17 January 2019

L'Angélus

Jean-François Millet, L'Angélus (c. 1858)

A very faded reproduction of this painting used to hang over the bed where I slept in my grandmother's house. Knowing nothing of Millet, never mind the Angelus, I believed the two figures were praying over a dead child.

In university, years later, I learned that Salvador Dalí thought the same and had convinced the Louvre to have x-rays taken; they revealed the outline of a small coffin.

Not unrelated: The Happiest Thing I Know

8 January 2019

Upon a Maybe

William James, "Is Life Worth Living?" The Will to Believe (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1903), p. 59:
Not a victory is gained, not a deed of faithfulness or courage is done, except upon a maybe; not a service, not a sally of generosity, not a scientific exploration or experiment or textbook, that may not be a mistake. It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all. And often enough our faith beforehand in an uncertified result is the only thing that makes the result come true. Suppose, for instance, that you are climbing a mountain, and have worked yourself into a position from which the only escape is by a terrible leap. Have faith that you can successfully make it, and your feet are nerved to its accomplishment. But mistrust yourself, and think of all the sweet things you have heard the scientists say of maybes, and you will hesitate so long that, at last, all unstrung and trembling, and launching yourself in a moment of despair, you roll in the abyss. In such a case (and it belongs to an enormous class), the part of wisdom as well as of courage is to believe what is in the line of your needs, for only by such belief is the need fulfilled. Refuse to believe, and you shall indeed be right, for you shall irretrievably perish. But believe, and again you shall be right, for you shall save yourself. You make one or the other of two possible universes true by your trust or mistrust, — both universes having been only maybes, in this particular, before you contributed your act.
Carl Gustav Carus, Berggipfel in Wolken

3 January 2019

Old Acquaintance Should Be Forgot

Friedrich Nietzsche, Jest, Ruse and Revenge, a prelude to The Joyful Wisdom, tr. Thomas Common, in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Vol. X (New York: Macmillan, 1924), p. 14:
Dialogue.

A. Was I ill? and is it ended?
Pray, by what physician tended?
I recall no pain endured!

B. Now I know your trouble's ended:
He that can forget, is cured.

The original, from Alfred Kröner's edition of Nietzsche's works (Stuttgart, 1921), p. 16:
Zwiegespräch.

A. War ich krank? Bin ich genesen?
Und wer ist mein Arzt gewesen?
Wie vergaß ich alles Das!

B. Jetzt erst glaub' ich dich genesen:
Denn gesund ist, wer vergaß.

Dr. Nietzsche; he can cure what ails you.

Related posts:

Cf.  Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?

17 December 2018

To Look Back Upon the Past Year

Robert Louis Stevenson, A Christmas Sermon (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1900), pp. 20-21:
To look back upon the past year, and see how little we have striven and to what small purpose: and how often we have been cowardly and hung back, or temerarious and rushed unwisely in; and how every day and all day long we have transgressed the law of kindness; — it may seem a paradox, but in the bitterness of these discoveries, a certain consolation resides. Life is not designed to minister to a man's vanity. He goes upon his long business most of the time with a hanging head, and all the time like a blind child. Full of rewards and pleasures as it is — so that to see the day break or the moon rise, or to meet a friend, or to hear the dinnercall when he is hungry, fills him with surprising joys — this world is yet for him no abiding city. Friendships fall through, health fails, weariness assails him; year after year, he must thumb the hardly varying record of his own weakness and folly. It is a friendly process of detachment. When the time comes that he should go, there need be few illusions left about himself. Here lies one who meant well, tried a little, failed much: — surely that may be his epitaph, of which he need not be ashamed.


Best wishes to the friends and strangers who follow along here. I'll return in 2019.

13 December 2018

Books Change Like Friends

Andrew Lang, The Library (London: Macmillan & Co., 1892), pp. 15-16:
Selling books is nearly as bad as losing friends, than which life has no worse sorrow. A book is a friend whose face is constantly changing. If you read it when you are recovering from an illness, and return to it years after, it is changed surely, with the change in yourself. As a man’s tastes and opinions are developed his books put on a different aspect. He hardly knows the “Poems and Ballads” he used to declaim,and cannot recover the enigmatic charm of “Sordello.” Books change like friends, like ourselves, like everything; but they are most piquant in the contrasts they provoke, when the friend who gave them and wrote them is a success, though we laughed at him ; a failure, though we believed in him ; altered in any case, and estranged from his old self and old days. The vanished past returns when we look at the pages.

The vicissitudes of years are printed and packed in a thin octavo, and the shivering ghosts of desire and hope return to their forbidden home in the heart and fancy. It is as well to have the power of recalling them always at hand, and to be able to take a comprehensive glance at the emotions which were so powerful and full of life, and now are more faded and of less account than the memory of the dreams of childhood. It is because our books are friends that do change, and remind us of change, that we should keep them with us, even at a little inconvenience, and not turn them adrift in the world to find a dusty asylum in cheap bookstalls. We are a part of all that we have read, to parody the saying of Mr. Tennyson’s Ulysses, and we owe some respect, and house-room at least, to the early acquaintances who have begun to bore us, and remind us of the vanity of ambition and the weakness of human purpose. Old school and college books even have a reproachful and salutary power of whispering how much a man knew, and at the cost of how much trouble, that he has absolutely forgotten, and is neither the better nor the worse for it. It will be the same in the case of the books he is eager about now; though, to be sure, he will read with less care, and forget with an ease and readiness only to be acquired by practice.
Joseph Swain's frontispiece to The Library

7 December 2018

Christmas Trees and Christmas Faces

Carl Jung, Nietzsche's Zarathustra: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1934-1939, Vol. 2, Part 1 (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 240:
There is a Christmas tree on the 25th of December. Of course! We all have Christmas trees. It is what one does at Christmas to give pleasure to the children. You simply float along on the Christmas mood. You wear a Christmas face and you have a Christmas tree because one has a Christmas tree: you are identical with that mood. But if you really ask yourself why the devil just a Christmas tree, you suddenly discover that this has nothing to do with the birth of Christ. There were no pine trees in Palestine, and there is not one single thing about it which has to do with Christianity. Yet we think it is the most Christian symbol. To this extent do people never think, never question themselves as to why they do such things — why that hell of a nonsense, the Easter hare and the colored eggs, and so on. In making a Christmas tree, one is not one but many. The mother who makes the Christmas tree is an eternal mother who for centuries has done that. Formerly, of course, they made something else I suppose, but always with the same feeling of the eternal figure. It is such a wonderful moment because it has always been so; you are in the olden time again. The great lure of the archetypal situation is that you yourself suddenly cease to be. You cease to think and are acted upon as though carried by a great river with no end. You are suddenly eternal. And you are liberated from sitting up and paying attention, doubting, and concentrating upon things. When you are once touched by the archetype, you don’t want to disturb it by asking foolish questions — it is too nice. We are all like Parsifal when he sees the Holy Grail. It is too good, too marvelous — why should he spoil the situation by asking questions?
When I read "It is what one does" my first thought was of Heidegger's das Man.

3 December 2018

John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836–1893)

Roundhay Lake (1877)
Silver Moonlight (1880)
In the Golden Gloaming (1881)
Princes Dock, Hull (1887)

29 November 2018

Mercenary Motives and Sordid Ambitions

 Arthur Jerome Eddy, Delight; The Soul of Art  (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1902), p. 14:
Delight is the very soul of art. Without delight there can be no art. Whatever the surroundings and the circumstances of the artist; however humble, however mean, however wretched, though each breath be drawn in pain, and every effort cost a sigh, yet must his work delight him, or it ceases to be art. And if perchance he yields to adverse circumstances, and under the pressure of necessity begins to produce either listlessly or feverishly, simply to sell, to gain a livelihood, and not because he is compelled by love, — then you may be sure his work becomes more and more mechanical, and less and less artistic. In the world about us how often do we see delight fade from the eyes of the poet, the painter, the sculptor, and despair or grim determination take its place. The enthusiasm of youth vanishes before sorrows and disappointments, or gives way with age to mercenary motives and sordid ambitions; delight disappears, thought is labored, inspiration gone; the artist becomes a plodder and a mechanic.
Henri Martin, Muse au crépuscule (c. 1895)

Related posts:

28 November 2018

Party Politics

William Ellery Channing (1780-1842), "Self Culture," in The Works of William Ellery Channing (Glasgow: Richard Griffin & Co., 1840), p. 256:
It is hard enough for an individual, when contending all alone for an interest or an opinion, to keep down his pride, wilfulness, love of victory, anger, and other personal feelings. But let him join a multitude in the same warfare, and, without singular self-control, he receives into his single breast, the vehemence, obstinacy, and vindictiveness of all. The triumph of his party becomes immeasurably dearer to him than the principle, true or false, which was the original ground of division. The conflict becomes a struggle, not for principle, but for power, for victory ; and the desperateness, the wickedness of such struggles, is the great burden of history. In truth, it matters little what men divide about, whether it be a foot of land or precedence in a procession. Let them but begin to fight for it, and self-will, ill-will, the rage for victory, the dread of mortification and defeat, make the trifle as weighty as a matter of life and death. The Greek or Eastern empire was shaken to its foundation by parties, which differed only about the merits of charioteers at the amphitheatre. Party spirit is singularly hostile to moral independence. A man, in proportion as he drinks into it, sees, hears, judges by the senses and understandings of his party. He surrenders the freedom of a man, the right of using and speaking his own mind, and echoes the applause or maledictions, with which the leaders or passionate partisans see fit that the country should ring.
Francisco Goya, Sad Forebodings of What Is to Come (c. 1820)

Not unrelated: Individuals

26 November 2018

The Munsell Colour System

A. H. Munsell, A Grammar of Color, ill. T. M. Cleland, (Mittineague: The Strathmore Paper Company, 1921), p. 45:


Id., p. 134:

22 November 2018

Artistic Bankruptcy and Cultural Chaos

T. M. Cleland, "Harsh Words; An Address Delivered to a Meeting of The American Institute of Graphic Arts in New York City, February 5th, 1940," Books and Printing, ed. Paul A. Bennett (Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1951), pp. 321-336 (at 322-323):
I can bring you no message of hope or light of inspiration. Much as I am filled with admiration and respect for many individual talents and accomplishments that still contrive to exist, they seem to me to stand unhappily isolated in what I can’t help viewing as artistic bankruptcy and cultural chaos. Among them are printers making beautiful books and other things about as well as these things have ever been made. But as to the general volume of printing, no one has asked me, to be sure, what I thought was the lowest point of artistic taste in the five hundred years of its existence which we are celebrating this year, but if anyone should ask me, I would be bound to say that we have reached that point just about now. Things may get worse, but it’s hard to see how they can. To paraphrase a remark in the concluding chapter of Updike’s classic work on printing types, it has taken printers and publishers five hundred years to find out how wretchedly books and other things can be made and still sell.
T. M. Cleland, image from Princeton University, via Mark D. Ruffner

Related posts:

20 November 2018

15 November 2018

As Gracious as an Act of Charity

Walter Rose, The Village Carpenter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938), p. 129:
There is (at least to me) great satisfaction in the restoration of old furniture, especially of pieces made prior to the nineteenth century. To take in hand a derelict piece covered with the grime of years and to clean and restore it almost to its original condition is as gracious as an act of charity. It also affords actual experience of the methods of old-time workmen and an insight into their marvellous craftsmanship. But before undertaking such a job the carpenter ought to make a study of the subject, as an  incorrect addition to a piece of period furniture is a perpetual offence, a reminder that he will be wise to avoid.
Id., p. 131:
Dull of soul indeed is the woodworker who, having such a repair in hand, experiences no feeling of sympathy with the dead and forgotten maker. The limitations of his tools are revealed by long slight undulations on the surface of the boards, the finish of his imperfect plane. This finish is the admiration of the connoisseur, who frequently wants it reproduced on modern work. This perplexes the carpenter; his modern planes are much too true to execute it properly.
For those interested in this sort of thing, I know of nothing better than Thomas Johnson's YouTube channel. I could watch him for hours.

Edward Henry Potthast, The Village Carpenter (1899) 

14 November 2018

It Must Not Be Taken Hardly

Aldus Manutius, quoted in George Haven Putnam, Books and Their Makers During the Middle Ages, Vol. I (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1896), p. 437:
I am hampered in my work by a thousand interruptions. Nearly every hour comes a letter from some scholar, and if I undertook to reply to them all, I should be obliged to devote day and night to scribbling. Then, through the day come calls from all kinds of visitors. Some desire merely to give a word of greeting, others want to know what there is new, while the greater number come to my office because they happen to have nothing else to do. "Let us look in upon Aldus," they say to each other. Then they loaf in and sit and chatter to no purpose. Even these people with no business are not so bad as those who have a poem to offer or something in prose (usually very prosy indeed) which they wish to see printed with the name of Aldus. These interruptions are now becoming too serious for me, and I must take steps to lessen them. Many letters I simply leave unanswered, while to others I send very brief replies; and as I do this not from pride or from discourtesy, but simply in order to be able to go on with my task of printing good books, it must not be taken hardly.
The typographer Bruce Rogers printed this quote as a leaflet:

Scan from the Library of Congress

9 November 2018

7 November 2018

Ian Jackson, 1951-2018

Georges Fourest (1864-1945), quoted in Histoires littéraires, vol. XVIII, no 69 (Janvier-Février-Mars 2017) 173-174 (translated by Ian Jackson):
Take nothing seriously: not yourself, nor others, nor anything in this world or in the next; — consider art (no capital A) to be neither a business (which is vile) nor a "priesthood" (which is naïve) but simply a pastime less absorbing than bridge, less demeaning than lotto: — aim to achieve perfection in things that are difficult and useless, remember that a writer will never be the equal of a clown, a juggler or a tightrope walker, and do not allow a day to pass without meditating on this declaration of our distant ancestor Malherbe: "A great poet is of no more use to the state than a good player at skittles" — spend as little time as possible with your contemporaries and try to live as comfortably as possible while working as little as possible. Take pains always to seem happy: this will annoy your friends. 


I only knew Ian Jackson from Mike Gilleland's Laudator Temporis Acti, where he was a frequent source of comments and quotes like the one above. I often wondered about the man behind the playful erudition, and was sorry to learn of his death earlier this year.

The summer issue of The Book Collector (Vol. 67, No. 2) included nineteen tributes to Ian, and these have been gathered into a limited edition offprint which features a drypoint portrait by his wife Ann Arnold. They reveal someone who was as generous as he was learned. Reading through the collection, I was particularly impressed by the equanimity of these lines to Stuart Bennett (at pp. 262-263):
. . . if it's benign, all is well; if not . . . I might recover with radiation or might be dead. Actually, one advantage of not working like a dog all of one's life and looking forward to an endless vista of well-earned vacation is that I have little novelty to anticipate, or disappointment to experience over a life cut short. There will always be another book, another article. It will be a beautiful day tomorrow whether I am here to experience it or not.
I still miss seeing the regular "Hat tip: Ian Jackson" on Mike's blog.

May the earth rest lightly upon him.


Ian's site remains online at www.ianjacksonbooks.com and the offprint is available from James Fergusson, who has devoted a page of his Abebooks store to Jacksonia. My copy was wrapped masterfully and arrived in perfect condition — a rare thing in an age when so many books are sentenced to plasticwrap poena cullei. I mention this because James tells me Ian "had strong views on packaging and the internet bookseller".

6 November 2018

Cerebral Hygiene

Mary Pickering, Auguste Comte: An Intellectual Biography, Vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 485 (footnotes omitted):
The final and most important result of Comte’s bout with mental instability in 1838 was his adoption of a new intellectual regime, which he called “cerebral hygiene.” Exasperated by the Saint-Simonians’ and journalists’ attacks on his creativity, he decided that he needed to preserve his “characteristic originality.” Henceforth he abstained from reading newspapers, books, and journals, except the weekly bulletins of the Academy of Sciences, which he only glanced through irregularly. To relax, he did permit himself, however, to read the “great poets of every age and nation.”
Related posts:

5 November 2018

Walbaum ist wiedergeboren

I learn from Anne Quito in Quartzy  magazine (18 July, 2018) that Monotype has reissued the Walbaum typeface:
Using type specimens from 1803 and 1812, Nix, Crossgrove and Villanueva sought to extrapolate from Walbaum’s original intent, using the mantra, “What would Justus do?”
 Walbaum’s ornament set, restored by Juan Villanueva 

2 November 2018

He That Loveth a Book

Isaac Barrow, "Sermon XXII; Of Industry in Our Particular Calling as Scholars," The Works of the Learned Isaac Barrow, Vol. 3 (London: John Tillotson, 1700), p. 224:
It is a calling [i.e., scholarship] that fitteth a man for all conditions and fortunes; so that he can enjoy prosperity with moderation, and sustain adversity with comfort: he that loveth a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counsellor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter. By study, by reading. by thinking, one may innocently divert and pleasantly entertain himself, as in all weathers, so in all fortunes.

Related posts:

29 October 2018

The Library

Elizabeth Shippen Green (1891-1954), The Library (c. 1905)
From the Delaware Art Museum 

Hat tip: First Things, via Anecdotal Evidence