Saturday, April 20, 2019


With His Last Breath

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), Avril, Being Essays on the Poetry of the French Renaissance (1904; rpt. London: Duckworth, 1931), pp. 131-132 (on Malherbe):
His zeal for his tongue was real. As he lay upon his death-bed making his confession after so vigorous a life, he heard his nurse say something to herself which sounded ungrammatical and, turning round from the priest, he put her right in a manner most violent and sudden. His confessor, startled, said: "The time is not relevant." "All times are relevant!" he answered, sinking back. "I will defend with my last breath the purity and grandeur of the French tongue."
On the following page (133) of this edition is a quotation from Malherbe disfigured by a typographical error:
Vouloir ce que Dieu vent est la seule Science
                   Qui nous met en repos.
For vent read veut. The first edition is correct.


The Rebel

Sophocles, Electra 1043 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
I do not wish to live by rules like that.

τούτοις ἐγὼ ζῆν τοῖς νόμοις οὐ βούλομαι.



Walter W. Skeat (1835-1912), A Student's Pastime (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896), p. lxxvii:
And few things have surprised me more, in the course of my experience, than the eager recklessness with which such puerilities are vented, the extraordinary readiness with which they are accepted and applauded, and the tenacity with which they are defended against the clearest exhibition of evidence. Paradox and grotesqueness are powerful in their favour, whilst the simple truth is but plain and prosaic. Are we therefore to give way, to let fancy have its free fling, and allow ignorance to revel in its recklessness? I have always maintained that, if truth be simple, it is also instructive, and that only docility promotes progress. Of course I have found mistakes in ideas of my own, but have always thought it wisest to drop such notions like a red-hot coal; which is the teaching of common sense.

Thursday, April 18, 2019


Ill Fate

Richard Wagner (1813-1883), The Valkyrie 1.2.188-192 (tr. Andrew Porter):
Ill fate lay on me.
For what I thought was right,
others reckoned was wrong,
and what seemed to me bad,
others held to be good.

Unheil lag auf mir.
Was Rechtes je ich riet,
andern dünkte es arg,
was schlimm immer mir schien,
andre gaben ihm Gunst.


The Very Best Medicos in the World

Herman Melville (1819-1891), Redburn, chapter 17:
The only man who seemed to be taking his ease that day, was our black cook; who according to the invariable custom at sea, always went by the name of the doctor.

And doctors, cooks certainly are, the very best medicos in the world; for what pestilent pills and potions of the Faculty are half so serviceable to man, and health-and-strength-giving, as roasted lamb and green peas, say, in spring; and roast beef and cranberry sauce in winter? Will a dose of calomel and jalap do you as much good? Will a bolus build up a fainting man? Is there any satisfaction in dining off a powder? But these doctors of the frying-pan sometimes kill men off by a surfeit; or give them the headache, at least. Well, what then? No matter. For if with their most goodly and ten times jolly medicines, they now and then fill our nights with tribulations, and abridge our days, what of the social homicides perpetrated by the Faculty? And when you die by a pill-doctor's hands, it is never with a sweet relish in your mouth, as though you died by a frying-pan-doctor; but your last breath villainously savors of ipecac and rhubarb. Then, what charges they make for the abominable lunches they serve out so stingily! One of their bills for boluses would keep you in good dinners a twelve-month.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


Opinions Different From Ours

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), Essays 3.8 (tr. Donald M. Frame):
No propositions astonish me, no belief offends me, whatever contrast it offers with my own. There is no fancy so frivolous and extravagant that it does not seem to me quite suitable to the production of the human mind. We who deprive our judgment of the right to make decisions look mildly on opinions different from ours; and if we do not lend them our judgment, we easily lend them our ears.

Nulles propositions m'estonnent, nulle creance me blesse, quelque contrarieté qu'elle aye à la mienne. Il n'est si frivole et si extravagante fantasie qui ne me semble bien sortable à la production de l'esprit humain. Nous autres, qui privons nostre jugement du droict de faire des arrests, regardons mollement les opinions diverses; et, si nous n'y prestons le jugement, nous y prestons aiséement l'oreille.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019


Enemies of Scholarship

Roger Scruton, "The Plague of Sociology," Untimely Tracts (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1987), pp. 237-239 (at 237-238):
Academics who in this way silence discussion and who adopt a political stance as both unquestionable and the foregone conclusion of their subject are the enemies of scholarship. When the resources of a discipline are diverted to the task of fortifying a political dogma and protecting its intellectual weaknesses behind an impenetrable barrier of abstraction, and when those who question the dogma are dismissed as intellectually worthless and morally corrupt, we might justly suspect that we no longer have to do with an impartial science.



Donald Richie (1924-2013), The Inland Sea (1971; rpt. Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 2002), p. 123:
I stay at a small inn at Kasaoka. It is new, traditional in style, made of good wood, clean and neat. Its only concession to modernity is the bath, which is rather self-consciously rustic, all shells and pebbles with water-spouting turtles and a tall and dangerous-looking pottery crane. The water is saturated with the pine extract that turns it a bright chartreuse, which country people for some reason or other associate with gracious living.

Back in my room, smelling faintly of pine scent and waiting for my supper, I look idly from the window. Then I notice the lintel. It is beautifully made, admirably carpentered. I follow the edge of the window down to the sill and see that the underside, a place no one will ordinarily ever observe, is equally well worked.

I look around my perfectly ordinary room. It is a small masterpiece of joinery, obviously the work of a master carpenter. But, then, in Japan all traditional carpenters are masters of their art. They make perfect joints as the Zen archer makes perfect bull's-eyes—without thinking about it, as though it were impossible not to make a perfect joint. This skill, this philosophy of craft, is passing away rapidly, particularly in the cities with their mass-produced, jerry-built buildings; but, where it still exists, the perfection of Japanese craftsmanship is impressive; it is the product of the pride people take in what they do.


Burying the Dead

Luke 9.59-60 (KJV):
And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.

εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς ἕτερον· Ἀκολούθει μοι. ὁ δὲ εἶπεν· Κύριε, ἐπίτρεψόν μοι ἀπελθόντι πρῶτον θάψαι τὸν πατέρα μου. εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ· Ἄφες τοὺς νεκροὺς θάψαι τοὺς ἑαυτῶν νεκρούς, σὺ δὲ ἀπελθὼν διάγγελλε τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.
Sophocles, Electra 145-146 (tr. R.C. Jebb):
Foolish is the child who forgets a parent's piteous death.

νήπιος ὃς τῶν οἰκτρῶς
οἰχομένων γονέων ἐπιλάθεται.
Sophocles, Electra 236-244:
But what measure is there in my wretchedness? Say, how can it be right to neglect the dead? Was that impiety ever born in mortal? Never may I have praise of such; never when my lot is cast in pleasant places, may I cling to selfish ease, or dishonour my sire by restraining the wings of shrill lamentation!

καὶ τί μέτρον κακότατος ἔφυ; φέρε,
πῶς ἐπὶ τοῖς φθιμένοις ἀμελεῖν καλόν;
ἐν τίνι τοῦτ᾽ ἔβλαστ᾽ ἀνθρώπων;
μήτ᾽ εἴην ἔντιμος τούτοις
μήτ᾽, εἴ τῳ πρόσκειμαι χρηστῷ,        240
ξυνναίοιμ᾽ εὔκηλος, γονέων
ἐκτίμους ἴσχουσα πτέρυγας
ὀξυτόνων γόων.

Monday, April 15, 2019


A Painter Should Know Everything

Paul Valéry (1871-1945), Degas, Manet, Morisot, tr. David Paul (New York: Pantheon Books, ©1960), pp. 46-47:
I would say that a painter should know everything; but above all he should know how to use his knowledge.

When we know the structure of an object, we see it quite differently. The important thing is, not so much to show the muscles under the skin, but to keep in mind what it is the skin covers. This implies a degree of inquiry which, to me, seems full of advantage.

But there is one observation I must make: as the period gradually recedes when perspective and anatomy were still to be reckoned with, painting confines itself more and more to study from the life; less and less does it invent, compose, and create.

The renunciation of anatomy and perspective was simply a renunciation of intellectual activity in painting for the sake of immediate visual appeal.

By this change, European painting lost something of its will to power....

And some of its freedom, in consequence.

Who today would embark on the enterprise of a Michelangelo or a Tintoretto, on a scale of invention that makes full play with all working problems, attacking the questions of grouping, foreshortening, movement, architecture, symbolism and still life, action, expression, and ornament, with an audacity as extraordinary as it is successful?

For us, a couple of apples on a dish, a nude with the usual black triangle are exhausting feats.

Je leur dis qu'il faudrait tout savoir; mais, sur toute chose, savoir se servir de ce que l'on sait.

On voit tout autrement un objet dont on connaît la structure. Il ne s'agit point de montrer des muscles sous la peau, mais de penser un peu à ce qui est sous elle. Cela fait un questionnaire profond. J'y vois avantage.

Mais voici une observation que je fais: plus s'éloigne l'époque où perspective et anatomie n'étaient point toutes négligées, plus la peinture se restreint au travail d'après le modèle, moins elle invente, compose et crée.

L'abandon de l'anatomie et de la perspective fut simplement l'abandon de l'action de l'esprit dans la peinture au profit du seul divertissement instantané de l'oeil.

La peinture européenne a perdu à ce moment quelque chose de sa volonté de puissance...

Et par conséquent, de sa liberté.

Qui se lancerait aujourd'hui dans l'entreprise d'un Michel-Ange ou d'un Tintoret, c'est-à-dire dans une invention qui se joue des problèmes d'exécution, qui affronte les groupes, les raccourcis. les mouvements, les architectures, les attributs et natures mortes, l'action, l'expression et le décor, avec une témérité et un bonheur extraordinaires?

Deux pommes sur un compotier, une académie à triangle noir nous épuisent.


Motor Cars and Roads

Roger Scruton, "On Roads and Railways," Untimely Tracts (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1987), pp. 169-171 (at 170):
We are familiar with the noise, the dirt, the danger and the general heightening of frenzy that are engendered by the motor car. Most of us would be happy to see motor vehicles excluded from towns and the roads handed over to pedestrians, cyclists and — for the chronically indolent — the occasional sedan chair. But no such ban could be contemplated without a serious government policy — a policy of determined reaction against the motor car.

We are equally familiar with the ruin caused by roads — the ruin of towns, villages, wildlife and countryside. The creative capacity of roads is even worse, however, than their capacity to destroy. Roads enable people to live in one place, work in another, rear children in a third, take their leisure in a fourth and remain obscurely attached to a fifth which they sometimes visit. Roads scatter the population, destroying home and community and placing a veil before our purposes, which can be fulfilled only after a frenzied burst of motion to some other place.

Roads are therefore a major cause of man's estrangement. Under their influence he lives subject to the illusion that he can be better satisfied in some other place, and in some other company, than those to which fate has assigned him.
A true conservative policy would involve the following measures: a cessation of all motorway construction; a high fuel tax; a restriction of motor traffic in towns; the installation of cycle lanes; an expansion of the railways and a restoration of the branch lines.
Related posts:


Brains, Not Brawn

Sophocles, Ajax 1250-1254 (tr. R.C. Trevelyan):
                                                 'Tis not the big
Broad-shouldered men on whom we most rely;
No, 'tis the wise who are masters everywhere.
An ox, however large of rib, may yet
Be kept straight on the road by a little whip.

                                  οὐ γὰρ οἱ πλατεῖς
οὐδ᾿ εὐρύνωτοι φῶτες ἀσφαλέστατοι,
ἀλλ᾿ οἱ φρονοῦντες εὖ κρατοῦσι πανταχοῦ.
μέγας δὲ πλευρὰ βοῦς ὑπὸ σμικρᾶς ὅμως
μάστιγος ὀρθὸς εἰς ὁδὸν πορεύεται.

1250 πλατεῖς codd.: παχεῖς Nauck
P.J. Finglass ad loc.
The rejection of πλάτος in favour of intelligence is paralleled by [Simon.] 898 FGE οὐ πλάτεϊ νικῶν σώματος ἀλλὰ τέχνᾳ; cf. also Cic. Sen. 17 non viribus aut velocitate aut celeritate corporum res magnae geruntur, sed consilio auctoritate sententia.

Saturday, April 13, 2019


For Jefferson's Birthday

Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Brazier (August 24, 1819):
Among the values of classical learning, I estimate the luxury of reading the Greek and Roman authors in all the beauties of their originals. And why should not this innocent and elegant luxury take its pre-eminent stand ahead of all those addressed merely to the senses? I think myself more indebted to my father for this than for all the other luxuries his cares and affections have placed within my reach; and more now than when younger, and more susceptible of delights from other sources. When the decays of age have enfeebled the useful energies of the mind, the classic pages fill up the vacuum of ennui and become sweet composers to that rest of the grave into which we are all sooner or later to descend.

Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Jefferson (Washington,
National Gallery of Art, accession number 1986.711)



Roger Scruton, "The Triumph of Nothingness," Untimely Tracts (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1987), pp. 163-165 (at 163):
Most of the thinkers urged upon us as 'correctives' to our Anglo-Saxon parochialism are, in my view, charlatans of the first order, who prefer paradox and posturing to the hard-won insights of philosophical argument. Their reputation is derived from two extraneous circumstances: first, their gobbledegook, which offers to the second-rate academic an impenetrable cloak of false expertise; second, their conclusions, which are almost invariably 'subversive of the established order', in a way that dignifies the gestures of armchair rebellion whereby the academic reminds himself that he was once alive. In short, they provide to the intellectually balding a dashing wig of long hair.


I Smell False Latine

Megan McArdle, "Irish cultural pride gives this cosmopolitan second thoughts," Washington Post (April 12, 2019):
For one thing, if we want to keep more than colorful costumes and a few place-names, the affirmative kind of groupishness will be doing the main work of preserving the cultural and linguistic diversity we're all supposedly celebrating. And for another, that sort of groupishness is much more common than homo liberalus, that rootless cultural and intellectual polyamorist whom political scientist Patrick Deneen has dubbed the "self-made and self-making."

Indeed, I question whether homo liberalus exists at all, or can, this self-creating self-sprung full-blown from the head of John Stuart Mill on the day before yesterday. True self-authorship seems no more possible than the perpetual motion machine; the greatest engine in the world still draws its motive power from outside.
I, too, "question whether homo liberalus exists at all," because there is no such Latin word as liberalus. It should be liberalis.



Hours Stolen From Study

Paul Valéry (1871-1945), Moi, tr. Marthiel and Jackson Mathews (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), p. 28:
Certainly nothing so formed me, permeated me, instructed — or constructed — me as those hours stolen from study, hours seemingly idle but really given over to the unconscious worship of three or four undeniable gods: the Sea, the Sky, the Sun. Without knowing it, I recaptured something ot the wonder and exaltation of primitive man. I do not know what book could match or what writer incite in us such states of productive wonder, of contemplation and communion, as I experienced in my early years. Better than any reading, better than the poets or the philosophers, a certain close observation without any definite or definable thought, a certain lingering over the pure elements of the moment, over the vastest and simplest objects, the most powerfully simple and perceptible in our sphere of existence — the habit this imposes on us of unconsciously relating every event, every person, every expression and every detail to the greatest and most stable of visible things, moulds us, accustoms and induces us to measure without effort and without reflection the true proportions of our nature, to find within ourselves without difficulty the way to our highest level, which is also the most "human." In some way, within ourselves, we possess a measure of all things and of ourselves. Protagoras' statement that man is the measure of all things is characteristic and essentially Mediterranean.

Certainement, rien ne m’a plus formé, plus imprégné, mieux instruit — ou construit, — que ces heures dérobées à l’étude, distraites en apparence, mais vouées dans le fond au culte inconscient de trois ou quatre déités incontestables: la Mer, le Ciel, le Soleil. Je retrouvais, sans le savoir, je ne sais quels étonnements et quelles exaltations de primitif. Je ne vois pas quel livre peut valoir, quel auteur peut édifier en nous ces états de stupeur féconde, de contemplation et de communion que j’ai connus dans mes premières années. Mieux que toute lecture, mieux que les poètes, mieux que les philosophes, certains regards, sans pensée définie ni définissable, certains regards sur les purs éléments du jour, sur les objets les plus vastes, les plus simples, le plus puissamment simples et sensibles de notre sphère d’existence, l’habitude qu’ils nous imposent de rapporter inconsciemment tout événement, tout être, toute expression tout détail, aux plus grandes choses visibles et aux plus stables, nous façonnent, nous accoutument, nous induisent à ressentir sans effort et sans réflexion la véritable proportion de notre nature, à trouver en nous, sans difficulté, le passage à notre degré le plus élevé, qui est aussi le plus «humain». Nous possédons, en quelque sorte, une mesure de toutes choses et de nous-mêmes. La parole de Protagoras, que «l'homme est la mesure des choses», est une parole caractéristique, essentiellement méditerranéenne.



Herodotus 7.136.1 (tr. Robin Waterfield):
From his house they made their way up to Susa. The first thing that happened, once they gained an audience with the king, was that Xerxes' guards ordered them, and tried to force them, to fall down and prostrate themselves before the king. Their response to this was to declare that even if the guards were to hurl them headlong down on to the ground they would never do any such thing, not only because it was not the Greek way to prostrate oneself before another human being, but also because that was not what they had come for.

ἐνθεῦτεν δὲ ὡς ἀνέβησαν ἐς Σοῦσα καὶ βασιλέι ἐς ὄψιν ἦλθον, πρῶτα μὲν τῶν δορυφόρων κελευόντων καὶ ἀνάγκην σφι προσφερόντων προσκυνέειν βασιλέα προσπίπτοντας, οὐκ ἔφασαν ὠθεόμενοι ὑπ’ αὐτῶν ἐπὶ κεφαλὴν ποιήσειν ταῦτα οὐδαμά· οὔτε γὰρ σφίσι ἐν νόμῳ εἶναι ἄνθρωπον προσκυνέειν οὔτε κατὰ ταῦτα ἥκειν.

Friday, April 12, 2019


The Imperious Tinkle of the Telephone

Paul Valéry (1871-1945), Degas, Manet, Morisot, tr. David Paul (New York: Pantheon Books, ©1960), p. 101:
Our age is hard on the eccentric. A contempt for majorities is less and less in evidence. The individual is dying, unable to endure the condition of excessive dependence imposed on him by the enormous and innumerable interconnections and relationships which govern the modern world. Degas mocked Forain one evening for running to answer the imperious tinkle of the telephone: "So that's the telephone! ... They ring, and you run."

L'époque est dure aux originaux. On y observe de moins en moins le dédain des grands nombres. L'individu se meurt, incapable de soutenir l'état de dépendance excessive que les immenses et innombrables connexions et relations qui organisent le monde moderne lui imposent. Degas raillait, un soir, Forain qui courait, appelé par un timbre impérieux, au téléphone. «C'est cela, le téléphone! ... On vous sonne, et vous y allez.»



Sophocles, Ajax 714 (my translation):
Powerful time extinguishes all things.

πάνθ᾽ ὁ μέγας χρόνος μαραίνει.
Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 607-609 (tr. Hugh-Lloyd-Jones):
Dearest son of Aegeus, for the gods alone there is no old age and no death ever, but all other things are submerged by all-powerful time!

ὦ φίλτατ᾿ Αἰγέως παῖ, μόνοις οὐ γίγνεται
θεοῖσι γῆρας οὐδὲ κατθανεῖν ποτε,
τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλα συγχεῖ πάνθ᾿ ὁ παγκρατὴς χρόνος.


Human Beings Filled Him With Disgust

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), Of Human Bondage, chapter CVI:
He made up his mind to go to the British Museum. Solitude was now his only luxury. Since he had been at Lynn's he had often gone there and sat in front of the groups from the Parthenon; and, not deliberately thinking, had allowed their divine masses to rest his troubled soul. But this afternoon they had nothing to say to him, and after a few minutes, impatiently, he wandered out of the room. There were too many people, provincials with foolish faces, foreigners poring over guide-books; their hideousness besmirched the everlasting masterpieces, their restlessness troubled the god's immortal repose. He went into another room and here there was hardly anyone. Philip sat down wearily. His nerves were on edge. He could not get the people out of his mind. Sometimes at Lynn's they affected him in the same way, and he looked at them file past him with horror; they were so ugly and there was such meanness in their faces, it was terrifying; their features were distorted with paltry desires, and you felt they were strange to any ideas of beauty. They had furtive eyes and weak chins. There was no wickedness in them, but only pettiness and vulgarity. Their humour was a low facetiousness. Sometimes he found himself looking at them to see what animal they resembled, (he tried not to, for it quickly became an obsession,) and he saw in them all the sheep or the horse or the fox or the goat. Human beings filled him with disgust.



Roger Scruton, "The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," Untimely Tracts (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1987), pp. 143-145 (at 144):
Repair was not so much a habit as an honoured custom. People respected the past of damaged things, restored them as though healing a child and looked on their handiwork with satisfaction. In the act of repair the object was made anew, to occupy the social position of the broken one. Worn shoes went to the anvil, holed socks and unravelled sleeves to the darning last — that peculiar mushroom-shaped object which stood always ready on the mantelpiece.

The custom of repair was not confined to the home. Every town, every village, had its cobbler, its carpenter, its wheelwright and its smith. In each community people supported repairers, who in tum supported things. And our surnames testify to the honour in which their occupations were held. But to where have they repaired, these people who guaranteed the friendliness of objects? With great difficulty you may still find a cobbler — but for the price of his work you could probably buy a new pair of shoes. For the cost of 15 digital watches you may sometimes find a person who will fix the mainspring of your grandfather's timepiece.

The truth is that repair, like every serious social activity, has its ethos, and when that ethos is lost, no amount of slap-dash labour can make up for it. The person who repairs must love the broken object, and must love also the process of repair and all that pertains to it.
Related post: Noble Shabbiness.


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