Monday, December 19, 2005
Two Christopher Morley books from 1931
The first, a collection of quotations chosen by Morley, one for each day of the year. Reading this, we become aware of exactly what Morley thought was good literature, what he thought actually meant something.
He chooses a quote from Chekhov, June 3: "He was a rationalist, but he had to confess that he liked the ringing of church bells." And Chekhov again on June 7: "'Masticate your food properly,' their father told them. And they masticated properly, and walked two hours every day, and washed in cold water, and yet they turned out unhappy and without talent."
Don Marquis, June 9: "If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you; but if you really make them think, they'll hate you."
Joseph Conrad, Sept. 23: "Hang ideas. They are tramps, vagabonds, knocking at the back door of your mind, each taking a little of your substance, each carrying away some crumb of that belief in a few simple notions you must cling to if you want to live decently and would like to die easy."
John Mistletoe's Journal (Morley himself), December 11: "If there is any appalling and spiritually murderous sensation on earth, it is the knowledge that on a certain date or at a given time and place you have got to be somewhere doing some set, prescribed, definite thing. This winter we shall keep our horizon perfectly, absolutely, crystallinely open, ready every day for the scouring gales of impulse."
And his selection for today, December 19, which happens to be my birthday, Louise Imogen Guiney: "The truth is, very few can be trusted with an education. The best to be said of any knowing one is that he does not readily show what deeps are in him; that he is unformidable, and reminds whomever he meets of a distant or deceased uncle. Initiation into noble facts has not ruined him for this world nor the other."
Also included are Virginia Woolf, Montaigne, O. Henry, Aristotle, Andre Gide, Keats, Ben Jonson, Leigh Hunt, Katherine Mansfield, Hobbes, Thomas Hardy, many others, with humor and seriousness lightly balanced. And the book itself is small and thick, pleasingly chunky to hold, in lilac bookcloth with green tempus fugit devices, and bold red and black ink and fine typography throughout. What a book. Or, at least, my kind of book!
The second, a grim little story of Santa Claus at home after he finishes delivering gifts. He's been drinking grain alcohol with prohibition rum runners and thinking about the state of the universe: "He still thought hungrily of that miracle he had seen: the grave airy dancing of creation, treading softly its dark measure to unheard, undreamed music." (p.25)
Find a copy for yourself, but remember that it's remarkably bittersweet, so save it to read on a sunny June or July afternoon. It goes down hard this time of year.
You gave a nice selection of quotations; Morley's Book of Days has been on my list of books to get for quite awhile.
Here's my favorite quotation from him, from the essay The Rudeness of Poets, from Plum Pudding (which was dedicated to David Bone, Don Marquis, and Simeon Strunsky, of the Three Hours for Lunch Club):
The poet who has not learned how to be rude has not learned his first duty to himself. By "poet" I mean, of course, any imaginative creator- novelist, mathematician, editor, or a man like Herbert Hoover. And by "rude" I mean the strict and definite limitation which, sooner or later, he must impose upon hhis sociable instincts. He must refuse to fritter away priceless time and energy in the random genialities of the world." (and so on.)