Archive for the Writing Category

From “De Profundis”

Posted in Philosophy, Writing with tags on October 16, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

pentonville
Morality does not help me. I am a born antinomian. I am one of those who are made for exceptions, not for laws. But while I see that there is nothing wrong in what one does, I see that there is something wrong in what one becomes. It is well to have learned that.

Religion does not help me. The faith that others give to what is unseen, I give to what one can touch, and look at. My gods dwell in temples made with hands; and within the circle of actual experience is my creed made perfect and complete: too complete, it may be, for like many or all of those who have placed their heaven in this earth, I have found in it not merely the beauty of heaven, but the horror of hell also. When I think about religion at all, I feel as if I would like to found an order for those who cannot believe: the Confraternity of the Fatherless, one might call it, where on an altar, on which no taper burned, a priest, in whose heart peace had no dwelling, might celebrate with unblessed bread and a chalice empty of wine. Every thing to be true must become a religion. And agnosticism should have its ritual no less than faith. It has sown its martyrs, it should reap its saints, and praise God daily for having hidden Himself from man. But whether it be faith or agnosticism, it must be nothing external to me. Its symbols must be of my own creating. Only that is spiritual which makes its own form. If I may not find its secret within myself, I shall never find it: if I have not got it already, it will never come to me.

Reason does not help me. It tells me that the laws under which I am convicted are wrong and unjust laws, and the system under which I have suffered a wrong and unjust system. But, somehow, I have got to make both of these things just and right to me. And exactly as in Art one is only concerned with what a particular thing is at a particular moment to oneself, so it is also in the ethical evolution of one’s character. I have got to make everything that has happened to me good for me. The plank bed, the loathsome food, the hard ropes shredded into oakum till one’s finger-tips grow dull with pain, the menial offices with which each day begins and finishes, the harsh orders that routine seems to necessitate, the dreadful dress that makes sorrow grotesque to look at, the silence, the solitude, the shame – each and all of these things I have to transform into a spiritual experience. There is not a single degradation of the body which I must not try and make into a spiritualising of the soul.

I want to get to the point when I shall be able to say quite simply, and without affectation that the two great turning-points in my life were when my Father sent me to Oxford, and when society sent me to prison. I will not say that it is the best thing that could have happened to me: for that phrase would savour of too great bitterness towards myself. I would sooner say, or hear it said of me, that I was so typical a child of my age, that in my perversity, and for that perversity’s sake, I turned the good things of my life to evil, and the evil things of my life to good.

What is said, however, by myself or by others, matters little. The important thing, the thing that lies before me, the thing that I have to do, if the brief remainder of my days is not to be maimed, marred, and incomplete, is to absorb into my nature all that has been done to me, to make it part of me, to accept it without complaint, fear, or reluctance. The supreme vice is shallowness. Whatever is realised is right.

When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realising what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else – the beauty of the sun and the moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver – would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.

oscar_wilde_signature
16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900

Text: Oscar Wilde, Letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, folios 24-25, January – March 1897, British Museum
Image: Interior of the Model Prison (Pentonville Prison), Illustrated London News, 7 January 1843

Julian and the Goose

Posted in Greece, Writing with tags , on September 18, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

goose

In the tenth month, according to your reckoning, — Loos I think you call it — there is a festival founded by your forefathers in honour of this god, and it was your duty to be zealous in visiting Daphne. Accordingly I hastened thither from the temple of Zeus Kasios, thinking that at Daphne, if anywhere, I should enjoy the sight of your wealth and public spirit. And I imagined in my own mind the sort of procession it would be, like a man seeing visions in a dream, beasts for sacrifice, libations, choruses in honour of the god, incense, and the youths of your city there surrounding the shrine, their souls adorned with all holiness and themselves attired in white and splendid raiment. But when I entered the shrine I found there no incense, not so much as a cake, not a single beast for sacrifice. For that moment I was amazed and thought that I was still outside the shrine and that you were waiting the signal from me, doing me that honour because I am supreme pontiff. But when I began to inquire what sacrifice the city intended to offer to celebrate the annual festival in honour of the god, the priest answered, “I have brought with me from my own house a goose as an offering to the god, but the city this time has made no preparations.”

Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus, Misopogon, 363 AD, translated by Wilmer Cave Wright. Cambridge, Mass.: The Loeb Classical Library, 1913

Athens in 1829 & 1835

Posted in Drawing, Greece, Writing with tags , , on September 6, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden
Franz Heger, View of Athens, 1829
Franz Heger
View of Athens, 1829

This charming view of the little town of Athens, clustered around the mighty Acropolis, was presumably made from the hill of Lycabettus, looking southwest toward Piraeus and the islands of the Saronic Gulf beyond. We found it at this website where it accompanies a very atmospheric firsthand account of Athens by one Bettina Schinas, who moved to the city in 1835.

William Hazlitt on Passion

Posted in Philosophy, Writing with tags , , on September 3, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

Leonard-Whiting-Olivia-Hussey-1968-romeo-and-juliet-by-franco-zeffirelli

We have heard it objected to ROMEO AND JULIET that it is founded on an idle passion between a boy and a girl, who have scarcely seen and can have but little sympathy or rational esteem for one another, who have had no experience of the good or ills of life, and whose raptures or despair must be therefore equally groundless and fantastical. Whoever objects to the youth of the parties in this play as ‘too unripe and crude’ to pluck the sweets of love, and wishes to see a first-love carried on into a good old age, and the passions taken at the rebound, when their force is spent, may find all this done in the Stranger and in other German plays, where they do things by contraries, and transpose nature to inspire sentiment and create philosophy. Shakespeare proceeded in a more straightforward and, we think, effectual way. He did not endeavour to extract beauty from wrinkles, or the wild throb of passion from the last expiring sigh of indifference. He did not ‘gather grapes of thorns nor figs of thistles’. It was not his way. But he has given a picture of human life, such as it is in the order of nature. He has founded the passion of the two lovers not on the pleasures they had experienced, but on all the pleasures they had NOT experienced. All that was to come of life was theirs. At that untried source of promised happiness they slaked their thirst, and the first eager draught made them drunk with love and joy. They were in full possession of their senses and their affections. Their hopes were of air, their desires of fire. Youth is the season of love, because the heart is then first melted in tenderness from the touch of novelty, and kindled to rapture, for it knows no end of its enjoyments or its wishes. Desire has no limit but itself. Passion, the love and expectation of pleasure, is infinite, extravagant, inexhaustible, till experience comes to check and kill it. Juliet exclaims on her first interview with Romeo:

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep.

And why should it not? What was to hinder the thrilling tide of pleasure, which had just gushed from her heart, from flowing on without stint or measure, but experience which she was yet without? What was to abate the transport of the first sweet sense of pleasure, which her heart and her senses had just tasted, but indifference which she was yet a stranger to? What was there to check the ardour of hope, of faith, of constancy, just rising in her breast, but disappointment which she had not yet felt? As are the desires and the hopes of youthful passion, such is the keenness of its disappointments, and their baleful effect. Such is the transition in this play from the highest bliss to the lowest despair, from the nuptial couch to an untimely grave. The only evil that even in apprehension befalls the two lovers is the loss of the greatest possible felicity; yet this loss is fatal to both, for they had rather part with life than bear the thought of surviving all that had made life dear to them. In all this, Shakespeare has but followed nature, which existed in his time, as well as now. The modern philosophy, which reduces the whole theory of the mind to habitual impressions, and leaves the natural impulses of passion and imagination out of the account, had not then been discovered; or if it had, would have been little calculated for the uses of poetry.

Text: William Hazlitt, Characters of Shakespear’s Plays, London: Rowland Hunter with Charles and James Ollier, 1817
Image: Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, 1968, photographer unknown

John Locke 384

Posted in Drawing, Philosophy, Writing with tags , , on August 29, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden
Sylvester Brounower-John Locke-c.1693-NPG
Sylvester Brounower
Portrait of John Locke, c. 1693
National Portrait Gallery

John_Locke_Signature
While I can hardly do justice here to the ideas and influence of the great John Locke, born this day in 1632, George Santayana provides a lovely sketch in his essay Locke and the Frontiers of Common Sense:

“And who of you has not known some other spontaneous, inquisitive, unsettled genius, no less preoccupied with the marvellous intelligence of some Brazilian parrot, than with the sad obstinacy of some Bishop of Worcester? Here is eternal freshness of conviction and ardour for reform; great keenness of perception in spots, and in other spots lacunae and impulsive judgements; distrust of tradition, of words, of constructive argument; horror of vested interests and of their smooth defenders; a love of navigating alone and exploring for oneself even the coasts already well charted by others. Here is romanticism united with a scientific conscience and power of destructive analysis balanced by moral enthusiasm. Doubtless Locke might have dug his foundations deeper and integrated his faith better. His system was no metaphysical castle, no theological acropolis: rather a homely ancestral manor house built in several styles of architecture: a Tudor chapel, a Palladian front toward the new geometrical garden, a Jacobean parlour for political consultation and learned disputes, and even — since we are almost in the eighteenth century — a Chinese cabinet full of curios. It was a habitable philosophy, and not too inharmonious. There was no greater incongruity in its parts than in the gentle variations of English weather or in the qualified moods and insights of a civilised mind. Impoverished as we are, morally and humanly, we can no longer live in such a rambling mansion. It has become a national monument. On the days when it is open we revisit it with admiration; and those chambers and garden walks re-echo to us the clear dogmas and savoury diction of the sage — omnivorous, artless, loquacious — whose dwelling it was.”

–Santayana, George. Some Turns of Thought in Modern Philosophy. Cambridge: University Press, 1933

Poe in Providence

Posted in Photo, Writing with tags , on August 21, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden
Anon, Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, 1848, American Antiquarian SocAnon, Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, 1848, American Antiquarian Soc, rev
American Antiquarian Society

Another iconic image of Edgar Allan Poe, looking every inch the ill-starred poet. Taken in Providence, Rhode Island in 1848, it has a rather magnificent case.

Edgar Allan Poe in Daguerreotypes

Posted in Photo, Writing with tags , on August 21, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden
Brown_University_Library
Daguerreotype by William Hartshorn, 1848
Brown University Library
Anon, Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, late May - early June 1849, J. Paul Getty Museum-a
Anonymous daguerreotype, May-June 1849
J. Paul Getty Museum
Anon, Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, late May - early June 1849, J. Paul Getty Museum-b
detail

The familiar image of Edgar Allan Poe is vouchsafed us almost entirely through the medium of daguerreotypy. The pioneering American author sat for several portraits in his later life, which coincided with the dominance of Daguerre’s process. The Brown daguerreotype was made at the end of “a tumultuous week which included an overdose of laudanum and a bout of heavy drinking.” Poe died in 1849, just four months after the Getty daguerreotype was taken. Poe was not only the first great American author to attempt to live by writing alone, but the first whose photographic representation made him a visual as well as a literary icon.