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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR MAY 2010

May  31,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Were it not well for us in our ignorance that we confided all things to the Jupiter?  Would it not be wise in us to abandon useless talking, idle thinking, and profitless labour?  Away with majorities in the House of Commons, with verdicts from judicial bench given after much delay, with doubtful laws, and the fallible attempts of humanity!  Does not the Jupiter, coming froth daily with fifty thousand impressions full of unerring decision on every mortal subject, set all matters sufficiently at rest?  Is not Tom Towers here, able to guide us and willing?

Yes indeed--able and willing to guide all men to all things, so long as he is obeyed as autocrat should be obeyed--with undoubting submission: only let not ungrateful ministers seek other colleagues than those whom Tom Towers may approve; let Church and State, law and physic, commerce and agriculture, the arts of war, and the arts of peace, all listen and obey, and all will be made perfect.  Has not Tom Towers an all-seeing eye?  From the diggings of Australia to those of California, right round the habitable globe, does he not know, watch, and chronicle the doings of everyone?  From a bishopric in New Zealand to an unfortunate director of a North-west passage, is he not the only fit judge of capability?  From the sewers of London to the Central railway of India, from the palaces of St Petersburg to the cabins of Connaught, nothing can escape him.  Britons have but to read, to obey, and be blessed.  None but he fools doubt the wisdom of the Jupiter; none but he mad dispute its facts.

--The Warden by Anthony Trollope

[N.B.:  Yes, yes, screams out our assistant editor to the New York Times in one last fit of ecstasy as he expires upon his copy desk, a pink slip in his carpel-tunnel-syndromed (but, for this once, let us imagine, his ink-stained) hand. ]

May  30,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

It is a fact amazing to ordinary mortals that the Jupiter is never wrong.  With what endless care, with what unsparing labour, do we not strive to get together for our great national council the men most fitting to compose it.  And how we fail!  Parliament is always wrong: look at the Jupiter, and see how futile are their meetings, how vain their council, how needless all their trouble!  With what pride do we regard our chief ministers, the great servants of State, the oligarchs of the nation on whose wisdom we lean, to whom we look for guidance in our difficulties!  But what are they to the writers of the Jupiter?  They hold council together and with anxious thought painfully elaborate their country's good; but when all is done, the Jupiter declares that all is nought.  Why should we look to Lord John Russell--why should we regard Palmerston and Gladstone, when Tom Towers without a struggle can put us right?  Look at our generals what faults they make; at our admirals, how inactive they are.  What money, honesty, and science can do, is done; and yet how badly are our troops brought together, fed, conveyed, clothed, armed, and managed.  The most excellent o four good men do their best to man our ships, with the assistance of all possible external appliances, but in vain.  All, all is wrong--alas!alas!  Tom Towers, and he alone, knows all about it.  Why, oh why, ye earthly ministers, why have ye not followed more closely this Heaven-sent messenger that is among us?

--The Warden by Anthony Trollope

[N.B.:  Yes, yes, nods that assistant editor to the New York Times--had we not warned of the futility of the Iraq surge and the incompetent leadership of General Betrayus, errr, Petraeus?  Truly, nothing has changed since Trollope's day. ]

May  29,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Is this Mount Olympus?' asks the unbelieving stranger.  'Is it from these small, dark, dingy buildings that those infallible laws proceed which cabinets are called upon to obey; by which bishops are to be guided, lords and commons controlled--judges instructed in law, generals in strategy, admirals in naval tactics, and orange-women in the management of their barrows?'  'Yes, my friend--from these walls.  From here issue the only known infallible bulls for the guidance of British souls and bodies.  This little court is the Vatican of England.  Here reigns a pope, self-nominated, self-consecrated--ay, and much stranger too--self-believing!--a pope whom, if you cannot obey him, I would advise you to disobey as silently as possible; a pope hitherto afraid of no Luther; a pope who manages his own inquisition, who punishes unbelievers as no most skilful inquisitor of Spain ever dreamt of doing--one who can excommunicate thoroughly, fearfully, radically; put you beyond the pale of men's charity; make you odious to your dearest friends, and turn you into a monster to be pointed at by the finger!'

--The Warden by Anthony Trollope

[N.B.:  More weeping and gnashing of teeth.  The modern Luther has shambled forth and writ in smoking brimstone upon his head is the name, "Internet."]

May  28,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Write to the Jupiter,' suggested the bishop.

'Yes,' said the archdeacon, more worldly wise than his father, 'yes, and be smothered with ridicule; tossed over and over again with scorn; shaken this way and that, as a rat in the mouth of a practised terrier.  You will leave out some word or letter in your answer, and the ignorance of the cathedral clergy will be harped upon; you will make some small mistake, which will be a falsehood, or some admission, which will be self-condemnation; you will fined yourself to have been vulgar, ill-tempered, irreverend, and illiterate and the chances are ten to one, but that being a clergyman you will have been guilty of blasphemy!  A man may have the best of causes, the best of talents, and the best of tempers; he may write as well as Addison, or as strongly as Junius; but even with all this he cannot successfully answer, when attacked by the Jupiter.  In such matters it is omnipotent.  What the Tsar is in Russia, or the mob in America, that the Jupiter is in England.  Answer such an article! No, Warden; whatever you do, don't do that.

--The Warden by Anthony Trollope

[N.B.:  Somewhere, in an obscure back office, an assistant editor for the New York Times gently weeps as he curses the internet and pines for the good ol' days.]

May  27,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

They say that faint heart never won fair lady; and it is amazing to me how fair ladies are won, so faint are often men's hearts!  Were it not for the kindness of their nature, that seeing the weakness of our courage they will occasionally descend from their impregnable fortresses, and themselves aid us in effecting their own defeat, too often would they escape unconquered if not unscathed, and free of body if not of heart.

--The Warden by Anthony Trollope

May  26,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

It is much less difficult for the sufferer to be generous than for the oppressor.

--The Warden by Anthony Trollope

May  25,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Only think, old Billy Gazy,' said Spriggs, who rejoiced in greater youth than his brethren, but having fallen into a fire when drunk, had had one eye burnt out, one cheek burnt through, and one arm nearly burnt off, and who, therefore, in regard to personal appearance, was not the most prepossessing of men; 'a hundred a year, and all to spend: only think, old Billy Gazy;' and he gave a hideous grin that showed off his misfortunes to their full extent.

--The Warden by Anthony Trollope

[N.B.:  Ah yes, Anthony Trollope, that cute, cuddly puppy dog of a Victorian writer.  How quaint and sweet he is!]

May  24,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Nevertheless, John Bold is a clever man, and would, with practice, be a clever surgeon; but he has got quite into another line of life.  Having enough to live on, he has not been forced to work for bread; he has declined to subject himself to what he calls the drudgery of the profession, by which, I believe, he means the general work of a practising surgeon; and has found other employment.  He frequently binds up the bruises and sets the limbs of such of the poorer classes as profess his way of thinking--but this he does for love.  Now I will not say that the archdeacon is strictly correct in stigmatising John Bold as a demagogue, for I hardly know how extreme must be a man's opinions before he can be justly so called; but Bold is a strong reformer.  His passion is the reform of all abuses; State abuses, Church abuses, corporation abuses (he has got himself elected a town councillor of Barchester, and has so worried three consecutive mayors, that it became somewhat difficult to find a fourth), abuses in medical practice, and general abuses in the world at large.  Bold is thoroughly sincere in his patriotic endeavours to mend mankind, and there is something to be admired in the energy with which he devotes himself to remedying evil and stopping injustice; but I fear that he is too much imbued with the idea that he has a special mission for reforming.  It would be well if one so young had a little more diffidence himself, and more trust in the honest purposes of others--if he could be brought to believe that old customs need not necessarily be evil, and that changes may possibly be dangerous; but no. Bold has all the ardour, and all the self-assurance of a Danton, and hurls his anathemas against time-honoured practices with the violence of a French Jacobin.

--The Warden by Anthony Trollope

[N.B.:  The more one wishes for hope and change, the more things stay the same.]

May  23,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

After dinner, in a private aside, Sainte-Beuve let out the reason for his profound but hidden melancholy, his buried but nonetheless real despair: he would like to be handsome, to possess what he calls a physique, to have an irresistible attraction for women - his temptation, his supreme preoccupation, the object to which he constantly reverts, his ideal, his inclination, his fancy, his fascination, the humiliating desire of an old man.  There is a melancholy, disappointed satyr at the bottom of that little old man, who is conscious of his ugliness, his repulsiveness, and above all his age.  'Ah,' he said, 'I'm all for the ordinary, commonplace ideas: it is better to be young than old, rich than poor.  Not that I should like to live my life over again: I wouldn't want to live three days of it a second time.'

--Pages from the Goncourt Journal (ed. and tr. by Robert Baldick), 6 December, 1862

May  22,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Dined with Charles, who told me that Hugo always has a note-book in his pocket and that if, in conversation with you, he happens to express the tiniest thought, to put forward the smallest idea, he promptly turns away from you, takes out his note-book and writes down what he has just said.  He turns everything into copy or munitions.  Nothing is ever lost: it all goes into some book or other.  He has brought this system to such a pitch of perfection that his sons, who live in hopes of using what they hear him say, are always beaten to it: whenever one of their father's books comes out, they see all the notes they have been taking in print.

--Pages from the Goncourt Journal (ed. and tr. by Robert Baldick), 8 April 1862

May  21,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Getting up from a table, we all moved into the drawing-room, where Flaubert was asked to dance The Drawing-room Idiot.  He borrowed Gautier's tail-coat, turned the collar up, and did something with his hair, his face, his physiognomy, which transformed him all of a sudden into a fantastic caricature of imbecility.  In a spirit of emulation, Gautier took off his frock-coat and, dripping with sweat, his great bottom bulging out over his legs, danced The Creditor's Dance for us.  And the evening ended with gypsy songs, wild melodies, whose strident notes Prince Radziwill rendered with gusto.

--Pages from the Goncourt Journal (ed. and tr. by Robert Baldick), 29 March 1862

[N.B.:  Thanks, television, for making the evenings oh so very much more insipid.  Progress is more a symptom of our ignorant disdain for the past than a prognosis for the future.]

May  20,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

This morning a doctor gave me this astonishing information about the Emperor's amours.  Each new woman is brought to the Tuileries in a cab, undressed in an ante-room, and taken naked into the room where the Emperor, likewise naked, is waiting for her, by Bacciochi, who gives her this warning and permission: 'You may kiss His Majesty anywhere except on the face.'  In the whole history of deification, I cannot remember another instance of a man's face being made a Holy of holies that would be profaned by a kiss!

--Pages from the Goncourt Journal (ed. and tr. by Robert Baldick), 15 March 1862

[N.B.:  The Emperor spoken of is Napoleon's alleged "nephew," Napoleon III, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, who ruled over the French from 1852 until 1872, a period longer than that of his "uncle" Napoleon.]

May  19,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Talk about perfumes led to a mention of the scent of vanilla that hangs around Frdrick Lematre, who has pods of it sewn into his coat-collars, and who was once nearly poisoned as a result of his habit of kissing the hair of the actresses he plays with, for he kissed Mlle Defodon, who used to put gold dust in her hair, and breathed in that powdered copper.

Still on the subject of smells, we talked about the odour of the theatre, that intoxicating odour composed of a basis of gas mixed with the smell of the wooden flats, the smell of the dust in the wings, and smell of gluey paint.  Then we discussed the scent that rises from the stage when the curtain goes up, that heady atmosphere created by all the elements of an artificial world which, behind the curtain, makes an actress flare her nostrils and neigh with delight as soon as she comes on stage.

--Pages from the Goncourt Journal (ed. and tr. by Robert Baldick), 31 March 1861

May  18,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Flaubert said today:  'The story, the plot of a novel is of no interest to me.  When I write a novel I aim at rendering a colour, a shade.  For instance, in my Carthaginian novel, I want to do something in purple.  The rest, the characters and the plot, is a mere detail.  In Madame Bovary, all I wanted to do was to render a grey colour, the mouldy colour of a wood-louses's existence.  The story of the novel mattered so little to me that a few days before starting on it I still had in mind a very different Madame Bovary from the one I created: the setting and the overall tone were the same, but she was to have been a chaste and devout old maid.  And then I realized that she would have been an impossible character.

--Pages from the Goncourt Journal (ed. and tr. by Robert Baldick), 17 March 1861

[N.B.:  I couldn't agree more as to plot.  But that "impossible character" does seem to bear more than a passing resemblance to Felicit of A Simple Heart.]

May  17,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'You know,' said Gautier, coming over to us again, 'the immortality of the soul, free will and all that - it's all very amusing to talk about up to the age of twenty-two, but not after that.  Then one ought to be giving one's mind to having fun without catching the pox, arranging one's life as comfortably as possible, having a few decent drawings on the wall, and above all writing well.  That's the important thing: well-made sentences . . . and then a few metaphors.  Yes, a few metaphors.  Them embellish a man's existence.'

--Pages from the Goncourt Journal (ed. and tr. by Robert Baldick), 24 August 1860

May  16,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Mammoth columns were rooted in the flagstones and the sawdust.  Arches flew in broad hoops from capital to capital; crossing in diagonals, they groined the barrel-vaults that hung dimly above the smoke.  The place should have been lit by pine-torches in stanchions.  It was beginning to change, turning now, under my clouding glance, into the scenery for some terrible Germanic saga, where snow vanished under the breath of dragons whose red-hot blood thawed sword-blades like icicles.  It was a place for battleaxes and bloodshed and the last pages of the Nibelungenlied when the capital of Hunland is in flames and everybody in the castle is hacked to bits.  Things grew quickly darker and more fluid; the echo, the splash, the boom and the roar of fast currents sunk this beer-hall under the Rhine-bed; it became a cavern full of more dragons, misshapen guardians of gross treasure; or the fearful abode, perhaps, where Beowulf, after tearing the Grendel's arm out of its socket, tracked him over the snow by the bloodstains and, reaching the mere's edge, dived in to swim many fathoms down and slay his loathsome water-hag of a mother in darkening spirals of gore.

Or so it seemed, when the third mug arrived.

--A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor

May  15,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Guess what this gate is called!' Fritz said, slapping a red column.  'The Elizabeth, or English Gate!  Named after the English princess.'  Of course!  I was there at last!  The Winter Queen!  Elizabeth, the high-spirited daughter of James I, Electress Palatine and, for a year, Queen of Bohemia!  She arrived here as a bride of seventeen and for the five years of her reign, Heidelberg, my companions said, had never seen anything like the masques and the revels and the balls.  But soon, when the Palatinate and Bohemia were both lost and her brother's head was cut off  and the Commonwealth had reduced her to exile and poverty, she was celebrated as the Queen of Hearts by a galaxy of champions.  Her great-niece, Queen Anne, ended the reigning line of the Stuarts and Elizabeth's grandson, George I, ascended the throne where her descendant still sits. 

--A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor

[N.B.:  Here's a free tip for making your literary fortune--write a biography of this fascinating woman titled "The Queen of Hearts."  I guarantee it will sell more copies than the Duchess of Devonshire.  And, who knows, should be made into a movie, too.]

May  14,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

I pestered Fritz Spengel, the son of my hosts, with questions about student life: songs, drinking ritual, and above all, duelling, which wasn't duelling at all of course, but tribal scarification.  Those dashing scars were school ties that could never be taken off, the emblem and seal of a ten-years' cult of the humanities.*

* Hitler had recently suppressed all this, not out of antipathy to blood sports but because these cliques and their exciting customs must have seemed rivals of the official youth and student movements.

--A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor

[N.B.:  Sometimes a lesser evil loses out to a greater.]

May  13,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

And here, under another of those giant meringue eiderdowns, I lay at last between clean sheets on an enormous leather sofa with a shaded light beside me beneath row upon row of Greek and Latin classics.  The works of Lessing, Mommsen, Kant, Ranke, Niebuhr and Gregorovius soared to a ceiling decoratively stencilled with sphinxes and muses.  There were plaster busts of Pericles and Cicero, a Victorian view of the Bay of Naples behind a massive desk and round the walls, faded and enlarged, in clearings among the volumes, huge photographs of Paestum, Syracuse, Agrigento, Selinunte and Segesta.  I began to understand that German middle-class life held charms that I had never heard of.

--A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor

[N.B.:  And never would hear of again.  These observations concerned Fermor's walk across Europe in early 1934.]

May  12,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

One of the village boys had been dancing about on the grass with his head back and a Roman candle in his mouth.  The firework had slipped through his teeth and down his throat.  They rushed him in agony - 'spitting stars', they said - down to the brook.  But it was too late . . .

--A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor

May  11,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

And that is where the troughs come in.  You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment.  But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use.  Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless.  He cannot ravish He can only woo.  For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve.

--The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

May  10,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

To decide what the best use of it is, you must ask what use the Enemy wants to make of it, and then do the opposite.  Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.  The reason is this.  To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense.  But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing.  One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe_ mere propaganda, but an appalling truth.  He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself - creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.  We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons.  We want to suck in, He wants to give out.  We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over.  Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.

--The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

May  9,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our works know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition!  And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces.  One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless.  In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.

--The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

May  8,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.

--The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

May  7,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

In civilised life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face.  To keep this game up you and Glubose must see to it that each of these two fools has a short of double standard.  Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother's utterances with the fullest and most over-sensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention.

--The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

May  6,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy's clutches.  That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier.  At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it.  They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning.  But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that.  Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head.

--The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

May  5,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

For a while he considered going into the rare book business, but reading, writing and gambling left him no leisure for commerce.  So he commenced to give away the books.  Caresse later remembered watching in anguish as he took his leave from their aparment day after day carrying bags full of them.  She tried to prevent him from giving them to taxi drivers and barmen and casual passers-by.  "I loved those books but he loved them more and had this ide fixe about reducing the things that surround him.  We had talked to a wise man in Egypt in 1928 who had said 'my wealth I measure by the things I do without' and Harry believed that so many books weighed him down."  He pressed first editions of Baudelaire on anyone he met and liked, and finally commenced a pretty trick, smuggling rare volumes into Seine-side bookstalls, marking them with absurdly low prices, and leaving them among odds and ends, laughing to imagine with what amazement they would be discovered by browsers, and with what confusion the bookstall owners would respond to Harry's mischief.  Cousin Walter would not have taken much pleasure from the stunt.

--Black Sun by Geoffrey Wolff

May  4,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Books Books Books Books eight thousand of them crate after crate crate after crate borne upon the shoulders of solid men came cascading all morning and all afternoon into the house and my library is a pyramid of books and C's atelier is stacked high with books (I hope the ceiling won't fall through) . . . a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible two chained manuscripts from a monastery an illuminated Koran illuminated Psalm books and enormous Book of the Dead (the largest book I have ever seen) the Sacred Books of the East in fifty volumes an Histoire Naturelle in one hundred and twenty-seven volumes a magnificent set of Casanova with erotic plates . . . books on art (enough to constitute a library in itself) books with the bindings and arms of the Kings of France books with the arms of Mazarin and Richelieu of Napoleon of Madame de Pompadour of Le Roi Soleil and the signatures of Le Roi Soleil and of Henry Fourth and of Voltaire . . . every kind of book imaginable from the oldest Incunabula down to the most recent number of Transition for which treasures I offer thanks . . . .

--Black Sun by Geoffrey Wolff

[N.B.:  Harry Crosby describing the inheritance of books he received upon the death of his cousin Walter Berry.]

May  3,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Abb Meugnier. . . said he wished that someone would invent another sin, he was so tired of always having to listen to the same ones . . . .

--Black Sun by Geoffrey Wolff

May  2,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The French are good to writers, and always have been.  They name streets for them (every town in France seems to have its rue Victor Hugo, while in America you may find Hawthorn Drive between Birch and Elm, but you'll look in vain for Hawthorne, next street over from Melville).  The French use a skin cream called Stendhal, and toy stores sell a wind-up mouse named Zola.  "Paris was where the twentieth century was," Gertrude Stein said, and there's no arguing with her, any more than with the similar sentiment of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.  V. S. Pritchett remembers that even as a very young man he realized that Paris was "built for Art and Learning, whereas my London was built for government and trade.  At home I was a tolerated joke, 'the professor.'"  In Paris he was un homme srieux, at least in the deference paid his estimation of himself.

--Black Sun by Geoffrey Wolff

May  1,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'My second wife--I was still young then--she left me, and I made the mistake of winning her back.  It took me years to lose her again after that.  She was a good woman.  It is not easy to lose a good woman.  If one must marry it is better to marry a bad woman.

--Loser Takes All by Graham Greene