9 July 2019

The Invasion of Ugliness

Charles Robert Ashbee, A Book of Cottages and Little Houses (London: Essex House Press, 1906), pp. 82-83:
What is the meaning, we are perpetually asking ourselves, of the invasion of ugliness with which nowadays we are perpetually being overwhelmed? It enters into the marrow of modern life; it makes our towns hideous, our public buildings vulgar and pretentious; it intrudes into our homes and everything about us; and its latest and most furious manifestation would seem to be the dusty storm of the motor car into the quietest and most remote of little country villages.

Is it economic pressure that brings this ugliness? — surely not entirely. It is also very much in ourselves, a sort of inverted kingdom of heaven to which for the time being we have attained.

Is it materialism? — there is some subtle connection between the creed or philosophy of that name and what we call ugliness. To the artist or the poet there is implied in it a want of unity, an imperfection, a disbelief in the essential form of good. How perpetually does not the waste and futility of modern life bring this home to us? The great sums we spend in getting to each little spot of beauty, which we have no eyes to see when there, would be often better spent in keeping it beautiful. Why, then, this invasion of ugliness? — what is the reason for it? The reason lies rather in the relative value we attach to the things of life. Our material comforts, the multiplicity of our personal wants, the useless things of life with which we cumber ourselves, appear so much more important to us than this thing I am pointing to, this principle of beauty in building. It would never have been possible for the builder of the “Island House” of Middle Row in Campden High Street to have made those three gables of which I spoke before had he not had this principle at heart. It was more to him than the waterspouts.

“There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men: a man to whom God hath given riches, wealth & honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not the power to eat thereof.... this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.” The Preacher might have added, had he lived in our own day, that we call the disease materialism; and architecture and materialism are incompatible.

Illustration from page 77

Not unrelated: Witnesses to Destruction

2 July 2019

Hand in Hand with the Ourang-Outang

Adolph Knigge (1752-1796), Practical Philosophy of Social Life, tr. Peter Will (Lansingburgh: Penniman & Bliss, 1805), p. 107:
Happy eighteenth century, in which such great discoveries are made, — as for instance: that we may learn to read without being acquainted with letters and syllables, and that we may love the whole human race without loving individuals! Century of universal medicines, of philalethes, philanthropists and cosmopolites, whither wilt thou lead us at last? General illumination will spread over all ranks; the husbandman will let his plough stand idle, and read to Princes lectures on liberty and equality, and on their obligation to share the drudgeries of life with him: every one will attempt to reason down all prejudices that stand in his way; laws and civil regulations will be superseded by license; the powerful and the better-instructed will reclaim his right of superiority, and follow his impulse to care for the best of the whole world at the expense of his weaker brethren; property, constitutions and political restrictions will cease to be respected, every one will be his own ruler, and invent a system of his own to gratify his desires. — Oh! happy, golden age! We then shall be but one family, shall press the noble and amiable cannibal to our heart, and, if that general benevolence should spread farther, walk through life hand in hand with the witty and sensible Ourang-Outang. Then all fetters will be broken and all prejudices dispelled. We then shall not be bound to pay the debts of our fathers, nor to be satisfied with one wife, and the lock of our neighbour's strong box will prevent us no longer from making good our innate right to the gold which all-bountiful nature produces for general use. 
The original can be found in Über den Umgang mit Menschen (Frankfurt am Main: Insel Verlag, 1977) on pp. 146-148.

Clint Cast as a Cosmopolite

26 June 2019

Somewhere at the Bottom of One's Mind

Charles Buxton, Notes of Thought  (London: John Murray, 1883), p. 148:
It is puzzling to think where all one's knowledge goes to. You read thousands upon thousands of books, of every sort and kind, and at the end of twenty years they do not rise to the surface in your conversation, or in your capacities, or in your character. You were just as able, and good, and agreeable, at thirty as at fifty. Is there a stratum of useful knowledge deposited somewhere at the bottom of one's mind? and when will it be available? In heaven? Nay, what should we do there with a desultory knowledge of French history and Greek plays!
Rudolf von Alt, The Library of the Palais Lanckoronski (1881)

20 June 2019

Is This Civilization?

Max Ehrmann, "I Look Over This Wilderness," Max Ehrmann's Poems (Terre Haute, Ind.: Viquesney Pub. Co., 1906), p. 55:
I look over this wilderness of monstrous
buildings and this race of hurrying,
careworn, nervous men, whose feet
never touched the cool, budding earth,
and whose souls lie dormant or dead
in their fevered bodies; and I ask,
"O God! is this civilization?"

Better the plain-clad follower of the plow,
who is no man's chattel, and toils
in God's pure air, the witness of
incessant birth of bud and bloom,
and of the sky by day and by night —
lacking ornament — but calm and free.

Théodore Rousseau, Paysage avec un charretier (c. 1861)

18 June 2019

Death Settles All Scores

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, "On Anger," Seneca's Morals, tr. Sir Roger L'Estrange (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1917), pp. 233-234:
Let us bethink ourselves of our mortality, and not squander away the little time that we have upon animosities and feuds, as if it were never to be at an end. Had we not better enjoy the pleasure of our own life than be still contriving how to gall and torment another's, in all our brawlings and contentions never so much as dreaming of our weakness? Do we not know that these implacable enmities of ours lie at the mercy of a fever, or any petty accident, to disappoint? Our fate is at hand, and the very hour that we have set for another man's death may peradventure be prevented by our own. What is it that we make all this bustle for, and so needlessly disquiet our minds? We are offended with our servants, our masters, our princes, our clients: it is but a little patience, and we shall be all of us equal; so that there is no need either of ambushes of or combats. Our wrath cannot go beyond death; and death will most undoubtedly come whether we be peevish or quiet. It is time lost to take pains to do that which will infallibly be done without us.

Todt zum Herzog, illustration from the Basler Totentanz
(Frankfurt: Andreä & Hort, 1725)

14 June 2019

Reading Ruskin

Henry Ward Beecher, Norwood (New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 1868), pp. 222-223:
We were sitting on the door-step one evening, and Miss Rose was questioning her father about some statement of Ruskin's that seemed extravagant. He replied:

"It is extravagant, my dear. Ruskin is full of wildness, and tangles himself up with himself like a vine twisting on itself. You read Ruskin just as you explore a region, finding many treasures and much that you avoid. He has his brier thickets, his contorted trees, his muddy morasses. But, taken as a whole, the landscape is rich and grand. Ruskin is like a forest, on whose edges and in whose depths are many noxious plants — but these bear no proportion to the magnitude of the woods, the grandeur of the trees, and the sublimity, in winter and summer, of the music which the wind draws from their boughs and tops."

Then, turning to me, he said:

"Have you studied Ruskin?"

I replied: "I have read portions — extracts — from his works."

After a pause, he said in a very gentle way, in an undertone, but earnestly:

"My young friend, Ruskin is not to be read in extracts — nor simply read either. You ought to take him as an infection. He should throw you into a fever. The whole system should be pervaded by it. He is like those diseases which renovate the system. Do not try to check it. Let it run its full period. Afterward you will recover well; you will throw off much. You will retain, perhaps, little. But, your whole constitution will be changed. You will observe differently, think differently, reason differently, all the rest of your life."

Hubert von Herkomer, John Ruskin (1879)

10 June 2019

Deutscher Mühlentag

Today is National Mills Day in Germany. Those who speak German may be interested in watching Der Herrgott weiß, was mit uns geschieht, a 1999 documentary about two sisters who owned and operated a water-powered sawmill in Burladingen.

Andreas Achenbach, Die Mühle (1852)

7 June 2019

Books as a Necessity

Stanley Unwin, The Truth About Publishing (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1929), pp 56-57:
Insufficient Sales. — But although I am bound to admit that there are far too many worthless books published, the real problem is not over-production, but under-consumption, or, to be more precise, insufficient sales. Most people have not yet learned to regard books as necessity. They will beg them, they will borrow them, they will do everything, in fact, but buy them. People who would be ashamed to cadge for anything else they wanted, who will unhesitatingly pay 8s. 6d. apiece for a dozen gramophone records, or 12s. 6d. each for stalls at a theatre, will think twice, if not three times, before spending even 5s. upon a book which will last a lifetime. The fact that we in England do not spend on books — per head of population — anything approaching the amount spent by the population of New Zealand, and that, relatively speaking, we have not nearly so many booksellers’ shops, demonstrates that, despite the increase in demand since the war, there is still ample room for expansion. Book-lovers would do well to ignore what is often idle chatter about over-production, and to concentrate attention upon encouraging the new reading public which is growing up around us. For the fact that more and better books are not read, we are all in a measure responsible. It is not the unwanted books that bar the way. It is the lack of early training and the lack of guidance. It is often a lack of knowledge or an absence of realization of the joys of reading and the inexhaustible treasures of English Literature. 

Carl Spitzweg, Der Philosoph (Der Leser im Park)

31 May 2019

The One Thing That Can Not Be Taken

Oswald Spengler, Man and Technics, tr. Charles Francis Atkinson (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1963), pp. 103-104:
Faced as we are with this destiny, there is only one world-outlook that is worthy of us, that which has already been mentioned as the Choice of Achilles — better a short life, full of deeds and glory, than a long life without content. Already the danger is so great, for every individual, every class, every people, that to cherish any illusion whatever is deplorable. Time does not suffer itself to be halted; there is no question of prudent retreat or wise renunciation. Only dreamers believe that there is a way out. Optimism is cowardice.

We are born into this time and must bravely follow the path to the destined end. There is no other way. Our duty is to hold on to the lost position, without hope, without rescue, like that Roman soldier whose bones were found in front of a door in Pompeii, who, during the eruption of Vesuvius, died at his post because they forgot to relieve him. That is greatness. That is what it means to be a thoroughbred. The honourable end is the one thing that can not be taken from a man.

Edward John Poynter, Faithful Unto Death (1865) 

28 May 2019

The Sheep of Panurge

Charles Baudouin, Suggestion and Autosuggestion, tr. Eden and Cedar Paul (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1920), pp. 45-46:
You hear an opinion stated; you are well aware that it is nothing more than an opinion; you have your reserves when you accept it; you intend to look into the matter more closely, to reason about it. At this stage you think the judgments that have been formulated, without believing them in the strict sense of the term. What you have in your mind are not complete judgments, for belief is an integral part of judgment, and here belief is lacking. All that you have is what we may call the "schema" of a judgment, the idea of a judgment (or of that series of judgments which constitutes an opinion).

Time passes, and you no longer think about verification. You even forget the original source of your idea. But one day you are called upon to decide the question, and you discover that your mind is made up; you hold the very opinion which you heard expressed formerly, although you have never had any proof. The ordinary newspaper reader, the man-in-the-street, is continually circulating these "hearsays" without professing any credence in them. Nevertheless the newspaper reader's opinions are based upon the falsehoods he reads in his favourite paper. He does not realise it, but such is the fact. The grain planted in him when he read, has germinated in the subconscious. He has made up his mind, and he believes that his opinion is established upon reason. The ruling class turns this law skilfully to account when it wishes to drive the human "sheep of Panurge" to the slaughter house.

It is a well-known fact that by repeating tales to themselves and to others, people come to believe what they say, and are duped by their own falsehoods.

Alex Colville, Three Sheep (1954)

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)