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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR DECEMBER 2014

December  27,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

He perhaps felt the force of that truth (which is by no means the paradox it seems) that for artistic purposes there is such a thing as knowing too much about your subject.  There are doubtless many matters in regard to which a little knowledge is a dangerous thing; but I should say that often, for the artist, it is a great knowledge that is dangerous--in the sense that it crowds out inspiration and imagination.  When a writer or a painter says in answer to a request to make a sketch of a certain place or person, "Oh! I can't; I have been there too long; I have seen him too often!" he is talking purer reason than he may get credit for.

--Parisian Sketches by Henry James

[N.B.:  And that, my friends, maybe why Henry James chose as his abiding subject matter the relations between a man and a woman--a subject he would never be accused of "knowing too much."]

December  26,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

Barye was a specialist--he produced little else than wild beasts, in attitudes more or less ferocious and voracious.  But in this line he was a man of genius, and his lions and tigers have an extraordinary reality.  They are familiar half the world over, for he worked chiefly for the trade, and his models were numerously reproduced on a small scale.  To have on one's mantel-shelf or one's library table one of Barye's businesslike little lions diving into the entrails of a jackal, or one of his consummate leopards licking his fangs over a lacerated kid, has long been considered the mark, I will not say of a refined, but at least of an enterprising taste.

--Parision Sketches by Henry James

[N.B.:  I think one slightly shabby reason that we so much enjoy Henry James today is that we take a bit of spiteful pleasure in seeing the master of the feline, back-handed insult at work.]

December  25,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

We wander about Europe on a sensuous and esthetic basis--eating good dinners, rolling over smooth roads, served by sympathetic domestics, staring at picturesque scenery, listening to superior music, watching accomplished acting.  We have all our private joys and miseries, which demand a greater or less amount of attention; but the average American in Europe, traveler or resident, makes up the substance of his life out of these things.  Whether he might not do better is a question I am not discussing; certain it is that these things are offered him in Paris in a fashion that enables him to lay down his money with one hand and take with the other in perfect security.  His security puts him in good humor, and though he has decidedly to lay down more money each year than the last, he finds nothing to break the charm, and mutilates an axiom which he considers philosophic, to the effect that it is better to pay much for delights than for disappointments.

--Parisian Sketches by Henry James

December  24,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

At a prolonged drinking-bout one of the party remarked, "What gars the Laird of Garskadden luk sae gash?"

"Ou," says his neighbour, the Laird of Kilmardinny, "Garskadden's been wi' his Maker these twa hours; I saw him step awa', but I dinna like to disturb gude company."

--Dean Ramsay collected in  A Christmas Book (compiled by D.B. Wyndham Lewis & G.C. Heseltine)

December  23,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

FANTASIA ON PORT

A Chirrup was in the Rev. Doctor's tone: "Hocks, too, have compassed age.  I have tasted senior Hocks.  Their flavours are as a brook of many voices; they have depth also.  Senatorial Port! we say.  We cannot say that of any other wine.  Port is deep-sea deep.  It is in its flavour deep; mark the difference.  It is like a classic tragedy, organic in conception.  An ancient Hermitage has the light of the antique; the merit that it can grow to an extreme old age; a merit.  Neither of Hermitage nor of Hock can you say that it is the blood of those long years, retaining the strength of youth with the wisdom of age.  To Port for that!  Port is our noblest legacy!  Observe, I do not compare the wines; I distinguish the qualities.  Let them live together for our enrichment; they are not rivals like the Idæan Three.  Were they rivals, a fourth would challenge them.  Burgundy has great genius.  It does wonders within its period; it does all except to keep up in the race; it is short-lived.  An aged Burgundy runs with a beardless Port.  I cherish the fancy that Port speaks the sentences of wisdom, Burgundy sings the inspired Ode.  Or put it, that Port is the Homeric hexameter, Burgundy the Pindaric dithyramb.  What do you say?"

"The comparison is excellent, sir."

--George Meredith (1828-1909) collected in  A Christmas Book (compiled by D.B. Wyndham Lewis & G.C. Heseltine)

December  22,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

When I came before them they took my name and abode, examin'd me why, contraire to an ordinance made that none should any longer observe the superstitious time of the Nativity (so esteem'd by them) I durst offend, and particularly be at Common Prayers, which they told me was but the Masse in English, and particularly pray for Charles Steuart, for which we had no Scripture.  I told them we did not pray for Cha. Stewart, but for all Christian Kings, Princes, and Governours.  They replied, in so doing we praid for the K. of Spaine too, who was their enemie and papist, with other frivolous and insnaring questions and much threatning: and finding no colour to detaine me, they dismiss'd me with much pitty of my ignorance.  These were men of high flight and above ordinances, and spake spiteful things of our Lord's Nativity.  As we went up to receive the sacrament the miscreants held their musketts against us as if they would have shot us at the altar, but yet suffering us to finish the office of Communion, as perhaps not having instructions what to do in case they found us in that action.  So I got home late the next day, blessed be God.

--Evelyn's Diary, 1657 collected in  A Christmas Book (compiled by D.B. Wyndham Lewis & G.C. Heseltine)

December  21,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

THE NIGHT OF MOTHERS

The Saxons began their year on the 8th of Kalends of January (25 December) which is now our Christmas Day, and the very night before, which is now holy to us was by them called Mœdrenack, or the Night of Mothers, because as we imagine, of those ceremonies which were performed that night.

--Venerable Bede (673-735) collected in A Christmas Book (compiled by D.B. Wyndham Lewis & G.C. Heseltine)

December  20,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

FOR A BIRTHDAY BOOK

Of the Properties of the Twelve Signs.  X. Of the Sign of Capricorn.

She who is born at this time will be modest and fearful; she will overcome her enemies; she will have children by three men; she will make many pilgrimages in her youth; she will have after that much prosperity; she will have great eye-trouble, and will be at her best at thirty-one; she will live seventy years and four months, in the way of Nature.

--Le Grant Kalendier des Bergiers, 1480 collected in A Christmas Book (compiled by D.B. Wyndham Lewis & G.C. Heseltine)

December  19,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

FOR A BIRTHDAY BOOK

Of the Properties of the Twelve Signs.  X. Of the Sign of Capricorn.

I find that he who is born under Capricorn, that is, between the middle of December and the middle of January, will be quarrelsome, a libertine, a liar, and toilsome, and nourished with strange things.  He will commit several crimes and will experiment in brawls; he will be a governor of four-footed beasts; he will not remain long with his wife; he will suffer divers great besettings and mischiefs in his youth; he will be forced to give up several riches and goods; he will be in great peril at the age of fifteen; he will have very great courage; he will frequent honest men and will become rich through women, and he will be a guide to maidens; his brothers will play the spy on him greatly; he will live seventy-four years and three months, in the way of Nature.

--Le Grant Kalendier des Bergiers, 1480 collected in A Christmas Book (compiled by D.B. Wyndham Lewis & G.C. Heseltine)

December  18,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

To the horrible people who are best designated as Dons, whose idea of Heaven is an everlasting examination, it is repulsive that this young wastrel, with a possible Grammar School smattering, should have written the finest things in the world.  "The Warwickshire yokel," says one of them in high contempt.  And so has arisen the most marvellous folly of the world: the Baconian Hypothesis.  Grave men, being first assured that shabby Bohemian fellows do not write immortalities, have committed themselves to all the wonderful lunacies of the Bilateral Cypher, have gone a little father, and have at last found that Bacon wrote not only all Shakespeare but all the literature of his age, including Montaigne's Essais and Cervantes' Don Quixote.  The last book which I read on the subject showed that Don Quixote should be read "d'un qui s'ôte"--concerning one who hides himself--Bacon, of course.  Indeed, the writer proved that the alleged author, Cervantes, had an illegitimate child and was very poor: which is evidence, of course, that he could not write masterpieces.  The masterpieces notoriously are all written by moral men with large banking accounts. 

May this January, this Twelfth Night, bring us better sense, as we sit about our sea-coal fire.  

--A Talk for Twelfth Night by Arthur Machen collected in A Christmas Book (compiled by D.B. Wyndham Lewis & G.C. Heseltine)

[N.B.:  I think the Shakespeare deniers fundamentally fail to understand the public nature of a playwright's craft.  The playwright does not scribble away a play in isolation and then have the players mechanically wound up to perform his completed masterpiece.  Rather, the playwright works in collaboration with the players and others constantly revising the work as it is performed and thus, through such collaboration, a play is born.  And as Machen points out, the fact that Shakespeare did not have a grand education is beside the point.  It's like arguing that Babe Ruth did not hit his homeruns because he was fat, slow and pigeon-toed.  Who you going to believe: me or your lying eyes?]

December  16,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

TO MAKE A DISH OF SNOW

Take a pottle of sweet thick Cream, and the white of eyght Egs, and beate them altogether, with a spoone, then put them into your cream with a dishfull of Rosewater, and a dishfull of Sugar withall, then take a sticke and make it clene, and then cut it in the end foursquare, and therewith beat all the aforesaid things together, and ever as it ariseth take it off, and put it in a Cullender, this doone, take a platter and sette an Apple in the midst of it, stick a thicke bush of Rosemary in the Apple.  Then cast your Snow upon the Rosemary and fill your platter therewith, and if you have wafers cast some withall, and so serve them forthe.

--A Book of Cookerie, 1594, collected in A Christmas Book (compiled by D.B. Wyndham Lewis & G.C. Heseltine)

December  15,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

"That," said Marcel, indicating a superb bird displaying through its rosy transparent skin the truffles of Périgord with which it was stuffed, "is called a truffled turkey.  I have seen impious creatures eat a thing like that without first kneeling to it," added the painter, casting on the turkey a look capable of roasting it.

--Vie De Bohème by Henry Murger collected in A Christmas Book (compiled by D.B. Wyndham Lewis & G.C. Heseltine)

December  11,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

If they reached the point of no return surprisingly quickly it's even more surprising to find that one of them has already reached the point of giving up.  sometimes the two are one and the same; the usual difference is that there's only one point of no return whereas the point of giving up is constant--the opposite of a point, in fact--and can be yielded to at any and every step of the way.

--Zona by Geoff Dyer

December  10,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

Walker Evans opened our eyes . . . to the sagging shacks, wrecked cars and fading signs of America in the thirties.  To that extent Evans anticipate Bresson's reminder to himself, in Notes on the Cinematographer:  'Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.'  A little later Bresson added a medium-specific twits to this ambition: 'Quality of a new world which none of the existing arts allowed to be imagined.'  Two related questions, then: would we regard this landscape of fields, abandoned cars, tilted telegraph poles and trees as beautiful without Tarkovsky?  And could it have been brought into existence by any medium other than film?

--Zona by Geoff Dyer

December  9,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

In taking on a book's arguments, I don't pull my punches.  But I do have one golden rule: I never put something in a review that I would not be prepared to say to the author's face.  'If you couldn't say it, then don't write it', should (in my view) be the reviewers unwavering maxim.

--Reviewing Classics collected in Confronting the Classics by Mary Beard

[N.B.: Here Ms. Beard puts her finger on why there are so many positive--and positively boring--book reviews: reviewers lack the courage of their convictions to admit when an author is wrong because they do not want to confront that author later at a cocktail party.  This was the benefit of the old concept of a university as a monastery or "ivory tower"--splendid isolation allows for a degree of "home truth" that incessant networking does not.]

December  8,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

For what it's worth, my basic rule is never to send any book to any reviewer if I'm fairly sure I can predict what they will say about it.  And if the reviewer knows the author (as in the relatively close-knit community of classics is sometimes bound to be the case), I have to be confident that the reviewer would feel able to write either a positive or negative review, depending on what they found (I don't send books out to people who are only prepared to be nice about them).  But the simple fact is that it's not all that difficult to be fair - indeed, it's probably a lot easier to be fair than to be successfully corrupt.

--Reviewing Classics collected in Confronting the Classics by Mary Beard

December  5,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

The irony is that, while publishers continue to harass literary editors to review their books, they also rightly reassure their anxious authors that what the reviewers say appears to have very limited effect on how many books get sold.  To put it another way, the only person who can be absolutely guaranteed to read, and to re-read, a review with intense concentration is the author of the book concerned.  (So, authors, however bruised you feel by what you think is a piece of unfair criticism, never write in to complain; the chances are that you will just draw attention to something that no one else has much noticed!)

--Reviewing Classics collected in Confronting the Classics by Mary Beard

December  2,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

Even more eccentric than most was Edmund Morshead, teacher at Winchester in the late nineteenth century: nicknamed 'Mush', he had his own private idiolect ('Mushri') that he shared with his pupils and he taught in a classroom known predictably enough as the 'Mushroom'. . . . The died-in-the-wool Mr chips and the dreariness of the grammar grind is more our own modern myth than (at more radical schools, at least) the eighteenth-and nineteenth-century reality.

--What Gets Left Out collected in Confronting the Classics by Mary Beard

December  1,  2014

Patrick: Lagniappe

The basic point is that almost all slave-owning societies have had some mechanism for giving some slaves their freedom, but none - so far as we can tell - ever freed slaves in such large numbers as Rome.  More than that, the Romans gave ex-slaves almost all the rights and privileges of Roman citizenship.  In ancient Athens, a freed slave became at best a 'resident alien'; in Rome any slave freed, according to certain legal rules, by a Roman citizen, himself became a Roman citizen, with only a few restrictions (ex-slaves could not serve in the army, for example, or hold political office); and no restrictions at all applied to the second generation.  The poet Horace is just one notable example of a son of an ex-slave who lived close to the top of the Roman pecking order.

--Ex-Slaves and Snobbery collected in Confronting the Classics by Mary Beard