Girl Writing

"Girl Writing"
Oil on Canvas - 1931
Harold Knight

Perhaps the quickest way to understand the elements of what a novelist is doing is not to read, but to write; to make your own experiment with the dangers and difficulties of words. Recall, then, some event that has left a distinct impression on you — how at the corner of the street, perhaps, you passed two people talking. A tree shook; an electric light danced; the tone of the talk was comic, but also tragic; a whole vision, an entire conception, seemed contained in that moment.

But when you attempt to reconstruct it in words, you will find that it breaks into a thousand conflicting impressions. Some must be subdued; others emphasised; in the process you will lose, probably, all grasp upon the emotion itself. Then turn from your blurred and littered pages to the opening pages of some great novelist—Defoe, Jane Austen, Hardy. Now you will be better able to appreciate their mastery.

--Virginia Woolf, "How Should One Read a Book?"

Great Court of Trinity College, Cambridge

"Great Court of Trinity College, Cambridge"
Oil on Canvas - 1848
Joseph Murray Ince 

So we talked standing at the window and looking, as so many thousands look every night, down on the domes and towers of the famous city beneath us. It was very beautiful, very mysterious in the autumn moonlight. The old stone looked very white and venerable. One thought of all the books that were assembled down there; of the pictures of old prelates and worthies hanging in the panelled rooms; of the painted windows that would be throwing strange globes and crescents on the pavements; of the fountains and the grass; of the quiet rooms looking across the quiet quadrangles. And (pardon me the thought) I thought, too, of the admirable smoke and drink and the deep arm-chairs and the pleasant carpets; of the urbanity, the geniality, the dignity which are the offspring of luxury and privacy and space.

--Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

The Golden Age of Brooklands' Monsters

 "The Golden Age of Brooklands' Monsters"
Oil on Canvas - 1981
Michael Beddows

Will all those social idealists who disapprove of direct violence join the society which I am now founding? It is called The Society for Hindering Everything. We start with the assumption, with which I am sure all thinking people will agree, that the vice of the modern world is especially expressed in its condition of hurry. All the characteristic inventions of our time have been inventions for improving the rate at which things are done, not for improving their quality. What is the telephone but an instrument by which I can talk to a man across England when I have nothing worth saying even to a man next door?  What is a motor-car but a way of going very quickly when I am bored in London to bore somebody else in Yorkshire? What is the good of quickening all the human engines if you cannot for one instant quicken the human pulse? All this is common ground with any critics of our time.

My proposal is that, without violence or even excitement, we should quietly set ourselves to retard the rapidity of all modern proceedings. Be a long time taking your ticket at the booking office, a very long time; a rich, lingering, luxurious time. In going up the stairs to the top of an omnibus paus often. Admire the evening sky. Consult works of reference. Oblige the person behind you to live for a few moments that life of contemplation, which (grossly exaggerated, doubtless by some Oriental ascetics), is nevertheless the very experience most required by the modern city man. All this need be done with no bitterness or temper. If there is any harshness in the propaganda I do not hesitate to say that it will not be upon our side. In fact, it is obvious that my new revolution is really only an extension of the conception of passive resistance.

--G.K. Chesterton, Daily News article, January 5, 1907 

The Secret

"The Secret"
Oil on Board - Mid 19th Century
Honoré Daumier

My vow was not something I thought much about in the daytime. Then it would be just a presence in the background, steadying and reassuring, even pleasurable. Maybe I won’t desecrate it by saying it was a little bit like a bank account: something won, decided, no longer needing to be decided, available in time of need. 

At night (not every night, but often enough) was when it shook me. Past a certain hour of the darkness, a certain tick of the clock, the strands of habit, expectation, common sense, and small pleasures that had held me through the day slowly broke apart. It was like watching the V of a goose flock disintegrate as the birds circle down to land. It would be as though I stood off on the edge of my life, watching it being lived by somebody else. I felt no resentment against the man I saw living my life, but he was unimaginable to me, just as he seemed unable to imagine the observer who watched him under cover of darkness. I saw as a bird sees, each eye looking out on its own in a different direction, no two images ever resolving into one . . . Some nights in the midst of this loneliness I swung among the scattered stars at the end of the thin thread of faith alone. 

And then I would wake up and be in awe to see the daylight coming and my old familiar workaday life taking shape again in the dear world. Coherence and clarity returned.

--Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

Football, Will He Do It?

"Football, Will He Do It?"
Oil on Canvas - 1875
George Elgar Hicks 

“Most of the very old games began with the use of ordinary tools or furniture. So the very terms of tennis were founded on the framework of the old inn courtyard. So, it is said, the stumps in cricket were originally only the three legs of the milking-stool. Now we might invent new things of this kind, if we remembered who is the mother of invention. How pleasing it would be to start a game in which we scored so much for hitting the umbrella-stand or the dinner-wagon, or even the host and hostess; of course, with a missile of some soft material. Children who are lucky enough to be left alone in the nursery invent not only whole games, but whole dramas and life-stories of their own; they invent secret languages; they create imaginary families; they laboriously conduct family magazines. That is the sort of creative spirit that we want in the modern world; want both in the sense of desiring and in the sense of lacking it.

--G.K. Chesterton, from The Thing: Why I am and Catholic

People in the Sun

"People in the Sun"
Oil on Canvas - 1967
Edward Hopper 

“At present [people] are always accused of merely amusing themselves; but they are doing nothing so noble or worthy of their human dignity. Most of them by this time cannot amuse themselves; they are too used to being amused."

--G.K. Chesterton, from The Thing: Why I am a Catholic 

Bumping Races, Cambridge May Week

"Bumping Races, Cambridge May Week"
Oil on Canvas - 1947
Cosmo Clark 

“[In reading an essay of Montaigne] one has the same pleasure in it that he feels in listening to the necessary speech of men about their work, when any unusual circumstance gives momentary importance to the dialogue. For blacksmiths and teamsters do not trip in their speech; it is a shower of bullets. It is Cambridge men who correct themselves and begin again at every half-sentence, and, moreover, will pun, and refine too much, and swerve from the matter to the expression.”

--Ralph Waldo Emmerson, from Representative Men: Seven Lectures

Stormy Coast Scene after a Shipwreck


"Stormy Coast Scene after a Shipwreck"
Oil on Canvas - 1825
Horace Vernet

From “Nepenthe”

Hurry me Nymphs! O, hurry me
Far above the grovelling sea,
Which, with blind weakness and base roar
Casting his white age on the shore,
Wallows along that slimy floor;
With his widespread webbed hands
Seeking to climb the level lands
But rejected still to rave
Alive in his uncovered grave.

--George Darley, 1834

Jacob's Dream

"Jacob's Dream"
Oil on Canvas - 1817-1818
Washington Allston 

There is an art to make dreams, as well as their interpretation; and physicians will tell us that some food makes turbulent, some gives quiet, dreams. Cato, who doated upon cabbage, might find the crude effects thereof in his sleep; wherein the Egyptians might find some advantage by their superstitious abstinence from onions. Pythagoras might have calmer sleeps, if he totally abstained from beans. Even Daniel, the great interpreter of dreams, in his leguminous diet, seems to have chosen to advantageous food for quiet sleeps, according to Greek physic.

--Sir Thomas Browne, "On Dreams"

"He had been Tim's blood horse all the way from church"

"He had been Tim's blood horse all the way from church"
Illustration from A Christmas Carol - C. 1905
George Alfred Williams 

There is only one thing in the modern world that has been face to face with Paganism; there is only one thing in the modern world which in that sense knows anything about Paganism: and that is Christianity. That fact is really the weak point in the whole of that hedonistic neo-Paganism of which I have spoken. All that genuinely remains of the ancient hymns or the ancient dances of Europe, all that has honestly come to us from the festivals of Phoebus or Pan, is to be found in the festivals of the Christian Church. If any one wants to hold the end of a chain which really goes back to the heathen mysteries, he had better take hold of a festoon of flowers at Easter or a string of sausages at Christmas.

--G.K. Chesterton, "Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson," Heretics

Woman Riding a Tractor

"Woman Riding a Tractor"
Oil on Canvas - 1961
Laurence Stephen Lowry 

I am moreover a Luddite, in what I take to be the true and appropriate sense. I am not “against technology” so much as I am for community. When the choice is between the health of a community and technological innovation, I choose the health of the community. I would unhesitatingly destroy a machine before I would allow the machine to destroy my community.

—Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace

The Enraged Musician

"The Enraged Musician"
Oil on Canvas - 1741
William Hogarth 

And certain moderns are thus placed towards exaggeration. They permit any writer to emphasise doubts for instance, for doubts are their religion, but they permit no man to emphasise dogmas. If a man be the mildest Christian, they smell "cant;" but he can be a raving windmill of pessimism, and they call it "temperament." If a moralist paints a wild picture of immorality, they doubt its truth, they say that devils are not so black as they are painted. But if a pessimist paints a wild picture of melancholy, they accept the whole horrible psychology, and they never ask if devils are as blue as they are painted.

--G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens

On the Brighton Road

"On the Brighton Road"
Oil on Canvas - 1950
Terence Tenison Cuneo 

The Friend who had driven me through the eastern suburbs of Vienna drew up under the barbican of Fischamend: “Shall we drive on?” he asked. “Just a bit further?” Unawares, we had gone too far already. The road ran straight and due east beside the Danube. It was very tempting; all horsepower corrupts. But rather reluctantly, I fished out my rucksack, waved to the driver on his return journey to Vienna and set off.
--Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts

To me personally, at least, it would never seem needful to own a motor, any more than to own an avalanche. An avalanche, if you have luck, I am told, is a very swift, successful, and thrilling way of coming down a hill. It is distinctly more stirring, say, than a glacier, which moves an inch in a hundred years. But I do not divide these pleasures either by excitement or convenience, but by the nature of the thing itself. It seems human to have a horse or bicycle, because it seems human to potter about; and men cannot work horses, nor can bicycles work men, enormously far afield of their ordinary haunts and affairs.
--G.K. Chesterton, Alarms and Discursions

“The man standing in his own kitchen-garden, with fairyland opening at the gate, is the man with large ideas. His mind creates distance; the motor-car stupidly destroys it” (19).
--G.K. Chesterton, Heretics 

I number it among my blessings that my father had no car, while yet most of my friends had, and sometimes took me for a drive. This meant that all these distant objects could be visited just enough to clothe them with memories and not impossible desires, while yet they remained ordinarily as inaccessible as the Moon. The deadly power of rushing about wherever I pleased had not been given me. I measured distances by the standard of man, man walking on his two feet, not by the standard of the internal combustion engine. I had not been allowed to deflower the very idea of distance; in return I possessed “infinite riches” in what would have been to motorists “a little room.” The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it “annihilates space.” It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten. Of course if a man hates space and wants it to be annihilated, that is another matter. Why not creep into his coffin at once? There is little enough space there.
--C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy
I confess that I heard this with a sense of guilt, for by the time Troy began to say such things I had bought the Zephyr and had succumbed to something of the same impatience. My wonderful machine sometimes altered my mind so that I, lately a pedestrian myself, fiercely resented all such impediments on the road. Even at my sedate top speed of forty miles an hour, I hated anything that required me to slow down. My mind raged and fumed and I cursed aloud at farmers driving their stock across the road, at indecisive possums, at children on bicycles. Ease of going was translated without pause into a principled unwillingness to stop.
--Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow
After that night of the Christmas dance, I never owned a car again. I can see now that this in itself was an important stage of my journey. It was a step backward, maybe. I was no longer progressing. From then on, I didn’t often leave the Port William neighborhood. If I went anywhere I either walked or bummed a ride. The world all at once became bigger, as big almost as I remembered it from my childhood.
--Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow 

Man Tickling a Woman's Nose with a Feather

The first argument is that man has no conscience because some men are quite mad, and therefore not particularly conscientious. The second argument is that man has no conscience because some men are more conscientious than others. And the third is that man has no conscience because conscientious men in different countries and quite different circumstances often do very different things. Professor Forel applies these arguments eloquently to the question of human consciences; and I really cannot see why I should not apply them to the question of human noses. Man has no nose because now and then a man has no nose — I believe that Sir William Davenant, the poet, had none. Man has no nose because some noses are longer than others or can smell better than others. Man has no nose because not only are noses of different shapes, but (oh, piercing sword of scepticism!) some men use their noses and find the smell of incense nice, while some use their noses and find it nasty. Science therefore declares that man is normally noseless; and will take this for granted for the next four or five hundred pages, and will treat all the alleged noses of history as the quaint legends of a credulous age.

--G.K. Chesterton, The Uses of Diversity

"Man Tickling a Woman's Nose with a Feather"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
Thomas Wade - 1828-1891

Clare Hall and King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, from the Banks of the River Cam

 "Clare Hall and King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, from the Banks of the River Cam"
Watercolor - 1793
Joseph Mallord William Turner

"Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about."

--G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens