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:

4 March 2019

The Knowledge of Words

 John Earle, English Prose; Its Elements, History, and Usage (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1890), p. 34:
The knowledge of words in their mental incidence and artistic effect is something that must be gained slowly by long experience, because it is numerically extensive, it is multitudinous, it is not capable of being reduced to heads or rules, but must depend upon the stores of memory, and the culture of the perceptive faculty. Hence the need of constant acquaintance and familiarity with the best authors.

A page from Earle's "Table of Trilogies"

22 February 2019

Der Letzte Mensch

Thomas Sergeant Perry, from a review of Nietzsche's Untimely Meditations, in the North American Review (July 1875), quoted by Stephen Donadio, Nietzsche, Henry James, and the Artistic Will (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 19:
If anything is suggested to us, instead of trying to do it, we feel our pulses, look at our tongues, and write accounts of the way the proposal affects us. We have become self-conscious to an extent which was unknown to our ancestors; we demoralize ourselves and those about us by looking at everything in an ironical spirit.
Lilla Cabot Perry, Thomas Sergeant Perry  (1889)

20 February 2019

The Elements of a Well-Designed Book

Hugh Williamson, Methods of Book Design (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), pp. 378-379:
A book is to be sold. The designer’s task is not so much to settle the price as to make the best use of the permissible manufacturing expense, planning the book for economical production, and exploiting to the full the techniques and materials available at the stipulated price. The book must attract the buyer, and be worth possessing as a physical object, not merely worth borrowing; its price must be within the buyer’s reach, and its appearance and construction should make the price a bargain. The requirements not only of ordinary readers but of booksellers and librarians must be allowed to influence its form.

A book is to be laid open, held, and carried. All but a few books are held while being read, and most books are carried about to some extent before and after reading. No book can be considered legible unless it lies flat when open; it should not have to be held open. The printed part of the pages at which the book is opened should be nearly level, not curving inwards towards the spine. Bulk should be proportionate to format, as far as possible; the very squat, stout book is as inconvenient to hold as the very large thin book. Every book should be designed to withstand whatever handling it may receive without unduly rapid deterioration.

A book is to be seen — of course it is to be read, but it is also to be looked at. It must be capable of being read with ease, speed, and accuracy by the reader and in the conditions for which it is intended. This can be achieved only by the precise adjustment to each other of all the variables of the text page, and is a matter of paper and presswork as well as of typographic arrangement. Illustrations no less than composition need to be planned by the typographer. The well-designed book presents an appearance of pattern and purpose; all its parts are planned to suit each other. The typographer must concern himself with the mental as with the optical process of reading, and must arrange the text and illustrations with their headings, notes, reference systems, and other accessories in a clear and convenient manner.

A book is to be kept. After being read it is set aside, usually on a shelf, to be read again one day. The book should if possible be of a size to stand between ordinary bookshelves; particularly large books are apt to be a nuisance. Once it is on the shelf the book should be able to stay there indefinitely without undue deterioration, retaining its qualities until its next use.

 François Bonvin, Still Life with Book, Papers, and Inkwell  (1876)

14 February 2019

The Windows and the Stars Illumined

Henri Le Sidaner, Les Faubourgs (1909)

This cityscape is unusual for an Intimist painter like Le Sidaner, but I'm quite fond of it; I look at the lit windows and rising smoke, and think of Baudelaire's poem "Landscape," from The Flowers of Evil, tr. George Dillon (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1936):
I want to write a book of chaste and simple verse,
Sleep in an attic, like the old astrologers,
Up near the sky, and hear upon the morning air
The tolling of the bells. I want to sit and stare,
My chin in my two hands, out on the humming shops,
The weathervanes, the chimneys, and the steepletops
That rise like masts above the city, straight and tall,
And the mysterious big heavens over all.
I want to watch the blue mist of the night come on,
The windows and the stars illumined, one by one,
The rivers of dark smoke pour upward lazily,
And the moon rise and turn them silver. I shall see
The springs, the summers, and the autumns slowly pass;
And when old Winter puts his blank face to the glass,
I shall close all my shutters, pull the curtains tight,
And build me stately palaces by candlelight.
And I shall dream of luxuries beyond surmise,
Gardens that are a stairway into azure skies,
Fountains that weep in alabaster, birds that sing
All day — of every childish and idyllic thing.
A revolution thundering in the street below
Will never lure me from my task, I shall be so
Lost in that quiet ecstasy, the keenest still,
Of calling back the springtime at my own free will,
Of feeling a sun rise within me, fierce and hot,
And make a whole bright landscape of my burning thought.

Paysage

Je veux, pour composer chastement mes églogues,
Coucher auprès du ciel, comme les astrologues,
Et, voisin des clochers écouter en rêvant
Leurs hymnes solennels emportés par le vent.
Les deux mains au menton, du haut de ma mansarde,
Je verrai l'atelier qui chante et qui bavarde;
Les tuyaux, les clochers, ces mâts de la cité,
Et les grands ciels qui font rêver d'éternité.
II est doux, à travers les brumes, de voir naître
L'étoile dans l'azur, la lampe à la fenêtre
Les fleuves de charbon monter au firmament
Et la lune verser son pâle enchantement.
Je verrai les printemps, les étés, les automnes;
Et quand viendra l'hiver aux neiges monotones,
Je fermerai partout portières et volets
Pour bâtir dans la nuit mes féeriques palais.
Alors je rêverai des horizons bleuâtres,
Des jardins, des jets d'eau pleurant dans les albâtres,
Des baisers, des oiseaux chantant soir et matin,
Et tout ce que l'Idylle a de plus enfantin.
L'Emeute, tempêtant vainement à ma vitre,
Ne fera pas lever mon front de mon pupitre;
Car je serai plongé dans cette volupté
D'évoquer le Printemps avec ma volonté,
De tirer un soleil de mon coeur, et de faire
De mes pensers brûlants une tiède atmosphère.

8 February 2019

Quite Satisfied

George Herbert Powell, Reminiscences and Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers (London: R Brimley Johnson, 1903), pp. 281-282:
When asked why he had written so little, Porson replied, "I doubt if I could produce any original work which would command the attention of posterity. I can be known only by my notes: and I am quite satisfied if, three hundred years hence, it shall be said that 'one Person lived towards the close of the eighteenth century, who did a good deal for the text of Euripides.' "  
Thomas Kirkby, Richard Porson (c. 1805)

5 February 2019

I Used to Be Angry Every Day

Epictetus, Discourses (Book II, Chapter XVII), tr. W. A. Oldfather (London: Heinemann, 1931 = Loeb Classical Library, 131), p. 353:
Certain imprints and weals are left behind on the mind, and unless a man erases them perfectly, the next time he is scourged upon the old scars, he has weals no longer but wounds. If, therefore, you wish not to be hot-tempered, do not feed your habit, set before it nothing on which it can grow. As the first step, keep quiet and count the days on which you have not been angry. "I used to be angry every day, after that every other day, then every third, and then every fourth day." If you go as much as thirty days without a fit of anger, sacrifice to God. For the habit is first weakened and then utterly destroyed.
I broke my resolution and read a newspaper yesterday, with predictable results; the count to thirty days without a fit of anger begins once again.

Not unrelated: Keep Apart

The frontispiece to Edward Ivie’s translation of the Enchiridion
(Oxford: Henry Clements at the Sheldonian Theatre, 1715)

2 February 2019

Spiritual Affinities

Edwin Hubbell Chapin, The Crown of Thorns: A Token for the Sorrowing (Boston: A. Tomkins, 1860), pp. 201-203:
We take up some wise and virtuous book, and enter into the author's mind. Seas separate us from him, — he knows us not; he never hears our names. But have we not a close relation to him? Is there not a strong bond of spiritual communion between us? Nay, may not the intercourse we thus have with him be better and truer than any which we could have from actual contact, — from local acquaintance? Then, some icy barrier of etiquette might separate us, — some coldness of temperament upon his part, — some spleen or disease; we might be shocked by some temporary deformity; some little imperfection might betray itself. But here, in his book, which we read three thousand miles away from him, we receive his noblest thoughts, — his best spiritual revelations; and we know him, and commune with him most intimately, not through local but through spiritual affinities.

And how pleasing is the thought that not even death interrupts this relation. Years, as well as miles — ages may separate us from the great and good man; but we hold with him still that living communion of the spirit. Our best life may flow to us from this communion. Some of our richest spiritual treasures have been deposited in this intercourse of thought. Some of our noblest hopes and resolutions have been animated by those whose lips have long since been sealed, — whose very monuments have crumbled.
Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Reverie: Far Away Thoughts (1874)

23 January 2019

A Fanatical Grievance

Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements  (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951):
§75

Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both.

An engraving after Charles Le Brun (1765), via The Met

18 January 2019

The Labors of Man That Are Great

Francis Jammes, "These Are the Labors," Selected Poems of Francis Jammes, tr. Barry Gifford and Bettina Dickie (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1976), pp. 56-57:
These are the labors...

These are the labors of man that are great:
he who puts milk in the wooden vessels,
he who gathers wheat-ears sharp and straight,
he who herds cattle near fresh alders,
he who bleeds birches in the forests,
he who twists willows near rushing brooks,
he who mends old shoes
near a dark hearth, an old mangy cat,
a sleeping blackbird and happy children;
he whose weaving makes a steady sound,
when at midnight the crickets sing shrilly;
he who bakes bread, he who makes wine,
he who sows garlic and cabbages in the garden,
he who gathers warm eggs.

François Bonvin, Nature morte à la bouilloire (1883)

Ce sont les travaux...

Ce sont les travaux de l'homme qui sont grands:
celui qui met le lait dans les vases de bois,
celui qui cueille les épis de blé piquants et droits,
celui qui garde les vaches près des aulnes frais,
celui qui fait saigner les bouleaux des forêts,
celui qui tord, près des ruisseaux vifs, les osiers,
celui qui raccommode les vieux souliers
près d'un foyer obscur, d'un vieux chat galeux,
d'un merle qui dort et des enfants heureux ;
celui qui tisse et fait un bruit retombant,
lorsque à minuit les grillons chantent aigrement ;
celui qui fait le pain, celui qui fait le vin,
celui qui sème l'ail et les choux au jardin,
celui qui recueille les oeufs tièdes.

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.”
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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.

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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

25 October 2018

Noli Me Tangere

"The Groans of the Museum," The London Mercury, Vol. XIX, No. 114 (April 1929), pp. 228-229:
An MP has been suggesting, by means of a question, that the British Museum should be given powers to destroy such of its printed rubbish as nobody, in the future, can conceivably wish to consult. It certainly is terrifying to contemplate the great daily inflow into Bloomsbury, and Hendon via Bloomsbury, of books, pamphlets, leaflets, magazines, newspapers, and music: and to imagine how elaborate the system of classification and storage will have to be in the future if the student of 2129 is to be entitled to expect, at brief notice, to be brought this year’s file of the Bulletins of the Large Black Pig Society or a complete collection of the published opuscula of Clapham and Dwyer.

Surely, surely, exclaims the rebellious heart in us, something can be spared : surely there must be  at least a portion of the "literature" which pours into the Museum which might be quietly put into the furnace at once, in the certainty that from now until Doomsday not one single human being, however eccentric  or erudite, could possibly ask for any of it. Yet the difficulties leap to the  eye the moment one observes the categories which the Hon. Member suggests contain material suitable for destruction. One that he specifies is "old comic songs." Yet one man’s "old comic song" is another man’s meat. We ourselves are intimately acquainted with an anthologist who spent precious days at the Museum searching through the yellowing backnumbers of Messrs. Francis, Day, and Hunter’s publications and those of their predecessors; finding in them certain things he thought worth reprinting as well as a good deal of light upon the tastes and manners of our fathers and grandfathers. Skip a century or two. Imagine that music-halls had flourished in Chaucer’s day or Shakespeare’s, and that a few volumes of the ditties they provided were suddenly brought to light by those relentless excavators, the Death Duties! What a to-do! What excitement! What competition! What eagerness to study and to edit on the part of all the gravest and greyest Professors in England, America and Germany, a host of persons to whom the strains and words of I Wanna Go Back to the Gobi and My Sweetie Is So Blue are completely unknown! The Museum is not yet bursting, and the bowels of the earth are deep. Let us leave "Noli me Tangere" above its portals and pass this risky job of selection on to our successors.

23 October 2018

Eternal Recurrence

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Quest of Happiness (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1897), pp. 184-185:
Would you consent to live your own life over again, exactly as you have lived, and in every particular? This is very different from having the experience of a second and different human life with all its freshness of interest. Is any one willing to go through his own life again as a conscientious reader will study a classical author for a second time, without omitting a single word? The willingness to do this is extremely rare, but there are instances of it. One of my friends told his eldest son at the age of eighty, that if it were offered to him to live over again exactly as he had lived he would gladly accept the offer. The reader probably supposes that this man's existence had been peculiarly exempt from evils. On the contrary, he had known some of the worst evils that can possibly happen to humanity. He had been utterly ruined both in purse and health, though he afterwards prospered and recovered. After a happy marriage he had known the long, sad solitude of the widower. He had been overburdened with family charges, both in his own house and out of it. The intensity of intolerable anxiety had brought on paralysis. His home life had been poisoned by the dread of famine, and his business life by the shadow of impending bankruptcy. Yet he would have gone through it all again for the pleasure of living once more the earlier and the later happy days! 
A related post: Do You Like This Idea?

16 October 2018

Is the Gamble Worthwhile?

Harvey Miller, "Phaidon and the Business of Art Book Publishing: 1923-1967," Visual Resources, Vol. XV (1999), pp. 343-353 (at pp. 344-345):
Publishers usually set the price of a book by multiplying the unit cost by a factor — it is at least three, but may be as high as eight or ten, depending on the nature of the book, to allow for booksellers' discount, selling and distribution costs and production and editorial overhead costs. [Phaidon founder Béla] Horovitz had a different approach — the disaster theory. He reasoned somewhat as follows: If I set the price of the book at a popular level, and it is very good value I shall sell many scores of thousands. What would happen if there were a disaster and my estimate of sales were wrong? I would still sell some books, since they are good books. I would lose some money. Can I stand that loss? But if I am right I have established a book that will become a standard, and will be reprinted time and time again. Is the gamble worthwhile? What can I do to make the book more attractive, and more saleable?

Only a small independent publisher, who stands to gain or lose on his decision, can reason in this way. Modern publishing conglomerates with committees and specialized functions, find it difficult to apply this type of reasoning although, of course, they do try.

15 October 2018

There Are Abysses in Those Words

Alice Meynell, "An Article on Particles,"  The London Mercury, Vol. 1, No. 1 (November 1918), pp. 71-72:
There is nothing in English that we should prize more dearly than our right to negative particles of both derivations, and especially our particle of German derivation in its right Teutonic place. That "un" implies, encloses so much, denies so much, refuses so much, point-blank, with a tragic irony that French, for example, can hardly compass. Compare our all-significant "unloved," "unforgiven," with any phrase of French. There are abysses, in those words, at our summons, deep calling to deep, dreadful or tender passion, the thing and its undoing locked together, grappled.

4 October 2018

Thanksgiving

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, "Of Benefits," Seneca's Morals, tr. Sir Roger L'Estrange (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1917), p. 58:
We can be thankful to a friend for a few acres, or a little money: and yet for the freedom and command of the whole earth, and for the great benefits of our being, as life, health, and reason, we look upon ourselves as under no obligation. If a man bestows upon us a house that is delicately beautified with paintings, statues, gildings, and marble, we make a mighty business of it, and yet it lies at the mercy of a puff of wind, the snuff of a candle, and a hundred other accidents, to lay it in the dust. And is it nothing now to sleep under the canopy of heaven, where we have the globe of the earth for our place of repose, and the glories of the heavens for our spectacle? How comes it that we should so much value what we have, and yet at the same time be so unthankful for it? Whence is it that we have our breath, the comforts of light and of heat, the very blood that runs in our veins? the cattle that feed us, and the fruits of the earth that feed them? Whence have we the growth of our bodies, the succession of our ages, and the faculties of our minds? so many veins of metals, quarries of marble, etc. The seed of everything is in itself, and it is the blessing of God that raises it out of the dark into act and motion. To say nothing of the charming varieties of music, beautiful objects, delicious provisions for the palate, exquisite perfumes, which are cast in, over and above, to the common necessities of our being.

30 September 2018

When Your Time's Up

Epictetus, Discourses, Book IV, Chapter X, tr. George Long (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1904), p. 359:
What then do you wish to be doing when you are found by death? I, for my part, would wish to be found doing something which belongs to a man, beneficent, suitable to the general interest, noble. But if I cannot be found doing things so great, I would be found doing at least that which I cannot be hindered from doing, that which is permitted me to do, correcting myself, cultivating the faculty which makes use of appearances, laboring at freedom from the affects (laboring at tranquility of mind); rendering to the relations of life their due.
Cf. Euripides and Camus on the subject.

Alfred Rethel, Der Tod als Würger (c. 1847)

25 September 2018

Venerating the Machine

Joost Meerloo, The Rape of the Mind (Cleveland: The World Publishing Co., 1956), pp. 210-11:
What is the ultimate result of technical progress? Does it drive people more and more to the fear and despair brought on by a love-empty push-button world? Does it create a megalomaniac happiness won by remote control of other people? Does it deliver people to the unsatisfying emptiness of leisure hours filled with boredom? Is the ultimate result living by proxy, experiencing the world only from the movie or television screen, instead of living and laboring and creating one’s own?
Id., p. 212:
One of the fallacies of modern technique is its direction toward greater efficiency. With less energy, more has to be produced. This principle may be right for the machine, but is not true for the human organism. In order to become strong and to remain strong, man has to learn to overcome resistances, to face challenges, and to test himself again and again. Luxury causes mental and physical atrophy.
Id., p. 215:
The assembly line alienates man from his work, from the product of his own labor. No longer does man produce the things man needs; the machine produces for him. Engineers and scientists tell us that in the near future automation — running factories without human help — will become a reality, and human labor and the human being himself will become almost completely superfluous. How can man have self-esteem when he becomes the most expendable part of his world? The ethical and moral values which are the foundation of the democratic society are based on the view that human life and human welfare are the earth’s greatest good. But in a society in which the machine takes over completely, all our traditional values can be destroyed. In venerating the machine, we denigrate ourselves; we begin to believe that might makes right, that the human being has no intrinsic worth, and that life itself is only a part of a greater technical and chemical thought process.


Related posts:

21 September 2018

Hockey Night in Canada

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, tr. R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, Vol. I, Book IV (London: Trübner & Co., 1883), p. 404:
The striving after existence is what occupies all living things and maintains them in motion. But when existence is assured, then they know not what to do with it; thus the second thing that sets them in motion is the effort to get free from the burden of existence, to make it cease to be felt, “to kill time,” i.e., to escape from ennui. Accordingly we see that almost all men who are secure from want and care, now that at last they have thrown off all other burdens, become a burden to themselves, and regard as a gain every hour they succeed in getting through; and thus every diminution of the very life which, till then, they have employed all their powers to maintain as long as possible. Ennui is by no means an evil to be lightly esteemed; in the end it depicts on the countenance real despair. It makes beings who love each other so little as men do, seek each other eagerly, and thus becomes the source of social intercourse. Moreover, even from motives of policy, public precautions are everywhere taken against it, as against other universal calamities. For this evil may drive men to the greatest excesses, just as much as its opposite extreme, famine: the people require panem et circenses
Cf. Robert Edelman, "Historians, Authoritarian States and Spectator Sport, 1880-2020," The Palgrave Handbook of Mass Dictatorship, ed. Paul Corner and Jie-Hyun Lim (London: Macmillan, 2016), p. 195:
Over time, it became a cliché to claim spectator sport fostered such [social] cohesion by functioning as a “safety valve” — a harmless way of releasing dangerous pent-up aggression. The athlete was said to act out the anger, rage and frustration sports fans experienced as part of their own mundane daily existences. Watching sport provided a vicarious experience through which members of the public sought to compensate for the inadequacies and hurts of their own lives. A more sophisticated version of this approach was later offered by the German emigré sociologist, Norbert Elias. For him, sporting contests replicated the excitement of battles but did so in the context of rules that limited the violence of war: “spectators at a foot ball match may savor the mimetic excitement of the battle swaying to and fro on the playing field, knowing that no harm will come to the players and themselves.” Elias, who saw modern sport as part of the civilizing process that limited the violence of earlier eras, argued the excitement of watching such contests could be “liberating” and have a “cathartic effect” which could “counterbalance the stress tensions of  ...non-leisure life”. 
A related post: Football and Beer 

18 September 2018

Twilight Mania

Charles Baudelaire, "Evening Twilight," Baudelaire; His Prose and Poetry, tr. T. R. Smith (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919), p. 50:
Twilight excites madmen. I remember I had two friends whom twilight made quite ill. One of them lost all sense of social and friendly amenities, and flew at the first-comer like a savage. I have seen him throw at the waiter's head an excellent chicken, in which he imagined he had discovered some insulting hieroglyph. Evening, harbinger of profound delights, spoilt for him the most succulent things.

The other, a prey to disappointed ambition, turned gradually, as the daylight dwindled, sourer, more gloomy, more nettlesome. Indulgent and sociable during the day, he was pitiless in the evening; and it was not only on others, but on himself, that he vented the rage of his twilight mania. 

Louis Anquetin, Avenue de Clichy (1887)


The original, from Le Spleen de Paris (Paris: Émile Paul, 1917), p. 71:
Le crépuscule excite les fous. — Je me souviens que j’ai eu deux amis que le crépuscule rendait tout malades. L’un méconnaissait alors tous les rapports d’amitié et de politesse, et maltraitait, comme un sauvage, le premier venu. Je l’ai vu jeter à la tête d’un maître d’hôtel un excellent poulet, dans lequel il croyait voir je ne sais quel insultant hiéroglyphe. Le soir, précurseur des voluptés profondes, lui gâtait les choses les plus succulentes.

L’autre, un ambitieux blessé, devenait, à mesure que le jour baissait, plus aigre, plus sombre, plus taquin. Indulgent et sociable encore pendant la journée, il était impitoyable le soir ; et ce n’était pas seulement sur autrui, mais aussi sur lui-même, que s’exerçait rageusement sa manie crépusculeuse.

12 September 2018

The Liberal Arts

Robert Maynard Hutchins, "The Great Conversation," a preface to the The Great Books of the Western World, Vol. I (Chicago: Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1923), pp. 13-14:
The aim of liberal education is human excellence, both private and public (for man is a political animal). Its object is the excellence of man as man and man as citizen. It regards man as an end, not as a means; and it regards the ends of life, and not the means to it. For this reason it is the education of free men. Other types of education or training treat men as means to some other end, or at best concerned with the means of life, with earning a living, and not with its ends.
Id., p. 15:
The liberal arts are not merely indispensable; they are unavoidable. Nobody can decide for himself whether he is going to be a human being. The only question open to him is whether he will be an ignorant, undeveloped one or one who has sought to reach the highest point he is capable of attaining. The question, in short, is whether he will be a poor liberal artist or a good one.
A related post: Once Upon a Time

7 September 2018

Not Necessarily a Cheerful Man

Arthur Compton Rickett, The Vagabond in Literature (London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1906), pp. 31-32:
Taken on the whole, the English literary Vagabond is a man of joy, not necessarily a cheerful man. There is a deeper quality about joy than about cheerfulness. Cheerfulness indeed is almost entirely a physical idiosyncrasy. It lies on the surface. A man, serious and silent, may be a joyful man; he can scarcely be a cheerful man. Moody as he was at times, sour-tempered and whimsical as he could be, yet there was a fine quality of joy about Hazlitt. It is this quality of joy that gives the sparkle and relish to his essays. He took the same joy in his books as in his walks, and he communicates this joy to the reader. He appears misanthropic at times, and rages violently at the world; but ’tis merely a passing gust of feeling, and when over, it is easy to see how superficial it was, so little is his general attitude affected by it.

The joyfulness of the Vagabond is no mere light-hearted, graceful spirit. It is of a hardy and virile nature — a quality not to be crushed by misfortune or sickness. Outwardly, neither the lives of Hazlitt nor De Quincey were what we would call happy. Both had to fight hard against adverse fates for many years; both had delicate constitutions, which entailed weary and protracted periods of feeble health.

But there was a fundamental serenity about them. At the end of a hard and fruitless struggle with death, Hazlitt murmured, “Well, I’ve had a happy life.” De Quincey at the close of his long and varied life showed the same tranquil stoicism that had carried him through his many difficulties.

Gustave Courbet, Le Vagabond (1845)

5 September 2018

4 September 2018

Recipe for Success

Wormwood, "Advice to Young Artists," The Art Union, I (October 1884), 180:
A true, earnest, independent, manly pursuit of art, for the love of it, is in the nature of serving God, and has no place in your creed. You are to seek the favor of your fellow mortals, and of them expect your reward. Make little effort to win the approval of the true and noble of earth, for they are few and without influence; also, they may divine your real character, and so you needlessly augment their contempt for you. You are to systematically suppress all emotions men call generous, only simulate them when occasion requires. You shall flatter the coarse vanity of the rich, defer to the absurd opinions of the powerful, cringe to those in authority and never give unnecessary offence to any, for there are none devoid of influence which sooner or later may be felt.