Reading notes

A gift

Proust on Ruskin:

Such are his resources that he does not lend us his words; he gives them to us and he does not take them back.

Proust, Days of Reading, page 11

Which, of course, is what every great writer does; his words are a gift to every reader, and all the readers yet to come.

For the man of genius can only give birth to works which will not die by creating in them the image not of the mortal being that he is, but of the exemplum of mankind he bears within him. His thoughts are in some sense lent to him for his lifetime, of which they are the companions. On his death they return to mankind and instruct it.

Proust, Days of Reading, page 1

I love this: that the words are themselves immortal creatures, coupling with us for a time, until we expire and they leave to teach the world what they’ve learned. That the words have more agency than we do is reason enough to covet their attention.

The work of the heart and of the will

Ruskin, as quoted by Proust, in what may be the best definition of craft I’ve ever read:

We have certain work to do for our bread, and that is to be done strenuously; other work to do for our delight, and that is to be done heartily: neither is to be done in halves and shifts, but with a will; and what is not worth this effort is not to be done at all. Perhaps all that we have to do is meant for nothing more than an exercise of the heart and of the will, and is useless in itself; but, at all events, the little use it has may well be spared if it is not worth putting our hands and our strength to. It does not become our immortality to take an ease inconsistent with its authority, nor to suffer any instruments with which it can dispense, to come between it and the things it rules: and he who would form the creations of his own mind by any other instrument than his own hand, would also, if he might, give grinding organs to Heaven’s angels, to make their music easier. There is dreaming enough, and earthiness enough, and sensuality enough in human existence, without our turning the few glowing moments of it into mechanism; and since our life must at the best be but a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away, let it at least appear as a cloud in the height of Heaven, not as the thick darkness that broods over the blast of the Furnace, and the rolling of the wheel.

Proust, Days of Reading, page 22