29 September 2008

from The Function of Criticism at the Present Time (Matthew Arnold)

It is because criticism has so little kept in the pure intellectual sphere, has so little detached itself from practice, has been so directly polemical and controversial, that it has so ill accomplished, in this country, its best spiritual work; which is to keep man from a self-satisfaction which is retarding and vulgarising, to lead him towards perfection, by making his mind dwell upon what is excellent in itself, and the absolute beauty and fitness of things. A polemical practical criticism makes men blind even to the ideal imperfection of their practice, makes them willingly assert its ideal perfection, in order the better to secure it against attack; and clearly this is narrowing and baneful for them. If they were reassured on the practical side, speculative considerations of ideal perfection they might be brought to entertain, and their spiritual horizon would thus gradually widen. Sir Charles Adderley says to the Warwickshire farmers:-

'Talk of the improvement of breed! Why, the race we ourselves represent, the men and women, the old Anglo-Saxon race, are the best breed in the whole world. ... The absence of a too enervating climate, too unclouded skies, and a too luxurious nature, has produced so vigorous a race of people, and has rendered us so superior to all the world.'

Mr. Roebuck says to the Sheffield cutlers:-

'I look around me and ask what is the state of England? Is not property safe? Is not every man able to say what he likes? Can you not walk from one end of England to the other in perfect security? I ask you whether, the world over or in past history, there is anything like it? Nothing. I pray that our unrivalled happiness may last.'

Now obviously there is a peril for poor human nature in words and thoughts of such exuberant self-satisfaction, until we find ourselves safe in the streets of the Celestial City.

'Das wenige verschwindet leicht dem Blicke
Der vorwärts sieht, wie viel noch übrig bleibt-'

says Goethe; 'the little that is done seems nothing when we look forward and see how much we have yet to do.' Clearly this is a better line of reflection for weak humanity, so long as it remains on this earthly field of labour and trial.

But neither Sir Charles Adderley nor Mr. Roebuck is by nature inaccessible to considerations of this sort. They only lose sight of them owing to the controversial life we all lead, and the practical form which all speculation takes with us. They have in view opponents whose aim is not ideal, but practical; and in their zeal to uphold their own practice against these innovators, they go so far as even to attribute to this practice an ideal perfection. Somebody has been wanting to introduce a six-pound franchise, or to abolish church-rates, or to collect agricultural statistics by force, or to diminish local self-government. How natural, in reply to such proposals, very likely improper or ill-timed, to go a little beyond the mark, and to say stoutly, 'Such a race of people as we stand, so superior to all the world! The old Anglo-Saxon race, the best breed in the whole world! I pray that our unrivalled happiness may last! I ask you whether, the world over or in past history, there is anything like it? And so long as criticism answers this dithyramb by insisting that the old Anglo-Saxon race would be still more superior to all others if it had no church-rates, or that our unrivalled happiness would last yet longer with a six-pound franchise, so long will the strain, 'The best breed in the whole world!' swell louder and louder, everything ideal and refining will be lost out of sight, and both the assailed and their critics will remain in a sphere, to say the truth, perfectly unvital, a sphere in which spiritual progression is impossible. But let criticism leave church-rates and the franchise alone, and in the most candid spirit, without a single lurking thought of practical innovation, confront with our dithyramb this paragraph on which I stumbled in a newspaper immediately after reading Mr. Roebuck:-

'A shocking child murder has just been committed at Nottingham. A girl named Wragg left the workhouse there on Saturday morning with her young illegitimate child. The child was soon afterwards found dead on Mapperly Hills, having been strangled. Wragg is in custody.'

Nothing but that; but, in juxtaposition with the absolute eulogies of Sir Charles Adderley and Mr. Roebuck, how eloquent, how suggestive are those few lines! 'Our old Anglo-Saxon breed, the best in the whole world!' - how much that is harsh and ill-favoured there is in this best! Wragg! If we are to talk of ideal perfection, of 'the best in the whole world,' has any one reflected what a touch of grossness in our race, what an original shortcoming in the more delicate spiritual perceptions, is shown by the natural growth amongst us of such hideous names, - Higginbottom, Stiggins, Bugg! In Ionia and Attica they were luckier in this respect than 'the best race in the world;' by the Ilissus there was no Wragg, poor thing! And 'our unrivalled happiness,' - what an element of grimness, bareness, and hideousness mixes with it and blurs it; the workhouse, the dismal Mapperly Hills, - how dismal those who have seen them will remember; - the gloom, the smoke, the cold, the strangled illegitimate child! 'I ask you whether, the world over or in past history, there is anything like it?' Perhaps not, one is inclined to answer; but at any rate, in that case, the world is very much to be pitied. And the final touch, - short, bleak, and inhuman: Wragg is in custody. The sex lost in the confusion of our unrivalled happiness; or (shall I say?) the superfluous Christian name lopped off by the straight-forward vigour of our old Anglo-Saxon breed! There is profit for the spirit in such contrasts as this; criticism serves the cause of perfection by establishing them. By eluding sterile conflict, by refusing to remain in the sphere where alone narrow and relative conceptions have any worth and validity, criticism may diminish its momentary importance, but only in this way has it a chance of gaining admittance for those wider and more perfect conceptions to which all its duty is really owed. Mr. Roebuck will have a poor opinion of an adversary who replies to his defiant songs of triumph only by murmuring under his breath, Wragg is in custody; but in no other way will these songs of triumph be induced gradually to moderate themselves, to get rid of what in them is excessive and offensive, and to fall into a softer and truer key.

It will be said that it is a very subtle and indirect action which I am thus prescribing for criticism, and that, by embracing in this manner the Indian virtue of detachment and abandoning the sphere of practical life, it condemns itself to a slow and obscure work. Slow and obscure it may be, but it is the only proper work of criticism. The mass of mankind will never have any ardent zeal for seeing things as they are; very inadequate ideas will always satisfy them. On these inadequate ideas reposes, and must repose, the general practice of the world. That is as much as saying that whoever sets himself to see things as they are will find himself one of a very small circle; but it is only by this small circle resolutely doing its own work that adequate ideas will ever get current at all. The rush and roar of practical life will always have a dizzying and attracting effect upon the most collected spectator, and tend to draw him into its vortex; most of all will this be the case where that life is so powerful as it is in England. But it is only by remaining collected, and refusing to lend himself to the point of view of the practical man, that the critic can do the practical man any service; and it is only by the greatest sincerity in pursuing his own course, and by at last convincing even the practical man of his sincerity, that he can escape the misunderstandings which perpetually threaten him.

For the practical man is not apt for fine distinctions, and yet in these distinctions truth and the highest culture greatly find their account. But it is not easy to lead a practical man, - unless you reassure him as to your practical intentions, you have no chance of leading him, - to see that a thing which he has always been used to look at from one side only, which he greatly values, and which, looked at from that side, quite deserves, perhaps, all the prizing and admiring which he bestows upon it, - that this thing, looked at from another side, may appear much less beneficent and beautiful, and yet retain all its claims to our practical allegiance. Where shall we find language innocent enough, how shall we make the spotless purity of our intentions evident enough, to enable us to say to the political Englishman that the British Constitution itself, which, seen from the practical side, looks such a magnificent organ of progress and virtue, seen from the speculative side, - with its compromises, its love of facts, its horror of theory, its studied avoidance of clear thoughts, - that, seen from this side, our august Constitution sometimes looks, - forgive me, shade of Lord Somers! - a colossal machine for the manufacture of Philistines?

25 September 2008

from Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, chapter six, 3.13pm-3.44pm (Winifred Watson)

Miss Dubarry stood up abruptly. She circled Miss Pettigrew, eyes intent, expression concentrated. Miss Pettigrew sat petrified. Miss Dubarry frowned. She held her chin between thumb and forefinger. She shook her head. Suddenly she barked,

'You shouldn't wear those muddy browns. They're not your colour.'

'Oh!' Miss Pettigrew jumped.

'Certainly not. Where's your taste? Where's your artistic discrimination?'

'I haven't any,' said Miss Pettigrew meekly.

'And your make-up's wrong.'

'Make-up!' gasped Miss Pettigrew.


'Me?' said Miss Pettigrew faintly.


'I haven't any.'

'No make-up,' said Miss Dubarry shocked. 'Why? It's indecent, walking around naked.'

Miss Pettigrew stared at her blankly. Her mind was whirling: her thoughts chaotic. A mental upheaval rendered her dizzy. Yes, why? All these years and she had never had the wicked thrill of powdering her nose. Others had experienced that joy. Never she. And all because she lacked courage. All because she had never thought for herself. Powder, thundered her father the curate, the road to damnation. Lipstick, whispered her mother, the first step on the downward path. Rouge, fulminated her father, the harlot's enticement. Eyebrow pencil, breathed her mother, no lady ...!

Miss Pettigrew's thoughts ran wildly, chaotically, riotously. A sin to make the best of the worst? She sat up. Her eyes began to shine. All her feminine faculties intent on the important, earnest, serious, mighty task of improving on God's handiwork. Then she remembered. She sat back. Her face clouded.

'Oh!' said Miss Pettigrew in a flat voice. 'My dear ... at my age. With my complexion.'

'It's a beautiful complexion.'

'Beautiful?' said Miss Pettigrew incredulously.

'Not a mark, not a spot, not a blemish. Colour! Who wants natural colour? It's always wrong. A perfect background. No base to prepare. No handicaps to overcome. Blonde, brunette, pink and white, tanned, creamy pallor. Anything you like.'

Miss Dubarry leaned forward intent. She tipped Miss Pettigrew's face this way: she tipped it that way. She patted the skin. She felt the texture of her hair.

'Hmn! A good cleansing cream. A strong astringent to tone up the muscles. Eyebrows definitely darkened. Can't make up my mind about the hair yet. Nut-brown, I think. Complexion needs colour. Definitely colour. Brings out the blue of the eyes. Whole face needs a course of treatment. Shockingly neglected.'

She stopped abruptly and looked apologetic.

'Oh dear! You must excuse me. Here I am, forgetting myself again. I'm in the trade, you see, and I can't help taking a professional interest.'

'Don't mind me,' breathed Miss Pettigrew. 'Please don't mind me. I love it. No one's ever taken an interest in my face before.'

'Obviously not,' said Miss Dubarry sternly. 'Not even yourself.'

'I've never had any time,' apologized Miss Pettigrew.

'Nonsense. You've had time to wash, haven't you? You've time to get a bath. You've time to cut your nails. A woman's first duty is to her face. I'm surprised at you.'

'Ah well!' sighed Miss Pettigrew hopelessly. 'I'm long past the age now ...'

'No woman,' said Miss Dubarry grimly, 'is ever past the age. The more years that pass the more reason for care. You should be old enough to know better.'

'I've never had any money.'

'Ah!' said Miss Dubarry with understanding. 'That's different. You wouldn't believe the amount it costs even me to keep my face fixed, and I'm in the trade and that means nearly ninety-nine per cent off.'

She found her handbag and opened it.

'Here's my card. You bring that any time you like and you shall have the best of everything. Any friend of Delysia's is a friend of mine. If I'm at liberty I'll do you myself. If not, I'll get you the best left.'

'How wonderful,' gasped Miss Pettigrew. She took the card with trembling fingers.

'Edythe Dubarry,' she read, thrilled.

'It's well seen you're no Londoner,' said Miss Dubarry. 'That name stands for something. It's the best beauty parlour in London, though it is my own.'

Miss Pettigrew's face began to shine.

'Tell me,' she begged, 'is it true? Is it really true? I mean, can these places improve your looks?'

Miss Dubarry sat down. She hesitated. She hitched her chair closer.

'Look at me.'

Miss Pettigrew looked. Miss Dubarry gave a friendly chuckle.

'I like you. There's something about you ... well! What do you think of me?'

'Oh dear!' said Miss Pettigrew, much embarrassed. 'What have I to say to that?'

'Just what you like. I don't mind. But the truth.'

'Well,' said Miss Pettigrew, taking the plunge, 'I think you have very ... very startling looks.'

Miss Dubarry looked immensely pleased.

'There you are then.'

Miss Pettigrew warmed to her task. If Miss Dubarry could be frank, so could she.

'You're not exactly beautiful, like Miss LaFosse, but you catch the eye. When you come into a room, every one will notice you.'

'There,' said Miss Dubarry proudly. 'What did I tell you?'

'What?' asked Miss Pettigrew.

'What I've been telling you.'

'What's that?'

'You and I,' said Miss Dubarry, 'are exactly alike.'

'Oh ... how can you say it!' said Miss Pettigrew unbelievingly.

'You don't look like the kind of woman to give away secrets,' said Miss Dubarry recklessly.

'I'm not,' said Miss Pettigrew.

'And when I see such a perfect lay figure as you, I can't help spreading the glad tidings.'

'No?' said Miss Pettigrew, bewildered.

Miss Dubarry leaned closer.

'My hair,' stated Miss Dubarry, 'is mouse coloured ... like yours.'

'No!' gasped Miss Pettigrew. 'Not really.'

'A fact. I thought black suited me better.'


'My eyebrows,' continued Miss Dubarry, 'and eyelashes are sandy-coloured. I have plucked my eyebrows and pencilled in new ones. My eyelashes, as well as being such a damnable shade, are short. I have had new ones fixed. Black, long and curly.'

'Marvellous,' whispered Miss Pettigrew, at last realizing the reason for Miss Dubarry's surprising eyes.

'I have the insipid, indeterminate complexion that goes with that stupid colouring. I thought a creamy pallor a great deal more interesting.'

'Absolutely,' breathed Miss Pettigrew.

'My nose was a difficulty. You score over me there. But McCormick is a marvellous surgeon. He gave me a new one.'

'No,' gasped Miss Pettigrew.

'My teeth were the greatest trouble,' confessed Miss Dubarry. 'They weren't spaced evenly. Fifty pounds that cost me. But it was worth it.'

Miss Pettigrew leaned back.

'It's unbelievable,' she said faintly, 'quite unbelievable.'

'I forgot the ears,' said Miss Dubarry. 'They stood out too much, but, as I say, McCormicks's a marvellous surgeon. He soon put that right.'

'It can't be possible.' Miss Pettigrew was almost beyond words. 'I mean, you're not you.'

'Just a little care,' said Miss Dubarry. 'It does wonders.'

'Miracles,' articulated Miss Pettigrew, 'miracles; I'll never believe a woman again when I see her.'

'Why!' said Miss Dubarry. 'Would you have us all go naked and unashamed? Must we take off the powder with the petticoat, and discard the eyeblack with the brassiere? Must we renounce beauty and revert to the crudities of nature?'

'All but Miss LaFosse,' continued Miss Pettigrew faintly but loyally. 'I saw her straight ... out ... of ... the ... bath.'

'Oh, Delysia!' said Miss Dubarry. 'She's different. She was blessed at birth.'

11 September 2008

from Tristan und Isolde, act 2 scene 2 (Richard Wagner)

Doch unsre Liebe,
heißt sie nicht Tristan
und – Isolde?
Dies süße Wörtlein: und,
was es bindet,
der Liebe Bund,
wenn Tristan stürb’,
zerstört’ es nicht der Tod?

Was stürbe dem Tod,
als was uns stört,
was Tristan wehrt,
Isolde immer zu lieben,
ewig ihr nur zu leben?

Doch dieses Wörtlein: und –
wär’ es zerstört,
wie anders als
mit Isoldes eignem Leben
wär’ Tristan der Tod gegeben?

So starben wir,
um ungetrennt,
ewig einig,
ohne End’,
ohn’ Erwachen,
ohn’ Erbangen,
namenlos in Lieb’ umfangen,
ganz uns selbst gegeben,
der Liebe nur zu leben!

02 September 2008

from unspecified music reviews (George Bernard Shaw)

At Bayreuth, the highly esteemed ladies are requested by public notice to remove their hats, and those who have innocent little bonnets, which would not obstruct a child's view, carefully remove them. The ladies with the Eiffel hats, regarding them as objects of public interest not second to any work of Wagner's, steadfastly disregard the notice; and Germany, with all its martinets, dare not enforce the discipline.

It must take something like a lion-tamer's nerve to be a man of genius. And when the man of genius is timid, he must suffer more than the ordinary coward. I have seen Richard Wagner, who was so vehemently specialised by nature as a man of genius that he was totally incapable of anything ordinary. He fought with wild beasts all his life; and when you saw him coming through a crowded cage, even when they all felt about him as the lions felt about Daniel, he had an air of having his life in his hand, and of wandering in search of his right place and his own people, if any such there might be. He would wander away to the walls and corners, apparently in search of some door or stairway or other exit from this world, not finding which he would return disconcerted and - being a most humane man - sit down and pet one of the animals with a little conversation.

from The Sorrows of Young Werther (J.W. von Goether, trans. Michael Hulse)

Book One, 8 August

For goodness' sake, dear Wilhelm, I did not mean you when I complained that people who urge us to be resigned to inevitable fate are unbearable. It truly did not enter my head that you might be of such an opinion. Basically you are right, of course. But, dear friend, with this one proviso: things in this world seldom come down to an either-or decision, and possible courses of action, and feelings, are as infinitely various as kinds of noses on the gamut from hooked to snub.

The Editor to the Reader

The lack of communication which had recently prevailed between them lay heavily upon her now, though she was not fully aware of it at that moment. People as understanding and good as they turned to mutual silence on account of some inner differences, each though himself in the right and the other in the wrong and brooded on it, and things became so complicated and volatile that it proved impossible to untie the knot at that critical moment on which everything depended. If they had been brought closer again at some earlier stage, in a spirit of happy intimacy, a mutual love and consideration would have arisen between them, and would have opened their hearts; and perhaps our friend might yet have been saved.