30 October 2017

Clinched Nails Stick

C. A. L. Richards, "Books and Reading,"The Protestant Episcopal Review, Vol. 8 (June 1895), pp. 503-526 (at p. 523):
A wise reader, I think, makes much use of a note book as he reads, and if he is a very wise reader it will be a notebook and not a stray scrap of paper, which he will presently lose or destroy. The fact or thought noted today may be of worth to you twenty years to come. Even if your scraps be not lost or destroyed, they may be hopelessly disarranged. An accident may throw into confusion the careful note taking of a year's work on an important theme, and the chaos be too complete to be dealt with, and out of those huddled heaps no creation be possible. But the habit of note taking is invaluable. It compels you to read with your whole mind and think as you read. It fastens things in your note book and on your memory. It gives you permanent hold of what is best in volumes you may never open again. Burke was said to read as if he should never see his book a second time. A late Governor of Ohio, now President of a Western University, noted for the range of his reading and his full command of what he had read, told me that early in life he discovered that to read a book intelligently with immediate possession of its contents required for him a certain amount of time and effort. If he stopped then, the results of his reading gradually oozed away from him. But a very little added time and effort, a little exacter analysis, more thorough review and meditation, made him master of his book or what he valued in it for all time to come. He did not trust its contents to sink into his memory by its own weight. He drove it home and clinched it. And clinched nails stick.
Related posts:

26 October 2017

Beautiful Tools

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1923):
I love the tools made for mechanics. I stop at the windows of hardware stores. If I could only find an excuse to buy many more of them than I have already bought on the mere pretense that I might have use for them! They are so beautiful, so simple and plain and straight to their meaning. There is no “Art” about them, they have not been made beautiful, they are beautiful.
I haven't posted anything this week because I spent all my free time working on my bathroom. (What is the best way to lift a 300lb cast iron tub, you ask? Try using the emergency scissor jack from your car.) If I had to name a beautiful tool this evening it would be the 10 inch Knipex pliers-wrench with ratcheting, smooth parallel jaws (1¾ inch capacity) that won't chew up metal surfaces. An ingenious design, and it's impossible to imagine life without one now. I don't cycle as much as I used to, but I still covet the pricey 5 inch mini version to keep in my backpack.


In Deutschland hergestellt

On the off chance anyone else has an old clawfoot bathtub, I can also recommend the Magic Eraser. I've tried everything from vinegar to denture tablets, but only Mr. Clean was able to remove decades of iron stains and restore it to a gleaming white.

Not unrelated posts:

21 October 2017

The Wise Man Stays at Home

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self Reliance," Emerson's Complete Works, Vol. II (London: The Waverley Book Company Ltd., 1898), pp. 79-80:
It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for ail educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.

I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples; and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.
 Related posts:

19 October 2017

Original Sin

Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 248:
In our ignorance and complacency, we deride ancient stories about the nature of evil – equate them half-consciously with childish things best put away. This is an exceedingly arrogant position. There is no evidence whatsoever that we understand the nature of evil any better than our forebears, despite our psychology, even though our expanded technological power has made us much more dangerous when we are possessed. Our ancestors were at least constantly concerned with the problem of evil. Acceptance of the harsh Christian dogma of Original Sin, for example (despite its pessimism and apparent inequity) at least meant recognition of evil; meant some comprehension of the tendency towards evil as an intrinsic, heritable aspect of human nature. From the perspective informed by belief in Original Sin, individual actions and motivations must always be carefully scrutinized and considered – even when apparently benevolent – lest the ever-present adversarial tendencies “accidentally” gain the upper hand. The dogma of Original Sin forces every individual to regard himself as the (potential) immediate source of evil – to locate the terrible underworld of mythology and its denizens in intrapsychic space. It is no wonder that this idea has become unpopular: nonetheless, evil exists somewhere. It remains difficult not to see hypocrisy in the souls of those who wish to localize it somewhere else.

16 October 2017

Faithful Obedience to a Natural Vocation

J. R. Seeley, "Wilhelm Meister," Goethe; Reviewed After Sixty Years (London: Seeley and Co. Ltd., 1894), pp. 127-128:
What was Goethe's vocation? Or, since happiness consists in faithful obedience to a natural vocation, what was Goethe's happiness? His happiness is a kind of religion, a perpetual rapt contemplation, a beatific vision. The object of this contemplation is Nature, the laws or order of the Universe to which we belong. Of such contemplation he recognizes two kinds, one of which he calls Art and the other Science. He was in the habit of thinking that in Art and Science taken together he possessed an equivalent for what other men call their religion.

12 October 2017

German Scholarship

H. Ogram Matuce, pseudonym of Charles Francis Keary (1848–1917), A Wanderer (London: Keegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1888), pp. 94-95:
A German student takes up some object of study in the same spirit in which a commonplace man takes up the collection of birds and butterflies. His object is to get together all that has been said or written upon that pin-point of a subject. Whether it is useful or useless it is all fish for his net. It goes to swell the appearance of learning in his pamphlet. One can imagine the fascination of this sort of specimen hunting; and as, so far as I can see, it involves no great exercise of thought or criticism, it can be laid down and taken up again at any moment. I can fancy the professor going through his piles of books and indexes in search of, say, any mention of knucklebones from Greek days downwards. I day say it requires an ingenuity, a practised scent, to detect the traces of your quarry. And in order to make the sport the better, German writers rarely indulge in indexes. But at day's end the student can lay aside his task with as much ease as the bottle-maker can leave off his blowing, and can turn to his beer and Kegelspiel with an even mind.

Yet, as companions in the daytime, as mute figures, I mean, grouped about the University Library, you could not have desired better. I grew to love them less for their individual qualities than as you may grow to love the furniture of a room for its associations and suggestiveness.

Georg Mühlberg, Cantus (c. 1900)
The bandage? Mensur.

10 October 2017

The Loneliness of the Soul in Adolescence

Julian Barnes, Levels of Life (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2013), p. 111:
There are two essential kinds of loneliness: that of not having found someone to love, and that of having been deprived of the one you did love. The first kind is worse. Nothing can compare to the loneliness of the soul in adolescence. 

3 October 2017

A Charming and Interesting Task

Arthur Conan Doyle, Through the Magic Door  (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1907), pp. 240-241:
What a charming and interesting task there is for some critic of catholic tastes and sympathetic judgment to undertake rescue work among the lost books which would repay salvage! A small volume setting forth their names and their claims to attention would be interesting in itself, and more interesting in the material to which it would serve as an introduction. I am sure there are many good books, possibly there are some great ones, which have been swept away for a time in the rush. What chance, for example, has any book by an unknown author which is published at a moment of great national excitement, when some public crisis arrests the popular mind? Hundreds have been still-born in this fashion, and are there none which should have lived among them?
A related post: Maugham on Posterity

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 (from the draft of my soon-to-be-published 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 keep up with the crushing taxes and are selling up and parcelling off their land: housing developers will use it to erect 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 it is pushed aside in favour of trends from Paris that are Parisian in name alone. Thanks to poor regional education, 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)

Related posts:

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