the other hand we have always time and inclination for talking nonsense with children, rather than telling them the truth; for flattering women who will later on be mothers, rather than telling them the truth; and for speaking with young men about their future and their pleasures, rather than about the truth!

But what, after all, are seventy years ! — Time  passes, and they soon come to an end; it matters as little to us as it does to the wave to know how and whither it is rolling! No, it might even be wisdom not to know it.

"Agreed; but it shows a want of pride not even to inquire into the matter; our culture does not tend to make people proud."

"So much the better!"

"Is it really?"
The original, from Vol. 10 of the Musarion edition, pp. 178-179:
Die persönlichsten Fragen der Wahrheit. — "Was ist Das eigentlich, was ich thue? Und was will gerade ich damit?" — das ist die Frage der Wahrheit, welche bei unserer jetzigen Art Bildung nicht gelehrt und folglich nicht gefragt wird, für sie gibt es keine Zeit. Dagegen mit Kindern von Possen zu reden und nicht von der Wahrheit, mit Frauen, die später Mütter werden sollen, Artigkeiten zu reden und nicht von der Wahrheit, mit Jünglingen von ihrer Zukunft und ihrem Vergnügen zu reden und nicht von der Wahrheit, — dafür ist immer Zeit und Lust da! — Aber was sind auch siebenzig Jahre! — das läuft hin und ist bald zu Ende; es liegt so Wenig daran, dass die Welle wisse, wie und wohin sie laufe! Ja, es könnte Klugheit sein, es nicht zu wissen. — "Zugegeben: aber stolz ist es nicht, auch nicht einmal darnach zu fragen; unsere Bildung macht die Menschen nicht stolz". — Um so besser! — "Wirklich?"
A related post: No Strength Without Truth 

28 August 2017

Negative Capability

John Keats, letter to George and Thomas Keats (December 22, 1817), Letters of John Keats to his Family and Friends, ed. Sidney Colvin (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891), p. 48:
I had not a dispute, but a disquisition, with Dilke upon various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakspeare possessed so enormously — I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason. Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium* of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.
*A footnote reads: "An admirable phrase! — if only penetralium were Latin."

Medallion of Keats by Guiseppe Girometti, c. 1832

25 August 2017

The Role of the Artist

Arthur Quiller-Couch, On the Art of Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1921), p. 11:
As we dwell here between two mysteries, of a soul within and an ordered Universe without, so among us are granted to dwell certain men of more delicate intellectual fibre than their fellows — men whose minds have, as it were, filaments to intercept, apprehend, conduct, translate home to us stray messages between these two mysteries, as modern telegraphy has learnt to search out, snatch, gather home human messages astray over waste waters of the Ocean.

23 August 2017

A Heartless Crew

John Lavery, The Life of a Painter (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1940), pp. 30-31:
I doubt if there is a more heartless crew than poets, painters, and composers. We are encouraged in this callousness by our lay brethren. I often wonder why. Robert Louis Stevenson said that we are merely on a par with the daughters of joy who are paid for doing what they enjoy most. Art is so sacred the love of it covers a multitude of sins, and so we excuse ourselves.
A related post: The Sons of Joy

John Lavery, Anna Pavlova (1911)

22 August 2017

Life Advice

The first five of Thomas Davidson's twenty maxims, from William James' essay "Thomas Davidson: A Knight-Errant of the Intellectual Life," in Memories and Studies (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1911), pp. 92-93:
1. Rely upon your own energies, and do not wait for, or depend on other people.

2. Cling with all your might to your own highest ideals, and do not be led astray by such vulgar aims as wealth, position, popularity. Be yourself.

3. Your worth consists in what you are, and not in what you have. What you are will show in what you do.

4. Never fret, repine, or envy. Do not make yourself unhappy by comparing your circumstances with those of more fortunate people; but make the most of the opportunities you have. Employ profitably every moment.

5. Associate with the noblest people you can find; read the best books; live with the mighty. But learn to be happy alone.

18 August 2017

A Grim and Ironic Pleasure

John Williams, Stoner (London: Vintage, 2012), pp. 184-185:
He had come to that moment in his age when there occurred to him, with increasing intensity, a question of such overwhelming simplicity that he had no means to face it. He found himself wondering if his life were worth the living; if it had ever been. It was a question, he suspected, that came to all men at one time or another; he wondered if it came to them with such impersonal force as it came to him. The question brought with it a sadness, but it was a general sadness which (he thought) had little to do with himself or with his particular fate; he was not even sure that the question sprang from the most immediate and obvious causes, from what his own life had become. It came, he believed, from the accretion of his years, from the density of accident and circumstance, and from what he had come to understand of them. He took a grim and ironic pleasure from the possibility that what little learning he had managed to acquire had led him to this knowledge: that in the long run all things, even the learning that let him know this, were futile and empty, and at last diminished into a nothingness they did not alter.
A related post: Cheer Up Mate, It Might Never Happen

17 August 2017

Nothing More Valuable

The first line of Pierre Fournier's Manuel typographique, Vol. 1 (Paris: Barbou, 1764-66), my translation:
After the basic necessities of life, nothing is more valuable than books.
Volume 1 and Volume 2 on Gallica.


Note to self: Monotype's Fournier remains legible in small sizes.

15 August 2017

Something Solid, Something Definite

Arthur Conan Doyle, Through the Magic Door  (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1907), pp. 65-66:
In reading [Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire] you don't want to be handicapped in any way. You want fair type, clear paper, and a light volume. You are not to read it lightly, but with some earnestness of purpose and keenness for knowledge, with a classical atlas at your elbow and a note-book hard by, taking easy stages and harking back every now and then to keep your grip of the past and to link it up with what follows. There are no thrills in it. You won't be kept out of your bed at night, nor will you forget your appointments during the day, but you will feel a certain sedate pleasure in the doing of it, and when it is done you will have gained something which you can never lose — something solid, something definite, something that will make you broader and deeper than before.
A related post: Iggy Pop, Classicist

The three volume Heritage Press edition of Decline and Fall  can be had for about $25.

14 August 2017

The Dead Are Such Good Company

Arthur Conan Doyle, Through the Magic Door (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1907), p. 3:
The dead are such good company that one may come to think too little of the living. It is a real and a pressing danger with many of us, that we should never find our own thoughts and our own souls, but be ever obsessed by the dead. Yet second-hand romance and second-hand emotion are surely better than the dull, soul-killing monotony which life brings to most of the human race. But best of all when the dead man's wisdom and the dead man's example give us guidance and strength in the living of our own strenuous days.

10 August 2017

Orderly Room, Orderly Mind

John Williams, Stoner (London: Vintage, 2012), pp. 102-103:
His study was on the first floor off the living room, with a high north window; in the daytime the room was softly illumined, and the wood paneling glowed with the richness of age. He found in the cellar a quantity of boards which, beneath the ravages of dirt and mold, matched the paneling of the room. He refinished these boards and constructed bookcases, so that he might be surrounded by his books; at a used furniture store he found some dilapidated chairs, a couch, and an ancient desk for which he paid a few dollars and which he spent many weeks repairing.

As he worked on the room, and as it began slowly to take a shape, he realized that for many years, unknown to himself, he had had an image locked somewhere within him like a shamed secret, an image that was ostensibly of a place but which was actually of himself. So it was himself that he was attempting to define as he worked on his study. As he sanded the old boards for his bookcases, and saw the surface roughnesses disappear, the gray weathering flake away to the essential wood and finally to a rich purity of grain and texture — as he repaired his furniture and arranged it in the room, it was himself that he was slowly shaping, it was himself that he was putting into a kind of order, it was himself that he was making possible.
Cf. Jordan Peterson on cleaning one's room

9 August 2017

The Urgency of Study

John Williams, Stoner (London: Vintage, 2012), p. 25:
Having come to his studies late, he felt the urgency of study. Sometimes, immersed in his books, there would come to him the awareness of all that he did not know, of all that he had not read; and the serenity for which he labored was shattered as he realized the little time he had in life to read so much, to learn what he had to know.