21 May 2020

Death of a Bookman

Death of a Book-Lover, an engraving by Johann Rudolf Schellenberg, in Johann Karl August Musäus, Freund Heins Erscheinungen in Holbeins Manier (Winterthur: Heinrich Steiner und Comp., 1785), p. 134:



Hat tip: The German Museum of Books and Writing

20 May 2020

Die Bücherstube

Heidelberg University library has digitized the 1922/1923 edition of Die Bücherstube, a journal for bibliophiles. It contains a number of interesting things, including a piece about the bibliomaniac Johann Georg Tinius and an essay by Willy Wiegand on typography and the Bremer Presse. If I had the time I would translate both of them...



Aside: I see that the Bremer Presse typeface has been revived.

12 May 2020

A Withering of the Spirit

Harris Athanasiadis, George Grant and the Theology of the Cross (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), p. 56:
It is true that there is a good side to the mass society. There is unprecedented surplus wealth, which has led to an ease in earning a living for more people than ever before. This is in contrast to the back-breaking labour that has marked previous centuries. With this ease comes greater leisure time. But have human beings cultivated the knowledge of what is worth doing with their leisure time? Not really. The growth in cheap and vulgar sensuality is also a sign of the times.

Moreover, there is a price to be paid for a mass society in terms of community. The old rural, agricultural, and commercial communities have been swept away by the growth of cities. With large cities come alienation, loneliness, and frustration for the masses. With migration to cities also comes uprootedness and the formation of new communities with no past. This leads to a withering of spirit. Furthermore, new forms of industrial labour require little skill or thought by workers, who are like cogs in a large mechanism. With uncreative and meaningless work also comes a withering of the spirit.

Grant Wood, Vegetable Farm (1924)

5 May 2020

They Cram His Unwilling Maw

Herbert Read, "George Saintsbury," A Coat of Many Colours (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1945), pp. 199-200:
There can scarcely be a critic or student of literature today, in this country or in America, who has not benefited liberally from such books as the History of Criticism, the History of English Prosody and the History of English Prose Rhythm. But these works are not in any real sense criticism; nominally they are historical, and even as history they should be further qualified as surveys rather than as investigations. The latter type of history implies a very limited field, and very deep burrowing; Saintsbury skimmed over the surface of received facts, marshalled them and ordered them, in some sense masticated them for less voracious readers. His books will probably be used as manual by several generations of undergraduates; for official education such as it is, they are perfect instruments. They guide the student down tidy paths, they cram his unwilling maw with the fruit of knowledge, they lead him inevitably into the wilderness of satiety. They communicate a sense of the author's enormous gusto.
I am sorry to say that I was not assigned, nor did I read, any of Saintsbury's criticism while I was an undergraduate. I have a vague recollection of taking his Notes on a Cellar-Book out of the library.

William Nicholson, Portrait of George Saintsbury (1923)

27 April 2020

The Bedrock of Nations

Henry Clay Dawson, The Hog Book (Chicago: The Breeder's Gazette, 1911), p. 18:
No nation can long remain powerful that does not produce its own food. All wealth by the personal use of its symbols, gold and silver, gives neither life, health nor comfort, but agriculture gives all these to man and secures to his arm the powers of might and possession. Agriculture is the bedrock of nations, and their prosperity largely is measured by the intelligence and industry of tillers of the soil. In ancient Rome and Greece agriculture became a lost art, and decadence was the result.
Hat tip: The Farmer's Bookshelf


Jean-François Millet, Potato Planters (1861)

Related posts:

21 April 2020

Wild Unintelligibility

John Canaday, Embattled Critic (New York: Noonday Press, 1962), p. 33:
We suffer, actually, from a kind of mass guilt complex. Because Delacroix was spurned by the Academy until he was old and sick, because Courbet had to build his own exhibition hall in 1855 to get a showing for pictures that are now in the Louvre, because Manet was laughed at, because Cézanne worked in obscurity, because Van Gogh sold only one picture during his lifetime, because Gauguin died in poverty and alone, because nineteenth-century critics and teachers and art officials seemed determined to annihilate every painter of genius — because of all this we have tried to atone to a current generation of pretenders to martyrdom. Somewhere at the basis of their thinking, and the thinking of several generations of college students who have taken the art appreciation course, is the premise that wild unintelligibility alone places a contemporary artist in line with great men who were misunderstood by their contemporaries.

What a load of crap.

A related post: The Contract Between Artist and Public

15 April 2020

Bravery in Bedclothes

Seneca, "Letter LXXVIII," Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium, tr. Richard M. Gummere, Vol. II (Loeb Classical Library; London: Heinemann, 1917), pp. 195:
It is your body that is hampered by ill-health, and not your soul as well. It is for this reason that it clogs the feet of the runner and will hinder the handiwork of the cobbler or the artisan; but if your soul be habitually in practice, you will plead and teach, listen and learn, investigate and meditate. What more is necessary? Do you think that you are doing nothing if you possess self-control in your illness? You will be showing that a disease can be overcome, or at any rate endured. There is, I assure you, a place for virtue even upon a bed of sickness. It is not only the sword and the battle-line that prove the soul alert and unconquered of fear; a man can display bravery even when wrapped in his bedclothes. You have something to do: wrestle bravely with disease. If it shall compel you to nothing, beguile you to nothing, it is an example that you display. O what ample matter were there for renown, if we could have spectators of our sickness! Be your own spectator; seek your own applause.

J. M. W. Turner, A Bedroom: The Empty Bed (1827)

14 April 2020

Let the Waters Flow on in Their Course

François Fénelon, "Letter XXI: On Calmly Enduring the Irregularities of Others," Selections From the Writings of Fenelon, tr. Eliza Lee Follen (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, Little, and Wilkins, 1829), p. 188:
Let the waters flow on in their course. Let men be men, that is to say, be vain, inconstant, unjust, false, and presumptuous. Let the world be the world; you cannot help it. Let each one follow his own bent, and his own ways; you cannot form him over again! It is wiser to leave men to themselves, and to endure them. Accustom yourself to unreasonableness and injustice. Remain at peace in the presence of God, who knows all your trials and permits them. Be satisfied with doing with calmness, what depends upon yourself, and let the rest be as if it were not.
The original (Lettre Spirituelle No. 79) from Oeuvres de Fénelon, Vol. 1 (Paris: Didot Frères, Fils & Cie., 1857), p. 503:
Laissez couler l'eau sous les ponts, laissez les hommes être hommes, c'est-à-dire faibles, vains, inconstants, injustes, faux et présomptueux. Laissez le monde être toujours monde; c'est tout dire: aussi bien ne l'empêcheriez-vous pas. Laissez chacun suivre son naturel et ses habitudes: vous ne sauriez les refondre; le plus court est de les laisser, et de les souffrir. Accoutumez-vous à la déraison et à l'injustice. Demeurez en paix dans le sein de Dieu, qui voit mieux que vous tous ces maux, et qui les permet. Contentez-vous de faire sans ardeur le peu qui dépend de vous; que tout le reste soit pour vous comme s'il n'était pas.

Frits Thaulow (1847–1906), French River Landscape with a Stone Bridge

8 April 2020

Biographical Details

Herbert Furst, Chardin (London: Methuen & Co., 1911), pp. 26-27:
Show me a man's House, and I will tell you his character; show me a man's Work, and I will do the same. From this point of view there is not only deceit and candour, method or slovenliness, industry or sloth, but also morality and immorality — goodness and badness in Art. Those who maintain that Morals have no place in Art, or, on the contrary, that good morals and the best art do go, or should go together, are simply bringing certain ideas into an impossible relationship. A beautiful tree, say an aged gnarled oak, may be very bad timber, and in looking at it we may be conscious of both facts. In the same manner we may express our preference for a poodle over a bull-dog, but it would surely be senseless to demand the good points of a bull-dog to be repeated in the poodle. Some may therefore very properly prefer moral art to immoral art, only, whether moral or immoral, it may be equally fine art, just as both poodle and bull-dog may be equally fine animals.

This seeming digression was, I am afraid, necessary, because one meets the confusion of these ideas continually, in which the one camp seems to be often as hopelessly wrong as the other.

If personal qualities were not intimately connected with the expression of Art, biographical details would be altogether superfluous in a book such as this; but such details are, as a matter of fact, of very great interest, because they help us to estimate a man's work more truly, telling us why it had to take just that form in which it actually appears. And the investigation of the events of a painter's life and traits of character are as instructive and fascinating as the examination of his sketches and studies — it is the Man that makes the Artist — the driving power behind the brush.

Jean-Siméon Chardin, Still Life with a White Mug (c. 1764)

Not unrelated: Life Is Short and Hard

2 April 2020

Patience

Vincent Van Gogh, The Letters of a Post-Impressionist, tr. Anthony Ludovici (London: Constable and Company, 1912), p. 51:
The symbol of St. Luke, the patron saint of painters, is as you know an ox. Thus one must be as patient as an ox if one would wish to cultivate the field of art. But how lucky oxen are to have nothing to do with this confounded business of painting! 
Id., p. 76:
Art is long and life is fleeting, and one must try with patience to sell one's life as dearly as possible.

Vincent Van Gogh, Cart with Red and White Ox (1884)

Aside: I thought At Eternity's Gate  was quite well done. It is on Amazon Prime Video.

30 March 2020

Art Offers Relief

Gustave Coquiot, Maurice Utrillo (Paris: André Delpeuch, 1925), pp. 60-61 (my translation):
I still remember — and how vividly! — the time, that happy time, when Utrillo worked only for me. Up there on the Butte, in the middle of the war, this strange monk shut up in his cell provided me with the only moments of relief I knew in the midst of all that hideous human carnage. Verdun, the mass graves, the deformed faces, all the blood, all the death, all the stench of the slaughterhouses, all the cries, all the horror of those lunatics who had been turned against each another by the butchers of Empire or Republic. When I contemplated a new painting by Utrillo, I forgot it all for a moment. The sight of a small white church, it gave one hope for less savage tomorrows. The war is finally over, crushed under the weight of so many corpses. What was the source of this brief feeling of respite? I do not want to analyze it too closely, for fear of regretting all the things which, if I had been born in a different age, I should have been able to share with others...
The libraries are shut down, hundreds of thousands of people are out of work, and Amazon says that book deliveries will be delayed: I can't think of a more auspicious time to announce that my translation of this monograph is now available. Readers in North America may visit  Google Books for a preview.


Maurice Utrillo, Church at Anet (c. 1916-18)

27 March 2020

To Them Who Have Eyes to See and Hearts to Feel

William Ellery Channing, "The Religious Principle in Human Nature," The Perfect Life (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1873), pp. 12-13:
Beauty, that mysterious charm which is spread over and through the universe, who is unconscious of its winning attraction? Whose heart has not softened into joy, as he has looked on hill and valley and cultivated plain, on stream and forest, on the rising or setting sun, on the constant stars and the serene sky? Now whenever this love of the beautiful unfolds into strong emotion, its natural influence is to lead up our minds to contemplate a brighter Beauty than is revealed in creation. To them, who have eyes to see and hearts to feel the loveliness of nature, it speaks of a higher, holier Presence. They hear God in its solemn harmonies, they behold Him its fresh verdure, fair forms, and sunny hues. To great numbers, I am persuaded, the beauty of nature is a more affecting testimony to God than even its wise contrivance.

Carl Gustav Carus, Blick auf Dresden bei Sonnenuntergang (c. 1822)

25 March 2020

Poetry Readings Cancelled

George Orwell, "Poetry and the Microphone," The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, Vol. II (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), pp. 331-332:
In broadcasting your audience is conjectural, but it is an audience of one. Millions may be listening, but each is listening alone, or as a member of a small group, and each has (or ought to have) the feeling that you are speaking to him individually. More than this, it is reasonable to assume that your audience is sympathetic, or at least interested, for anyone who is bored can promptly switch you off by turning a knob. But though presumably sympathetic, the audience has no power over you. It is just here that a broadcast differs from a speech or a lecture. On the platform, as anyone used to public speaking knows, it is almost impossible not to take your tone from the audience. It is always obvious within a few minutes what they will respond to and what they will not, and in practice you are almost compelled to speak for the benefit of what you estimate as the stupidest person present, and also to ingratiate yourself by means of the ballyhoo known as "personality". If you don't do so, the result is always an atmosphere of frigid embarrassment. That grisly thing, a "poetry reading", is what it is because there will always be some among the audience who are bored or all but frankly hostile and who can't remove themselves by the simple act of turning a knob. And it is at bottom the same difficulty — the fact that a theatre audience is not a selected one — that makes it impossible to get a decent performance of Shakespeare in England. On the air these conditions do not exist. The poet feels that he is addressing people to whom poetry means something, and it is a fact that poets who are used to broadcasting can read into the microphone with a virtuosity they would not equal if they had a visible audience in front of them.

Eric Gill, Ariel Between Wisdom and Gaiety (1932)
Broadcasting House, London

19 March 2020

The Only Passion Which Augments With Age

John Claudius Loudon in the introduction to An Encyclopaedia of Gardening (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1825), p. 2:
The pleasure attending the pursuit of gardening is conducive to health and repose of mind; and a taste for the enjoyment of gardens is so natural to man, as almost to be universal. Our first most endearing and most sacred associations, Mrs. Hofland observes, are connected with gardens; our most simple and most refined perceptions of beauty are combined with them; and the very condition of our being compels us to the cares, and rewards us with the pleasures attached to them. Gardening has been the inclination of kings and the choice of philosophers, Sir William Temple has observed; and the Prince de Ligne, after sixty years’ experience, affirms, that the love of gardens is the only passion which augments with age: “Je voudrois,” he says, “échauffer tout l’univers de mon gôut pour les jardins. II me semble qu’il est impossible, qu’un méchant puisse 1’avoir. Il n’est point de vertus que je ne suppose à celui qui aime à parler et a faire des jardins. Pères de famille, inspirez la jardinomanie à vos enfans.” 1 (Memoires et Lettres, tom. i.)

That which makes the cares of gardening more necessary, or at least more excusable, the former author adds, is, that all men eat fruit that can get it; so that the choice is only, whether one will eat good or ill; and for all things produced in a garden, whether of salads or fruits, a poor man will eat better that has one of his own, than a rich man that has none.
My (liberal) translation from the French: "I wish I could make the whole universe as fond of gardens as I am. I do not believe a wicked person could share this fondness. If a man likes to discuss and cultivate gardens, I do not doubt any of his virtues. Family men, encourage a craze for gardening among your children!"

Arthur Melville, A Cabbage Garden (1877)

An unpaid endorsement:
I received my package from the Ontario Seed Company just 3 days after placing the order.

17 March 2020

O Foode of Filthy Woorme

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, "Cur Mundus Militat," lines 20-25, The Paradise Of Dainty Devices (1576-1606), ed. Hyder Edward Rollins (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927), p. 6:
O foode of filthy woorme, oh lumpe of lothsome clay,                          20
O life full like the deawe, which mornyng sunne dooth waste:
O shadowe vayne, whose shape with sunne dooth shrinke away,
Why gloryest thou so much, in honour to be plaste?
Sith that no certayne houre, of life thou dost enjoy,
Most fyt it were, thy tyme in goodnesse to employ.                                25
Sith: Since

In his notes (p. 181), Rollins writes: "Perhaps no other poem was more popular in Middle English and Tudor English — to say nothing of French — than St. Bernard's."


George Frederic Watts,
Time, Death, and Judgement (1899-1900)

A related post: Of Worms and the Man I Sing

10 March 2020

A Disinclination to Sleep Away From Home

J. L. Carr, A Month in the Country (London: Penguin Classics, 2000), p. 51:
Day after day that August, the weather stayed hot and dry. These days we call it real holiday weather but, then, only the well-to-do in those parts went far afield and even a week at Scarborough was remarkable. Folk stayed at home and took their pleasure from an agricultural show, a travelling fair, a Sunday-school outing or, if they had social pretentious, a tennis party with cucumber sandwiches. Most country people had a deep-rooted disinclination to sleep away from home and a belief that, like as not, to sojourn amongst strangers was to fall among them. It was the way they always had lived and, like their forefathers, they travelled no further than a horse or their own legs could carry them there and back in a day.

Charles-François Daubigny, Harvest (1851)

Related posts:

4 March 2020

Big in Japan

My translation of Henri Le Sidaner's biography is currently ranked 34th in the Art History category on Amazon Japan. I do not know why, but I am glad that it is so.

ありがとうございます


I've got the style, but not the grace.

A related post: Henri Le Sidaner

2 March 2020

Quarantine

Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus 27.2-4 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
Indeed, nothing was left untouched and neglected, but with all the necessary details of life he [Lycurgus] blended some commendation of virtue or rebuke of vice; and he filled the city full of good examples, whose continual presence and society must of necessity exercise a controlling and moulding influence upon those who were walking the path of honour.

This was the reason why he did not permit them to live abroad at their pleasure and wander in strange lands, assuming foreign habits and imitating the lives of peoples who were without training and lived under different forms of government. Nay more, he actually drove away from the city the multitudes which streamed in there for no useful purpose, not because he feared they might become imitators of his form of government and learn useful lessons in virtue, as Thucydides says, but rather that they might not become in any wise teachers of evil. For along with strange people, strange doctrines must come in; and novel doctrines bring novel decisions, from which there must arise many feelings and resolutions which destroy the harmony of the existing political order. Therefore he thought it more necessary to keep bad manners and customs from invading and filling the city than it was to keep out infectious diseases.

Ambroise Tardieu, Lycurgus of Sparta (c. 1820-1828)

25 February 2020

What Then Is the Work of Life?

Daniel Defoe, "The Instability of Human Glory," English Essays, ed. J. H. Lobban (Glasgow: Blackie and Son, 1909), pp. 13-14:
What then is the work of life? What the business of great men, that pass the stage of the world in seeming triumph as these men, we call heroes, have done? Is it to grow great in the mouth of fame and take up many pages in history? Alas! that is no more than making a tale for the reading of posterity till it turns into fable and romance. Is it to furnish subject to the poets, and live in their immortal rhymes, as they call them? That is, in short, no more than to be hereafter turned into ballad and song and be sung by old women to quiet children, or at the corner of a street to gather crowds in aid of the pick-pocket and the poor. Or is their business rather to add virtue and piety to their glory, which alone will pass them into eternity and make them truly immortal? What is glory without virtue? A great man without religion is no more than a great beast without a soul. What is honour without merit? And what can be called true merit but that which makes a person be a good man as well as a great man?

Edward Burne-Jones, Love and the Pilgrim (1896-7)

13 February 2020

Honest and Deeply Worrying

Mark Boyle, The Way Home; Tales From a Life Without Technology (London: Oneworld Publications, 2019), pp. 26-28:
A few years ago, before I rejected the internet, I was searching online for an image of a wild crab apple, hoping to make a positive identification. Instead of finding photographs of the plum-leaved or hawthorn-leaved crab, the screen was dominated by the trademarked logo of the Apple corporation. Taken aback, I typed in ‘blackberry’ and ‘orange’ to see what would happen. I was offered mobile phone deals. I hadn’t heard of Tinder at the time, but I don’t imagine pictures of wood shavings, bracken, and birch bark would have monopolised the page.

Six months later I read Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks, his remarkable, place-particularising contribution to a ‘glossary of enchantment for the whole earth’. In it he revealed some of the words that had been deleted from the 2007 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. They included:
acorn, alder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture, and willow.
In their place, Oxford University Press had added:
attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, Chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player, and voicemail.
The publishing company’s explanation that these are the things that now comprise a child’s life was pragmatic, understandable, honest, and deeply worrying.

In preparation for a life without the internet, a week or so before I unplugged I found a 2000 edition of the Collins English Dictionary; 1785 pages drawn from a ‘Bank of English’ consisting of examples of 323 million words. My own vocabulary has improved since getting it and using it to replace the online dictionaries I had used for years. If I wanted to understand the definition of a word in the past I would simply Google it, and by the time I had exhaled the ‘w’ of ‘now’ I’d have its meaning. But nothing else. Now if I want to find out the year Gerard Manley Hopkins died, my eye is caught by curiosities from hookworm (no thanks) to horn of plenty (another name for cornucopia — yes please) instead of a screenful of carefully targeted adverts.

Reading it is interesting. Only seven years older than the concise Oxford Junior Dictionary, there’s no mention of block-graph, blog, bullet-point, chatroom or MP3 player. There’s no entry either for currel – a word once specific to East Anglia which describes a specifically small stream – or smeuse, which Sussex farmers once called that ‘gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal’.

The smartphone generation, having never played with them, will not miss words like ‘conkers’. It’s odd – when I was growing up in 1990s Ireland on a working-class council estate on the edgelands of a struggling town, no one ever asked me if I missed anything about the natural world. But the moment I choose bluebells over bullet-points I’ve found that everyone wants to know what I miss most about machines.

Willard Metcalf, Pasture, Old Lyme (1906)