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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR JUNE 2015

June  30,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Modern writing is mushroom writing; modern books are written for the day, and perish with it; and even while the day lasts how readily they drop from one's hands!  The thought of purchasing such a book and keeping it to look at again occurs to no one, and who would dream of reading the best-seller of last year?

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  29,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

A slight touch of friendly malice and amusement towards those we love keeps our affection for them, I find, from becoming flat.

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  28,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Edith Wharton was an extraordinarily shy person; meeting strangers frightened her, and to protect herself against them she would assume the air and manner of the aristocratic New Yorker she had happened to be born.  This assumption of a great lady's manner was unfortunate, as it tended to terrify the people of whom she herself stood in terror.  But at a gleam of sympathy and consideration there would emerge, as from some prickly carapace, one of the most intelligent, witty, and freest of human beings I have ever known, and one of the most tender and loyal of friends.

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  27,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

I had with me a volume of Baudelaire's, which I read with equal enthusiasm and, I like to think, with more profit.  What writer, he asked in this little volume of Prose Poems, has not, in his moments of ambition, dreamt of a prose, musical without rhythm or rhyme, supple and abrupt enough to express the sudden joys of the spirit, the undulations of our reveries, the ups and downs of our moods?  Such a book of prose might be composed, like a book of verses, of loosely connected or disconnected fragments; they could be cut in pieces, but each piece would have a life of its own, and some of them life enough to amuse the reader.

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  26,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

What mortal is happier after all than the complacent, self-satisfied, self-applauding prig?

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  25,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Henry James was to me then but a revered master, not the friend he became afterwards, and I listened with reverent ears to what he said about my stories.  His praise was kindly but tepid; I think he saw the gift for story writing was not my gift; and, as he said in another connection, about matters of art one doesn't lie.  About the profession of letters in general, the desire to do the best one could with one's pen,--and this I confessed was my ambition,--he made one remark which I have never forgotten.  "My young friend," he said, "and I call you young,--you are disgustingly and, if I may be allowed to say so, nauseatingly young,--there is one thing that, if you really intend to follow the course you indicate, I cannot too emphatically insist on.  There is one word--let me impress upon you--which you must inscribe upon your banner, and that," he added after an impressive pause, "that word is Loneliness."

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  23,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

In all the inhabited world there exists, and has existed, only one centre of disinterested artistic interest.  Paris welcomes would-be artists with its urbane, heartless grace; it provides them with every facility for learning the art they will never learn to practise; it appropriates with a charming smile the savings they have brought with them, and with the same smile it watches them fade away or perish, knowing that new generations will soon appear to occupy their little hotels and lodgings.  All are doomed, as Paris knows, to inevitable failure, but it goes on with its own business, remunerated and undisturbed.

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

[N.B.:  In this sense, too, New York took the baton from Paris when it became the cynosure of the art world.]

June  22,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

This ideal of endowment for research was particularly shocking to Benjamin Jowett, the great inventor of the tutorial system which it threatened.  I remember once, when staying with him at Malvern, inadvertently pronouncing the ill-omened word.  "Research!" the Master exclaimed.  "Research!" he said.  "A mere excuse for idleness; it has never achieved, and will never achieve, any results of the slightest value."

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  21,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

The word "Research" as a university ideal had, indeed, been ominously spoken in Oxford by that extremely cantankerous person, Mark Pattison, some years ago; but the notion of this ideal, threatening as it did to discredit the whole tutorial and examinational system which was making Oxford into the highest of high school for boys, was received there with anger and contempt.  In Balliol, the birthplace and most illustrious home of this great system, it was regarded with especial scorn.  If the prize fellowships and the fellowships at All Souls were to be no longer regarded as the legitimate reward of those who had won First Classes in the Schools; if the means they provided were not to be spent in helping ambitious young men on the first rungs of the ladder of worldly success, but used, as Mark Pattison's ill-mannered supporters suggested, in the maintenance of researchers, ambitious of the fame of scholars, would not the whole tutorial system be deprived of one of its important features, and the university endowments be seriously abused?

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

[N.B.:  The author here clearly has his tongue firmly in his cheek.  Interestingly enough, Mark Pattison was, at least in part, the model for George Eliot's pedantic scholar manqué, Causabon, in Middlemarch.  At least from the author's viewpoint, this was an unfair caricature.]

June  20,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Universities should, it seems to me, be organized, not for the purpose of educating the second-rate and stupid, for transforming at infinite expense of labor the ears of sows into some poor semblance of silk purses, but for the enlightenment and development of the keenest intelligences, for the encouragement by example of original research.  Daring and original minds are cramped and injured by being always led in strings and fed on pap which has been carefully prepared for them.  They should be allowed to make their profitable mistakes; and, above all, their spirits should be kindled by contact with original scholars and masters of first-hand learning.

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  19,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Nor could anything be more profitable from the pupil's point of view than the way in which this scheme of education was carried on.  The student would prepare a paper on some special subject, and go with it, generally alone, and read it to his tutor, who would then discuss it and criticize it at length; or a group of two or three would meet in the tutor's room for a kind of Socratic discussion of some special point.  These discussions were carried on much in the spirit of the Socratic dialogues; and the Socratic irony and assumed ignorance of the instructors, their deferential questions, as if the pupil were the teacher and they the learners, was a method which I found it hard at first to understand.

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  18,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Oxford school of Litterae humaniores--or "Greats," as it is called--seems to my mature judgment the best scheme of education that I have ever heard of.  It is based upon an accurate knowledge of Greek and Latin texts, especially the texts of Plato and Aristotle and Thucydides and Tacitus, and the subjects studied in it are the eternal problems of thought, of conduct, and of social organization.  These are discussed, not by means of contemporary catchwords, but by translating them back into another world and another language. 

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  17,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

But while I think it almost impossible to exaggerate the misery of pennilessness, and the degradation it involves, my experience of life has taught me to believe that, with the firm foundation of a small fixed income, money in excess of this is peculiarly subject to the law of diminishing returns.  I have been both poor and comparatively rich in the course of my existence; I have associated with both poor and rich people; but, given the satisfaction of one's simple needs, I have found that, from the point of view of human happiness, the possession or absence of wealth makes very little difference--that, in fact, my poor acquaintances have been, on the whole, happier than the rich ones.

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  16,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

This advice she justified by the Bible text, "It is God that worketh in you both to will and to do," and "will" should be interpreted as "want," she contended, in this context.  "But surely, Mother," we sometimes protested, "this is dangerous advice to give to people!"  "Well," she would answer, "our Heavenly Father knows the kind of advice I give, so if He sends people to me it must be because He wants them given this advice.  Besides, children," she would add, "people always in the end do what the want to do, and they might as well do it with a good conscience."

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  15,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

My mother was altogether on my side.  Indeed, throughout her life she had held the conviction that what people really wanted to do was what they ought to do.  When in her later life she came to be a sort of mother-confessor to the many people who used to come to her for advice in their perplexities, her advice was always, she told us, for them to do the thing they really and seriously wanted to do.

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

[N.B.:  I wonder how far our modern counseling professions have evolved from this model--of course, Smith's mother was not able to write prescriptions so that's one strike against her.]

June  14,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Thus the sense of malease grew, and has indeed remained with me so vividly that I never meet a rich, successful business American without some slight speculation about the bones he has crushed and the wretches he has eaten.  These experiences have given me a certain dislike for the whole iron economic system upon which our civilization is founded--a dislike, however, which I must admit is by no means strong enough to make me forgo any of the pecuniary advantages which I derive from it.

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  13,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

I was still the dupe of the cleverest of the Devil's sophisms, which alleges that one can comply with his behests for a limited period in order safely to defy him afterwards. 

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  12,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

And I certainly tasted one joy during this year of business which I have never tasted since--the joy of Sunday, of that precious day of golden leisure, the memory of which, and the prospect of its sure recurrence, sweetened all the intervening days of work. 

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  11,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Most human beings are born for harness and are melancholy when out of it too long.  Like Wordsworth, they feel the weight of chance desires; the definite routine, the daily necessary task, eliminates the need for self-imposed activity, and they are freed from that irresolution, that temptation to postponement, that degrading sophistry of laziness which is the curse of those whose tasks are voluntary and can be performed at any time.

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  10,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

The debt of our civilization to the ancient Greeks is of course beyond calculation, but in one respect we have no cause to thank them.  Their adoration of the youthful human form, in contrast to the Eastern idealization of venerable age, has put a kind of blight on human life; our progress, as we grow older, in wisdom and humanity is thought of in terms of the physical decay which accompanies that luminous advance.  We feel ashamed, instead of feeling proud like the Chinese, of our accumulating years; we are always trying in vain to seem younger than we really are; and in our Western world it is by no means a compliment, as it is in the wise East, to attribute to others a greater age than their appearance might suggest. 

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  9,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Much that was suppressed in the young people of my generation found a frank avowal in the Leaves of Grass; feelings and affections for each other, which we had been ashamed of, thoughts which we had hidden as unutterable, we found printed in its pages, discovering that they were not, as we had believed, the thoughts and feelings of young, guilty, half-crazy goblins, but portions of the Kingdom of Truth and the sane experience of mankind.  It was above all Walt Whitman's rejoicing in his flesh and blood, -- "there is so much of me," he sang, "and all so luscious," -- his delight in his own body and the bodies of his friends, which seemed a revelation and gave the Leaves of Grass so strong a hold upon a generation of puritans who had ignored, or treated as shameful, those habitations of the spirit. 

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  8,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

To tuck a happy childhood under a child's jacket was the principle which my mother's kindly father often preached as the best preparation for happiness in future years . . . .

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  5,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

So there we sat, a row of Quaker children, staring with all our eyes at the performing elephants, but with our organs of vision closed and our hands before them during the less seemly interludes.  But one little Quaker boy permitted himself a guilty peep through his fingers, and gazed on a show of muscular limbs moving, slowly moving, in pink tights.  What he was gazing at was, he knew, the spectacle of Sin; and so striking was the impression that his concept of that word became colored in his imagination for a long time with the pinkness of those slowly moving legs.  It was only long afterwards that he came to understand why he had been forbidden to gaze upon them, and the grave danger he might have thereby incurred.

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

[N.B.:  By the time Smith wrote these memoirs in the late thirties this taboo seemed comic--but even he would not guess that the taboo would be reversed in modern times so that it is the elephants that one must shun.] 

June  4,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Barnum's Circus came to Philadelphia in my boyhood, rousing considerable excitement in the youth of that quiet city; and among the Quakers the question was much debated whether their children should be allowed to witness this entertainment.  While it was admitted on the one hand that the sight of the elephants and the other exotic animals would help to enhance their conception of the wonders of creation, there were grave fears on the other hand that the spectacle of the scantily clad female acrobats on the tightropes might sully the innocence of their childish minds.  The compromise finally arrived at, at least in our family, was that the children should be taken to the circus and allowed to see the animals, but should sit with closed eyes while the acrobats were performing.

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

[N.B.:  Logan Pearsall Smith, a friend of Henry James, lived a long life from 1865 to 1946--and this book was written near the end of that life in 1937.  In it, Smith, with a light touch of irony (witness the above passage), documents the Decline and Fall of the Puritan Empire.  If one wonders how we reached today's understanding of moral issues, one could do worse than to start with this book.]

June  3,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

It was in this library at least that, encouraged by my librarian uncle, I first formed the habit of reading.  What that habit might grow into was impressed upon my by my occasional visits to the aged ex-librarian, my grandfather, at the house to which he had retired in the Quaker suburb of Germantown, where he lived to a great old age, spending his days in his study upstairs, with his gouty toe on a cushion, reading and reading all day long.  "I believe it may be safely said," he wrote of himself towards the end of his life, "that for forty years, eight hours of every day, or nearly so, have been employed in reading of the most miscellaneous character, often the best books, but too often the lighter kind."  When I happened, not long ago, upon this sentence in my grandfather's Recollections, I was struck by the accurate description it gave of my own existence, which for the last forty years or so has been spent, like his, in miscellaneous reading, and often too, like his, "of the lighter kind."  The analogy was a curious one; indeed, I found it more curious than pleasing; for recalling my visits to that old gentleman, I turned my eyes on my elderly self, where I sat reading upstairs, and saw myself for a disconcerting moment.  And then I went on reading.

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

June  2,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

It was, I think, a related sentiment that gave rise to another characteristic feature of the Early Hellenistic Age, the wide diffusion of the cult of Tyche, "Luck" or "Fortune."  Such a cult is, as Nilsson has said, "the last stage in the secularising of religion"; in default of any positive object, the sentiment of dependence attaches itself to the purely negative idea of the unexplained and unpredictable, which is Tyche.

--The Greeks and the Irrational by E. R. Dodds.

June  1,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

[H]e who treats another human being as divine thereby assigns to himself the relative status of a child or an animal.

--The Greeks and the Irrational by E. R. Dodds.