Winter solstice. The shortest, least lighted day. The darkest hour before the dawn, and all that. So we can expect some brightening soon? Answers on a speck of dust, please, to a post office box located somewhere out in mid-ocean.
Is it possible, on such a day, not to stray into political lament or harangue in this new age of unreason, at the end of what feels like a very long year or rather, eighteen months, which is how long it is since, in Jonathan Meades’ summary, ‘[t]he aim of the 52 per cent that shot itself in the foot was so poor that it also shot the 48 per cent.’?
It’s possible. Difficult but possible, if only by concentrating on quite other things, such as the obvious advantage of new bookshelves in the kitchen being the option of browsing while the kettle boils or the grill heats up. You might gather useful, or useless, or at least diverting facts such as that Gustave Courbet had himself photographed more than any other nineteenth-century French painter. Or, say, insights into the problems of novel-writing:
‘Several weeks later, the loofah trickling on his knees, Mr Earbrass mulls over an awkward retrospective bit that ought to go in Chapter II. But where? Even the voice of the omniscient author can hardly afford to interject a seemingly pointless anecdote concerning Ladderback in Tibet when the other characters are feverishly engaged in wondering whether to have the pond at Disshiver Cottage dragged or not.’
Or, say, this cheering news of the use to which Mary Cassatt put her share of the 1879 Impressionist exhibition’s earnings: ‘[ . . . ] Mary bought a Monet and a Degas; by that time she already owned pictures of Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, and Monet; her impulse, like Degas’, was ever to put money not earmarked for necessities, into pictures.’ I’m thinking how pleasant it would be: not needing to be rich, simply having the good taste to want ‘a Monet and a Degas’ and, of course, to have that sense of priorities.
21 December, something cheering. Let me see. Yes, that day in 1944, Sylvia Townsend Warner writes to Ben Huebsch of Viking Press about her wonderful novel The Corner That Held Them, reviewed by Kate Macdonald earlier this year here:
‘At this moment you should have up to p.182. I have killed off a lot more ladies in the next bit you will get, so much creating and killing off makes me feel as providential as Providence. Ralph, however, is still with us. He is to live into an old age serene and bright and die without a pang of conscience.’ Four months later, she writes to him to say: ‘It will be long—about 180,000 I believe. It is also what one calls powerful. If dropped from a suitable height it would wipe out the state of Vermont.’
(Confucius: K’ung Fu-Tse)
Meanwhile, reflecting—obviously, not at all in a political way—on the news of the day, of altogether too many recent days, an extract from Ezra Pound’s ‘Canto XIII’ pops into my head:
And Kung raised his cane against Yuan Jang,
Yuan Jang being his elder,
For Yuan Jang sat by the roadside pretending to
be receiving wisdom.
And Kung said “You old fool, come out of it,
“Get up and do something useful.”
And Kung said
“Respect a child’s faculties
“From the moment it inhales the clear air,
“But a man of fifty who knows nothing
Is worthy of no respect.”
 Jonathan Meades, ‘In the loop: The gulf between the arts and art: a personal view’ (edited text of a speech given at the annual dinner of the Royal Academy of Arts in London), Times Literary Supplement (20 October 2017), 14.
 Laura Cumming, A Face to the World: On Self-Portraits (London: Harper Press, 2010), 194.
 Edward Gorey, The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr Earbrass Writes a Novel, in Amphigorey: Fifteen Books by Edward Gorey (New York: Perigee Books, 1981), unpaginated.
 Nancy Hale, Mary Cassatt: A biography of the great American painter (New York: Doubleday, 1975), 94.
 Sylvia Townsend Warner, Letters, edited by William Maxwell (London: Chatto & Windus, 1982), 88, 92.
 The Cantos of Ezra Pound, fourth collected edition (London: Faber and Faber, 1987), 58-59.