Every Night, Every Morning

‘For several years running I would read a passage of Homer every night before going to bed as regularly as a good priest says his office. I began early to suck the milk of Homer, Virgil, Horace, Terence, Anacreon, Plato, and Euripides, mixed with that of Moses and the Prophets.’

Denis Diderot, Project for University.

‘There is no better recreation for the mind than the study of the ancient classics. Take any one of them into your hand, be it only for a half an hour, and you will feel yourself refreshed, relieved, purified, ennobled, strengthened: just as though you had quenched your thirst at some spring.’

Arthur Schopenhauer, ‘On the Study of Latin’, from Parerga and Paralipomena.

‘The reading of Homer every morning, with the serenity, the tranquillity, the deep sensation of moral and physical well-being which it instills in us, is the best provision to endure the vulgarities of the day.’

Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Notes.


Style and the Body – II

‘[The actor David Garrick] appeared wholly present in the muscles of his body.’

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, as quoted by Schopenhauer in The World as Will and Representation.

‘An actor must know the composition of the entire production, must understand and feel it with his whole body.  Only then does he make himself a component of it and begin to sound in harmony with it.’

Vsevolod Meyerhold.

‘Our most sacred convictions, our most unalterable faith in the matter of supreme values, are judgements of our muscles.’

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power.

A Sorry Sight

‘With the exception of the beautiful, good-natured or intelligent faces – with the exception, that is, of a very few, rare faces – I believe that every new face will usually arouse in a person of finer feeling a sensation akin to terror, since it presents the disagreeable in a new and surprising combination. As a rule it is in truth a sorry sight.’

Arthur Schopenhauer, On Various Subjects, translated by R. J. Hollindale.

‘Sometimes, without expecting it and with no reason to expect it, the oppressiveness of common life makes me gag, and I feel physically nauseated by the voices and gestures of my so-called fellow man. It’s an instant physical nausea, automatically felt in my stomach and head, an impressive but stupid consequence of my alert sensibility. Everyone who talks to me, each face whose eyes gaze at me, hits me like an insult or a piece of filth.’

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, translated by Richard Zenith.

Eternity was Manifest in the Light of Day, and Something Infinite behind Everything Appeared

‘Will you see the infancy of this sublime and celestial greatness? Those pure and virgin apprehensions I had from the womb, and that divine light wherewith I was born are the best unto this day, wherein I can see the Universe. By the Gift of God they attended me into the world, and by His special favour I remember them till now…Certainly Adam in Paradise had not more sweet and curious apprehensions of the world, than I when I was a child.

– – –

All appeared new, and strange at first, inexpressibly rare and delightful and beautiful. I was a little stranger, which at my entrance into the world was saluted and surrounded with innumerable joys…

– – –

The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things: The Men! O what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortable Cherubims! And young men glittering and sparkling angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die; but all things abided eternally as they were in their proper places. Eternity was manifest in the Light of Day, and something infinite behind everything appeared: which talked with my expectation and moved my desire. The city seemed to stand in Eden, or to be built in Heaven. The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver were mine,  as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skins and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars, and all the World was mine; and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it. I knew no churlish proprieties, nor bounds, nor divisions: but all proprieties and divisions were mine: all treasures and the possessors of them. So that with much ado I was corrupted, and made to learn the dirty devices of this world. Which now I unlearn, and become, as it were, a little child again that I may enter into the Kingdom of God.’

Thomas Traherne, from the Third Century, Centuries of Mediations.

‘The reason the impressions we receive in youth are so significant, the reason why in the dawn of life everything appears to us in so ideal and transfigured a light, is that we then first become acquainted with the genus, which is still new to us, through the individual, so that every individual thing stands as a representative of its genus: we grasp therein the (Platonic) Idea of this genus, which is essentially what constitutes beauty.’

Arthur Schopenhauer, On Aesthetics, translated by R. J. Hollingdale.

Foliage without Fruit

Erudition can produce foliage without bearing fruit.

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Wastebooks, translated By R. J. Hollingdale.

To read is to let someone else work for you – the most delicate form of exploitation.

Emil Cioran, Anathemas and Admirations, translated by Richard Howard.

Reading is merely a surrogate for yourself; it means letting someone else direct your thoughts. Many books, moreover, serve merely to show you how many ways there are of being wrong, and how far astray you yourself would go if you followed their guidance. You should read only when your ow thoughts dry up which will of course happen frequently enough even to the best heads; but to banish your own thoughts so as to take up a book is a sin against the holy ghost; it is like deserting a untrammeled nature to look at a herbarium or engravings of landscapes…If anyone spends almost the whole day reading…he gradually loses the capacity for thinking…This is the case with many learned persons; they have read themselves stupid.

Arthur Schopenhauer, ‘On Thinking for Yourself‘, from Essays and Aphorisms, translated and selected by R. J. Hollingdale.

Thoughts about Thinking

‘The average student is unable to study from a book, unless the book is dealt out to him in small sections. In order to become proficient in mathematics, or in any other subject, he must realize that most topics involve only a small number of basic ideas, which, once grasped, give easy access to the mass of details with which they are inevitably surrounded. Reading a book, or a paper of any length, should not mean crawling along its outer circumference, but, by whatever method one finds best suited to his own temperament, aiming straight at the centre, from which the clearest view may be found of the whole panorama.’

André Weil, The Mathematics Curriculum, Collected Papers vol II.

‘It may sometimes happen that a truth, an insight, which you have slowly and laboriously puzzled out by thinking for yourself could easily have been found already written in a book; but it is a hundred times more valuable if you have arrived at it by thinking for yourself. For only then will it enter your thought-system as an integral part and living member, be perfectly and firmly consistent with it and in accord with all its other consequences and conclusions, bear the hue, colour and stamp of your whole manner of thinking, and have arrived at just the moment it was needed; it will thus stand firmly and forever lodged in your mind. ‘

‘For the man who thinks for himself becomes acquainted with the authorities on his opinions only after he has acquired them and merely as confirmation of them, while the book-philosopher starts with his authorities, in that he constructs his opinions by collecting together the opinions of others: his mind then compares with that of the former as an automaton compares with a living man.’

Arthur Schopenhauer, On Thinking for Yourself, translated by J. R. Hollingdale.

‘I never am really satisfied that I understand anything; because, understand it well as I may, my comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand about the many connections and relations which occur to me, how the matter in question was first thought of or arrived at, etc.’

Ada Lovelace (apparently as quoted in Harry Henderson’s Modern Mathematicians).

Tout mouvement nous descouvre

‘All motion discovers us: the very same soul of Caesar, that made itself
so conspicuous in marshalling and commanding the battle of Pharsalia, was
also seen as solicitous and busy in the softer affairs of love and
leisure. A man makes a judgment of a horse, not only by seeing him when
he is showing off his paces, but by his very walk, nay, and by seeing him
stand in the stable.’

Montaigne, Of Democritus and Heraclitus, translated by Charles Cotton.

‘It is a wonderful thing how the individuality of every man (i.e. a certain particular character with a certain particular intellect) minutely determines his every thought and action and like penetrative dye permeates even the most insignificant part of them, so that the entire life-course, i.e. the inner and outer history, of each one differs fundamentally from that of all the others. As a botanist can recognize the whole plant from one leaf, as Cuvier can construct the whole animal from one bone, so an accurate knowledge of a man’s character can be arrived at from a single characteristic action; and that is true even when this action involves some trifle – indeed this is often better for the purpose, for with important things people are on their guard, while with trifles they follow their own nature without much reflection.’

Arthur Schopenhauer, On Ethics, translated by R. J. Hollingdale.