Saturday, October 21, 2017
I have just finished reading three volumes by the late China scholar and essayist Pierre Ryckmans (1935 – 2014), who wrote under the pen name of Simon Leys. The volumes are his collected essays The Hall of Uselessness, his translation of The Analects of Confucius, and his elegaic novella The Death of Napoleon. All of his writing is thoughtful and displays an elegance of style reminiscent of fine literature from the late 1800s.
The Death of Napoleon is an alternate history in which Napoleon escapes from Saint Helena and makes his way via a circuitous route to Paris. Until he can devise a way to get in touch with his scattered loyalists, his meager funds require him to live with a poor widow whose modest livelihood is selling watermelons and cantaloupes from Provence. Eventually he grows impatient with her incompetent sales methods and applies his intellect to reorganize her business along the lines of a battle strategy. The novella could easily have veered toward farce at this point.
Here is Napoleon spreading out a map and then sharing his plan for selling melons in Paris with the widow and her ragtag helpers:
1. The Time Factor
The heat wave which we are now experiencing does not, on the face of it, favor our campaign, since it makes the melons ripen quickly. In reality, it also contains an element that could benefit us, one we should exploit to the full, and that is the thirst it creates in the townspeople. If we act swiftly there is nothing to stop us from turning these weather conditions to our advantage. Indeed, swiftness of action will allow us to make use of the inherent advantages of the situation (i.e., the increased thirst of potential customers), and to avoid the harmful effects (progressive stock loss through spoilage).
2. The Terrain Factor
I have no need to remind you that Paris covers a wide area and that we have only minimal forces at our disposal to sweep the field. An uncoordinated, haphazard effort would therefore be certain to fail. First, we must determine all the regions where the lie of the land could work against us: long, quiet streets in districts where our column would risk losing precious time and where the ardor of its initial impetus would be dulled without achieving any gain; les Halles, markets, the vicinity of green grocers' shops — all areas where the inhabitants show a stronger buyer resistance because there is so much stiff competition — these various points must be totally excluded from our itinerary [as he spoke, he seized a pencil and, with a decisive cross, eliminated les Halles from the map]. We shall therefore concentrate our strength exclusively in those regions that offer the least possibility of resistance and the best chance of gaining a prompt, significant advantage with the greatest economy of effort — i.e., the zones that present both a maximum concentration of population and a minimum supply level of fruit and vegetables. As regards the first aspect (population), from now on, we can concentrate on the central districts and mark the most frequently used access routes [the pencil authoritatively circled a wide area in the middle of the map,from which it drew out four or five main approaches]. As regards the second question (finding out the location of fruit shops), it will be imperative to send out scouts to effect a preliminary reconnaissance of the terrain. This reconnaissance will be carried out at dawn, and will hardly delay the launching of our offensive; it will subsequently even allow us to gain a considerable amount of time, since it will avoid useless counter-marches by immediately enabling us to take up the most favorable positions.
3. The Human Factor
A. The enemy. The extent of their resistance — as I just pointed out — relies on a chain of redoubts places at irregular intervals, which we must systematically avoid; concentrating all our forces in a charge on one of the breaks in this line, we can use this gap to head straight for the soft underbelly of the city. Once in that central position, we can deploy our forces more or less widely, depending on the conditions of the terrain, so that the areas under our control may be progressively extended.
B. Our forces. First, the scouts: for this reconnaissance mission, a few children should be adequate — their lightness and mobility recommend them for this type of operation. As for the rest, we will form a single column with all the handcarts and even the wheelbarrows at our disposal. Headquarters will be installed in a cafe in the central zone, its exact location will be decided at the appropriate time Liaison between headquarters and the various carts engaged in action will also be carried out by the bands of children.
Splendid! Doesn't this make you want to grab a wheelbarrow and march into battle?
I highly recommend all of Simon Leys' works.
Saturday, October 14, 2017
I enjoyed walking in a nearby park this afternoon. The maples are a dazzling red.
I especially like the contrast between the maples and the evergreens.
Why are there trees I never walk under
But large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?
~Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1892
Monday, October 9, 2017
Saturday I took advantage of a warm weekend to go hiking at the Centennial Cone Park. My younger son and I enjoyed a stroll through the rolling hills west of Golden.
Sunday, after hearing that a winter storm was approaching, I took pictures to capture the doomed floral beauty.
I have neglected the blog during the part two months, in favor of catching up on my reading. I finally finished reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (not to be confused with War and Pizza by Robert Allen). The celebrated Russian novel had defeated me on a previous attempt decades ago -- I always forgot the names of the many characters and it was too hard to retrace through the chapters to get back in sync. This time, however, I carefully kept a running list of the major characters, their titles, and their nicknames and never got lost.
Saturday, August 5, 2017
This little parody of a domestic advice column was taken from the April 30, 1927 number of the British magazine The Passing Show.
[Note: Condy's fluid is a common British household disinfectant consisting essentially of an aqueous solution of a permanganate.]
It gives me exceeding great joy, my dear ones, when I have evidence that you regard me not only as your little friend, but as your little guide and little philosopher, too.
I am more happy than I can say that you should invest me (quite rightly), with the knowledge of an Aristotle and the wisdom of a Solomon, more especially in domestic matters in which most members of my sex do not usually shine.
It is, therefore, that what is for the good of one may be for the good of all, that I have purposely refrained from answering by note of hand alone the many letters which have reached me, asking my advice and help on the various problems and difficulties which arise at the annual spring-cleaning, and, instead, have collated the answers here.
I am sorry if, having kept some of you waiting unduly for my replies, you have already blundered through the tiresome business without the advantage of my assistance. But, fortunately, what I have to say will do equally well for next spring or, for the matter of that, for all time.
MRS. AMELIA GUNN (Gunnersbury) -- Can I tell you how to make soft soap? My dear lady! what a ridiculous question! Didn't you listen to what I said just now about Aristotle and Solomon? Very well, then? I cannot tell you how to make soft soap, because I don't know.
What precisely is soft soap? Is it that stuff which looks like vaseline? If it is, why not use vaseline for whatever it is you want to use soft soap? To save the time of both of us, I may add that I can't tell you how to make vaseline, either.
MRS. AUGUSTA PECK (Peckham) -- Dear, dear! However did you manage to get tomato ketchup stains on the drawing-room carpet? The best way to remove them is, of course, to cut the stained part clean out of the carpet.
Alternatively, they may be burned out with strong sulphuric acid, or you can stain them a different colour by pouring neat Condy's fluid over them.
MRS. MATILDA WIMBLE (Wimbledon) -- If the inside of your grand piano is so dusty and dirty as all that, I should strongly recommend you to flush it well out with a few buckets full of hot caustic soda solution.
If the instrument has no hole in the bottom where the pedals fit in, and consequently no orifice through which the liquid can escape, I am afraid that you will have to turn it on its back and let it drain.
You must then take it into the garden and allow it to dry in the sun. On no account should you dry it before the kitchen fire, as doing so would certainly spoil the delicate mechanism.
MRS. EUPHEMIA BALL (Balham) -- Personally, I should advise you to have your chimneys swept upwards, instead of downwards. The soot is then pushed out of the top of the chimney, whence it conveniently falls on to the roof, and is thereafter dissipated by the wind.
This method obviates the necessity for covering up the furniture, and saves all that nasty mess in the fireplace which sweeps invariably leave.
MRS. SOPHIA CRICK (Cricklewood) -- Your carpets must either be drycleaned with a cloth-ball or wet-cleaned with a tea-leaf. On no account must they be beaten. Corporal punishment for carpets was abolished by the Kindness to Kidderminsters Act of 1926.
But why not white-wash them? A white-washed carpet looks awfully smart, and brightens up the dreariest room.
MRS. HEPHZIBAH MORE (Moreton-in-the-marsh) -- Well, of course if you must live in a marsh, you must expect your cork bath-mat to get damp occasionally.
It may be dried, however, by impressing it upon a sheet of blotting-paper, or if more convenient, by fanning it with a warm fan.
MRS. ELIZA GRIM (Grimsby) -- Those spots of beef-dripping may be dislodged from your bedroom mantelpiece by heating the mantelpiece red-hot when the dripping will first liquefy, and then turn to steam. The steam should then be carefully blown out of window with a pair of bellows.
MRS. SARAH MACCLES (Macclesfield) -- The finger-marks on your lacquer cabinet can be removed with a coarse file, and the marks of the file can be erased by rubbing vigorously with emery-paper, and the marks of the emery-paper by rubbing even more vigorously with sand-paper, and the marks of the sand-paper by rubbing with pumice-stone. and the marks of the pumice-stone by scraping with the rough edge of the lid of a pineapple tin.
You need not worry about the marks of the tin, as by this time you will have made a hole right through the side of your cabinet.
MRS. MARTHA GIGGLE (Giggleswick) -- Yes, rather! I can tell you how to clean the holes in your hammock. Mix in a saucer a pint of sweet oil of bitter almonds, a bottle of ink and a pound of walnuts. Add water to taste, and stir till the walnuts are dissolved. Then squirt the mixture through the holes, one at a time, with a hypodermic squirt, taking care that the liquid does not touch the strings, as it is highly corrosive.
MRS. HANNAH SWAFF (Swaffham) -- The ink-stains on your dining-room ceiling may be successfully hidden by covering them with ceiling-wax.
MRS. ELIZABETH LAZENBY (Pickhill) -- No, madam. Frightfully sorry and all that, but I must decline to tell you how to pickle spring onions, as they have nothing whatever to do with spring-cleaning.
Sunday, July 30, 2017
Yesterday I traveled to the Rocky Mountain National Park to enjoy a hike. The overall drive time was 5 hours, but my hiking time only amounted to 3 hours. My typical measure of recreational efficiency is that I should spend as much time recreating as I do traveling. Therefore, I need to arrive earlier next time and get in five hours of hiking (or drive to the park like a maniac).
The park was so full of tourists that no more cars were allowed in. Therefore, I took a shuttle to a park-and-ride depot and then a second shuttle to the Bear Lake trail head.
Here is a map of the day's itinerary.
Bear Lake is a favorite of older tourists -- a maximum of scenery in an easy half mile walk around the lake on a well-maintained trail.
I then headed to Nymph Lake. I saw no nymphs -- neither insects nor mythological deities. But the lake itself was lovely. Here is a section of the lake covered by pond lilies.
Next I walked about a mile to Hiayaha Lake. My brochure said nothing about a treacherous field of boulders on the way to this lake. Some of the boulders were the size of a car; others the size of
a washing machine. I gingerly made my way over and around these obstacles and was rewarded with the sight of a splendid lake with emerald water.
I highly recommend a visit to this wonderful national park.
Saturday, July 22, 2017
A pleasant bike ride this morning led me to the farmer's market -- always a cheerful place.
Next to my bike rack was parked a Smart Car impersonating a Mercedes. The owner was wearing the uniform of the old geezer who wants to be considered quite a character: a short-brimmed straw hat, a plaid shirt, suspenders, and high-water pants. He apparently claims to be a tango dancer. I have my doubts that he has successfully danced a tango this century.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
I drove to Iowa to visit my Dad and other family members. In addition to paying a call on relatives, I found a few idle hours one afternoon to see exhibits at the Figge Art Museum.
My favorite artwork was a back-lit stained glass scene by Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the founder of the famous company (as in Breakfast at Tiffany's). The plaque read:
Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933)
River of Life Window, circa 1905.
Favrile [i.e., handmade] glass, copper foil, lead
I liked this painting of the Grand Canyon by William Robinson Leigh (1866 - 1955). The painting is oil on canvas mounted on panel, but looks rather like a pastel effect.
What Iowa art museum could be without a Grant Wood painting?
The plaque read:
Grant Wood (1891 - 1942)
Iowa Cornfield, 1941
Oil on Masonite
The Figge Art Museum also has the iconic Persephone brooch worn by the daughter in Grant Woods's American Gothic picture. Hot stuff!
Saturday, July 1, 2017
Today was full of my favorite things: nature, art, and food. Mundane things, I admit, but pleasurable.
I bicycled to the farmers' market to buy lettuce and a cucumber. The morning breeze was cool and refreshing on the trail. Birds were singing in the trees.
I arrived at the farmers' market, locked my trusty Lemond, and sauntered down the row of booths to my usual produce seller. The red lettuce was especially beautiful today.
I biked back home and immediately jumped in the car, drove to the nearby light rail station, and took the light rail downtown. Objective: the free Denver Art Museum (DAM) exhibits. Today the DAM was partnering with the adjacent Clifford Still Museum. After a quick stroll past the DAM exhibits, I betook myself next door to see the Clifford Still (1904-1980) paintings.
While I confess that I am mostly blind to the merits of Mr. Still's abstract expressionism -- I favor art that retains some tie to nature -- some of the paintings were striking in their contrasts of color and composition. His later paintings were behemoths taking up an entire wall. Here are the two that I found most interesting (or perhaps I should say least deranged and bewildering).
This second painting was involved in a notorious 2012 arrest. From the Denver Post article:
I can sympathize with the unfortunate Ms. Tisch. My own emotion reaction to the painting was roughly similar, but I restrained myself from resorting to either violence or urine.
I walked to the light rail station, my mind still agitated by the angry splashes of color on the Clifford Still paintings. I boarded the light rail and settled into my seat in hopes of a relaxing ride.
The light rail rolled past the Denver ComicCon crowds. Their costumes ranged from charming to wacky to disturbing. On the charming side: I saw a fetching middle-aged Princess Leia, complete with white gown and macaroon hairstyle. On the wacky side: I leaned toward the light rail window and snapped a shot of two ladies with colorful hair. On the disturbing side: there were several young people riding the light rail who were disfigured with large and garish tattoos. However, these pitiable people may not have had anything to do with ComicCon.
Here are the wacky girls:
I reached my destination station, detrained, walked to my car, and drove to The Bagel Deli for an excellent chicken salad sandwich.
All in all, what kind of day could be more satisfying to an Iowa boy in the big city?
Sunday, June 25, 2017
I took a short hike this morning on the Enchanted Forest trail. The wildflowers were in bloom. My favorites were the wild rose and the cactus flower.
On the avian side, I saw an American Goldfinch but was only able to take its photograph from a great distance.
A better picture, stolen from the Internet:
The most enjoyable part of the hike was sitting on a log in the Enchanted Forest itself. A photograph is insufficient to capture the ambiance: the sound of bird songs near and far, the cozy sense of being surrounded by trees, and the soft light filtering down from the tree canopy overhead.
Saturday, June 24, 2017
I have been reading the Miscellaneous Travels of J. W. Goethe. In these travel accounts Goethe (1749 - 1832), the giant of German literature, portrayed himself as a singularly self-possessed individual. In place of a strong religious sense, he found his fullest consolation in art and Nature. Here are relevant excerpts.
“Campaign in France,” Tréves, 25th October
A young schoolmaster who visited me, and brought me some of the latest numbers of the newspapers, gave me an opportunity for some pleasant conversation. He was astonished, like many others, that I had no wish to converse about poetry, but rather seemed to throw myself with all my energy into the study of Nature. He knew the philosophy of Kant, and I could therefore point out to him the path I had entered. When Kant, in his ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ places teleologic judgment side by side with the aesthetic, it is evident that he wishes to show that a work of art should be treated in the same way as a work of Nature, and a work of Nature in the same way as a work of art; and that the worth of each should be developed out of itself, and considered by itself. About such things I could be very eloquent; and I believe I was of some use to the worthy young man. It is wonderful what a mixture of truth and error every period carries and drags about with it, inherited from days but recently passed, or even from days long gone by; whilst enterprising spirits cut out a new path for themselves, where, for the most part, they have to go alone, or find a companion only for some short distance of the way.
“Campaign in France,” DIGRESSION
I had got into the habit of being engrossed by the business and occurrences of the moment, and had of late years, in particular, reason to be satisfied with this kind of life; this led to a peculiarity in me of never forming any conception before-hand of persons whom I expected to meet, or of places I intended to visit, but allowed them to produce their effect upon me without being previously prepared for them.
The advantage that arises from this is great; one does not require to come back from a previously-conceived idea, or to blot out a picture arbitrarily painted by ourselves, and painfully to accept the reality in its place. The disadvantage, on the other hand, that may arise, is, that we are unprepared in moments of importance, and are at a loss how to act in unforeseen emergencies.
For the same reason, too, I never paid any attention to the effect which my presence or the temper of my mind produced upon others; for I often found, quite unexpectedly, that I had inspired affection or repugnance, and frequently even both at the same time.
Whatever may be said respecting this manner of behaviour, whether, as an individual peculiarity, it can neither be praised nor censured, it must be added, that in the present case it produced some very curious phenomena, and these not always of the most agreeable description.
I had not met the friends whom I was about to visit for many years; they had kept steadily to their old course of life; whereas it had been my strange lot to undergo many trials, and to pass through various kinds of occupations and endurances. Hence, although the same person, I had become quite a different being, and almost unrecognisable to my old friends.
It is difficult, even in maturer years when we have a freer survey of life, to give an accurate account of those transitions in it, which sometimes appear as an advance, sometimes as a retrogression, but all of which, nevertheless, prove of use and advantage to a God-fearing man. Notwithstanding these difficulties, I will endeavour to oblige my friends, and to note down a few points.
A virtuous man inspires affection and love only in so far as we discover longing in him; this expresses both possession and desire — the possession of a tender heart, and the desire of finding the same in others; with the former we attract others to us, with the latter we give up ourselves to them.
Whatever of this quality lay in me, which in earlier years I had encouraged, perhaps too much, but which as I grew older, I energetically sought to overcome, was no longer in keeping with the man, no longer satisfied him, and he sought, therefore, for full and final contentment.
The object of my most ardent longing, a pain which filled my very soul, was Italy, the image of which had floated before my mind for many years in vain, till at length I formed the bold determination of beholding the reality face to face. To that glorious land my friends gladly followed me in thought, they accompanied me on my way thither, and on my return. Would that they may affectionately share a longer residence there with me, and accompany me back again, for many a problem will be more intelligibly solved!
In Italy I felt myself gradually freed from petty conception, and from false wishes; in place of the longing for the land of fine art, there arose in me a longing for art itself; I had beheld it, and now wished to penetrate into, and comprehend, it.
The study of art, like that of the ancient authors, gives us a certain stability, as sort of satisfaction in ourselves; it fills our souls with great objects and ideas, it takes possession of every wish that struggles outwardly, but nourishes every worthy aspiration in the tranquil breast; the need of communicating our thoughts to others becomes less and less; and the amateur becomes like painter, sculptor, and architect — he works in solitude for enjoyments which he seldom is called upon to share with others.
But I was, at the same time, destined to be estranged from the world by another cause, and thrown in the most emphatic way upon Nature, to which instinctively I had a great leaning. Here I found neither masters nor companions, and was obliged everywhere to trust to myself. In the solitude of the woods and gardens, in the obscurity of the dark apartments, I should have remained quite alone, had not a happy domestic connection at this strange period of my existence come to rescue and cheer my heart. The “Roman Elegies,” the “Venetian Epigrams,” date from this period.
But I was also to have a taste of warlike events; for I was ordered to be present during the campaign in Silesia, which came to an end with the Congress of Reichenbach, and obtained, in this new and important part of the world, additional experience and information, and some good diversion as well. The horrors of the French Revolution, which meanwhile spread farther and farther, drew the attention of every one, whatever might be his thoughts or studies, to the surface of the European world, and forced the most terrible realities upon his mind.
Then duty called me to accompany my Prince and master, to face with him the dangers and disasters of the day, and manfully to endure the sufferings of which I have ventured to give the reader but a faint picture; it can easily be conceived, that then whatever of tenderness and warmth lurked still in my inward being vanished altogether.
“Campaign in France”, Duisburg, End of November 1792
Among a host of importunities addressed to me, both by letter and in person, I received, in the middle of the year 1777, a paper, or rather a pamphlet, dated Wernigerode, and subscribed Plessing, the most wonderful production of the self-torturing kind that I ever beheld. It was plainly from a young man filled with all knowledge of school and University; but whose learning, nevertheless, did not contribute in the least to his own inward moral tranquility. His handwriting was good, and pleasant to read; his style clever and flowing; and, although a tendency to pulpit oratory could at once be perceived, still everything seemed so fresh, and written so from the heart, that one could not help sympathising with him But when one’s sympathy was allowed to become active, and an endeavour was made to get a clearer understanding of the condition of the sufferer, it seemed as if there was in him more of wilfulness than of patience, more of obstinacy than submission, and more of pure selfishness than of ardent longing. In accordance with the propensity of the time, which I have described above, I felt a great desire to see the young man face to face; but considered it inadvisable to ask him to come to me. I had already, under circumstances which are known, burdened myself with a number of young men, who, instead of accompanying me on my road towards a purer and higher culture, had lingered on their own path, deriving no benefit themselves, and obstructing me in my progress. Hence I allowed the matter to rest, till some opportunity should occur for effecting my object. Whereupon I received a second letter, short, but more passionate than the first, in which the writer pressed for an answer and explanation, and implore me most earnestly not to refuse them to him.
But even this renewal of the storm did not trouble me; the second paper affected me just as little as the first; but the habit I had acquired of assisting young men of my own age in affairs of mind or heart, did not allow me to forget him altogether.
On arriving at the inn in Wernigerode, I entered into conversation with the waiter, and found him a sensible person, who seemed to be pretty well acquainted with his fellow-townsmen. I then told him that it was custom, on arriving at a place where I had no particular introductions, to seek out such young persons as might in any way be distinguished for learning and science; and thereupon asked him to do me the favour to name somebody of this description, with whom I might hope to pass the evening pleasantly. Without hesitation the waiter replied, that no doubt I should find what I desired in Herr Plessing, the son of the Superintendent; that as a boy even he had been distinguished at school, and still maintained his reputation for diligence and ability; that people now found fault with his gloomy disposition, and did not like him on account of unsociable behaviour which led him to shut himself out from society. But that towards strangers he was always polite, as examples could prove, and if I wished an introduction, it could be got immediately.
The waiter soon brought me word that I might pay Plessing a visit, and conducted me to his residence. The evening had already set in, when I entered a large room on the ground-floor, the usual style in ecclesiastical houses, and although it was twilight I could distinguish the young man tolerably well. I observed some signs of the parents having hastily left the room, to make place for the unexpected visitor.
When the lights were brought in, I had a distinct view of the young man, and he was exactly what his letter had led me to expect; and, like it, he excited one’s interest without being exactly attractive.
In order to lead to a more intimate conversation, I described myself as an artist from Gotha, and said that, on account of some family matters, I was about to visit a sister and brother-in-law in Brunswick at this unfavourable season.
With great animation he thereupon exclaimed, scarcely allowing me to finish my sentence. “As you live so near Weimar, you have no doubt frequently visited that place, which has become so celebrated?” I answered, with perfect simplicity, in the affirmative, and began to speak of Counsellor Kraus, and the Drawing Academy; of Bertuch, Counsellor of Legation, and his unwearying assiduity; I did not omit either Masäus or Jagemann; spoke of Wolf, the band-Master; and some ladies; described the circle in which these worthy people moved, and said they were always glad to see strangers amongst them, who were sure to be well received.
At last he exclaimed, somewhat impatiently: “But why do not you mention Goethe” I replied, that I had seen him in the aforesaid circle as a welcome guest, and had even been myself personally well received and kindly treated by him as an artist, but that I could not say much further about him, partly because he lived alone, and partly because he belonged to other circles.
The young man, who had listened with restless attention, now demanded me, with some impetuosity, to describe this strange individual, who had created such a sensation in the world. Whereupon, with great ingenuity, I gave him a description, which it was not difficult to do, as the strange person happened to be before me in the strangest of situations; and if Nature had only favoured him with a little more sagacity of heart, he could hardly have failed to perceive that his visitor was describing himself.
He had walked up and down the room two or three times, when the maid-servant entered, and placed a bottle of wine and some cold supper on the table; he filled both our glasses, touched my glass with is, and drank it off excitedly. Scarcely had I, with somewhat less eagerness, emptied mine, when he seized me by the arm with great vehemence, and exclaimed: “Oh, excuse my singular behaviour! But you have inspired me with such confidence, that I cannot help telling you all. This man, from your description of him, ought certainly to have answered me; I sent him a detailed, affectionate letter, describing my condition, my sufferings, and begged him to interest himself in me, to advise me, to help me; and now months have passed, and I have no reply. The very least he could do, was to have sent me a refusal, in return for such unbounded confidence.”
In reply to this, I said that such conduct I could neither explain nor excuse; but this much I knew from my own experience, that owing to a heavy pressure of things both ideal and real, this, otherwise well-meaning, good-natured, and helpful young man, was often unable to do as he pleased, much less to act for others.
“As we have accidentally got so far,” he now added, with somewhat more composure, “I must read the letter to you; and you can then judge whether it did not deserve some answer, some reply.”
I walked up and down the room waiting for him to read it, knowing, of course, what effect it would produce, and therefore had to fear of making a false step in so delicate an affair. He sat down opposite to me, and began to read the papers, which I knew as well as himself; and nothing, perhaps, ever convinced me more of the truth of the assertion made by physiognomists: that a living being, in all its actions and conduct, is in complete accordance with itself, and that every monad, when once it has entered the world of reality, manifests itself in complete unity with its characteristics. The reader was an exact counterpart of what he read; and as the letter had not attracted me at first, it did not attract me now in his presence. One could not, indeed, deny the young man one’s respect, one’s sympathy; in fact, it was this which had induced me to make this curious journey; for an earnest will was visible in him, a noble tendency and aim; but although the tenderest feelings were in question, his manner of reading was without grace, and a peculiar, narrow kind of selfishness was strongly apparent throughout. When he had finished, he asked hastily what I now thought, and whether such a paper did not deserve, nay, demand, an answer?
Meanwhile I had obtained a clearer insight into the young man’s deplorable state of mind; he had never taken cognisance of the outward world, but had, on the contrary, cultivated his mind by multifarious reading, and directed all his powers and interests inwards; and, not finding any productive talent in the depths of his being, he had gone far to ruin himself altogether. And even the occupation and consolation so gloriously offered us by a study of the ancient languages, seemed to be completely wanting to him.
As I had already proved, both in myself and others, that the best remedy in such cases is to throw ourselves with energy and faith upon Nature and her infinite variety, I made an attempt to apply it in this case also. After a little reflection I answered him in the following way:—
“I think I can understand why the young man, in whom you have placed so much confidence, has remained silent towards you. His present way of thinking is doubtless too different from yours to allow of any hope that you could come to any agreement with each other. I have been present during some conversations in the circle spoken of, and have heard it maintained, that the only way in which a person can escape and save himself for a painful, self-torturing, gloomy state of mind, is by a contemplation of Nature, and a heartfelt sympathy with the outward world. Even a most general acquaintance with Nature, no matter in what way, in fact any active communication with it, either in gardening or farming, hunting or mining, draws us out of ourselves; the employment of our mental energies upon real, actual phenomena, affords, by degrees, the greatest satisfaction, clearness of mind, and instruction; in the same way as the artist who keeps true to Nature, while cultivating his mind, is certain to succeed the best.”
My young friend appeared to get very restless and impatient at this, just as one does when listening to some foreign or confused language, the meaning of which one cannot understand. However, although there seemed but little hope of a successful result, I proceeded more for the sake of saying something, and added that: “To me, as a landscape painter, this appeared very evident, as my particular department of art was in direct communication with Nature. But since that time, I have observed things with more assiduity and eagerness than I had previously done, and not merely noted uncommon and remarkable natural objects and phenomena, but felt myself more full of love for all things and all men.” In order not to lose myself in the abstract, I thereupon told him that even this necessary winter excursion, instead of being irksome, had furnished me with lasting enjoyment. I described to him the course of my journey artistically and poetically, and yet as truly and naturally as I could; I spoke of the snow-clouds which I had that morning seen rolling over the mountains, and the various other appearances that had struck me during the day; I then revealed to his imagination the curious turreted and walled fortifications of Nordhausen, as seen in the twilight; and further, at night, the torrents rushing down the mountain ravines, their waters lighted up now and then, and glistening in the flickering light of the guide’s lantern; and, last of all, the miners’ caverns.
Here he interrupted me with warmth, and assured me that he heartily regretted the trouble he had taken in going to see the latter, short as the distance was; it had not at all come up to the picture he had formed of it in his imagination. After what had passed between us, such morbid symptoms did not annoy me; often had I seen how men throw away the valuable possession of a clear reality for a dismal phantom of their gloomy imaginations! Just as little did it astonish me, when, in answer to my question,”How he had pictured the caverns to himself?” he described them in such a way as the boldest scene-painter would scarcely have ventured to do in depicting the fore-courts of Pluto’s kingdom.
Upon this I tried other propaedeutic suggestions as expedients for effecting a cure. But these were rejected so emphatically with the assurance that nothing in this world ever could or should content him, that my heart closed itself against him; and I felt my conscience completely freed from the necessity of taking any further trouble about him considering the fatiguing journey I had undertaken on his account, and the best intentions I had had towards him.
Saturday, June 3, 2017
I rode my bicycle downtown, locked the bicycle at my favorite deli, and took the bus to the Denver Art Museum. The first Saturday of the month is a free admission day.
It was a good day for paintings. I liked this Madonna and Child with Saints (1511) by Bernardo Zenale. From the placard: "Leonardo da Vinci spent many years in Milan, and his art had a profound impact on local artists. Here, the Virgin's features and the grotto setting recall The Virgin of the Rocks, a painting Leonardo made for the same church."
St. Jerome, in the red garments of a cardinal, holds a pen and paper. A crucifix and a skull are hung on the stone wall behind him, and his attribute, a lion, is at his feet. St. Ambrose wears a bishop's miter and robe; he holds a staff, and treads upon a soldier [rather unsaintly of him to use a soldier as a foot stool, it might seem]. Joseph stands in the shadows behind Jerome.
I shifted over to the French Impressionists and admired two pictures by Claude Monet, The Coastguard's Cabin and Fishing Boats.
The most delightful art I saw today was this earthenware figurine of a dancing girl (Veracruz, Mexico 600-900 A.D.). One seldom sees such a joyful expression portrayed in pre-Columbian art.
Dance, young lady, dance!
Sunday, May 28, 2017
This humorous sketch was transcribed from a blurry eBay advertisement for The Passing Show Christmas Number 1925. I could decipher about 85% of the text and made educated guesses at the rest. Any oddness or flat spots in the text are undoubtedly errors that I have inadvertently introduced.
The eureker was one Beasley Tosher, a somewhat morbid-looking individual with a complexion like bread sauce, eyes like bottled gooseberries, and a receding chin which ran straight into his Adam’s apple without breaking the journey anywhere. The eureker’s a Poet.
It was the only Greek word he knew by heart; so, like Mr. Browning’s wise thrush, he sang it twice over. And the reason for his eureking was the letter he held in his hand — a dainty missive redolent of beer, garlic, Hamburg cigars, and other odours of Eden — which ran as follows —
Baconpool Repertory Theatre
1st April, 19—
“My Dear Mr. Beasley Tosher,
I hasten to inform you that on receiving your Poetical Drama, ‘From Pigsty to Palace,’ I was remarkably struck with it. My secretary has a poor aim, and it struck me just where the whale got Jonah.
The subsequent reading of your play confirmed my first impression. It is all that a Poetic Drama should be. It seems to combine the mysticism of Sir Rabindranath Tagore with the craftsmanship of Noel Coward, while in certain passages — notably the great love potion scene for the Pump Room of the Epsom Salts refinery in Act II — the exquisite cadence of your verse is reminiscent of Martin Topper at his best.
I did not delay in reading the play to my permanent Company and the effect produced on one and all was nothing short of electrical. Miss Flora Flatfoot, my leading lady, was so affected that she threw two fits and an inkpot before regaining her usual composure.
Mr. Raveling Ranter, the juvenile lead, came out in goose pimples all over, and had to be restored my vibro-massage. Indeed, everyone was agreed that for perfection, poetry, plot, passion, pathos, pregnancy, punch and pep, your play should be as impossible to beat as a hard-boiled egg.
I have already put it in rehearsal and as our preparation for its production are so well advanced, I propose to withdraw Mr. Shaughnard Burne’s screaming bedroom farce, ‘The Sewing Up of Pasno’s Blanket,’ after next Saturday night’s performance and to present ‘From Pigsty to Palace’ on the following Monday evening.
It will afford me great pleasure if you can be present on that occasion and take the author’s call. I know the psychology of our audiences pretty well, and I can confidently predict that, if you are a vegetarian and/or a collector of defunct felines, you will experience a very profitable evening,
Yours most sincerely,
Yes, in direct defiance of his doctor’s orders and the earnest entreaties of his comrades, cronies and creditors, Beasley Tosher had deliberately written a play. Not, mark you, an ordinary commonplace in which bathrooms, underwear, and French maids figure so prominently; but a blank-verse tragedy of the most highbrow type, whose characters bore each lovely, lingering, luscious names as Derwoerdre, Phthygawain, and Fleowulf the Fowler.
The writing of the play had taken six months, six cases of Scotch, and six boxes of J nibs. Beasley Tosher had put into it all he knew (besides a lot he didn’t know), and while he pursued his work and punished the whisky he cut himself aloof from everybody; and his friends waxed wroth.
To have their prayers and wishes ignored like a collecting box at the hospital was bad enough. To have him shut up alone with all that whisky was unendurable, and they sent a deputation round to protest.
But Beasley Tosher simply wiped the floor with the deputation. Had he dallied, he would have probably wiped his entire premises with them. So he turned on them a deaf ear and a large dog and the deputation withdrew hurriedly and thirsty.
Today, however, Beasley Tosher had vindicated his attitude. After six months of toil and six cases of whisky, the play had been accepted, and within a week it would be loosed off at a benign and unsuspecting British audience.
Little wonder that his word “Eureka!” which he continued to utter at frequent intervals during the eventful morning monopolized the vast echoing facilities of the R— welkin, greatly to the annoyance of a number of skylarks which were up there practising their scales.
At noon, however, he had at last regained his wonted composure to sally forth with the intention of making his acceptance of Barnham Stormont’s invitation. On the way to the post-office he encountered several members of the recent deputation.
To each and all he announced the forthcoming production of his play and each and all, mad with jealousy, promptly made for the nearest tavern.
On reaching the post-office, Beasley Tosher at once wired to Barnham Stormont —
“Shall arrive Monday in time for performance. Am prepared to make speech before curtain with anecdotes of Beerbohm Tree, the Six Brothers Lusk, and Lockhart’s Elephants. Please lubricate Press liberally at my expense — Tosher.”
Then he went home — to count the hours that must elapse ere the great moment of his life should arrive. Upon investigation he found there were just 127 of them.
The following Monday afternoon found Beasley Tosher on the 3 p.m. express for Baconpool. But the hour struck and the train did not budge an inch. He wondered if the railway had struck too, for the famous “Flying Tortoise” was noted for its punctuality.
He enquired the reason for the delay of a porter doing milk can drill, to learn that the engine had been mislaid, and that a boy had been sent to the works to fetch the other one. But nearly an hour passed before the train started and our hero’s impatience subsided.
But he was not fated to be left unharassed for long. Barely had the journey begun before the train pulled up with a violent jerk which threw it up on its hind wheels. Another tedious wait ensued, and meanwhile disturbing rumours filtered down the corridors.
Some said the engine had run into a lamp-post; some that a stray goat had charged it and got mixed up with the steering gear; others, again, whispered that a lightning strike had been declared.
Then came the report that the rear guard had suddenly gone mad, eaten his flag, swallowed his whistle, and under the delusion that he was an organ-grinder had attempted to play “Eat More Fruit” on his hand-brake. Hence the stoppage.
Bealey Tosher was not unnaturally in a state of uncontrollable agitation at the delay. Unless Baconpool had moved south overnight, it was not impossible for him to arrive in time for the rise of the curtain.
In impotent rage he gnashed his crown and bridge work and bit off all his nails. Yet another hour expired ere the true cause of the breakdown was discovered — a nest of mice in the safety-valve — and the journey resumed.
But it never rains cats but it pours dogs. Twice the engine-driver, who was deeply engrossed reading the Passing Show instead of watching the sign posts, took the wrong turning, and had to turn around and retrace his rails.
More than once they were held up at level crossings by the policeman on point duty in order to let an oldest inhabitant or a broody cow go by. And then, when within a few miles of their destination, they ran short of coal, and were forced to crawl the rest of the way on improvised oil fuel extracted from the cruets in the restaurant car. It was half-past ten when the train limped painfully into Baconpool.
Anger, disappointment, perspiration, grime, grease and grief were all registered on Beasley Tosher’s face as he sprang from the carriage and leapt for one of the waiting taxis. There might yet be time for him to witness the final scene of his play — his greatest scene, where Derwoerdre poisons the dastardly Machiavellian schemer, Fleowulf the Fowler, by putting a powdered flowerpot in his potato pie, and Phthygawain, fooled and trapped, cuts off her big toe in the bath and bleeds to death. At all events he would surely reach the theatre in time to appear before the curtain.
“The Repertory Theatre!” he cried as he jumped in. “A pound if you make it in ten minutes.”
The driver whirled out of the station and drew up next door. “Time: ten seconds.” A resplendent official — a composite between a full-dress field marshal and a Cook’s interpreter — assisted him to alight, and Beasley Tosher, giving the driver a one-pound note and a look of intense hatred turned to enter the theatre.
But he was too late.
The audience was beginning to pour out; yet not with the expression upon their faces that he had so confidently expected to find there. There features were contorted with laughter. Some were doubled up with hilarity. A few were even folded in four.
“Funniest play I’ve ever seen!”
“Haven’t laughed so much since the wife had mumps!”
“Do you think the author really meant it to be so ludicrous?”
Such were the first remarks he heard. But the unhappy and disillusioned poet did not wait to hear more.
He hurriedly turned away and ran back to the railway station.
“Got a train going anywhere soon?” he demanded, breathlessly.
“One past 11 p.m.to start for Newington.”
“Sacks, Detta, or Caseway?”
“Newington flat — no surname. Next station down the line.”
“Have you nothing further away?”
“Have you nothing further away?”
“About how far away did you want?”
“About eight thousand miles.”
“There’s a boat leaving the docks at midnight for Honolulu. How would that suit you?”
“Honolulu’ll do!” cried Beasley Tosher.
“You needn’t crow about it,” remarked the booking-clerk. “You’ve just got time to secure your passage if you hurry.”
* * *
Twenty-four hours later the wireless of the good steamship Deparameria was tuned in to Baconpool. Beasley Tosher and a few other the musick-proof passengers were listening in, when suddenly came the announcement —
“We are now switching over to the Repertory Theatre” — followed by a murmur of innumerable bees punctuated with rifle practice. Then the stratospherics cleared and some stentorian shouts were heard.
“Author! author!” came over the cry, followed by surging cheers and a confused hum which might have been anything from a dog-fight to a Handel Festival. Then the hubbub died down and a voice was heard saying —
“…from the bottom of my heart. As you have doubtless learnt from the papers, Miss Flora Flatfoot developed painter’s colic at the first rehearsal Wednesday afternoon, and as her understudy was not then perfect in the exhausting part of Derwoerdre I was forced at the last moment to substitute an extra performance of Mr. Shaughnard Burne’s scintillating farce in place of the masterly poetic drama, ‘From Pigsty to Palace,’ which I have been privileged to present to you tonight. The talented young author, Mr. Beasley Tosher, is not, I regret to say, here tonight to receive your applause in person, but I…”
Nevertheless, Beasley Tosher rose from his chair in the salon of the Deparameria and with an easy grace, suggesting long practice in private before his vestibule mirror, bowed to the loudspeaker.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
I just finished reading Mark Twain's famous travel book, Innocents Abroad, or the New Pilgrims' Progress (1869), a lively and descriptive account of an 1867 pleasure cruise from France to the Holy Land. William Dean Howells bestowed a favorable review on the book in the Atlantic Monthly (although he botched Samuel L. Clemons's name):
"Under his nom de plume of Mark Twain, Mr. Clements is well known to the very large world of newspaper-readers; and this book ought to secure him something better than the uncertain standing of a popular favorite It is no business of ours to fix his rank among the humorists California has given us, but we think he is, in an entirely different way from all the others, quite worthy of the company of the best."
The book's final chapter had some words that spoke directly to my situation: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
I should get out and travel more in the coming years.
I read a short biography of Mark Twain and learned that he received very little formal schooling. He educated himself by serious and persistent reading in public libraries, which must have been furnished with heartier literature than can be found in today's suburban libraries. A modern-day Mark Twain would find little more than trashy detective books and dreary feminist novels on the shelves.
Saturday, May 6, 2017
I recently read a cautionary alternate history novel by Saki (Hector Hugh Munro) called When William Came, published in 1913. The William of the title is Kaiser Wilhelm. The premise is that the Germans have launched a sudden attack and conquered the British Isles.
In the passage below, the novel's main character, an Englishman named Yeovil, is returning from a long business trip in Russia to find his country overrun with German soldiers and sausage-eating German bureaucrats. Traveling by train to his home in the country, Yeovil strikes up a conversation with a fellow-traveler.
Yeovil watched the passing landscape with the intent hungry eyes of a man who revisits a scene that holds high place in his affections. His imagination raced even quicker than the train, following winding roads and twisting valleys into unseen distances, picturing farms and hamlets, hills and hollows, clattering inn yards and sleepy woodlands.
"A beautiful country," said his only fellow-traveller, who was also gazing at the fleeting landscape; "surely a country worth fighting for."
He spoke in fairly correct English, but he was unmistakably a foreigner; one could have allotted him with some certainty to the Eastern half of Europe.
"A beautiful country, as you say," replied Yeovil; then he added the question, "Are you German?"
"No, Hungarian," said the other, "and you, you are English?" he asked.
"I have been much in England, but I am from Russia," said Yeovil, purposely misleading his companion on the subject of his nationality in order to induce him to talk with greater freedom on a delicate topic. While living among foreigners in a foreign land he had shrunk from hearing his country's disaster discussed, or even alluded to; now he was anxious to learn what unprejudiced foreigners thought of the catastrophe and the causes which had led up to it.
"It is a strange spectacle, a wonder, is it not so?" resumed the other, "a great nation such as this was, one of the greatest nations in modern times, or of any time, carrying its flag and its language into all parts of the world, and now, after one short campaign, it is --"
And he shrugged his shoulders many times and made clucking noises at the roof of his voice, like a hen calling to a brood of roving chickens.
"They grew soft," he resumed; "great world-commerce brings great luxury, and luxury brings softness. They had everything to warn them, things happening in their own time and before their eyes, and they would not be warned. They had seen, in one generation, the rise of the military and naval power of the Japanese, a brown-skinned race living in some island rice-fields in a tropical sea, a people one thought of in connexion with paper fans and flowers and pretty tea-gardens, who suddenly marched and sailed into the world's gaze as a Great Power; they had seen, too, the rise of the Bulgars, a poor herd of zaptieh-ridden peasants, with a few students scattered in exile in Bucharest and Odessa, who shot up in one generation to be an armed and aggressive nation with history in its hands. The English saw these things happening around them, and with a war-cloud growing blacker and bigger and always more threatening on their own threshold they sat down to grow soft and peaceful. They grew soft and accommodating in all things; in religion --"
"In religion?" said Yeovil.
"In religion, yes," said his companion emphatically; "they had come to look on the Christ as a sort of amiable elder Brother, whose letters from abroad were worth reading. Then, when they had emptied all the divine mystery and wonder out of their faith naturally they grew tired of it, oh, but dreadfully tired of it. I know many English of the country parts, and always they tell me they go to church once in each week to set the good example to the servants. They were tired of their faith, but they were not virile enough to become real Pagans; their dancing fauns were good young men who tripped Morris dances and ate health foods and believed in a soft of Socialism which made for the greatest dulness of the greatest number. You will find plenty of them still if you go into what remains of social London."
Yeovil gave a grunt of acquiescence.
"They grew soft in their political ideas," continued the unsparing critic; "for the old insular belief that all foreigners were devils and rogues they substituted another belief, equally grounded on insular lack of knowledge, that most foreigners were amiable, food fellows, who only needed to be talked to and patted on the back to become your friends and benefactors. They began to believe that a foreign Minister would relinquish long-cherished schemes of national policy and hostile expansion if he came over on a holiday and was asked down to country-houses and shown the tennis court and the rock-garden and the younger children. Listen. I once heard it solemnly stated at an after-dinner debate in some literary club that a certain very prominent German statesman had a daughter at school in England, and that future friendly relations between the two countries were improved in prospect, if not assured, by that circumstance. You think I am laughing; I am recording a fact, and the men present were politicians and statesmen as well as literary dilettanti. It was insular lack of insight that worked the mischief. We, in Hungary, we live too much cheek by jowl with our racial neighbours to have many illusions about them. Austrians, Roumanians, Serbs, Italians, Czechs, we know what to think of them, we know what we want in the world, and we know what they want; that knowledge does not send us flying at each other's throats, but it does keep us from growing soft. Ah, the British lion was in a hurry to inaugurate the Millennium and to lie down gracefully with the lamb. He made two mistakes, only two, but they were very bad ones; the Millennium hadn't arrived, and it was not a lamb that he was lying down with."