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Friday, April 4, 2014

Quotations: Just two today





There is something in the contemplation of the mode in which America has been settled, that, in a noble breast, should forever extinguish the prejudices of national dislikes.  Settled by the peoples of all nations, all nations may claim her for their own.  You cannot spill a drop of American blood without spilling the blood of the whole world.  Be he Englishman, Frenchman, German, Dane, or Scot; the European who scoffs at an American, calls his own brother Raca; and stands in danger of the judgment.  We are not a narrow tribe of men, with a bigoted Hebrew nationality--whose blood has been debased in the attempt to ennoble it, by maintaining an exclusive succession amongst ourselves.  No: our blood is as the flood of the Amazon, made up of a thousand noble currents all pouring into one.  We are not a nation, so much as a world; for unless we may claim all the world for our sire, like Melchisedec, we are without father or mother.  For who was our father and our mother?  Or can we point to any Romulus and Remus for our founders?  Our ancestry is lost in the universal paternity; and Caesar and Alfred, St. Paul and Luther, and Homer and Shakespeare are as much ours as Washington, who is as much the world’s as our own.  We are the heirs of all time, and with all nations we divide our inheritance.  On this Western Hemisphere all tribes and people are forming into one federated whole; and there is a future which shall see the estranged children of Adam restored as to the old hearth-stone in Eden.

Herman Melville, Redburn, 195





Accurately speaking, no good work whatever can be perfect, and the demand for perfection is always a sign of a misunderstanding of the ends of art. This is for two reasons, both based on everlasting laws. The first, that no great man ever stops working till he has reached his point of failure: that is to say, his mind is always far in advance of his powers of execution, and the latter will now and then give way in trying to follow it; besides that he will always give to the inferior portions of his work only such inferior attention as they require; and according to his greatness he becomes so accustomed to the feeling of dissatisfaction with the best he can do, that in moments of lassitude or anger with himself he will not care though the beholder be dissatisfied also.  I believe there has only been one man who would not acknowledge this necessity, and strove always to reach perfection: Leonardo; the end of his vein effort being merely that he would take ten years to a picture and leave it unfinished. And therefore, if we are to have great men working at all, or less men doing their best, the work will be imperfect, however beautiful. Of human work none but what is bad can be perfect, in its own bad way.
            The second reason is, that imperfection is in some sort essential to all that we know of life. It is the sign of life in a mortal body, that is to say, of a state of progress and change. Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect; part of it is decaying, part nascent….All admit irregularity as they imply change; and to banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality. All things are literally better, lovelier, and more beloved for the imperfections which have been divinely appointed, that the law of human life may be Effort, and the law of human judgment, Mercy.
            Accept this then for universal law, that neither architecture nor any other noble work of man can be good unless it be imperfect; and let us be prepared for the otherwise strange fact…that the first cause of the fall of the arts of Europe was a relentless requirement of perfection, incapable alike either of being silenced by veneration for greatness, or softened into forgiveness of simplicity.

John Ruskin, “The Nature of Gothic”
 

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