28 November 2017

The Style Is the Man

Arthur Quiller-Couch, On the Art of Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1921), p. 103:
So long as you prefer abstract words, which express other men's summarised concepts of things, to concrete ones which lie as near as can be reached to things themselves and are the first-hand material for your thoughts, you will remain, at the best, writers at second-hand. If your language be Jargon, your intellect, if not your whole character, will almost certainly correspond. Where your mind should go straight, it will dodge: the difficulties it should approach with a fair front and grip with a firm hand it will be seeking to evade or circumvent. For the Style is the Man, and where a man's treasure is there his heart, and his brain, and his writing, will be also.
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  • Gobbledygook
  • Mumbo Jumbo
  • The Indistinctness of Their Own Conceptions
  • 23 November 2017

    The Canker of Commercialism

    Walter Crane, Ideals in Art (London: George Bell & Sons, 1905), pp. 84-86:
    We may escape the town by train, or motor — running the risk, in either case, of a smash — but we cannot escape commercial enterprise. The very trees and houses sprout with business-cards, and the landscape along some of our principal railways seems owned by vendors of drugs. Turning away our eyes from such annoyances, commercial competition again has us, in alluring us by all sorts and sizes in papers and magazines, which, like paper kites, can only maintain their position by an extensive tail. The tail — that is, the advertisements — keeps the kites flying, and the serial tale keeps the advertisements going perhaps, and the reader is obliged to take his news and views, social or political, sandwiched or flavoured with very various and unsought and unwanted condiments, pictorial or otherwise, which certainly ruin artistic effect. Thus public attention is diverted and nobody minds! But it is in these ways that the materials of life — whereof the sense of beauty and its gratification is no unimportant part — are destroyed, as it were, in getting our living — well, perhaps it would be truer to say, in some cases, a substantial percentage on our investments.

    In obedience to the rule of the great God Trade, too, whole districts of our fair country are blighted and blackened, and whole populations are condemned to mechanical and monotonous toil to support the international race for the precarious world-market.

    Under the same desperate compulsion of commercial competition, agriculture declines and the country-side is deserted. The old country life with its festivals and picturesque customs has disappeared. Old houses, churches, and cottages have tumbled into ruin, or have suffered worse destruction by a process of smartening-up called "restoration." The people have crowded into the overcrowded towns, increasing the competition for employment, the chances of which are lessened by the very industry of the working-classes themselves, andsoourgreat cities become blindly huger, dangerous, and generally unlovely, losing, too, by degrees, the relics of historic interest and romance they once possessed.

    Even in the arts and among the very cultivators of beauty we detect the canker of commercialism. The compulsion of the market rules supply and demand. The idea of the shop dominates picture shows, and painters become as specialized as men of science, and genius requires as much puffing as a patent medicine. Every one must have his trade label, and woe to the artist who experiments, or discovers capacities for other things than his label covers.


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    21 November 2017

    Money Is Time

    George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft  (London: Archibald Constable, 1912), pp. 270-271:
    Time is money — says the vulgarest saw known to any age or people. Turn it round about, and you get a precious truth — money is time. I think of it on these dark, mist-blinded mornings, as I come down to find a glorious fire crackling and leaping in my study. Suppose I were so poor that I could not afford that heartsome blaze, how different the whole day would be! Have I not lost many and many a day of my life for lack of the material comfort which was necessary to put my mind in tune? Money is time. With money I buy for cheerful use the hours which otherwise would not in any sense be mine; nay, which would make me their miserable bondsman. Money is time, and, heaven be thanked, there needs so little of it for this sort of purchase. He who has overmuch is wont to be as badly off in regard to the true use of money, as he who has not enough. What are we doing all our lives but purchasing, or trying to purchase, time? And most of us, having grasped it with one hand, throw it away with the other.

    20 November 2017

    Feeding the Mind

    Lewis Carroll, Feeding the Mind (London: Chatto & Windus, 1907), pp. 22-25:
    Having settled the proper kind, amount, and variety of our mental food, it remains that we should be careful to allow proper intervals between meal and meal, and not swallow the food hastily without mastication, so that it may be thoroughly digested; both which rules, for the body, are also applicable at once to the mind.

    First, as to the intervals: these are as really necessary as they are for the body, with this difference only, that while the body requires three or four hours’ rest before it is ready for another meal, the mind will in many cases do with three or four minutes. I believe that the interval required is much shorter than is generally supposed, and from personal experience, I would recommend anyone, who has to devote several hours together to one subject of thought, to try the effect of such a break, say once an hour, leaving off for five minutes only each time, but taking care to throw the mind absolutely ‘out of gear’ for those five minutes, and to turn it entirely to other subjects. It is astonishing what an amount of impetus and elasticity the mind recovers during those short periods of rest.

    And then, as to the mastication of the food, the mental process answering to this is simply thinking over what we read. This is a very much greater exertion of mind than the mere passive taking in the contents of our Author. So much greater an exertion is it, that, as Coleridge says, the mind often ‘angrily refuses’ to put itself to such trouble — so much greater, that we are far too apt to neglect it altogether, and go on pouring in fresh food on the top of the undigested masses already lying there, till the unfortunate mind is fairly swamped under the flood. But the greater the exertion the more valuable, we may be sure, is the effect. One hour of steady thinking over a subject (a solitary walk is as good an opportunity for the process as any other) is worth two or three of reading only.

    17 November 2017

    The Immortals

    William Holman Hunt, Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Vol. I (New York: Macmillan, 1905), pp. 158-159.
    Once, in a studio conclave, some of us drew up a declaration that there was no immortality for humanity except that which was gained by man's own genius or heroism. We were still under the influence of Voltaire, Gibbon, Byron, and Shelley, and we could leave no corners or spaces in our minds unsearched and unswept. Our determination to respect no authority that stood in the way of fresh research in art seemed to compel us to try what the result would be in matters metaphysical, denying all that could not be tangibly proved. We agreed that there were different degrees of glory in great men, and that these grades should be denoted by one, two, or three stars. Ordinary children of men fulfilled their work by providing food, clothing, and tools for their fellows; some, who did not engage in the labour of the earth, had allowed their minds to work without the ballast of common-sense, and some of these had done evil, but the few far-seeing ones revealed to us vast visions of beauty. Where these dreams were too profound for our sight to fathom, our new iconoclasm dictated that such were too little substantial for human trust; for of spiritual powers we for the moment felt we knew nothing, and we saw no profit in relying upon a vision, however beautiful it might be. 

    Hat tip: Madeleine Emerald Thiele

    14 November 2017

    Immutable Destiny

    Alfred Sensier, Jean-François Millet: Peasant and Painter, tr. Helena de Kay (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1881), p. 111
    The new rustic art of [Jean-François] Millet had made the young men think; at once literal and imaginative, it roused in some minds a whole world of political and social problems. Some called him the brother of Pierre Dupont, the singer of peasants, and the eloquent ally of Lachambeaudie, the novelist of the sorrows of the people. "The Sower" cursed the rich, they said, because he flung his grain with anger toward the sky. Every one talked of the artist's work, and tried to make it a weapon. But Millet did not consider himself so important or so revolutionary. No subversive idea troubled his brain. Socialistic doctrines he would not listen to; the little that came to his ears, he said, was not clear. He often said: "My programme is work. 'Thou shalt gain thy bread in the sweat of thy brow' was written centuries ago. Immutable destiny, which none may change! What every one ought to do is to find progress in his profession, to try ever to do better, to be strong and clever in his trade, and be greater than his neighbor in talent and conscientiousness in his work. That for me is the only path. The rest is dream or calculation." 

    Jean-François Millet, Le Semeur (1850)

    From La vie et l'oeuvre de J.-F. Millet  (Paris: A. Quantin, 1881), pp. 156-157:
    Le nouvel art rustique de Millet avait fait réfléchir la jeunesse; cette traduction, réelle et pensive tout à la fois, avait suscité dans l'imagination de certaines gens tout un monde de pensées politiques et sociales. Les uns prétendaient que Millet était en peinture le frère de Pierre Dupont, le chantre des paysans, l'éloquent allié de Lachambaudie, le fabuliste des misères du peuple. Le Semeur maudissait, disait-on, la condition du riche, puisqu'il lançait avec colère son grain vers le ciel. Chacun commentait l'œuvre de l'artiste et essayait de s'en faire une arme. Millet ne se croyait ni si important, ni si révolutionnaire.

    Devenir un peintre de la Jacquerie, c'était trop compliqué pour lui. Nulle idée subversive ne bouillonnait en lui. Des doctrines sociales, il ne voulait en connaître aucune. Le peu qu'il en avait entendu dire ne lui semblait pas clair. Et il répétait souvent : « Mon programme, c'est le travail, car tout homme est voué à la peine du corps. Tu vivras à la sueur de ton front, est-il écrit depuis des siècles: destinée immuable qui ne changera pas! Ce que tout le monde devrait faire, c'est de chercher le progrès dans sa profession, c'est de s'efforcer à toujours faire mieux, à devenir fort et habile dans son métier et à surpasser son voisin par son talent et sa conscience au travail. C'est pour moi la seule voie. Le reste est rêverie ou calcul. »

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    9 November 2017

    The Death of Ethical Principles

    Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), p. 41:
    [In Either/Or] I believe Kierkegaard asserts ... [that] the aesthetic [way of life] can be chosen seriously, although the burden of choosing it can be as passion-ridden as that of choosing the ethical [way of life]. I think especially of those young men of my father’s generation who watched their own earlier ethical principles die along with the deaths of their friends in the trenches in the mass murder of Ypres and the Somme; and who returned determined that nothing was ever going to matter to them again and invented the aesthetic triviality of the nineteen-twenties.

    Alfred Bastien, Canadian Gunners in the Mud (1917)

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    8 November 2017

    Seriously or Not at All

    John Ruskin, "Ideals of Beauty," Modern Painters, Vol. II (New York: John W. Lovell Company, 1885), p. 191:
    Art, properly so called, is no recreation, it cannot be learned at spare moments, nor pursued when we have nothing better to do. It is no handiwork for drawing-room tables; no relief of the ennui of boudoirs; it must be understood and undertaken seriously or not at all. To advance it men's lives must be given, and to receive it their hearts.

    2 November 2017

    Hank on Potheads

    From a clip of Barbet Schroeder's The Charles Bukowski Tapes :
    Interviewer: What do you think of drugs versus alcohol?

    Charles Bukowski: Ah, my favourite subject. I think a man can keep on drinking for centuries and he'll never die, especially wine and beer. But I've met too many young people, especially when I was working for Open City, just smoking marijuana, within a two year period, who were intelligent at first and after two years of marijuana they just came around going [airhead voice]: "Haaaaaaay! Haaaaaaay! How you doooing?"

    I'm going to be one of the first to say that marijuana is very, ultimately, destructive. And then, finally, there'll be government studies to prove that it's totally harmful, much more harmful than it's ever been exposed to have been. Because I've seen it through people, they just end up [airhead voice]: "Haaaaaay...haaaaaaay..." And I don't like that. I like drunkards, man, because drunkards, they come out of it, they're sick and they spring back, they spring back and forth. But even the light drug freaks, they're just [airhead voice]: "Okaaaay. Okaaaay." It's like all mind circulation and all spirit has been cut off....

    Alcohol gives you the release of the dream without the deadness of the drugs. You know, you can come back down. You have your hangover to face, that's the tough part. You get over it, you do your job, you come back, you drink again. I'm all for alcohol, I'll tell ya. It's the thing.

    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.
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    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.
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    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