7 January 2021

Gentle Drops of Forgetfulness

Thomas More, Epigram 121 (On Sleep, Which Makes the Poor Man the Rich Man's Equal), The Latin Epigrams of Thomas More, tr. Leicester Bradner and Charles Arthur Lynch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), p. 180 (note omitted):

O sleep, restful part of life, hope and comfort of the poor, whom by night you make equal to the rich, you comfort sad hearts with gentle drops of forgetfulness and drive away all recollection of woe. Generously in happy dreams you confer wealth upon the poor man. Why do you, rich man, scorn the poor man’s fancied wealth? Real wealth brings to the rich worry, pain, and grief; imagined wealth brings the poor real joy.

 The original, from pp. 56-57: 


Somne quies uitae, spes et solamen egenis,
   Diuitibus noctu quos facis esse pares.
Tristia demulces lethaco pectora rore,
   Excutis et sensum totius inde mali.
Laeta benignus opes inopi per somnia mittis.
   Quid falsas rides, diues, opes inopis?
Diuitibus uerae curas, tormenta, dolores
   Pauperibus falsae gaudia uera ferunt.

Related posts:

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Le Rêve (1883)
"Love, Glory, and Wealth appear to him in his sleep."

5 January 2021

On the Backs of the Creatives

Christopher Schwarz, one of the founders of the Lost Art Press, at the 7:05 mark in the December 28 episode of Jonathan Pritchard’s Mind Reader University podcast:

When I got thrown into the corporate world and corporate publishing, what I found out is that you can really print money. It is a licence to print money. The profit margins in corporate publishing are astonishing by most manufacturing standards, and they do that by just screwing people. It’s horrible to see. It’s on the backs of the creatives that they make their money, and creatives see very little of that money. So when I set out to make a publishing company with my partner John Hoffman, the idea was… From a quality point of view I love nicely made things, I grew up with nicely made things. It wasn’t that we were rich and were surrounded by Chippendale stuff, it was that my dad made this, my grandfather made this, it will last, and I still have these things. So whatever we’re going to make, it’s going to be nice. The second thing was that, however we run our business, it was going to be the exact opposite of the way I was trained to do it. I always thought that would be a successful model.


Image from my copy of Schwarz's Campaign Furniture
(Fort Mitchell: Lost Art Press, 2014), pp. 214-215

3 January 2021

French Critics and Dutch Painters

Vincent Van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard (undated), The Letters of a Post-Impressionist; Being the Familiar Correspondence of Vincent van Gogh (London: Constable, 1912), p. 63:
Of course the Dutch painters are too widely distributed over the Museums and collections of the world for us to be able to form any adequate idea of their work, and this is still more difficult when one knows only the Louvre. And yet it is precisely the Frenchmen, Ch. Blanc, Thoré and Fromentin, who have written the best things about them.

Eugène Fromentin, Canal Della Misericordia (1871)

2 January 2021

New Year, Old Blog

I've been reluctant to clutter up Charon's Barque with anything that is unrelated to the work at hand, and have missed having somewhere to keep my arbitrary notes, so I'm dusting off this old commonplace book. 

I still think the Blogspot platform is unwieldy, but if I am going to maintain a second web site, well, I might as well resurrect the one I already have.

From now on I'll house quotes gleaned from my personal reading here, and only use the other place to share information about The Obolus Press.

Welcome back.

Lovis Corinth, Baccants Returning Home (1898)
Lovis Corinth, Baccants Returning Home (1898)

31 July 2020

Goodbye, Google

I am transferring my admiral's flag to a more seaworthy vessel.

I've been meaning to switch platforms for a while, but the cack-handed “improvements” that Google is making to Blogspot (which powers this site) have spurred me into action. I am abandoning this place and moving my online notebook to a new home:


You will see that it is set up as a subdirectory of the Obolus Press, which is the publishing company I established some time ago.

Everything will remain here, dormant, but all future posts will be on the other blog.

I hope you'll follow me there.

Aubrey Beardsley, Ave Atque Vale (1896)

24 July 2020

Really Worth a Life

Stephen MacKenna, entry for January 15, 1908 (his 36th birthday),  Journal and Letters , ed. E. R. Dodds (London: Constable & Company Ltd, 1936), pp. 117-118:
I feel that my life is one long series of beginnings: I am always planning for next year, always working towards something, never at something. The one clear reason — whether 'tis an excuse or not, I don't know — is that nothing that is within my power interests me or seems worth doing. I am interested in Plotinus: to translate him into beautiful English and then to interpret him and press him into the use of this century seems to me, has always seemed to me, really worth a life — but I have not been able to give the work all my time and thought: I must write bosh and run about the world on stupid people's tracks.... I utterly lack the power many or most men have of working indifferently well at some one trade for livelihood while keeping two or three passionate efforts always marching quietly but surely on towards the great ends that are the real meaning and use of life. And, deep down, I cannot find in myself, in power or vision, any reason for believing that I can really add anything to the world, do any service: and anything less than such an effective service as will reach far beyond myself seems to me utterly unworthy. I have no interest in trifles, in trifling things or trifling people, and, being below or outside of the serious, I become trifling myself. The others I quietly scorn; myself I scorn bitterly, angrily.
MacKenna did manage to escape from journalism: He endured poverty, but completed his translation of Plotinus in 1930. He died four years later. May the earth rest lightly upon him!

All five volumes of his translation of the Enneads are on Archive.org:

They are lovely books. There's a full set available on Abe for $255.

Left: Title Page from Vol. 1                Right: Portrait of Plotinus from the Museo Ostiense, Inv. 68 (c. 205–270 AD)

23 July 2020

Friendship Before Politics

Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Hamilton (22 April 1800):
I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend. During the whole of the last war, which was trying enough, I never deserted a friend because he had taken an opposite side; and those of my own state who joined the British government can attest my unremitting zeal in saving their property, and can point out the laws in our statute books which I drew, and carried through in their favor. However I have seen during the late political paroxysm here [the XYZ affair], numbers whom I had highly esteemed draw off from me, insomuch as to cross the street to avoid meeting me. The fever is abating, & doubtless some of them will correct the momentary wanderings of their heart, & return again. If they do, they will meet the constancy of my esteem, & the same oblivion of this as of any other delirium which might happen to them.

Cf. Roger Scruton, quoted in "Roger Scruton: The Patron Saint of Lost Causes," The Independent (3 July 2005):
One of the great distinctions between the left and the right in the intellectual world is that left-wing people find it very hard to get on with right-wing people, because they believe that they are evil. Whereas I have no problem getting on with left-wing people, because I simply believe that they are mistaken. After a while, if I can persuade them that I'm not evil, I find it a very useful thing. I know that my views on many things are open to correction. But if you can't discuss with your opponents, how can you correct your views?

Jacopo Pontormo, Portrait of Two Friends (c. 1522)
(The text they are holding comes from Cicero's Amictia.)

22 July 2020

Be What Nature Intended

Sydney Smith, "On the Conduct of the Understanding," Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy (London: Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1855), p. 265:
There is one circumstance I would preach up, morning, noon, and night, to young persons, for the management of their understanding. Whatever you are from nature, keep to it: never desert your own line of talent. If Providence only intended you to write posies for rings, or mottoes for twelfth-cakes, keep to posies and mottoes: a good motto for a twelfth-cake is more respectable than a villainous epic poem in twelve books. Be what nature intended you for, and you will succeed; be any thing else, and you will be ten thousand times worse than nothing.
Related posts:

Benjamin West, Know Thyself  (1768)

20 July 2020

A Process of Discovery and Disentanglement

T. E. Hulme, "Bergson's Theory of Art," Speculations (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1936), pp. 149-150:
The process of artistic creation would be better described as a process of discovery and disentanglement. To use the metaphor which one is by now so familiar with — the stream of the inner life, and the definite crystallised shapes on the surface — the big artist, the creative artist, the innovator, leaves the level where things are crystallised out into these definite shapes, and, diving down into the inner flux, comes back with a new shape which he endeavours to fix. He cannot be said to have created it, but to have discovered it, because when he has definitely expressed it we recognise it as true. Great painters are men in whom has originated a certain vision of things which has become or will become the vision of everybody. Once the painter has seen it, it becomes easy for all of us to see it. A mould has been made. But the creative activity came in the effort which was necessary to disentangle this particular type of vision from the general haze the effort, that is, which is necessary to break moulds and to make new ones. For instance, the effect produced by Constable on the English and French Schools of landscape painting. Nobody before Constable saw things, or at any rate painted them, in that particular way. This makes it easier to see clearly what one means by an individual way of looking at things. It does not mean something which is peculiar to an individual, for in that case it would be quite valueless. It means that a certain individual artist was able to break through the conventional ways of looking at things which veil reality from us at a certain point, was able to pick out one element which is really in all of us, but which before he had disentangled it, we were unable to perceive. It is as if the surface of our mind was a sea in a continual state of motion, that there were so many waves on it, their existence was so transient, and they interfered so much with each other, that one was unable to perceive them. The artist by making a fixed model of one of these transient waves enables you to isolate it out and to perceive it in yourself. In that sense art merely reveals, it never creates.
John Constable, The Wheat Field (1816)

18 July 2020

Tennyson Weather

 J. L. Carr, A Month in the Country (London: Penguin Classics, 2000), p. 54:
Deep red hollyhocks pressed against the limestone wall and velvet butterflies flopped lazily from flower to flower. It was Tennyson weather, drowsy, warm, unnaturally still.

A related post: A Disinclination to Sleep Away From Home

Frederick Carl Frieseke, Hollyhocks (1913)

17 July 2020

Would You Turn Your Muses into Maidservants?

Lionel de Fonseka, On the Truth of Decorative Art (New York: Henry Holt, 1913), p. 41:
“Do you think then that it detracts from the dignity of an art to be used as an instrument of social reform?”

“Come, come, I appeal to your sense of decorum. Would not a proper Greek have been shocked if Zeus deserted the majesty of his throne on Olympus, usurped the function of the lame god Hephaestus, and set about tinkering? Would you turn your Muses into maidservants?”

Hat tip: Charles E. Burchfield, via Anecdotal Evidence

Henri Martin, La Muse du pientre (c. 1900)

14 July 2020

Spiritual Swamp Fever

J. K. Huysmans, Les Foules de Lourdes (Paris: P. V. Stock, 1906), pp. 213-214 (my translation):
In the past there were scandals every day, but of course we were unaware of them. Now the press spreads them everywhere, even into the most remote corners of the country — and for quite some time they have made us less considerate and less deferential.

No one believes in the honesty of politicians any more, or in the value of generals, or in the independence of judges; no one thinks that the clergy are saints. Without allowing for the exceptions that still exist, we have thrown the peaked cap, the white wig, and the galero into the same bag and sent them all off to the dump. At the moment we are suffering from a kind of malaria of disrespect. No one is safe from this spiritual swamp fever; everyone is affected by it to some extent because no one can escape the atmosphere of his age, and people have even less hope of eluding the demonic influences that are more intense today than they have ever been... The devil is in everything we think, in everything we say, and he is the very air that we breathe.

Félicien Rops, Satan Sewing Weeds (1906)

9 July 2020

6 July 2020

Menace, Madness, Written and Spoken Lies

Alfred Tennyson, “Locksley Hall Sixty Years After,” lines 104-114,  The Complete Poetical Works of Tennyson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1898), p. 520:
Chaos, Cosmos! Cosmos, Chaos! who can tell how all will end?
Read the wide world's annals, you, and take their wisdom for your friend.

Hope the best, but hold the Present fatal daughter of the Past,
Shape your heart to front the hour, but dream not that the hour will last.

Ay, if dynamite and revolver leave you courage to be wise —
When was age so cramm'd with menace? madness? written, spoken lies?

Envy wears the mask of Love, and, laughing sober fact to scorn,
Cries to weakest as to strongest, 'Ye are equals, equal-born.'

Equal-born? O yes, if yonder hill be level with the flat.
Charm us, orator, till the lion look no larger than the cat,

Till the cat thro' that mirage of overheated language loom
Larger than the lion, — Demos end in working its own doom.

G. F. Watts, Alfred, Lord Tennyson (c. 1863)

30 June 2020

A Vision Lost and Buried in a Very Different Past

George Grant, Lament for a Nation (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1994), p. 25:
Growing up in Ontario, the generation of the 1920s took it for granted that they belonged to a nation. The character of the country was self-evident. To say it was British was not to deny it was North American. To be a Canadian was to be a unique species of North American. Such alternatives as F. H. Underhill’s - “Stop being British if you want to be a nationalist” - seemed obviously ridiculous. We were grounded in the wisdom of Sir John A. Macdonald, who saw plainly more than a hundred years ago that the only threat to nationalism was from the South, not from across the sea. To be a Canadian was to build, along with the French, a more ordered and stable society than the liberal experiment in the United States. Now that this hope has been extinguished, we are too old to be retrained by a new master. We find ourselves like fish left on the shores of a drying lake.

Id., pp. 55-56:
The crucial years were those of the early [nineteen] forties. The decisions of those years were made once and for all, and were not compatible with the continuance of a sovereign Canadian nation. Once it was decided that Canada was to be a branch-plant society of American capitalism, the issue of Canadian nationalism had been settled. The decision may or may not have been necessary; it may have been good or bad for Canada to be integrated into the international capitalism that has dominated the West since 1945. But certainly Canada could not exist as a nation when the chief end of the government’s policy was the quickest integration into that complex. The Liberal policy under [C. D.] Howe was integration as fast as possible and at all costs. No other consideration was allowed to stand in the way. The society produced by such policies may reap enormous benefits, but it will not be a nation. Its culture will become the empire’s to which it belongs. Branch-plant economies have branch-plant cultures.

Id., pp. 82-83:
[Early Canadian settlers felt] an inchoate desire to build, in these cold and forbidding regions, a society with a greater sense of order and restraint than freedom-loving republicanism would allow. It was no better defined than a kind of suspicion that we in Canada could be less lawless and have a greater sense of propriety than the United States. The inherited determination not to be Americans allowed these British people to come to a modus vivendi with the more defined desires of the French. English-speaking Canadians have been called a dull, stodgy, and indeed costive lot. In these dynamic days, such qualities are particularly unattractive to the chic. Yet our stodginess has made us a society of greater simplicity, formality, and perhaps even innocence than the people to the south. Whatever differences there were between the Anglicans and the Presbyterians, and however differently their theologians might interpret the doctrine of original sin, both communities believed that the good life made strict demands on self-restraint. Nothing was more alien to them than the “emancipation of the passions” desired in American liberalism. An ethic of self-restraint naturally looks with suspicion on utopian movements, which proceed from an ethic of freedom. The early leaders of British North America identified lack of public and personal restraint with the democratic Republic. Their conservatism was essentially the social doctrine that public order and tradition, in contrast to freedom and experiment, were central to the good life.

Id., p. 106:
Those who loved the older traditions of Canada may be allowed to lament what has been lost, even though they do not know whether or not that loss will lead to some greater political good. But lamentation falls easily into the vice of self-pity. To live with courage is a virtue, whatever one may think of the dominant assumptions of one’s age. Multitudes of human beings through the course of history have had to live when their only political allegiance was irretrievably lost. What was lost was often something far nobler than what Canadians have lost. Beyond courage, it is also possible to live in the ancient faith, which asserts that changes in the world, even if they be recognized more as a loss than a gain, take place within an eternal order that is not affected by their taking place. Whatever the difficulty of philosophy, the religious man has been told that process is not all. “Tendebantque manus ripae ulterioris amore.”

J. E. H. MacDonald, Algoma Waterfall (1920)

Post title from The Cowboy Junkies, The Last Spike

26 June 2020

The Aesthetic Virtues

Jules Breton, The Life of an Artist: An Autobiography, tr. Mary J. Serrano (New York: D. Appleton, 1890), pp. 290-291:
A painter may be interesting provided he has studied Nature sufficiently to avoid copying her expressionless aspects, but he will touch the feelings only in so far as he can interpret her intensities.

How is the artist to learn to recognize the essential features of Nature which he is to depict, and the commonplaces which he is to avoid?

He can only do this by elevating his soul by the contemplation of the beautiful spectacles which strike his imagination, and by lovingly interpreting them.

For it is not enough to discern and portray the superficial character of things; it is necessary also — and this is the most important point — to interpret their meaning, their expression learned by putting our souls in communication with what I shall call the souls of inanimate objects.

For everything in nature has a hidden, and, so to say, a moral life.

This life is mysterious, but in nowise chimerical, and only those, whether poets or artists, who are penetrated deeply with it, have the power to touch the feelings.

What is the sky to me if it does not give me the idea of infinity?

Looking at a twilight scene, it matters little that my eye should receive the impression of the view, if my spirit does not at once experience a feeling of repose, of tranquillity, and of peace. A bunch of flowers should, above all things, rejoice the eye by its freshness.

The spirit of a subject should take precedence of the letter.

Force, Elegance, Majesty, Sweetness, Splendor, Grace, Naiveté, Abundance, Simplicity, Richness, Humility — some one of these qualities, according to the genius of the painter and the nature of the subject, should strike the beholder, in every work, before he has had the time to take in the details of the scene represented.

These are the aesthetic virtues.

They are common to all the arts, which live only through them. The most skillful execution, the most accurate knowledge, can not supply their place.

They are eternal, and pass through the caprices of fashion, without losing any of their sovereign power.

Jules Breton, Le pré fleuri à Courrières (1888)

 For the original see La vie d'un artiste (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1890), pp. 280-281

Related posts:

23 June 2020

Unable to Fight

Theodore Roosevelt, “The Dawn and Sunrise of History,” The Outlook (February 14, 1917), a review of James Henry Breasted's Ancient Times:
The curse of every ancient civilization was that its men in the end became unable to fight. Materialism, luxury, safety, even sometimes an almost modern sentimentality, weakened the fiber of each civilized race in turn; each became in the end a nation of pacifists, and then each was trodden under foot by some ruder people that had kept that virile fighting power the lack of which makes all other virtues useless and sometimes even harmful.
This review is in Vol. 12 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926).

John Singer Sargent, Theodore Roosevelt (1903)

A related post: Courage

18 June 2020


C. S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory," The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (London: HarperCollins, 2000), p. 30:
In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you — the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things — the beauty, the memory of our own past — are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Henri Le Sidaner, Matinée, Montreuil-Bellay (1896)

13 June 2020

Keep Apart

George Gissing, letter to his brother Algernon (22 September, 1885), The Collected letters of George Gissing: 1881-1885, Vol. 2 (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1990), p. 349:
Keep apart, keep apart, and preserve one's soul alive — that is the teaching for the day. It is ill to have been born in these times, but one can make a world within the world. A glimpse of the morning or evening sky will give the right note, and then we must make what music we can.

Théodore Rousseau, Crépuscule en Sologne (1867)

This is one of the first things I posted when I began this blog in 2011.
I still think of it often — just about every day this week.

10 June 2020

A Reminder of the Scale of our Compromise

Alain de Botton (presumed author), "Why Very Beautiful Scenes Can Make Us So Melancholy," The Book of Life :
Beauty has served to highlight, by contrast, everything that has come before. We notice – in a way we couldn’t yesterday – how much disappointment, violence, meanness and humiliation has been written into the structure of our ordinary surroundings and routines and has from there seeped into our souls. Thanks to the little limestone church (that we’ll visit after breakfast) assembled by craftsmen around 1430 and ringing its bells for morning service, we’re finally in a position to feel how much agony is latent in our hearts. We haven’t been pain-free all this time, we’ve just been numb, holding in our sorrow because there was nowhere to discharge it, because there were no alternatives to it and nothing to remind us of the scale of our compromise.

The beauty of the landscape is like the very kind friend who, after a period of turmoil, puts a hand gently on ours and asks how we have been – and does so with such tenderness and intelligent concern, we surprise ourselves by bursting into tears that don’t stop for a very long time.

Hans Thoma, Blick auf ein Taunustal (1890)