Snippets 206. Recently we have been looking at a few choice quotes from Notes of a Nomad, by Canadian author Lady Harriet Julia Jephson, published in 1918. For the most part it is a journal of her travels, but it starts in autobiographical fashion, and here we find some interesting snippets of social history, particularly her childhood in 19th Century Canada. But there is also some insight into other nations during the 19th Century. For example, her husband was a naval officer and travelled the world. Before we look at an example of his travels, let’s find out how they first met:
There are no two love-stories alike, just as in the whole human race there are no two noses or mouths or chins exactly counterparts. My romance came to me when I was a child galloping a shaggy pony down an avenue. A Naval officer walking on the road politely ran forward to open the gates for me. As I had been forbidden to go out alone beyond our own grounds I shook my head emphatically, and trotted back to the house, never even thanking the kind janitor. A few years later he came out to Canada to marry the little girl he had fallen in love with then, assuredly not for her good manners!
Lady Harriet’s husband spent some time in Japan, which was only just starting to come out of a long period of isolation.
In those remote days the Japanese much resented foreign intrusion, and kept their picturesque customs and ways of life immune from contamination with other countries. My husband described life there as the reverse of commonplace. It was like cutting the pages of a new book, one full of surprises and incidents. There was nothing grotesque in that volume, but much simplicity and the dignity that goes with simplicity and unpretentiousness. Life was too serious for buffoonery, but the impression left on my husband’s mind was that of a primitive people, grave, intelligent, fiercely insular, of an amazingly old civilization, religious in their habits of life and thought (be the creed Buddhism or Shintoism), and marvellously artistic. Japanese fecundity of design astounded him. No one, indeed, but a Japanese artist can manipulate curves and lines to produce such subtle effects. He scorns rules of symmetry and yet somehow produces an impression of symmetry. His composition is alien to ours, and how beautiful! His restraint in art is singular and commendable. Instead of covering his walls, as we do often, with worthless daubs, he has one good picture for each month, and when that has been properly digested another takes its place. Throughout the rest of his life my husband cherished a warm admiration for the Japanese nation.
As a fan of manga and anime myself, I have long been impressed by the artistic output of Japan. It is interesting to read this opinion of their artistic abilities, albeit in a very different form, from so long past.
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