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, Blackwells, and The Book Depository (the latter is most likely to have it in stock). If you live in the Free State of Bavaria, you will even find it at Rupprecht.

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

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

21 August 2019

Alphonse Robine

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

Alphonse Robine, Petite Poste devant Auberive (1915)

19 August 2019

Marketable Commodities

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

Émile Bernard, Autoportrait au vase de fleurs (1897)

31 July 2019

Summer's Revel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bust of Ronsard at the Prieuré St-Cosme

23 July 2019

Ulceration, Gangrene, and Decay

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

19 July 2019

The Habit of Study

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

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

9 July 2019

The Invasion of Ugliness

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

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

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

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

Illustration from page 77

Not unrelated: Witnesses to Destruction

2 July 2019

Hand in Hand with the Ourang-Outang

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

26 June 2019

Somewhere at the Bottom of One's Mind

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

20 June 2019

Is This Civilization?

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

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

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

18 June 2019

Death Settles All Scores

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

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

14 June 2019

Reading Ruskin

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

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

Then, turning to me, he said:

"Have you studied Ruskin?"

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

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

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

Hubert von Herkomer, John Ruskin (1879)

10 June 2019

Deutscher Mühlentag

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

Andreas Achenbach, Die Mühle (1852)

7 June 2019

Books as a Necessity

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

Carl Spitzweg, Der Philosoph (Der Leser im Park)

31 May 2019

The One Thing That Can Not Be Taken

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

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

Edward John Poynter, Faithful Unto Death (1865) 

28 May 2019

The Sheep of Panurge

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

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

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

24 May 2019

21 May 2019

One of Two Things

Barthold Georg Niebuhr, letter to his parents (November 23, 1794), The Life and Letters of Barthold George Niebuhr (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1854), p. 56:
I must do one of two things; either I must accommodate myself to the manners of our vicious, effeminate, and feeble age, or I must keep my own manners, consequently my own tone and mode of thinking and speaking. In the first case, I may, perhaps, please a great part of my contemporaries, but certainly not the better part, nor myself, nor posterity. In the second, I must indeed offend the partisans of the first, but it will be possible for me to live so as to deserve my own approbation, and so as not to pass away with the great multitude of my nameless contemporaries.
Portrait of Niebuhr from the Dithmarscher Landesmuseum

A related post: Keep Apart

15 May 2019

A Good Index Is Its Own Reward

George Henry Lewes, The Principles of Success in Literature (London: The Walter Scott Publishing Co., 1898), pp. 86-87:
In Life a dishonest man is chiefly moved by desires towards some tangible result of money or power; if he get these he has got all. The man of letters has a higher aim: the very object of his toil is to secure the sympathy and respect of men; and the rewards of his toil may be paid in money, fame, or consciousness of earnest effort. The first of these may sometimes be gained without Sincerity. Fame may also, for a time, be erected on an unstable ground, though it will inevitably be destroyed again. But the last and not least reward is to be gained by everyone without fear of failure, without risk of change. Sincere work is good work, be it never so humble; and sincere work is not only an indestructible delight to the worker by its very genuineness, but is immortal in the best sense, for it lives for ever in its influence. There is no good Dictionary, not even a good Index, that is not in this sense priceless, for it has honestly furthered the work of the world, saving labour to others; setting an example to successors. Whether I make a careful Index, or an inaccurate one, will probably in no respect affect the money-payment I shall receive. My sins will never fall heavily on me; my virtue will gain me neither extra pence nor praise. I shall be hidden by obscurity from the indignation of those whose valuable time is wasted over my pretence at accuracy, as from the silent gratitude of those whose time is saved by my honest fidelity. The consciousness of faithfulness even to the poor index maker may be a better reward than pence or praise; but of course we cannot expect the unconscientious to believe this. If I sand my sugar, and tell lies over my counter, I may gain the rewards of dishonesty, or I may be overtaken by its Nemesis. But if I am faithful in my work the reward cannot be withheld from me. The obscure workers who, knowing that they will never earn renown yet feel an honourable pride in doing their work faithfully, may be likened to the benevolent who feel a noble delight in performing generous actions which will never be known to be theirs, the only end they seek in such actions being the good which is wrought for others, and their delight being the sympathy with others. 
Albrecht Dürer, Lectern With Books (1521)

8 May 2019

Doing Time

Edith Bone, Seven Years Solitary (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1957), p. 106:
I recalled something I had read in a posthumously published story by Tolstoi, in which a man is kept in solitary confinement for, as it happened, exactly seven years, just as I was later to be confined. Tolstoi describes how this man occupied his mind, among other things, by taking imaginary walks in the cities which he had known. I was very fortunate in this because I had been to most of the great cities of Europe. So I tried going for walks — in London, in Paris, in Rome, in Florence and Milan, in various Swiss cities, in Berlin and Heidelberg, in Vienna and St. Petersburg, and I found it very diverting. Most of these cities I had known very well. I had travelled a great deal, but never as a tourist. I had lived in eight European countries and had spent at least months and, in many cases, years in foreign cities, earning my livelihood there and living as the natives lived; hence I recalled their streets and rivers, their buildings, their monuments and the rest, quite accurately.
Id., pp. 110-111:
In the same Tolstoi story about a prisoner which I have already mentioned, the hero passes the time by taking an inventory of his knowledge on all sorts of subjects.

I had already tried something like this, before I thought of an abacus. What I had tried to do was to take an inventory of my vocabulary in the six languages I speak fluently. But I failed because I always lost count so long as I had only my fingers to reckon on. Now, with my fine six-row abacus [which she made from old bread and straw], I did better. Here, too, there were, of course, problems to be solved. How to avoid repetitions? The answer was: strict alphabetical order. This brought a fresh problem: what to do with the words I remembered after passing their proper place in the alphabetical order. There was no answer to this one, except to leave them out and later to start afresh from A. This I did three times and found in the end that I had enumerated twenty-seven thousand three hundred and sixty-nine English words. That satisfied me, and I went on to German, French and the rest.

There were many more inventories one could make in addition to these general ones of vocabulary. How many birds could I name? How many trees? How many flowers? How many makes of cars? How many breeds of dogs? How many English publishers? How many wines? How many characters in Dickens, Balzac, Tolstoi, Stendhal, Dostoyevski, Thackeray, and many others? I found, by the way, that Dickens, of whom I had read less than I had of several other authors, must be the greatest creator of characters, because I could remember more than four hundred, even before I had pencil and paper to help me, although I counted only those of whom I could also remember in which novel they appeared and what they were like.

All this time, that is for almost three years, I was deprived of books and writing materials. But I had continued to make up doggerels, which I repeated carefully three times a day, so as not to forget. They were growing so numerous, however, that repeating them daily began to take up too much time.

Mykola Yaroshenko, The Prisoner (1878)

7 May 2019

A Moment of Sadness or Anger

An anonymous writer on the front page of the La Chronique des arts et de la curiosité (March 23, 1901), my translation:
There is not one among us who, in the last few years, has not experienced a moment of sadness or anger at seeing the most admirable landscapes disfigured by unseemly advertisements and posters. All along the roads and railways, in both the mountains and beside the sea coast, advertising is everywhere, invasive and clumsy. We look on aghast as the gigantic placards multiply, disgraceful and gaudy.

The countryside was once the traveller's companion; it offered an ephemeral but charming vision to those who were passing through and unable to pause; the sight of ever-changing hills, woods, rivers, and valleys stirred the imagination and seemed to evoke nature in all its richness and variety. Now the clownish advertisement arrives and casts a pall over the earth and the heavens alike. The German provinces of the Rhine and the Belgians are preparing laws against this menacing ugliness. The time has come for our own country to consider its defence.

While the barbarians may have conquered the world, we should not resign ourselves to it, nor should we allow bad taste to triumph. Natural beauty is one of our rarest and most precious gifts, and it demands both respect and vigilance. The same effort we put into the conservation of monuments and works of art should be spent protecting the beauty of the countryside and saving it from immitigable ruin — it is a beauty we did not create, but one which we enjoy.

Perhaps we should bear in mind that this form of beauty is worth more than any other, and recall, with Renan, that things which are beautiful in themselves are "like a myrrhine vase which contains everything that genius has, through wearying reflection, struggled to express in faint outlines."

Isaac Levitan, Train on the Way (1895)

29 April 2019

More Important

Ernst Jünger in his acceptance speech for the Goethe Prize (Frankfurt, 1982), at the 11:05 mark (my translation):
If two sixteen-year-olds, in an attic or on a forest path, are enthusiastic about their author, that is more important than the proceedings of a writers' congress or an academic meeting. 
Wenn zwei Sechzehnjährige sich in der Mansarde oder auf einem Waldgang an ihrem Autor begeistern, so ist das wichtiger als die Tagung eines Schriftstellerkongresses oder die Verhandlung einer Akademie.
Norman Rockwell, Young Man Reading by the Light (c. 1926)

23 April 2019

Primitive and Essential Things

Max Beerbohm, "The Golden Drugget," And Even Now (London: William Heinemann, 1920), p. 117:
Primitive and essential things have great power to touch the heart of the beholder. I mean such things as a man ploughing a field, or sowing or reaping; a girl filling a pitcher from a spring; a young mother with her child; a fisherman mending his nets; a light from a lonely hut on a dark night.

Things such as these are the best themes for poets and painters, and appeal to aught that there may be of painter or poet in any one of us. Strictly, they are not so old as the hills, but they are more significant and eloquent than hills. Hills will outlast them; but hills glacially surviving the life of man on this planet are of as little account as hills tremulous and hot in ages before the life of man had its beginning. Nature is interesting only because of us. And the best symbols of us are such sights as I have just mentioned — sights unalterable by fashion of time or place, sights that in all countries always were and never will not be.
Hat tip: Anecdotal Evidence

Paul Eduard Crodel, Frühjahrslandschaft mit Ochsenpflug  (1886)

17 April 2019

Build Your Own Library

Donald Davidson (1893-1968), "A Mirror for Artists,"  I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978), p. 40:
[P]ublic libraries, which tend ever to become more immense and numerous, pervert public taste as much as they encourage it. For the patrons are by implication discouraged from getting their own books and keeping them at home. Their notion is that the state — or some local Maecenas — will take care of their taste for them, just as the police take care of public safety. Art galleries and libraries are fine enough in their way, but we should not be deceived into putting our larger hope in them.

John Frederick Peto, Take Your Choice (1885)

12 April 2019

The Decisive Significance of the Truth

Theodor Haecker in an entry from 1940, Journal in the Night, tr. Alexander Dru (London: Pantheon Books, 1950), p. 22:
In spite of a gigantic weight of lies the things of this world still function for an astoundingly long time without breaking to pieces; they almost seem to be strengthened. It is a mysterious and awful fact, and a great temptation to the spirit, to doubt the decisive significance of the truth in regard to the events in this world. But it is only a temptation: deep inside the spirit of man there is an assurance that lies destroy a man, and also a nation.
Jean-Léon Gérôme, Truth Emerging From the Well, 
Armed With Her Whip to Chastise Mankind  (1896) 

A related post: No Strength Without Truth

11 April 2019

Giraudon's Artist

A few photographs from L'Artiste, a series published by Adolphe et Georges Giraudon in the 1870s:

From a post on the James Hyman Gallery web site:

"Giraudon presumably commissioned these photographic genre studies from an artist active near Barbizon as the imagery and compositions directly echoes that of Millet and other Barbizon painters. Despite the mounting and stamping of several of these prints, which suggest a publishing venture, these works are extremely rare. None were found in the Giraudon archives, nor in sales catalogues of the period."

Related posts:

5 April 2019

It Is Extremely Difficult for the French

I try to avoid the news in general, and political news in particular, but time was hanging heavy on my hands yesterday and I watched some of the Brexit shenanigans in the House of Lords. Although I'm sure he didn't intend to be funny, Lord Marlesford's comments made me laugh out loud:
Lord Marlesford:

My Lords, I will speak very briefly, following up the words of my noble friend Lord Lawson about the impact on public opinion of the procedures in Parliament in relation to this Bill, which could be very serious. The example I give to noble Lords is that of France, once our hereditary enemy, now our great friend. Why is it that France is so much harder to manage and govern than Britain? Let me give the obvious example. If public protests in Britain turn into violent riots, the public do not like it. Even if they agree with the original cause, they tend to tell Parliament to sort it out. When that happens in France, the French Government normally have two choices: send in the CRS to break their heads, or give in. They usually give in. It is extremely difficult for the French. This all dates back to 1789 —

Noble Lords:


Lord Marlesford:

It dates back to the French Revolution, and the failure of the then very inefficient monarchical Government, the Estates General. They met on 5 May and split, and the Third Estate — the people — went off to the tennis court and objected. The result was that, a few days later, the Bastille was stormed. The King was executed in February 1792, then came a year of terror between July 1793 and July 1794, which ended when Robespierre was guillotined. The French, therefore, are very conscious of the inadequacies of their form of government and of their Parliament.​

Recently, seeking an outsider to run the show, they elected President Macron. They did not know very much about him, but they have now woken up to the fact that, far from being an outsider, he is actually the archetypal insider. They have shown their annoyance and rage through the gilets jaunes. We should consider the impact of this legislation — or rather, of the way it is being handled — on public opinion, because we do not want gilets jaunes here.

Jacques-Louis David, Le Serment du Jeu de paume (1791)

2 April 2019

I Do Not Want My Boy to Become an Artist

J. G. Chapman, The Elements of Art (London: David Bogue, 1848), pp. 22-23:
Fathers and Teachers — call not your boys idle fellows, when you find them drawing in the sand. Give them chalk and pencil — let them be instructed in design. “But,” you say, “I do not want my boy to become an artist.” Depend upon it, he will plough a straighter furrow, and build a neater and better fence, and the hammer or the axe will fit his hand the better for it: for from it, no matter what may be his calling in life, he will reap advantage. Last, not least, you give him a source of intellectual enjoyment, of which no change of fortune can deprive him, and that may secure his hours of leisure from the baneful influence of low and ignoble pursuits.

Albrecht Dürer, Self-portrait, Study of a Hand and a Pillow (1493)

29 March 2019

Visual Noise

Josef Pieper, "Learning How to See Again," Only the Lover Sings (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), p. 33:
There does exist something like "visual noise", which just like the acoustical counterpart, makes clear perception impossible. One might perhaps presume that TV watchers, tabloid readers, and movie goers exercise and sharpen their eyes. But the opposite is true. The ancient sages knew exactly why they called the "concupiscence of the eyes" a "destroyer". The restoration of man's inner eyes can hardly be expected in this day and age — unless, first of all, one were willing and determined simply to exclude from one's realm of life all those inane and contrived but titillating illusions incessantly generated by the entertainment industry.

Filippo Abbiati, Trompe-l'oeil con stampe (c. 1690)

26 March 2019

The Weed Burners

In his biography of Henri Le Sidaner (Paris: Georges Petit & Henri Floury, 1928), Camille Mauclair notes that the artist sent a painting called Les Brûleuses d'herbes to the Paris Salon in 1890, but says that he subsequently destroyed the work.

However, I see that a painting by Le Sidaner with this title and approximate date is listed on Artnet.fr. Perhaps it is just a study. According to the Artnet web site it is oil on canvas, measuring 43 cm by 55 cm.

Henri Le Sidaner, Les Brûleuses d'herbes (1889)

Here's another, higher resolution image of the same painting from Artrenewal.org:

22 March 2019

20 March 2019

A Fortunate Era

Willibrord Verkade, Yesterdays of an Artist-Monk, tr. John Stoddard (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1930), p. 177:
Travel is for man a delight. It is so sweet to escape for a time from the regular round of domestic duties and, in the sense that one is a stranger in the country through which one is passing, to be free. Formerly every journeyman used to go on his travels, after he had, as an apprentice, served his master for years in affectionate submissiveness. That was indeed a happy time, which was not passed in haste and workingmen’s disorders. A fortunate era, when the seriousness of old age was mellowed by the recollection of the joyful years of youthful wandering, and when the memory of all the countries, with their cities and villages, through which one had then travelled, wove a brilliant background for the stage of later life.
A related post: Tour de France

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.


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)