An Inconspicuous Triumph

F. L. Lucas, Style (London: Cassell & Co. Ltd., 1955), p. 35:

It is unlikely that many of us will be famous, or even remembered. But not less important than the brilliant few that lead a nation or literature to fresh achievements, are the unknown many whose patient efforts keep the world from running backward; who guard and maintain the ancient values, even if they do not conquer new; whose inconspicuous triumph it is to pass on what they inherited from their fathers, unimpaired and undiminished, to their sons. Enough, for almost all of us, if we could hand on the torch, and not let it down; content to win the affection, if it may be, of a few who know us, and to be forgotten when they in their turn have vanished. The destiny of mankind is not governed wholly by its ‘stars’.

François Bonvin, Nature morte aux deux livres (1858)

A Freedom Almost Forgotten

Sigurd Olson, The Lonely Land (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1961):

The movement of a canoe is like a reed in the wind. Silence is part of it, and the sounds of lapping water, bird songs, and wind in the trees. It is part of the medium through which it floats, the sky, the water, and the shores. A man is part of his canoe and therefore part of all it knows. The instant he dips his paddle, he flows as it flows, the canoe yielding to his slightest touch and responsive to his every whim and thought…. There is magic in the feel of a paddle and the movement of a canoe, a magic compounded of distance, adventure, solitude, and peace. The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness and of a freedom almost forgotten, the open door of waterways of ages past and a way of life with profound and abiding satisfactions.

J. E. H. MacDonald, The Solemn Land (1921)

This book led me to several accounts of the North-West fur trade that remain untranslated, such as Benjamin Sulte’s Les coureurs de bois au lac Supérieur, 1660 (Ottawa: Societé Royale du Canada, 1912) and Nicolas Perrot’s Mémoires sur les moeurs, coustumes et religion des sauvages de l’Amérique septentrionale (Paris: A. Franck, 1864). I’m a little surprised that some publisher hasn’t picked up Perrot’s memoir, which looks like an important primary source. I am busy plucking artists from the fast-running waters of Lethe, so I am not sure when or if I will be able to rescue the voyageurs…

The Herdist

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, The Menace of the Herd, or Procrustes at Large (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1943), pp. 16-17:

The true herdist, the man truly dominated by that inferior instinct, will not only rejoice in marching amongst twenty thousand uniformly clad soldiers, all stepping rhythmically in one direction, but he will find an almost equal gratification in contemplating the show from a balcony. He will not only be happy in sitting amidst two hundred other bespectacled businessmen, drinking beer and humming one chant in unison, but the aspect of a skyscraper with a thousand identical windows will probably impress him more than a picture by Botticelli or Zurbarán.

The herdist is the born enemy of all personal hierarchies as well as of most hierarchies of value. The modern political philosophies and the Industrial Revolution have strengthened the herdist element in all civilized countries; a Parteitag in Nuremberg, the beach of Brighton during a bank holiday, a military parade on the Red Square in Moscow or a subway train during the rush hours in New York afford voluntary or involuntary manifestations of the herdist spirit or the herdist order of our days. It is needless to emphasize that the herdist is a convinced egalitarian, that he has an inveterate suspicion regarding everything original or unique, a hatred for everything beyond his comprehension, a hostile uneasiness for things which are “low” or organically natural. The peasant with his strong personality is no less a target for his contempt and scorn than the “stuffed shirt,” the “high-hatted” aristocrat, or the “high-brow” intellectual.

The ideal dwelling place for the herdist is the city, the megalopolis with its apartment houses, clubs, cinemas, theaters, offices, factories, and restaurants. Here the herdist has ample opportunity to live the life of the masses, to lead an impersonal and lonely existence in a truly dehumanized ant heap, to love and like nobody but himself and perhaps those similar to him.

Caspar David Friedrich, Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (c. 1818)

Aside: I picked up a copy of Andreas Aubert’s monograph on Caspar David Friedrich (a hefty imperial quarto published by Bruno Cassirer in 1915), which did much to revive the painter’s reputation. It is one of the books I plan to translate next year.

Henri Le Sidaner in London

Camille Mauclair, Henri Le Sidaner (Newmarket: Obolus Press, 2019), pp. 46-47:

The dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral rises above the mists and against the pale sun like a giant balloon. The silhouettes of statues and trees in Trafalgar Square are outlined in a misty evening when the lamps have just been lit. The noble front of Hampton Court Palace appears purplish-red, and the trimmed rectangular gardens evoke Versailles, damp with a humidity that makes the vermillion and greens hum. Not since Claude Monet, who painted some of his greatest works in London, has an artist seen the British capital with such originality.

Henri Le Sidaner, St. Pauls from the River — Morning Sun (1908)
Henri Le Sidaner, Trafalgar Square (1908)
Henri Le Sidaner, The Great Gate at Hampton Court (1908)
Henri Le Sidaner, Hampton Court — Summer Morning (1908)

Stoic Prayer

Edward Vernon Arnold, Roman Stoicism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911), pp. 235-236 (footnotes omitted):

The whole problem of prayer is so fully and admirably treated upon Stoic lines by Juvenal in his Tenth Satire, that nothing can be added to his exposition but the evidence that his teaching is in fact Stoic. Let us then enter the temples and listen to men’s prayers. First they beg the doorkeeper for admission, though the deity is equally near to them outside; then they raise their hands to the sky, or press their mouths close to the ear of an image. To the unlistening deity they pour out wishes so shameful that they could not let a fellow-man share their secret. Decrepit old men babble prayers for long life, and make themselves out younger than they are. Another prays for riches, or for some other thing that will do him harm. Undertakers pray for a busy season. Parents and nurses (and these are the nearest to innocence) pray for the success of their children in life. They may be excused, but the thoughtful man should know that the advantages for which friends have prayed have often in the end proved a man’s destruction. He should examine his own heart, and recognise that his prayers till now have been unworthy and foolish. Since the gods wish us well, let us leave it to them to choose what is best for us. ‘Look up to God, and say: deal with me for the future as thou wilt: I am of the same mind as thou art. I am thine, I refuse nothing that pleases thee.’ ‘Seek not that the things which happen should happen as you wish; but wish the things that happen to be as they are: and you will have a tranquil flow of life.’

Prayer so regarded becomes not merely an act of resignation, in which a man ceases to battle against a destiny that is too strong for him; it is a daily examination of his soul, to know whether it is in tune with the purposes of the universe. This examination is a religious exercise, never to be omitted before sleep. It is inculcated both by Seneca and Epictetus. ‘How beautiful’ says Seneca, ‘is this custom of reviewing the whole day! how quiet a sleep follows on self-examination! The mind takes its place on the judgment-seat, investigates its own actions, and awards praise or blame according as they are deserved.’

I have been thinking about putting together a cheap and handy edition of the most popular Stoics, say a 5×7 paperback that includes both the Enchiridion and Discourses of Epictetus, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca’s Letters.

As far as I know, no one else has published such a thing… Should I set it in Doves Type?

Rembrandt, Old Man in Prayer (1630)

Godmother of the Nudie Bar

Hans Ostwald, Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931), p. 134:
(From the draft of my translation, soon to be published as A Moral History of the Inflation.)

Nude dancing was widespread [during the Weimar Republic]. In every cabaret, in all of the better dance halls, in every bar that also offered music and entertainment, you could find nude dancers performing on their own or in groups. This mass phenomenon could only have taken hold after the war. After all that sorrow there was a surging lust for life, and a general increase in freedom favoured the trend.

It had its origins in the pre-war period. Around 1900 the American Isadora Duncan came to Berlin and demonstrated her new dances to German artists. Her performances contained none of the elements that had constituted artistic dance in previous centuries. There was no pointe technique, nor anything else reminiscent of customary, traditional ballet. Instead there were jumps, strides, glides, and movements that hearkened back to the vase paintings of ancient Greece. Even the ballet dancer’s patterned clothing, with a billowing tutu around the middle, the legs in tights, and the upper body sheathed in a bodice — it all disappeared. Instead there were loose, veil-like garments that allowed all of the body’s supple movements and limbs to be seen. There were no more stockings or ballet shoes. There was a push for a newer, more carefree beauty, and it had won its first victory.

Isadora Duncan (photo taken at the Atelier Elvira in Munich, c 1904)