A penumbra of somber dignity has descended over his reputation.James Atlas: 1985 Of Edmund Wilson. In the NewYork Times, 28 Jul, reviewing David Castronovo Edmund Wilson (1984).
[Vathek] has, in parts, been called, but to some judgments, never is, dull: it is certainly in parts, grotesque, extravagant and even nasty. But Beckford could plead sufficient "local colour" for it, and a contrast, again almost Shakespearean, between the flickering farce atrocities of the beginning and the sombre magnificence of the end. Beckford's claims, in fact, rest on the half-score or even half-dozen pages towards the end: but these pages are hard to parallel in the later literature of prose fiction.william thomas beckford: George Saintsbury, in A. W. Ward and A. R. Waller (eds.) The Cambridge History of English Literature (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1907-21) vol. 11, p. 321.
You, who know better than any one the motley world of cosmopolites, understand why I have confined myself to painting here only a fragment of it. That world, indeed, does not exist, it can have neither defined customs nor a general character. It is composed of exceptions and of singularities. We are so naturally creatures of custom, our continual mobility has such a need of gravitating around one fixed axis, that motives of a personal order alone can determine us upon an habitual and voluntary exile from our native land. It is so, now in the case of an artist, a person seeking for instruction and change; now in the case of a business man who desires to escape the consequences of some scandalous error; now in the case of a man of pleasure in search of new adventures; in the case of another, who cherishes prejudices from birth, it is the longing to find the "happy mean;" in the case of another, flight from distasteful memories. The life of the cosmopolite can conceal all beneath the vulgarity of its whims, from snobbery in quest of higher connections to swindling in quest of easier prey, submitting to the brilliant frivolities of the sport, the sombre intrigues of policy, or the sadness of a life which has been a failure. Such a variety of causes renders at once very attractive and almost impracticable the task of the author who takes as a model that ever-changing society so like unto itself in the exterior rites and fashions, so really, so intimately complex and composite in its fundamental elements. The writer is compelled to take from it a series of leading facts, as I have done, essaying to deduce a law which governs them.paul bourget: Introduction
The great fact was the land itself, which seemed to overwhelm the little beginnings of human society that struggled in its sombre wastes. It was from facing this vast hardness that the boy's mouth had become so bitter; because he felt that men were too weak to make any mark here, that the land wanted to be let alone, to preserve its own fierce strength, its peculiar, savage kind of beauty, its uninterrupted mournfulness.willa cather: Part I, Ch. 1
À l'heure, si sombre encore, de la civilisation où nous sommes, le misérable s'appelle L'HOMME; il agonise sous tous les climats, et il gémit dans toutes les langues.victor hugo: At the hour of civilization through which we are now passing, and which is still so sombre, the miserable's name is Man; he is agonizing in all climes, and he is groaning in all languages.
Along the river's summer walk, The withered tufts of asters nod; And trembles on its arid stalk The hoar plume of the golden-rod. And on a ground of sombre fir, And azure-studded juniper, The silver birch its buds of purple shows, And scarlet berries tell where bloomed the sweet wild-rose![[John Greenleaf Whittier, The Last Walk in Autumn.
You ask about Queen Victoria's visit to Brussels. I saw her for an instant flashing through the Rue Royale in a carriage and six, surrounded by soldiers. She was laughing and talking very gaily. She looked a little stout, vivacious lady, very plainly dressed, not much dignity or pretension about her. The Belgians liked her very well on the whole. They said she enlivened the sombre court of King Leopold, which is usually as gloomy as a conventicle.charlotte brontë: Letter to Emily Brontë, (1 December 1843) The life of Charlotte Brontë (1857) by Elizabeth Gaskell.
It was an experience of great interest to me to meet Premier Stalin ... It is very fortunate for Russia in her agony to have this great rugged war chief at her head. He is a man of massive outstanding personality, suited to the sombre and stormy times in which his life has been cast; a man of inexhaustible courage and will-power and a man direct and even blunt in speech, which, having been brought up in the House of Commons, I do not mind at all, especially when I have something to say of my own. Above all, he is a man with that saving sense of humour which is of high importance to all men and all nations, but particularly to great men and great nations. Stalin also left upon me the impression of a deep, cool wisdom and a complete absence of illusions of any kind. I believe I made him feel that we were good and faithful comrades in this war – but that, after all, is a matter which deeds not words will prove.winston churchill: Speech in the House of Commons, September 8, 1942 "War Situation".
In retrospect these years form not only the least agreeable, but the only barren and unhappy period of my life. I was happy as a child with my toys in my nursery. I have been happier every year since I became a man. But this interlude of school makes a sombre grey patch upon the chart of my journey. It was an unending spell of worries that did not then seem petty, of toil uncheered by fruition; a time of discomfort, restriction and purposeless monotony. This train of thought must not lead me to exaggerate the character of my school days ... Harrow was a very good school ... Most of the boys were very happy ... I can only record the fact that, no doubt through my own shortcomings, I was an exception. ... I was on the whole considerably discouraged ... All my contemporaries and even younger boys seemed in every way better adapted to the conditions of our little world. They were far better both at the games and at the lessons. It is not pleasant to feel oneself so completely outclassed and left behind at the very beginning of the race.winston churchill: Chapter 3 (Examinations)
In the name of the dogma of struggle for existence and natural selection, they paint for us in the saddest colors this primitive humanity whose hunger and thirst, always badly satisfied, were their only passions; those sombre times when men had no other care and no other occupation than to quarrel with one another over their miserable nourishment. To react against those retrospective reveries of the philosophy of the eighteenth century and also against certain religious doctrines, to show with some force that the paradise lost is not behind us and that there is in our past nothing to regret, they believe we ought to make it dreary and belittle it systematically. Nothing is less scientific than this prejudice in the opposite direction. If the hypotheses of Darwin have a moral use, it is with more reserve and measure than in other sciences. They overlook the essential element of moral life, that is, the moderating influence that society exercises over its members, which tempers and neutralizes the brutal action of the struggle for existence and selection. Wherever there are societies, there is altruism, because there is solidarity.Émile durkheim: "Progressive Preponderance of Organic Solidarity," from The Division of Labour in Society (1893)
To those who live and toil and lowly die, Who past beyond and leave no lasting trace, To those from whom our queen Prosperity Has turned away her fair and fickle face; To those frail craft upon the restless Sea Of Human Life, who strike the rocks uncharted, Who loom, sad phantoms, near us, drearily, Storm-driven, rudderless, with timbers started; To those poor Casuals of the way-worn earth, The feckless wastage of our cunning schemes, This book is dedicate, their hidden worth And beauty I have seen in vagrant dreams! The things we touch, the things we dimly see, The stiff strange tapestries of human thought, The silken curtains of our fantasy Are with their sombre histories o'erwrought. And yet we know them not, our skill is vain to find The mute soul's agony, the visions of the blind.william mcfee: Dedication
Yellow, mellow, ripened days, Sheltered in a golden coating; O'er the dreamy, listless haze, White and dainty cloudlets floating; Winking at the blushing trees, And the sombre, furrowed fallow; Smiling at the airy ease, Of the southward flying swallow. Sweet and smiling are thy ways, Beauteous, golden Autumn days.Will Carleton, Autumn Days.
And suddenly the moon withdraws Her sickle from the lightening skies, And to her sombre cavern flies, Wrapped in a veil of yellow gauze.Oscar Wilde, La Faite de la Lune.