Friday, August 3, 2007

Something from Butler

If you haven't read any Samuel Butler (most people haven't), I strongly advise picking up a copy of his novel "The Way of All Flesh" when you have the time (most people don't). These are a couple of snippets from his essay "On Knowing What Gives Us Pleasure" that have a nice aphoristic quality.

"I should like to like Schumann's music better than I do; I dare say I could make myself like it better if I tried; but I do not like having to try to make myself like things; I like things that make me like them at once and no trying at all."

"To know whether you are enjoying a piece of music or not you must see whether you find yourself looking at the advertisements of Pears' soap at the end of the programme."


Jeff Moss said...

The second quote here is right on.

But that doesn't keep the first one from being irresponsible and lazy.

Really good things, like really good people, don't always make you like them right away. Sometimes you know that they're good and yet you don't like them at first, so you have to train yourself to like them. You'll be forever glad that you did.

Some things that I didn't like the first time I encountered them, but knew were good, and gradually have come to love: Beethoven's Sixth Symphony; iambic pentameter; dark beer; St. Augustine's Confessions; stinky cheese; the paintings of El Greco.

If I had just given up on things like these based on my initial reaction, where would I be now? That's right, nowhere.

Thomas Banks said...


Agreed, the first statement is pretty cynical. . . But I think equally dangerous is the opposite course of forcing oneself to like something for which one feels not only uncertainty about liking (which I think is what you attest to with Beethoven's 6th, The Confessions, etc.) but an unmistakeable aversion.