The First Great Booklet



Vexatious Readings

Thucydides, Joseph Conrad, Ben Jonson,
Michel de Montaigne, Plato, Ludwig Wittgenstein,
John Woolman, Edward Bellamy, Anthony Trollope

A Leaflet For The Masses



Thucydides Considers

The Innermost Consequences of War

SO bloody was the march of the revolution, and the impression which it made was the greater as it was one of the first to occur. Later on, one may say, the whole Hellenic world was convulsed; struggles being made everywhere by the popular chiefs to bring in the Athenians, and by the oligarchs to introduce the Lacedaemonians. In peace there would have been neither the pretext nor the wish to make such an invitation; but in war, with an alliance always at the command of either faction for the hurt of their adversaries and their own corresponding advantage, opportunities for bringing in the foreigner were never wanting to the revolutionary parties.

The sufferings which the revolution entailed upon the cities were many and terrible, such as have occurred and always will occur, as long as the nature of mankind remains the same; though in a severer or milder form, and varying in their symptoms, according to the variety of the particular cases. In peace and prosperity states and individuals have better sentiments, because they do not find themselves suddenly confronted with imperious necessities; but war takes away the easy supply of daily wants, and so proves a rough master, that brings most men’s characters to a level with their fortunes.

Revolution thus ran its course from city to city, and the places which it arrived at last, from having heard what had been done before, carried to a still greater excess the refinement of their inventions, as manifested in the cunning of their enterprises and the atrocity of their reprisals. Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; and cautious plotting a justifiable means of self-defence. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries. In fine, to forestall an intending criminal, or to suggest the idea of a crime, was equally commended, until even blood became a weaker tie than party, from the superior readiness of those united by the latter to dare everything without reserve; for such associations had not in view the blessings derivable from established institutions but were formed by ambition for their overthrow; and the confidence of their members in each other rested less on any religious sanction than upon complicity in crime.

The fair proposals of an adversary were met with jealous precautions by the stronger of the two, and not with generous confidence. Revenge was also held of more account than self-preservation. Oaths of reconciliation, being only proffered on either side to meet an immediate difficulty, only held good so long as no other weapon was at hand; but when opportunity offered, he who first ventured to seize it and to take his enemy off his guard, thought this perfidious vengeance, better than an open one, since, considerations of safety apart, success by treachery won him the palm of superior intelligence. Indeed, it is generally the case that men are readier to call rogues clever than simpletons honest, and are as ashamed of being the second as they are proud of being the first.

The cause of all these evils was the lust for power arising from greed and ambition; and from these passions proceeded the violence of parties once engaged in contention. The leaders in the cities, each provided with the fairest professions, on the one side with the cry of political equality of the people, on the other of a moderate aristocracy, sought prizes for themselves in those public interests which they pretended to cherish, and, recoiling from no means in their struggles for ascendancy, engaged in the direct excesses; in their acts of vengeance they went to even greater lengths, not stopping at what justice or the good of the state demanded, but making the party caprice of the moment their only standard, and invoking with equal readiness the condemnation of an unjust verdict or the authority of the strong arm to glut the animosities of the hour. Thus religion was in honour with neither party; but the use of fair phrases to arrive at guilty ends was in high reputation. Meanwhile the moderate part of the citizens perished between the two, either for not joining in the quarrel, or because envy would not suffer them to escape.

Thus every form of iniquity took root in the Hellenic countries by reason of the troubles. The ancient simplicity into which honour so largely entered was laughed down and disappeared; and society became divided into camps in which no man trusted his fellow. To put an end to this, there was neither promise to be depended upon, nor oath that could command respect; but all parties dwelling rather in their calculation upon the hopelessness of a permanent state of things, were more intent upon self-defence than capable of confidence. In this contest the blunter wits were most successful. Apprehensive of their own deficiencies and of the cleverness of their antagonists, they feared to be worsted in debate and to be surprised by the combinations of their more versatile opponents, and so at once boldly had recourse to action; while their adversaries, arrogantly thinking that they should know in time, and that it was unnecessary to secure by action what policy afforded, often fell victims to their want of precaution.

A Social Comment


The Nigger of the Narcissus

by Joseph Conrad

ANOTHER new hand–a man with shifty eyes and a yellow hatchet face, who had been listening openmouthed in the shadow of the midship locker–observed in a squeaky voice: –“Well, it’s a ‘omeward trip anyhow. Bad or good, I can do it on my ‘ed–s’long as I get ‘ome. And I can look after my rights! I will show ’em!”

All the heads turned towards him. Only the ordinary seaman and the cat took no notice. He stood with arms akimbo, a little fellow with white eyelashes. He looked as if he had known all the degradations and all the furies. He looked as if he had been cuffed, kicked, rotted in the mud; he looked as if he has been scratched, spat upon, petted with unmentionable filth, and he smiled with a sense of security at the faces around. His ears were bending down under the weight of his battered felt hat. The torn tails of his black coat flapped in fringes about the calves of his legs. He unbuttoned the only two buttons that remained and everyone saw that he had no shirt under it. It was his deserved misfortune that those rags which nobody could possibly have supposed to own looked on him as though they had been stolen. His neck was long and thin; his eyelids were red; rare hairs hung about his jaws; his shoulders were peaked and drooped like the broken wings of a bird; all his left side was caked with mud which showed that he had lately slept in a wet ditch.

He had saved his inefficient carcass from violent destruction by running away from an American ship where, in a moment of forgetful folly, he had dared to engage himself; and he had knocked about for a fortnight ashore in the native quarter, cadging for drinks, starving, sleeping on rubbish-heaps, wandering in sunshine: a startling visitor from the world of nightmares.

He stood repulsive and smiling in the sudden silence. This clean white forecastle was his refuge; the place where he could be lazy; where he could wallow, and lie and eat–and curse the food he ate; where he could display his talents for shirking work, for cheating, for cadging; where he could find surely someone to wheedle and someone to bully–and where he would be paid for doing all this.

They all knew him. Is there a spot on earth where such a man is unknown, an ominous survival testifying to the eternal fitness of lies and impudence? A taciturn long-armed shellback, with hooked fingers, who had been lying on his back smoking, turned in his bed to examine him dispassionately, then, over his head, sent a long jet of saliva clear towards the door.

They all knew him! He was the man that cannot steer, that cannot splice, that dodges the work on dark nights; that, aloft, holds on frantically with both arms and legs, and swears at the wind, the sleet, the darkness; the man who curses the sea while others work. The man who is the last out and the first in when all hands are called. The man who can’t do most things and won’t do the rest. The pet of philanthropists and self-seeking landlubbers. The sympathetic and deserving creature that knows all his rights, but knows nothing of courage, of endurance, and of the unexpressed faith, of the unspoken loyalty that knits together a ship’s company. The independent offspring of the slums, full of disdain and hate for the austere servitude of the sea.

Extracts from Timber, or,
Discoveries Made
upon Men and Matter

by Ben Jonson

FOR a man to write well, there are required three Necessaries: To reade the best Authors, observe the best Speakers, and much exercise of his own style. In style, to consider what ought to be written and after what manner: Hee must first thinke and excogitate his matter, then choose his words, and examine the weight of either. Then take care, in placing and ranking both matter and words, that the composition be comely; and to do this with diligence and often. No matter how slow the style be at first, so it be labour’d and accurate; seeke the best, and be not glad of the forward conceipts, or first words, that offer themselves to us; but judge of what wee invent, and order what we approve. Repeat often what we have formerly written: which beside that it helpes the consequence, and makes the juncture better, it quickens the heate of imagination, that often cools in the time of setting down, and gives it new strength, as if it grew lustier by the going back. As wee see in the contention of leaping, they jump farthest that fetch their race largest; or, as in throwing the Dart or Iavelin, we force back our arms to make our loose the stronger. Yet, if we have a fair gate of wind, I forbid not the steering out of our sayle, so the favour of the gale deceive us not. For all that wee invent doth please us in the conception or birth, else we would never set it down. But the safest is to return to our judgement, and handle over again those things the easinesse of which makes them justly suspected. So did the best Writers in their beginnings; they impos’d upon themselves care and industry. They did nothing rashly. They obtain’d first to write well, and then custome made it easie and a habit. So the summe of all is: Ready writing makes not good writing, but good writing brings on ready writing.

THE shame of speaking unskilfully were small if the tongue onely were thereby disgrac’d: But as the Image of a King in his Seale ill-represented is not so much a blemish to the waxe, or the Signet that seat’d it, as to the Prince it representeth, so disordered speech is not so much injury to the lips that give it forth, as to the disproportion and incoherence of things in themselves, so negligently expressed. Neither can his Mind be thought to be in Tune, whose words do jarre; nor his reason in frame, whose sentence is preposterous; nor his Elocution clear and perfect, whose utterance breaks it self into fragments and uncertainties. Negligent speech doth not only discredit the person of the Speaker, but it discrediteth the opinion of his reason and judgement; it discrediteth the force and uniformity of the matter and substance. If it be so then in words, which fly and ‘scape censure, and where one good Phrase asks pardon for many incongruities and faults, how then shall he be thought wise whose penning is thin and shallow? How shall you took for wit from him whose leasure and head, assisted with the examination of his eyes, yeeld you no life or sharpnesse in his writing?

BUT Arts and Precepts avail nothing, except nature be beneficial and ayding, and therefore these things are no more written to a dull disposition then rules of husbandry to a barren Soyle. No precepts will profit a Foole, no more then beauty will the blind, or musicke the deaf. As wee should take care that our style in writing be neither dry nor empty, wee should looke againe it be not winding, or wanton with far-fetched descriptions: Either is a vice. But that is worse which proceeds out of want then that which riots out of plenty. The remedy of fruitfulnesse is easie, but no labour will help the contrary. I will like and praise some things in a young Writer which yet, if hee continue in, I cannot but justly hate him for the same. There is a time to be given all things for maturity, and that even your Countrey-husbandman can teach, who to a young plant will not put the proyning knife, because it seems to feare the iron, as not able to admit the scarre. No more would I tell a greene Writer all his faults, left I should make him grieve and faint, and at last despaire. For nothing doth more hurt then to make him so afraid of all things as hee can endeavor nothing. Therefore youth ought to be instructed betimes, and in the best things; for wee hold those longest wee take soonest: As the first sent of a Vessel lasts, and the tinct the wool first receives. Therefore a Master should temper his own powers, and descend to the others infirmity.

THERE cannot be one colour of the mind, another of the wit. If the mind be staid, grave, and compos’d, the wit is so; that vitiated, the other is blowne and deflower’d. Do wee not see, if the mind languish, the members are dull? Looke upon an effeminate person: his very gate confesseth him. If a man be fiery, his motion is so; if angry, ‘tis troubled and violent. So that wee may conclude: Wheresoever manners and fashions are corrupted, Language is. It imitates the publicke riot. The excesse of Feasts and apparell are the notes of a sick State, and the wantonnesse of language, of a sick mind.

(This is, of course, the work from which we have taken the motto of THE UNDEPGROUND GRAMMARIAN, “Neither can his mind…” We sometimes wish that we had chosen instead that last sentence. We may yet do that.)

An Anti-Social Comment


On Solitarinesse

by Michel de Montaigne

VERILY, a man of understanding hath lost nothing if he yet have himself. When the city of Nola was overrun by the barbarians, Paulinus, bishop thereof, having lost all he had there and being their prisoner, prayed thus to God: “Oh Lord, deliver me from feeling of this loss; for thou knowest as yet they have touched nothing that is mine.” The riches that made him rich and the goods that made him good were yet absolutely whole. Behold what it is to choose treasures well that may be freed from injury, and to hide them in a place where no man may enter and which cannot be betrayed but by ourselves.

In our accustomed actions, of a thousand there is not one found that regards us. He whom thou seest so furiously and, as it were, beside himself to clamber or crawl up the city walls or breach as a point-blank to a whole volley of shot, and another all wounded and scarred, crazed and faint and will-nigh hunger-starven, resolved rather to die than to open his enemy the gate and give him entrance–dost thou think he is there for himself? No, verity, it is peradventure for such a one whom neither he nor many of his fellows ever saw and who haply takes no care at all for them, but is therewhilst wallowing up to the ears in sensuality, sloth, and all manner of carnal delights. This man whom, about midnight, when others take their rest, thou seest come out of his study meager-looking, with eyes trilling, phlegmatic, squalid and sprawling–dost thou think that, plodding on his books, he doth seek how he shall become an honester man, or more wise, or more content? There is no such matter. He will either die in his pursuit or teach posterity the measure of Plautus’ verses and the true orthography of a Latin word. Who doth not willingly chop and counterchange his health, his ease, yea, and his life, for glory and for reputation, the most unprofitable, vain, and counterfeit coin that is in use with us? Our death is not sufficient to make us afraid, let us also charge ourselves with that of our wives, of our children, and of our friends and people. Our own affairs do not sufficiently vex us; let us also drudge, toil, vex, and torment ourselves with our neighbors’ and friends’ matters.

As we have lived long enough for others, live we the remainder of our life unto ourselves. Let us bring home our cogitations and inventions into ourselves and unto our ease. It is no easy matter to make a safe retreat; it doth overmuch trouble us without joining other enterprises to it. Since God gives us leisure to dispose of our dislodging, let us prepare ourselves unto it; pack we up our baggage; let us betimes bid our company farewell; shake we off these violent hold-fasts which elsewhere engage us and estrange us from ourselves. These so strong bonds must be untied, and a man may eftsoons love this or that but wed nothing but himself. That is to say, let the rest be our own, yet not so combined and glued together that it may not be sundered without flaying us and therewithal pull away some piece of our own. The greatest thing of the world is for a man to know how to be his own.

Socrates on Navigation



by Plato

SOCRATES: Do you imagine that one should bend his efforts to living as long as possible and practice those arts that constantly save us from dangers, such as the rhetoric you bid me practice, which preserves one’s life in the law courts?

CALLICLES: Yes, by heaven, and it was good advice, too.

SOCRATES: What now, my good friend, Do you consider the art of swimming something particularly wonderful?

CALLICLES: No indeed, not I.

SOCRATES: And yet even that art saves men from death whenever they fall into some situation where such knowledge is needed. But if this seems to you insignificant, I can tell you of one greater than this, the pilot’s art which like rhetoric, saves not only our lives but also our bodies and our goods from the gravest dangers. And this art is unpretentious and orderly, and does not put on airs or make believe that its accomplishments are astonishing. But, in return for the same results as those achieved by the advocate, if it brings you here safely from Aegina, it asks but two obols, and if from Egypt or the Black Sea, for this mighty service of bringing home safely all that I mentioned just now, oneself and children and goods and womenfolk and disembarking them in the harbor, it asks two drachmas at the most, and the man who possesses this art and achieves these results goes ashore and walks alongside his ship with modest bearing. For I suppose he is capable of reflecting that it is uncertain which of his passengers he has benefited and which he has harmed by not suffering them to be drowned, knowing as he does that those he has landed are in no way better than when they embarked, either in body or in soul. He knows that if anyone afflicted in the body with serious and incurable diseases has escaped drowning the man is wretched for not having died and has received no benefit from him; he must therefore reckon that if any man suffers from many incurable diseases in the soul, which is so much more precious than the body, for such a man life is not worthwhile and it wilt be no benefit to him if he, the pilot, saves him from the sea or from the law court or from any other risk. For he knows it is not better for an evil man to live, for he needs must live ill.

This is why the pilot is not accustomed to give himself airs, even though he saves us; no my strange friend, nor the engineer either, who at times has no less power to save life than the general or anyone else, not to mention the pilot, for at times he preserves entire cities. Do you place him in the same class as the advocate? And yet, if he were inclined to speak as you people do, Callicles, making much of his services, he would bury us with the weight of his arguments, urging and exhorting us on the necessity of becoming engineers, since all other professions are valueless, for he can make a good case for himself. But you disdain him and his craft nonetheless, and would call him “engineer” as a term of reproach, and you would never be willing to give your daughter to his son or take his daughter yourself. And yet if we took at the reasons for which you praise your own accomplishments, what just cause have you for disdaining the engineer and the others I have mentioned just now? I know you would say you are a better man and of better family. But if by “better” you do not mean what I do, but goodness consists merely in saving oneself and one’s property, whatever one’s character, it is ridiculous to find fault with the engineer and the doctor and the other crafts devised for the purpose of giving safety. But, my good sir, just reflect whether what is good and noble is not something more than saving and being saved. Perhaps the true man should ignore this question of living for a certain span of years and being so enamored of life, but should leave these things to God and, trusting the womenfolk who say that no man can escape his destiny, should consider the ensuing question–in what way one can best live the life that is to be his, whether by assimilating himself to the type of government under which he lives–so that now, after all, you must become as like as possible to the Athenian people, if you are to be dear to them and wield great power in the city.

Looking for the World


Tractatus Logico-Philosopbicus

by Ludwig Wittgenstein

NEWTONIAN mechanics, for example, imposes a unified form on the description of the world. Let us imagine a white surface with irregular blank spots on it. We then say that whatever kind of picture these make, I can always approximate it as closely as I wish by covering the surface with a sufficiently fine square mesh, and then saying of every square whether it is black or white. In this way I shall have imposed a unified form on the description of the surface. The form is optional, since I could have achieved the same result by using a net with a triangular or hexagonal mesh. Possibly the use of a triangular mesh would have made the description simpler: that is to say, it might be that we could describe the surface more accurately with a coarse triangular mesh than with a fine square mesh (or conversely), and so on. The different nets correspond to different systems for describing the world. Mechanics determines one form of description of the world by saying that all propositions used must be obtained in a given way from a given set of propositions–the axioms of mechanics. It thus supplies the bricks for building the edifice of science, and it says, “Any building that you want to erect, whatever it may be, must somehow be constructed with these bricks, and with these alone.”

(Just as with the number system we must be able to write down any number we wish, so with the system of mechanics we must be able to write down any proposition of physics that we wish.)

And now we can see the relative position of logic and mechanics. (The net might consist of more than one kind of mesh: e. g. we could use both triangles and hexagons.) The possibility of describing a picture like the one mentioned above with a net of given forms tells us nothing about the picture. (For that is true of all such pictures.) But what does characterize the picture is that it can be described completely by a particular net with a particular size of mesh.

Similarly, the possibility of describing the world by means of Newtonian mechanics tells us nothing about the world: but what does tell us something about it is the precise way in which it is possible to describe it by these means. We are also told something about the world by the fact that it can be described more simply with one system of mechanics than with another.

The Bottomest of Bottom-Lines


The Diary of John Woolman

UNTIL the year 1756, 1 continued to retail goods, besides following my trade as a Taylor; about which time I grew uneasy on account of my business growing too cumbersome. I began with selling timings for garments, and from thence proceeded to Sell cloaths and linens, and at length having got a considerable shop of goods, my trade increased every year, and the road to large business appeared open: but I felt a Stop in my mind.

Through the Mercies of the Almighty I had in a good degree learned to be content with a plain way of living. I had but a small family and my outward Affairs had been prosperous and, on serious reflection I believed Truth did not require me to engage in much cumbering affairs. It had generally been my practice to buy and sell things really usefull. Things that served chiefly to please the vain mind in people, I was not easie to trade in; seldom did it, and whenever I did, I found it weaken me as a Christian.

The increase of business became my burthen, for though my natural inclination was towards merchandize, yet I believed Truth required me to live more free from outward cumbers. There was now a strife in my mind betwixt the two, and in this exercise my prayers were put up to the Lord, who Graciously heard me, and gave me a heart resigned to his Holy will; I then lessened my outward business; and as I had opportunity told my customers of my intention that they might consider what shop to turn to: and so in a while, wholly laid down merchandize, following my trade as a Taylor, myself only, having no prentice. I also had a nursery of Apple trees, in which I spent a good deal of time, howing, grafting, trimming & Inoculating.

In merchandize it is the custom where I lived, to sell chiefly on credit; and poor people often get in debt, & when payment is expected having not wherewith to pay, & so their creditors sue for it Law: Having often observed occurences of this kind, I found it good for me to advise poor people to take such as were most useful & not costly.

Some Modest Proposals


Looking Backward

by Edward Bellamy

“AFTERALL,” I remarked, “no amount of education can cure natural dullness or make up for original mental deficiencies. Unless the average mental capacity of men is much above its level in my day, a high education must be pretty nearly thrown away on a large element of the population. We used to hold that a certain amount of susceptibility to educational influences is required to make a mind worth cultivating, just as a certain natural fertility in the soil is required if it is to repay tilling.”

“Ah,” said Dr. Leete, “I am glad you used that illustration, for it is just the one I would have chosen to set forth the modern view of education. You say that land so poor that the product will not repay the labor of tilting is not cultivated. Nevertheless, much land that does not begin to repay tilting was cultivated in your day and is in ours. I refer to gardens, parks, lawns, and, in general, to pieces of land so situated that, were they left to grow up to weeds and briers, they would be eyesores and inconveniences to all about. They are therefore tilled, and though their product is little, there is yet no land that, in a wider sense, better repays cultivation. So it is with the men and women with whom we mingle in the relations of society, whose voices are always in our ears, whose behavior in innumerable ways affects our enjoyment–who are, in fact, as much conditions of our lives as the air we breathe, or any of the physical elements on which we depend. If, indeed, we could not afford to educate everybody, we should choose the coarsest and dullest by nature, rather than the brightest, to receive what education we could give. The naturally refined and intellectual can better dispense with aids to culture than those less fortunate in endowments.

“To borrow a phrase used in your day, we should not consider life worth living if we had to be surrounded by a population of ignorant, boorish, coarse, wholly uncultivated men and women, as was the plight of the few educated in your day. Is a man satisfied, merely because he is perfumed himself, to mingle with a malodorous crowd? Could he take more than a very limited satisfaction, even in a palatial apartment, if the windows on all sides opened into stable yards? And yet just that was the situation of those considered most fortunate as to culture and refinement in your day…. The cultured man in your day was like one up to the neck in a nauseous bog solacing himself with a smelling bottle. You see, perhaps, now, how we look at this question of universal high education. No single thing is so important to every man as to have for neighbors intelligent, companionable persons. There is nothing, therefore, which the nation can do for him, that will enhance so much his own happiness as to educate his neighbors. When it fails to do so, the value of his own education is reduced by half, and many of the tastes he has cultivated are made positive sources of pain.

“To educate some to the highest degree, and leave the mass wholly uncultivated, as you did, made the gap between them almost like that between different species, which have no means of communication. What could be more inhuman than this consequence of a partial enjoyment of education! Its universal and equal enjoyment leaves the differences between men as to natural endowments as marked as in the state of nature, but the level of lowest is vastly raised. Brutishness is eliminated. All have some inklings of the humanities, some appreciation of the things of the mind, and an admiration for the still higher culture they have fallen short of. They have become capable of receiving and imparting, all in some measure, the pleasures and inspirations of a refined social life. The cultured society of the nineteenth century–what did it consist of but here and there a few microscopic oases in a vast, unbroken wilderness? The proportion of individuals capable of intellectual sympathies or refined intercourse used to be so infinitesimal as to be in any broad view of humanity scarcely worth mentioning. One generation of the world today represents a greater volume of intellectual life than any five centuries ever did before.

“There is still another point I should mention in stating the grounds on which nothing less than the universality of the best education could now be tolerated,” continued Dr. Leete, “and that is, the interest of the coming generation in having educated parents. To put the matter in a nutshell, there are three main grounds on which our educational system rests: first, the right of every man to the completest education the nation can give him on his own account, as necessary to the enjoyment of himself; second, the right of his fellow citizens to have him educated, as necessary to their enjoyment of his society; third, the right of the unborn to be guaranteed an intelligent and refined parentage.”

The Last Word


Orley Farm

by Anthony Trollope

THERE is nothing perhaps so generally consoling to a man as a well-established grievance; a feeling of having been injured, on which his mind can brood from hour to hour, allowing him to plead his own cause in his own court, within his own heart,–and always to plead it successfully.

The Second Great Booklet