“I do not like books” (Samuel Butler)

I do not like books.  I believe I have the smallest library of any literary man in London, and I have no wish to increase it.  I keep my books at the British Museum and at Mudie’s, and it makes me very angry if anyone gives me one for my private library.  I once heard two ladies disputing in a railway carriage as to whether one of them had or had not been wasting money.  “I spent it in books,” said the accused, “and it’s not wasting money to buy books.”  “Indeed, my dear, I think it is,” was the rejoinder, and in practice I agree with it.  Webster’s Dictionary, Whitaker’s Almanack, and Bradshaw’s Railway Guide should be sufficient for any ordinary library; it will be time enough to go beyond these when the mass of useful and entertaining matter which they provide has been mastered.  Nevertheless, I admit that sometimes, if not particularly busy, I stop at a second-hand bookstall and turn over a book or two from mere force of habit.

I know not what made me pick up a copy of Æschylus—of course in an English version—or rather I know not what made Æschylus take up with me, for he took me rather than I him; but no sooner had he got me than he began puzzling me, as he has done any time this forty years, to know wherein his transcendent merit can be supposed to lie.  To me he is, like the greater number of classics in all ages and countries, a literary Struldbrug, rather than a true ambrosia-fed immortal.  There are true immortals, but they are few and far between; most classics are as great impostors dead as they were when living, and while posing as gods are, five-sevenths of them, only Struldbrugs.  It comforts me to remember that Aristophanes liked Æschylus no better than I do.  True, he praises him by comparison with Sophocles and Euripides, but he only does so that he may run down these last more effectively.  Aristophanes is a safe man to follow, nor do I see why it should not be as correct to laugh with him as to pull a long face with the Greek Professors; but this is neither here nor there, for no one really cares about Æschylus; the more interesting question is how he contrived to make so many people for so many years pretend to care about him.

Perhaps he married somebody’s daughter.  If a man would get hold of the public ear, he must pay, marry, or fight.  I have never understood that Æschylus was a man of means, and the fighters do not write poetry, so I suppose he must have married a theatrical manager’s daughter, and got his plays brought out that way.  The ear of any age or country is like its land, air, and water; it seems limitless but is really limited, and is already in the keeping of those who naturally enough will have no squatting on such valuable property.  It is written and talked up to as closely as the means of subsistence are bred up to by a teeming population.  There is not a square inch of it but is in private hands, and he who would freehold any part of it must do so by purchase, marriage, or fighting, in the usual way—and fighting gives the longest, safest tenure.  The public itself has hardly more voice in the question who shall have its ear, than the land has in choosing its owners.  It is farmed as those who own it think most profitable to themselves, and small blame to them; nevertheless, it has a residuum of mulishness which the land has not, and does sometimes dispossess its tenants.  It is in this residuum that those who fight place their hope and trust.

Or perhaps Æschylus squared the leading critics of his time.  When one comes to think of it, he must have done so, for how is it conceivable that such plays should have had such runs if he had not?  I met a lady one year in Switzerland who had some parrots that always travelled with her and were the idols of her life.  These parrots would not let anyone read aloud in their presence, unless they heard their own names introduced from time to time.  If these were freely interpolated into the text they would remain as still as stones, for they thought the reading was about themselves.  If it was not about them it could not be allowed.  The leaders of literature are like these parrots; they do not look at what a man writes, nor if they did would they understand it much better than the parrots do; but they like the sound of their own names, and if these are freely interpolated in a tone they take as friendly, they may even give ear to an outsider.  Otherwise they will scream him off if they can.

From Samuel Butler’s “Ramblings in Cheapside.”

“Vague longing and boredom are close akin” (Schopenhauer)

* * * * *

Goethe says somewhere that man is not without a vein of veneration. To satisfy this impulse to venerate, even in those who have no sense for what is really worthy, substitutes are provided in the shape of princes and princely families, nobles, titles, orders, and money-bags.

* * * * *

Vague longing and boredom are close akin.

* * * * *

When a man is dead, we envy him no more; and we only half envy him when he is old.

* * * * *

Misanthropy and love of solitude are convertible ideas.

* * * * *

In chess, the object of the game, namely, to checkmate one’s opponent, is of arbitrary adoption; of the possible means of attaining it, there is a great number; and according as we make a prudent use of them, we arrive at our goal. We enter on the game of our own choice.

Nor is it otherwise with human life, only that here the entrance is not of our choosing, but is forced on us; and the object, which is to live and exist, seems, indeed, at times as though it were of arbitrary adoption, and that we could, if necessary, relinquish it. Nevertheless it is, in the strict sense of the word, a natural object; that is to say, we cannot relinquish it without giving up existence itself. If we regard our existence as the work of some arbitrary power outside us, we must, indeed, admire the cunning by which that creative mind has succeeded in making us place so much value on an object which is only momentary and must of necessity be laid aside very soon, and which we see, moreover, on reflection, to be altogether vanity—in making, I say, this object so dear to us that we eagerly exert all our strength in working at it; although we knew that as soon as the game is over, the object will exist for us no longer, and that, on the whole, we cannot say what it is that makes it so attractive. Nay, it seems to be an object as arbitrarily adopted as that of checkmating our opponent’s king; and, nevertheless, we are always intent on the means of attaining it, and think and brood over nothing else. It is clear that the reason of it is that our intellect is only capable of looking outside, and has no power at all of looking within; and, since this is so, we have come to the conclusion that we must make the best of it.

Notes from “Psychological Observations.”

Anecdote on W.H. Auden’s Hygiene, Via David Markson


“Suicide and wife arrive in Cuba” and Other Wise Cracks from F. Scott Fitzgerald

From the “Epigrams, Wise Cracks and Jokes” section ofd  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Noteboooks:

Suicide and wife arrive in Cuba.

Let’s all live together.

Debut—the first time a young girl is seen drunk in public.

He repeated to himself an old French proverb he had made up that morning.

A sleeping porch is a back room with no pictures on the walls. It should contain at least one window.

Kill the scrub sire is our slogan.

Why can’t you be square? Well, when I was young I used to play with old automobile tires.

Forgotten is forgiven.

If all your clothes are worn to the same state it means you go out too much.

American actresses now use European convents as a sort of female Muldoon’s.

You must stoop a little in order to jump.

For a car—Excuse my lust.

Andre Gide lifted himself by his own jockstrap so to speak—and one would like to see him hoisted on his own pedarasty.

Creditors’ jokes


“Words” — A Page from James Joyce’s Notebooks

This page is from the same notebook where Joyce headed a page he titled “Rhetoric”; the notes in the books seem to suggest the notebook is part of the preparatory material for Ulysses. From the National Library of Ireland, which probably doesn’t want me posting their material like this.

Typed Notes for Train Dreams — Denis Johnson


“Rhetoric” — A Page from James Joyce’s Notebooks

This page is from a notebook that contains some of Joyce’s preparatory notes for Ulysses—there are notes for characters (“Stephen,” “Simon,” “Leopold,” etc.) as well as lists (“Books,” “Recipes”) and general ideas (“Theosophy”). This particular page, “Rhetoric,” seems to be part of the material that went into the “Aeolus” chapter of Ulysses, which plays with the windiness of rhetorical figures. From the National Library of Ireland, via UbuWeb.