24 May 2019

21 May 2019

One of Two Things

Barthold Georg Niebuhr, letter to his parents (November 23, 1794), The Life and Letters of Barthold George Niebuhr (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1854), p. 56:
I must do one of two things; either I must accommodate myself to the manners of our vicious, effeminate, and feeble age, or I must keep my own manners, consequently my own tone and mode of thinking and speaking. In the first case, I may, perhaps, please a great part of my contemporaries, but certainly not the better part, nor myself, nor posterity. In the second, I must indeed offend the partisans of the first, but it will be possible for me to live so as to deserve my own approbation, and so as not to pass away with the great multitude of my nameless contemporaries.
Portrait of Niebuhr from the Dithmarscher Landesmuseum

A related post: Keep Apart

15 May 2019

A Good Index Is Its Own Reward

George Henry Lewes, The Principles of Success in Literature (London: The Walter Scott Publishing Co., 1898), pp. 86-87:
In Life a dishonest man is chiefly moved by desires towards some tangible result of money or power; if he get these he has got all. The man of letters has a higher aim: the very object of his toil is to secure the sympathy and respect of men; and the rewards of his toil may be paid in money, fame, or consciousness of earnest effort. The first of these may sometimes be gained without Sincerity. Fame may also, for a time, be erected on an unstable ground, though it will inevitably be destroyed again. But the last and not least reward is to be gained by everyone without fear of failure, without risk of change. Sincere work is good work, be it never so humble; and sincere work is not only an indestructible delight to the worker by its very genuineness, but is immortal in the best sense, for it lives for ever in its influence. There is no good Dictionary, not even a good Index, that is not in this sense priceless, for it has honestly furthered the work of the world, saving labour to others; setting an example to successors. Whether I make a careful Index, or an inaccurate one, will probably in no respect affect the money-payment I shall receive. My sins will never fall heavily on me; my virtue will gain me neither extra pence nor praise. I shall be hidden by obscurity from the indignation of those whose valuable time is wasted over my pretence at accuracy, as from the silent gratitude of those whose time is saved by my honest fidelity. The consciousness of faithfulness even to the poor index maker may be a better reward than pence or praise; but of course we cannot expect the unconscientious to believe this. If I sand my sugar, and tell lies over my counter, I may gain the rewards of dishonesty, or I may be overtaken by its Nemesis. But if I am faithful in my work the reward cannot be withheld from me. The obscure workers who, knowing that they will never earn renown yet feel an honourable pride in doing their work faithfully, may be likened to the benevolent who feel a noble delight in performing generous actions which will never be known to be theirs, the only end they seek in such actions being the good which is wrought for others, and their delight being the sympathy with others. 
Albrecht Dürer, Lectern With Books (1521)

8 May 2019

Doing Time

Edith Bone, Seven Years Solitary (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1957), p. 106:
I recalled something I had read in a posthumously published story by Tolstoi, in which a man is kept in solitary confinement for, as it happened, exactly seven years, just as I was later to be confined. Tolstoi describes how this man occupied his mind, among other things, by taking imaginary walks in the cities which he had known. I was very fortunate in this because I had been to most of the great cities of Europe. So I tried going for walks — in London, in Paris, in Rome, in Florence and Milan, in various Swiss cities, in Berlin and Heidelberg, in Vienna and St. Petersburg, and I found it very diverting. Most of these cities I had known very well. I had travelled a great deal, but never as a tourist. I had lived in eight European countries and had spent at least months and, in many cases, years in foreign cities, earning my livelihood there and living as the natives lived; hence I recalled their streets and rivers, their buildings, their monuments and the rest, quite accurately.
Id., pp. 110-111:
In the same Tolstoi story about a prisoner which I have already mentioned, the hero passes the time by taking an inventory of his knowledge on all sorts of subjects.

I had already tried something like this, before I thought of an abacus. What I had tried to do was to take an inventory of my vocabulary in the six languages I speak fluently. But I failed because I always lost count so long as I had only my fingers to reckon on. Now, with my fine six-row abacus [which she made from old bread and straw], I did better. Here, too, there were, of course, problems to be solved. How to avoid repetitions? The answer was: strict alphabetical order. This brought a fresh problem: what to do with the words I remembered after passing their proper place in the alphabetical order. There was no answer to this one, except to leave them out and later to start afresh from A. This I did three times and found in the end that I had enumerated twenty-seven thousand three hundred and sixty-nine English words. That satisfied me, and I went on to German, French and the rest.

There were many more inventories one could make in addition to these general ones of vocabulary. How many birds could I name? How many trees? How many flowers? How many makes of cars? How many breeds of dogs? How many English publishers? How many wines? How many characters in Dickens, Balzac, Tolstoi, Stendhal, Dostoyevski, Thackeray, and many others? I found, by the way, that Dickens, of whom I had read less than I had of several other authors, must be the greatest creator of characters, because I could remember more than four hundred, even before I had pencil and paper to help me, although I counted only those of whom I could also remember in which novel they appeared and what they were like.

All this time, that is for almost three years, I was deprived of books and writing materials. But I had continued to make up doggerels, which I repeated carefully three times a day, so as not to forget. They were growing so numerous, however, that repeating them daily began to take up too much time.

Mykola Yaroshenko, The Prisoner (1878)

7 May 2019

A Moment of Sadness or Anger

An anonymous writer on the front page of the La Chronique des arts et de la curiosité (March 23, 1901), my translation:
There is not one among us who, in the last few years, has not experienced a moment of sadness or anger at seeing the most admirable landscapes disfigured by unseemly advertisements and posters. All along the roads and railways, in both the mountains and beside the sea coast, advertising is everywhere, invasive and clumsy. We look on aghast as the gigantic placards multiply, disgraceful and gaudy.

The countryside was once the traveller's companion; it offered an ephemeral but charming vision to those who were passing through and unable to pause; the sight of ever-changing hills, woods, rivers, and valleys stirred the imagination and seemed to evoke nature in all its richness and variety. Now the clownish advertisement arrives and casts a pall over the earth and the heavens alike. The German provinces of the Rhine and the Belgians are preparing laws against this menacing ugliness. The time has come for our own country to consider its defence.

While the barbarians may have conquered the world, we should not resign ourselves to it, nor should we allow bad taste to triumph. Natural beauty is one of our rarest and most precious gifts, and it demands both respect and vigilance. The same effort we put into the conservation of monuments and works of art should be spent protecting the beauty of the countryside and saving it from immitigable ruin — it is a beauty we did not create, but one which we enjoy.

Perhaps we should bear in mind that this form of beauty is worth more than any other, and recall, with Renan, that things which are beautiful in themselves are "like a myrrhine vase which contains everything that genius has, through wearying reflection, struggled to express in faint outlines."

Isaac Levitan, Train on the Way (1895)

29 April 2019

More Important

Ernst Jünger in his acceptance speech for the Goethe Prize (Frankfurt, 1982), at the 11:05 mark (my translation):
If two sixteen-year-olds, in an attic or on a forest path, are enthusiastic about their author, that is more important than the proceedings of a writers' congress or an academic meeting. 
Wenn zwei Sechzehnjährige sich in der Mansarde oder auf einem Waldgang an ihrem Autor begeistern, so ist das wichtiger als die Tagung eines Schriftstellerkongresses oder die Verhandlung einer Akademie.
Norman Rockwell, Young Man Reading by the Light (c. 1926)

23 April 2019

Primitive and Essential Things

Max Beerbohm, "The Golden Drugget," And Even Now (London: William Heinemann, 1920), p. 117:
Primitive and essential things have great power to touch the heart of the beholder. I mean such things as a man ploughing a field, or sowing or reaping; a girl filling a pitcher from a spring; a young mother with her child; a fisherman mending his nets; a light from a lonely hut on a dark night.

Things such as these are the best themes for poets and painters, and appeal to aught that there may be of painter or poet in any one of us. Strictly, they are not so old as the hills, but they are more significant and eloquent than hills. Hills will outlast them; but hills glacially surviving the life of man on this planet are of as little account as hills tremulous and hot in ages before the life of man had its beginning. Nature is interesting only because of us. And the best symbols of us are such sights as I have just mentioned — sights unalterable by fashion of time or place, sights that in all countries always were and never will not be.
Hat tip: Anecdotal Evidence

Paul Eduard Crodel, Frühjahrslandschaft mit Ochsenpflug  (1886)

17 April 2019

Build Your Own Library

Donald Davidson (1893-1968), "A Mirror for Artists,"  I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978), p. 40:
[P]ublic libraries, which tend ever to become more immense and numerous, pervert public taste as much as they encourage it. For the patrons are by implication discouraged from getting their own books and keeping them at home. Their notion is that the state — or some local Maecenas — will take care of their taste for them, just as the police take care of public safety. Art galleries and libraries are fine enough in their way, but we should not be deceived into putting our larger hope in them.

John Frederick Peto, Take Your Choice (1885)

12 April 2019

The Decisive Significance of the Truth

Theodor Haecker in an entry from 1940, Journal in the Night, tr. Alexander Dru (London: Pantheon Books, 1950), p. 22:
In spite of a gigantic weight of lies the things of this world still function for an astoundingly long time without breaking to pieces; they almost seem to be strengthened. It is a mysterious and awful fact, and a great temptation to the spirit, to doubt the decisive significance of the truth in regard to the events in this world. But it is only a temptation: deep inside the spirit of man there is an assurance that lies destroy a man, and also a nation.
Jean-Léon Gérôme, Truth Emerging From the Well, 
Armed With Her Whip to Chastise Mankind  (1896) 

A related post: No Strength Without Truth

11 April 2019

Giraudon's Artist

A few photographs from L'Artiste, a series published by Adolphe et Georges Giraudon in the 1870s:








From a post on the James Hyman Gallery web site:

"Giraudon presumably commissioned these photographic genre studies from an artist active near Barbizon as the imagery and compositions directly echoes that of Millet and other Barbizon painters. Despite the mounting and stamping of several of these prints, which suggest a publishing venture, these works are extremely rare. None were found in the Giraudon archives, nor in sales catalogues of the period."


Related posts:

5 April 2019

It Is Extremely Difficult for the French

I try to avoid the news in general, and political news in particular, but time was hanging heavy on my hands yesterday and I watched some of the Brexit shenanigans in the House of Lords. Although I'm sure he didn't intend to be funny, Lord Marlesford's comments made me laugh out loud:
Lord Marlesford:

My Lords, I will speak very briefly, following up the words of my noble friend Lord Lawson about the impact on public opinion of the procedures in Parliament in relation to this Bill, which could be very serious. The example I give to noble Lords is that of France, once our hereditary enemy, now our great friend. Why is it that France is so much harder to manage and govern than Britain? Let me give the obvious example. If public protests in Britain turn into violent riots, the public do not like it. Even if they agree with the original cause, they tend to tell Parliament to sort it out. When that happens in France, the French Government normally have two choices: send in the CRS to break their heads, or give in. They usually give in. It is extremely difficult for the French. This all dates back to 1789 —

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Lord Marlesford:

It dates back to the French Revolution, and the failure of the then very inefficient monarchical Government, the Estates General. They met on 5 May and split, and the Third Estate — the people — went off to the tennis court and objected. The result was that, a few days later, the Bastille was stormed. The King was executed in February 1792, then came a year of terror between July 1793 and July 1794, which ended when Robespierre was guillotined. The French, therefore, are very conscious of the inadequacies of their form of government and of their Parliament.​

Recently, seeking an outsider to run the show, they elected President Macron. They did not know very much about him, but they have now woken up to the fact that, far from being an outsider, he is actually the archetypal insider. They have shown their annoyance and rage through the gilets jaunes. We should consider the impact of this legislation — or rather, of the way it is being handled — on public opinion, because we do not want gilets jaunes here.

Jacques-Louis David, Le Serment du Jeu de paume (1791)

2 April 2019

I Do Not Want My Boy to Become an Artist

J. G. Chapman, The Elements of Art (London: David Bogue, 1848), pp. 22-23:
Fathers and Teachers — call not your boys idle fellows, when you find them drawing in the sand. Give them chalk and pencil — let them be instructed in design. “But,” you say, “I do not want my boy to become an artist.” Depend upon it, he will plough a straighter furrow, and build a neater and better fence, and the hammer or the axe will fit his hand the better for it: for from it, no matter what may be his calling in life, he will reap advantage. Last, not least, you give him a source of intellectual enjoyment, of which no change of fortune can deprive him, and that may secure his hours of leisure from the baneful influence of low and ignoble pursuits.

Albrecht Dürer, Self-portrait, Study of a Hand and a Pillow (1493)

29 March 2019

Visual Noise

Josef Pieper, "Learning How to See Again," Only the Lover Sings (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), p. 33:
There does exist something like "visual noise", which just like the acoustical counterpart, makes clear perception impossible. One might perhaps presume that TV watchers, tabloid readers, and movie goers exercise and sharpen their eyes. But the opposite is true. The ancient sages knew exactly why they called the "concupiscence of the eyes" a "destroyer". The restoration of man's inner eyes can hardly be expected in this day and age — unless, first of all, one were willing and determined simply to exclude from one's realm of life all those inane and contrived but titillating illusions incessantly generated by the entertainment industry.

Filippo Abbiati, Trompe-l'oeil con stampe (c. 1690)

26 March 2019

The Weed Burners

In his biography of Henri Le Sidaner (Paris: Georges Petit & Henri Floury, 1928), Camille Mauclair notes that the artist sent a painting called Les Brûleuses d'herbes to the Paris Salon in 1890, but says that he subsequently destroyed the work.

However, I see that a painting by Le Sidaner with this title and approximate date is listed on Artnet.fr. Perhaps it is just a study. According to the Artnet web site it is oil on canvas, measuring 43 cm by 55 cm.

Henri Le Sidaner, Les Brûleuses d'herbes (1889)


Here's another, higher resolution image of the same painting from Artrenewal.org:

22 March 2019

20 March 2019

A Fortunate Era

Willibrord Verkade, Yesterdays of an Artist-Monk, tr. John Stoddard (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1930), p. 177:
Travel is for man a delight. It is so sweet to escape for a time from the regular round of domestic duties and, in the sense that one is a stranger in the country through which one is passing, to be free. Formerly every journeyman used to go on his travels, after he had, as an apprentice, served his master for years in affectionate submissiveness. That was indeed a happy time, which was not passed in haste and workingmen’s disorders. A fortunate era, when the seriousness of old age was mellowed by the recollection of the joyful years of youthful wandering, and when the memory of all the countries, with their cities and villages, through which one had then travelled, wove a brilliant background for the stage of later life.
A related post: Tour de France

11 March 2019

Some Sporting Event or Stupid Show

Henry Suso, Wisdom's Watch Upon the Hours (Book II, Chapter I), tr. Edmund Colledge (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1994), pp. 236-237:
What the Disciple found in this mansion amazed him, and made him want to laugh. For there was what seemed like a silver ball that had fallen among them from the sky, rolling around, which by its beauty and costliness made all of them gaze on it in love and longing, for it promised glory and honor to those who could possess it. And when one outstanding teacher had it in his hand, and through this his fame resounded through the whole world, and his teachings shone brighter than all others, like a rose without thorn and a cloudless sun, many, seeing this and envying it, tried in every way they might to snatch the ball from his hand. Now they threw sharp darts at him, and now hard stones, but it did not help them, for they were inflicting astonishing hurts on themselves, and wounding themselves with their own darts. When this ball bounced round among them, those who were present were at pains, not indeed to grasp it for themselves, but rather to do all they could to knock it out of each other’s hands, and steal it away and advertise that someone else did not have it. They offered no explanations of what it was, but they wrapped it up in their own implications. And there were among them, it is shameful to say, astonishing arguments and uproars and contradictions about this ball, and in the minds of many who were listening this produced great boredom and distaste. For they derived no benefit from these things, but complained that they were at some sporting event or stupid show. And some of them mocked the others, and they wore themselves out with wordy warfare, and attacked each other and sparred like fighting bantams.

And when the Disciple asked from the bystanders what all this spectacle was about, someone replied that this silver ball was supposed to signify the truth of Sacred Scripture, lucid and clear-sounding and incorruptible. And he added: “Some present-day scholars spend more pains in attacking it than seeking it, for some of them do not seem to be working to acquire it, but trying with all their might to prove that someone else does not possess that truth at all, and by this they try to advance themselves and put down someone else. And so they manufacture refutations, rejoinders and astonishing newfangled opinions, which do more to surprise those who hear them than to give them anything useful. For the truth which they should have unfolded for their listeners they wrap up in what they are driving at and their unheard-of language, and for the sake of empty display for the most part they hide the truth out of sight.”

Hieronymus Bosch, The Conjurer (c. 1502)

Related posts: