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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR APRIL 2011

April  30,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Every man who wants to set his ideas in order ought to be soused for a week at least in one part of mediaeval scholasticism.

--Guide to Kulchur by Ezra Pound

April  29,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The use of gold was convenient as a protection against counterfeit, gold being heavier than the more common metals, the fake is detectable.  All this imposed the reign of gold.  And all of it preceded the development of the engraving press.  When paper money plus also the series of numeration etc. became harder to counterfeit than metal money, the prestige of gold was menaced.  It had no longer so solid a basis in reality but only in superstition and general habits of reverence.

--Guide to Kulchur by Ezra Pound

April  28,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

This was the light-hearted man who adored his hunting dogs--his Pistolet, his Silvie, his Mignonne, his Princess--as much as Liselotte liked her domestic pets, and had a particular love of English setters.  He carried biscuits for them 'made daily by the royal pastrycooks' in his pockets, and designated a special chamber near his own, the Cabinet des Chiens, where he fed his dogs by hand.  These favourites had magnificent beds of their own in all Louis's palaces, made of veneered walnut and ebony marquetry lined with crimson velvet (like their human counterparts the mistresses, for Louis looked after his own).  It was the King who cancelled a Council meeting in February 1685 because the weather was so good and he wanted to be outside, with a jaunty parody of an air from Quinault and Lully's Atys:  'As soon as he saw his dog, he left everything for her / Nothing can stop him / When the fine weather calls.'  (The actual text referred to Bellona, the Goddess of War: 'As soon as he saw her / He left everything for her' - rather more the popular image of Louis XIV.)

--Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser

April  27,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Liselotte described how she had often seen the King devour a whole pheasant and a partridge after four plates of different kinds of soup, 'a large dish of salad, two great slices of ham, mutton served with gravy and garlic, a plate of sweet cakes and, on top of that, fruit and hard-boiled eggs'.*

*  After his death, it was discovered that his stomach and bowels in their size and capacity were double those of any ordinary man.  No doubt this information consoled the surviving courtiers who had had to keep up with him.

--Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser

[N.B.:  An amusing anecdote--but I'm not sure which item is the most bizarre:  that King Louis had "super-sized" bowels or that his royal corpse was subject to the indignity of dissection.]

April  26,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Quite apart from the grief of the onlookers, a deathbed was, in the religious sense, the most serious moment of a seventeenth-century Catholic life.  It was considered crucial for a person to face the fact of their impending death in order to repent fully and ensure that salvation on which the Queen herself placed such emphasis.  The ideal frame of mind was to be 'neither fearing nor desiring' the end, in a line of the poet François Maynard quoted with approval by Madame de Sévigné.  The Last Sacrament was to be administered and Extreme Unction applied.  (Hence the contemporary horror of sudden death, which gave no such opportunity.)  In theory the living lay people no longer had any role to play, only the clergy, intermediaries with the next world.  but when were the doctors to announce that the end was coming?  It was a fine call to make for those - everyone - in awe of the King.  Louis, who once again had a bed installed in his mother's room, was enraged when he felt that she was being denied her due out of servility.

'What!' he exclaimed.  'They would flatter her and let her die without the sacraments, after months of sickness.  I will not have this on my conscience.'  He made the point again, strongly: 'We have no more time for flattery.'

--Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser

April  25,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"A too-good plot is ruin.  Plot should be an accident; anything to hand.  The same plot that some one had taken before; just as the Italians always painted the Madonna and the Child.  All playwriters now, except ours, are looking for new plots, as if there were such things.  There is no such thing; but there are at least a dozen old plots."

"They say," said Haslam, "that there are only forty-six stories in the world."

"Not so many," said Alyosha.  "Funny stories are cropping up at the same time all over the world, just the folk-tales cropped up.  For instance, you," he said, pointing to Miles, "have been telling me a joke one of your comedians was making.  The riddle: 'What is it that has two legs and a beak, and barks?'  The answer is, 'A pheasant.'  And the guesser then says, 'But a pheasant doesn't bark.'  And the other man says, 'I put that in to make it more difficult.'  That is being told here in our music halls, and I was hearing it a few months ago at Vladivostok, at a circus, told by an Armenian with an Armenian accent; on our stage the Armenian is the comic character.

--Tinker's Leave by Maurice Baring

April  24,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"I think there are two things," said Alyosha, "which are ruining the modern theatre--one is scenery and the other is plot."

"I don't quite understand," said Miles.

"I will explain," said Alyosha.  "There is everywhere a passion now for what is called mounting, especially for Shakespeare.  But Shakespeare wrote plays to be acted in theatres that had no scenery.  He made scenery with words.  So scenery is for such things a waste of time and a waste of money.  The same thing in modern plays  They are ruining everything with detail.  Modern writers are giving you pages of stage directions.  Stage-managers give you a real cherry orchard on the stage, which is false.  Children know better.  They take a chair, and they say, 'This is a train.'  So do the Chinese.  They take a table, and say, 'That is a barge floating down a river full of water-lilies at sunset.'  It is enough, because the actors know how to look as if they believed it.  It is for the words of the play and for the actors to give you all that."

--Tinker's Leave by Maurice Baring

April  23,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"All the same," said Troumestre, "all the realistic plays which Ibsen invented, and which have now spread all over the world, have galvanised the stage, and produced something interesting."

"It will not last, all that," said Alyosha.  "All that makes sermons and speeches more than plays, and turns the stage into a clinique.  The real business of the theatre is to show, le spectacle.  The ideal of the stage ought to be the child's charades.  They give you illusion, because they believe in the illusion themselves.  They are de bonne foi, and if they believe, you believe.  They make you have the illusion.  Modern stage-managers spend millions of money to produce the illusion, with lights and scenes and all that, but they fail."

--Tinker's Leave by Maurice Baring

April  22,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"But in all Russian plays there is very little action, isn't there?" said Troumestre.

"It depends," said Alyosha.  "There is not the kind of action there is in Shakespeare, but there is moral event.  The best plays are, to my mind, those in which nothing happens.  Le Misanthrope, for instance.  Hamlet is spoiled by the catastrophe.  I wish Hamlet had gone on till he was a middle-aged man--that is how a Russian would have written it . . . he would have gone on thinking about it and never doing it, thinking out his vengeance, and hesitating and weighing."

"That would make an excellent novel," said Troumestre, "but it wouldn't have made a play."

"Oh yest, it could have made a play--but a Russian, not an English, play."

"I suppose," said Troumestre, "that for Hamlet Denmark has first call.  Hamlet is a subject made for Ibsen.  I can see it--Laertes, a young architect with weak lungs, challenging Hamlet; fighting a duel, wounding him but not killing him."

"Yes," said Alyosha, "and the King, of course, would be an assessor.  I think Hamlet would have pushed into a fjord off the quay in the fog.  But what about the Queen?"

"He would have poisoned the Queen," said Troumestre, "with strychnine."

"Yes," said Alyosha.  "But the wrong dose.  She would have recovered."

--Tinker's Leave by Maurice Baring

April  21,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Of course," said Alyosha, "but that is no excuse for the artist.  The artist's business is not to hold a mirror to Nature, but to make pretty patterns--green, blue, red, yellow, black, white; a patchwork.  If the patchwork is to be as dull as life, why make it?  It is artists' business to make something more amusing than life.  Life is too improbable.  If I put my life in a book--you simply wouldn't believe it."

--Tinker's Leave by Maurice Baring

April  20,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Nature always manages to get Art beat," said Haslam, "Art and artists are always scared of exaggeration.  Ours less than yours.  Some of our artists--the best ones--found out you can't exaggerate too much; Mark Twain, for instance.   And I guess the British had one who was good at it too.

"Who's that--Turner?" asked Walter Troumestre.

"No; William Shakespeare."

"How do you mean?" asked Walter.

"Well, I mean he doesn't care a cent for veracity or accuracy.  If he wants a sea-coast in Bohemia, he has one there; and then he piles it on--lays it on thick.  Think of that bunch of corpses at the end of Hamlet and King Lear, and the people who get killed in Richard the Third.  When Mansfield played it in New York, it was like watching a Punch and Judy show."

"Yes; but he's truthful, all the same," said Troumestre.

"I say that's why he's truthful," said Haslam; "he's holding up the mirror to Nature all the time, and Nature is more exaggerated than anything human fiction can invent."

--Tinker's Leave by Maurice Baring

April  19,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

'When trade is booming,' he explained, more to the Major than to the reporter, 'anyone can make money for the simple reason that most things you do turn out to be right.  It takes a depression to show you what's wrong with your business.'

--The Siege of Singapore by J.G. Farrell

April  18,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

And while we waited for Carlos to come back Sinclair Sinclair told us about a game he and his chums used to play in Paris when he was learning French (which they all have to in the Diplomatic) . . . it was called saute-clochard: evidently all the beggars in Paris sleep in rows over the hot-air vents from the Métro in winter to keep warm and the game consisted in seeing how many you could jump over at a time: it sounds a bit heartless, I must say, but anyway, Sinclair announced that he had decided to beat the world record for saute-Chinois which meant the number of Chinamen he could jump over at a time and he said he'd never have a better opportunity than the present.  All the other men egged him on and in a flash he'd taken off his dinner-jacket and was pounding over the deck towards a row of sleeping Chinese.  Then he leaped into the air and . . . oh, incidentally, I've just remembered something I wanted to ask you.

--The Siege of Singapore by J.G. Farrell

April  17,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Although people had once lived there, the island of Singapore, when he arrived, was largely deserted except for a prodigious quantity of rats and centipedes.  Rather ominously, Raffles also noticed a great many human skulls and bones, the droppings of local pirates.  He wasted no time, however, in negotiating for the island with an alarmed native and then proceeded, his biographer tells us, to set up a flag-pole thirty-six feet high.  'Our object,' he wrote in a letter to a friend, 'is not territory but trade: a great commercial emporium, and then a fulcrum, whence we may extend our influence politically as circumstances may hereafter require.'  As he stood there on that lonely beach and gazed up at the flag with the rats and centipedes seething and tumbling over his shoes did Raffles foresee the prosperity which lay ahead for Singapore?  Undoubtedly he did.

--The Siege of Singapore by J.G. Farrell

April  16,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The city of Singapore was not built up gradually, the way most cities are, by a natural deposit of commerce on the banks of some river or at a traditional confluence of trade routes.  It was simply invented one morning early in the nineteenth century by a man looking at a map.  'Here,' he said to himself, 'is where we must have a city, half-way between India and China.  This will be the great halting-place on the trade route to the Far East.  Mind you, the Dutch will dislike it and Penang won't be pleased, not to mention Malacca.'  This man's name was Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles: before the war his bronze statue used to stand in Empress Place in a stone alcove like a scallop shell (he has been moved along now and, turned to stone, occupies a shady spot by the river).  He was by no means the lantern-jawed individual you might have expected: indeed, a rather vague-looking man in a frock coat.

--The Siege of Singapore by J.G. Farrell

[N.B.:  A brilliant opening for a work of fiction.  Farrell's narrators are not just the same tired old ironic, omniscient wise men.  They are also French in a way in that they understand all and so they forgive all.  And they are Greek in that they understand that all human endeavor has corruption within it and will inevitably, if slowly, will decay--and are amused by the process.  They are Zorba the Greek meets the Children of Paradise.]

April  15,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

A history in which every particular incident may be true may on the whole be false.  The circumstances which have most influence on the happiness of mankind, the changes of manners and morals, the transition of communities from poverty to wealth, from knowledge to ignorance, from ferocity to humanity--these are, for the most part, noiseless revolutions.  Their progress is rarely indicated by what historians are pleased to call important events.  They are not achieved by armies, or enacted by senates.  They are sanctioned by no treaties and recorded in no archives.  They are carried on in every school, in every church, behind ten thousand counters, at ten thousand firesides.  The upper current of society presents no certain criterion by which we can judge of the direction in which the under current flows.  We read of defeats and victories.  But we know that nations may be miserable amidst victories and prosperous amidst defeats.  We read of the fall of wise ministers and of the rise of profligate favourites.  But we must remember how small a proportion the good or evil effected by a single statesman can bear to the good or evil of a great system. 

--History collected in Macaulay's Essays: Critical, Historical and Miscellaneous Vol. 1 by Lord Macaulay

April  14,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The practice of distorting narrative into a conformity with theory is a vice not so unfavourable as at first sight it may appear to the interests of political science.  We have compared the writers who indulge in it to advocates; and we may add, that their conflicting fallacies, like those of advocates, correct each other.  It has always been held, in the most enlightened nations, that a tribunal will decide a judicial question most fairly when it has heard two able men argue, as unfairly as possible, on the two opposite sides of it; and we are inclined to think that this opinion is just.  Sometimes, it is true, superior eloquence and dexterity will make the worse appear the better reason; but it is at least certain that the judge will be compelled to contemplate the case under two different aspects.  It is certain that no important consideration will altogether escape notice. 

--History collected in Macaulay's Essays: Critical, Historical and Miscellaneous Vol. 1 by Lord Macaulay

April  13,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The best historians of later times have been seduced from truth, not by their imagination, but by their reason.  They far excel their predecessors in the art of deducing general principles from facts.  But unhappily they have fallen into the error of distorting facts to suit general principles.  They arrive at a theory from looking at some of the phenomena; and the remaining phenomena they strain or curtail to suit the theory.  For this purpose it is not necessary that they should assert what is absolutely false; for all questions in morals and politics are questions of comparison and degree.  Any proposition which does not involve a contradiction in terms may by possibility be true; and, if all the circumstances which raise a probability in its favour be stated and enforced, and those which lead to an opposite conclusion be omitted or lightly passed over, it may appear to be demonstrated.  In every human character and transaction there is a mixture of good and evil: a little exaggeration, a little suppression, a judicious use of epithets, a watchful and searching scepticism with respect to the evidence on one side, a convenient credulity with respect to every report or tradition on the other, may easily make a saint of Laud, or a tyrant of Henry the Fourth.

--History collected in Macaulay's Essays: Critical, Historical and Miscellaneous Vol. 1 by Lord Macaulay

[N.B.:  An interesting insight coming from the foremost exemplar of the school of The Whig View of History--a school that utilized the above-described techniques more skillfully than probably any other.]

April  12,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

History has its foreground and its background: and it is principally in the management of its perspective that one artist differs from another.  Some events must be represented on a large scale, others diminished; the great majority will be lost in the dimness of the horizon; and a general idea of their joint effect will be given in a few slight touches.

--History collected in Macaulay's Essays: Critical, Historical and Miscellaneous Vol. 1 by Lord Macaulay

April  11,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

He who is deficient in the art of selection may, by showing nothing but the truth, produce all the effect of the grossest falsehood.  It perpetually happens that one writer tells less truth than another, merely because he tells more truths.  In the imitative arts we constantly see this.  There are lines in the human face, and objects in landscape, which stand in such relations to each other, that they ought either to be all introduced or all omitted together.  A sketch into which none of them enters may be excellent; but, if some are given and others left out, though there are more points of likeness, there is less likeness.  an outline scrawled with a pen, which seizes the marked features of a countenance, will give a much stronger idea of it than a bad painting in oils.  Yet the worst painting in oils that ever hung at Somerset House resembles the original in many more particulars.  A bust of white marble may given excellent idea of a blooming face.  Colour the lips and cheeks of the bust, leaving the hair and eyes unaltered, and the similarity, instead of being more striking, will be less so.

--History collected in Macaulay's Essays: Critical, Historical and Miscellaneous Vol. 1 by Lord Macaulay

April  10,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

We will recur to the analogous art of portrait-painting.  Any man with eyes and hands may be taught to take a likeness.  The process, up to a certain point, is merely mechanical.  If this were all, a man of talents might justly despise the occupation.  But we could mention portraits which are resemblances,-- but not mere resemblances; faithful, -- but much more than faithful; portraits which condense into one point of time, and exhibit, at a single glance, the whole history of turbid and eventful lives -- in which the eye seems to scrutinise us, and the mouth to command us -- in which the brow menaces, and the lip almost quivers with scorn -- in which every wrinkle is a comment on some important transaction.  The account which Thucydides has given of the retreat from Syracuse is, among narratives, what Vandyk's Lord Strafford is among paintings.

--History collected in Macaulay's Essays: Critical, Historical and Miscellaneous Vol. 1 by Lord Macaulay

April  9,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The history of Thucydides differs from that of Herodotus as a portrait differs from the representation of an imaginary scene; as the Burke or Fox of Reynolds differs from his Ugolino or his Beaufort.  In the former case, the archetype is given: in the latter, it is created.  The faculties which are required for the latter purpose are of a higher and rarer order than those which suffice for the former, and indeed necessarily comprise them.  He who is able to paint what he sees with the eye of the mind will surely be able to paint what he sees with the eye of the body.  He who can invent a story, and tell it well, will also be able to tell, in an interesting manner, a story which he has not invented.  If, in practice, some of the best writers of fiction have been among the worst writers of history, it has been because one of their talents had merged in another so completely that it could not be severed; because, having long been habituated to invent and narrate at the same time, they found it impossible to narrate without inventing.

--History collected in Macaulay's Essays: Critical, Historical and Miscellaneous Vol. 1 by Lord Macaulay

[N.B.:  What, Herodotus a greater writer than Thucydides?  Fiction writers greater than historians?  Heresy, I tell you, heresy.  And yet I agree with all of it.]

April  8,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Almost all the education of a Greek consisted in talking and listening.  His opinions on government were picked up in the debates of the assembly.  If he wished to study metaphysics, instead of shutting himself up with a book, he walked down to the market-place to look for a sophist.  so completely were men formed to these habits, that even writing acquired a conversational air.  The philosophers adopted the form of dialogue, as the most natural mode of communicating knowledge.  Their reasonings  have the merits and the defects which belong to that species of composition, and are characterized rather by quickness and subtilty than by depth and precision.  Truth is exhibited in parts, and by glimpses.  Innumerable clever hints are given; but no sound and durable system is erected.  The argumentum ad hominem, a kind of argument most efficacious in debate, but utterly useless for the investigation of general principles, is among their favourite resources.  Hence, though nothing can be more admirable than the skill which Socrates displays in the conversations which Plato has reported or invented, his victories, for the most part, seem to us unprofitable.  A trophy is set up; but no new province is added to the dominions of the human mind.

--History collected in Macaulay's Essays: Critical, Historical and Miscellaneous Vol. 1 by Lord Macaulay

April  7,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The fashionable logic of the Greeks, was, indeed, far from strict.  Logic never can be strict where books are scarce, and where information is conveyed orally.  We are all aware how frequently fallacies, which, when set down on paper, are at once detected, pass for unanswerable arguments when dexterously and volubly urged in Parliament, at the bar, or in private conversation.  The reason is evident.  We cannot inspect them closely enough to perceive their inaccuracy.  We cannot readily compare them with each other.  We lose sight of one part of the subject before another, which ought to be received in connection with it, comes before us; and, as there is no immutable record of what has been admitted and of what has been denied, direct contradictions pass muster with little difficulty. 

--History collected in Macaulay's Essays: Critical, Historical and Miscellaneous Vol. 1 by Lord Macaulay

April  6,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

History, it has been said, is philosophy teaching by examples.  Unhappily, what the philosophy gains in soundness and depth the examples generally lose in vividness.  A perfect historian must possess an imagination sufficiently powerful to make his narrative affecting and picturesque.  Yet he must control it so absolutely as to content himself with the materials which he finds, and to refrain from supplying deficiencies by additions of his own.  He must be a profound and ingenious reasoner.  Yet he must possess sufficient self-command to abstain from casting his facts in the mould of his hypothesis.  Those who can justly estimate these almost insuperable difficulties will not think it strange that every writer should have failed, either in the narrative or in the speculative department of history.

--History collected in Macaulay's Essays: Critical, Historical and Miscellaneous Vol. 1 by Lord Macaulay

April  5,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

It is only in novels and tombstones that we meet with people who are indulgent to the faults of others, and unmerciful to their own.

--John Dryden collected in Macaulay's Essays: Critical, Historical and Miscellaneous Vol. 1 by Lord Macaulay

April  4,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

He who can vary his manner to suit the variation is the great dramatist; but he who excels in one manner only will, when that manner happens to be appropriate, appear to be a great dramatist; as the hands of a watch which does not go point right once in the twelve hours. 

--John Dryden collected in Macaulay's Essays: Critical, Historical and Miscellaneous Vol. 1 by Lord Macaulay

[N.B.:  As further proof of the hit-or-miss accuracy of wikipedia, the Baroness Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, who was born in 1830, is credited with the aphorism that "even a stopped clock is right twice a day" even though Macaulay's essay on Dryden was published in 1828.  So, in one stroke, she stands as proof of metempsychosis and  the science of clairvoyance.  Of course, one of the Baroness's other aphorism's was that "authors from whom others steal should not complain, but rejoice, where there is no game there are no poachers."  So, she is a self-fulfilling prophet too!] 

April  3,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

But men who pay largely for the gratification of their taste will expect to have it united with some gratification to their vanity.  Flattery is carried to a shameless extent; and the habit of flattery almost inevitably introduces a false taste into composition.  Its language is made up of hyperbolic common-places,--offensive from their triteness,--still more offensive from their extravagance.  In no school is the trick of overstepping the modesty of nature so speedily acquired.  The writer, accustomed to find exaggeration acceptable and necessary on one subject, uses it on all.  It is not strange, therefore, that the early panegyrical verses of Dryden should be made up of meanness and bombast.  they abound with the conceits which his immediate predecessors had brought into fashion. 

--John Dryden collected in Macaulay's Essays: Critical, Historical and Miscellaneous Vol. 1 by Lord Macaulay

April  2,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Some writers still affect to regret the age of patronage.  None but bad writers have reason to regret it.  It is always an age of general ignorance.  Where ten thousand readers are eager for the appearance of a book, a small contribution from each makes up a splendid remuneration for the author.  Where literature is a luxury, confined to few, each of them must pay high.  If the Empress Catherine, for example, wanted an epic poem, she must have wholly supported the poet;--just as, in a remote country village, a man who wants a mutton-chop is sometimes forced to take the whole sheep;--a thing which never happens where the demand is large.

--John Dryden collected in Macaulay's Essays: Critical, Historical and Miscellaneous Vol. 1 by Lord Macaulay

April  1,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

His avocado arrived and he looked at it lovingly.  "The Typical American Girl," he said, addressing it.  "A hard center with the tender meat all wrapped up in a shiny casing."  He began eating it.  "How I love them," he murmured greedily.  "So green--so eternally green."  He winked at me.

"Stefan, please. . . ."

"No, it's true.  And I will tell you something really extraordinary, mes enfants.  Do you know that you can take the stones of these luscious fruits, put them in water--just plain water, mind you--anywhere, any place in the world and in three months up comes a sturdy little plant full of green leaves?  That is their sturdy little souls bursting into bloom," he finished off, well satisfied with his analogy.

"Well, this one isn't going to burst into bloom," I said morosely, putting my nose in my drink.  "what you've got here is a dead one."

"A what?  A dud one?"

I took my face out of the glass.  "No, dead.  Dead.  Oh, forget it."

Max raised his glass and smiled at me.  "The dud avocado," he said, proposing the toast.

--The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy