20 September 2019

We Need Minstrels

Percival Pollard, Masks and Minstrels of New Germany (Boston: J. W. Luce and Co., 1911), p. 26:
We need minstrels, not mechanics. The latter, like weeds, will always flourish. But minstrels — we pretend their day is done, forgetting that some of their songs will live when all our towers of stone and steel are in the likeness of what once was Baalbek. For there is no more wonderful mystery in the world than the handing down from generation to generation, from folk to folk, of songs, of ballads, often even without aid of writing. The singers die; the streets and towns that knew them may be leveled to the dust; only the song survives.
Of course when Pollard speaks of minstrels he is referring to the wandering musicians of medieval Europe, not the other kind...

Lucas van Leyden, The Musicians (1524)

18 September 2019

How to Judge a Book

Jean de La Bruyère, "Of Works of the Mind," The Characters of Jean de La Bruyère, tr. Henri Van Laun (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885), p. 18:
When, after having read a work, loftier thoughts arise in your mind and noble and heartfelt feelings animate you, do not look for any other rule to judge it by; it is fine and written in a masterly manner.

Quand une lecture vous élève l’esprit, et qu’elle vous inspire des sentiments nobles et courageux, ne cherchez pas une autre règle pour juger l’ouvrage; il est bon, et fait de main d’ouvrier.

One of Victor Chevin's illustrations for Les caractères
(Paris: Laplace, Sanchez et Cie, 1839)

13 September 2019

Where You From?

Wendell Berry, interviewed in The New Yorker (July 14, 2019):
Well, part of manners used to be to say to somebody you just met, “Where you from?” And I quit asking it, because so many people say they’re from everywhere or nowhere. 
Homer Watson (1855-1936), Figure on the Road and Farmhouse at Sunset

12 September 2019

One Feels Exactly Like an Old Cab Horse

Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo (s. d.), The Letters of a Post-Impressionist; Being the Familiar Correspondence of Vincent van Gogh, tr. Anthony Ludovici (London: Constable, 1912), p. 97:
In the midst of an artistic life there arises again and again the yearning for real life, which remains an unrealizable ideal. And often enough the desire to devote one’s self completely to art, with ever fresher strength, entirely disappears. One feels exactly like an old cab horse, and one knows that one must always return to the same old shafts when all the while one would so love to live in the fields, in the sun, near the river, in the country, with other horses, also free, and have the right to procreate one’s kind. And I should not be at all surprised if this were whence the heart trouble comes. One offers no resistance, neither does one resign one’s self; the fact is, one is ill; the thing will not go away of its own accord, and yet there is no remedy for it. I really do not know who called the state “a case of death and immortality.”

Vincent van Gogh, Paysage au crépuscule  (1890)

9 September 2019

The Charms of Pedestrianism

John Burroughs, "Winter Sunshine," The Footpath Way; An Anthology For Those Who Travel by Countryside, ed. Alfred H. Hyatt (Edinburgh: T. N. Foulis, 1906), p. 269:
I do not think I exaggerate the importance or the charms of pedestrianism, or our need as a people to cultivate the art. I think it would tend to soften the national manners, to teach us the meaning of leisure, to acquaint us with the charms of the open air, to strengthen and foster the tie between the race and the land. No one else looks out upon the world so kindly and charitably as the pedestrian; no one else gives and takes so much from the country he passes through. Next to the labourer in the fields, the walker holds the closest relation to the soil; and he holds a closer and more vital relation to Nature because he is freer and his mind more at leisure. The roads and paths you have walked along in summer and winter weather, the fields and hills which you have looked upon in lightness and gladness of heart, where fresh thoughts have come into your mind, or some noble prospect has opened before you, and especially the quiet ways where you have walked in sweet converse with your friend, pausing under the trees, drinking at the spring— henceforth they are not the same; a new charm is added; those thoughts spring there perennial, your friend walks there for ever.
Caspar David Friedrich, A Walk at Dusk (c. 1830–1835)

A related post: A Country Walk

4 September 2019

Handling and Reading a Beautiful Book

Henry Howard Harper, The Functions of the Book Club (Cambridge, MA: privately printed at The University Press, 1908), p. 22:
A very common mistake that book clubs make is that many of their books are cumbersome and of irregular and inconvenient size. Sometimes an awkward size results from some necessity, but more often not. The rules of good taste and convenience are frequently violated by setting a large solid page in small type, with insufficient margins, and having twice as many pages as there should be in a volume. It is not quantity that the booklover looks to, — it is quality. More than half the joy of possessing, handling and reading a book is lost to the booklover if the size be of awkward and inconsistent proportions and the pages not properly set and spaced. The pleasure of handling and reading a beautiful book is trivial as compared with the enjoyment of showing it to admiring friends, especially if it's a book that can't be bought in the market. How much it adds to the joy of possession when we can lay out a beautiful book for our friend to feast his eyes upon, knowing all the while (and not forgetting to tell him) that a copy couldn't be bought in the market for love or money! This is not selfishness — it is a permissible heritage of the booklover's pride. 
Hat tip: Jerry Morris in a post on Henry Howard Harper and The Bibliophile Society

A related post: The Elements of a Well-Designed Book


 John Frederick Peto, Still Life with Books and Inkwell (1899)

1 September 2019

Labour Day

Henry David Thoreau, "The Commercial Spirit," (a commencement address given at Harvard 16 August, 1837) quoted in Familiar Letters Henry David Thoreau, ed. F. B. Sanborn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1894), pp. 8-9:
Let men, true to their natures, cultivate the moral affections, lead manly and independent lives; let them make riches the means and not the end of existence, and we shall hear no more of the commercial spirit. The sea will not stagnate, the earth will be as green as ever, and the air as pure. This curious world which we inhabit is more wonderful than it is convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used. The order of things should be somewhat reversed; the seventh should be man's day of toil, wherein to earn his living by the sweat of his brow; and the other six his Sabbath of the affections and the soul, — in which to range this widespread garden, and drink in the soft influences and sublime revelations of Nature.

Charles-François Daubigny, Coucher de soleil sur l'Oise (1866)

26 August 2019

Henri Le Sidaner

I reached the third and final stage of an intellectual labour last month: I finished translating Camille Mauclair's monograph about the Intimist painter Henri Le Sidaner (1862-1939).

The book (casewrap hardcover, medium octavo, 142 pages) contains seventy colour illustrations and is printed on 70 lb. matte white paper; the images are not quite as vivid as they would be on glossy stock, but it seemed a reasonable compromise to keep the price below $40 USD (which is no small feat, even in 1997 dollars).

If any of you, my dear readers (— mes semblables, mes frères, mes sœurs! ) are able to recommend it for purchase at your local public or university library, I would appreciate it very much. The book is distributed by Ingram in North America and by both Gardners and Bertrams in the United Kingdom. The ISBN is 9780981178035.

Individuals can order it from the usual places, including Amazon and The Book Depository. If you live in the Free State of Bavaria, you will even find it at Rupprecht.

I have already posted my favourite passage. Visit Google Books to read a longer sample.

Henri Le Sidaner, Petite table près de la 
rivière au crépuscule. Nemours  (1921) 

21 August 2019

Alphonse Robine

Alphonse Robine (1879-1963) painted watercolours while serving in the trenches with the 202e RI from 1915 to 1917. His family has allowed the Europeana web site to post several of his works under a generous Creative Commons licence.

Alphonse Robine, Petite Poste devant Auberive (1915)

19 August 2019

Marketable Commodities

Vincent Van Gogh to Émile Bernard (s. d.), The Letters of a Post-Impressionist; Being the Familiar Correspondence of Vincent van Gogh, tr. Anthony Ludovici (London: Constable, 1912), pp. 78-79:
If your father had a son who sought and found gold in stones or on the pavement, he would certainly not think lightly of this talent. Well, in my opinion, you possess a talent which is, at least, equally valuable. Your father might deplore the fact that what you found was not brand new and glittering gold, already stamped like the coin of the realm; but he would, nevertheless, collect all your findings and sell them only at a good price. Well, then, that is what he should do with your pictures and drawings, which are just as valuable as marketable commodities as stones or metal; for to paint a picture is just as difficult as to find a small or large diamond. At present the world recognizes the value of a gold piece, or of a genuine pearl. Unfortunately, however, those who paint pictures and those who believe in the painting of pictures, are extremely rare. Still there are a few such people, and in any case we cannot do better than bide our time patiently, even though we have to wait a long while.

Émile Bernard, Autoportrait au vase de fleurs (1897)

31 July 2019

Summer's Revel

Pierre de Ronsard, ­À son laquais
J’ay l’esprit tout ennuyé
D’avoir trop estudié
Les Phenomenes d’Arate :
Il est temps que je m’esbate
Et que j’aille aux champs jouer.
Bons dieux! qui voudroit louer
Ceux qui, collez sur un livre,
N’ont jamais soucy de vivre?

Que nous sert l’estudier,
Sinon de nous ennuyer
Et soing dessus soing accrestre,
A nous qui serons peut-estre,
Ou ce matin, ou ce soir,
Victime de l’orque noir,
De l’orque qui ne pardonne,
Tant il est fier, à personne?

Corydon, marche devant;
Sçache où le bon vin se vend.
Fais après à ma bouteille,
Des feuilles de quelque treille,
Un tapon pour la boucher.
Ne m’achete point de chair,
Car, tant soit-elle friande,
L’esté je hay la viande.

Achete des abricôs,
Des pompons, des artichôs,
Des fraises et de la crème:
C’est en esté ce que j’aime,
Quand, sur le bord d’un ruisseau,
Je les mange au bruit de l’eau,
Estendu sur le rivage
Ou dans un antre sauvage.

Ores que je suis dispos,
Je veux boire sans repos
De peur que la maladie
Un de ces jours ne me die,
Me happant à l’imporveu:
Meurs, gallant, c’est assez beu.
Post title from the English translation here.

I've seen "rire sans repos" instead of "boire sans repos" in some editions — perhaps a bowdlerization, but I'm too lazy to look up the details.

Bust of Ronsard at the Prieuré St-Cosme

23 July 2019

Ulceration, Gangrene, and Decay

Anthony Ludovici in his preface to The Letters of a Post-Impressionist; Being the Familiar Correspondence of Vincent van Gogh (London: Constable, 1912), pp. xxix-xxx:
No healthy people of the world have ever considered youth (I do not mean infancy) in any manifestation of nature, as ugly; because youth is the sure promise of human life and of a multiplication of human life. On the other hand, no healthy people have ever considered ulcers, gangrenous limbs, or decay in any form, as beautiful; because ulceration, gangrene, and decay, are the end of human life and the reduction of it.
Piero Manzoni, Merda d'artista (1961)

19 July 2019

The Habit of Study

Richard McCambly, OCSO, "On Aging," an essay posted to the Lectio Divina web site:
Just six months before his death at the ripe age of ninety-five he [a fellow monk] decided to take up German for reading knowledge as well as Koine Greek in order to access the New Testament in the original. That’s impressive by any standard. Several younger monks used to shuttle between his room and the library taking out this book and that. When one of these monks asked what drove him, his response? The day wasn’t long enough to do all he wanted. All the while he was engaged in some kind of activity tucked away from the sight of most people. Obviously this monk was in class by himself compared with other infirmary residents. He provided a cautionary tale: if you don’t start studying early, you won’t do it later in life, especially when no one is around to hold your hand. Study gets you through the inevitable dryness and boredom of prayer and the occasional monotony of lectio divina. No small wonder study is the unsung hidden asset of a monk’s life. While most people says that nothing excels prayer and lectio, study is a firm rudder which keeps you from drifting off into an uninformed piety.

Detail from one of the panels in the
Cabinet des pères du désert

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)