Sunday, July 31, 2011
Old Cronies of Solon and Lycurgus
For Schollars, though by their Acquaintance with Books, and conversing much with Old Authors, they may know perfectly the Sense of the Learned Dead, and be perfect Masters of the Wisdom, be throughly inform'd of the State, and nicely skill'd in the Policies of Ages long since past, yet by their retir'd and unactive Life, their Neglect of Business, and constant Conversation with Antiquity, they are such Strangers to, and so ignorant of the Domestick Affairs and Manners of their own Country and Times, that they appear like the Ghosts of old Romans rais'd by Magick.My knowledge of this quotation comes from C.H. Wilkinson, More Diversions: An Anthology (London: Oxford University Press, 1944), pp. 39-40 (paragraph divisions are mine). Thanks to Ian Jackson for the generous gift of many books, including Wilkinson's. Thanks also to Pierre Wechter for sending me an electronic copy of the Essay and for pointing out that it is attributed variously to Mary Astell, Judith Drake, and H. Wyatt.
Talk to them of the Assyrian, or Perssian Monarchies, the Grecian or Roman Commonmonwealths. They answer like oracles; they are such finish'd Statesmen, that we should scarce take 'em to have been less than Confidents of Semiramis, Tutours to Cyrus the great, old Cronies of Solon and Lycurgus, or Privy Councellors at least to the Twelve Caesars successively; but engage them in a Discourse that concerns the present Times, and their Native Country, and they heardly speak the Language of it, and know so little of the Affairs of it, that as much might reasonably be expected from an animated Egyptian Mummy.
They are very much disturbed to see a Fold or a Plait amiss in the Picture of an Old Roman Gown, yet take no notice that their own are thredbare, out at the Elbows, or Ragged; and suffer more if Priscian's Head be broken, than if it were their own. They are excellent Guides, and can direct you to every Ally, and Turning in Old Rome; yet lose their Way at home in their own Parish. They are mighty Admirers of the Wit and Eloquence of the Ancients; yet had they liv'd in the Time of Cicero and Caesar, wou'd have treated them with as much supercilious Pride and Disrespect, as they they do now with Reverence.
They are great Hunters of ancient Manuscripts, and have in great Veneration any thing that has scap'd the Teeth of Time and Rats, and if Age has obliterated the Characters, 'tis the more valuable for not being legible. But if by chance they can pick out one Word, they rate it higher than the whole Author in Print, and wou'd give more for one Proverb of Solomons under his own Hand, then for all his Wisdom.
These Superstitious, bigotted Idolaters of time past, are Children in their understanding all their lives; for they hang so incessantly upon the leading strings of Authority, that their Judgments, like the Limbs of some Indian Penitents, become altogether crampt and motionless for want of use.
An Old Man Reading
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Youth and Old Age
Dear to me is youth, but old age is ever hanging o'er my head, a burden heavier than Aetna's crags, casting its pall of gloom upon my eyes. Oh! never may the wealth of Asia's kings tempt me to barter for houses stored with gold my happy youth, which is in wealth and poverty alike most fair! But old age is gloomy and deathly; I hate it; let it sink beneath the waves! Would it had never found its way to the homes and towns of mortal men, but were still drifting on for ever down the wind.
ά νεότας μοι φίλον· ἄ-
χθος δὲ τὸ γῆρας αἰεί
βαρύτερον Αἴτνας σκοπέλων
ἐπὶ κρατὶ κεῖται, βλεφάρῳ
σκοτεινὸν φάος ἐπικαλύψαν.
μή μοι μήτ' ᾿Ασιήτιδος
τυραννίδος ὄλβος εἴη,
μὴ χρυσοῦ δώματα πλήρη
τᾶς ἥβας ἀντιλαβεῖν,
ἃ καλλίστα μὲν ἐν ὄλβῳ,
καλλίστα δ' ἐν πενίᾳ.
τὸ δὲ λυγρὸν φόνιόν τε γῆ-
ρας μισῶ· κατὰ κυμάτων δ'
ἔρροι, μηδέποτ' ὤφελεν
θνατῶν δώματα καὶ πόλεις
ἐλθεῖν, ἀλλὰ κατ' αἰθέρ' αἰ-
εὶ πτεροῖσι φορείσθαι.
Labels: eheu fugaces labuntur anni
Friday, July 29, 2011
Nulla Dies Sine Suilla
The pigs during the greater part of the year are left to support nature as they can, and in gauntness resemble those greyhound-looking animals which pass for porkers in France. When the acorns are ripe and fall from the trees, the greedy animals are turned out in legions from the villages, which more correctly may be termed coalitions of pigsties. They return from the woods at night, of their own accord, and without a swine's general. On entering the hamlet, all set off at a full gallop, like a legion possessed with devils, in a handicap for home, into which each single pig turns, never making a mistake. We have more than once been caught in one of these pig-deluges, and nearly carried away horse and all, as befell Don Quixote, when really swept away by the "far-spread and grunting drove." In his own home each truant is welcomed like a prodigal son or a domestic father. These pigs are the pets of the peasants; they are brought up with their children, and partake, as in Ireland, in the domestic discomforts of their cabins; they are universally respected, and justly, for it is this animal who pays the "rint;" in fact, are the citizens, as at Sorrento, and Estremenian man is quite a secondary formation, and created to tend herds of these swine, who lead the happy life of former Toledan dignitaries, with the additional advantage of becoming more valuable when dead.
It is astonishing how rapidly they thrive on their sweet food; indeed it is the whole duty of a good pig—animal propter convivia natum—to get as fat and as soon as he can, and then die for the good of his country. It may be observed for the information of our farmers, that those pigs which are dedicated to St. Anthony, on whom a sow is in constant attendance, as a dove was on Venus, get the soonest fat; therefore in Spain young porkers are sprinkled with holy water on his day, but those of other saints are less propitious, for the killing takes place about the 10th and 11th of November, or, as Spaniards date it, por el St. Andres, on the day of St. Andrew, or on that of St. Martin; hence the proverb "every man and pig has his St. Martin or his fatal hour, á cada puerco su San Martin."
The death of a fat pig is as great an event in Spanish families, who generally fatten up one, as the birth of a baby; nor can the fact be kept secret, so audible is his announcement. It is considered a delicate attention on the part of the proprietor to celebrate the auspicious event by sending a portion of the chitterlings to intimate friends. The Spaniard's proudest boast is that his blood is pure, that he is not descended from pork-eschewing Jew or Moor—a fact which the pig genus, could it reason, would deeply deplore. The Spaniard doubtless has been so great a consumer of pig, from grounds religious, as well as gastronomic. The eating or not eating the flesh of an animal deemed unclean by the impure infidel, became a test of orthodoxy, and at once of correct faith as well as of good taste; and good bacon, as has been just observed, is wedded to sound doctrine and St. Augustine. The Spanish name Tocino is derived from the Arabic Tachim, which signifies fat.
The Spaniards however, although tremendous consumers of the pig, whether in the salted form or in the skin, have to the full the Oriental abhorrence to the unclean animal in the abstract. Muy puerco is their last expression for all that is most dirty, nasty, or disgusting. Muy cochina never is forgiven, if applied to woman, as it is equivalent to the Italian Vacca, and to the canine feminine compliment bandied among our fair sex at Billingsgate; nor does the epithet imply moral purity or chastity; indeed in Castilian euphuism the unclean animal was never to be named except in a periphrasis, or with an apology, which is a singular remnant of the Moorish influence on Spanish manners. Haluf or swine is still the Moslem's most obnoxious term for the Christians, and is applied to this day by the ungrateful Algerines to their French bakers and benefactors, nay even to the "illustre Bugeaud."
The capital of the Estremenian pig-districts is Montanches—mons anguis—and doubtless the hilly spot where the Duke of Arcos fed and cured "ces petits jambons vermeils," which the Duc de St. Simon ate and admired so much; "ces jambons ont un parfum si admirable, un goût si relevé et si vivifiant, qu'on en est surpris: il est impossible de rien manger si exquis." His Grace of Arcos used to shut up the pigs in places abounding in vipers, on which they fattened. Neither the pigs, dukes, nor their toadeaters seem to have been poisoned by these exquisite vipers. According to Jonas Barrington, the finest Irish pigs were those that fed on dead rebels: one Papist porker, the Enniscorthy boar, was sent as a show, for having eaten a Protestant parson: he was put to death and dishonoured by not being made bacon of.
Naturalists have remarked that the rattlesnakes in America retire before their consuming enemy, the pig, who is thus the gastador or pioneer of the new world's civilization, just as Pizarro, who was suckled by a sow, and tended swine in his youth, was its conqueror. Be that as it may, Montanches is illustrious in pork, in which the burgesses go the whole hog, whether in the rich red sausage, the chorizo, or in the savoury piquant embuchados, which are akin to the mortadelle of Bologna, only less hard, and usually boiled before eating, though good also raw; they consist of the choice bits of the pig seasoned with condiments, with which, as if by retribution, the paunch of the voracious animal is filled; the ruling passion strong in death....The fat of these jamones, whence our word ham and gammon, when they are boiled, looks like melted topazes, and the flavour defies language, although we have dined on one this very day, in order to secure accuracy and undeniable prose, like Lope de Vega, who, according to his biographer, Dr. Montalvan, never could write poetry unless inspired by a rasher; " Toda es cosa vil," said he, "á donde falta un pernil" (in which word we recognize the precise perna whereby Horace was restored):—Therefore all writing is a sham,Those of Gallicia and Catalonia are also celebrated, but are not to be compared for a moment with those of Montanches, which are fit to set before an emperor. Their only rivals are the sweet hams of the Alpujarras, which are made at Trevelez, a pig-hamlet situated under the snowy mountains on the opposite side of Granada, to which also we have made a pilgrimage. They are called dulces or sweet, because scarcely any salt is used in the curing; the ham is placed in a weak pickle for eight days, and is then hung up in the snow; it can only be done at this place, where the exact temperature necessary is certain.
Where there is wanting Spanish ham.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson, who also provided the title.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
A Man Arranges Books
In the golden afternoon, or inThe same, tr. Norman Thomas Di Giovanni:
a serenity the gold of afternoon
a man arranges books
on waiting shelves
and feels the parchment, the leather, the cloth,
and the pleasure bestowed
by looking forward to a habit
and establishing an order.
Here Stevenson and Andrew Lang, the other Scot,
will magically resume
their slow discussion
which seas and death cut short,
and surely Reyes will not be displeased
by the closeness of Virgil.
(In a modest, silent way,
by ranging books on shelves
we ply the critic's art.)
The man is blind, and knows
he won't be able to decode
the handsome volumes he is handling,
and that they will never help him write
the book that will justify his life in others' eyes;
but in the afternoon that might be gold
he smiles at his curious fate
and feels that peculiar happiness
which comes from loved old things.
On a golden evening,The Spanish (Junio, 1968):
or in a quietness whose symbol
might be a golden evening,
a man sets up his books
on the waiting shelves,
feeling the parchment and leather and cloth
and the satisfaction given by
the anticipation of a habit
and the establishment of order.
Stevenson and that other Scotsman, Andrew Lang,
will here pick up again, in a magic way,
the leisurely conversation broken off
by oceans and by death,
and Alfonso Reyes surely will be pleased
to share space close to Virgil.
(To arrange a library is to practice,
in a quiet and modest way,
the art of criticism.)
The man, who is blind,
knows that he can no longer read
the handsome volumes he handles
and that they will not help him write
the book which in the end might justify him,
but on this evening that perhaps is golden
he smiles at his strange fate
and feels that special happiness
which comes from things we know and love.
En la tarde de oro
o en una serenidad cuyo símbolo
podría ser la tarde de oro,
el hombre dispone los libros
en los anaqueles que aguardan
y siente el pergamino, el cuero, la tela
y el agrado que dan
la previsión de un hábito
y el establecimiento de un orden.
Stevenson y el otro escocés, Andrew Lang,
reanudarán aquí, de manera mágica,
la lenta discusión que interrumpieron
los mares y la muerte
y a Reyes no le desagradará ciertamente
la cercanía de Virgilio.
(Ordenar bibliotecas es ejercer,
de un modo silencioso y modesto,
el arte de la crítica.)
El hombre, que está ciego.
sabe que ya no podrá descifrar
los hermosos volúmenes que maneja
y que no le ayudarán a escribir
el libro que lo justificará ante los otros,
pero en la tarde que es acaso de oro
sonríe ante el curioso destino
y siente esa felicidad peculiar
de las viejas cosas queridas.
Ni Te Plus Oculis Meis Amarem
Birkbeck Hill's father, Arthur, besides being a fair Latinist, had indeed painfully taught himself Greek, but it was at the cost of an almost total wreck of his eyesight. In his ardent desire for knowledge he, as a youth, studied through the early winter hours before the ordinary labours of the day began. Insufficient light and crabbed Greek texts so ruined his eyes that for the rest of his long life he was almost entirely dependent for the acquirement of knowledge on listening to reading aloud.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
A Glut of Men
Coventry Patmore described him as very capricious and as once spending the evening with a dozen friends, "not, to be sure, his equals, but as nearly his equals as any that could be collected." Yet Tennyson would not say a word, but sat with his pipe, silent, and at last said, "I am going to Cheltenham; I have had a glut of men."
Nature's Revenge for Arboricide
In case some browsers don't render these images clearly, here is a transcription of the text:
Once upon a time there was a man who wanted to build himself a house. So he looked about and he saw a lovely little round hill with a beautiful wood on top.I don't know how the book ends, but presumably the wood somehow came back.
"That's just the place," he said. "I will cut down that wood and build my house there."
So he began to cut down the trees. And as he cut, the birds flew away from the sound of his axe and the squirrels leapt from the trembling trees and the flowers shook with fear.
All the living things who had been chased from the wood held a large meeting. Everyone was present, from the fox and the woodpecker down to the spider and the ant. They decided to chase the man and his wife from the house.
"If we do our best," said the spotted caterpillar, "I'm sure we shall be successful."
Rabbits and squirrels came in and ate up all their food, so that they had nothing to eat.
Worst of all, their clothes were always covered with ants and beetles and caterpillars and moths.
This reminds me of Robert Fergusson's poem, The Bugs, lines 21-46, in which insects infest a town after a nearby forest is cut down.
There is also an interesting poem by German-American author Konrad Nies (1861-1921), titled Die Rache der Wälder, in which trees beg Nature to punish man for arboricide.
The German text with facing translation (titled Revenge of the Forest Primeval) by Christoph Lohmann can be found in The Multilingual Anthology of American Literature: A Reader of Original Texts with English Translations, edd. Marc Shell and Werner Sollors (New York: New York University Press, 2000), pp. 379-383, with introduction by Regine Wieder on pp. 377-379 and notes on pp. 717-718. Here is a sample (lines 41-44):
Their houses and cities and every town,Nies' poem was written for a poetry competition held on April 21, 1904. See C.O. Schoenrich, "Das erste Dichterfest in Amerika. Die Baltimorer Blumenspiele, abgehalten am 21. April 1904," Pädagogische Monatshefte 5.6 (May 1904) 187-189. Nies' poem won prizes in the "Deutschentum" and "Balladen und Novellen" categories.
Each dwelling of timber that bears our name,
Tear down, ye storms, tear down!
Ye fires, consume them with terrible flame!
Was immer gezimmert aus unserm Gebein,
Der Städte Getürm und Gemäuer,
Reiss es ein, du, o Sturm, reiss es ein, reiss ein!
Verzehre in Flamme es Feuer!
The German text appeared in the Fraktur script in Georg von Bosse, Das deutsche Element in der Vereinigten Staaten (New York: E. Steiger, 1908), pp. 434-435 (with a photograph of Nies facing p. 433), and in the Roman script in Max Heinrici, ed., Das Buch der Deutschen im Amerika. Hrsg. unter den Auspicien des Deutsch-Amerikanuschen National-Bundes (Philadelphia: Walther's Buchdruckerei, 1909), p. 406 (where it is attributed to Konrad Niess [sic]). See also Regine Wieder, “Konrad Nies Rediscovered,” Yearbook of German-American Studies 34 (1999) 141–152.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Who loves not woman, wine, and song,
He is a fool his whole life long.
Wer nicht liebt Weib, Wein und G'sang,
Der bleibt ein Narr sein Lebenlang.
Heads of State
No Government has ever been, or ever can be, wherein Time-servers and Blockheads will not be uppermost.
Slops v. Poetry
When people tell me they do not like poetry, and bring me Shelley or Hemans, to show that it is not likeable, I am entirely of their mind. But this only proves that they do not like slops. But I bring them Homer, and they like that, & the Cid, and that goes well; and I read them Lear & Macbeth, Robin Hood's ballads, or Lady Jane, or Fair Annie, or the Hardy Knute or Chevy Chase, or the Cronachs cried on Bennachie, and they like that well enough. For this poetry instead of being daubs of colour, and mere mouthing, is out of the deep breast of man.Related post: The Popular View of Poetry and Poets.
Monday, July 25, 2011
Think what larks a group of grown people could have in studying Chaucer together, and taking up Latin.
Once Upon a Time
Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisatta was a tree-spirit living in a wood. Not far from his abode lived another tree-spirit, in a great monarch of the forest. In the same forest dwelt a lion and a tiger. For fear of them no one durst till the earth, or cut down a tree, no one could even pause to look at it. And the lion and tiger used to kill and eat all manner of creatures; and what remained after eating, they left on the spot and departed, so that the forest was full of foul decaying stench.
The other spirit, being foolish and knowing neither reason nor unreason, one day bespoke thus the Bodhisatta:
"Good friend, the forest is full of foul stench all because of this lion and this tiger. I will drive them away."
Said he, "Good friend, it is just these two creatures that protect our homes. Once they are driven off, our homes will be made desolate. If men see not the lion and the tiger tracks, they will cut all the forest down, make it all one open space, and till the land. Please do not do this thing!" and then he uttered the first two stanzas:"What time the nearness of a bosom friendWhen the Bodhisatta had thus explained the matter, the foolish sprite notwithstanding did not lay it to heart, but one day assumed an awful shape, and drove away the lion and tiger. The people, no longer seeing the footmarks of these, divined that the lion and tiger must have gone to another wood, and cut down one side of this wood. Then the sprite came up to the Bodhisatta and said to him,
Threatens your peace to end,
If you are wise, guard your supremacy
Like the apple of your eye.
"But when your bosom friend does more increase
The measure of your peace,
Let your friend's life in everything right through
Be dear as yours to you."
"Ah, friend, I did not do as you said, but drove the creatures away; and now men have found out that they are gone, and they are cutting down the wood! What is to be done?" The reply was, that they were gone to live in such and such a wood; the sprite must go and fetch them back. This the sprite did; and, standing in front of them, repeated the third stanza, with a respectful salute:"Come back, O Tigers! to the wood again,This request they refused, saying, "Go away! we will not come." The sprite returned to the forest alone. And the men after a very few days cut down all the wood, made fields, and brought them under cultivation.
And let it not be levelled with the plain;
For, without you, the axe will lay it low;
You, without it, for ever homeless go."
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Riding the Subway
In a world of dwindling resources, where each person's share of the physical realm decreases over time, it is no wonder that physical reality fails to satisfy. But thanks to the new, intimate, glowing handheld mobile computing devices, the unsatisfactory real world can be blotted out, and replaced with a cleansed, bouncy, shiny version of society in which little avatars utter terse little messages. In the cyber-realm there are no sweaty bodies, no cacophony of voices to suffer through—just a smooth, polished, expertly branded user experience.Hat tip: Jim K.
While riding the subway through the Boston rush hour, I have been able to observe just how well these personal electronic mental life support units work in shielding people from the sight of their fellow-passengers, who are becoming a rougher and rougher-looking crew, with more and more people in obvious distress. By focusing all of their attentions on the tiny screen, they are also spared the sight of our well-worn and crumbling urban infrastructure. It is as if the physical world doesn't really exist for them, or at least doesn't matter. But as Masanobu Fukuoka put it, “If we throw Mother Nature out the window, she comes back through the door with a pitchfork,” and as we ignore the physical realm, the physical economy (the one that actually keeps people fed and sheltered and moves them about the landscape) shrinks and decays. The inevitable result is that more and more of these cyber-campers and their gadgets will drop off the network, shrivel, and die with nary a tweet to signal their demise.
Eden on Earth
Fresh fields and woods! the Earth's fair face,The first believer (line 3) is Abraham, who, separating himself from Lot, "removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre" (Genesis 13:18). Francis T. Palgrave, in The Treasury of Sacred Song (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1889), p. 92, n. 3, defines leiguer (line 25) as "at rest; or (by confusion with leaguer), encamped."
God's foot-stool, and mans dwelling-place.
I ask not why the first Believer
Did love to be a Country liver?
Who to secure pious content
Did pitch by groves and wells his tent;
Where he might view the boundless skie,
And all those glorious lights on high:
With flying meteors, mists and show'rs,
Subjected hills, trees, meads and Flow'rs:
And ev'ry minute bless the King
And wise Creatour of each thing.
I ask not why he did remove
To happy Mamre's holy grove,
Leaving the Citie's of the plain
To Lot and his successless train?
All various Lusts in Cities still
Are found; they are the Thrones of Ill.
The dismal Sinks, where blood is spill'd,
Cages with much uncleanness fill'd.
But rural shades are the sweet fense
Of piety and innocence.
They are the Meek's calm region, where
Angels descend, and rule the sphere:
Where heav'n lyes Leiguer, and the Dove
Duely as Dew, comes from above.
If Eden be on Earth at all,
'Tis that, which we the Country call.
Greatest of Divinities
The Earth brings forth grass will-nilly to feed my flock. These I sacrifice to no one but myselfnever to the godsand to my belly, the greatest of divinities. To guzzle and eat day by day and to give oneself no painthis is Zeus in the eyes of men of sense. As for those who have passed laws and complicated men's lives, they can go hang.The same, tr. Percy Bysshe Shelley:
The earth, by force, whether it will or no,The Greek:
Bringing forth grass, fattens my flocks and herds,
Which, to what other God but to myself
And this great belly, first of deities,
Should I be bound to sacrifice? I well know
The wise man's only Jupiter is this,
To eat and drink during his little day,
And give himself no care. And as for those
Who complicate with laws the life of man,
I freely give them tears for their reward.
ἡ γῆ δ᾽ ἀνάγκῃ, κἂν θέλῃ κἂν μὴ θέλῃ,Related post: Hail, Hail, Plump Paunch!
τίκτουσα ποίαν τἀμὰ πιαίνει βοτά.
ἁγὼ οὔτινι θύω πλὴν ἐμοί, θεοῖσι δ᾽ οὔ,
καὶ τῇ μεγίστῃ, γαστρὶ τῇδε, δαιμόνων.
ὡς τοὐμπιεῖν γε κἀμφαγεῖν τοὐφ᾽ ἡμέραν,
Ζεὺς οὖτος ἀνθρώποισι τοῖσι σώφροσιν,
λυπεῖν δὲ μηδὲν αὑτόν. οἳ δὲ τοὺς νόμους
ἔθεντο ποικίλλοντες ἀνθρώπων βίον,
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Détruire, C'est Toujours Joli
The precarious political situation was having, in that winter of 1840, one visible effect on Paris. Fortifications were being rapidly thrown up, but no one would confess to Milnes their precise purpose. Guizot told him that their great value was that the Parisians would never need to use them. Montalembert pointed out that they were being built in a typically democratic manner, by cutting down the trees of the Bois de Boulogne. A cabby sadly told him that the Government were destroying the Bois'et détruire, c'est toujours joli.'
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.
A Lover of Good Books
There was no way to separate the scholar, the Sanskritist, the teacher from the man. Most scholars even of the better sort are able to bring away their souls unscathed by their studies; Roger Jones used to say that Sanskrit had so throroughly permeated Ryder that it had even changed the color of his skin. The great books that he had read were part of him, not saws and jingles, quotations and analyses, the rags and tatters of a pompous erudition; their beauty and wisdom had been distilled through the limbeck of his mind and were inseparable properties of his soul. To us who read these books with him he is forever a part of them; as they fed his soul, so he gave them life. Can more be asked of a scholar or a teacher?p. 7:
For Arthur Ryder the only important reason for studying a language was the literature written in that language; and the object of the study of literature, he believed, is the great books themselves, not factual erudition around and about the books or their authors. With the antiquarian and archaeological research which parades as "history of literature" he had no patience ("the 'who's who' brand of scholarship" he called it); since in the modern world the word "scholarship" has been practically restricted to this kind of activity, the concern of which is not really literature but secondary facts about literature, he denied that he was a scholar and distinguished himself as a "lover of good books."p. 8:
Ryder was one of those men to whom the reading of books is as breathing. He scorned "those scholars who read in books but never read books" and the habit of reading selections he execrated. When he read the Mahabharata or the Ramayana he read it from first to last; and that he read them thus not once but several times will furnish some notion of the way in which he read Sanskrit. His taste in literature is not to be learned by asking what he read (for he read almost everything) but what books he read constantly.Thanks to Ian Jackson, who sent me a photocopy of this privately-printed memoir.
Related post: Arthur William Ryder.
Friday, July 22, 2011
The Road to Wigan Pier
He was one of those people who can chew their grievances like a cud.Chapter I:
In spite of hard trying, man has not yet succeeded in doing his dirt everywhere. The earth is so vast and still so empty that even in the filthy heart of civilisation you find fields where the grass is green instead of grey; perhaps if you looked for them you might even find streams with live fish in them instead of salmon tins. For quite a long time, perhaps another twenty minutes, the train was rolling through open country before the villa-civilisation began to close in upon us again, and then the outer slums, and then the slag-heaps, belching chimneys, blast-furnaces, canals, and gasometers of another industrial town.Chapter II:
It is so with all types of manual work; it keeps us alive, and we are oblivious of its existence.Chapter III:
This business of petty inconvenience and indignity, of being kept waiting about, of having to do everything at other people's convenience, is inherent in working-class life. A thousand influences constantly press a working man down into a passive role. He does not act, he is acted upon. He feels himself the slave of mysterious authority and has a firm conviction that "they" will never allow him to do this, that, and the other.chapter V:
One thing that probably could be done and certainly ought to be done as a matter of course is to give every unemployed man a patch of ground and free tools if he chose to apply for them. It is disgraceful that men who are expected to keep alive on the P.A.C. should not even have the chance to grow vegetables for their families.Chapter V:
But no human being finds it easy to regard himself as a statistical unit. So long as Bert Jones across the street is still at work, Alf Smith is bound to feel himself dishonoured and a failure. Hence that frightful feeling of impotence and despair which is almost the worst evil of unemploymentfar worse than any hardship, worse than the demoralization of enforced idleness...Chapter VI:
In some districts efforts are now being made to teach the unemployed more about food-values and more about the intelligent spending of money. When you hear of a thing like this you feel yourself torn both ways. I have heard a Communist speaker on the platform grow very angry about it. In London, he said, parties of Society dames now have the cheek to walk into East End houses and give shopping-lessons to the wives of the unemployed. He gave this as an instance of the mentality of the English governing class. First you condemn a family to live on thirty shillings a week, and then you have the damned impertinence to tell them how they are to spend their money.Chapter VII:
In a working-class homeI am not thinking at the moment of the unemployed, but of comparatively prosperous homesyou breathe a warm, decent, deeply human atmosphere which it is not so easy to find elsewhere. I should say that a manual worker, if he is in steady work and drawing good wagesan "if" which gets bigger and biggerhas a better chance of being happy than an "educated" man. His home life seems to fall more naturally into a sane and comely shape. I have often been struck by the peculiar easy completeness, the perfect symmetry as it were, of a working-class interior at its best. Especially on winter evenings after tea, when the fire glows in the open range and dances mirrored in the steel fender, when Father, in shirt-sleeves, sits in the rocking chair at one side of the fire reading the racing finals, and Mother sits on the other with her sewing, and the children are happy with a pennorth of mint humbugs, and the dog lolls roasting himself on the rag matit is a good place to be in, provided that you can be not only in it but sufficiently of it to be taken for granted.Chapter VIII:
That was what we were taughtthe lower classes smell. And here, obviously, you are at an impassable barrier. For no feeling of like or dislike is quite so fundamental as a physical feeling. Race-hatred, religious hatred, differences of education, of temperament, of intellect, even differences of moral code, can be got over; but physical repulsion cannot. You can have an affection for a murderer or a sodomite, but you cannot have an affection for a man whose breath stinkshabitually stinks, I mean. However well you may wish him, however much you may admire his mind and character, if his breath stinks he is horrible and in your heart of hearts you will hate him.Chapter IX:
You forget your Latin and Greek within a few months of leaving schoolI studied Greek for eight or ten years, and now, at thirty-three, I cannot even repeat the Greek alphabetbut your snobbishness, unless you persistently root it out like the bindweed it is, sticks by you till your grave.Chapter IX:
In the end I worked out an anarchistic theory that all government is evil, that the punishment always does more harm than the crime and that people can be trusted to behave decently if only you will let them alone. This of course was sentimental nonsense. I see now as I did not see then, that it is always necessary to protect peaceful people from violence.Chapter X:
Whichever way you turn this curse of class-difference confronts you like a wall of stone. Or rather it is not so much like a stone wall as the plate-glass pane of an aquarium; it is so easy to pretend that it isn't there, and so impossible to get through it.Chapter X:
All my notionsnotions of good and evil, of pleasant and unpleasant, of funny and serious, of ugly and beautifulare essentially middle-class notions; my taste in books and food and clothes, my sense of honour, my table manners, my turns of speech, my accent, even the characteristic movements of my body, are the products of a special kind of upbringing and a special niche about half-way up the social hierarchy.Chapter X:
It is only when you meet someone of a different culture from yourself that you begin to realize what your own beliefs really are.Chapter XI:
[T]he food-crank is by definition a person willing to cut himself off from human society in hopes of adding five years on to the life of his carcase; that is, a person but of touch with common humanity.Chapter XI:
...all that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of "progress" like bluebottles to a dead cat.Chapter XII:
How often have we not heard it, that glutinously uplifting stuff about "the machines, our new race of slaves, which will set humanity free," etc., etc., etc.Chapter XII:
A machine evolves by becoming more efficient, that is, more foolproof; hence the objective of mechanical progress is a foolproof worldwhich may or may not mean a world inhabited by fools.Chapter XII:
There are in fact very few activities which cannot be classed either as work or play according as you choose to regard them. The labourer set free from digging may want to spend his leisure, or part of it, in playing the piano, while the professional pianist may be only too glad to get out and dig at the potato patch. Hence the antithesis between work, as something intolerably tedious, and not-work, as something desirable, is false. The truth is that when a human being is not eating, drinking, sleeping, making love, talking, playing games, or merely lounging aboutand these things will not fill up a lifetimehe needs work and usually looks for it, though he may not call it work.Chapter XII:
The tendency of mechanical progress, then, is to frustrate the human need for effort and creation. It makes unnecessary and even impossible the activities of the eye and the hand. The apostle of "progress" will sometimes declare that this does not matter, but you can usually drive him into a comer by pointing out the horrible lengths to which the process can be carried. Why, for instance, use your hands at allwhy use them even for blowing your nose or sharpening a pencil? Surely you could fix some kind of steel and rubber contraption to your shoulders and let your arms wither into stumps of skin and bone? And so with every organ and every faculty. There is really no reason why a human being should do more than eat, drink, sleep, breathe, and procreate; everything else could be done for him by machinery. Therefore the logical end of mechanical progress is to reduce the human being to something resembling a brain in a bottle.Chapter XII:
The machine has got to be accepted, but it is probably better to accept it rather as one accepts a drugthat is, grudgingly and suspiciously. Like a drug, the machine is useful, dangerous, and habit-forming. The oftener one surrenders to it the tighter its grip becomes. You have only to look about you at this moment to realize with what sinister speed the machine is getting us into its power.Chapter XII:
In a healthy world there would be no demand for tinned foods, aspirins, gramophones, gaspipe chairs, machine guns, daily newspapers, telephones, motor-cars, etc., etc.; and on the other hand there would be a constant demand for the things the machine cannot produce. But meanwhile the machine is here, and its corrupting effects are almost irresistible. One inveighs against it, but one goes on using it. Even a bare-arse savage, given the chance, will learn the vices of civilisation within a few months. Mechanisation leads to the decay of taste, the decay of taste leads to the demand for machine-made articles and hence to more mechanisation, and so a vicious circle is established.Chapter XII:
Verbally, no doubt, we would agree that machinery is made for man and not man for machinery; in practice any attempt to check the development of the machine appears to us an attack on knowledge and therefore a kind of blasphemy.Chapter XII:
It is usual to speak of the Fascist objective as the "beehive state," which does a grave injustice to bees. A world of rabbits ruled by stoats would be nearer the mark.Chapter XIII:
You may hate the machine-civilisation, probably you are right to hate it, but for the present there can be no question of accepting or rejecting it. The machine-civilisation is here, and it can only be criticized from the inside, because all of us are inside it. It is only romantic fools who flatter themselves that they have escaped, like the literary gent in his Tudor cottage with bathroom h. and c., and the he-man who goes off to live a "primitive" life in the jungle with a Mannlicher rifle and four wagon-loads of tinned food.Chapter XIII:
How many of the wretched shivering army of clerks and shopwalkers, who in some ways are actually worse off than a miner or a dock-hand, think of themselves as proletarians? A proletarianso they have been taught to thinkmeans a man without a collar. So that when you try to move them by talking about "class war," you only succeed in scaring them; they forget their incomes and remember their accents, and fly to the defence of the class that is exploiting them.Chapter XIII:
Probably we could do with a little less talk about "capitalist" and "proletarian" and a little more about the robbers and the robbed.Chapter XIII:
There can be no co-operation between classes whose real interests are opposed. The capitalist cannot co-operate with the proletarian. The cat cannot co-operate with the mouse; and if the cat does suggest co-operation and the mouse is fool enough to agree, in a very little while the mouse will be disappearing down the cat's throat.Chapter XIII:
[P]overty is poverty, whether the tool you work with is a pick-axe or a fountain-pen.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Hermetic Decalogue for Academicians
Keep well the Hermetic Decalogue,
Which runs as follows:
Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,
Thou shalt not write thy doctor's thesis
Thou shalt not worship projects nor
Shalt thou or thine bow down before
Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
Nor with compliance
Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
With statisticians nor commit
A social science.
Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
With guys in advertising firms,
Nor speak with such
As read the Bible for its prose,
Nor, above all, make love to those
Who wash too much.
Thou shalt not live within thy means
Nor on plain water and raw greens.
If thou must choose
Between the chances, choose the odd;
Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
And take short views.
A Most Unfeeling Thing
What do you say to de Q's having polled the Ash Tree & cut down the hedge all round the orchard — every Holly, Heckberry, Hazel, & every twig that skreened it — & all for the sake of the Apple trees that he may have a few more Apples — Mrs Jones now stands quite alone, that nice high hedge behind her and all above, & where the Moss hut stood, levelled to the ground. D. is so hurt and angry that she can never speak to him more: & truly it was a most unfeeling thing when he knew how much store they set by that orchard — the Apple trees also are so pruned that instead of it being a little wood, as it used to be, there is neither shade nor shelter.Thomas de Quincey is "de Q" and Dorothy Wordsworth is "D." The orchard was near Dove Cottage, formerly (1799-1808) rented by the Wordsworths, later (1809-1820) by de Quincey.
A reader of this blog photocopied the text of this letter and sent it to me, for which I'm very grateful.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
To live sparingly with a placid mind is great riches for a man.Cicero, On Friendship 23.86 (tr. Cyrus R. Edmonds):
divitiae grandes homini sunt vivere parce
Many persons despise riches; for, being content with a little, moderate food and a moderate style of living delights them.Cicero, On Duties 1.21.70 (tr. Cyrus R. Edmonds):
multi divitias despiciunt, quos parvo contentos tenuis victus cultusque delectat.
Therefore, as the object of those who are ambitious for power, and of those who court retirement, and whom I have just now described, is the same, the former imagine that they can attain it if they are possessed of great resources, and the latter, if they can be contented with their own, and with little.Horace, Odes 2.16.13-16:
quare cum hoc commune sit potentiae cupidorum cum his, quos dixi, otiosis, alteri se adipisci id posse arbitrantur, si opes magnas habeant, alteri si contenti sint et suo et parvo.
He lives well on little, whose ancestral salt cellar shines on his frugal table, and whose slumbers vain fear and unseemly desire don't disturb.Horace, Epistles 1.10.39-41 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
vivitur parvo bene cui paternum
splendet in mensa tenui salinum
nec levis somnos timor aut cupido
So he who through fear of poverty forfeits liberty, which is better than mines of wealth, will in his avarice carry a master, and be a slave for ever, not knowing how to live on little.Horace, Epistles 2.1.139:
sic, qui pauperiem veritus potiore metallis
libertate caret, dominum vehet improbus atque
serviet aeternum, quia parvo nesciet uti.
Farmers of the olden days, strong and happy with little...Horace, Satires 2.2.1-4 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough, slightly altered):
agricolae prisci, fortes parvoque beati...
Learn what and how great, my friends, is the virtue of living on little — now this is no talk of mine, but is the teaching of Ofellus, a peasant, a philosopher unschooled and of rough mother-wit...Horace, Satires 2.2.107-111 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
Quae virtus et quanta, boni, sit vivere parvo
(nec meus hic sermo est, sed quae praecepit Ofellus
rusticus, abnormis sapiens crassaque Minerva),
Which of the two, in face of changes and chances, will have more self-confidence — he who has accustomed a pampered mind and body to superfluities, or he who, content with little and fearful of the future, has in peace, like a wise man, provided for the needs of war?Tibullus 1.1.25-28 (tr. Frank O. Copley):
ad casus dubios fidet sibi certius? hic qui
pluribus adsuerit mentem corpusque superbum,
an qui contentus parvo metuensque futuri
in pace, ut sapiens, aptarit idonea bello?
Oh, now, let me be content to live on little, and not be forever surrendered to endless journeying; let me rather avoid the hot rising of the Dogstar under the shade of a tree where streams of water pass by.Lucan 4.373-378:
iam modo iam possim contentus vivere parvo
nec semper longae deditus esse viae,
sed Canis aestivos ortus vitare sub umbra
arboris ad rivos praetereuntis aquae.
O wasteful luxury, never satisfied with what is obtained for a small price, and ostentatious appetite for foods sought over land and sea, and boastfulness of an elegant tablelearn with how small an amount it is possible to prolong life and how little nature seeks.Seneca, Medea 329-334 (tr. Frank Justus Miller):
o prodiga rerum
luxuries numquam parvo contenta paratis
et quaesitorum terra pelagoque ciborum
ambitiosa fames et lautae gloria mensae,
discite, quam parvo liceat producere vitam
et quantum natura petat.
Unsullied the ages our fathers saw, with crime banished afar. Then every man inactive kept to his own shores and lived to old age on ancestral fields, rich with but little, knowing no wealth save what his home soil had yielded.[Seneca], Hercules Furens 159-161 (tr. Frank Justus Miller):
candida nostri saecula patres
videre, procul fraude remota.
sua quisque piger litora tangens
patrioque senex factus in arvo,
nisi quas tulerat natale solum
non norat opes.
Such are the tasks of those whose is the peaceful calm of harmless lives, whose home rejoices in the tiny store that is its own.
haec, innocuae quibus est vitae
et laeta suo parvoque domus.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Enough of Men Reporting Their Sorrows
We have surely had enough of men reporting their sorrows: especially when one is aware all the time that the poet wilfully protracts what he complains of, magnifies it in the Imagination, puts it into all the shapes of Fancy; and yet we are to condole with him, and be taught to ruminate our losses and sorrows in the same way. I felt that if Tennyson had got on a horse and ridden twenty miles, instead of moaning over his pipe, he would have been cured of his sorrows in half the time. As it is, it is about three years before the Poetic Soul walks itself out of darkness and Despair into Common Sense. Plato would not have allowed such querulousness to be published in his Republic, to be sure: and when we think of the Miss Barretts, Brownes, Jewsburys, etc., who will set to work to feel friends' losses in melodious tears, in imitation of A.T.'sone must allow Plato was no such prig as some say he was.Related posts: On Keeping a Stiff Upper Lip; Grosse Seelen Dulden Still; Hiding Troubles; Nietzsche on Emotional Incontinence; Buckled Lips; The Contagion of Misery; Emotional Incontinence; Euripidea; Hostile Laughter; Hostile Laughter in Euripides' Medea; Icy Laughter; Notes to Myself; On Concealing One's Misfortunes; Quotations about Complaints.
I'm Very Fond of Water
A NEW TEMPERANCE SONGThe Greek motto Ἄριστον μὲν ὕδωρ ("Best is water") comes from the opening of Pindar, Olympian Odes 1.1. I have been unable to identify the original Platt Deutsch. ;-)
(Adapted from the Platt Deutsch)
Ἄριστον μὲν ὕδωρ
I'm very fond of water,
I drink it noon and night:
Not Rechab's son or daughter
Had therein more delight.
I breakfast on it daily;
And nectar it doth seem,
When once I've mixed it gaily
With sugar and with cream.
But I forgot to mention
That in it first I see,
Infused or in suspension,
Good Mocha or Bohea.
I'm very fond of water,
I drink it noon and night;
No mother's son or daughter
Hath therein more delight.
At luncheon, too, I drink it,
And strength it seems to bring:
When really good, I think it
A liquor for a king.
But I forgot to mention—
'Tis best to be sincere—
I use an old invention
That makes it into Beer.
I'm very fond of water, etc.
I drink it, too, at dinner;
I quaff it full and free,
And find, as I'm a sinner,
It does not disagree.
But I forgot to mention—
As thus I drink and dine,
To obviate distension,
I join some Sherry wine.
I'm very fond of water, etc.
And then when dinner's over,
And business far away,
I feel myself in clover,
And sip my eau sucrée.
But I forgot to mention—
To give the glass a smack,
I add, with due attention,
Glenlivet or Cognac.
I'm very fond of water, etc.
At last when evening closes,
With something nice to eat,
The best of sleeping doses
In water still I meet.
But I forgot to mention—
I think it not a sin
To cheer the day's declension,
By pouring in some Gin.
I'm very fond of water:
It ever must delight
Each mother's son or daughter—
When qualified aright.
Jim Tucker writes:
It's worth pointing out, regarding the poem you post that begins with this Pindar citation, that Ἄριστον μὲν ὕδωρ can also mean "water for breakfast." (And lunch and dinner, looks like.)
Monday, July 18, 2011
Charm Against Headache
Little head, little head, do not whimper; hold up bravely, hold up cheerfully, put two steady props under you, wholesomely carpentered from patience. Hope shines, however bad things may become and vex you. But you mustn't take anything too grievously to heart, least of all any fairy-story that might make your hair stand on end. God, and the giant Christopher, forfend that. [God, and the giant Christopher, forfend that.]Here is Paul Heyse's German translation of the Spanish, as set to music by Hugo Wolf:
Köpfchen, Köpfchen, nicht gewimmert,The original Spanish is by Cervantes, from his La Gitanilla (The Little Gypsy Girl). Sams ad loc.:
Halt' dich wacker, halt' dich munter,
Stütz‘ zwei gute Säulchen unter,
Heilsam aus Geduld gezimmert!
Wie sich’s auch verschlimmert
Und dich kümmert.
Musst mit Grämen
Dir nichts zu herzen nehmen,
Ja kein Märchen,
Dass zu Berg dir stehn die Härchen;
Da sei Gott davor
Und der Riese Christophor!
In Cervantes the words are spoken by the heroine Preciosa: but the German title Preciosas Sprüchlein gegen Kopfweh, her prescription against headache, given in the source book and reproduced in Wolf's score, seems to be Heyse's own invention. In fact the Cervantes story makes no mention of any headache. Preciosa repeats these lines laughingly to her lover who has fallen into a swoon on hearing that she has other admirers.It's not entirely accurate to say that "the Cervantes story makes no mention of any headache." Here is part of the episode from Cervantes in N. MacColl's translation:
The father of Andres bade her leave him in writing the words which she had said to Don Juan, as he wished to know them in any case. She said that she would repeat them most willingly, and that the company should understand that, although they seemed trifling, they had especial virtue in preserving from a heart attack and giddiness of the head, and that the words were:Here is the Spanish:
Little head, little head,
Stay thyself, stay,
Do not give way;
Build thyself up a fort
Of blessed patience;
Seek for the firm support
Given by confidence.
Do not incline thine ear
To foolish dreamings.
Thou wilt yet learn to see
These unto God refer
And to Saint Christopher.
'Let them repeat the half of these words and make half a dozen times the sign of the cross upon the heart of any person who suffers from giddiness in the head,' said Preciosa, 'and he will remain as sound as an apple.'
El padre de Andrés le dijo que le dejase por escrito las palabras que había dicho a don Juan, que las quería saber en todo caso. Ella dijo que las diría de muy buena gana, y que entendiesen que, aunque parecían cosa de burla, tenían gracia especial para preservar el mal de corazón y los vaguidos de cabeza, y que las palabras eran:At any rate, it's a delightful little song, and I'll try repeating it the next time I have a headache.
Tente en ti, no te resbales,
Y apareja dos puntales
De la paciencia bendita.
No te inclines
A pensamientos ruines;
Que toquen en milagrosas,
Y San Cristóbal gigante.
— Con la mitad destas palabras que le digan, y con seis cruces que le hagan sobre el corazón a la persona que tuviere vaguidos de cabeza — dijo Preciosa —, quedará como una manzana.
The book once belonged to Carl Tilden Keller (1872-1955).
Google Books permits only a limited view of James P. Keenan, The Art of the Bookplate (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2003), p. 96, blocking an image of the same bookplate, but allowing the display of the following text describing the bookplate:
Slumped over a table, head in hand as if from exhaustion, this quintessential bibliophile reads by candlelight in a large library brimming with books. Does this amusing caricature represent the owner of the ex libris, intent perhaps on finding some piece of information that has been alluding [sic] him? His attention is focused on one book while piles of other volumeseither already discarded or still awaiting his attentionare strewn all over the floor and on the tabletop. Has he finally found what he has been searching for? Or is he doomed to search forever?For "alluding" read "eluding". I suggest, as an alternative to Keenan's interpretation, that the reader intent on his book is Don Quixote. Keller collected rare editions of Cervantes' Don Quixote.
Cf. this similar caricature of Don Quixote reading by Stefan Mart:
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Nature worship is a product of good communications. In the seventeenth century all sensible men disliked wild nature. One has only to read Pepys' account of a country tour to understand the reason why. But a change was at hand. During the earlier years of the eighteenth century the French road system was completely overhauled; and from 1725 onwards General Wade was engaged in giving to Scotland and the Border their first decent highways. It began to be possible to look at wild nature in comfort and without serious risk. Poets responded to the invitation of the engineers....It was only after the making of the roads that people began to hold up their hands and bless the country. Untamed, nature seems not so much divine as sinister, alarming and, above all, exasperatingly obstructive. To go hiking across the mountains when you know that at any moment you can slip down into the valley and find a good road, with motor buses, and a service of wagon litsthis is a most delightful pastime. But if you have to traipse across the same mountains, not on pleasure, but on business, and for the sufficient reason that there is no other means of getting where you want to gowhy, then the case is altered. The sublimities of Natureand these damned barrancas are unquestionably sublimecome to be regarded, not with admiration, but with rage, not as evidences of God's handiwork, but as booby-traps put in your way by some insufferably waggish devil. In Central America one learns to understand the classical attitude to nature.
I Don't Like It
To Mrs. John Charlesworth (April 11, 1844):
London is very hateful to me. I long to spread wing and fly into the kind clean air of the country. I see nobody in the streets half so handsome as Mr. Reynolds of our parish: all clever, composed, satirical, selfish, well dressed. Here we see what the World is. I am sure a great City is a deadly Plague: worse than the illness so called that came to ravage it. I tried to persuade Carlyle to leave his filthy Chelsea, but he says his wife likes London. I get radishes to eat for breakfast of a morning: with them comes a savour of earth that brings all the delicious gardens of the world back into one's soul, and almost draws tears from one's eyes.To Frederick Tennyson (May 24, 1844):
But one finds few in London serious men: I mean serious even in fun: with a true purpose and character whatsoever it may be. London melts away all individuality into a common lump of cleverness. I am amazed at the humour and worth and noble feeling in the country, however much railroads have mixed us up with metropolitan civilization. I can still find the heart of England beating healthily down here, though no one will believe it.To Frederick Tennyson (December 8, 1844):
Why should I not live in London and see the world? you say. Why then I say as beforeI don't like it. I think the dullness of country people is better than the impudence of Londoners; and the fresh cold and wet of our clay fields better than a fog that stinks per se; and this room of mine, clean at all events, better than a dirty room in Charlotte St.To Bernard Barton (May 18, 1845):
I was at a party of modern wits last night that made me creep into myself, and wish myself away talking to any Suffolk old woman in her cottage, while the trees murmured without. The wickedness of London appals me; and yet I am no paragon.To Frederick Tennyson (March, 1846):
But beside my inactivity, I have a sort of horror of plunging into London; which, except for a shilling concert, and a peep at the pictures, is desperate to me. This is my fault, not London's: I know it is a lassitude and weakness of Soul that no more loves the ceaseless collision of Beaux Esprits, than my obese ill-jointed carcase loves bundling about in coaches and steamers. And, as you say, the dirt, both of earth and atmosphere, in London, is a real bore. But enough of that. It is sufficient that it is more pleasant to me to sit in a clean room, with a clear air outside, and hedges just coming into leaf, rather than in the Tavistock or an upper floor of Charlotte Street. And how much better one's books read in country stillness, than amid the noise of wheels, crowds, etc., or after hearing them eternally discussed by no less active tongues!
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Our Freedom for a Little Bread We Sell
Even in a palace, life may be led well!
So spoke the imperial sage, purest of men,
Marcus Aurelius. But the stifling den
Of common life, where, crowded up pell-mell,
Our freedom for a little bread we sell,
And drudge under some foolish master's ken,
Who rates us if we peer outside our pen
Matched with a palace, is not this a hell?
Even in a palace! On his truth sincere
Who spake these words, no shadow ever came;
And when my ill-school'd spirit is aflame
Some nobler, ampler stage of life to win,
I'll stop and say: 'There were no succour here!
The aids to noble life are all within.'
As Bare as a Mole Hill
To the eastward were cornfields and pastures, mostly surrounded with very large oaks and some ash treesindeed at that time the country between Wylam and Bywell was beautified with a great deal of wood, which presented the appearance of a continued forest, but these are long since stubbed upneedy gentry care little about the beauty of a country and part of it now is comparatively as bare as a mole hill.Text in Thomas Bewick, My Life, ed. Iain Bain (London: The Folio Society, 1981), p. 45.
Scratch a Sluggard, and Find a Saint
Some people lead a feverish life,
For they with restlessness are rife.
They revel in labors energetic,
Their fare is healthful and ascetic,
Their minds are keen, their hands are earthy,
Each day they work on something worthy.
Something accomplished, something done,
Comprises their idea of fun.
My life with joy is sometimes fraught,
But mostly when I'm doing naught.
Yea, I could spend my whole career
A pillow underneath my ear.
How wise was he who wittily said
That there is nothing like a bed.
A mattress is what I like to creep on;
The left side is the one I sleep on.
Heroes who moil and toil and fight
Exist on eight hours' sleep a night.
I call this but a miserly budget,
Yet I assure you that they grudge it.
I've heard them groan, times without number,
At wasting a third of their lives in slumber.
All right, you Spartans who build and delve,
You waste eight hours, and I'll waste twelve.
No honester man is to be found
Than he who sleeps the clock around.
Of malice and ambition free,
The more he sleeps, the sleepier he.
No plots and schemes infest his head,
But dreams of getting back to bed.
His spirit bears no worldly taint;
Scratch a sluggard, and find a saint.
Stalin and Hitler while they sleep
Are harmless as a baby sheep;
Tyrants who cause the earth to quake
Are only dangerous when awake.
This world would be a happier place,
And happier the human race,
And all our pilots be less Pontius
If people spent more time unconscious.
Related posts:Work and Leisure; Praise of Laziness; Lazy Man's Song; Exquisite Pregnant Idleness; How Can I Work?; Dolce Far Niente; Weekdays of Unfreedom; Idleness and Business; Archilochus on the Idle Life; Idleness.
Friday, July 15, 2011
Arthur William Ryder
Ryder went to Germany, partly at least, to study comparative philology. But during a semester's work with Brugmann he discoveredor thought he discoveredthat Brugmann, the acknowledged master of linguistic science, "could speak only one language and could understand none."p. xviii, footnote, quoting Ryder's introduction to the Bhagavad-gita, p. x:
"Suppose I plan a long walk, and find a pebble in my shoe. Its removal is a necessary condition of success in my plan, yet of itself does not further that plan; hinders it indeed, if I imagine this action to be of itself meritorious, and become attached thereto. The same reasoning applies to the acquisition of the grammar of a language by one whose object is the enjoyment of poetry written in that language."pp. xx:
[H]e thought that he could do better and more useful work in other ways than in technical scholarship. In an unpublished "lay sermon" he writes: "We know how in the universities the fetish of scholarship is held before the eyes of young men, and is used to pervert and crush all disinterested love for intellectual things." In the introduction to his translation of The Ten Princes he says (p. x): "Let us pay homage to the unknown artist of chapters i-v, who was zealous for art, not for self-exploitation; who stands a silent rebukeneeded, if unheededof any age greedy for scholarship and other stultifying self-advertisement." And again (ibid.): "Dismal studies in influences and sources may be securely left in the hands of those who have no love for literature, since the result is always the same. A great author uses what fits his purpose, and in using it, so transforms it as to make it his own." In his translations Ryder never used footnotes; the text, he thought, should speak for itself, without commentary.p. xxiii:
He said to a student that if he were confined for life to a single book he should certainly choose the Mahabharata. He read for his own instruction and amusement, not merely as an aid to teaching or publication. He roundly condemned an eminent Sanskritist because he "never read any Sanskrit for fun."p. xxiv, quoting Ryder's introduction to his volume of translations from Kalidasa:
"Here there shall at any rate be none of that cold-blooded criticism which imagines itself set above a world-author to appraise and judge, but a generous tribute of affectionate admiration."p. xxvi:
For students who seemed to have a genuine interest in Sanskrit literature and to be worth while in themselves Ryder would do anything. He enjoyed reading Sanskrit privately with students or ex-students more than he did the conduct of formal classes.p. xxvii:
Ryder believed that the only foundation for a general education was a knowledge of Greek, Latin, and mathematics.p. xxix:
He castigated whole departments of study: economics was "vile," public speaking "not worth damning."p. xxxv, quoting Ryder on the Bhagavad-gita:
"Why do one's duty, in such a world as the present? How is it possible, in such a world, to see any profit or joy in duty done? Partial answers may be found in Homer, Ecclesiastes, Lucretius, the New Testament, and elsewhere; the full answer, satisfying both intellect and spirit, is given in the Song of the Blessèd One."
Thursday, July 14, 2011
There are times when ten pages of some book fall under your eye just at the moment when your very life, it seems, depends on your reading those ten pages. You recognize in them immediately the answer to all your most pressing questions. They open a new road.
Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee?Aldous Huxley, Beyond the Mexique Bay (1934; rpt. New York: Vintage Books, 1960), p. 68:
Hate is like lust in its irresistible urgency; it is, however, more dangerous than lust, because it is a passion less closely dependent on the body. The emission of a glandular secretion suffices to put an end to lust, at any rate for a time. But hate is a spiritual passion, which no merely physiological process can assuage. Hate, therefore, has what lust entirely lackspersistence and continuity: the persistence and continuity of purposive spirit. Moreover, lust is "perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame," only before action; hate, both before and during action. In the case of lust, the time of action is limited to a few minutes or seconds, and with the ending of the action coincides the temporary or permanent ending of that particular passion of lust. Very different is the case of hatred. Its action may continue for years; nor does the ending of any particular phase of the action necessarily entail the ending of the emotional state which was its justification.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Our Hidden Self
But often, in the world's most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in usto know
Whence our lives come and where they go.
And many a man in his own breast then delves,
But deep enough, alas! none ever mines.
And we have been on many thousand lines,
And we have shown, on each, spirit and power;
But hardly have we, for one little hour,
Been on our own line, have we been ourselves
Hardly had skill to utter one of all
The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
But they course on for ever unexpress'd.
And long we try in vain to speak and act
Our hidden self, and what we say and do
Is eloquent, is wellbut 'tis not true!
And then we will no more be rack'd
With inward striving, and demand
Of all the thousand nothings of the hour
Their stupefying power;
Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call!
Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn,
From the soul's subterranean depth upborne
As from an infinitely distant land,
Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey
A melancholy into all our day.
The Decline of True Learning
Once, learning slew the living woe
Of wise men. That was long ago.
She then disdained such service rare,
Became a practical affair.
But nowadays she sees that kings
Despise all intellectual things,
And sinking lower day by day,
She seems to vanish quite away.
Anecdotes are aids to biographers and editors. They illuminate and leaven text; they amuse readers. Too often, however, they mislead and deceive. The singular act, frequently distorted, is recorded as normal. Through repetition, the anecdote ossifies; the biographical barnacle results.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
He grew old in an age he condemn'd.
He look'd on the rushing decay
Of the times which had shelter'd his youth;
Felt the dissolving throes
Of a social order he loved;
Outlived his brethren, his peers;
And, like the Theban seer,
Died in his enemies' day.
Come here and learn a thing or two. Do you understand the nature of mortality? I suppose you don't. How could you? But listen to me. All men have to pay the debt of death, and there is not a mortal who knows whether he is going to be alive on the morrow. The outcome of things that depend on fortune cannot be foreseen; they can neither be learnt nor discovered by any art. Hearken to this and learn of me, cheer up, drink, reckon the days yours as you live them; the rest belong to fortune. Pay honor too to Cypris, most sweetest of goddesses to men; she is a gracious deity. Let these other things go, and heed my wordsif I seem to you to be talking sense; I think I am. Come away from the door there, bind your head with garlands, and drink with me. I know well that the splash of the wine in the cup will shift you from this dour, tight moodiness. We are only human, and our thought ought to be human. Life for all you sober and frowning folk, if you take my opinion, is not really life but a calamity.This is one of my favorite passages in the plays of Euripides, so I was deflated to read this note, from L.P.E. Parker's commentary on Alcestis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 207:
Heracles seeks, with maudlin solemnity, to impress the butler with the transcendant originality of his cracker-barrel philosophy.
The Nantucket School of Philosophy
One Brave, Honest Man
The man by whom new fire is brought,Hat tip: Ian Jackson.
Is never understood;
They praise his most imperfect thought,
And blame him for the good.
Whatever fits their petty scheme,
With flowers of praise they strew;
Whatever makes them think, they deem
Fantastic and untrue.
Yet worse, the littler ones are sure
To organize his truth
Some school or church that shall endure
In everlasting youth.
And thus they always kill at length
The thing they organize;
The more the body gathers strength,
The more the spirit dies.
They of the Inquisition prayed
To him of Galilee!
The Renaissance of learning made
None seeking forms, or praise of man,
Or scholarship, or art,
Or any social glory, can
Be quite sincere at heart.
This Tolstoi was sincere; his pride
Of power and brain and birth
And glory, flickered out and died
In the vision of an earth
Where men should save their souls by pain,
Should conquer pride and bind it;
The ancient truth he taught again:
Who loses life, shall find it.
This is his lesson to his race,
Distort it as they can:
The world becomes a better place
For one brave, honest man.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Tinkering, Doctoring, Shifting, Deranging
'Any leap in the dark is better than standing still.'
Talk not to us of the joys of the Present,
Say not what is is undoubtedly best:
Never be ours to be merely quiescent
Anything, everything rather than rest!
Placid prosperity bores us and vexes:
What if philosophers Latin and Greek
Say that well-being's a Status and Ἕξις?
Nothing should please you for more than a week.
Tinkering, doctoring, shifting, deranging,
Urged by a constant satiety on,
Ever the new for the newer exchanging,
Hazarding ever the gains we have won
Only perpetual flux can delight us,
Blown like a billow by winds of the sea:
Still let us bow to the shrine of St. Vitus
Vite Sanctissime, ora pro me!
Pray, that when leaps in the darkness uncaring
End in a fall (as they probably will),
Mine be the credit for valiantly daring,
Others be charged with defraying the bill!
My Bed of Death
I ask not that my bed of deathRelated posts:
From bands of greedy heirs be free;
For these besiege the latest breath
Of fortune's favour'd sons, not me.
I ask not each kind soul to keep
Tearless, when of my death he hears.
Let those who will, if any, weep!
There are worse plagues on earth than tears.
I ask but that my death may find
The freedom to my life denied;
Ask but the folly of mankind
Then, then at last, to quit my side.
Spare me the whispering, crowded room,
The friends who come, and gape, and go;
The ceremonious air of gloom
All, which makes death a hideous show!
Nor bring, to see me cease to live,
Some doctor full of phrase and fame,
To shake his sapient head, and give
The ill he cannot cure a name.
Nor fetch, to take the accustom'd toll
Of the poor sinner bound for death,
His brother-doctor of the soul,
To canvass with official breath
The future and its viewless things
That undiscovered mystery
Which one who feels death's winnowing wings
Must needs read clearer, sure, than he!
Bring none of these; but let me be,
While all around in silence lies,
Moved to the window near, and see
Once more, before my dying eyes,
Bathed in the sacred dew of morn
The wide aerial landscape spread
The world which was ere I was born,
The world which lasts when I am dead;
Which never was the friend of one,
Nor promised love it could not give,
But lit for all its generous sun,
And lived itself, and made us live.
There let me gaze, till I become
In soul, with what I gaze on, wed!
To feel the universe my home;
To have before my mindinstead
Of the sick-room, the mortal strife,
The turmoil for a little breath
The pure eternal course of life,
Not human combatings with death!
Thus feeling, gazing, let me grow
Composed, refresh'd, ennobled, clear;
Then willing let my spirit go
To work or wait elsewhere or here!
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Death by Suffocation
If the love and knowledge of Greek literature ever die in this country, they will die of a suffocation arising from its exponents' industry. I do not wish to be accessory to the murder.
Related post: Leg-Plaiter (ad fin.)
Cynical and Irreverent
For twenty-four hours Christianity became the official religion, but the week-day god whom with the help of the officiating staff we struggled to cultivate was Horace. Since we were mostly engrossed with games and gossip, we did not carry the worship very far, but it was then that we were in the greatest danger. Under the ordinary system of teaching Latin which prevails in our public school it is not possible for an ordinary boy to grasp the meaning of anything he translates. He construes laboriously from word to word and in his fear of missing one of the stepping-stones to which he has to hop, he has no time to consider the beauties of the river. But many of us had no time for the stepping-stones, and so we were tempted to make use of a crib, an 'illegal rendering'. Cribs were of two kinds: pretentious and extremely free translations in verse, to which access was easy, but whose help was negligible; and word-for-word translations published by Kelly and Bohn, which employed such a remote and extraordinary vocabulary that anyone consulting them was still wholesomely far from appreciating the quality of the original. But in my time there appeared another kind of translation. This was the Loeb classical library, which printed a prose version of the Latin beside the original and which won as a prize by one's fagmaster, was available, by unwritten law, for the use of his slaves. From that moment one could no longer (I was now in my tenth year of learning Latin) spend hours over an author without discovering what he was like. And the knowledge was poison. Several of us began to understand what we read, and to find out that we had been learning by heart the mature, ironical, sensual, and irreligious opinions of a middle-aged Roman, one whose chief counsel to youth was to drink and make love to the best of its ability, as these were activities unsuitable to a middle age given over to worldly-wise meditation and good talk. Afterward there remained only an equal oblivion for the virtuous and the wicked in the unconsulted tomb. Once embarked on these discoveries we extended them with passion and soon found out other pagan doctrines even more insolent in the passages which we were taught. Tacitus, Suetonius, Juvenal, Martial, Catullus and even Petronius were among the writers whom the authorities, confident in the immunity which their method of teaching bestowed, included in the curriculum, and we were also able to find a master whose mind was naturally Roman, and who confirmed us in what we had thought. Henceforth the invective of Catullus, the bile of Juvenal, and the aristocratic bawdy of Petronius became the natural food of our imaginations, the words 'cynical and irreverent' began to appear regularly in our reports and, though a romantic period was to follow, the seeds of a philosophy were sown, a philosophy indelibly tinged with materialism, robust, arrogant, sensible, deriving from the natural glamour of 'the smoke and wealth and noise of Rome' where we now had our being, a philosophy not without elevation and melancholy, but unsuitable for the many Sundays which were to follow....I haven't read or even seen a copy of this bookthe text above was reconstructed from Google Books' snippet view. I suspect that "public school" should be "public schools". Connolly's school was Eton.