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)

11 February 2020

Death Will Reconcile Us All

Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (London: Folio Society, 1992), p. 179:
Here we may observe, and I hope it will not be amiss to take notice of it, that a near view of death would soon reconcile men of good principles one to another, and that it is chiefly owing to our easy situation in life and our putting these things far from us that our breaches are fomented, ill blood continued, prejudices, breach of charity and of Christian union, so much kept and so far carried on among us as it is. Another plague year would reconcile all these differences; a close conversing with death, or with diseases that threaten death, would scum off the gall from our tempers, remove the animosities among us, and bring us to see with differing eyes than those which we looked on things with before. As the people who had been used to join with the Church were reconciled at this time with the admitting the Dissenters to preach to them, so the Dissenters, who with an uncommon prejudice had broken off from the communion of the Church of England, were now content to come to their parish churches and to conform to the worship which they did not approve of before; but as the terror of the infection abated, those things all returned again to their less desirable channel and to the course they were in before.

I mention this but historically. I have no mind to enter into arguments to move either or both sides to a more charitable compliance one with another. I do not see that it is probable such a discourse would be either suitable or successful; the breaches seem rather to widen, and tend to a widening further, than to closing, and who am I that I should think myself able to influence either one side or other? But this I may repeat again, that 'tis evident death will reconcile us all; on the other side the grave we shall be all brethren again. In heaven, whither I hope we may come from all parties and persuasions, we shall find neither prejudice or scruple; there we shall be of one principle and of one opinion. Why we cannot be content to go hand in hand to the place where we shall join heart and hand without the least hesitation, and with the most complete harmony and affection,—I say, why we cannot do so here I can say nothing to, neither shall I say anything more of it but that it remains to be lamented.

Arnold Böcklin, The Plague (1898)

6 February 2020

Take the Weight Off Your Psyche

Mary Hobson, The Feast; An Autobiography (London: Thorpewood Publishing, 2015), p. 76:
The person who benefits most from any translation is the translator. By the time you have sucked the juice out of every last Russian idea, thrown all the English words into the air which are in any way connected with it, found two that rhyme (sometimes three in Pushkin’s case), shunted them along to the end of the line, while attempting to preserve the music of the thing and rejecting anything that Jane Austen could not have said naturally in prose, continually asking yourself ‘How would Pushkin have said that if he’d been an Englishman?’, you feel as close to the poem as you're likely to get. And to the poet with whom you have now formed a relationship. It is addictive. Somewhere between a crossword and fine art. You'll never stop once you've started. And it has this additional advantage; you can take the weight off your psyche for an hour or two by trying to inhabit someone else’s.

Why is Jane Austen my standard? Because both Pushkin and Jane Austen wrote on the cusp of classicism and romanticism, and they took the best from both. Because they express so much in so few words, because they can both write with such wit and such grace that their profundity is sometimes overlooked.
Hobson began studying Russian when she was 56 and earned a PhD in the subject from London University when she was 74. She offers some advice about learning the language here. Those who speak Russian may be interested in her interview with the BBC World Service; it's beyond me. What little Russian I know comes from watching Leningrad videos: Где же Пушкин в кителе?

Valentin Serov, Alexander Pushkin on a Park Bench (1899)

28 January 2020

Miracles

Ralph Waldo Emerson, entry for November 6, 1828, The Heart of Emerson's Journals, ed. Bliss Perry (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1926), pp. 118-119:
'Miracles have ceased.' Have they indeed? When? They had not ceased this afternoon when I walked into the wood and got into bright, miraculous sunshine, in shelter from the roaring wind. Who sees a pine-cone, or the turpentine exuding from the tree, or a leaf, the unit of vegetation, fall from its bough, as if it said, 'the year is finished' or hears in the quiet, piny glen the chickadee chirping his cheerful note, or walks along the lofty promontory-like ridges which, like natural causeways, traverse the morass, or gazes upward at the rushing clouds, or downward at a moss or a stone and says to himself, 'Miracles have ceased' ? Tell me, good friend, when this hillock on which your foot stands swelled from the level of the sphere by volcanic force; pick up that pebble at your foot; look at its gray sides, its sharp crystal, and tell me what fiery inundation of the world melted the minerals like wax, and, as if the globe were one glowing crucible, gave this stone its shape. There is the truth-speaking pebble itself, to affirm to endless ages the thing was so. Tell me where is the manufactory of this air, so thin, so blue, so restless, which eddies around you, in which your life floats, of which your lungs are but an organ, and which you coin into musical words. I am agitated with curiosity to know the secret of nature. Why cannot geology, why cannot botany speak and tell me what has been, what is, as I run along the forest promontory, and ask when it rose like a blister on heated steel? Then I looked up and saw the sun shining in the vast sky, and heard the wind bellow above and the water glistened in the vale. These were the forces that wrought then and work now. Yes, there they grandly speak to all plainly, in proportion as we are quick to apprehend.

Théodore Rousseau, A Path Among the Rocks (1861)

21 January 2020

Cheap Things Make Cheap Men

Charles Robert Ashbee, Craftsmanship in Competitive Industry; Being a Record of the Workshops of the Guild of Handicraft, and Some Deductions From Their Twenty-One Years' Experience (London: Essex House Press, 1908), pp. 92-93:
When Ruskin nearly half a century ago said that “cheap things made cheap men,” everybody thought the proposition absurd, but when Mr. Joseph Chamberlain suddenly repeated it as his own, in his own great city of Birmingham, at a time when things were getting unpleasantly cheaper and cheaper, it was found to be true. There is nothing like having the shoe pinch for bringing home the truth! The strange thing is that at all other great periods in the world’s history, the great civilizations have accepted this truth as an integral part of their social economy. We, however, have been blinded by the apparent success and the superficial results of our Industrialism from seeing it. But suddenly we are faced with a phenomenon, a monster with two heads, that we had never observed before. A vast output of rotten, useless, sweated, cheap industries, and a vast growth of nerveless, characterless, underfed, cheap men and women. The monster stands face to face with our civilization, it threatens to extinguish our culture, to destroy our life as a people.
A William Morris chair, sturdy and enduring
Image and free PDF plans available from Popular Woodworking

16 January 2020

Some Write Their Names for Those Behind

Eugene Lee-Hamilton, "The Ladder," Poems and Transcripts (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1878), pp. 10-11:
Life is a ladder which we all must climb;
Some climb alone and some in company;
Some clad in purple, some in tattered rags;
Some climb it followed by their fellow-men
In livery, and some by hungry duns;
Some followed by policemen half the way;
Some climb the ladder boldly, sword in hand,
And others slowly, yawning at each step;
And each man bears a load upon his back:
With one it is a heavy bag of gold;
Another upwards with a load of aches.
Or, worse, a load of evil conscience goes.
All with a weight of care. And all along
The ladder's length are overhanging boughs.
With fruits and flowers for the strong to pluck;
But many, snatching, overreach and fall.
And there are boughs, beneath whose grateful shade
We fain would stop, but we are hurried on,
As in a treadmill, to the journey's end;
And woe to him who looks too far ahead,
Nor feels each step that comes beneath his foot.
Much angry hustling on the way occurs;
The steps are narrow, and the crowd is great:
Some men, in mounting, cling to others' skirts.
But some to others lend a helping hand,
And care but little how they fare themselves.
Some on the ladder write their names for those
Behind to read, but most can leave no trace.
Most climbers drop before they get half-way;
Some, jostled off by treacherous neighbours, fall;
And some jump off, of their own sad accord.
But few are those who reach the topmost bars,
With hair fast whitening as they upward go.
And gathering honours as they take each step;
And when once there, they heave a gentle sigh.
And, scarcely conscious, softly smile — and die.

Maurice Denis, L'Échelle dans le feuillage (1892)

Other poems by Lee-Hamilton:

13 January 2020

We Like the Picture, We Like the Glow

Olive Schreiner, “The Artist's Secret,” Dreams (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1892), pp. 119-122:
There was an artist once, and he painted a picture. Other artists had colours richer and rarer, and painted more notable pictures. He painted his with one colour, there was a wonderful red glow on it; and the people went up and down, saying, “We like the picture, we like the glow.”

The other artists came and said, “Where does he get his colour from?” They asked him; and he smiled and said, “I cannot tell you”; and worked on with his head bent low.

And one went to the far East and bought costly pigments, and made a rare colour and painted, but after a time the picture faded. Another read in the old books, and made a colour rich and rare, but when he had put it on the picture it was dead.

But the artist painted on. Always the work got redder and redder, and the artist grew whiter and whiter. At last one day they found him dead before his picture, and they took him up to bury him. The other men looked about in all the pots and crucibles, but they found nothing they had not.

And when they undressed him to put his grave-clothes on him, they found above his left breast the mark of a wound — it was an old, old wound, that must have been there all his life, for the edges were old and hardened; but Death, who seals all things, had drawn the edges together, and closed it up.

And they buried him. And still the people went about saying, “Where did he find his colour from?”

And it came to pass that after a while the artist was forgotten — but the work lived.

Carlos Schwabe's illustration for this story, taken from the French edition,
tr. Henriette Mirabaud-Thorends (Paris: Ernest Flammarion, 1912), p. 89.
Image credit: Gallica

3 January 2020

A Fine Barn

Ralph Waldo Emerson, undated entry from 1828, The Heart of Emerson's Journals, ed. Bliss Perry (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1926), p. 41:
I like to have a man’s knowledge comprehend more than one class of topics, one row of shelves. I like a man who likes to see a fine barn as well as a good tragedy.

12 December 2019

Revolutionary Talent

Louis de Bonald, Pensées sur Divers Sujets, Vol. I (Paris: Adrien Le Clere, 1817), p. 62 (my translation):
Everyone is able to destroy things, but few can rebuild. If we were to give the Tuileries Palace to a troop of monkeys to demolish, the smallest ones would break the windows while the others smashed in the doors and set fire to the wooden beams. The building, no matter how solid, would soon be in ruins. But if we wanted them to erect a cottage, they would not know where to begin. This is because you need to have a plan, an orderly method of thinking and working, if you want to build something; none of that is required to wreak destruction. This is the story of revolutions and the reason why there was so much revolutionary talent to be found, even in the lowest ranks of society. It is a talent that foolish people admire.

Gabriel von Max, Monkeys as Art Critics (1889)

11 December 2019

Books and Friends Must Be Chosen

Thomas Sturge Moore, "A Note on the Relation of the Printed Book as a Work of Art to Life," A Brief Account of the Origin of the Eragny Press (Hammersmith: The Eragny Press, 1903), p. 9:
It is vain to suppose that we can live with all and any; each palate has a different range, every appetite is limited; as with food, so with knowledge, so with affection. Books & friends must be chosen. Here is the answer to those who complain of expense: the wise sell all they have to buy what they really value. The result achieved by self-discipline and a sound nature is precisely parallel to the result achieved by the artist's painstaking and native gift; it is beauty. Nor are the two beauties independent, nor can they be without loss disassociated; for to starve the eye is to impoverish the spirit & «quand notre mérite baisse, notre goût baisse aussi».1 This then is why it is folly or misfortune to read ugly books, just as it is to read trash. This is the relation of the beautiful book to life. The alternative lies between effort to keep going and effort to create: every man fails who is not at least an artist in regard to himself; to aim at mere maintenance is to think to solve the problem of perpetual motion, a result which all who think must perceive to be insignificant even if it be not a dream.
A maxim from La Rochefoucauld (#379), translated by George H. Powell as "When our Merit lowers, our Taste lowers with it."


The opening pages to a selection of Pierre de Ronsard's
sonnets, published by The Eragny Press in 1902


Moore's Brief Account was a limited edition of 175 copies. At the moment there is only one for sale on Abebooks, at a price of $850.

Not unrelated: Brook Type

3 December 2019

Corrupted and Copied

Hilaire Belloc, "On Footnotes," Selected Essays (London: Methuen & Co., 1948), pp. 173-174:
He [one of Belloc's friends] was reading up an economic question, and he found himself perpetually referred to a pamphlet of the late seventeenth century wherein was a certain economic statement upon the point of his research. Book after book referred him to this supposed statement, but he being, as I have said, a learned, civilized, and ironical man (though too sparing in wine) concluded from his general knowledge — and very few learned men have general knowledge — that, in the words of the Old Kent Road murderer, "There must be some mistake." He couldn’t believe any seventeenth-century pamphlet had said what this oft-quoted pamphlet was made responsible for.

He proceeded to look up the pamphlet, the references to which followed him about like a dog through all his research. He found there were two copies — and only two. One was in a certain public library, the other in a rich man’s house. The public library was far off, and the rich man was nearer by — an hour’s journey in the train. So he wrote to the rich man and asked him whether he might look at this pamphlet in the library which his ancestors had accumulated, but to which the rich man had added nothing, being indeed indifferent to reading and writing. The rich man very politely answered that his library had unfortunately been burnt down, and that the pamphlet had been burnt with it. Whereupon the learned man was at the pains of taking a long journey to consult the copy kept in the public library. He discovered two things: (a) that the copy had never been used at all — it was uncut; (b) that the references always given had hardly any relation to the actual text. Then did he, as is the habit of all really learned people, go and waste a universe of energy in working out the textual criticism of the corruption, and he proved that the last time anyone had, with his own eyes, really seen that particular passage, instead of merely pretending that he had seen it, was in the year 1738 — far too long ago! Ever since then the reference had been first corrupted and then copied and recopied in its corrupted form by the University charlatans

William Hogarth, Scholars at a Lecture (1736)

2 December 2019

Friends of Reason

J. B. Bury, A History of Freedom of Thought (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1913), p. 50:
If we review the history of classical antiquity as a whole, we may almost say that freedom of thought was like the air men breathed. It was taken for granted and nobody thought about it. If seven or eight thinkers at Athens were penalized for heterodoxy, in some and perhaps in most of these cases heterodoxy was only a pretext. They do not invalidate the general facts that the advance of knowledge was not impeded by prejudice, or science retarded by the weight of unscientific authority. The educated Greeks were tolerant because they were friends of reason and did not set up any authority to overrule reason. Opinions were not imposed except by argument; you were not expected to receive some “kingdom of heaven” like a little child, or to prostrate your intellect before an authority claiming to be infallible.

Nicolas Poussin, Truth Stolen Away by Time,
Beyond the Reach of Envy and Discord
(1641)

25 November 2019

The Ethos of the Nonesuch Press

Sarah Knights, Bloomsbury's Outsider: A Life of David Garnett (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), pp. 182-183:
The Nonesuch ethos was simple: they wanted to produce beautiful books, in limited editions, for people who wanted to read them, rather than simply to own them. They were also interested in bringing back into print books which had literary or intrinsic artistic merit. They were thus largely responsible for the resurgence of interest in Restoration literature and drama, and with Geoffrey Keynes — surgeon, scholar and bibliophile — as one of their main editors, they reignited interest in the poet William Blake.

The three partners [Francis Meynell, Vera Mendel, and David Garnett] did not want to produce books which were unduly expensive. On the contrary, by out-sourcing their printing, rather than becoming laboriously involved in typesetting, they could produce exquisite limited editions at relatively affordable prices. As Francis explained: ‘Our stock-in-trade has been the theory that mechanical means could be made to serve fine ends; that the machine in printing was a controllable tool. Therefore we set out to be mobilisers of other people’s resources; to be designers, specifiers; rather than manufacturers; architects of books rather than builders.’
The title page to the Nonesuch edition of Hazlitt's essays
Image taken from John Krygier's admirable web site.

21 November 2019

The High Ideal of Antiquity

Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, "Limits of Culture," Essays and Studies (Baltimore: N. Murray, 1890), pp. 16-17:
As the Spartans discouraged those gymnastic exercises which did not bear directly on the efficiency of the soldier, so our modern reformers try to frown down all studies which do not prepare for 'the work of life'. But what is 'the work of life'? Is it not just here that we need the high ideal of antiquity in order to counteract the depressing tendencies of modern civilization, and especially those of American civilization? The aims of most cultivated people are, when examined, no more exalted than those of their uneducated neighbors. How few feel 'the poorness and insignificance of human life, if it is to be all spent in making things comfortable for ourselves and our kin, and raising ourselves and them a step or two on the social ladder.'1 Material well-being in more or less refined forms, is more or less consciously the main object. But the ideal life of antiquity is constructed after a different pattern; and though it is as unattainable by the means of mere humanity as the antique ideal of the state, we must confess the superiority of the one as of the other to the negative virtues and positive selfishness of our modern standards. 'Life is short', says the modern. 'Acquire by the shortest way the most efficient appliances for self-advancement.' 'Life is short', says an ancient. 'The one, true fruit of life on earth is purity of heart and work for the good of society.'2 Which is nearer to the Christian model? The one is a machine, the other a corpse; but into this you may breathe the soul of love, into that you can only introduce horse-power or donkey-power, as the case may be.
                 1 John Stuart Mill 
                 2 Marcus Aurelius, vi. 30.

Hat tip: Laudator Temporis Acti

Related posts:


Lawrence Alma-Tadema, A Reading from Homer (1885)

19 November 2019

Fritz Schönpflug

I could be wrong, but I believe this picture by Fritz Schönpflug (1873-1951) is of a lieutenant with the Imperial and Royal Dragoons:

12 November 2019

Sounding the Depths

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

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

6 November 2019

Maurice Utrillo at Mont Saint-Michel

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

Maurice Utrillo, Le Mont Saint-Michel (1922)

4 November 2019

The Contract Between Artist and Public

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

Related posts:

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

    Silent Friends

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

    Ferdinand Hodler, Lesender Pfarrer (1885)

    21 October 2019

    A Daily Exhortation

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

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

    16 October 2019

    The Manners of an Unhousebroken Mutt

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

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

    7 October 2019

    They Had Everything but Money

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

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

    4 October 2019

    Highly Speculative Work

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

    Georg Friedrich Kersting, Der elegante Leser (1812)

    1 October 2019

    Resist Your Time

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

    Ferdinand Hodler, Spaziergänger im Wald (1885)

    25 September 2019

    Fifteen Minutes a Day

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

    20 September 2019

    We Need Minstrels

    Percival Pollard, Masks and Minstrels of New Germany (Boston: J. W. Luce and Co., 1911), p. 26:
    We need minstrels, not mechanics. The latter, like weeds, will always flourish. But minstrels — we pretend their day is done, forgetting that some of their songs will live when all our towers of stone and steel are in the likeness of what once was Baalbek. For there is no more wonderful mystery in the world than the handing down from generation to generation, from folk to folk, of songs, of ballads, often even without aid of writing. The singers die; the streets and towns that knew them may be leveled to the dust; only the song survives.
    Of course when Pollard speaks of minstrels he is referring to the wandering musicians of medieval Europe, not the other kind...

    Lucas van Leyden, The Musicians (1524)

    18 September 2019

    How to Judge a Book

    Jean de La Bruyère, "Of Works of the Mind," The Characters of Jean de La Bruyère, tr. Henri Van Laun (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885), p. 18:
    When, after having read a work, loftier thoughts arise in your mind and noble and heartfelt feelings animate you, do not look for any other rule to judge it by; it is fine and written in a masterly manner.

    Quand une lecture vous élève l’esprit, et qu’elle vous inspire des sentiments nobles et courageux, ne cherchez pas une autre règle pour juger l’ouvrage; il est bon, et fait de main d’ouvrier.

    One of Victor Chevin's illustrations for Les caractères
    (Paris: Laplace, Sanchez et Cie, 1839)

    13 September 2019

    Where You From?

    Wendell Berry, interviewed in The New Yorker (July 14, 2019):
    Well, part of manners used to be to say to somebody you just met, “Where you from?” And I quit asking it, because so many people say they’re from everywhere or nowhere. 
    Homer Watson (1855-1936), Figure on the Road and Farmhouse at Sunset

    12 September 2019

    One Feels Exactly Like an Old Cab Horse

    Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo (s. d.), The Letters of a Post-Impressionist; Being the Familiar Correspondence of Vincent van Gogh, tr. Anthony Ludovici (London: Constable, 1912), p. 97:
    In the midst of an artistic life there arises again and again the yearning for real life, which remains an unrealizable ideal. And often enough the desire to devote one’s self completely to art, with ever fresher strength, entirely disappears. One feels exactly like an old cab horse, and one knows that one must always return to the same old shafts when all the while one would so love to live in the fields, in the sun, near the river, in the country, with other horses, also free, and have the right to procreate one’s kind. And I should not be at all surprised if this were whence the heart trouble comes. One offers no resistance, neither does one resign one’s self; the fact is, one is ill; the thing will not go away of its own accord, and yet there is no remedy for it. I really do not know who called the state “a case of death and immortality.”

    Vincent van Gogh, Paysage au crépuscule  (1890)

    9 September 2019

    The Charms of Pedestrianism

    John Burroughs, "Winter Sunshine," The Footpath Way; An Anthology For Those Who Travel by Countryside, ed. Alfred H. Hyatt (Edinburgh: T. N. Foulis, 1906), p. 269:
    I do not think I exaggerate the importance or the charms of pedestrianism, or our need as a people to cultivate the art. I think it would tend to soften the national manners, to teach us the meaning of leisure, to acquaint us with the charms of the open air, to strengthen and foster the tie between the race and the land. No one else looks out upon the world so kindly and charitably as the pedestrian; no one else gives and takes so much from the country he passes through. Next to the labourer in the fields, the walker holds the closest relation to the soil; and he holds a closer and more vital relation to Nature because he is freer and his mind more at leisure. The roads and paths you have walked along in summer and winter weather, the fields and hills which you have looked upon in lightness and gladness of heart, where fresh thoughts have come into your mind, or some noble prospect has opened before you, and especially the quiet ways where you have walked in sweet converse with your friend, pausing under the trees, drinking at the spring— henceforth they are not the same; a new charm is added; those thoughts spring there perennial, your friend walks there for ever.
    Caspar David Friedrich, A Walk at Dusk (c. 1830–1835)

    A related post: A Country Walk

    4 September 2019

    Handling and Reading a Beautiful Book

    Henry Howard Harper, The Functions of the Book Club (Cambridge, MA: privately printed at The University Press, 1908), p. 22:
    A very common mistake that book clubs make is that many of their books are cumbersome and of irregular and inconvenient size. Sometimes an awkward size results from some necessity, but more often not. The rules of good taste and convenience are frequently violated by setting a large solid page in small type, with insufficient margins, and having twice as many pages as there should be in a volume. It is not quantity that the booklover looks to, — it is quality. More than half the joy of possessing, handling and reading a book is lost to the booklover if the size be of awkward and inconsistent proportions and the pages not properly set and spaced. The pleasure of handling and reading a beautiful book is trivial as compared with the enjoyment of showing it to admiring friends, especially if it's a book that can't be bought in the market. How much it adds to the joy of possession when we can lay out a beautiful book for our friend to feast his eyes upon, knowing all the while (and not forgetting to tell him) that a copy couldn't be bought in the market for love or money! This is not selfishness — it is a permissible heritage of the booklover's pride. 
    Hat tip: Jerry Morris in a post on Henry Howard Harper and The Bibliophile Society

    A related post: The Elements of a Well-Designed Book


     John Frederick Peto, Still Life with Books and Inkwell (1899)

    1 September 2019

    Labour Day

    Henry David Thoreau, "The Commercial Spirit," (a commencement address given at Harvard 16 August, 1837) quoted in Familiar Letters Henry David Thoreau, ed. F. B. Sanborn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1894), pp. 8-9:
    Let men, true to their natures, cultivate the moral affections, lead manly and independent lives; let them make riches the means and not the end of existence, and we shall hear no more of the commercial spirit. The sea will not stagnate, the earth will be as green as ever, and the air as pure. This curious world which we inhabit is more wonderful than it is convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used. The order of things should be somewhat reversed; the seventh should be man's day of toil, wherein to earn his living by the sweat of his brow; and the other six his Sabbath of the affections and the soul, — in which to range this widespread garden, and drink in the soft influences and sublime revelations of Nature.

    Charles-François Daubigny, Coucher de soleil sur l'Oise (1866)

    26 August 2019

    Henri Le Sidaner

    I reached the third and final stage of an intellectual labour last month: I finished translating Camille Mauclair's monograph about the Intimist painter Henri Le Sidaner (1862-1939).

    The book (casewrap hardcover, medium octavo, 142 pages) contains seventy colour illustrations and is printed on 70 lb. matte white paper; the images are not quite as vivid as they would be on glossy stock, but it seemed a reasonable compromise to keep the price below $40 USD (which is no small feat, even in 1997 dollars).

    If any of you, my dear readers (— mes semblables, mes frères, mes sœurs! ) are able to recommend it for purchase at your local public or university library, I would appreciate it very much. The book is distributed by Ingram in North America and by both Gardners and Bertrams in the United Kingdom. The ISBN is 9780981178035.

    Individuals can order it from the usual places, including Amazon, 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)