Welcome to my commonplace book: a short anthology of quotations I've found especially interesting. I'll be glad to hear from any reader about any subject. Contact information is also listed in the sidebar. Thanks for stopping by.

Wee must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities ... [to] make others Condicions our owne.

John Winthrop, The Mayflower Compact, 1630

"Did you torture him?"
Captain Segura laughed: "No. He doesn't belong to the torturable class." ...
"Who does?"
"The poor in my own country, in any Latin American country. The poor of Central Europe and the Orient. Of course in your welfare states you have no poor, so you are untorturable. In Cuba the police can deal as harshly as they like with émigres from Latin America and the Baltic States, but not with visitors from your country or Scandinavia. It is an instinctive matter on both sides. Catholics are more torturable than Protestants, just as they are more criminal."

Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana

Surface meets surface. When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. ... In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You many depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.


Hate oppression; fear the oppressed.

Naipaul, The Mimic Men

"And left-wing people are always sad because they mind dreadfully about their causes, and the causes are always going so badly."

Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love

You see that hitherto nothing has been achieved by treaties, nothing advanced by alliances, nothing by violence or revenge. Now try instead what conciliation and kindness can do. War springs from war, revenge brings further revenge. Now let generosity breed generosity, kind actions invite further kindness, and true royalty be measured by willingness to concede sovereignty.

Erasmus, A Complaint of Peace Spurned and Rejected by the Whole World (1577)

I trust that we shall be more imaginative, that our thoughts will be clearer, fresher, and more ethereal, as our sky, our understanding more complrehensive and broader, like our plains, our intellect generally on a grander scale, like our thunder and lightning, our rivers and mountains and forests, and our hearts shall even correspond in breadth and depth and grandeur to our inland seas. ... Else to what end does the world go on, and why was America discovered?

Thoreau, "Walking"


La crainte de l'adjectif est le commencement du style.

Paul Claudel

Heaven is where the police are British, the chefs Italian, the mechanics German, the lovers French, and it's all organized by the Swiss.

Hell is where the police are German, the chefs British, the mechanics French, the lovers Swiss, and it's all organized by the Italians.


Oh, me! what a confession it is, in the very outset of life and blushing brightness of youth's morning, to own that the aim with which a young girl sets out, and the object of her existence, is to marry a rich man; that she was endowed with beauty so that she might buy wealth, and a title with it; that as sure as she has a soul to be saved, her business here on earth is to try and get a rich husband. That is the career for which many a woman is bred and trained. A young man begins the world with some aspirations at least; he will try to be good and follow the truth; he will strive to win honours for himself, and never do a base action; he will pass nights over his books, and forego ease and pleasure so that he may achieve a name. Many a poor wretch who is worn out now and old, and bankrupt of fame and money too, has commenced life at any rate with noble views and generous schemes, from which weakness, idleness, passion, or overpowering hostile fortune have turned him away. But a girl of the world, bon Dieu! the doctrine with which she begins is that she is to have a wealthy husband: the article of Faith in her catechism is, "I believe in elder sons, and a house in town, and a house in the country!" They are mercenary as they step fresh and blooming into the world out of the nursery. They have been schooled there to keep their bright eyes to look only on the Prince and the Duke, Croesus and Dives. By long cramping and careful process, their little natural hearts have been squeezed up, like the feet of their fashionable little sisters in China. As you see a pauper's child, with an awful premature knowledge of the pawn-shop, able to haggle at market with her wretched halfpence and battle bargains at hucksters' stalls, you shall find a young beauty, who was a child in the school-room a year since, as wise and knowing as the old practitioners on that exchange; as economical of her smiles, as dexterous in keeping back or producing her beautiful wares, as skilful in setting one bidder against another, as keen as the smartest merchant in Vanity Fair.

Thackeray, The Newcomes, II, 7.

"I always think that worldliness and sentimentality are like brandy-and-water. I don't like either of them separately, but taken together they make a very nice drink."

Trollope, Can You Forgive Her?, ch. 78

People often say that marriage is an important thing, and should be much thought of in advance, and marrying people are cautioned that there are many who marry in haste and repent at leisure. I am not sure, however, that marriage may not be pondered over too much; nor do I feel certain that the leisurely repentance does not as often follow the leisurely marriages as it does the rapid ones. That some repent no one can doubt; but I am inclined to believe that most men and women take their lots as they find them, marrying as the birds do by force of nature, and going on with their mates with a general, though perhaps not an undisturbed satisfaction, feeling inwardly assured that Providence, if it have not done the very best for them, has done for them as well as they could do for themselves with all the thought in the world.

Trollope, Can You Forgive Her?, ch. 11

Don't talk to me about socialism. What we have, we keep.

Leonid Brezhnev

There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets.

Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

In writing the history of unfashionable families, one is apt to fall into a tone of emphasis which is very far from being the tone of good society, where the principles and beliefs are not only of an extremely moderate kind, but are always presupposed, no subjects being eligible but such as can be touched with a light and graceful irony. But then, good society has its claret and its velvet carpets, its dinner-engagements six weeks deep, its opera and its fairy ball-rooms; rides off its ennui on thoroughbred horses, lounges at the club, has to keep clear of crinoline vortices, gets its science done by Faraday, and its religion by the superior clergy who are to be met with in the best houses: how should it have time or need for belief and emphasis? But good society, floated on gossamer wings of light irony, is of very expensive production; requiring nothing less than a wide and arduous national life condensed in unfragrant deafening factories, cramping itself in mines, sweating at furnaces, grinding, hammering, weaving under more or less oppression of carbonic acid -- or else, spread over sheepwalks, and scattered in lonely houses and huts on the clayey or chalky corn-lands, where the rainy days look dreary. This wide national life is based entirely on emphasis -- the emphasis of want, which urges it into all the activities necessary for the maintenance of good society and light irony; it spends its heavy years often in a chill, uncarpeted fashion, amidst family discord unsoftened by long corridors. Under such circumstances, there are many among its myriads of souls who have absolutely needed an emphatic belief: life in this unpleasurable shape demanding some solution even to unspeculative minds; just as you inquire into the stuffing of your couch when anything galls you there, whereas eider-down and perfect French springs excite no question. Some have an emphatic belief in alcohol, and seek their ekstasis or outside standing-ground in gin; but the rest require something that good society calls "enthusiasm," something that will present motives in an entire absence of high prizes, something that will give patience and feed human love when the limbs ache with weariness, and human looks are hard upon us -- something, clearly, that lies outside personal desires, that includes resignation for ourselves and active love for what is not ourselves.


George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, Book IV, ch. 3.

The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid dens of crime that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.

C. S. Lewis

Their dress is very independent of fashion; as they observe, "What does it signify how we dress here, where everybody knows us?" And if they go from home, their reason is equally cogent: "What does it matter how we dress here, where nobody knows us?"

Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford

There isn't a risk of an apocalypse due to global warming or anything else. The idea that we should put limits on growth because of some natural limit is a profound error.

Lawrence Summers, 1991.

It would be subversive of all human civilized society if the female population ... were imbued with the idea that they might safely indulge in unchaste intercourse without fear of any of the consequences such intercourse entails upon them.

Sir George Jessel, Master of the Rolls, 1880, depriving Annie Besant of custody of her daughter because of her authorship of a birth control pamphlet.

"Chess is better."

Bobby Fischer, on losing his virginity.

I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place."


Winston Churchill, 1937, on the Arab inhabitants of Palestine.

Mental work, labor in the higher regions of the mind, is one of the most strenuous kinds of human effort. The quality that above all deserves the greatest glory in art is courage; courage of a kind of which common minds have no conception. ... To plan, dream, and imagine fine works is a pleasant occupation, to be sure. It is like smoking magic cigars, like leading the life of a courtesan who pleases only herself. The work is then envisaged in all the grace of infancy, in the wild delight of its conception, in fragrant flowerlike beauty, with the ripe juices of the fruit savored in anticipation. Such are the pleasures of invention in the imagination. The man who can explain his design in words passes for an extraordinary man. All artists and writers posses this faculty. But to produce, to bring to birth, to bring up the infant work with labor, to put it to bed full-fed with milk, to take it up again every morning with inexhaustible maternal love, to lick it clean, to dress it a hundred times in lovely garments that it tears up again and again; never to be discouraged by the convulsions of this mad life, and to make of it a living masterpiece that speaks to all eyes in sculpture, or to all minds in literature, to all memories in painting, to all hearts in music -- that is the task of execution.


Balzac, Cousin Bette

The pleasures of hate satisfied are the fiercest and strongest that the heart can know. Love is the gold, but hate the iron of that mine of emotions that lies buried within us.

Balzac, Cousin Bette

"The Critical Reviewers, I believe, often review without reading the books through; but lay hold of a topick, and write chiefly from their own minds. The Monthly Reviewers are duller men, and are glad to read the books through."

Samuel Johnson, in Boswell's Life

No one reads War and Peace. The reading public has increasingly decided that Tolstoy's sacred work isn't actually worth the time it takes to read it.

Clay Shirky

The buying of more books than one can peradventure read is nothing less than the soul reaching toward infinity.

A.E. Newton

Let it be remembered that it was as a journalist that Dostoevsky wrote these Winter Notes. The articles were published in a review called Vremya and were read by the majority of educated Russians. Our American journalism of today is quite different. Vast organizations prepare for us their version of things as they are abroad. For this purpose they employ numbers of former police-reporters. And when the stuff gathered by these reporters comes in, it is processed at the editorial desk. And then we are fed a homogeneous substance called information, created by experts, some of whom know how to simulate a personal manner. Rarely are talented and educated men permitted to convey in their own words their own sense of reality. No. If an activity is not, in our bureaucratic times, corporate, it is suspect

Saul Bellow, 1955

One who knows that "enough is enough" always has enough.

Tao Te Ching

"Any general bombing of an extensive area wherein there resides a large population engaged in peaceful pursuits is unwarranted and contrary to principles of law and of humanity."  (Sept 28, 1937)

"The United States regards as barbarous ... the bombing of unfortified localities with the resultant slaughter of civilian populations. ... Such acts are in violation of the most elementary principles of those standards of humane conduct which have been developed as an essential part of modern civilization."  (June 3, 1938)

U.S. State Department, quoted in John Dower, War Without Mercy, p. 38.

I always used to think that publishers had to  be devilish intelligent fellows, loaded down with the grey matter; but I've got their number now. All a publisher has to do is to write cheques at intervals, while a lot of deserving and industrious chappies rally round and do the real work.

Bertie Wooster in "The Artistic Career of Corky"

You who wronged an ordinary man ...

Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.

You may kill him -- another will be born.

Deeds and words shall be recorded.


Milosz, "You Who Wronged ... "

Where there is a dance, there also is the Devil.

St. John Chrysostom

Dr. Bourbon said, "You know, boy, these young kids come out here from the east, read Cassirer and Buber and all that stuff, they're pretty darn sure of themselves. They think they're mighty good. 'Taint always so. I always make it my rule, beware of intellectual arrogance. Now take me, I'm a scholar. That's what I'll be hung for. But those boys, know what they are?"

"No," said Walker.

"Critics!" said Bourbon in some disgust. "That means they can go around spoutin' their own opinions all the time as much as they want, without ever havin' to check a fact. Needn't use the library ever."

Malcolm Bradbury, Stepping Westward

I would be a Papist if I could. I have fear enough, but an obstinate rationality prevents me.

Samuel Johnson

Those who are prone, by temperament and character, to seek sharp and clear-cut solutions of difficult and obscure problems, who are ready to fight whenever some challenge comes from a foreign power, have not always been right. On the other hand, those whose inclination is to bow their heads, to seek patiently and faithfully for peaceful compromise, are not always wrong. On the contrary, in the majority of instances they may be right, not only morally, but from a practical standpoint. How many wars have been averted by patience and persisting good will! Religion and virtue alike lend their sanctions to meekness and humility, not only between men but between nations. How many wars have been precipitated by firebrands! How many misunderstandings which led to wars coiuld have been removed by temporizing!

Churchill, quoted in Eric Sevareid, In One Ear

Liberty is so much latitude as the powerful choose to accord to the weak.

Judge Learned Hand

Conjugal love begins with possession and acquires inward history. It is faithful. So is romantic love -- but note the difference. The faithful romantic lover waits, let us say, for fifteen years -- then comes the instant which rewards him. Here poetry rightly sees that the fifteen years can very well be concentrated. It hastens on, then, to the moment. A married man is faithful for fifteen years, yet during those fifteen years he has had possession, so in the long succession of time he has acquired faithfulness. But such an ideal marriage cannot be represented, for the very point is time in its extension. At the end of the fifteen years he apparently got no further than he was at the beginning, yet he has lived in a high degree aesthetically. His possession has not been like dead property, but he has constantly been acquiring his possession. He has not fought with lions and ogres, but with the most dangerous enemy -- with time. For him eternity does not come afterwards as in the case of the knight [of romantic love], but he has had eternity in time. He alone, therefore, has triumphed over time; for one can say of the knight that he has killed time, as indeed a man constantly wishes to kill time when it has no reality for him. But this is never the perfect victory. The married man, being a true conqueror, has not killed time but has saved it and preserved it in eternity. The married man who does this truly lives poetically. He solves the great riddle of living in eternity and yet hearing the hall clock strike, and hearing it in such a way that the stroke of the hour does not shorten but prolong his eternity ...

Kierkegaard, Either/Or

Those who bore others are the mob, the crowd, the infinite multitude of men in general. Those who bore themselves are the elect, the aristocracy.


Commandare è meglio di fotere.


      Sicilian proverb.

Lascia le donne e studia la matematica.

Advice given to the young Rousseau. (Recorded in Confessions.)

  ... The man
Who sold his country is here in hell; the man
Who altered laws for money;
and a father
Who knew his daughter's bed. All of them dared,
And more than dared, achieved, unspeakable
Ambitions. If I had a hundred tongues,
A hundred iron throats, I could not tell 
The fullness of their crime and punishment.

Virgil, Aeneid, Book VI (trans. Rolfe Humphries)

Read this, ye politicians, and despair.


Poets are worshipful men, who never traffic with treason:
Both our vocation and art keep our characters pure,
Free from the greed for gain, out of the clutch of ambition,
Scorning the market place, fond of the study and shade.
But we are easy to hold, we burn with the strongest of passions,
Only too well we know loyal devotion in love.
Our native gifts are refined by the gentle art we practice,
Our behavior, of course, fits with the ways we pursue.
So be kind to us, girls, be gracious, always, to poets;
In them divinity dwells, they are the Muses' own. 

Ovid, The Art of Love (trans. Rolfe Humphries). 

NB - The above is also true of book reviewers -- GS.

When [government] regulation, therefore, is in favor of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favor of the masters.

Adam Smith

There's a boundary line: on one side are those who make books, on the other those who read them. I want to remain one of those who read them, so I take care always to remain on my side of the line. Otherwise, the unsullied pleasure of reading ends, or at least is transformed into something else, which is not what I want. This boundary line is tentative, it tends to get erased: the world of those who deal with books professionally is more and more crowded and tends to become one with the world of readers. Of course, readers are also growing more numerous, but it would seem that those who use books to produce other books are increasing more than those who just like to read books and nothing else. I know that if I cross that boundary, even as an exception, by chance, I risk being mixed up in this advancing tide; that's why I refuse to set foot inside a publishing house, even for a few minutes.

Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler

I don't believe there is any greater blessing than that of being pierced through & through by the splendor or sweetness of words, & no one who is not transfixed by "Die Sonne tont nach alter Weise," or "thick as Autumnal leaves that strew the brooks" has known half the joy of living.

Edith Wharton

The meek shall inherit the earth, but not the mineral rights

J. Paul Getty

More newspapermen have been ruined by self-importance than by liquor.

Walter Lippman

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.

Samuel P. Huntington

Alas! could [England] fully, truly, know
How her great name is now throughout abhorred;
How eager all the earth is for the blow
Which shall lay bare her bosom to the sword;
How all the nations deem her their worst foe,
That worse than worst of foes, the once adored
False friend, who held out freedom to mankind,
And now would chain them, to the very mind . . . 

Byron, Don Juan, Canto X

One immediately recognises a man of judgment by the use he makes of the semicolon.

Henri de Montherlant

There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of life getting a living.


He was intelligent enough to feel quite humble, to wish not to be in the least hard or voracious, not to insist on his own side of the bargain, to warn himself in short against arrogance and greed. ... Personally, he considered, he hadn't the vices in question -- and that was so much to the good. His race, on the other hand, had them handsomely enough, and he was somehow full of his race. Its presence in him was like the consciousness of some inexpugnable scent in which his clothes, his whole person, his hands and the hair of his head, might have been steeped as in some chemical bath: the effect was nowhere in particular, yet he constantly felt himself at the mercy of the cause.

Henry James, The Golden Bowl, chapter 1.

"Oh, you deep old Italians!"

"There you are," he returned. ... "That's the responsible note."

"What on earth are you talking about?"

"Of my real, honest fear of being 'off' some day, of being wrong, without knowing it. That's what I shall always trust you for -- to tell me when I am. No --with you people it's a sense. We haven't got it -- not as you have."

"I should be interested," she presently remarked, "to see some sense you don't possess."

Well, he produced one on the spot. "The moral, dear Mrs. Assingham. I mean, always, as you others consider it. I've of course something that in our poor dear backward old Rome sufficiently passes for it. But it's no more like yours than the tortuous stone staircase -- half-ruined into the bargain! -- in some castle of our quattrocento is like the 'lightning elevator' in one of Mr. Verver's fifteen-storey buildings. Your moral sense works by steam -- it sends you up like a rocket. Ours is slow and steep and unlighted, with so many of the steps missing that -- well, that it's as short, in almost any case, to turn around and come down again."

"Trusting," Mrs. Assingham smiled, "to get up some other way?"

"Yes -- or not to have to get up at all."

Henry James, The Golden Bowl, chapter 2.

To refrain from wounding, violating, and exploiting one another, to acknowledge another's will as equal to one's own: this can become proper behavior, in a certain rough sense, between individuals when the conditions for making it possible obtain, ie, the actual similarity of the individuals in power and values and their coexistence in one greater body or class. But as soon as one wants to extend this principle, to make it the basic principle of society, it shows itself for what it is: the will to negate life, the principle of dissolution and decay. Here one must think radically, to the very roots of things, and resist all sentimental weakness. Life itself is essentially assimilation, injury, violation of the foreign and weaker, suppression, hardness, the forcing of one's own forms upon something else, ingestion and -- at least in its mildest form -- exploitation. ... Even that body to which we referred above, the body within which individuals may treat each other with equality, as in a healthy aristocracy -- even this body itself, if it is alive and not dying off, must do to all other bodies those things which its members refrain from doing to one another: it will have to be the will to power incarnate; it will have to want to grow, to branch out, to draw others into itself, to gain supremacy. And not because it is moral or immoral in any sense but because it is alive, and because life simply is will to power. But there is nothing that ordinary Europeans today are less willing to learn than this; everywhere today, and even in the guise of science, there is grandiose talk about future social conditions where there is to be no more "exploitation." To my ears that sounds as though they had promised to invent a kind of life that would refrain from all the organic functions. "Exploitation" is not a relic of primitive or defective societies; it belongs to the nature of living things, it is a basic organic function, a consequence of the will to power, which is the will to life. This may be a novel theory, but it is the basic fact underlying all history. Let us be honest with ourselves at least this far!

Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, section 259.

The true obligation of impartiality is that a man should conceal no fact which, in his own mind, tells against his views.

Lord Charnwood

"I hate a stupid man who can't talk to me, and I hate a clever man who talks me down. I don't like a man who is too lazy to make any effort to shine; but I particularly dislike the man who is always striving for effect. I abominate a humble man, but yet I love to perceive that a man acknowledges the superiority of my sex, and youth, and all that kind of thing. ... A man who would tell me that I am pretty, unless he is over seventy, ought to be kicked out of the room. But a man who can't show me that he thinks so without saying a word about it, is a lout."

Violet Effingham in Phineas Finn by Trollope

Give me a wife who, like the moon, won't appear in my sky every day.


English visitor (after Lincoln apologizes for the condition of his boots): "Why, sir, in England a gentleman never blacks his own boots."

Lincoln: "Indeed. Whose does he black?"

My father showed me his library, which was very large, and told me to read whatever I wanted, but that if something bored me, I should immediately put it down.


If those who are supposed to look after commas had made sure they are always in the right place, Shanghai would not be burning.

Karl Kraus (during the Japanese bombardment of Shanghai)

Interviewer: To what do you attribute your success as a writer?

Wilson: To the use of the periodic sentence.

Interviewer: Surely that is not the whole story.

Wilson: And to my use of the colon and the semi-colon. Writing so long for the New Yorker may have led me a little to overdo the comma.

Interviewer: What else?

Wilson: My invariable habit of writing in pencil on those "legal-size" yellow pads -- the kind that are ruled with blue lines. I believe that composing on the typewriter has probably done more than anything else to deteriorate English prose.

"An Interview with Edmund Wilson" (1962)

Morality is all right, but what about dividends?

Kaiser Wilhelm II

When you know what you can do, do something else.

Kipling on writing.

'Tis pleasant, sure, to see one's name in print;
A book's a book, although there's nothing in't.


To write what you are interested in writing and to succeed in getting editors to pay for it, is a feat that may require pretty close calculation and a good deal of ingenuity. You have to learn to load solid matter into notices of ephemeral happenings; you have to develop a resourcefulness at pursuing a line of thought through pieces on miscellaneous and more or less fortuitous subjects; and you have to acquire a technique of slipping over on the routine of editors the deeper independent work which their over-anxious intentness on the fashions of the month or the week have conditioned them automatically to reject.

Edmund Wilson

Anyone who wishes to become a good writer should endeavor, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid.
Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.
Prefer the concrete word to the abstract.
Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.
Prefer the short word to the long.
Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance.

H.W. Fowler

Of children as of procreation, the pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, the expense damnable.

Evelyn Waugh

It is a sort of idiocy to talk about putting an end to all fighting, and turning all energy into some commercial or trades-union competition. What is a fight? It's not a rational* business. It is a physical business. Perhaps up to now, in our rational world, war was necessarily a terrific conflict of ideas, engines, and explosives derived out of man's cunning ideas. But now that we know we are not rational beings only; now that we know that it is hopeless to confuse the rational conscious activity with the primal physical conscious activity; and now that we know that the true contest belongs to the primal physical self, that ideas, per se, are static; why, perhaps we shall have sense enough to fight once more hand-to-hand as fierce, naked men. Perhaps we shall be able to abstain from the unthinkable baseness of pitting one rational engine against another rational engine, and supplying human life as the fodder for these rational machines.

Death is glorious. But to be blown to bits by a machine is mere horror. Death, if it be violent death, should come as a grand passional climax and consummation, and then all is well with the soul of the dead.

The human soul is really capable of honor, once it has a true choice. But when it has a choice only of war with explosive engines and poison gases, and a universal peace which consists in the most sordid commercial and industrial competition, why, believe me, the human soul will choose war, in the long run, inevitably it will, if only with a remote hope of at last destroying utterly this stinking industrial-competitive humanity.

Man must have the choice of war. But, raving, insane rationalist as he is, he must no longer have the choice of bombs and poison gases and Big Berthas [ie, huge artillery pieces used in World War I - GS]. That must not be. Let us beat our soldering-irons into swords, if we will. But let us blow all guns and explosives and poison gases sky-high. Let us shoot evey man who makes one more grain of gunpowder, with his own powder.

After all, we are masters of our own inventions. Are we really so feeble and inane that we cannot get rid of the monsters we have brought forth? Why not? Because we are afraid of somebody else's preserving them? Believe me, there's nothing which every man -- except insane criminals, and these we ought to hang right off -- there's nothing which every man would be so glad to think had vanished out of the world as guns, explosives, and poison gases. I don't care when my share in them goes sky-high. I'll take every risk of the Japanese or the Germans having a secret store.

Pah, men are all human, till you drive them mad. And for centuries we have been driving each other mad with our rationalism and universal love. Pretty weapons they have spawned, pretty fruits of our madness. But the British people tomorrow could destroy all guns, all explosives, all poison gases, and all apparatus for the making of these things. Perhaps you might leave one-barrelled pistols, but not another thing. And the world would get on its sane legs the very next day. And we should run no danger at all: danger, perhaps, of the loss of some small property. But nothing at all compared with the great sigh of relief.

It's the only way to do it. Melt down all your guns of all sorts. Destroy all your explosives, save what bit you want for quarries and mines. Keep no explosive weapon in England bigger than a one-barrelled pistol, which may live for one year longer. At the end of one year no explosive weapon shall exist.

The world at once starts afresh. -- Well, do it. Your confabs and your meetings, your discussions and your international agreements will serve you nothing. League of Nations is all bilberry jam: bilge, and you know it. Put your guns in the fire and drown your explosives, and you've done your share of the League of Nations.

But don't pretend you've abolished war. Send British soldiers to Ireland, if you must send them, armed with swords and shields, but with no engines of war. Trust the Irish to come out with swords and shields as well: they'll do it. And then have a rare old lively scrap, such as the heart can rejoice in. But in the name of human sanity, never point another cannon: never. And it lies with us to take the lead. Nobody else will.

Then, when all your explosive weapons are destroyed -- which may be before Christmas -- then introduce a proper system of martial training in the schools. Let every boy and every citizen be a soldier, a fighter. Let him have sword and spear and shield, and know how to use them. Let him be determined to use them, too.

For, what does life consist in? Not in being some rational little monster, a superman. It consists in remaining inside your own skin, and living inside your own skin, and not pretending you're any bigger than you are. And so, if you've got to go in for a scrap, go in your own skin. Don't turn into some rational-obscene monster, and invent explosive engines which will blow up an ideal enemy whom you've never set eyes on and probably never will set eyes on. Loathsome and hateful insanity, that.

If you have an enemy, even a national enemy, go for him in your own skin. Meet him, see him, come into contact and fierce struggle with him. What good is an enemy if he's only abstract and invisible? That's merely mental. If he is an enemy, he is a flesh-and-blood fellow whom I meet and fight with. I don't blow bombs into the vast air, hoping to scatter a million bits of indiscriminate flesh. God save us, no more of that.

Let us get back inside our own skins, sensibly and sanely. Let us fight when our dander is up: but hand-to-hand, hand-to-hand, always hand-to-hand. Let us meet a man like a man, not like some horrific idea-born machine.

Let us melt our guns. Let us just simply do it as an act of reckless, defiant sanity. Why be afraid? It is such fear that has caused all the bother. Spit on such fear. After all, it can't do anything so vile as it has done already. Let us have a national holiday, melting the guns and drowning the powder. Let us make a spree of it. Let's have it on the Fifth of November: bushels of squibs and rockets. And as a squib fizzes away, we say, "There goes the guts out of a half-ton bomb."

And then let us be soldiers, hand-to-hand soldiers. Lord, but it is a bitter thing to be born at the end of a rotten, rationalistic machine-civilization. Think what we've missed: the glorious bright passion of anger and pride, recklessness and dauntless cock-a-lory.

* I've generally substituted "rational" for Lawrence's "ideal," since the usual meaning of "ideal" nowadays is not as close to what Lawrence meant as "rational" is. - GS

D.H. Lawrence, from "The Education of the People" (1919), in Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence, pp. 659-661.

I spent nine years in an insane asylum and never had a thought of suicide, except that every morning after my conversation with the psychiatrist, I wanted either to hang myself or to cut his throat.

Antonin Artaud

Few girls are as well shaped as a good horse.

Hannah Arendt

All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind.


We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are.


Trust your editor, and you'll sleep on straw.

John Cheever

There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money.

Robert Graves

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not money, I am become as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could move mountains, and have not money, I am nothing ... Money suffereth long, and is kind; money envieth not; money vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity... And now abideth faith, hope, and money, these three; but the greatest of these is money.

Orwell (after I Corinthians, ch. 13)

If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination. Once begun upon this downward path, you never know where to stop. Many a man has dated his ruin from some murder or other that perhaps he thought little of at the time.

De Quincey

What is essential "in heaven and on earth" seems to be that there should be obedience for a long time and in a single direction; given that, something always develops, and has developed, for whose sake it is worth while to live on earth: for example, virtue, art, music, dance, reason, spirituality-- something transfiguring, subtle, mad, and divine. The long unfreedom of the spirit, the mistrustful constraint in the communicability of thoughts, the discipline thinkers imposed on themselves to think within the directions laid down by a church or court, or under Aristotelian presuppositions, the long spiritual will to interpret all events under a Christian schema and to rediscover and justify the Christian god in every accident -- all this, however forced, capricious, hard, gruesome, and anti-rational, has shown itself to be the means through which the European spirit has been trained to strength, ruthless curiosity, and subtle mobility, though admittedly in the process an irreplaceable amount of strength and spirit had to be crushed, stifled, and ruined (for here, as everywhere, "nature" manifests herself as she is, in all her prodigal and indifferent magnificence, outrageous but noble).


What can be better than poverty? I don't mean want, or the hopeless drudgery of the modern proletariat. But I don't see what more can be desired than poverty combined with an active leisure.


Sexuality leads to nothing. It is not immoral, but it is unproductive. One can give oneself to it for a time, when one does not wish to produce. But chastity alone is connected with personal progress. There is a time when sexuality is a victory -- when it is released from moral imperatives. But soon after that it becomes a defeat, and the only further victory is won over it in turn: that is, chastity.


To get laid is glorious.

Deng Xiaoping

All the fundamental functions of a healthy man ought emphatically
to be performed with pleasure and for pleasure; they emphatically
ought not to be performed with precaution or for precaution.
A man ought to eat because he has a good appetite to satisfy,
and emphatically not because he has a body to sustain. A man ought
to take exercise not because he is too fat, but because he loves foils
or horses or high mountains, and loves them for their own sake.
And a man ought to marry because he has fallen in love,
and emphatically not because the world requires to be populated.
The food will really renovate his tissues as long as he is not thinking
about his tissues. The exercise will really get him into training
so long as he is thinking about something else. And the marriage will
really stand some chance of producing a generous-blooded generation
if it had its origin in its own natural and generous excitement.


While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening
to empire
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the
mass hardens,
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots
to make earth.

Robinson Jeffers - "Shine, Perishing Republic"

The man
Of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys:
Power, like a desolating pestilence,
Pollutes whate'er it touches, & obedience,
Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
Makes slaves of men, &, of the human frame,
A mechanised automaton.

­ Shelley

Sexual intercourse has never done a man good, and he is lucky if it has not harmed him.



Fidelity and love are two different things, like a flower
and a gem.
And love, like a flower, will fade, will change into some-
thing else
or it would not be flowery.

O flowers they fade because they are moving swiftly; a
little torrent of life
leaps up to the summit of the stem, gleams, turns over
round the bend
of the parabola of curved flight,
sinks, and is gone, like a comet curving into the invisible.

O flowers they are all the time travelling
like comets, and they come into our ken
for a day, for two days, and withdraw, slowly vanish again.

And we, we must take them on the wind, and let them go.
Embalmed flowers are not flowers, immortelles are not
flowers are just a motion, a swift motion, a coloured
that is their loveliness. And that is love.

But a gem is different. It lasts so much longer than we do
so much much much longer
that it seems to last forever.
Yet we know it is flowing away
as flowers are, and we are, only slower.
The wonderful slow flowing of the sapphire!

All flows, and every flow is related to every other flow.
Flowers and sapphires and us, diversely streaming.
In the old days, when sapphires were breathed upon and
brought forth
during the wild orgasms of chaos
time was much slower, when the rocks came forth.
It took aeons to make a sapphire, aeons for it to pass away.

And a flower it takes a summer.

And man and woman are like the earth, that brings forth
in summer, and love, but underneath is rock.
Older than flowers, older than ferns, older than fora-
older than plasm altogether is the soul of a man under-

And when, throughout all the wild orgasms of love
slowly a gem forms, in the ancient, once-more molten
of two human hearts, two ancient rocks, a man’s heart
and a woman’s,
that is the crystal of peace, the slow hard jewel of trust,
the sapphire of fidelity.
The gem of mutual peace emerging from the wild chaos of love.

D H Lawrence

A Sane Revolution

If you make a revolution, make it for fun,
don't make it in ghastly seriousness,
don't do it in deadly earnest,
do it for fun.

Don't do it because you hate people,
do it just to spit in their eye.

Don't do it for the money,
do it and be damned to the money.

Don't do it for equality,
do it because we've got too much equality
and it would be fun to upset the apple-cart
and see which way the apples would go a-rolling.

Don't do it for the working classes.
Do it so that we can all of us be little aristocracies on our own
and kick our heels like jolly escaped asses.

Don't do it, anyhow, for international Labour.
Labour is the one thing a man has had too much of.
Let's abolish labour, let's have done with labouring!
Work can be fun, and men can enjoy it; then it's not labour.
Let's have it so! Let's make a revolution for fun!

D. H. Lawrence

The American people don't read.

Allen Dulles on why the inconsistencies in the Warren Commission Report didn't matter

... Search [in Shakespeare] for statesmanship, or even citizenship, or any sense of the commonwealth, material or spiritual, and you will not find the making of a decent vestryman or curate in the whole horde. As to faith, hope, courage, conviction, or any of the true heroic qualities, you find nothing but death made sensational, despair made stage-sublime, sex made romantic, and barrenness covered up by sentimentality and the mechanical lilt of blank verse.

All that you miss in Shakespeare you find in Bunyan, to whom the true heroic came quite obviously and naturally. The world was to him a more terrible place than it was to Shakespeare; but he saw through it a path at the end of which a man might look not only forward to the Celestial City, but back on his life and say: "Tho' with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get them." The heart vibrates like a bell to such utterances as this; to turn from it to "Out, out, brief candle," and "The rest is silence," and "We are such stuff as dreams are made on," and "our little life is rounded by a sleep" is turn from life, strength, resolution, morning air and eternal youth, to the terrors of a drunken nightmare.

Shaw - "Better than Shakespeare"

Courageous, untroubled, mocking, violent -- thus wisdom wants us.


Even true things shouted from loudspeakers start to sound like lies.

Leonardo Sciascia

Self-love is subtler than the subtlest man in the world.

It is more shameful to distrust one's friends than to be deceived by them.

Some people would never have fallen in love if they had never heard of love.

We all have strength enough to endure the troubles of others.

The weak cannot be honest.

Greater virtues are needed to bear good fortune than bad.

Not many know how to be old.

We often forgive those who bore us, but we can never forgive those who find us boring.

In the misfortunes of even our best friends, we always find something not wholly displeasing.

La Rochefoucauld, Maxims

The relation of man to woman is wide as all life. It consists in infinite different flows between the two beings, different, even apparently contrary. Chastity is part of the flow between man and woman, as to physical passion. And beyond these, an infinite range of subtle communication which we know nothing about. I should say that the relation between any two decently married people changes profoundly every few years, often without their knowing anything about it; though every change causes pain, even if it brings a certain joy. The long course of marriage is a long event of perpetual change, in which a man and a woman mutually build up their souls and make themselves. It is like rivers flowing on, through new country, always unknown.


Why are women so much more interesting to men than men are to women?

Virginia Woolf

The more serious the face, the more beautiful the smile.


An ideal of love: To love with all desire and yet to be as kind as an old man past desire.


To die of love is overdoing it.

French proverb

I love Mickey Mouse better than any woman I've ever known.

Walt Disney

Men would be saints if they loved heaven as well as they do women.

St. Thomas Aquinas

A long life may not be good enough, but a good life is long enough.


Having a good wife and rich cabbage soup, seek not other things.

Russian proverb

Exuberance is beauty.


If you marry, you will regret it; if you don't marry, you will also regret it.


Il ne cherche le vrai que pour faire le bien -- I bet he finds nothing.


Those who take the meat from the table
Teach contentment.
Those for whom the taxes are destined
Demand sacrifice.
Those who eat their fill speak to the hungry
Of wonderful times to come.
Those who lead the country into the abyss
Call ruling too difficult
For ordinary men.


Hatred, even of meanness,
Contorts the features.
Anger, even against injustice,
Makes the voice hoarse.
We who wanted to make the world decent
Could not ourselves be decent.
But you, when that time comes
And man is a helper to man,
Think of us
With forbearance.


Travailler est moins ennuyeux que s'amuser.


To live in the world of creation -- to get into it and stay in it -- to frequent it and haunt it -- to think intensely and fruitfully -- to woo combinations and inspirations into being by a depth and continuity of attention and meditation -- this is the only thing.

Henry James

The horse that farts will never tire.
The man that farts is the man to hire.

New Hampshire proverb

Sex and beauty are inseparable, like life and consciousness. And the intelligence which goes with sex and beauty, and arises from sex and beauty, is intuition.


There is not a man or woman in the world the possession of whom is as precious as that of the truths which he or she reveals to us by causing us to suffer.


Travailler sans le souci de personne et devenir fort!


If it rained knowledge I'd hold out my hand, but I would not give myself the trouble to go in quest of it.


That I lost my center/Fighting the world ...


Oboist: Herr Doktor, maybe this passage works on the piano, but it doesn't work on the oboe.

Richard Strauss: Take heart, man! It doesn't work on the piano, either.

I'm always home. I'm uncool.

Lester Bangs

The primary reward for human toil is not what you get by it, but what you become by it.


... a squalid, savage-looking peasant, a tattered ruffian of the most orthodox Italian aspect.

Henry James

"What, have you not read it through?"

"No, sir; do you read books through?


The more circumspectly you delay writing down an idea, the more maturely developed it will be on surrendering itself.

Walter Benjamin

Judex damnatur cum nocens absolvitur.

Motto of the Edinburgh Review

They appear to have discovered the precise point to which intellectual culture can be carried without risk of intellectual emancipation.

Macaulay on the Jesuits

Impeded aggressiveness seems to involve a grave injury. It really seems as though it is necessary for us to destroy some other thing or person in order not to destroy ourselves.


... a gray, sedentary grind, whose charm was all at the core.

Henry James on making art

"Then why should we be good, Mr Pater?"

"Because it is so beautiful."

Walter Pater

I listen to Beethoven every week, and to Bach twice a week, but to Mozart every day.


I did think I saw all Heaven opening before me.

Handel, on completing Messiah

Sex is so difficult. You ought to be able to get it and pay for it monthly, like a laundry bill.

Philip Larkin

As in political so in literary action, a man wins friends for himself mostly by the passion of his prejudices and the consistent narrowness of his outlook.


Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive!
But when we've practiced quite a while,
How vastly we've improved our style!

Jim Holt

There is no greater sign of innate misery than a love of teasing.

Anthony Powell

How many charming talents have been spoiled by the instilled desire to do "important" work! Some people are born to lift heavy weights. Some are born to juggle with golden balls.

Max Beerbohm

Read at random.

Randell Jarrell

It is in the character of very few men to honor without envy a friend who has prospered.


... an asset to their enemies in every war.

John Foster Dulles on Italians

One ceases to be a child when one realizes that telling one's troubles does not make it any better.


I remember Agricola's saying often that as a boy he became passionately absorbed in philosophy, beyond what was permissible for a Roman and a senator; but his sensible mother succeeded in putting an end to this intemperate enthusiasm.


Exaggerate the essential; leave the obvious vague.

Van Gogh

God save me from pigheadedness and wanting to be right in the end. I despise a person as crude both in a human and an intellectual sense who is not embarrassed at having won an argument, who does not immediately try to hush up the fact that he was right.


I lost everything at Philippi and took to poetry to make a living, but now that I have a competence, I should be mad if I did not prefer ease to writing.


... that blessed internal peace and confidence, that acquiescentia in seipso, as Spinoza used to call it, that wells up from every part of the body of a muscularly well-trained human being, and soaks the indwelling soul of him with satisfaction.

William James

I was never duped by sex as a basis for permanent relations, nor dreamt of marriage in connection with it. I put everything else before it, and never refused or broke an engagement to speak on socialism in order to pass a gallant evening. I valued sexual experience because of its power of producing a celestial flood of emotion and exaltation which, however momentary, gave me a sample of the ecstasy that may one day be the normal condition of conscious intellectual activity.


It is a sign of a nature not finely tempered to make ... a great fuss about [exercise, eating, drinking, walking, riding]. All these things ought to be done merely by the way.


Learning hath gained most by those books by which the printers have lost.

Thomas Fuller

Truisms are best.


Always make water when you can.

Duke of Wellington

Small tyrants, threatened by big,
sincerely believe
they love Liberty.


The superior man is distressed by his want of ability.


Il faut toujours etre ivre. Tout est la: c'est l'unique question. Pour ne pas sentir l'horrible fardeau du temps qui brise vos epaules et vous penche vers la terre, il faut vous enivrer sans cesse. Mais de quoi? De vin, de poesie, ou de vertu, a votre guise. Mais enivrez-vous.


Television is a great leveler. You always end up sounding like the people who ask the questions.

Gore Vidal

Quand on n'a pas du caractere, il faut se donner un methode.


Why not make the reader re-read a sentence now and then? It won't hurt him.


It is not true that suffering ennobles the character. Happiness does that sometimes; but suffering, for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive.


I like beautiful things, not modern art.

Senator Jesse Helms

Ohne Hast, aber ohne Rast.


In the depths of my heart I can't help being convinced that my dear fellow-men, with a few exceptions, are worthless.


You have to choose: live or tell stories.


To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness -- though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless.


... the resignation, the wanness, the loss of faith in concrete steps, the inability to anger, that comes of the cult of limits.

Leon Wieseltier

Money talks, sings, and dances.

My mother

Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.


Indignation is the soul's defense against the wound of doubt.

Allan Bloom

... a herd of beings that must be governed by fraud, effigy, and show.

Burke on mankind

[Poetry] is not so fine a thing as philosophy -- for the same reason that an eagle is not so fine a thing as a truth.


The domination of women by men has lasted for fifty thousand years. Why can't it last just fifty more?

Grafitto, Berlin

Dogs have turned against their masters, and even Neapolitans against their rulers, when oppression has been too severe.


I am so tired of being told that I want mankind to go back to the condition of savages. As if modern city people weren't the crudest, rawest, most crassly savage monkeys that ever existed, when it comes to the relation of man and woman. All I see in our vaunted civilization is men and women smashing each other emotionally and physically to bits, and all I ask is that they should pause and consider.

D. H. Lawrence

Be pliant and weak when you have to. Cry if you must. Try not to go to prison; it's never worth it.

Breyten Breytenbach

My definition of socialism, in ten words:

Every adult deserves interesting work and a secure, modest livelihood.


One can't be angry with one's time without damage to oneself.


Were I not cloven where you are crested, my lord, you would not speak to me so.

Elizabeth I to one of her ministers

The sense of being perfectly well-dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquillity which religion is powerless to bestow.


Henry does not lie because it is in his interest. He lies because it is in his nature.

Helmut Sonnenfeldt on Henry Kissinger

Talk low, talk slow, and don't say too much.

John Wayne

"He is not insensible who pays [human affairs] the undemonstrative tribute of a sigh which is not a sob, and of a smile which is not a grin. Resignation, not mystic, not detached, but resignation open-eyed, conscious, and informed by love ...


Esse quam videri bonus malebat.

said of Cato

Against remorse: A thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions--as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for him *answers* above all.


A large income is the best recipe for happiness.

Jane Austen

Seeds not twigs.


I have no time to read newspapers. If you live and move and have your being in that thin stratum in which the events which make the news transpire -- thinner than the paper on which it is printed -- then these things will fill the world for you; but if you soar above or dive below that plane, you cannot remember or be reminded of them.


Seriousness, that unmistakable sign of the more laborious metabolism.


For I was hungry, and you cut billions of dollars in food stamps;
Thirsty, and you spent billions of dollars on Star Wars;
Without shelter, and you built luxury housing;
Naked, and you gave tax breaks to the wealthy;
Sick and in prison, and you restricted Medicaid and sent aid to friendly
authoritarian governments.

Therefore depart from me, ye Republicans, into everlasting hellfire.

Jesus (Matt. 25: 41-46)

The knowledge that the aristocrats take for granted, we must pay for with our youth.

Chekhov, to his brother

People who cry and grieve never remember. I never grieve and never forget.


Know thyself? If I knew myself, I'd run away.


That is happiness: to be dissolved into something complete and great.

Willa Cather

Everything in contemporary society discourages inwardness.

Sven Birkerts

Every gun that is made ... signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, and those who are cold and are not clothed.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Argument burns up perception.



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