The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives

May 2002

2.05.02 – Thursday

1 May 2002, around 19.56.

The workmen spoke in iambic pentameter, a swift and toneless sequence of stressed and unstressed, not languid or melodic, but with a choppy sharpness, unconscious precision and imprecise annoyance. Curiously, the word ‘f—k’ could take any metrical position, as the sentiment or the phrase required.

4.05.02 – Saturday

4 May 2002, around 19.57.

‘What’s all this about sin, eh?’

‘That,’ I said, very sick. ‘Using Ludwig van like that. He did no harm to anyone. Beethoven just wrote music.’ And then I was really sick and they had to bring a bowl that was in the shape of like a kidney.

‘Music,’ said Dr Brodsky, like musing. ‘So you’re keen on music. I know nothing about it myself. It’s a useful emotional heightener, that’s all I know. Well, well. What do you think about that, eh, Branom?’

‘It can’t be helped,’ said Dr Branom. ‘Each man kills the thing he loves, as the poet-prisoner said. Here’s the punishment element, perhaps. The Governor ought to be pleased.’

(2002.25, p. 114)

Musing on music – water the wetter, the wetter the water. ‘And each man kills the thing he loves, by all let this be heard. The coward does it with a kiss, the brave man with a sword.’

5.05.02 – Sunday

5 May 2002, around 20.00.

Time passes with a measured and memorable wing during the first period of a sojourn in a new place, among new characters and new manners. Every person, every incident, every feeling touches and stirs the imagination. The restless mind creates and observes at the same time. Indeed there is scarcely any popular tenet more erroneous than that which holds that when time is slow, life is dull. It is very often, and very much the reverse. If we look back on those passages of our life which dwell most upon the memory, they are brief periods full of action and novel sensation.

(2002.26, p. 193f.)

There’s a similar passage in Mann’s The Magic Mountain, though naturally there it goes on for several pages of crystalline detail (about soup, if I recall, and the eternal intern eternally bringing the eternal soup — a ripe rummy passage). An interesting book, Sybil, but Disraeli was not much of a novelist; it reads like spirited and somewhat artless version of Brontë’s Shirley, or an abridged and more explicitly class-based Wives and Daughters. The historical asides are nearly Trollope-ian, but lack the narrative luster, and the character development bears the savor of the eighteenth century, being simple, readily understood, but somewhat lacking in local color.

8.05.02 – Wednesday

8 May 2002, around 20.01.

A man’s power to connect his thought with its proper symbol, and so to utter it, depends on the simplicity of his character, that is, upon his love of truth, and his desire to communicate it without loss. The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language. When simplicity of character and the sovereignty of ideas is broken up by the prevalence of secondary desires, the desire of riches, of pleasure, of power, and of praise,—and the duplicity and falsehood take place of simplicity and truth, the power over nature as an interpreter of the will, is in a degree lost; new imagery ceases to be created, and old words are perverted to stand for things which are not; a paper currency is employed, when there is no bullion in the vaults.

—R. W. Emerson, ‘Nature’ § Language (1838)

9.05.02 – Thursday

9 May 2002, around 20.03.

No, never use a girl as the point of projection, dear! Girls are still traditionally supposed to be idiots.

(2001.87, p. 227)

And who was it that said ‘A man’s reach should exceed his grasp’ and where (and why) on earth did I hear of it?1

  1. ‘…or what’s a heaven for?’ – Robert Browning, of course, though I did not discover this until much later; where I first heard it, though, I still cannot say. []

13.05.02 – Monday

13 May 2002, around 20.04.

Suppers are not bad, if we have not dined; but restless nights naturally follow hearty suppers after full dinners. Indeed, as there is a difference in constitutions, some rest well after these meals; it costs them only a frightful dream and an apoplexy. Nothing is more common in the newspapers, than instances of people who, after eating a hearty supper, are found dead abed in the morning.

—B. Franklin, ‘The Art of Procuring Pleasant Dreams’

14.05.02 – Tuesday

14 May 2002, around 20.06.

Another means of preserving health, to be attended to, is the having a constant supply of fresh air in your bed-chamber. It has been a great mistake, the sleeping in rooms exactly closed, and in beds surrounded by curtains. No outward air that may come in to you is so unwholesome as the unchanged air, often breathed, of a close chamber. As boiling water does not grow hotter by longer boiling, if the particles that receive greater heat can escape; so living bodies do not putrefy, if the particles, so fast as they become putrid, can be thrown off.

—B. Franklin, ‘The Art of Procuring Pleasant Dreams’

Freedom of thought – freedom from thought – thoughtful, thoughtless liberty.

15.05.02 – Wednesday

15 May 2002, around 20.06.

Am cutting up useless old photographs into tidy little squares, whether to make a mosaic or to rid myself of memories, I cannot really say. The little blocks of color, near one inch squared, look orderly and unnatural on the un-vacuumed carpet.

Some people remake themselves everyday. I admire their energy, for even with a lifetime I doubt I shall have completed this self to my satisfaction.

17.05.02 – Friday

17 May 2002, around 20.08.

Reading Halliwell’s book on Aristotle’s Poetics (University of Chicago Press, 1999): mimêsis, katharsis, etc. I paced across the deep red of the carpet, carefully keeping within the wool boundary, my attention buried in the book; to leave the rug would be to fall into the abyss of daily life – and also to risk running into the furniture.

19.05.02 – Sunday

19 May 2002, around 20.09.

Sunshine and late rising, then baroque.

Her early impressions were incurable. She prized the frank, the open-hearted, the eager character beyond all others. Warmth and enthusiasm did captivate her still. She felt that she could so much more depend upon the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or a hasty thing, than of those whose presence of mind never varied, whose tongue never slipped.

—Jane Austen,

21.05.02 – Tuesday

21 May 2002, around 20.10.

Laundry. The sun shining brightly, but with high clouds.

She stood straight and calm,
Her somewhat narrow forehead braided tight
As if for taming accidental thoughts
From possible pulses…

—E. B. Browning
Aurora Leigh

24.05.02 – Friday

24 May 2002, around 20.11.

Quickly, quickly to college. Mortification. The dean read out more than five hundred names within the close confines of the lecture hall – we sat and chattered and waited.

CLASS PICTURE – a dully composed image of a people who can scarce bear the sight of each other sitting very close together and squinting into the sun.

In reality there is perhaps no one of our natural Passions so hard to subdue as Pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself […] even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my Humility.

—Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography

25.05.02 – Saturday

25 May 2002, around 20.13.

Awoke at 4:40 this morning owing to the heat of the room and the itchiness of my feet, on which the mosquitoes had seen fit to bestow their generous attentions.

Today’s events will run as follows: up moderately early, read, breakfast, partake of massive quantities of milky tea, drive to college, attend the social events of both the History and Classics departments, smile, quiver, stammer, leave with all possible haste, return to the apartment, seethe with righteous indignation, dine and to bed. Failing that, enjoy oneself.

Necessary skills: polite smirking, self-deprecation, feigned deference, patience, and immunity to any sense of shame.

The fortress of Galata was captured, and entry to the port of Constantinople won by force of arms. Our troops were greatly cheered by this success, and praised our Lord with thankful hearts. The people of the city, on the other hand, were greatly depressed.

—Geoffroy de Villehardouin, The Conquest of Contantinople

28.05.02 – Tuesday

28 May 2002, around 20.17.

Warrington and Paley had been competitors for University honours in former days, and had run each other hard; and everybody said now that the former was wasting his time and energies, whilst all people praised Paley for his industry. There may be doubts, however, as to which was using his time best. The one could afford time to think, and the other never could. The one could have sympathies and do kindnesses; and the other must needs be always selfish. He could not cultivate a friendship or do a charity, or admire a work of genius, or kindle at the sight of beauty or the sound of a sweet song—he had no time, and no eyes for anything but his law-books. All was dark outside his reading-lamp. Love, and Nature, and Art (which is the expression of our praise and sense of the beautiful world of God), were shut out from him. And as he turned off his lonely lamp at night, he never thought but that he had spent the day profitably, and went to sleep alike thankless and remorseless. But he shuddered when he met his old companion Warrington on the stairs, and shunned him as one that was doomed to perdition.

—W. M. Thackeray, Pendennis

29.05.02 – Wednesday

29 May 2002, around 20.18.

It starts in the morning with laundry. No – that’s not quite it. It starts when they knock on my door at eight a.m. and I am not yet awake; in truth, I had opened my eyes to face the world at a quarter to seven, but the world at that point seemed irrelevant to my pursuits, and my eyes closed of their own accord.

So it starts with a knock on the door. I roll, quite literally, out of bed, instinct alone responsible for the presence of my feet below my head, which allows, with some twisting, an upright posture. The blankets, too, tumble to the floor and I look at them and realize that I have not spent the night under the blanket I had curled under at midnight, but under the quilt on top of which I had fallen asleep. Momentarily, this seems odd.

Another knock at the door, now sharper, less patient. I fumble at the door, trying to open it, but it will not budge, the knob won’t turn – because it’s locked. I twist the lock and the door swings open, sticking only slightly. And there is the day, waiting to begin.

30.05.02 – Thursday

30 May 2002, around 20.20.

At Oxford his personality expanded and developed in a remarkable way. Never in the strict sense of the word a clever man—even by the academic standard (he took only a third in Mods. and a second in Greats, and worked hard for them, too)—he became an extraordinarily well-educated one. His passion for literature was intense. He was one of those rare individuals who actually liked reading the really great men. It is always something of a shock to find a man reading Milton and Spenser, Homer and Lucretius, Shakespeare and Chaucer for fun, but West read them all and liked them. It was all of a piece with his discriminating literary judgment that he disliked Virgil intensely.

— C.[E.M.] J[oad] — p. x from the intro. to A. G. West’s The Diary of a Dead Officer

31.05.02 – Friday

31 May 2002, around 20.21.

When you want to make money by Pegasus (as he must, perhaps, who has no other saleable property), farewell poetry and aerial flights: Pegasus only rises now like Mr. Green’s balloon, at periods advertised beforehand, and when the spectators’ money has been paid. Pegasus trots in harness, over the stony pavement, and pulls a cart or a cab behind him. Often Pegasus does his work with panting sides and trembling knees, and not seldom gets a cut of the whip from his driver.

Do not let us, however, be too prodigal of our pity upon Pegasus. There is no reason why this animal should be exempt from labour, or illness, or decay, any more than any of the other creatures of God’s world. If he gets the whip, Pegasus very often deserves it…

—Thackeray (Pendennis)

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