About

Main

Contact

SEARCH

Archives

ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR MARCH 2010

March  31,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

France having borne so much of the brunt of the fighting on the western front, experiences there came to weigh with particular gravity upon French military minds.

Predominant were those of Verdun, 1916, whence arose three separate influences, in many ways self-conflicting, but each vitally affecting the postwar French Army.  The first related to the psychological consequences of Verdun's emerging as a symbol and legend of ultimate glory.  In most of the great Allied undertakings of the war, the glory had been shared, but Verdun - the longest and most terrible struggle of all - had belonged solely to France.  For ten agonising months, and at a cost of over 400,000 men, she had measured herself in single combat against the full power of the German Army and won.  As well as stylising the very nature of the war itself, Verdun proved to be a kind of watershed in it, "the walls upon which broke the supreme hopes of Imperial Germany," declared President PoincarÚ.  With every justification, Verdun at once became a legend of national heroism and virility.  In the passage of years it grew to be enshrined with the holy qualities of a miracle.

--To Lose a Battle: France 1940 by Alistair Horne

March  30,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"[P]eople trying to put things together, make sense of things, add to the sense of human community, are facing a contrary spirit of dismemberment and destructiveness that is terribly strong and pervasive.  It is a kind of brutality that goes under the name of realism, and it is alive and well in Britain.  You can call it the spirit of commerce, or the spirit of empire, or the Úlan vital.  I wrote my degree thesis on the Whig administrations of the mid-nineteenth century and their dealings with Belgium and Russia, and what Lord Palmerston said during his time as Foreign Secretary has always stayed in my mind.  I've forgotten a lot of the stuff but not that.  'There are no longer permanent principles, only permanent interests, and we pursue these to the exclusion of all else.'

--Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth

[N.B.:  Welcome, Americans, to the "reset" of foreign policy!]

March  29,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"It is a great mistake to place reliance on the speeches of politicians," he said.  "Circumstances change and the speeches change with them, according to party advantage and political expedient.  We must put our trust in the workings of money, Mr. Saunders, not in speeches.  Banks and financial houses are not bound to do what the government tells them, and they are not obliged to tell the government what they are doing.  They concentrate their energy on securing maximum profits, an aim much more steadfast than any political aim could be. 

--Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth

[N.B.:  Welcome, Americans, to financial reform (or the lack thereof)!]

March  28,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

He watched her for several minutes, and in this time her hands were never at rest.  But it was the behavior of the pigeons that struck him most in the end because they seemed in a certain way to epitomize what he felt human societies might be capable of if totally subjected to the beneficial stimulus of having to compete for limited resources: They did not quarrel, that was the remarkable thing; any handful of grain that was thrown into the mass caused a local flurry of hopping and fluttering, but this lasted for seconds only.  The birds were united; no discord, no dispute were allowed to get in the way--there was simply no time for it; in all that pullulation of creatures not a single second was wasted on acts of aggression; all was harmony and order--no wars, no territorial encroachments, just a never-ending scramble for life.  Utopian really.  Supplies would have to be strictly controlled, of course; that would be done by the people who made up the packets . . . The woman's eyes were blank and terrible; there was a discharge from them, as if white pebbles could weep.

--Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth

[N.B.:  Welcome, Americans, to nationalized healthcare!  Enjoy your packets of free medicine dispensed by your terrible but blind betters.]

March  27,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Bosporus was almost at its narrowest here, the landing stages and gardens of the houses opposite, on the Asian side, clearly visible.  . . .  "In the days gone by," he said, "in the old days of the Padishah, the ladies in their private boats would make assignations with their lovers across the water by using a system of signals based on the tilt of their parasols, let, right, straight up.  Married women, you know--they had to be careful.  I've always regarded it as an example of the way restrictions increase ingenuity, sharpen the brain and the senses.

--Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth

[N.B.:  This observation is true for many things--such as poetry.  And that, folks, is why poetry is so bad nowadays.  Free verse sharpens nothing but one's fellow poets' claws in backbiting criticism tucked away in obscure literary journals.]

March  26,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'You think the day for kings is ended.  I read it differently.  The world will ever have need of kings.  If a nation cast out one it will have to find another.  And mark you, those later kinds, created by the people, will bear a harsher hand than the old race who ruled as of right.  Some day the world will regret having destroyed the kindly and legitimate line of monarchs and put in their place tyrants who govern by the sword or by flattering an idle mob.'

--The Company of the Marjolaine by John Buchan collected in The Oxford Book of Historical Stories edited by Michael Cox and Jack Adrian

March  25,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Muezzin fumbles for a moment with the door of one of the Minars, disappears awhile, and a bull-like roar--a magnificent bass thunder--tells that he has reached the top of the Minar.  They must hear the cry to the banks of the shrunken Ravee itself!  Even across the courtyard it is almost overpowering.  The cloud drifts by and shows him outlined in black against the sky, hands laid upon his ears, and broad chest heaving with the play of his lungs--'Allah ho Akbar;' then a pause while another Muezzin somewhere in the direction of the Golden Temple takes up the call--'Allah ho Akbar.'  Again and again; four times in all; and from the bedsteads a dozen men have risen up already.  'I bear witness that there is no God but God.'  What a splendid cry it is, the proclamation of the creed that brings men out of their beds by scores at midnight!  Once again he thunders through the same phrase, shaking with the vehemence of his own voice; and then, far and near, the night air rings with 'Muhammad is the Prophet of God.'  It is as though he were flinging his defiance to the far-off horizon, where the summer lightning plays and leaps like a bared sword.  Every Muezzin in the city is in full cry, and some men on the roof-tops are beginning to kneel.  A long pause precedes the last cry, 'La ilaha Illallah,' and the silence closes up on it, as the ram on the head of a cotton-bale.

--'The City of Dreadful Night' collected in Life's Handicap by Rudyard Kipling

March  24,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Cast him into jail,' I said.

'Sahib,' the King answered, shifting a little on the cushions, 'once and only once in these forty years sickness came upon me so that I was not able to go abroad.  In that hour I made a vow to my God that I would never again cut man or woman from the light of the sun and the air of God; for I perceived the nature of the punishment.  How can I break my vow?  Were it only the lopping of a hand or a foot I should not delay.  But even that is impossible now that the English have rule.'

--Namgay Doola collected in Life's Handicap by Rudyard Kipling

March  23,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Then he went to his own bungalow and began cleaning a rifle.  He told the servant that he was going to shoot buck in the morning.  Naturally he fumbled with the trigger, and shot himself through the head--accidentally.  The apothecary sent in a report to my chief, and Jevins is buried somewhere out there.  I'd have wired to you, Spurstow, if you could have done anything.'

'You're a queer chap,' said Mottram.  'If you'd killed the man yourself you couldn't have been more quiet about the business.'

'Good Lord! what does it matter?' said Hummil calmly.  'I've got to do a lot of his overseeing work in addition to my own.  I'm the only person that suffers.  Jevins is out of it--by pure accident, of course, but out of it.  The apothecary was going to write a long screed on suicide.  Trust a babu to drivel when he gets the chance.'

'Why didn't you let it go in as suicide?' said Lowndes.

'No direct proof.  A man hasn't many privileges in this country, but he might at least be allowed to mishandle his own rifle.  Besides, some day I may need a man to smother up an accident to myself.  Live and let live.  Die and let die.'

--At the End of the Passage collected in Life's Handicap by Rudyard Kipling

[N.B.:  Hmmm, those last couple of lines sound like the title for a James Bond movie.  Well, Ian Fleming was a bit of a sadist, so he'd strike one as a natural Rudyard Kipling fan.]

March  22,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Two months later, as the Deputy had foretold, Nature began to audit her accounts with a red pencil.  On the heels of the spring-reapings came a cry for bread, and the Government, which had decreed that no man should die of want, sent wheat.  Then came the cholera from all four quarters of the compass.  It struck a pilgrim-gathering of half a million at a sacred shrine.  Many died at the feet of their god; the others broke and ran over the face of the land carrying the pestilence with them.  It smote a walled city and killed two hundred a day.  The people crowded the trains, hanging on to the footboards and squatting on the roofs of the carriages, and the cholera followed them, for at each station they dragged out the dead and the dying.  They died by the roadside, and the horses of the Englishmen shied at the corpses in the grass.  The rains did not come, and the earth turned to iron lest man should escape death by hiding in her.  The English sent their wives away to the hills and went about their work, coming forward as they were bidden to fill the gaps in the fighting-line.

--Without Benefit of Clergy collected in Life's Handicap by Rudyard Kipling

[N.B.:  And here's a masterful example of compression.  I think one reason that compression is so rare nowadays is that in so-called creative writing classes the diligent embryo-writers are drilled in the laws of "show, don't tell" whereas compression is all about "tell, don't show."]

March  21,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'I know, I know.  We be two who were three.  The greater need therefore that we should be one.'

--Without Benefit of Clergy collected in Life's Handicap by Rudyard Kipling

[N.B.:  The attribute that separates the immortal writers from the rest is compression.  By this yardstick, William Trevor is immortal, Norman Mailer not.]

March  20,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Is it true that the bold white mem-log live for three times the length of my life?  It is true that they make their marriages not before they are old women?'

'They marry as do others--when they are women.'

'That I know, but they wed when they are twenty-five.  Is that true?'

'That is true.'

'Ya illah!  At twenty-five!  Who would of his own will take a wife even of eighteen?  She is a woman--aging every hour.  Twenty-five!  I shall be an old woman at that age, and--  Those mem-log remain young for ever.  How I hate them!'

--Without Benefit of Clergy collected in Life's Handicap by Rudyard Kipling

[N.B.:  Obviously, this bit of wit needs some serious updating.  Just change the numbers to "35" and "25," respectively.]

March  19,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Th' recruiting sergeant were waitin' for me at th' corner public-house.  "Yo've seen your sweetheart?" says he.  "Yes, I've seen her," says I.  "Well, we'll have a quart now, and you'll do your best to forget her," says he, bein' one o' them smart, bustlin' chaps.  "Ay, sergeant," says I.  "Forget her."  And I've been forgettin' her ever since.

--On Greenhow Hill collected in Life's Handicap by Rudyard Kipling

March  18,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'I hold by the Ould Church, for she's the mother of them all--ay, an' the father, too.  I like her bekaze she's most remarkable regimental in her fittings.  I may die in Honolulu, Nova Zambra, or Cape Cayenne, but wherever I die, me bein' fwhat I am, an' a priest handy, I go under the same orders an' the same words an' the same unction as tho' the Pope himself come down from the roof av St Peter's to see me off.  There's neither high nor low, nor broad nor deep, nor betwixt not between wid her, an' that's what I like.  But mark you, she's no manner av Church for a wake man, bekaze she takes the body and the soul av him, onless he has his proper work to do.  I remember when my father died that was three months comin' to his grave; begad he'd ha' sold the shebben above our heads for ten minutes' quittance of purgathory.  An' he did all he could.  That's why I say ut takes a strong man to deal with the Ould Church, an' for that reason you'll find so many women go there.  An' that sames a conundrum.'

--On Greenhow Hill collected in Life's Handicap by Rudyard Kipling

[N.B.:  What quaint reasoning--this is certainly not the case now what with mass said in just about every other language but Latin.  Thanks Vatican II.] 

March  17,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"By Mary and the saints, by blood and water an' by ivry sorrow that came into the world singe the beginnin', the black blight fall on you and yours, so that you may niver be free from pain for another when ut's not your own!  May your heart bleed in your breast drop by drop wid all your friends laughin' at the bleedin'!  Strong you think yourself?  May your strength be a curse to you to dhrive you into the divil's hands against your own will!  Clear-eyed you are?  May your eyes see clear evry step av the dark path you take till the hot cindhers av hell put thim out!  May the ragin' dry thirst in my own ould bones go to you that you shall niver pass bottle full nor glass empty.  God preserve the light av your onderstandin' to you, my jewel av a bhoy, that ye may niver forget what you mint to be an' do, whin you're wallowin' in the muck!  May ye see the betther and follow the worse as long as there's breath in your body; an' may ye die quick in a strange land, watchin' your death before ut takes you, an' onable to stir hand or foot!"

--The Courting of Dinah Shadd collected in Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories by Rudyard Kipling

[N.B.:  A Happy Saint Patrick's Day to you and yours.  And may you never cross paths with one of the Celtic blood and receive such an Irish curse.] 

March  16,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

[A] man who means to die, who desires to die, who will gain heaven by dying, must, in nine cases out of ten, kill a man who has a lingering prejudice in favour of life.

--The Drums of the Fore and Aft collected in Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories by Rudyard Kipling

March  15,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'I always prefer to believe the best of everybody.  It saves so much trouble.'

'Very good.  I prefer to believe the worst.  It saves useless expenditure of sympathy.'

--A Second-Rate Woman collected in Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories by Rudyard Kipling

March  14,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Look to a man who has the counsel of a woman of or above the world to back him.  So long as he keeps his head, he can meet both sexes on equal ground--an advantage never intended by Providence, who fashioned Man on one day and Woman on another, in sign that neither should know more than a very little of the other's life.  Such a man goes far, or, the counsel being withdrawn, collapses suddenly while his world seeks the reason.

--The Education of Otis Yeere collected in Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories by Rudyard Kipling

[N.B.:  While some in the press have half-way acknowledged this reason, in a half-way facetious manner, regarding Michelle Obama, I think that Barack Obama's stunning political success can be traced, in large part, to this insight--and the counter-example is offered by the modern-day Otis Yeere, John Edwards.]

March  13,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'You seem to have discovered a great deal about him considering the shortness of your acquaintance.'

'Surely you ought to know that the first proof a man gives of his interest in a woman is by talking to her about his own sweet self.  If the woman listens without yawning, he begins to like her.  If she flatters the animal's vanity, he ends by adoring her.'

--The Education of Otis Yeere collected in Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories by Rudyard Kipling

March  12,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Once, one of [the ladies], looking in one some matter, found herself listening, with three or four others, to an experience of Harris's in Texas.  'There was I with an illustrated Bible to sell,' he roared,' and no possibility of a meal till I had sold it.  I had been thrown out of a dozen places when I came upon a farmer's wife who seemed friendly, so I sat down by her at the kitchen table, and began to show her the pictures.  I was just at Joseph in his coat of many colours, and my arm was about her waist, when I felt a huge hand on  my collar, and the next moment was sprawling on my back.  It was the good woman's husband.  Of course I was up at once, laid the Bible open on the floor, and went for the fellow.  The better man hasn't always the luck on his side, and a chance blow caught me on the chin.  When I came to'--he paused and glared at his audience--'when I came to, there was the dog lifting his leg over Joseph, adding another colour to the coat.'

--Frank Harris by Hugh Kingsmill

March  11,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

I returned from Nice three weeks or so before Harris.  On our last evening walk, as we were nearing home, he emerged from a long silence.   'Christ,' he said, 'goes deeper than I do, but I have had a wider experience.'

--Frank Harris by Hugh Kingsmill

March  10,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

One day Harris gave a lunch to Sidney Dark, now editor of the Church Times, Austin Harrison, and the editor of an important daily paper, who with his wife was meeting Harris for the first time.  The editor, an authority on the Balkans, was telling us about them when Harris interjected: 'Why trouble to explore the Balkans, Mr. -, you who have so charming a wife?  Is not a woman better worth exploring than all the Balkans, with Turkey to boot?'

When I met Harris next, he said:  'Austin Harrison took me to task for pricking that windbag who was wearying us all with the rinsings of his Balkan lore.  I never knew before that Harrison was a prude.  Did I say anything to shock?'

'W-well . . .'

--Frank Harris by Hugh Kingsmill

March  9,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Round about this time, in his later forties, he had become stout, and his overtaxed digestion had given way.  When I met him ten years later, he was spare and active, a change which he attributed to careful dieting and the use of the stomach-pump.  This method of ridding himself of what he could not digest, after enjoying its consumption, was characteristic of Harris, whose constant aim it was to get pleasure and avoid its consequences, to eat his cake and not have it.

--Frank Harris by Hugh Kingsmill

March  8,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

He perceived from his own experience of jealousy, and was the first to point out, that Hamlet's reproaches to his mother reflect Shakespeare's rage against the infidelity of a woman, and are altogether misplace between a son and mother.

--Frank Harris by Hugh Kingsmill

[N.B.:  Interestingly, this observation is later made by T.S. Eliot in his famous essay about the objective correlative.]

March  7,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The lunch began, and Harris and the Duke were soon in friendly talk, when suddenly Harris's deep voice sounded above the general conversation.

'No, my dear Duke, I know nothing of the joys of homo-sexuality.  You must speak to my friend Oscar about that.'

A profound silence descended upon the room.

'And yet,' Harris mused, in more subdued but still reverberating tones, 'if Shakespeare had asked me, I would have had to submit.'

--Frank Harris by Hugh Kingsmill

March  6,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Italy, he writes, taught him little, except that he had a marvellous voice.  Without training he could sing two notes lower than were ever written.  Lamperti, the great singing-master, also explained to him that his rooted dislike of the piano came from his good ear and assured him that he had absolute pitch, an extraordinary ear and a great voice, and it was a sin not to cultivate it.

--Frank Harris by Hugh Kingsmill

March  5,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

What we are seeing at work here may be a subsuming or enfolding of certain kinds of feeling that had originally been associated with religious feelings into the radically different intensities of the secular.  If this is true, then Watteau is among the first artists to live in the shadow world of the sacred, where religious themes are now metaphors, extraordinarily potent metaphors.  Some have felt this power in the loaves and glasses of wine that Chardin painted a generation after Watteau's death, for the bread and the wine might indeed suggest holy communion.  Two centuries later, in Bonnard's paintings of Marthe in the bath, the nude nearly submerged in the tub has some of the gravitas of a baptism.  And the bathtub itself, as deep and wide as a sarcophagus, can suggest an entombment.  Of course to state these connections may be to push them too hard--to sentimentalize the undertones.  The point is not that secular life can be as sacred as the old sacred life but that it partakes of some of the old weight, shape, and force.

--Antoine's Alphabet: Watteau and His World by Jed Perl

March  4,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

What is truly new in art is a strong emotional inflection, a personality imposing its fresh feelings on everything that appears resolved in the art of the past.  These feelings must, of course, find their ultimate expression in some quality of form, and it may be only through the experimentation with the forms that the feelings become clear.  But it is the indissoluble individualism of the artist that gives the work of art its staying power.  Newness, in this sense, is grounded in the fact that each person is somehow unique.  New, in the sense I am thinking of it, is not progressive or evolutionary but a continuous unfolding of images and ideas, so compelling in their individualism that their hold on the eye and the imagination retains its force, even after the artist is long gone. 

--Antoine's Alphabet: Watteau and His World by Jed Perl

March  3,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The visual arts are supremely equipped to express the possibility of action; they may well express it better than action itself.  But in modern times a curious shift has occurred, and what has more and more interested artists is the impossibility of action, or if not that, then certainly the difficulty of action or the idea of action as forever delayed.  You feel this in Degas, who although one of the great students of human movement, sometimes found himself representing the dancers who labored in the rehearsal studios or who waited in the wings of the theater as bodies that are not doing what they're meant to do, at least not now, at least not while we are watching them.  And this immobility, which is perhaps largely a matter of naturalistic observation in Degas's work, becomes a philosophic theme in Picasso's representation of jugglers and acrobats and other circus folk.  It is as if Picasso were telling us that all the great narratives of Western art have ended, that these Harlequins and saltimbanques, although so physically strong and expertly trained, have been stopped in their tracks by the changing nature of art.  Who can doubt that an art that in the Renaissance was grounded in the muscularity of the figure has been replaced, in modern times, by an art that is grounded in the musings of the imagination?

--Antoine's Alphabet: Watteau and His World by Jed Perl

March  2,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Nothing is only one thing, even, maybe especially, the visit to the shop where luxury goods are sold.  William Cole, an English visitor to Paris in the 1760s, a generation after the Shopsign was painted, suggests the quotidian experiences that went into Watteau's composition when he describes Madame Dulac's "extravagant and expensive shop; where the Mistress was as tempting as the Things she sold."  The beauty of the objects and the beauty of the proprietor could not easily be separated in Cole's recollections, and of course this is all tumbled together with the fact that even when an object of desire has no direct relationship with sexual desire--when the luxury is, say, a beautifully bound book, an old master drawing, or an especially elegant clock (like the one in Gersaint's Shopsign)--the pleasure of possession can be so intense as to acquire an erotic dimension.  The object that is purchased from Madame Dulac, so Cole explains, is bought not only for itself but "to remember where you bought it"--and from whom.

--Antoine's Alphabet: Watteau and His World by Jed Perl

[N.B.:  And there's the secret to the successful boutique and also the explanation for why art galleries rarely survive their founders.]

March  1,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Great artists are limited, at nearly all of them are.  But their limitations, so [Willa]Cather is suggesting, are a part of their power, perhaps the key to their power.  Art is the intensification of limitations, the shaping of limitations, the transformation of limitations into qualities of form and feeling.

--Antoine's Alphabet: Watteau and His World by Jed Perl