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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR MAY 2013

May  31,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

What a charming reconciler and peace-maker money is!

--Vanity Fairy by William Makepeace Thackeray

May  30,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

But though he had a fine flux of words, and delivered his little voice with great pomposity and pleasure to himself, and never advanced any sentiment or opinion which was not perfectly trite and stale, and supported by a Latin quotations ; yet he failed somehow, in spite of a mediocrity which ought to have insured any man a success.  He did not even get the prize poem, which all his friends said he was sure of.

--Vanity Fairy by William Makepeace Thackeray

May  29,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Are there not little chapters in everybody's life, that seem to be nothing, and yet affect all the rest of the history?

--Vanity Fairy by William Makepeace Thackeray

May  27,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

If a person is too poor to keep a servant, though ever so elegant, he must sweep his own rooms : if a dear girl has no dear Mamma to settle matters with the young man, she must do it for herself.  And oh, what a mercy it is that these women do not exercise their powers oftener!  We can't resist them, if they do.  Let them show ever so little inclination, and men go down on their knees at once : old or ugly, it is all the same.  And this I set down as a positive truth.  A woman with fair opportunities, and without an absolute hump, may marry WHOM SHE LIKES.

--Vanity Fairy by William Makepeace Thackeray

May  26,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Although schoolmistresses' letters are to be trusted no more nor less than churchyard epitaphs ; yet, as it sometimes happens that a person departs this life, who is really deserving of all the praises the stonecutter carves over his bones ; who is a good Christian, a good parent, child, wife, or husband ; who actually does leave a disconsolate family to mourn his loss ; so in academies of the male and female sex it occurs every now and then that the pupil is fully worthy of the praises bestowed by the disinterested instructor.

--Vanity Fairy by William Makepeace Thackeray

May  25,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The truth is that unless you are either a critic of the first rank, or lucky enough to be caught up in a major revolution in taste, there are unlikely to be more than a limited number of original things which you have to say about any author who has been widely discussed already.  But dissertations have to be submitted, and (where promotion is at stake) books have to be published.  There are various possibilities open.  You can spread your insights thin (many a long-drawn-out thesis could be compressed into a tolerably interesting article).  You can choose an unexplored subject - and as time goes on, those that remain are bound to be more and more trivial.  Or you can strain after false originality.  One way or another, the books which result, and which multiply at an increasing rate, are likely to mean as little to posterity as most nineteenth-century collections of sermons do to a modern reader.

--The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters by John Gross

[N.B.:  Gross lived long enough to see his prediction come true in a most horrible fashion: modern academic literary scholarship now takes the form of straining after false originality in a recondite (and barbarically jangling) language of deliberate opacity which constitutes nothing more than a collection of sermons on what is regarded as the commonplace political orthodoxy of the faculty lounge--no more are there paeans to the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) but instead the Quadrinity (GLBT).]

May  24,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

[Dr. Leavis's] whole rhetorical manner and method of approach have tended, certainly since the late 1930s, towards the setting-up of a closed system.

How do you maintain such a system and make it look plausible, if as Leavis does you always claim to be proceeding, in Dr Johnson's phrase, 'not dogmatically but deliberately'?  Various techniques suggest themselves.  While protesting that you are open to argument, you habitually use the language of intimidation, language which brooks no opposition ('irrefutable', 'obvious and unanswerable', 'indubitable', 'has no claim to be treated as a critical authority on the verse of the period - or any verse').*

*  This is Leavis writing about Sir Herbert Grierson and the seventeenth century.  No claim at all?  Any verse whatever?

--The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters by John Gross

[N.B.:  Of course, the irony today is that Dr. Leavis's own anathema has been visited on his own head: he is now treated as a critical outcast and "has no claim to treated as a critical authority" on any literary matter whatsoever.]

May  23,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

And a good Chesterton paradox is the reverse of a neat self-contained epigram: it suggests ideas rather than clinches them.  When he says, for instance, that Herbert Spencer's closed intellectual system made him more truly medieval than Ruskin, he is starting a train of thought which may not necessarily take in Spencer and Ruskin and the Middle Ages, but which does cut provocatively - 'bisociatively' - across conventional assumptions.  He once described Shaw's plays as expanded paradoxes, and his own paradoxes have the power to gather force and expand in the mind.

--The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters by John Gross

May  22,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

[Chesterton's] critical writings, on the other hand, are still widely known, although they have long been excluded from the official canon of modern literary criticism.  The reasons are plain enough.  His methods are everything that our schoolmasters have brought us up to abjure.  He is too excited by large conceptions to pay very much attention to accuracy in small ones.  He is often content to make his point through a mere phrase, or a joke, or an unexpected adjective.  He would hardly have known how to begin 'erecting his impressions into laws'.  He is extravagant, and he relished extravagance in others.  Much of what he wrote was unashamed popularization.  He is casual, unguarded, unsystematic.  He plays with words, and he would rather parody an author than tabulate his faults.  He contradicts himself.  While he is working out his own ideas he is never afraid to get in the way of his author.  In a word, he is a stimulating and at times an inspired critic.

--The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters by John Gross

[N.B.:  There's an example of a rare bit of rhetoric: the compliment disguised as an insult.  I wonder if there's a fancy term for that?]

May  21,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The chief practical purpose of literary histories is to teach us something about books which we have never read and probably never will.  Nobody quite likes admitting it, and most historians proceed on the unspoken assumption that sooner or later one can get round to reading everything.  But the ordinary reader, at least, knows that life is short; and if he feels simply oppressed, when all the major masterpieces and minor masterpieces in the world seem to fly in his face like Alice's cards.  So much to do, so little done.  And it gets worse all the time.  Early in the nineteenth century, Jeffrey observed plaintively that if authors insisted on turning out books at the rate that they did, within a mere two hundred years or so it would be necessary to invent 'some sort of short-hand reading', if the whole system were not to break down.  A generation later, as the avalanche really gathered force, two hundred years must have looked like an absurdly optimistic estimate.

--The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters by John Gross

May  20,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Style, in particular, must be one of the most stilted books ever written, with every sentence straining to be brilliant.  a characteristic flourish is the description of the teacher of writing as

a Professor of eloquent and thieving, his wingèd shoes remark him as he skips from metaphor to metaphor. . . . . From his distracting account of the business it would appear that he is now building a monument, anon he is painting a picture (with brushes dipped in a gallipot made of an earthquake). . . .

We look up Churton Collins's comments in the Saturday Review, and we are not disappointed:

This is the most intolerable piece of literary coxcombry which it has ever been our irritating ill-fortune to meet with.  It may be described as the reductio ad absurdum of the preciosity of Pater and Stevenson.  The one endeavor of the writer appears to be to avoid simplicity and to juggle alternately with paradoxes and platitudes.  All is spangle, tinsel, paste. . . .

--The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters by John Gross

[N.B.:  This was written in 1969.  Oh, how the fallen have fallen further.]

May  19,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

*  In the Saintsbury Memorial Volume a former student recalls learning a specimen sentence by heart:  'But while none, save these, of men living, had done, or could have done, such things, there was much here which - whether either could have done it or not - neither had done.'

--The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters by John Gross

May  18,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

What incensed [Harrison] most of all, however, was the spread of bibliomania, the passion for resurrecting forgotten texts and dredging up minor curiosities.  If there was one literary type of the period whom he thoroughly despised it was the 'book-trotter', whom he depicted wandering aimlessly from shelf to shelf and then finally settling down to write Half-Hours with Obscure Authors.  with such men nibbling at the foundations, great books were in danger of being smothered by the sheer weight of little ones. 

--The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters by John Gross

May  17,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

[Morley] calculates how much can be got through if half an hour a day is set aside for reading, and wonders whether Mark Pattison was being unreasonable when he said that no self-respecting citizen should own less than a thousand volumes.  ('He pointed out that one could stack 1,000 octavo volumes in a bookcase that shall be 13 feet by 10 feet, and 6 inches deep, and that everybody has that small amount of space at disposal.')  In addition, he recommends the making of abstracts and the keeping of commonplace books.  The great thing about literature is that it can elevate a man's character, without in any way unfitting him for a public career:  'I venture to sat that in the present Government, including the Prime Minister,* there are three men at least who are perfectly capable of earning their bread as men of letters.'"

*  Salisbury, who had been a Saturday reviewer during Morley's time on the paper: every week they used to sit alone together in the editorial anteroom waiting for their assignments, without once exchanging a single word.

--The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters by John Gross

May  16,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

There were closer links between literature and public life in Victorian England that can readily be realized in our own more complex, more compartmentalized world.  Statesmen wrote learned works in their spare time; authors were lured into party politics.  Consider, for example, how many nineteenth-century historians also served (with varying degrees of success) as Members of Parliament: among others, Grote, Macaulay, Acton, G. O. Trevelyan, Lecky, Bryce.  Or, from another angle, think of Gladstone, with his Homeric Studies, his lifelong passion for Dante, his unflagging literary interests.  In the 1830s his first book was praised by Wordsworth and made occasion for a famous Edinburgh article by Macaulay, 'Gladstone on Church and State'; fifty years later, his review of Robert Elsmere ('Weg on Bobbie') was the talk of the day; in the midst of parliamentary business he somehow found time to write about Tennyson and Leopardi.

--The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters by John Gross

May  15,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

His successor, James Payn, an old friend from Eton and Cambridge days, was a popular novelist without any intellectual pretensions who was called in by the publishers in an effort to win back lost readers.*

*  Payn's prosperous career might be summed up as everything that Gissing's wasn't.  In the course of the literary recollections which he wrote for the Cornhill he remarks that there is less jealousy among authors than in any other profession - a view which has not yet been confirmed by subsequent research.

--The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters by John Gross

[N.B.:  The recently deceased John Gross was the last modern practitioner of that fine lost art: the composition of the delicious footnote.]

May  14,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Whilst they hesitated, Tallien received a note in a remembered handwriting.  That bit of paper saved unnumbered lives, and changed the fortune of France, for it contained these words: "Coward! I am to be tried tomorrow."  At Bordeaux, Tallien had found a lady in prison, whose name was Madame de Fontenay, and who was the daughter of the Madrid banker Cabarrus.  She was twenty-one, and people who saw her for the first time could not repress an exclamation of surprise at her extraordinary beauty.  After the release, she divorced her husband, and married Tallien.  In later years she became the Princess de Chimay; but, for writing that note, she received the profane but unforgotten name of Notre Dame de Thermidor.

--Lectures on the French Revolution by Lord Acton

[N.B.:  Who says history isn't written by a sentimental romance novelist?]

May  13,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Next morning, Saturday July 13, Charlotte purchased her dagger, and called on Marat.  although he was in the bath where he spent most of his time, she made her way in, and explained her importunity by telling him about the conspirators she had seen in Normandy.  Marat too down their names, and assured her that in a few days he would have them guillotined.  At that signal she drove her knife into his heart.  When the idiotic accuser-general intimated that so sure a thrust could only have been acquired by practice, she exclaimed, "The monster!  He takes me for a murderess."  All that she felt was that she had taken one life to preserve thousands.  She was knocked down and carried through a furious crowd to prison.  At first she was astonished to be still alive.  She had expected to be torn in pieces, and had hoped that the respectable inhabitants, when they saw her head displayed on a pike, would remember it was for them that her young life was given.  Of all murderers, and of all victims, Charlotte Corday was the most composed.  When the executioner came for the toilette, she borrowed his shears to cut off a lock of her hair.  As the cart moved slowly through the raging streets, he said to her, "You must find the way long."  "No," she answered, "I am not afraid of being late."  They say that Vergniaud pronounced this epitaph: "She has killed us, but she has taught us all how to die."

--Lectures on the French Revolution by Lord Acton

May  12,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The crowning tragedy is not that which Paris witnessed, when Santerre raised his sword, commanding the drums to beat, which had been silenced by the first word of the dying speech; it is that Lewis XVI. met his fate with inward complacency, unconscious of guilt, blind to the opportunities he had wasted and the misery he had caused, and died a penitent Christian but an unrepentant king. 

--Lectures on the French Revolution by Lord Acton

May  11,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

I need spend no words in impressing on you the fact that these republicans began at once with atrocities as great as those of which the absolute monarchy was justly accused, and for which it justly perished.  What we have to fix in our thoughts is this, that the great crimes of the , and crimes as great as those in the history of other countries, are still defended and justified in almost every group of politicians and historians, so that, in principle, the present is not altogether better than the past.

--Lectures on the French Revolution by Lord Acton

May  10,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The issue between constitutional monarchy, the richest and most flexible of political forms, and the Republic one and indivisible (that is, not federal), which is the most rigorous and sterile, was decided by the crimes of men, and by errors more inevitably fatal than crime.  There is another world of expiation of guilt; but the wages of folly are payable here below. 

--Lectures on the French Revolution by Lord Acton

May  9,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The secret of war, said Wellington, is to find out what is going on on the other side of the hill.  When Brunswick rode over the field some days later, a staff officer asked him why he had not moved forward.  He answered, "Because I did not know what was behind the hill." 

--Lectures on the French Revolution by Lord Acton

May  8,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The allied army was commanded by the Duke of Brunswick, the most admired and popular prince of his time.  His own celebrity disabled him.  Many years ago Marshall Macmahon said to an officer, since in high command at Berlin, that an army is best when it is composed of soldiers who have never smelt gunpowder, of experienced non-commissioned officers, and of generals with their reputation to make.  Brunswick had made his reputation under the great king, and he feared to compromise it.

--Lectures on the French Revolution by Lord Acton

May  7,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

On the 17th of February 1792 Pitt informed the House of Commons that the situation of Europe had never afforded such assurance of continued peace.  He did not yet recognise the peril that lay in the new French Constitution.  Under the Constitution, no government could be deemed legitimate unless it aimed at liberty, and derived its powers from the national will.  All else is usurpation; and against usurped authority, insurrection is a duty.  The Rights of Man were meant for general application, and were no more specifically French than the multiplication table.  They were not founded on national character and history, but on Reason, which is the same for all men. The Revolution was essentially universal and aggressive; and although these consequences of its original principle were assiduously repressed by the First Assembly, they were proclaimed by the Second, and roused the threatened Powers to intervene.

--Lectures on the French Revolution by Lord Acton

May  6,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Americans were aware that democracy might be weak and unintelligent, but also that it might be despotic and oppressive.  And they found out the way to limit it, by the federal system, which suffers it to exist nowhere in its plenitude.  They deprived their state governments of the powers that were enumerated, and the central government of the powers that were reserved.  As the Romans knew how monarchy would become innocuous, by being divided, the Americans solved the more artful problem of dividing democracy into two.

--Lectures on the French Revolution by Lord Acton

[N.B.:  These are the jokes folks.  The problem with enumerating powers is that such powers necessarily must have limits but guess who gets to determine the limits?  That's right--the entity granted the power.  And that entity, not surprisingly, will interprets the limits as broadly as possible.  Indeed, it might take what appears to be a rather innocuous enumerated power--such as regulating interstate commerce--and expand its limits so as to become, as a practical matter, limitless.]

May  5,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Law ought to spring from custom, and to be governed by it, not by independent, individual theory that defies custom.  You have to declare the law, not to make it, and you can only declare what experience gives you.  The best government devised by reason is less free than a worse government bequeathed by time.

--Lectures on the French Revolution by Lord Acton

May  4,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

- and there's a new look that the middle-aged male authors have, or the ones conscious of entering middle age (their 'maturity'), their mouths go up in a grin of spiky, or disdainful, imbecility, the dandy as village idiot.

--The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray

May  3,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

- and a lot of the novels gave the impression that they were written by the same woman under a variety of similar-sounding pseudonyms, and the faces of these women looked strangely misogynist.  I imagine them at parties, praising each other's work with moues and grimaces, or in the literary pages describing each other's pots in coils of deadening prose but with adjectives 'engrossing, enthralling, delicious, delightful' - that the publishers can trowel out and paste all over the paperback edition -

--The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray

May  2,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

- to begin with, I hate going into bookshops these days, not a book that isn't whoring after you, slashes of paper across their middle and between their legs like lewd costumes, three of us for the price of one, the publisher their pimp - 'Three of my best girls! Or boys! For the price of one!!'

--The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray

May  1,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Well, until tomorrow, then, and here I am, in the tomorrow, and I can't remember, haven't a clue as to what it was, that important memory, and so my almost tears are of frustration with myself, and contempt for myself, my anger at my stupidity about my memory, that I don't even remember that my memory keeps failing, and always when I most need it--why then does it tantalize me with tit-bits so vivid that they are both unforgettable and forgotten, it's almost as if they have a life of their own, like fish, say, they swim towards the forefront of our consciousness like fish and just before they get there you blink and they're gone--sometimes as you blink you see them going, their tails flicking them into the muzzy waters they came out of--

--The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray

[N.B.:  Another great, glorious grammatical gargoyle.]