29 March 2018

That Roving Habit

William Ellery Channing, Memoir of William Ellery Channing, Vol. I (Boston: Wm. Crosby and H. P. Nichols, 1850), p. 155:
There are periods, when the mind is indisposed to serious study, when it sympathizes with a suffering body, when its tone is destroyed, and its powers require relaxation. But we should distinguish natural infirmity from that indolence which grows by indulgence, and which one vigorous exertion would drive away. It is desirable, and I think it possible, to acquire a conquest over the former weaknesses of nature. May we not form a habit of attention which pain itself cannot distract? Do I not too often apologize for indolence, by attributing it to bodily indisposition? Let me check that roving habit, which I have indulged, of reading a thousand trifles, — a habit by which the tone of the mind is destroyed, until we turn with loathing from wholesome studies. Regularity and order are essential; and when I have formed a plan, let me submit to many inconveniences rather than swerve from it.

26 March 2018

An Error on the Right Hand

John Denham (1615-1669) in the preface to his translation of The Destruction of Troy, from The Works of the British Poets, ed. Robert Anderson, Vol. V (London: John & Arthur Arch, 1795), pp. 693-694:
I conceive it is a vulgar error in translating poets, to affect being fidus interpres; let that care be with them who deal in matters of fact, or matters of faith: but whosoever aims at it in poetry, as he attempts what is not required, so he shall never perform what he attempts; for it is not his business alone to translate language into language, but poesy into poesy; and poesy is of so subtle a spirit, that in the pouring out of one language into another, it will all evaporate; and if a new spirit be not added in the transfusion, there will remain nothing but a caput mortuum, there being certain graces and happinesses peculiar to every language, which gives life and energy to the words; and whosoever offers at verbal translation, shall have the misfortune of that young traveller, who lost his own language abroad, and brought home no other instead of it: for the grace of the Latin will be lost by being turned into English words; and the grace of the English, by being turned into the Latin phrase. And as speech is the apparel of our thoughts, so are there certain garbs and modes of speaking, which vary with the times; the fashion of our clothes being not more subject to alteration, than that of our speech: and this I think Tacitus means, by that which he calls sermonem temporis istius auribus accommodatum; the delight of change being as due to the curiosity of the ear, as of the eye; and therefore if Virgil must needs speak English, it were fit he should speak not only as a man of this Nation, but as a man of this age; and if this disguise I have put upon him (I wish I could give it a better name) sit not naturally and easily on so grave a person, yet it may become him better than that fools-coat wherein the French and Italian have of late presented him; at least, I hope, it will not make him appear deformed, by making any part enormously bigger or less than the life; (I having made it my principal care to follow him, as he made it his to follow Nature in all his proportions) neither have I any where offered such violence to his sense, as to make it seem mine, and not his. Where my expressions are not so full as his, either our language, or my art were defective (but I rather suspect myself;) but where mine are fuller than his, they are but the impressions which the often reading of him, hath left upon my thoughts; so that if they are not his own conceptions, they are at least the results of them; and if (being conscious of making him speak worse than he did almost in every line) I err in endeavouring sometimes to make him speak better, I hope it will be judged an error on the right hand, and such an one as may deserve pardon, if not imitation.
A related post: Rather Impressionist Than Pre-Raphaelite

20 March 2018

The Aim of Literary Study

Arnold Bennett, Literary Taste (London: Frank Palmer, 1911), pp. 12-13:
The aim of literary study is not to amuse the  hours of leisure; it is to awake oneself, it is to be alive, to intensify one's capacity for pleasure, for sympathy, and for comprehension. It is not to affect one hour, but twenty-four hours. It is to change utterly one's relations with the world. An understanding appreciation of literature means an understanding appreciation of the world, and it means nothing else. Not isolated and unconnected parts of life, but all of life, brought together and correlated in a synthetic map! The spirit of literature is unifying; it joins the candle and the star, and by the magic of an image shows that the beauty of the greater is in the less. And, not content with the disclosure of beauty and the bringing together of all things whatever within its focus, it enforces a moral wisdom by the tracing everywhere of cause and effect. It consoles doubly — by the revelation of unsuspected loveliness, and by the proof that our lot is the common lot. It is the supreme cry of the discoverer, offering sympathy and asking for it in a single gesture.

17 March 2018

A Chamber of Horrors

Peter Mayle, A Year in Provence (London: Pan Books, 1989):
A couple with their small son were having coffee, and the boy indicated his need to go to the lavatory. The father looked up from his two-day-old copy of the Daily Telegraph.

“You’d better make sure it’s all right,” he said to the boy’s mother. “Remember what happened in Calais?”

The mother sighed, and made her way dutifully into the gloom at the rear of the café. When she reappeared it was at high speed, and she looked as if she had just eaten a lemon.

“It’s disgusting. Roger is not to go in there.”

Roger became immediately interested in exploring a forbidden lavatory.

“I’ve got to go,” he said, and played his trump card. “It’s number two. I’ve got to go.”

“There isn’t even a seat. It’s just a hole.”

“I don’t care. I’ve got to go.”

“You’ll have to take him,” said the mother. “I’m not going in there again.”

The father folded his newspaper and stood up, with young Roger tugging at his hand.

“You’d better take the newspaper,” said the mother.

“I’ll finish it when I get back.”

“There’s no paper,” she hissed.

“Ah. Well, I’ll try to save the crossword.”

The minutes passed, and I was wondering if I could ask the mother exactly what had happened in Calais, when there was a loud exclamation from the back of the café.

“Poo!”

It was the emerging Roger, followed by his ashen-faced father holding the remnants of his newspaper. Conversation in the café stopped as Roger gave an account of the expedition at the top of his voice. The patron looked at his wife and shrugged. Trust the English to make a spectacle out of a simple visit to the wa-wa.

The equipment that had caused such consternation to Roger and his parents was a toilette à la Turque, which is a shallow porcelain tray with a hole in the middle and footrests at each side. It was designed, presumably by a Turkish sanitary engineer, for maximum inconvenience, but the French had added a refinement of their own—a high-pressure flushing device of such velocity that unwary users can find themselves soaked from the shins down. There are two ways of avoiding sodden feet: the first is to operate the flushing lever from the safety of dry land in the doorway, but since this requires long arms and the balance of an acrobat, the second option—not to flush at all—is unfortunately much more prevalent. To add to the problem, some establishments install an energy-saving device which is peculiar to the French. The light switch, always located on the outside of the lavatory door, is fitted with an automatic timer that plunges the occupant into darkness after thirty-eight seconds, thus saving precious electricity and discouraging loiterers.

Amazingly enough, à la Turque lavatories are still being manufactured, and the most modern café is quite likely to have a chamber of horrors in the back.

Related posts:

15 March 2018

Woodsmoke

Peter Mayle, A Year in Provence (London: Pan Books, 1989):
Walking in the hills, I was often able to smell a house before I could see it, because of the scent of woodsmoke coming from an invisible chimney. It is one of the most primitive smells in life, and consequently extinct in most cities, where fire regulations and interior decorators have combined to turn fireplaces into blocked-up holes or self-consciously lit “architectural features.” The fireplace in Provence is still used—to cook on, to sit around, to warm the toes, and to please the eye—and fires are laid in the early morning and fed throughout the day with scrub oak from the Lubéron or beech from the foothills of Mont Ventoux. Coming home with the dogs as dusk fell, I always stopped to look from the top of the valley at the long zigzag of smoke ribbons drifting up from the farms that are scattered along the Bonnieux road. It was a sight that made me think of warm kitchens and well-seasoned stews, and it never failed to make me ravenous.

12 March 2018

The Pageant of Old Learning

Robert Aris Willmott, Pleasures, Objects, and Advantages of Literature (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1866) pp. 9-10:
As we grow older, the poet and the historian of our boyhood and youth become dearer. The thyme of Theocritus is wafted over the memory with a refreshing perfume. By a sort of natural magic, we raise the ghost of each intellectual Pleasure, and make it appear without any dependence upon climate or time. The mind's theatre is lighted for the Pageant of old Learning to march through it, with all its pomp and music. The nightingale of Colonos enjoys a perpetual May in Sophocles. Pindar beguiles the loneliness of Cowley; while Horace lulls asleep the cares of Sanderson, and the domestic miseries of Hooker.

7 March 2018

Une Volupté Singulière

Camille Mauclair, Henri Le Sidaner (Paris: Georges Petit & Henri Floury, 1928), p. 232 (my translation):
It requires a particular taste for voluptuous pleasure to remain sitting in a garden at twilight, watching all the details as they fade away and seem to die one by one, merging into the inexorable darkness, losing their colours and even their shapes, becoming ideas of themselves. This is when the Impressionist reckons the day is done  since there is neither daylight nor chromatic effects, he can no longer paint. But this is the moment when poetic depiction begins, when everything is a spirit, a dream, a refraction in consciousness, a prayer. And it was at this moment that Le Sidaner often set to work. 
Henri Le Sidaner, Heure Recueillir (1896)

2 March 2018

Ego Hippo

Florentin Félix Morin, "Ego Hippo," Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities (Volume 22, 2017) 87-96 (at 88):
Something about being a hippo makes me feel cute, confident, sexy, and safe. I discovered that another self was available for me: being a hippo means that I don’t have to be a boy or a girl, a child or an adult, normal or strange. It means that my smile becomes a hippo smile, and the way that I carry my body, a hippo walk. It brings me freedom, space, and a thrilling sense of possibility. Where does this transformative power come from? How does a word, how does an image disrupt “reality” to the point that my body’s relationship to space is somewhat altered?

Here is a basic assertion that I will complicate later: my hippo ego was first a metaphor. I do not experience it as ontologically given, and I am fully aware that I created it with friends and loved ones. It is “merely” an image, but it is at once my shield, my screen, and my skin. My shield, because it linguistically and materially provides me with a way to evade (trans)gender assumptions and injunctions. My screen, because it is an imaginary surface of projection through which I can (dis)organize myself. And hippo is my skin, because it is a vulnerable and meaningful point of contact between my flesh and the (rest of the) world. Hippopotamus: the very word is powerful music to my ears.

What would it be like to live with a "tranimal" who identifies as a hippopotamus? Unpleasant, I should think.

Hat tip: The New Real Peer Review

28 February 2018

The Appeal of Fiction

Joséphin Péladan, Le Vice Suprême (Paris: Éditions du Monde Moderne, 1924), p. 24 (my translation):
Due to a fatal instinct in her soul, a woman who reads a novel tries on its passions; in the same way, should she find a strangely-shaped cloak hanging over a piece of furniture, she will inevitably pull it over her shoulders, happy to find herself playing the heroine.

A poster advertising two of Péladan's novels, circa 1886

27 February 2018

Jean-Barthélemy Hauréau

When I see a line like this, I want to know more about the man:


25 February 2018

Book Lending and Book Losing

C. Tomlinson in a reply to Notes and Queries, 8th Series, No. 16 (April 16, 1892), at 322:
“I lent it and lost it!” is a pathetic expression capable of moving the sympathy of every bibliophile. I, too, have lent and lost many books. Although I do not take so kindly a view of the criminals as did Sir Walter Scott, who found several of his friends to be bad arithmeticians but capital book-keepers, yet, on the other hand, I do not adopt such a pessimistic opinion as that of Charles Nodier:
Tel est le sort de tout livre prêté,
Souvent il est perdu, toujours il est gâté.
I also think Mrs. Schimmelpenninck a little severe for entering on her book-plate the following monition: “The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again” (Ps. xxxvii. 21). I rather incline to the sentiment expressed by Condorcet in the following lines to his beloved books:
Chères délices de mon âme,
Gardez vous bien de me quitter,
Quoiqu'on vienne vous emprunter.
Chacun de vous m'est une femme,
Qui peut se laisser voir sans blâme,
Et ne se doit jamais prêter.
Scaliger's library motto was intended to convert the borrower into a purchaser: “Ite ad vendentes.” It is difficult for a bibliophile to understand the magnanimity of those who place their books at the disposal of others, and yet the library motto of Grolier was “Pour moi, et mes amis,” and that of Schelcher “Pour tous, et pour moi.” When I was a boy Old Montague House was yet standing, and it contained the beginnings of the British Museum collections. I often wandered through its rooms, and noticed that readers helped themselves to the books they wanted, as they still continue to do in the modern Reading Room. This was a practice common to continental libraries and led sometimes to the loss of valuable books, especially fourteeners of small size. On one occasion the old keeper of the Bibliothèque at Lyons at closing time secured the door, and said to the two readers who remained, “One of us three is a thief. I consent to be searched first.” Each delinquent pulled out a book, laughed, and said, “You are too sharp for us.” I am sorry to add that during the Revolution the soldiers of the Republic used the books of this library as fuel in cooking their rations.
A related post: Ex Libris

21 February 2018

My Never-Failing Friends

Robert Southey, "My Days Among the Dead Are Past," The Poems of Robert Southey, ed. Maurice H. Fitzgerald (London: Henry Frowde, 1909), p. 347:
My days among the Dead are past ;
    Around me I behold,
Where’er these casual eyes are cast,
    The mighty minds of old;
My never-failing friends are they,
With whom I converse day by day.

With them I take delight in weal.
    And seek relief in woe;
And while I understand and feel
    How much to them I owe,
My cheeks have often been bedew’d
With tears of thoughtful gratitude.

My thoughts are with the Dead, with them
    I live in long-past years,
Their virtues love, their faults condemn.
    Partake their hopes and fears.
And from their lessons seek and find
Instruction with an humble mind.

My hopes are with the Dead, anon
    My place with them will be,
And I with them shall travel on
   Through all Futurity;
Yet leaving here a name, I trust.
That will not perish in the dust.

16 February 2018

Forgiveness Is Not Always a Virtue

Jeffrie G. Murphy, ‎Forgiveness and Mercy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 17-18 (footnotes omitted):
Forgiveness is not always a virtue, however. Indeed, if I am correct in linking resentment to self-respect, a too ready tendency to forgive may properly be regarded as a vice because it may be a sign that one lacks respect for oneself. Not to have what Peter Strawson calls the "reactive attitude" of resentment when our rights are violated is to convey — emotionally — either that we do not think we have rights or that we do not take our rights very seriously. Forgiveness may indeed restore relationships, but to seek restoration at all cost — even at the cost of one's very human dignity — can hardly be a virtue. And, in intimate relationships, it can hardly be true love or friendship either — the kind of love and friendship that Aristotle claimed is an essential part of the virtuous life. When we are willing to be doormats for others, we have, not love, but rather what the psychiatrist Karen Horney calls "morbid dependency." If I count morally as much as anyone else (as surely I do), a failure to resent moral injuries done to me is a failure to care about the moral value incarnate in my own person (that I am, in Kantian language, an end in myself) and thus a failure to care about the very rules of morality. To put the point in yet another way: If it is proper to feel indignation when I see third parties morally wronged, must it not be equally proper to feel resentment when I experience the moral wrong done to myself? Morality is not simply something to be believed in; it is something to be cared about. This caring includes concern about those persons (including oneself) who are the proper objects of moral attention.

Interestingly enough, a hasty readiness to forgive — or even a refusal to display resentment initially — may reveal a lack of respect, not just for oneself, but for others as well. The Nietzschean view, for example, is sometimes portrayed (perhaps unfairly) as this: There is no need for forgiveness, because a truly strong person will never feel resentment in the first place. Why? Because he is not so weak as to think that other people — even those who harm him — matter enough to have any impact on his self-respect. We do not resent the insect that stings us (we simply deal with it), and neither should we resent the human who wrongs us.

Related posts:

15 February 2018

Improved Fabrics, but Deteriorated Men

William Ellery Channing, "Spiritual Freedom," The Works of William Ellery Channing, Vol. IV (Boston : American Unitarian Association, 1903), pp. 83-84:
An important benefit of civilization, of which we hear much from the political economist, is the division of labor, by which arts are perfected. But this, by confining the mind to an unceasing round of petty operations, tends to break it into littleness. We possess improved fabrics, but deteriorated men. Another advantage of civilization is, that manners are refined, and accomplishments multiplied; but these are continually seen to supplant simplicity of character, strength of feeling, the love of nature, the love of inward beauty and glory. Under outward courtesy, we see a cold selfishness, a spirit of calculation, and little energy of love.
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9 February 2018

Gussied Up

Pierre Daniel Huet (1630–1721), "De optimo genere interpretandi," [On the Best Way of Translating] tr. André Lefevere, from Translation/History/Culture; A Sourcebook (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 88:
The best possible likeness is that which renders the lines of the mouth, the color, the eyes, the shape of the face, and the way in which the body moves in such a manner that the absent man who is portrayed can be thought of as present. But a bad likeness pictures a thing in a manner different from what it is, more beautiful and with a happier countenance. We do not like translations that eat up the author’s fat or put more fat on him, nor do we like translations that clear up obscure passages, correct mistakes, or sort out bad syntax. We would rather have a translation that shows us the whole author, closely copied in our native style, and one that makes it possible for us to either praise his virtues, should they be deserving of praise, or scoff at his vices. For who, except a young girl who loves herself too much and wants to please herself too much would praise a mirror that so disfigures the face that it reflects a rosy forehead, or a forehead full of vigor, or even a forehead tempered with decent splendor when shown a face of ghastly pallor, or a face that is shrivelled and emaciated, or even a face that shines with too much red color. Who would not mock a woman made up in such a way that she displays an unbecoming face, false teeth, false hair, and simulated height? Indeed, we might even wish her dead.
For the original, see book one of Huet's De Interpretatione Libri Duo (The Hague: Arnold Leers, 1683), pp. 16-17.

8 February 2018

The Courage to Be Ignorant

Sydney Smith, "On the Conduct of the Understanding," Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy (London: Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1855), p. 99:
Then there is another piece of foppery which is to be cautiously guarded against — the foppery of universality, — of knowing all sciences and excelling in all arts, — chemistry, mathematics, algebra, dancing, history, reasoning, riding, fencing, Low Dutch, High Dutch, natural philosophy, and enough Spanish to talk about Lope de Vega : in short, the modern precept of education very often is, "Take the Admirable Crichton for your model ; I would have you ignorant of nothing!" Now my advice, on the contrary, is, to have the courage to be ignorant of a great number of things, in order to avoid the calamity of being ignorant of every thing.

5 February 2018

Rather Impressionist Than Pre-Raphaelite

Sir Thomas Herbert Warren, "The Art of Translation," Essays of Poets and Poetry (London: John Murray, 1909), pp. 85-133 (at pp. 105-106):
A good translation should read like an original. Why? Because the original reads like an original....

And to read like an original, a translation must be idiomatic in the language in which it is written. Thus, as Jowett says, "The first requisite of an English translation is that it be English." This is the canon which is most frequently transgressed by translators. It is the non-observance of it which at once separates off and condemns the mass of inferior translations. All who have any large acquaintance with translations are familiar with what may be called "translation English," a language which is neither English nor Greek nor Latin, French nor German, but something between the two. The grosser forms of it do not need to be pointed out. "Pigeon English," "English as she is spoke," these we all know; as again all teachers know the "translation English" of the fourth-form boy. The subtler, less obvious forms of it are just those which distinguish inferior translations. How often, when we read a translation, do we not feel that no one could write thus unless he had been translating? — a feeling which at once pro tanto, if our canon be good, condemns the work.

Now, if a translation is to be idiomatic, since the idioms of different languages differ, it is obvious that a literal translation is at once condemned. Here, as elsewhere, the letter killeth, the spirit giveth life. A really good translation should be not so much exact as faithful. It should not be free, but it should be, what is the same thing with a difference, liberal. It should be, in the language of Painting, not perhaps exactly Impressionist, but rather Impressionist than Pre-Raphaelite.
Related posts:

1 February 2018

Deutsche Sprache, Schöne Sprache

Enoch Powell, "Sentimental Journey," in Reflections of a Statesman (London: Bellew, 1991), p. 104:
I remember, as sharply as Keats recalled first looking into Chapman's Homer, the moment — it must have been in 1927 — when I opened my first German book. Here was the language I had dreamt of but never knew existed: sharp, hard, strict but with words which were romance in themselves, words in which poetry and music vibrated together. 

Id., p. 108:
[O]ne dived in and out of the mighty river of German nineteenth-century philosophy — itself, despite the often less than sensuous language clothing it, as much poetry as pure reason. In particular, for one torn between myth and reality, poetry and prose, Schopenhauer was unavoidable. His World as Will and Imagination was consumed in half-hour stretches day by day on Sydney tramcars that clanged their way through the hot Australian sunlight.

Id., p. 109 (on Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen):
Siegfried's was also the voice which proclaimed one of the great moral discoveries of humanity: that it is better to die than to live in fear. The moment when Siegfried, about to restore the ring to the Rhinemaidens, thrusts it back onto his finger because, once he knows that the curse attaches to it, his act would be tainted with fear, from which he can only regain freedom by deliberately incurring he curse, is one of the supreme moments in literature — the pagan counterpart of the Crucifixion itself. 
When Powell was a guest on BBC Radio's Desert Island Disks, he chose four pieces by Wagner, three by Beethoven, and one by Haydn. He discussed his fondness for Wagner at some length.

30 January 2018

Ratisbon

J. F. Dickie, Germany (London: A. C. Black, 1912), p. 72:
Ratisbon, or Regensburg as it is called by the Germans, is an ancient city with a most remarkable history. It has many Roman remains, the most conspicuous of which is the massive Porta Pretoria, whose foundations lie far below the level of the street. The splendour of the past is crystallised in many monumental buildings of all periods of the Christian era, and belonging to many styles of architecture. Regensburg is a historical jewel, and is one of the most interesting cities in the land.
Id., p. 74:
There is a charm about this old town that is indefinable. No one seems to be in a hurry. After the strenuous life of sight-seeing the tourist has pursued amid the art galleries of Munich, the restfulness of Ratisbon is delightful.

Moreover, it is a paradise for the student of architecture, and has hundreds of sermons in stones for those who know how to read.

E. T. Compton's painting of the nearby Walhalla, from the same book

I have fond memories of the time I spent studying in Regensburg. The university, however, is not worth visiting: it was built in the 1960s and is made entirely of cement.

Hat tip: Henry Sotheran's Bookshop, via zmkc.

29 January 2018

A Lazy Task for Second-Rate Minds

Sir Thomas Herbert Warren, "The Art of Translation," Essays of Poets and Poetry (London: John Murray, 1909), pp. 85-133 (at p. 89):
There is a common view of translation which regards it as naturally and necessarily a task for inferior minds, capable of being performed adequately by them and unworthy of any great or good ability, a fit employment for those who are essaying or those who have failed in literature. Much translation doubtless is produced by hacks, and it is obviously poor enough. But such production is in reality only like the other hack or journeyman work which fringes true and living literature. Translation worthy of the name has its proper place, and that no mean one, in the hierarchy of letters. Nay, rather what is noteworthy is not that so much translation is done by inferior writers for gain and as a trade, but that so much is done by men of ability for love and for little hire.
Id., p. 101:
So far from translation being a lazy task for second-rate minds, it is a task which tries the best powers of the best. It is only the best ages of literature, and the best writers, that can produce really excellent translations. The reason why they do not oftener give themselves to the task is partly that they are naturally preoccupied with their own creative effort, partly the difficulty, the insuperable difficulty, of the task; and therefore its inherently unsatisfactory character.
This is an interesting essay. I'll quote more from it later.