8 June 2001

The fol­low­ing quo­ta­tions are from “Essays in Idleness” (Kenko, c. 1283-1352):

“If there is no ad­van­tage in chang­ing a thing it is better not to change it.” (#127)

“It is a pleas­ant thing when a person comes without busi­ness and leaves after a quiet talk. Joyful, too, to get a letter just asking how you are, after a long silence.” (#170)

“It is always better to be simple and un­in­ter­est­ing than to be in­ter­est­ing but affected.” (#231)


“Somehow there is always a charm about even the most im­promptu and care­less sayings of the men of bygone days.” (#14)

Kenko can gen­er­ally be counted upon to say pretty things when provoked. (Essay #191 is “I think it a pity to hear a man say that things do not look their best at night. … Good-looking people look even better at night by lamplight; and it is pleas­ant to hear the voices of people talking guard­edly in the dark. Per­fumes and music, too, are most pleas­ing at night-time.”)

Another tremen­dous book is Abelard’s The Story of My Misfortunes. (This is the Abelard of Abelard and Heloise (Heloise link a better, shorter, summary)–basically, Abelard shagged Heloise, and then got cas­trated for it.) Abelard’s this 12th Century genius French philoso­pher who battles his way through life trou­bled by not a sker­rick of self-doubt. From the Foreword, a note to the reader: “in com­par­ing your sorrows with mine, you may dis­cover that yours are in truth nought”–not only is he smarter every­one else, but his mis­for­tunes are the greater too.

There is an on-line version, but a printed version is prob­a­bly better. [Update! I love this book so much that I pro­duced some nicely-formatted versions.)