12 November 2019

Sounding the Depths

John Alfred Spender, The Comments of Bagshot (London: J. M. Dent, 1914), p. 30:
It is necessary to fathom one's ignorance on one subject in order to discover how little one knows on other subjects.

Illustration from Sebastian Brant's Ship of Fools
Hat tip: Stepan Chizhov at iBookBinding.com

6 November 2019

Maurice Utrillo at Mont Saint-Michel

From my soon-to-be-published translation of Gustave Coquiot's Maurice Utrillo (Paris: André Delpeuch, 1925), pp. 106-107:
If Utrillo loved Mont Saint-Michel in a beautiful way, others have done the opposite and polluted it terribly. The tourists, the endless stream of engaged couples and newlyweds on their honeymoons — they have disturbed it with their laughter, their shouts, their rumbling digestion, their omelettes from Mère Poulard’s, and their moonlight embraces. All the cinema operators, movie directors, producers, and cameramen, they too have made a mockery of this holy place, trivialized and ridiculed it! A whole crowd of boors, eunuchs, and idiots have swarmed the old convent, fortress, and the dungeon that is still haunted by the ghost of Louis-Auguste Blanqui. Alas, there is no way to prevent it. Dogs are always on the lookout for high walls so that they can piss at their feet.
I have only been able to find one picture online that Utrillo painted at Mont Saint-Michel. As it happens, it is up for sale at Sotheby's next week:

Maurice Utrillo, Le Mont Saint-Michel (1922)

4 November 2019

The Contract Between Artist and Public

Camille Mauclair, Henri Le Sidaner (Paris: Georges Petit & Henri Floury, 1928), p. 192 (from my recently-published translation):
Believability has always been the necessary condition for an exchange of understanding and emotion between the artist, his work, and the public. If a picture does not remain believable — even if it is obviously interpreted along certain predefined lines — and if a creator declares that he alone possesses the absolute right to understand his thoughts while at the same time he persists in looking for validation from others (for he does, after all, exhibit his works), then the terms of the natural contract have been broken. We cannot replicate life literally, nor is it desirable that we should do so; all the images we assemble are arbitrary in that they remain approximations — it is a question of whether they are approximations to a greater or a lesser degree — but when the artist leads us somewhere, we must always be able to believe the scene and breathe the air. Without this, the work will be childishly incomprehensible no matter how profound a meaning it is supposed to contain.

Barnett Newman, Voice of Fire (1967)

Related posts:

  • The Genesis of Modernism
  • Incurable Uneasiness
  • High-Priests of the Unutterable
  • Fraud
  • 26 October 2019

    Silent Friends

    Robert Milne Williamson, Bits From an Old Book Shop (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1904), p. 30:
    The pleasure derived from collecting books is a pleasure that never palls; a joy for ever. Once a lover always a lover, is a true saying when applied to a lover of books. As old age draws near, the man who has found his delight in athletic sports is unable to indulge his taste, but the lover of books can find a solace and joy in the companionship of his silent friends which increase as the years go round.

    Ferdinand Hodler, Lesender Pfarrer (1885)

    21 October 2019

    A Daily Exhortation

    Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.5 (tr. George Chrystal):
    Be sincere, be dignified, be painstaking; scorn pleasure, repine not at fate, need little; be kind and frank; love not exaggeration and vain talk; strive after greatness.

    Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Capitoline Museums
    Image credit to rjhuttondfw on Flickr

    16 October 2019

    The Manners of an Unhousebroken Mutt

    Ernst Jünger's translator Hilary Barr replies to Ian Buruma, The New York Review of Books (December 16, 1993):
    Quite apart from the many instances of intellectual fraud, Mr. Buruma is guilty of treacherously abusing the Jüngers’ hospitality. Pretending to be an admirer, he gained access to Ernst Jünger for an interview, then performed a hatchet job on him. His cruel personal caricatures of his host and hostess, where he describes them as “barking” and “snorting,” are particularly noisome. Indeed, Buruma displays the manners of an unhousebroken mutt.

    Ernst Jünger writes in On the Marble Cliffs: “Tief ist der Haß, der in den niederen Herzen dem Schönen gegenüber brennt.” (Deep is the hatred that burns in base hearts in the presence of beauty.)
    Rudolf Schlichter, Ernst Jünger (1937)

    7 October 2019

    They Had Everything but Money

    Wendell Berry, "The Work of Local Culture," What Matters? (Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2010), pp. 144-145:
    I was walking one Sunday afternoon several years ago with an older friend. We went by the ruining log house that had belonged to his grandparents and great-grandparents. The house stirred my friend's memory, and he told how the oldtime people used to visit each other in the evenings, especially in the long evenings of winter. There used to be a sort of institution in our part of the country known as "sitting till bedtime." After supper, when they weren't too tired, neighbors would walk across the fields to visit each other. They popped corn, my friend said, and ate apples and talked. They told each other stories. They told each other stories, as I knew myself, that they had all heard before. Sometimes they told stories about each other, about themselves, living again in their own memories, and thus keeping their memories alive. Among the hearers of these stories were always the children. When bedtime came, the visitors lit their lanterns and went home. My friend talked about this, and thought about it, and then he said, "They had everything but money."

    They were poor, as country people often have been, but they had each other, they had their local economy in which they helped each other, they had each other's comfort when they needed it, and they had their stories, their history together in that place. To have everything but money is to have much. And most people of the present can only marvel to think of neighbors entertaining themselves for a whole evening without a single imported pleasure and without listening to a single minute of sales talk.

    William Kuralek, After Church During Indian Summer (1976)

    4 October 2019

    Highly Speculative Work

    Stanley Unwin, The Truth About Publishing (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1929), pp. 312-313:
    The publication of translations is highly speculative, much more so than the publication of an original work, because there are in effect two authors to pay instead of one, and both, as a rule, call for immediate payment and are unable or unwilling to let their remuneration depend upon the result. Foreign authors and publishers who have heard of the wonderful sales of some particular translated book are apt to have the most fantastic ideas of the value of the English translation rights, and if the word “America” is breathed, I have known foreign publishers name a figure for which one would think they would be pleased to sell their whole business. Even twenty years ago, translation rights were almost invariably sold for a small lump sum; to-day the most impossible royalties are asked. Probably the fairest plan to both parties is a lump sum for a definite number of copies with a royalty thereafter. It would seem to be clear that if a royalty is granted from the start, it should only be a proportion of what would be paid for an original work. In other words, there is no justification for paying a foreign author plus a translator more than would be paid for a corresponding work by an English author. This sounds obvious, but one constantly encounters publishers (American publishers in particular) who in the same breath admit that they cannot afford more than 10 per cent, royalty for a work by an unknown writer, and that they have just agreed to pay 10 per cent, for some translation rights of a work by an author of whom few people have ever heard. They seem oblivious of the fact that by the time they have paid the translator they are probably paying the equivalent of 20 per cent, for authorship. One such publisher recently admitted to me that he had never yet made any money on translations. I am afraid he never will.

    Georg Friedrich Kersting, Der elegante Leser (1812)

    1 October 2019

    Resist Your Time

    Lord Acton, Essays in Religion, Politics, and Morality: Selected Writings of Lord Acton, Vol. 3 (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1988), p. 620:
    "Resist your time — take a foothold outside it — see other times and ask yourself whether the time of our ancestors is fit for us."

    Ferdinand Hodler, Spaziergänger im Wald (1885)

    25 September 2019

    Fifteen Minutes a Day

    Charles William Eliot, quoted in the introduction to the The Delphian Course of Reading (Chicago: The Delphian Society, 1913), pp. x-xi:
    Do we not all know many people who seem to live in a mental vacuum — to whom, indeed, we have great difficulty in attributing immortality, because they apparently have so little life except that of the body? Fifteen minutes a day of good reading would have given any one of this multitude a really human life.

    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)