Blue spectacles

John Wesley Jarvis - Portrait Of A Gentleman (1807)
John Wesley Jarvis – Portrait Of A Gentleman (1807)

As a practicing nihilist, I’m often reminded of the following quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot:1

Young ladies have only to crop their hair, put on blue spectacles2, and dub themselves Nihilists, to persuade themselves at once that they have immediately gained “convictions” of their own.

I’d always imagined this to mean “blue-rimmed spectacles”3, but then I came across the following quote in Patrick O’Brian’s4 The Far Side Of The World:

“The other thing that occurred to me,” [Jack] said [to Stephen], turning round, “is that it is extremely awkward talking to a man with hair all over his face; you cannot tell what he is thinking, what he really means, whether he is false or not. Sometimes people wear blue spectacles, and it is much the same.”

And in the next book, The Reverse Of The Medal:

[Stephen] wore a plain blue coat, and as he glanced at the flagship before putting on his blue spectacles they noticed his curiously pale eyes.

Apparently, these blue spectacles are sunglasses. This makes a lot of sense. As a practicing indoor sunglasses wearer, I’ve often remarked on their philosophical value. In fact, Bertrand Russell used them in an illustration in preparation for explaining Kant in Our Knowledge Of The External World As A Field For Scientific Method In Philosophy (1914). This is significant, since the term “nihilism” was popularized by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743–1819) who thought it was the result of thinking like Kant.

Hail cannons

An Eggers anti-hail device
An Eggers anti-hail device

I recently came across the following passage in Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night:

Suddenly there was a booming from the wine slopes across the lake; cannons were shooting at hail-bearing clouds in order to break them.

According to one modern manufacturer of hail cannons,

The device is repeatedly fired every 4 seconds over the period when the storm is approaching & until it has passed through the area. What would otherwise have fallen as hail stones then falls as slush or rain. It is critical that the machine is running during the approach of the storm in order to affect the developing hail stone. These machines can not alter the form of an already developed & therefore solidified hailstone.

While there’s no scientific evidence to support the claimed effectiveness of these contraptions, the principle behind hail cannons predates scientific traction: traditionally, hail was warded off by ringing church bells.

On a different note, here’s another interesting quote from Tender Is The Night:

He went to the mail desk first—as the woman who served him pushed up with her bosom a piece of paper that had nearly escaped the desk, he thought how differently women use their bodies from men.


John Singer Sargent - Gassed (1919)
John Singer Sargent – Gassed (1919)

Bertrand Russell argues against defensive war in “The Ethics Of War” (1915):

The principle of non-resistance contains an immense measure of wisdom if only men would have the courage to carry it out. The evils suffered during a hostile invasion are suffered because resistance is offered […]. What one civilized nation can achieve against another by means of conquest is very much less than is commonly supposed.

When making a decision, an accurate analysis of the universal consequences of that decision have to be accounted for. In the case of war, this sort of analysis is extremely difficult and is rarely conducted seriously.

By concentrating attention upon the supposed advantages of the victory of our own side, we become more or less blind to the evils inseparable from war and equally certain whichever side may ultimately prove victorious. Yet so long as these are not fully realized, it is impossible to judge justly whether a war is or is not likely to be beneficial to the human race.

It’s much easier to predict the horrors of an occupation than the horrors of a war, a conclusion which is perhaps a corollary of the fact that the latter far exceed the former.

Finally, we have a sense of honor in sacrifice, but I assert that sacrifice on the battlefield is in no way more honorable than sacrifice in passive resistance.

Only pride and fear stand in the way of [non-resistance’s] adoption. But the pride of military glory might be overcome by a nobler pride, and the fear might be overcome by a clearer realization of the solidity and indestructibility of a modern civilized nation.

In John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes Of Wrath (1939), there’s a nice example of passive resistance:

There was a level place on which a croquet court had been set up. Half a dozen children played seriously. […] Ruthie and Winfield broke into a trot. “Leave us play,” Ruthie cried. “Leave us get in.”

The children looked up. A pig-tailed little girl said, “Nex’ game you kin.”

“I wanta play now,” Ruthie cried.

“Well, you can’t. Not till nex’ game.”

Ruthie moved menacingly out on the court. “I’m a-gonna play.” The pig-tails gripped her mallet tightly. Ruthie sprang at her, slapped her, pushed her, and wrested the mallet from her hands. “I says I was gonna play,” she said triumphantly.


The children laid their mallets on the ground and trooped silently off the court. They stood at a distance and looked on with expressionless eyes. Ruthie watched them go. Then she hit a ball and ran after it. “Come on, Winfiel’. Get a stick,” she called. And then she looked in amazement. Winfield had joined the watching children, and he too looked at her with expressionless eyes. Defiantly she hit the ball again. She kicked up a great dust. She pretended to have a good time. And the children stood and watched. Ruthie lined up two balls and hit both of them, and she turned her back on the watching eyes, and then turned back. Suddenly she advanced on them, mallet in hand. “You come an’ play,” she demanded. They moved silently back at her approach. For a moment she stared at them, and then she flung down the mallet and ran crying for home. The children walked back on the court.

An aside: if you like dog quotes, The Grapes Of Wrath has some good ones.

Road Scythe

Winslow Homer - The Veteran In A New Field (1865)
Winslow Homer – The Veteran In A New Field (1865)

A common psychological behavior as described by Jack Kerouac in On The Road:

I told Dean that when I was a kid and rode in cars I used to imagine I held a big scythe in my hand and cut down all the trees and posts and even sliced every hill that zoomed past the window. “Yes! Yes!” yelled Dean. “I used to do it too only different scythe—tell you why. Driving across the West with the long stretches my scythe had to be immeasurably longer and it had to curve over distant mountains, slicing off their tops, and reach another level to get at further mountains and at the same time clip off every post along the road, regular throbbing poles.”


As a child lying back in my father’s car in the back seat I also had a vision of myself on a white horse riding alongside over every possible obstacle that presented itself: this included dodging posts, hurling around houses, sometimes jumping over when I looked too late, running over hills, across sudden squares with traffic that I had to dodge through incredibly—” “Yes! Yes! Yes!” breathed Dean ecstatically. “Only difference with me was, I myself ran, I had no horse. You were a Eastern kid and dreamed of horses; of course we won’t assume such things as we both know they are really dross and literary ideas, but merely that I in my perhaps wilder schizophrenia actually ran on foot along the car and at incredible speeds sometimes ninety, making it over every bush and fence and farmhouse and sometimes taking quick dashes to the hills and back without losing a moment’s ground …”

If anyone knows about any serious academic research into this behavior, I’d be interested to know about it.