By Anne Matthews
June 1, 2012
On Monday evening, Wayne started … installing that tricky piece of pearl inlay around the edge of the fretboard. … And when he had completed eight perfect little miter joints, Wayne walked over to the guitar necks, checked the numbers, matched 326 with 326 and 327 with 327, tapped the dovetails gently with the heel of his hand, and joined completed neck to completed body for the first time. … He then gave each of the bodies a firm tap on the back, the way you might burp a colicky baby, and as the hum faded out, he nodded his head. … A Stradivari in glue-stained blue jeans.
—Allen St. John, Clapton’s Guitar, 2006
The back verandah of the shop was built out over the sheer hillside, and they looked down into their neighbours’ chimney pots, as is the custom of Simla. … [T]he shop fascinated Kim. The Lahore Museum was larger, but here were more wonders. …
“My work is on the table—some of it.”
It blazed in the morning light—all red and blue and green flashes, picked out with the vicious blue-white spurt of a diamond here and there. Kim opened his eyes.
“Oh, they are quite well, those stones. It will not hurt them to see the sun. Besides, they are cheap. But with sick stones it is very different.” He piled Kim’s plate anew. “There is no one but me can doctor a sick pearl and re-blue turquoises. I grant you opals—any fool can cure an opal—but for a sick pearl there is only me.”
—Rudyard Kipling, Kim, 1901
You may have seen … square-toed luggers; mountainous Japanese junks; butter-box galliots, and what not; but take my word for it, you never saw such a rare old craft as this same rare old Pequod. She was a ship of the old school, rather small if anything; with an old-fashioned claw-footed look about her. … A cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies.
—Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or, The Whale, 1851
[Some] barnstorming black teams of the Negro Leagues … liked to do their pre-game warmup in pantomime. They threw an invisible ball around the infield, hit and fielded imaginary fly balls, making close plays and diving catches. To the fans in the stands, it all looked real.
—Barbara Leonard, on Rochel Garner Coleman’s one-man play Shadow Ball, 2000
[A]t the end of each passage I paused, tense, afraid to start the next, fearing, like a gambler, that luck must turn and the pile be lost. Bit by bit, minute by minute, the thing came into being. There were no difficulties; the intricate multiplicity of light and colour became a whole; the right colour was where I wanted it on the palette; each brush stroke, as soon as it was complete, seemed to have been there always.
… ‘It must be lovely to be able to do that.’
I had forgotten she was there.
—Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, 1945
“It’s not reasonable, how a choice is made, of this or that craft, this or that life. In my case it was an Italian majolica plate, gold and indigo, covered in arabesques, and a kind of shadow in light—” Philip said, “I saw your watery pot at Todefright. I was looking already of course, I grew up with the clay, but I saw that pot.” It was the most personal thing he had ever said. Fludd gave a bark of laughter, and observed that failure with clay was more complete and more spectacular than with other forms of art. … Any one of the old four—earth, air, fire, water— can betray you and melt, or burst, or shatter—months of work into dust and ashes and spitting steam. You need to be a precise scientist, and you need to know how to play with what chance will do to your lovingly constructed surfaces in the heat of the kiln … purifying fire and demonic fire.
—A. S. Byatt, The Children’s Book, 2009
The Hale Telescope, which is the size of a small office building … is a masterwork of Depression engineering. … Colossal, welded, gray, aloof, massive, agile, apparently indestructible, and uncompromisingly and magnificently extragalactic, the Hale Telescope stands among all telescopes as the climax of dreadnought design. … [I]t contains a variety of quartz lenses and mirrors, forests of gold connectors and gold-plated parts. … It resembles an outrageous kludge: it contains tangles of stainless-steel plumbing, surplus wires, junk motors purchased at deep discount (for ten cents on the dollar or less), movie projector belts, a broken razor blade, Ensolite foam, piano wire. … The Hale is a refinery for light.
—Richard Preston, First Light: The Search for the Edge of the Universe, 1987
This evening being May eve I ought to have put some birch and wittan (mountain ash) over the door to keep out the ‘old witch.’ But I was too lazy to go out and get it. Let us hope the old witch will not come in during the night. The young witches are welcome.
—Rev. Francis Kilvert, English diarist, 1870
We must hold a man amenable to reason for the choice of his daily craft or profession. It is not an excuse any longer for his deeds that they are the custom of his trade. What business has he with an evil trade?
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Spiritual Laws,” 1841
Once copycat cell phones had taken China by storm, copycat digital cameras, copycat MP3 players, copycat game consoles, and other pirated and knockoff products came pouring forth. … [T]he word “copycat” (shanzhai ) has penetrated deep into every aspect of Chinese people’s lives. Copycat stars, TV programs, advertisements, pop songs, Spring Festival galas … [all help expand its] shades of meaning: counterfeiting, infringement, deviations from the standard, mischief.
—Yu Hua, China in Ten Words, 2011
With the help of the janitor he screwed on to the side of the desk a pencil sharpener—that highly satisfying, highly philosophical instrument that goes ticonderoga-ticonderoga, feeding on the yellow finish and sweet wood, and ends up in a kind of soundlessly spinning ethereal void as we all must.
—Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin, 1957
The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.
—Geoffrey Chaucer, “The Parliament of Fowls,” c. 1382
Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the SCHOLAR.