Commonplace 2007


“I recognize happiness by the sound it makes when it leaves.”                                                                (The poet Jacques Prévert, according to Pascal Bruckner, in NYT, January 1)


“History is never a closed book or a final verdict. It is forever in the making. Let historians never forsake the quest for knowledge in the interests of an ideology, a religion, a race, a nation.

The great strength of history in a free society is its capacity for self-correction.”                                                                                  (Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., in NYT, January 1)


Watch This Space

“Someone told me an inaugural is values, a State of the State is principles, and the budget is the bad news.”                (NY Governor Eliot Spitzer, according to the NYT, January 1)

“No one any longer believes in government as a heavy hand that can cure all our ills, but rather we see it as a lean and responsive force that can make possible the pursuit of prosperity and opportunity for all, by softening life’s blows, leveling the playing field and making possible the pursuit of happiness that is our God-given right.”                                                                      (Eliot Spitzer, in his inaugural address, reported in NYT, January 2)


“I am trying to effect a return to sensible economics. And what is sensible economics? It is very pragmatic. You think about problems in the world and you ask: can government do something about that? At the same time, you maintain your skepticism that government is often inefficient.”                                (George A. Akerlof, Nobel laureate, sponsor of alternative to Milton Friedman, from interview reported in NYT, January 6)


“Henry James is the maestro of the semicolon.” (Truman Capote)

“He should go out and hang himself because he finds that writing well is impossibly difficult. Then he should be cut down without mercy and forced by his won self to write as well as he can for the rest of his life.” (advice for a ‘would-be writer’, from Hemingway)

“Woolly underwear.” (advice to Donald Hall for studying literature at Cambridge, from T. S. Eliot)                                                         (all from the Paris Review Interviews, I)


“I told the president that I had been drawn to America by the cosmopolitanism of its mainstream, not to seek sanctuary in an atavistic cocoon. I argued that all ethnic movements are two-edged swords. Beginning benignly, and sometimes necessary to repair injured collective psyches, they often end in tragedy, especially when they turn political, as illustrated by German history. I also argued that the ethnic revival was partly a reaction against the recent gains of black Americans. Sadly, black leaders’ shift to separatism and identity politics had legitimized this reactionary backlash against them. Whatever the president’s personal position, I urged him to keep the state out of it.”                                                                             (Orlando Patterson, a professor of sociology at Harvard, recalling a conversation with President Ford in 1975, from NYT, January 6)


“The Left Wing movement in the thirties encouraged us to try to be normal, and all that affectation of the Normal only led to sterility. Because the Average Man today is either a myth or a dummy, and the norms have got to be rediscovered, it is no good taking them over from people who have ceased to think and have no intention of acting.”                                                                              (Louis MacNeice, in The Strings Are False, Chapter III)


“Man is essentially weak and he wants power; essentially lonely, he creates familiar daemons, Impossible Shes, and bonds – of race or creed – where no bonds are. He cannot live by bread or Marx alone; he must always be after the Grail.”                                                                                                    (Louis MacNeice, in The Strings Are False, Chapter XIII)


“He [Anthony Blunt] truculently admitted that he preferred Things to People. He considered it very low to talk politics.”                                                                                                                                   (Louis MacNeice, in The Strings Are False, Chapter XVII)


“I had not, however, gone to Oxford to study; that was what grammar-school boys did. We products of the English public schools went to Oxford either for sport and beer-drinking, in which case we filled our time deriding the intellectuals, or for the aesthetic life and cocktails, in which case we filled our time deriding the athletes..”                                                                                    (Louis MacNeice, in The Strings Are False, Chapter XIX)


“I did not believe that one system of philosophy was truer than another and thought that philosophers themselves were fools in so far as they fancied they were getting to the bottom of anything; on the contrary their work was always superstructure, largely a matter of phrases, and these phrases were employed not as the physicist employs them but as the poet employs them; the philosopher’s job – to use our favourite word – was stylization, building a symphony which should sanction his emotional reactions to the universe.”                          (Louis MacNeice, in The Strings Are False, Chapter XXII)


“The armchair reformist sits between two dangers – wishful thinking and self-indulgent gloom. The phrase ‘I told you so’ is near to his heart … but when he fancies an allegro movement he has – or had, rather – only to turn to Moscow.”                                                                                            (Louis MacNeice, in The Strings Are False, Chapter XXVI)


“The strongest appeal of the Communist party was that it demanded sacrifice; you had to sink your ego. At the moment there seemed to be a confusion between the state and the community, and I myself was repelled by the idolization of the state; but that was all right, it is written: ‘The state shall wither away.’”                                                                                                              (Louis MacNeice, in The Strings Are False, Chapter XXIX)


The ‘Necessary Murder’ (cf. Auden)

“After a bit the Marxist, who is only human, finds it such fun practicing strategy – i.e. hypocrisy, lying, graft, political pimping, tergiversation, allegedly necessary murder – that he forgets the end in the means, the evil of the means drowns the good of the end, power corrupts, the living gospel withers, Siberia fills with ghosts.”                                                                        (Louis MacNeice, in The Strings Are False, Chapter XXXII)


“If Spain goes communist, Anthony [Blunt] said, France is bound to follow. And then Britain, and then there’ll be jam for all.”                                                                                                                           (Louis MacNeice, in The Strings Are False, Chapter XXXII)


“While there were many motives driving the intelligentsia towards the C.P., there was one great paradox always present; intellectuals turned to communism as an escape from materialism……   Young men flocked to this new creed because it made demands upon them and because, while it attacked human individualism, it simultaneously made the cosmos more anthropocentric; it exploded the idea of purpose in Nature (Nature was blind) but asserted purpose in the world. Because the world was ours. Marx was to the poets of the thirties what Rousseau was to the poets of the Romantic Revival.”                                                                 (Louis MacNeice, in The Strings Are False, Chapter XXXIII)


“A few years ago I took John Betjeman on a rapid tour of Istanbul. His only comments on the buildings were ‘Gosh how lovely’ or ‘Gosh how awful’.”                                                                   (John Hilton, in Appendix B of Louis MacNeice’s The Strings Are False)


“However paradoxical it may appear, the young male who assumes early that physical relationships with women are part of life is more likely to develop respect toward women than is the young male who abstains from such relationships.”                                                                                                             (Nelson Algren, in 1963 account of visit to the Chicago Playboy mansion, quoted by Jon Zobenica in Atlantic, January/February 2007)


Relative Freedoms

“I have never understood why people identify with criminals: even if your father and grandfather were criminal, you have to find a way to be free. What my father’s father did is hot what I have to do, and I don’t have to identify with being a victim either. We were a communist family, and my parents believed that religion was the opium of the people. Today the churches are full in Bosnia, and because we are Muslims, I can’t travel anywhere without a visa.” (The filmmaker Jasmila Zbanic, reported in NYT, January 16)


“We are not a bunch of libertines who want to see the superego of society disappear.”                               (Democratic Senator Charles E. Schumer, reported in NYT, January 16)


“Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long.”                                                               (Ogden Nash, according to Jim Holt, in NYT Magazine, January 21)


“The modern history of Afghanistan, Bosnia and Sudan, countries the world has recently had to rediscover, all began with the Peace of Berlin. A. H. Layard, the British consul in Constantinople, was one of the first to comment on the implications of the settlement. Nobody else has come up with a more perceptive judgement in over a century:

‘Those who think themselves strong enough to support their aspirations by arms will be ready to rebel against the authority under which they believe they have been placed in violation of justice and the principle of ‘nationality’. Those who cannot recur to force will have recourse to intrigue and conspiracy. Both processes have already begun.’“                                                                                     (Misha Glenny, The Balkans, p 150)


“Nationalist violence knows no eternal enemy. The current enemy is always eternal.”                                                                                             (Misha Glenny, The Balkans, p 247)


“Paris was the Looking-Glass Peace Conference. To succeed, a proposition had to be either unjust, absurd, plain unworkable or better still all three.”                                                                                                                            (Misha Glenny, The Balkans, p 360)


“I learned which cabinet minister was having an affair with what lady, what was the specialité of which cabinet minister, and what was the price of what lady. That every lady had a price was a foregone conclusion with the wicked old men, but only from 20,000 leis up did they consider her a lady. It was the same with the politicians; they also had a price, and if they were expensive enough they were considered statesmen.”                                                                                   (R. G. Waldeck, from Athene Palace: Hitler’s New Order Comes to Rumania, p 35, quoted in Misha Glenny’s The Balkans, p 444)


“So far as I could learn from my superiors in the department, their attitude towards the commission [the European Advisory Council formed in 1943] was dominated primarily by a lively concern lest the new body actually do something.”                                                                             (George Kennan, quoted in Misha Glenny’s The Balkans, p 518)


“Stalin made two mistakes. First, he died too early and second, he failed to liquidate the entire present Soviet leadership.” (Mehmet Shehu, head of Albania’s Secret Police, the Sigurimi, to Soviet Minister Mikoyan, quoted in Misha Glenny’s The Balkans, p 564)


“Designers see the future, they do not respond to focus groups.”     (an unidentified designer at Gap, after being asked by its chief executive, Paul S. Pressler (since fired), to ‘put together a focus group on graphic T-shirts’, reported in NYT, January 23)


Source of the ‘Dead Parrot’?

“She [the 7th Duchess of Beaufort] always wished to go for a new drive, but the coachman invariably took her the same way: she was too old to be aware of the deception. The parrot, too had long been dead and stuffed, so as to give an illusion of life… She was also too old, fortunately, to tell the difference between the animate and the inanimate!”                                                                                                    (Osbert Sitwell, on his great-grandmother, quoted by Alister Horne in A Bundle From Britain, p 8)


“War is war, and once over best forgotten.”                                                              (General Erich Ludendorff, according to Alister Horne in A Bundle From Britain, p 42)


Another metaphor of pseudo-science

“For us to come here every night – it’s something in our DNA. It’s where we were born, where we lived, where our friends are.”                                                                (Angelo Sermoneta, on the Jewish ghetto in Rome, quoted in NYT, January 25)


“I can’t give you a sure-fire recipe for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.”                                                                                                                           (Herbert Bayard Swope, quoted in letter in NYT, January 25)


“I am not a member of any organized party. I am a Democrat.”                                                                                    (Will Rogers, according to Paul Krugman, in NYT, January 25)


“One can believe sometimes that no greater responsibility for the war [the 1st WW] lies on any one man than on Wagner.”                                 (J. M. Keynes, in Dr. Melchior)


“We were among the last of the Utopians, or meliorists as they are sometimes called, who believe in a continuing moral progress by virtue of which the human race already consists of reliable, rational, decent people, influenced by truth and objective standards, who can safely released from the outward restraints of convention and traditional standards and inflexible rules of conduct, and left, from now onwards, to their own sensible devices, pure motives and reliable intuitions of the good.”   (J. M. Keynes, in My Early Beliefs)


“I still suffer incurably from attributing an unreal rationality to other people’s feelings and behaviour (and doubtless to my own, too). There is one small but extraordinarily silly manifestation of this absurd idea of what is ‘normal’, namely the right to protest – to write a letter to The Times, call a meeting in Guildhall, subscribe to some fund when my presuppositions as to what is ‘normal’ are not fulfilled. I behave as if there really existed some authority or standard to which I can successfully appeal if I shout loud enough – perhaps it is some hereditary vestige of a belief in the efficacy of prayer.”                                                                                                                      (J. M. Keynes, in My Early Beliefs)


“Though one must ever remember Paley’s dictum that ‘although we speak of communities as of sentient beings and ascribe to them happiness and misery, desires, interests and passions, nothing really exists or feels but individuals’, yet we carried the individualism of our individuals too far.”                            (J. M. Keynes, in My Early Beliefs)


“But in our case, I believe, we shared something else, unique to us at that time – the chance to make one grand, uncomplicated gesture of personal sacrifice and faith which might never occur again. Certainly, it was the last time this century that a generation had such an opportunity before the fog of nationalism and mass-slaughter closed in.”                                                                                                         (Laurie Lee, in A Moment of War, p 46)


“Was this then what I’d come for, and all my journey had meant – to smudge out the life of an unknown young man in a blur of panic which in no way could affect victory or defeat?”                                                        (Laurie Lee, in A Moment of War, p 161)


“But the Soviet Union has never ignored the human element, or underestimated the extent to which the execution of policy depends on the enthusiasm and initiative of the individual citizen, and it has shown itself as well aware as the western world of what Sir Ernest Barker has described as a main function of democracy – to ‘enlist the effective thought of the whole community in the operation of discussion’. Here at any rate is a challenge of Soviet democracy to western political institutions about which western democrats will be well advised to ponder.”                                                                                                               (E. H. Carr, in The Soviet Impact on the Western World, p 18-19)


“Certainly, if ‘we are all planners now’ [suggested to be from John Stanfield’s Plan We Must, p 74], this is largely the result, conscious or unconscious, of the impact of Soviet practice and Soviet achievement.”                                                                                                                                 (E. H. Carr, in The Soviet Impact on the Western World, p 20)


“The true pacemakers of socialism were not the intellectuals or agitators who preached it, but the Vanderbilts, Carnegies and Rockefellers.”                                                                                                         (J. A. Schumpeter, in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, p 134, quoted by E. H. Carr in The Soviet Impact on the Western World, p 28)


“The revolution was the fulfillment of the historical process: everything that aided history to fulfil itself was right. Ethics could have no other basis and no other meaning. Like other totalitarian philosophies and religions, Bolshevism inevitably tends to justify the means by the end. If the end is absolute, nothing that serves that end can be morally condemned.”               (E. H. Carr, in The Soviet Impact on the Western World, p 90)


“The view that the exclusive or primary aim of education is to make the individual think for himself is outmoded; few people any longer contest the thesis that the child should be educated ‘in’ the official ideology of the country.”                                                                                                            (E. H. Carr, in The Soviet Impact on the Western World, p 100)


“Well, perhaps she isn’t as deep and subtle as Henry James – but then nor is Henry James. He just hides it better.”                                      (Ferdinand Mount, on Edith Wharton, in review of Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee, in the Spectator, January 27)





“The practice in the War Office used to be, when a question came up, to collect the largest possible number of opinions about it from everyone who had even the remotest concern with the question, before any attempt was made to arrive at a decision.”                                                                                                                                               (General Sir Frederick Maurice to Lord Kitchener, from Lord Birkenhead’s The Despised Politician)


“Six damned politicians may, after all, be better than one damned dictator.”                                                                                   (from Lord Birkenhead’s The Despised Politician)


“Progress has always been a battle of the bored against the contented and the hopeless.”                                                                                                                           (Mr. Sempack in H. G. Wells’s Meanwhile, quoted in Lord Birkenhead’s The Despised Politician)


“’A mathematician,’ the prolific, nonsleeping Paul Erdos liked to say, ‘is a machine for turning coffee into theorems.’”                                 (Stacy Schiff, in NYT, February 3)


“I never remember hearing anybody in America, however snobbish, say that someone didn’t know his place. It is a deep almost unconscious belief of Americans, that your place is what your talent and luck can make it.”                        (Alistair Cooke, from an early Letter From America, quoted in Nick Clarke’s Alistair Cooke: A Biography, p 8)


“.. our irritation with American policy reached its zenith in the early months of 1945 when it did seem that the Administration considered the Russians to be fine, progressive democrats, and the British to be only interested in retaining their empire. Great men like Roosevelt, Eisenhower and even to some extent the greatest of them all, George Marshall, were so imbued with their own pride in being descended from successfully rebellious colonists that they equated colonialism with repression.”    (John Colville in a letter to Alistair Cooke, quoted in Nick Clarke’s Alistair Cooke: A Biography, p 199)


“Never accept a drink before 6 p.m., nor refuse one after.”                                     (Alistair Cooke’s motto, as recorded in Nick Clarke’s Alistair Cooke: A Biography, p 431)


“.. courage and cowardice know no national or racial frontiers and that when we say a man or a woman is a credit to the race, we should mean no more or less than the human race.”                                                       (Alistair Cooke, on 25 September 1974, in address to the US Congress, reported in Nick Clarke’s Alistair Cooke: A Biography, p 455)


“From scented hotel soap, and from the Boy Scouts; from home cooking, and from pianos with mandolin attachments; from prohibition, and from Odd Fellows’ funerals; from Key West cigars, and from cold dinner plates; from transcendentalism, and from the New Freedom; from fat women in strait-laced corsets, and from Philadelphia cream cheese; from The Star-Spangled Banner, and from the International Sunday-school Lessons; from rubber heels, and from the college spirit; from sulphate of quinine, and from Boston baked beans; from chivalry, and from laparotomy; from the dithyrambs of Herbert Kaufman, and from sport in all its hideous forms; from women with pointed fingernails, and from men with messianic delusions; from the retailers of smutty anecdotes about the Jews, and from the Lake Mohonk Conference; from Congressmen, vice crusaders, and the heresies of Henry Van Dyke; from jokes in the Ladies’ Home Journal, and from the Revised Statutes of the United States; from Colonial Dames, and from men who boast that they take cold showers every morning; from the Drama League, and from malicious animal magnetism; from ham and eggs, and from the weltanschauung of Kansas; from the theory that a dark cigar is always a strong one, and from the theory that a horse-hair put into a bottle of water will turn into a snake; from campaigns against profanity, and from the Pentateuch; from anti-vivisection, and from women who do not smoke; from wine-openers, and from Methodists; from Armageddon, and from the belief that a bloodhound never makes a mistake; from sacerdotal moving-pictures, and from virtuous chorus-girls; from bungalows, and from cornets in B flat, from canned soups, and from women who leave everything to one’s honor; from detachable cuffs, and from Lohengrin; from unwilling motherhood, and from canary birds – good Lord, deliver us!”                                                                                           (from H. L.Mencken’s Litanies for the Overlooked, 1. – For Americanos, published in A Book of Burlesques (1916))


“You know what lobbyists are? They’re the people that the people have to pay to protect them from the people they elected.”                                                                                 (Russell Westerberg, a lobbyist from Soda Springs, Idaho, quoted in NYT, February 9)


“Boredom with established truths is the greatest enemy of free men.”                                                                                  (First sentence in Bernard Crick’s In Defence of Politics)


“Violence is to totalitarianism as conciliation is to political systems – something creative.”                                                 (from Bernard Crick’s In Defence of Politics, p 42)


‘The politician who cannot stand unpopularity is not worth his salt.”                                                                                                           (Winston Churchill, at his last Washington Press Conference, according to Bernard Crick in In Defence of Politics, p 69)


“The revolution has no time for elections.”                                                                  (Fidel Castro, on May Day 1962, according to Bernard Crick’s In Defence of Politics, p 105)


“They [the New Left] wish to build People’s palaces, but not homes that actual people want to live in. they indulge themselves in love for humanity, but are embarrassed by men.”                                                        (from Bernard Crick’s In Defence of Politics, p 134)


“One cannot make men good by Act of Parliament.”                                                                              (Walter Bagehot, according to Bernard Crick in In Defence of Politics, p 151)


“Those who talk about the tolerance shown by some autocrats are merely kissing the boot that does not kick them.”                         (from Bernard Crick’s In Defence of Politics, p 183)


“The ethically desirable must be the sociologically possible.”                                                                  (L. T. Hobhouse, according to Bernard Crick in In Defence of Politics, p 189)


“English composers are what we call in France the second knives. They do not cut so sharp.”        (Pierre Boulez, overheard by Michael White, reporting in NYT, February 11)


“It’s much easier to find one’s way if one isn’t too familiar with the magnificent unity of classical physics. You have a decided advantage there, but then lack of knowledge is no guarantee of success.”           (Wolfgang Pauli to (young) Werner Heisenberg, reported by Janet Maslin in review of Uncertainty, by David Lindley, in NYT, February 12)


“Christianity says that you should love your enemy. It certainly doesn’t say that you should vaporize his children.”

“I think if we ever reach the point were we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed.”   (Carl Sagan, in his posthumous The Varieties of Scientific Experience, quoted by Dennis Overbye in NYT, February 13)


“It’s [The Left’s] history goes back a long way – to George Lansbury, leader of the Labour party, declaring in 1935 that Britain should unilaterally disarm and that we should

‘live peacefully and quietly with one another. If some people do not allow us to do so, I am ready to stand as the early Christians did and say, this is our faith, this is where we stand, and, if necessary, this is where we will die.’

Lansbury actually visited Hitler – the Führer fitted him in between Oswald Mosley and the Duke of Windsor – and came away saying ‘I feel that Christianity in its purest sense might have a chance with him.’”                                                                                   (Philip Hensher, in review of Nick Cohen’s What’s Left, in the Spectator, February 5)


“We undervalue the law of cause and effect,” said Lisa Tumino, who runs a bed-and-breakfast here near the Vatican. “We overvalue the law of the universe.”                     (From report on Italians’ lack of respect for the law by Ian Fisher in NYT, February 14)


“All pay was pocket-money. I wouldn’t mind living in a socialist state, as long as I was an officer.”                                                                                                 (Stephen Spender, in a statement to Andrew Sinclair, recorded in the latter’s War Like a Wasp, p 166)


“Through land and sea supreme

Without a rift or schism

Roll on the Wowser’s dream –

Fascidemokshevism.”                                                                                                           (Roy Campbell’s ‘devastating epigram’ about ‘the Beveridge Plan’, quoted from Campbell’s Selected Poetry by Andrew Sinclair in War Like A Wasp, p 183)


“As MacNeice used to say in the bars to those who ran down the profundity of his talent, ’If you see through things, you never see into them.’”                                                                                                                         (Andrew Sinclair, in War Like A Wasp, p 220)


“Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t, so why should we? They talk of the people and the proletariat, and I talk of the mugs. It’s the same thing. They have their five year plan, and so have I.”                                                                   (Harry Lime in The Third Man, quoted by Andrew Sinclair in his War Like A Wasp, p 249)


“The truest statements about war are made under one’s breath, and the most false on public platforms.”                                                   (Vernon Watkins, in A Little Treasury of Modern Poetry, quoted by Andrew Sinclair in his War Like A Wasp, p 288)


“We used to stand for the individual. Now we stand for the family, for the neighborhood in a word, for society.”                                                                                                                                (UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron, quoted in NYT, February 17)


I Want My Interstitial Content!

“It’s true that our viewers are telling us that they want an experience beyond linear television. MYV has a history of surrounding the consumer with both long-form and interstitial content, and I think we can deliver on a two-way relationship with our audience.”                  (Christina Norman, president of MTV, quoted in NYT, February 19)


“If Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had spent as much time plotting the toppling of Saddam Hussein as they did the toppling of Colin Powell, Iraq today would be Switzerland.”                                                     (Thomas L. Friedman, in NYT, February 23)


“Drama is the poetry of conduct, romance the poetry of circumstance.”                                                                                                         (R. L. Stevenson, in A Gossip on Romance)


“Man’s innate yearning for freedom can be suppressed but never destroyed. Totalitarianism cannot renounce violence. If it does, it perishes. Eternal, ceaseless violence, overt or covert, is the basis of totalitarianism. Man does not renounce freedom voluntarily. This conclusion holds out hope for our time, hope for the future.”                                                                          (Vasily Grossman, in Life and Fate, Part 1, Chapter 50)


“Human groupings have one main purpose: to assert everyone’s right to be different, to be special, to think, feel and live in his or her own way. People join together in order to win or defend this right. But this is where a terrible, fateful error is born: the belief that these groupings in the name of a race, a God, a party or a State are the very purpose of life and not simply a means to an end. No! The only true and lasting meaning of the struggle for life lies in the individual, in his modest peculiarities and in his right to these peculiarities.”                                        (Vasily Grossman, in Life and Fate, Part 1, Chapter 54)


“This kindness is both senseless and wordless. It is instinctive, blind. When Christianity clothed it in the teachings of Church Fathers, it began to fade; its kernel became a husk. It remains potent only while it is dumb and senseless, hidden in the living darkness of the human heart – before it becomes a tool or commodity in the hands of preachers, before its crude ore is forged into the gilt coins of holiness. It is simple as life itself. Even the teachings of Jesus deprived it of its strength……

Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed eve now, then evil will never conquer.”

(Vasily Grossman, in Life and Fate, Part 2, Chapter15)


“And he was dimly aware that if you wish to remain a human being under Fascism, there is an easier option than survival – death.”                                                                                                                                      (Vasily Grossman, in Life and Fate, Part 2, Chapter 42)


“The concept of personal innocence us a hangover from the Middle Ages. Pure superstition! Tolstoy declared that no one in the world is guilty. We Chekists have put forward a more advanced thesis: ‘No one in the world is innocent.’ Everyone is subject to our jurisdiction. If a warrant has been issued for your arrest, you are guilty – and a warrant can be issued for everyone. Yes, everyone has the right to a warrant. Even if he has spent his whole life issuing warrants for others. The Moor has ta’en his pay and may depart.”                                                                                                (Katsenelenbogen [sic] in Vladimir Grossman’s Life and Death, Part 3, Chapter 6)


“There is one right even more important than the right to send men to their death without thinking: the right to think twice before you send men to their death.”                                                                                  (Vasily Grossman, in Life and Fate, Part 3, Chapter 9)


“Why is it that the older generation always has to believe in something? Krymov believes in Lenin and Communism, Papa believes in freedom, Grandmother believes in the people and the workers… But to us, to the younger generation, all that just seems stupid. It’s stupid to believe in things. One should live without beliefs.”                                                                (Nadya Shtrum, in Vladimir Grossman’s Life and Fate, Part 3, Chapter 39)


“Good men and bad men alike are capable of weakness. The difference is simply that a bad man will be proud all his life of one good deed – while an honest man is hardly aware of his good acts, but remembers a single sin for years on end.”                                                                                       (Vasily Grossman, in Life and Fate, Part 3, Chapter 55)


“Though the veneer of sophistication has crept outwards, to such an extent that some enthusiasts carry a full set of fourteen gleaming and expensive clubs, the truth is soon brought home that all you need, between the driver and the putter, is three – a mover-onner, a pusher-upper and a getter-outer. For good value you could perhaps add that favourite club of our grandfathers, the rut-iron.”                                                                                                                                    (Henry Longhurst, in Only On Sundays, p 114)


“I think we must agree that all a man can do is beat the people who are around at the time that he is. He cannot win from those who came before, any more than he can win from those who come after him.”                                                                                                 (Bobby Jones, in Golf Is My Game, quoted by Henry Longhurst in Only On Sundays, p 235)


“Many in this world run after felicity like an absent man hunting for his hat, while all the time it is on his head or in his hand.”                                                                                                                                (Sydney Smith, according to Hesketh Pearson in Skye High, p 63)


“That is my chief objection to orthodox religion: it dehumanizes people. Religion was made for man, not man for religion.”                 (Hesketh Pearson, in Skye High, p 83)


“While they were eating the finnan haddock, Kingsmill asked Pearson how he would reply to anyone who charged him with inconsistency in eating what he condemned others for killing. ‘What I condemn.’ Pearson replied, ‘is turning a necessity into a recreation. I admire a surgeon. I wouldn’t admire a criminal lunatic who cut people open for the fun of the thing, and then sang a hymn in praise of his skill and courage.” (Skye High, p 91)


“PEARSON: … But of course all dictators are Utopians to their biographers.

KINGSMILL: Just as all Utopians are dictators to their stenographers.

PEARSON: Caesar, according to his Prussian lickspittle Mommsen, would have created a perfect state if he hadn’t been assassinated by a number of reformers. And when Mussolini dies, he too will be on the verge of creating a perfect state. Lenin, of course, was about to create a perfect state. Ditto Alexander the Great. Ditto Tamerlane, Ghengis Khan and Nero. And ditto, for all I care, Charles Peace and Jack the Ripper.”                                                                                                                              (Skye High, p 120)


“And yet nowadays any half-wit who has done nothing in five continents, instead of doling something in one country, has his reminiscences boosted as the garnered wisdom of one who has touched life at many points.”       (Hugh Kingsmill, in Skye High, p 198)


“…. I begin to suspect that a Scot with a passion for books is as rare as a Spaniard capable of killing a bull with a single thrust.”       (Hugh Kingsmill, in Skye High, p 232)





“Problems will always torment us, because all important problems are insoluble: that is why they are important. The good comes from the continuing struggle to try and solve them, not from the vain hope of the solution.”             (Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., from The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom, quoted in his NYT obituary, March 2)


“’History is the best antidote to delusions of omnipotence and omniscience’, he said, forcing us ‘to a recognition of the fact, so often and so sadly displayed, that the future outwits all our certitudes.’”        (from NYT leader on Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., March 2)


“As Yoram K. Bauman, an economist who teaches at the University of Washington and performs stand-up comedy, summed up an often-used line: ‘Macroeconomists have successfully predicted nine out of the last five recessions.’”                                                                                                                                                    (Daniel Gross, in NYT, March 4)


“We have to remember that in his [Erasmus Darwin’s] day a man who could see straight after dinner was not regarded as a gentleman.”                                                                                               (Hesketh Pearson, in An All-Round Man, from Extraordinary People)


“Man is an eating animal, drinking animal, and a sleeping animal. And one place din a material world, which alone furnishes all the human animal can desire. He is gifted beside with knowing faculties, practically to explore and to apply the resources of this world to his use. All else is nothing; conscience and sentiment are mere figments of the imagination. Man has but five gates of knowledge, the five senses; he can know nothing but through them; all else is a vain fancy; and as for the being of a God, the existence of a soul, or a world to come, who can know anything about them? Depend upon it, my dear madam, these are only the bugbears by which men of sense govern fools; nothing is real that is not an object of sense.”                                                                        (Erasmus Darwin, quoted by Hesketh Pearson in An All-Round Man, from Extraordinary People)


“A true philanthropist concerns himself not only with society as a whole, but also as many of the individuals who comprise it as the range of his affections can include.” (Francis Galton, quoted by Hesketh Pearson in Uncle Frank, from Extraordinary People)


“It may be said with some truth that the man who knows everyone knows no one, while the man who knows himself knows everyone.”                                                                                                              (Hesketh Pearson, in Rebel Artist, from Extraordinary People)


“Anyone with a message or a mission, plus the personality to preach and sustain it, can collect a number of starry-eyed half-wits to believe in him…”                                                                                              (Hesketh Pearson, in Rebel Artist, from Extraordinary People)


“Memoirs are a well-known form of fiction.”                                                    (Frank Harris, in a letter to Hesketh Pearson, quoted in Rebel Artist, from Extraordinary People)


“The queer thing about establishments is that they are liable to turn against their founders, the reason being that they often derive from genius and always flourish in mediocrity.”                       (Hesketh Pearson, in Beyond the Pale, from Extraordinary People)


“..democracy means the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.”                                                                          (Oscar Wilde, in The Soul of Man Under Socialism)


“All of our values are simulated. What is freedom? We have a choice between buying one car or buying another car? It’s a simulation of freedom.”                                                                                                                                  (Jean Baudrillaud, ‘critic and theorist of hyperreality’, from an interview with the NYT, quoted in his NYT obituary, March 7)


“Both in ancient and in modern times the priests have always reached out for power, secular as well as spiritual, and the history of civilization is largely a history of the long effort to shake them off.”                           (H. L. Mencken, in Treatise on the Gods, p 104)


“The only safe skeptic is one who was never exposed to faith in his infancy. Converts of more mature years are always more or less unreliable.”                                                                                                                        (H. L. Mencken, in Treatise on the Gods, p 117)


“One might hesitate to liken it [the New Testament] to any modern work of the first credibility, such as Boswell’s ‘Johnson’ or Eckermann’s ‘Gespräche Mit Goethe’, but it is certainly quite as sound as Parson Weems’ ‘Life of Washington’ or ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’.”                                              (H. L. Mencken, in Treatise on the Gods, p 227)


“The results of more than a century of that degradation are visible today in the United States, where democracy has been carried further than anywhere else – very amusingly in such phenomena as Dr. Hoover’s sudden appearance as a pious Quaker when the White House came within reach, and very unpleasantly in such obscenities as Comstockery, prohibition, and the laws against the teaching of evolution. In brief, the mob has made its superstitions official.”                         (H. L. Mencken, in Treatise on the Gods, p 296)


“But all they really prove is that theologians are well aware, deep down in their hearts, that faith alone is not sufficient to make even half-wits believe in their mumbo-jumbo; they sense a need to sweeten the dose with such testimony as would convince a judge and jury. The result of their labours in that direction, has been only to reduce human reason to the quaking and malarious thing that it is today. They have gradually broken down all the natural barriers between fact and fiction, sense and nonsense, and converted logic into a weapon that mauls the truth more often than it defends it.”                                                                                                                (H. L. Mencken, in Treatise on the Gods, pp 311-312)


“The scent of frying astronomers long ago ceased to ascend to Yahweh, but even today it would strike the world as extraordinary if the pope invited an eminent biologist to the Vatican and made him a knight of St. Gregory, just as it would seem extraordinary if the President of the United States began associating intimately with honest men.”                                                                                (H. L. Mencken, in Treatise on the Gods, p 313)


“I think Dr. [A. N.] Whitehead was on far sounder ground when, in another place, he said that ‘religion is the last refuge of human savagery’.”                                                                                                                     (H. L. Mencken, in Treatise on the Gods, p 320)


“One might easily conjure up, perhaps by the discreet use of alcohol, a picture of the nations of the world at peace at last, with every frontier abolished and all the old dark plots and counter-pots forgotten, but, to imagine Moslem and Christian, Catholic and Protestant burying their differences and joining amicably in the worship of the One God they all profess to serve – to imagine anything so tremendously improbable would take far more wine than all the vintners now in practice could supply.”                                                                                                               (H. L. Mencken, in Treatise on the Gods, p 324)


“The only really safe skeptic is of the third generation: his grandfather must have taken the Devil’s shilling as a bachelor……  The tradition of all the generations of the past’, said Karl Marx, ‘weighs down like an Alp upon the brain of the living.’”                                                                                             (H. L. Mencken, in Treatise on the Gods, p 333)


“The two [theology and poetry], after all, are very much alike: both are based on the theory that it is better to believe what is false than to suffer what is true.”                                                                                                (H. L. Mencken, in Treatise on the Gods, p 349)


“It was G. K. Chesterton who, faced with the view that any religion is as valid as any other, suggested that those who held it should try thinking of something blasphemous to say about Thor…”         (Bernard Levin, in Faith and Fainthearts, from Now Read On)


“You can have sex before cricket, or after cricket. The fundamental fact is that cricket must be there at the centre of things.”                                                                                                                 (Harold Pinter, according to Ben Macintyre, in The Times, March 10)


“Auden and Isherwood went to sea

In a beautiful pea-soup fog.

They wrote and wrote for days and days

And out of the gloom of their cerebral haze

Came one of those highly symbolical plays

To do with the Skin of a Dog.


Away they drifted, and out to sea;

Their view was depressing and bleak.

They wrote and wrote for nights and nights

A play whose transcendental flights

Rivalled the rare and glacial heights

Of its own mysterious peak;


And steadfastly they both maintained

This introspective note.

Now, if I felt half as glum as they,

Or had no faith and saw no ray

Of hope in a world so utterly grey,

I’d cut my bloody throat.”                                                                                                                                                                                                      (Two Minds With But A Single Snort, by Nicolas Bentley, from Second Thoughts on First Lines, and other poems)


Both Sides of the Coin

1) “Enoch Powell: ‘No, we do not fight for values. I would fight for this country even if it had a communist government.’

Margaret Thatcher (it was just before the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands): ‘Nonsense, Enoch. If I send British troops abroad, it will be to defend our values.’

Powell: ‘No, Prime Minister, values exist in a transcendental realm, beyond space and time. They can neither be fought for, or destroyed.’”                             (John Casey recalling a meeting of the Conservative Philosophy Group, in the Spectator, March 17)

2) “He [Michael Foot] was by instinct a republican, yet when the Queen complained about Spanish objections to the Prince of Wales visiting Gibraltar – ‘After all, it’s my son, my yacht and my dockyard’ – he responded enthusiastically, ‘Your Majesty, I could not have put it better.’                                                                                (Philip Ziegler, in review of Michael Foot, by Kenneth O. Morgan, in the Spectator, March 17)


“Most bizarrely, when Singapore fell to the Japanese, the military disaster was used in the press as the sign of God’s judgement on Britain for allowing such blasphemy [Dorothy Sayers’s representation of the Gospels in The Man Born To Be King] to be committed.”                            (Baroness James, from a lecture recorded in the Oriel College Record, 2006)


“People want things to be grand and cosmically significant. But there is no cosmic significance.”     (Jonathan Miller, interviewed in Times’ The Knowledge, March 17-23)


“When you’re young, of course, you never think of being retired. I never imagined I would end up in a retirement home in Germany. But it is God’s will.”                                             (Dilber Cebik, retired immigrant worker in Germany, quoted in NYT, March 25)


“For Britain, Europe is a convenience rather than a concept.”                                                             (Karsten Voigt, a German Foreign Ministry official, quoted in NYT, March 25)


“There is this terrible, misplaced urge to merge with the rest of the world.”                                                                 (Patwant Singh, author of The Sikhs, quoted in NYT, March 29)




“I once heard Susan Sontag, in conversation with Umberto Eco, define the polymath as one ‘who is interested in everything, and in nothing else.’”                   (Christopher Hitchens, in review of Clive James’s Cultural Amnesia, in Atlantic Monthly, April 2007)


“Stick your finger in a glass of water and pull it out. That’s the hole you leave in this world.”                                                                                                                   (Masters Chairman Hord Hardin, according to Jerry Tarde in Golf Digest, April 2007)


“In the Red Army, it takes a very brave man to be a coward.”                                 (Marshal Zhukov, according to Benjamin Schwarz in Atlantic Monthly, May 2007)


“To be unusual or unconventional was the one sin not forgiven by the British schoolboy.”                                                                                  (Ernest Thesiger, in Practically True)


“I don’t know. But if he was, and it bothered him, he should have slept with half a dozen of ‘em and got the damned thing out of his system.”                               (Wilfred Thesiger, to John Guest at the Travellers’ Club, on being asked whether T. E. Lawrence was ‘actively homosexual’, quoted in Wilfred Thesiger, by Alexander Maitland, p 127)


“Any private individual who behaved in private life as England has behaved during the past 4 years, would be kicked out of his club and never spoken to again.”                                                                                                                                        (Wilfred Thesiger, on England’s appeasement of Germany in the 1930s, from The Life Of My Choice, p 306)


“I like [George] Adamson very much but his wife [Joy] is impossible. I wonder he has not taken her out into the bush and shot her long ago.” (Wilfred Thesiger, in January 1961 letter to his mother, quoted in Wilfred Thesiger, by Alexander Maitland, p 388)


“… the quickest way to start a punch-up between two British literary critics is to ask them what they think of the poems of John Betjeman.”                                                         (Philip Larkin, in 1971, according to Patrick Taylor-Martin, in John Betjeman, p 10)


“We ask people like that to our houses, but we don’t marry them.”                                                                                      (Penelope Chetwode’s mother, reputedly, speaking of John Betjeman’s bourgeois origins, from Patrick Taylor-Martin’s John Betjeman, p 43)


“Any fastidious fool with a good reference library can docket and classify a work of art, but to transmit is as an experience shared is an infinitely rare gift.”                                                    (Osbert Lancaster, according to Patrick Taylor-Martin, in John Betjeman, p 171)


“Faced with the abuses of economic power, faced with the cruelty of capitalism that downgrades man to a commodity, we have begun to see more clearly the dangers of wealth and understand in a new way what Jesus meant when he warned against wealth.” (Joseph Ratzinger [Pope Benedict XVI], in Jesus of Nazareth, quoted in NYT, April 14)


“As they say on Long Island, the further you are up the flagpole, the more people can see your rear end.”                                                                                                           (Richard Bond, a former Republican National Committee Chairman, in NYT, April 15)


“… the Garden of Eden was a boggy swamp just south of Croydon – you can see it over there..”                                     (Peter Cook, as Mephisto [George Spiggott] in Bedazzled)


“This page normally has little patience for people who gripe about paying taxes.”                                                                                             (opening to first leader in NYT, April 16)


“How can I retire? I’m a narcissist!”                                                                                                                             (Shimon Peres, to Steven Erlanger, as reported in NYT, April 17)


“If the response of the United States to that terrible, terrible event [9/11], instead of immediately declaring war on terror, had been a war on want and trebling the amount of aid they give to all these countries that are poor, there might have been better results. In other words, you sometimes get to your aim not in a direct way but in another way, and you can’t get peace without justice.”                                                                                                                                       (Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, in the Spectator, April 7)


“Man cannot live by bread alone, but the man who cannot live on bread and water is not fit to live.”                                                                          (Henry Ward Beecher, according to William Grimes in review of Jack Beatty’s Age of Betrayal, in NYT, April 18)


“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”         (Jay Gould, according to William Grimes in review of Jack Beatty’s Age of Betrayal, in NYT, April 18)


“People grow out of poverty when they create small businesses that employ their neighbors. Nothing else lasts.”                 (Thomas L. Friedman, in NYT, April 20)


“He [Pope Benedict XVI] believes, as I do, that true religion is the exploration of metaphysics by the power of reason.”              (Paul Johnson, in the Spectator, April 14)


But what about British petty-mindedness?

“…. Brussels-Europe combines all the worst characteristics of its components: French arrogance, Italian corruption, German tunnel-vision, Spanish bloodymindedness, Dutch obstinacy, Belgian cowardice, Austrian anti-Semitism, Portuguese evasiveness and Danish cop-outing, not to speak of the new Slav contributions, Polish irrealism, Czech confusion, Slovak evasion, all topped up by Hungarian deviousness. ‘Europe’ is the worst thing to happen to Europe since the two world wars it started….”                                                                                                                           (Paul Johnson, in the Spectator, April 14)


The Supreme Court and Abortion

“I am a rheumatologist caring for a patient whose lupus nephritis is flaring. Her creatinine is rising as her platelet count falls, and she has failed to improve with pulse methylprednisolone and intravenous cyclophosphamide. I am contemplating using rituximab. I would like to refer this case to the United States Supreme Court for its guidance.”                                                             (Letter from a Dr. Zweig, in NYT, April 24)


“…. never lecture, don’t be obscure, never become someone’s opinion of you, and remember that every line has two purposes — one, to delineate character, and two, to advance the plot. Everything else is a waste.”                                                                                             (Part of advice from Edward Albee to budding dramatists, in NYT, April 24)


“.. it is not sufficient that the state of affairs which we seek to promote should be better than the state of affairs which preceded it; it must be sufficiently better to make up for the evils of transition.”                  (from J. M. Keynes’s unpublished The Political Doctrines of Edmund Burke, quoted by Robert Skidelsky in The Economist as Savior, p 62) “All museums are religious museums, because those that explain life without God – that’s a religious position, that’s a faith position that everything happens by natural process.”                                                          (Ken Ham, president of the Creation Museum, owned by Answers in Genesis, in Petersburg, KY, reported in NYT, April 27) “It is fatal for a capitalist government to have principles. It must be opportunistic in the best sense of the word, living by accommodation and good sense. If any monarchical, plutocratic or other analogous form of government has principles, it will fail.” (unpublished fragment from Keynes papers, quoted in Robert Skidelsky’s The Economist as Savior, p 224)

“If Shakespeare had been born fifty years earlier, England could not have afforded him.”                                                                   (J. M. Keynes, in conversation with Roger Fry, from the latter’s diaries, recorded by Robert Skidelsky in The Economist as Savior, p 333)


“If Marx is the poet of commodities, Keynes is the poet of money.”                                                                                    (Robert Skidelsky, in The Economist as Savior, p 543)


“We have watched an artist firing arrows at the moon.”                                                        (Arthur Pigou in Economics review of Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, quoted by Robert Skidelsky in The Economist as Savior, p 548)


“Aiming for realism, it exhibited the worst features of the ‘Ricardian Vice’ of excessive abstraction, with its use of artificial definitions, specialized assumptions and ‘paradoxical-looking tautologies’ to invest ‘special cases’ with a ‘treacherous generality.” (reporting on Joseph Schumpeter’s review of Keynes’s General Theory.. in the Journal of the American Statistical Association, pp 576-577)


“In the case of Kipling the interesting problem is how, in spite of everything .. he could be so good; … in the case of Housman … how, in spite of everything … he could be so bad.”                                                                                                     (Keynes in letter to Raymond Mortimer, quoted by Robert Skidelsky in The Economist as Savior, p 626)


“There is nothing a Government hates more than to be well-informed; for it makes the process of arriving at decisions much more complicated and difficult.”                                                                                                                  (from Keynes’s Collected Works, xxi, pp 404-409, quoted by Robert Skidelsky in The Economist as Savior, p 630)


“It is fearfully dangerous to advocate anything which depends for its success on conditions of clear-sighted resolution in execution, which are most unlikely to be forthcoming, and which otherwise will be a visible and dramatic failure… the moral is that one should only advocate ideas, which would do more good than harm, if applied in a  feeble and wavering way.” (Hubert Henderson, economist and civil servant, in letter to Keynes 10 July 1925, quoted by Robert Skidelsky in The Economist as Savior, p 697)


“What you can’t say, you can’t say, and you can’t whistle either.”                                                                                                   (Frank Ramsey, philosopher, summing up Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, quoted by Robert Skidelsky in The Economist as Savior, p 703)


“Colin McGinn, a philosopher, think it is plain obvious that the brain is ‘just the wrong kind of thing’ to give birth to consciousness; ‘You might as well assert that numbers emerge from biscuits or ethics from rhubarb.’”       (Paul Brooks, in Prospect, April 2007)


“He [François Bayrou] also criticized her [Ségolène Royal’s] proposal that all French people should have a national flag in the cupboard for display on Bastille Day, saying, ‘It would be as if I said that all the French people must have a photo of their mothers in the living room.’”                                                                             (report in NYT, April 29)


“Fools are made doctors by other fools in other universities, but no fool has been given an Hon. D. Litt. by Oxford.”                                                                                                 (Edith Sitwell to John Gielgud, according to Walter Harris in The Oxbridge Conspiracy, p 183)


“My sons had the disadvantage of a good education.”                                  (Businessman Sir John Moores, according to Walter Harris in The Oxbridge Conspiracy, p 275)


“To the modern Anglican prelate, beset as he is by such vexed questions as paganism, poverty, divorce, abortion, women priests and overt homosexuality, what truly matters is holding fast to the central tenets of belief: croquet, Earl Grey, a good malt, Eights Week, civilized reticence and the knowledge that, surely, God is none other than Master of the Celestial College.”                    (Walter Harris in The Oxbridge Conspiracy, pp 310-311)


“Once the Church of England was said to be the Tory Party at prayer. It would be more accurate today to describe it as Oxbridge on its knees.”                                                                                                                  (Walter Harris in The Oxbridge Conspiracy, p 311)


“It [the Third World] serves three purposes, as far as I can tell: the first is to furnish us with a certain amount (but not too much) of cheap labour; the second is to tickle our palates with exotic cuisines, so that we can establish our sophistication in the eyes of our peers by our familiarity with them; and the third is to serve as an outlet for conspicuous compassion.”                                             (Theodore Dalrymple, in the Spectator, April 28)




“The first duty of the ‘artist’ is to make things which people can like for the wrong reasons.” (Eric Gill, according to Rayner Heppenstall in Four Absentees, Chapter 5)


“Utopias are the Opium of the People.”                     (Slogan draped over the 1930s magazine Colosseum, according to Rayner Heppenstall in Four Absentees, Chapter 12)


“Each day starts with, ‘How much can I do today to get towards that B. N. V. A. R.? You know what B. N. V. A. R. is? It’s the beautiful nonviolent anarchist revolution. That’s what we work for every day.”                                                                                     (‘80-year-old avant-garde theater doyenne’ Judith Malina, interviewed in NYT, May 5)


“The number of complaints about a nation’s violation of human rights is in inverse proportion to its actual violation of them.”                                             (Moynihan’s Law, coined by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, according to Nick Cohen, in What’s Left?, p 39)


“It is almost never when a state of things is the most detestable that it is smashed, but when, beginning to improve, it permits men to breathe, to reflect, to communicate their thoughts with each other, and to gauge by what they already have the extent of their rights and their grievances.”                                                                         (Alexis de Tocqueville, on the French Revolution, according to Nick Cohen, in What’s Left?, p 42)


“They operate on an idealist plane. Far above the political world they oppose. Consciously or unconsciously, this separation of ideals from any coherent arrangements that might further them acts as a prophylactic for the movements: their approach cannot be opposed, because to do so is to oppose virtue. Unlike communism, which sought power, the core of the global movements’ narrative is oppositional, and must remain so.”   (John Lloyd, in The Protest Ethic, quoted by Nick Cohen, in What’s Left?, p 119)


“When Jacques Chirac attacks you from the moral high ground, the game is always up.”                                                                                        (Nick Cohen, in What’s Left?, p 151)


“A good newspaper is never good enough, but a lousy newspaper is a joy forever.”                                                        (Garrison Keillor, according to Joe Queenan, in NYT, May 6)


MacSpaunday Time Again

crackup in barcelona


among the bleached skeletons of the olive-trees

stirs a bitter wind

and maxi my friend from the mariahilferstrasse

importunately questions a steely sky

his eyes are two holes made by a dirty finger

in the damp blotting paper of his face

the muscular tissues stretched tautly across the scaffolding of bone

are no longer responsive to the factory siren

and never again will the glandular secretions react

to the ragtime promptings of the palais-de-danse

and I am left balanced on Capricorn

the knife-edge tropic between anxiety and regret

while the racing editions are sold at the gates of football grounds

and maxi lies on a bare catalan hillside

knocked off the tram by a fascist conductor

who misinterpreted a casual glance.                                                                                                       (‘Bill Tipple’, from the liftshaft, in Drayneflete Revealed, by Osbert Lancaster)


“Compensation committees are cocker spaniels when they should be Dobermans.”                                                 (Warren Buffett, according to Richard Dooling, in NYT, May 9)


“I despise all I see of progress, except anesthetics.”                          (from NYT obituary, May 11, of Lesley Blanch, ‘Writer, Traveler, and Adventure-Seeker’, who died aged 102)


“Great novelists write for their peers. Poor novelists write for their teachers.”                                                                                                    (Julian Gough, in Prospect, May 2007)


“One day in July 1945, a public schoolboy with a straw hat on stood with his trunk on Bishop Stortford’s station, and called out ‘My man’ to the porter. ‘No,’ the porter said, ‘that sort of thing is all over now.’”                                                         (Philip Hensher, in review of David Kynaston’s Austerity Britain, 1945-51, in the Spectator, May 5)


“The memo is more deadly than the demo.”                                (Noel Annan, according to Andrew Lycett, in Christ Church and Intelligence, from Christ Church 2006)


“He [Trevor Roper] liked Richard Hillary’s book The Last Enemy published in 1943 for ‘representing to me the Oxford I liked to believe in – a gay, skeptical, tolerant, enquiring, unshockable world, enjoying experience for its own sake, and unimpressed by proprieties and slogans.’”                                                                                                                                                (Andrew Lycett, in Christ Church and Intelligence, from Christ Church 2006)


“Who is entitled to write his reminiscences?


Because no one is obliged to read them.”                                                                       (from Alexander Herzen’s The Pole Star, 1855, reprinted in My Past and Thoughts, p v)


“Art, and the summer lightning of individual happiness: these are the only real goods we have..”                                                                                                  (Alexander Herzen, quoted by Isaiah Berlin in his Introduction to Herzen’s My Past and Thoughts)


“The desire to see one’s name in print is one of the strongest artificial passions in a man who has been corrupted by this bookish age.”                                                                                                                            (Alexander Herzen, in My Past and Thoughts, p 223)


“Paul Louis Courier observed in his day that executioners and  prosecutors are the most courteous of men. ‘My dear executioner,’ writes the prosecutor, ‘if it is not disturbing you too much, you will do me the greatest service if you will kindly take the trouble to chop off So-and-so’s head tomorrow morning.’ And the executioner hastens to answer that ‘he esteems himself fortunate indeed that he can by so trifling a service do something agreeable for the prosecutor and remains, always his devoted and obedient servant, the executioner’, and the other man, the third, remains devoted without his head.”                                                               (Alexander Herzen, in My Past and Thoughts, pp 259-260)


“It mortifies us to realize that the idea is impotent, that truth has no binding power over the world of actuality. A new sort of Manichaeism takes possession of us, and we are ready, par dépit, to believe in rational (that is, purposive) evil, as we believed in rational good – that is the last tribute we pay to idealism.”                                                                                                                              (Alexander Herzen, in My Past and Thoughts, p 388)


“You can no more bridle passion with logic than you can justify them in the lawcourts. Passions are facts and not dogmas.” (Alexander Herzen, in My Past and Thoughts, p 432)


“All religious reconciliations of the irreconcilable are won by means of redemptions, that is, by sacred transmutation, sacred deception, a solution which solves nothing but is taken on trust. What can be more antithetical than freedom and necessity? Yet by faith even they are easily reconciled. Man will accept without a murmur the justice of punishment for an action which was pre-ordained.”                                                                                                                                  (Alexander Herzen, in My Past and Thoughts, p 433)


“It is far better that the clever thief should go unpunished than every honest man should be trembling like a thief in his own room. Before I came to England every appearance of a policeman in the house in which I lived gave me an irresistibly nasty feeling, and morally I stood en garde against an enemy. In England the policeman at your door or within your doors only adds a feeling of security.”                                                                                                                       (Alexander Herzen, in My Past and Thoughts, p 453)


“Nations that are trying to redeem their independence never know (and it is a very good thing too) that independence of itself gives them nothing except the rights of their majority, a place among their peers, and the recognition of their capability as citizens to pass acts, and that is all.”                   (Alexander Herzen, in My Past and Thoughts, p 615)


“Laughter intervened in the affair: laughter, which is a bad companion for any religion, and autocracy is a religion.”            (Alexander Herzen, in My Past and Thoughts, p 640)


“Pedantry and scholasticism prevent men from grasping things with simple, lively understanding more than do superstition and ignorance. With the latter, the instincts are left, hardly realized, but trustworthy; moreover, ignorance does not exclude passionate enthusiasm, nor does superstition exclude inconsistency. But pedantry is always true to itself.”                                              (Alexander Herzen, in My Past and Thoughts, p 666)


“All handsome men are weak, and whatever is stronger than they are controls them. And the thing that’s stronger …. Well, either it’s your mother, or what people say, or circumstances in general. Or perhaps it’s all three….”                         (Lene Nimptsch, in Theodor Fontane’s Delusions, Confusions [Irrungen, Wirrungen], Chapter 5)


“She’s a bit silly, it’s true, but a silly young wife is always better than none at all.”                                                                                                                      (Botho von Rienäcker, in Theodor Fontane’s Delusions, Confusions [Irrungen, Wirrungen], Chapter 23)


“Many people easily avoid the pitfalls of business worship or mystical commerce only to fall into the trap of the mystical State, which makes them imagine that a group of institutions and a rough-and-ready organization for political and economic purposes – let us say a combination of the British Museum, the Metropolitan Water Board, and New Scotland Yard – are somehow more important, of deeper significance to the wide universe, than the sum total of the human beings concerned. And I take this to be the more fashionable and potent illusion of our time; perhaps the father of those warring children, Communism and Fascism.”          (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, pp 95-96)


“I have had playmates. I have had companions, but all, all are gone; and they were killed by greed and muddle and monstrous cross-purposes, by old men gobbling and roaring in clubs, by diplomats working underground like monocled moles, by journalists wanting a good story, by hysterical women waving flags, by grumbling debenture-holders, by strong silent beribboned asses, by fear or apathy or downright lack of imagination.”                                                                            (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, p 144)


“And why are third-rate politicians in this country still considered to be far more important than first-rate artists of any kind? Is it because there is always a chance that the politician may be able to wangle something, whereas no real good can come of artists? I wonder if there is a country in Europe in which musicians, authors, philosophers, scientists, count for less than they do in this country.”                                                                                                                                     (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, p 176)


‘Jack’ Priestley on Globalism, 1934

“We live, you see, in an interdependent world. We insisted upon proving this fact to the dreamy and exclusive orientals last century, and now in this century they are only adding further proofs. There is no escape now on this planet………     There is no escape. We may be under fifty different national flags, but we are compelled to serve under only one economic flag. We do not know who designed it and ran it up, but there it is, and the more often we try to desert from it, the more brutally we shall be starved into submission.”                                                           (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, p 227)


“Blackburn expected every man to do his dhootie.” [Dhootie is the loincloth of India]                                                                                (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, p 229)


“The major events of our lives are unfortunate for our dignity: we come into this world to the accompaniment of shrieks of pain and the reek of disinfectant: we are married among idiotic ceremonies, and silly whispers, giggles, nudges, stares and stale jokes; we leave this world in the company of wired flowers and dyed horses, commercial gentlemen with professionally long faces, and greeny black suits that do not fit; and we can only say goodbye to the bodies we have loved in a monstrous atmosphere of black bogeymen on parade.”                                                     (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, p 264)


“Your attitude measures up to the two requirements of love. You want to go to bed with her and you can’t, and you don’t know her very well.”                                                                                               (Carol Goldsmith, in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, Chapter 12)


“..David Cecil still ran in and out of Isaiah’s rooms, gabbling with a voice like a crate of hens being carried across a field.” (Michael Ignatieff, in Isaiah Berlin: A Life, Chapter 7)


“Mr. Berlin, don’t you believe that if the word Jew was banned from the public press for fifty years, it would have a strongly positive influence?’                                                                                                               (Arthur Hays Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times, to Isaiah Berlin, from Michael Ignatieff’s Isaiah Berlin: A Life, Chapter 8)


“Whenever you hear a man speak of ‘realism’, you may always be sure that this is the prelude to some bloody deed.”                                                                                                                          (Isaiah Berlin, from Michael Ignatieff’s Isaiah Berlin: A Life, Chapter 15)


“The status of the Jews is unique and anomalous, composed of national, cultural, religious strands, inextricably intertwined. To attempt either to affirm their indissolubility, or to attempt the separation of those strands, must inevitably lead to deep and bitter disagreement.”                                                      (Isaiah Berlin to David Ben Gurion, January 23, 1959,from Michael Ignatieff’s Isaiah Berlin: A Life, Chapter 15)


“For example, when asked his opinion of Benjamin Britten, Stravinsky replied suavely, ‘Such a marvellous accompanist.’”                                                                                                                                                (from Michael Ignatieff’s Isaiah Berlin: A Life, Chapter 15)


“As for the meaning of life, I do not believe it has any. I do not at all ask what it is, but I suspect it has none and this is a source of great comfort to me. We make of it what we can and that is all there is to it. Those who seek for some deep cosmic all-embracing …. libretto or God are, believe me, pathetically mistaken.”                                                                                                                    (Isaiah Berlin to an ‘unknown correspondent’, November 20, 1984, from Michael Ignatieff’s Isaiah Berlin: A Life, Chapter 18)


We are growing old together, you and I;

Let us ask ourselves, what is age like?

The idle head, still uncombed at noon.

Propped on a staff, sometimes a walk abroad;

Or all day sitting with closed doors.

One dares not look in the polished mirror’s facer;

One cannot read small-letter books.

Deeper and deeper, one’s love of old friends;

Fewer and fewer, one’s dealings with young men,

One thing only, the pleasure of idle talk,

Is great as ever, when you and I meet.

(poem by  ‘a  ninth-century Chinese writer’, sent by Stephen Spender to Isaiah Berlin, July 14, 1993, from Michael Ignatieff’s Isaiah Berlin: A Life, Chapter 18)


“If you had asked me to show you what I meant by the idea of Englishness, I would have taken you to see a Latvian, Jewish, German, Italian mixture of all the cultures of Europe. I would have taken you to see Isaiah Berlin.”                                                                                                                                                             (William Waldegrave in The Daily Telegraph, November 10, 1997, from Michael Ignatieff’s Isaiah Berlin: A Life, Epilogue)


“Religion in politics is the work of the devil.”                                                                                                    (Gore Vidal, in Spectator’s Special Supplement on Tony Blair, May 12)


“She cannot at her own whim simply enter or leave her religion. She must follow the rules.”                                                                                                                      (Malaysia’s chief justice, Ahmad Fairuz Abdul Halim, in a Federal Court Ruling disallowing Lina Joy’s conversion from Islam to Roman Catholicism, reported in NYT, May 31)


“Perhaps the only class which is ever religious as a class, is the middle-middle class. Paganism, touched with ancestor-worship, is the prerogative of the aristocracy. Upper middle-classes tend to be agnostic; proletarians are heathen. But one of the most startling social facts of our time is that the middle- and lower-middle classes have ceased to be religious, at least in any doctrinal way their ancestors would have recognized.”                                                                                              (James Laver, in Museum Piece, Chapter 1)


“It was recorded of Warden Sewell, who had become Warden of New College in 1860 and died in office in 1903, that when he was asked if the bells should be rung for Mafeking, replied, ’We didn’t ring them for Waterloo’.”                                                                                                                           (James Laver, in Museum Piece, Chapter 3)


“Woodrow is a very wonderful man but, do you know, when he proposed to me I almost fell out of bed laughing.”                                                                                                                                     (Mrs Woodrow Wilson, to Clemenceau, on receiving her future husband’s marriage proposal by letter, reported by James Laver, in Museum Piece, Chapter 4)


“It is a great mistake for artists to become well-dressed as they grow prosperous.”                                     (Will Rothenstein, according to James Laver, in Museum Piece, Chapter 4)


“On the title-page [of the author’s Portraits in Oil and Vinegar] was an (alleged) quotation from Brillat-Savarain: ‘Dans la vie comme dans la salade il faut de l’huile et du vinaigre: beaucoup de l’huile, très peu de l’autre’. I say ‘alleged’ because no such sentence can be found in La Physiologie du Goût. Like Walter Scott with his ‘Old Ballad’ chapter headings, I made it up myself.”        (James Laver, in Museum Piece, Chapter 4)


“Never marry, never do any work, and never stand for Parliament.”            (William Stone’s recipe for longevity, according to James Laver, in Museum Piece, Chapter 7)


“’Are you a religious man, Mr Colson?’ asked the Dean [at Winchester], looking down upon him from a great height. ‘No! No!’ said Percy brightly, ‘Church of England.’”                                                                              (James Laver, in Museum Piece, Chapter 8)


“It is quite conceivable … that the type which we ourselves may be said to represent – the ‘intellectuals’ who have perhaps learned their disinterestednes through their fragmentary opportunities of economic freedom – will not survive. It cannot be helped. But it is not wholly accidental to the purpose of this book that it may teach some of those how to endow themselves with survival value. For there is only one way – to be ready to sacrifice their all. By that readiness they will have earned the right to survive: in virtue of that readiness, if they see no prospect of surviving, they will not care.”                                                                                                                                     (Middleton Murry, from The Necessity of Communism, reported by James Laver, in Museum Piece, Chapter 9)


“Even more extraordinary was that part of my duties which was concerned with the Escheated Estates of Intestate Bastards.” (James Laver, in Museum Piece, Chapter 10)


“Mayors, by the way, can be divided into two categories: those who have ‘a little something’ in the cupboard and those who haven’t.”                                                                                                                     (James Laver, in Museum Piece, Chapter 10)


“I went to a grammar school. My brother didn’t. I’m in the Cabinet. He’s still driving buses. So I don’t like grammar schools.”                                                                                                                                              (Hazel Blears, reported in the Spectator, May 26)




“My daughter’s 21 years old and she’s been around it all her life. Now she’s crying that her child won’t get to see it. Besides, they’re not animals, they’re birds.” (Rowdy Albers, lamenting the illegalization of cock-fighting in Louisiana, from NYT, June 1)


“There are worse crimes than burning books. One is not reading them.”                                                                                                                   (attributed to Joseph Brodsky by booksellers Will Leathem and Tom Wayne of Kansas City, Mo., reported in NYT, June 3)


“In the history of Iraq, more than 7,000 years, there have always been strong leaders. We need strong rulers or dictators like Franco, Hitler, even Mubarak. We need a strong dictator, and a fair one at the same time, to kill all extremists, Sunni and Shiite.”                                                                                                                                      (Sheik Muhamad Bakr al-Suhail, ‘a respected Shiite neighborhood leader in Baghdad’, from  NYT, June 3)


“… and my father, throughout his life, always claimed that to be beaten was a small sacrifice for a boy and a great treat for a monk.”                                                                                                        (Alexander Waugh on his father [Auberon], quoted in Christopher Hitchens’s review of Fathers and Sons by Alexander Waugh, in NYT, June 3)


“If God existed, He would have certainly not permitted that human beings be thrown alive into furnaces, and the heads of little toddlers smashed with butt of guns or be shoved into sacks and gassed to death.”                                                                          (from the 1943 diary of Rutka Laskier, in Bedzin, Poland, shortly before she was sent to Auschwitz, released by her friend Stanislawa Sapinska in 2006, from NYT, June 5)


“Software is like the tax-code. You add lines, but you never take anything away.”                                                   (Jean-Louis Gassée, former Apple executive, quoted in NYT, June 5)


Gloomy Times Ahead

“Five billion years ago dark energy was unobservable; 100 billion years from now it will become invisible again.”                                                                                                               (Dr. Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University, quoted in NYT, June 5)


“It is always useful to be near a frontier, in case you need to make a dash for it.” (Writer Lesley Blanch, in her last interview [with Caroline Baum], from the Spectator, May 26)


“Everyone is at least three people, what they are, what they think they are, what the world thinks they are.’                                                                                                                     (from Anthony Powell’s A Writer’s Notebook, quoted in the Spectator, May 26)


“In a multi-cultural age, he [Edward Elgar] represents a country we no longer recognize except by way of apology.”                                                                                                                                    (Norman Lebrecht, quoted by Michael Henderson in the Spectator, June 2)


“          ’Why did you become a Mujahid?’ I asked Seyyed Umar.

‘Because the Russian government stopped my women from wearing head scarves and confiscated my donkeys.’

‘And why did you fight the Taliban?’

‘Because they forced my women to wear burqas, not head scarves, and stole my donkeys.’”                                                                     (from Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between, p 143; we learn later that Seyyed Umar was actually a member of the Taliban)


“There is a consensus in Afghan society: violence must end, respect for human rights will form the path to a lasting peace and stability across the country. The people’s aspirations must be represented in an accountable, broad-based, gender sensitive, multiethnic, representative government that delivers daily value.”                        (from Afghanistan: Rebuilding a Nation: 6 national priority sub-programs – Afghanistan’s National Program for Reconstruction, quoted by Rory Stewart in the Places In Between, p 291)


“When Ruth was a child, she ‘used to pray very night that the Lord would let her be a martyr before the end of the year,’ and that she would be ‘captured by bandits and beheaded, killed for Jesus’ sake.’”                                                                                                                                      (Marshall Frady in his 1979 book Bill Graham: A Parable of American  Righteousness, about Graham’s wife Ruth Bell Graham, born in 1920 in Northern China to Presbyterian missionaries, quoted in her NYT obituary, June 15)


“The late Senator Eugene McCarthy told me that he had once urged Senator Pat Robertson – father of the present television prophet – to support some mild civil rights legislation. ‘I’d sure like to help the colored,’ came the response, ‘but the Bible says I can’t.’”                                       (Christopher Hitchens, in god is not Great, Chapter 13)


“.. the strenuous and the dogmatic is the moral enemy of the good.”                                                                                         (Christopher Hitchens, in god is not Great, Chapter 16)


“In rural South Dakota, diversity means inviting a few Norwegians to the annual Swedish picnic.”                    (Robert Putnam, in the June issue of Scandinavian Political Studies)


“The nation has become too small for the big problems of life and too big for the small.”                                        (Daniel Bell, according to Eric Kauffman in Prospect, June 2007)




An Early E. L. Wisty

“You know little about sharks, or for that matter, whales. The shark is not what you and others like you commonly suppose. Most sharks, I speak of what I know, have Dundreary whiskers, and legs some eighteen inches in length. The whale, on the other hand is mid-Victorian in mind and morals, the only deep-sea creature, indeed, that still believes in God. He keeps his valuables in safes lined with asworstos. Asbestos is resistant to fire, and asworstos, therefore, as even you will understand, is resistant to water. But enough of this. Shakespeare was a man of enormous physical strength, greater even than mine. Last night I met him in a dream. To prove his strength he cuffed me. I complimented him on his vigour. With that he cuffed me again.”                                                                                                                                  (Holms, in Hugh Kingsmill’s Behind Both Lines, p 116)


“The American people don’t want to see somebody get killed, but if somebody gets killed, we don’t want to miss it.”                                                                                                                               (Jim Shoulders, Rodeo Champion, from his NYT obituary, June 22)


“The more books you read, the more foolish you become.”        (Mao Zedong, according to Judith Shapiro, in review of Confessions, by Kang Zhengguo, in NYT, June 24)


“Politicians are like prison wardens. We all know we need them, but a desire to be one ought to disqualify you from applying for the job.”                                                                                                        (A pensioner, to A. A. Gill, reported by him in NYT, June 24)


“Fortune is the least capricious of deities, and arranges things on the just and rigid system that no one shall be happy for very long.”                (Last sentence in Evelyn Waugh’s Labels)


“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”           (Chief Justice Roberts, in Supreme Court ruling, reported in NYT, June 29)


“It is a truism, but in the ways of truisms a most important fact, that what will appeal to the romantic, with his emotional substitute for political interests, will alienate the ordinary party man.”                                                                                                                                         (Kingsley Amis, in the Fabian Tract Socialism and the Intellectuals, 1957)




“Diamonds are a guerrilla’s best friend.”                                            (Paul Collier, according to Niall Ferguson, reviewing Collier’s The Bottom Billion in NYT, July 1)


“If you decide to use slang, never apologise for it with quotation marks. You cannot have it both ways.”                                     (Rev. C. J. Ellingham, in Essay Writing: Bad and Good)


“If you’re writing fiction, it’s too tame, and maybe too painful, to try to recreate what did happen. But you can be faithful to the emotion, while you’re inventing incidents.”                                                                                                                (Kingsley Amis to Andrew Davies, as reported by Zachary Leader in The Life of Kingsley Amis, Chapter 4)


“Professor Postan, the economic historian [at Peterhouse College], also read Lucky Jim and couldn’t understand what was so funny about the article on the development of shipbuilding techniques 1450-1485: “Fellow had a perfectly good topic.’”                                                                            (from Zachary Leader’s The Life of Kingsley Amis, Chapter 18)


“To have made a permanent departure from England was a most unusual step in those days for a healthy heterosexual not wanted for fraud.”                                                                                                                  (Kingsley Amis on Robert Graves, in Memoirs)


“Generally speaking, everybody is reactionary on subjects he knows about.”                (Bob Conquest’s ‘Famous First Law’, exemplified by Kingsley Amis in Memoirs, p 146)


“A concert pianist is allowed a wrong note here and there: a juggler is not allowed to drop a plate.”                                                                                                                                                      (Kingsley Amis, in his Introduction to The New Oxford Book of Light Verse)


“’You atheist?’ he [Yevtushenko ] asked me in English. ‘Well yes, but it’s more that I hate him.’”                                                                                    (Kingsley Amis, in Memoirs)



He has come back at last, the boy with inky fingers,

Who scrawled on the lavatory walls and frightened his granny

By roaring his inexplicable

Songs in the bathroom, grubby, embarrassing visitors,


Ran off to sea without warning or explanation,

Wrote long letters home in a mixture of languages,

Acquire an undoubtedly foreign

Accent, was given up for lost but can now cock a snook

At the smooth FO type and the bard-intoxicated professor

By sanction of his granny who taught him his tables,

Cuffed him and feared him and lost him, and now will be taught in her

Turn to suck eggs

(Ronald Mason, in the Faber Book of Parodies)


“’Look around,’ said Kim Myung-soon, 41, a mudang who, in a recent ritual, decapitated a chicken with her bare hands. ‘So much of nature has been ruined. Spirits of trees and rocks are displaced and haunt humans because they have nowhere else to go. No wonder the country is in a mess.’”          (From article on South Korean shamans in NYT, July 7)


“National myths do not arise spontaneously from people’s actual experiences….  ….it is not a question of the people constantly remembering: they remember because someone is constantly reminding them.”                                                                                                                                      (Eric Hobsbawm, in On The Edge Of The New Century, pp 24-25)


“For some reason, it is considered an advantage from the point of view of social psychology to be able to boast a long history. That is why nationalism, in spite of being a young phenomenon, invariably claims to be very ancient.”                                                                                                       (Eric Hobsbawm, in On The Edge Of The New Century, p 29)


“It’s [the free market’s] objective was not to abolish poverty or generate redistribution and social justice, but for all its injustice, the poor tend to accept it, as even they are considerably richer.” (Eric Hobsbawm, in On The Edge Of The New Century, p 89)


“An American academic, whose work consisted of collecting donations for his university, once explained to me the secrets of his trade: ‘First, you have to like the rich. Second, you have to know what to talk to them about, and the subject that is certain to interest them is their private planes.’”                                                                                                                                      (Eric Hobsbawm, in On The Edge Of The New Century, p 134)


“I therefore have to admit that, while I hope I have never written or said anything about the Soviet Union that I should feel guilty about, I have tended to avoid dealing with it directly, because I knew that if I had, I would have had to have written things that would have been difficult for a communist to say without affecting my political activity and the feelings of my comrades.” (Eric Hobsbawm, in On The Edge Of The New Century, p 138)


Romantic Omniscience vs. the Selfish Gene

“Given the choice of saving Archbishop Fénelon or his chambermaid from a burning palace, Godwin argued [in An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, 1793], the truly benevolent individual would save Fénelon because of his value to humanity – even if the chambermaid were one’s wife or mother. ‘What magic is there in the pronoun “my”, to overturn the decisions of everlasting truth?’”                                                                                                             (Professor Pamela Clemit reporting in Oxford Today, Trinity 2007)


God was that high?

“’One of the rules of the Outfit was that your Outfit family came before your blood family,’ he said. He added, ‘It also came before God.’”                        (Frank Calabrese Jr., giving evidence against his father in a Chicago mob trial, reported in NYT, July 10)


“There’s thousands of people being hurt. It’s part of their culture, part of the way they were raised, part of their traditions.”                                                                  (Ronald Barron, president of the New Mexico Game Fowl Association, a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on the practice of cockfighting, reported in NYT, July 11)


“In Europe, aircraft are transferred between control centres that seem to be allocated on the basis of the 1648 treaty of Munster…”                (from a letter in the Economist July 7-13 by Alexander ter Kuile, Secretary-general, Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation)


“I have also been charged with having given a much too amiable picture of Lenin, and I believe that this criticism has been made not without some justification… one can see the point of Lenin’s being short with the temporizing and arguing Russians, but one cannot be surprised that he gave offense and did not show himself as benevolent as I perhaps tend to make him.”                                                                                                                                    (from Edmund Wilson’s new introduction to To the Finland Station in 1971)


“He [Stalin] tortured, not to force you to reveal a fact, but to force you to collude in a fiction.”                                                     (From Martin Amis’s Koba the Dread, p 61)


“Stalin’s rule, for all its dynamic radicalism in the brutal collectivization programme, the drive to industrialization, and the paranoid phase of the purges, was not incompatible with a rational ordering of proprieties and attainment of limited and comprehensible goals, even if the methods were barbarous in the extreme and the accompanying inhumanity on a scale defying belief. Whether the methods were the most appropriate to attain the goals in view might still be debated [!], but the attempt to force industrialization at breakneck speed on a highly backwards economy and to introduce ‘socialism in one country’ cannot be seen as irrational or limitless aims.”                           (Ian Kershaw, in his essay Working Towards the Führer, quoted by Martin Amis in Koba the Dread, p 88)


“In short, there is no such thing as socialism, and the Soviet Union built it.” (Martin Malia, in The Soviet Tragedy, according to Martin Amis in Koba the Dread, p 178, note)


“Nowadays it is generally assumed that a writer must be either a Communist or a Catholic.”          (From 1948 dustcover of Hugh Kingsmill’s The Progress of a Biographer)


“There are dons who care for the intellect and the imagination, and there are priests who care for the spirit; but broadly speaking the function of universities and churches alike is to trim and tame enthusiasm, to suppress curiosity, and, in short, to whittle immortal souls into serviceable props of the established order.”                                            (Hugh Kingsmill, in The Progress of a Biographer, p 2 from book of the same name)


“Few women are considerate enough to allow themselves to be diverted by male humour from the realities of any situation they are considering.”                                              (Hugh Kingsmill in William Makepeace Thackeray, from The Progress of a Biographer, p 16)


“Charity may cover a multitude of sins, but success transmutes them into virtues.”             (Hugh Kingsmill in Rudyard Kipling, from The Progress of a Biographer, p 31)


“Rootless, ambitious, indifferent to individuals, and with a strong bent towards regimentation sharpened by the disorder of his early years, he [Shaw] gravitated to socialism as naturally as Dickens to radicalism, finding in the growing collectivism of the age a religion which placed his distaste for personal relations in a flattering light, while opening up to his union of practical finesse and dramatic genius all those gratifications which, when enjoyed by an individualist, are supposed to denote insensibility to the common weal.”                                                                                                                              (Hugh Kingsmill in Shaw and Dickens, from The Progress of a Biographer, p 51)


“Among the drawings I should be glad to see in this volume [an imagined book of extracts from Frank Harris’s Contemporary Portraits, illustrated by the ‘leading cartoonists of the day, beginning with Max Beerbohm…’] are Harris as a new boy at Eton; Harris and Skobeleff storming Plevna; Harris consoling Carlyle for his failure to consummate his marriage with Mrs. Carlyle; Harris refusing money from Cecil Rhodes; Froude and Lecky in the porch of Westminster Abbey at the funeral of Robert Browning disassociating themselves from Harris’s views on prostitution; Ruskin failing to make it clear to Harris whether he watched by the bed of the dying Rose La Touche or got into it; Maupassant succeeding in making it clear to Harris that he stood well with the opposite sex; Lord Roberts confirming Harris’s low estimate of Lord Kitchener; Harris helping a muzzy Walter Pater into a hansom cab; Harris walking by the side of a weeping Thomas Huxley; Harris wishing godspeed to Trotsky in New York; and Harris telling the exact truth to President Kruger in Pretoria.”                                              (Hugh Kingsmill in The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Oscar Wilde, from The Progress of a Biographer, p 61)


“Clearly Auden is well read in metaphysics and mysticism, but to write a religious poem it is not enough to look up the answers, one should also understand the questions.”                                                                                                       (Hugh Kingsmill on Auden’s For The Time Being, in Occluded Pastures, from The Progress of a Biographer, p 73)


“It is only when a man forgets who he is that he puts down what he is.”                                                                                              (Marlborough pupil J. S. Lloyd, according to Hugh Kingsmill in The ‘Who’ and the ‘What’, from The Progress of a Biographer, p 87)


“Systems, whatever the philosophy out of which they have grown, necessarily value truth much less than victory over rival systems; and a Catholic writer, if he allows himself to fall into the habit of considering every question from the tactical standpoint of the controversialist, will in the end be indistinguishable, so far as detachment and perspicuity are concerned, from an apostle of dialectical materialism.”                                             (Hugh Kingsmill in Boswell and Wyndham Lewis, from The Progress of a Biographer, p 143)


“In short, there are no absolute standards, there are only political creeds and national prejudices; history exists for the sake of historians; and each new instalment of human suffering signifies merely so much fresh material for professors to work over at their leisure.”                                                                                                                       (Hugh Kingsmill ironically re-presenting the views of Dr. Gooch, author of Frederick the Great, in Counsels for the Defence, from The Progress of a Biographer, p 149)


“As a general rule men with an inordinate appetite for power have been both spoilt and humiliated in their early years, the spoiling accustoming them to expect attention, and the humiliation hardening their resolve to get it.”                                                                                  (Hugh Kingsmill in Lloyd George, from The Progress of a Biographer, p 178)


“There is only one key to successful schools. It is not curriculum, or structure, or social mix, or resources, or locality, or work-place skills, or playing-fields or league-tables (topics which seem to be the sole source of interest these days). It is brilliant, inspirational teachers who make even the most recalcitrant want to learn.”                                                                                                                  (Peter Jones, in the Spectator, July 7)


“I don’t think they’re getting enough money. There’s no amount that can compensate them.”                                                                                                                                (Cheryl Ortega, 59, a parishioner of Our Mother of Good Counsel Church in Los Feliz, California, commenting on the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’s settlement of $660 million with 508 victims of sexual abuse by members of its clergy, reported in NYT, July 16)


“…..there are just two kinds of economists: (1) those who think markets work except when they don’t and (2) those who think markets don’t work except when they do.”                                              (from letter by Paul M. Greenberg, an economist, in NYT, July 16)


“History has no forward way to show. Life is lived as a predicament, not as a movement towards a goal – and in politics especially there is no forward direction, even though politicians always say there is. There are only lesser or more intelligent trade-offs between what are often incommensurable values and unknowable outcomes.”             (Professor Robert Colls, in an essay English Journey, from Prospect, July 2007)


“Lord (then Mr. Bertrand) Russell, whom I once asked if he ever resorted to mysticism, said: ‘Yes, when I am humiliated.’”                                                                                                                                       (William Gerhardie, in Memoirs of a Polyglot, Chapter 6)


“There are three natural steps to man’s development. The brute aspires to become conqueror; the conqueror aspires to become administrator; the administrator, reviewing himself, mankind, and God, pronounces himself a philosopher.”                                                                                                   (William Gerhardie, in Memoirs of a Polyglot, Chapter 7)


“..and when some little time ago I came across a young tutor who remarked heartily that we were both Worcester men I could not think what to say except that the men there, in my time at least, were rather dull on the whole: which brought forth from him: ‘I like dull men.’”                                             (William Gerhardie, in Memoirs of a Polyglot, Chapter 8)


“John Strachey asked me, in amazement, why a man of my goodwill, intelligence and honesty had never been a Communist. And I said: for the same reason he one day would cease to be one.”                   (William Gerhardie, in Memoirs of a Polyglot, Chapter 8)


“… every young writer tends to think his talent is compounded from the choicest ingredients. One hopes – and on what little ground! – that one incorporates the lucid sanity of a Bertrand Russell without any of his liberal smugness; the bitter incisiveness of Bernard Shaw, without his sterility; the rich humanity of H. G. Wells, without his splashing-over; the analytical profundity of Proust, without his mawkish snobbism; the elemental sweep of D. H. Lawrence, without his gawky bitterness; the miraculous naturalness of Chekhov without that sorry echo of the consumptive’s cough; the supreme  poetic moments of Goethe unimpeded in the suet-pudding of his common day; the intimations without the imbecility of William Wordsworth; the lyrical imagery of Shakespeare without his rhetoric; the pathological insight of Dostoevski without his extravagant suspiciousness;  the life-imparting breath of Tolstoy, without his foolishness; Turgenev’s purity in reproducing nature, without his sentimentalism; the lyrical power of Pushkin, without his paganism; the elegiac quality of Lermontov, without his ‘Byronism’; the humour and epic language of Gogol, without his provincialism; the spirit of Voltaire, without his tinniness; the human understanding of Dr. Johnson, without his overbearingness; the dash of Byron, without his vanity; the faithful portraiture of Flaubert, without his tortuous fastidiousness. The list could be prolonged.”                                                                 (William Gerhardie, in Memoirs of a Polyglot, Chapter 8)


“Physical passion can do more for the renewal of a man’s soul than all the ethical discourses of a clever mistress.”                                                                                                                                                    (William Gerhardie, in Memoirs of a Polyglot, Chapter 9)


“We often feel for certain public men, when we read their speeches and articles, an acute dislike, which, when meeting them personally, changes to an exaggerated liming, since we feel ashamed of our unworthy feelings and are anxious to justify our recantation, perhaps with unduly generous zeal.”                                                                                                                                            (William Gerhardie, in Memoirs of a Polyglot, Chapter 11)


“’Where there is vision,’ says Mr. Kingsmill, ‘the people perish. I admit,’ he hastens to add, ‘they perish also where there is no vision. Either way, in fact, their situation appears to be damnably awkward.’”     (William Gerhardie, in Memoirs of a Polyglot, Chapter 14)


“When I asked Robert Byron, who toured India with an eye to its architecture, what the Taj Mahal was like, he said, ‘I don’t know. Probably awful.’”                                                                                            (William Gerhardie, in Memoirs of a Polyglot, Chapter 14)


“France is this bizarre country where if the writers are often failed men of action, the men of action are always failed writers.”                                                                               (Bernard-Henri Lévy, in review of Testimony by Nicholas Sarkozy, in NYT, July 22)


“I don’t think American voters care where a man goes to church on Sunday.”                                             (Senator John Breaux of Louisiana, in 2001, referring to presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, as reported by Noah Feldman in NYT Magazine, July 22)


‘What Fresh Nonsense Is This?’ Department

“We normally say that a bank account is a social construction rather than an object in the natural world, whereas a giraffe is an object in the natural world rather than a social construction. Bank accounts are made, giraffes are found. Now the truth in this view is simply that if there had been no human beings there would still have been giraffes, whereas there would have been no bank accounts. But this causal independence of giraffes from humans does not mean that giraffes are what they are apart from human needs and interests.”                                                                                               (Philosopher Richard Rorty (d. June 2007), according to James Ryerson in NYT, July 22)


“Neurosis is just a high-class word for whining.”                                                                                                 (Psychotherapist Albert Ellis, according to his NYT obituary, July 25)


“As a person of cleavage, I’d guess that Clinton’s low-cut shirt simply reflected a few centimeters of sartorial miscalculation, not a deliberate fashion statement.”                                                                                       (Ruth Marcus, in Washington Post, July 26)


“During the night I was tortured by the stings of great black bugs (Reduvius fedschenkianus, Oshanin). These dreadful creatures are about an inch long, with a long sharp beak which they plunge into the sin, leaving a red spot which aches and burns like fire for a long time after. In the old days the khans of Turkestan used to put criminals into a deep pit crawling with these loathsome insects. It was into such a pit that the Emir Narullah threw two British officers, Colonel Stoddart and Captain Conolly, who went to Bokhara on a diplomatic mission in 1842. Their sufferings must have been terrible before they were pulled out and executed.”                                                                                                                                     (Paul Nazaroff, in Hunted Through Central Asia, Chapter VIII)


“In that remote, isolated and rich agricultural desert there had never been either landlords or landowners, no proletariat, no factories or industrial labour, nor ‘exploited masses’, not even landless men, and so it is quire incomprehensible why, how and what for Communists arose there.”   (Paul Nazaroff, in Hunted Through Central Asia, Chapter XI)


“In Tokmak the Bolshevik revolution had not involved very profound changes. Here the Soviet officials were all local men, who were by no means disposed to Communism, and simply turned Bolshevik outwardly in order to save their town and district from the invasions of criminals and murders. For this reason Tokmak was spared the cruelties and horrors which had caused so much misery and terror in Pishpek and other towns in Semirechie, and often enough the commissars, like the augurs of old, could barely repress a smile when executing their communistic obligations. But even this did not protect them entirely, as a few genuine Communist appeared on the scene who had pretty bad records. As a matter of fact, several of these real Bolsheviks had been shot under some pretext or other by the local false Communists. This was a very advantageous arrangement, as by this means they satisfied the blood lust of the Central Soviet Authorities, proved their own activity and at the same time avoided the influx of notorious ruffians.”                                                           (Paul Nazaroff, in Hunted Through Central Asia, Chapter XII)


“Our host’s son was deep in the sleep of the just, in the usual Khirgiz way, quite naked under his blanket. Meanwhile his affectionate and devoted wife profited by the opportunity to clean his shirt of the vermin swarming in it. She performed this operation in a manner that was effective as it seemed to be original. She systematically took every fold and seam in the shirt and passed it between her glistening white teeth, nibbling rapidly. The sound of the continuous juicy crackling could be heard clearly. This strange scene reminded me of the words of Herodotus, ‘the Scythians who eat lice….’ How accurately he described the habits of these same Khirgiz two-and-twenty centuries ago!”                                           (Paul Nazaroff, in Hunted Through Central Asia, Chapter XVI)


“We shall not play the charlatan, and we will declare frankly that nothing is clear in this world. Only fools and charlatans know and understand everything.”                                                                                                                           (Anton Chekhov, in letter to Ivan Shcheglov, June 9, 1888, as reported by Janet Malcolm in Reading Chekhov, Chapter 2)


“I did not know before that there were so many old women in the world; had I known, I would have shot myself long ago.”                                                                                                          (Anton Chekhov, in a letter to his sister in 1887, after a visit to the Holy Mountains monastery, as reported by Janet Malcolm in Reading Chekhov, Chapter 7)


Make Poverty History (cont.)

“..the problem of poverty can only be solved by the socialization of land and capital.”                                                                                                      (J. D. Bernal, in debate at Chesterton Workmen’s Institute in 1920, as recorded in J. D. Bernal – A Life in Science and Politics, ed. Brenda Swann and Francis Aprahamian, Chapter 3 (Fred Steward))


“The ruling class of this country did not go into the war to save democracy: they do not know what democracy is and if they did they would not like it.”                                                                                              (J. D. Bernal, as reported in J. D. Bernal – A Life in Science and Politics, ed. Brenda Swann and Francis Aprahamian, Chapter 3 (Fred Steward))


“My grandfather preached the gospel of Christ, my father the gospel of socialism. I preach the gospel of science.”                                                                                                 (Sir Richard Gregory, as reported in J. D. Bernal – A Life in Science and Politics, ed. Brenda Swann and Francis Aprahamian, Chapter 6 (Hilary Rose and Steven Rose))


“Oh, well, you are a scientist, you only deal with the present. Now I am a historian and I deal with the future.”                                                                                                                                 (a Soviet historian to J. D. Bernal, as reported in J. D. Bernal – A Life in Science and Politics, ed. Brenda Swann and Francis Aprahamian, Chapter 12 (Peter Mason))


“When they are [canal building schemes in the Soviet Union – finished], the additional food and power that they will produce will put the Soviet Union once and for all out of reach of any fluctuations of climate and will provide such riches as will ensure a peaceful transition to communism. Where each gives according to his ability and receives according to his need.” (J. D. Bernal, in 1952, quoted in J. D. Bernal – A Life in Science and Politics, ed. Brenda Swann and Francis Aprahamian, Chapter 13, (Chris Whittaker))




“’My test for the British is: When was the last time you invited a Muslim family to dinner?’ the answer from the British is uniform, and unsettling, she said. ‘”It’s not that we don’t invite Muslims, we don’t invite anyone”’, she said.                             (Pakistani ambassador to the UK, Maleena Lohdi, as reported in NYT, August 4)


“The first road to freedom is viability.”                                                                      (Rupert Murdoch, when interviewed on his purchase of Dow Jones, from NYT, August 4)


“He [Simon Fraser, Master of Lovat] used to say to me, ‘If the [Loch Ness] monster is a mammal, it belongs to the Queen. But if it is a fish, it belongs to me.”                                                                                                          (Paul Johnson, in the Spectator, July 28)


The Jewish Cardinal

“I was born Jewish, and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable to many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That is my hope, and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.”                                      (Cardinal Lustiger)

“’A Jew becoming a Christian does not take up authentic Judaism, but turns his back to it.”                                                                         (former chief rabbi of Paris, Meter Jays)

“’Cardinal Lustiger betrayed his people and his faith during the most difficult and darkest of periods [in the 1940s].’ The rabbi dismissed the assertion that the cardinal had remained a Jew. “                (Askenazic chief rabbi in Israel in 1995, Yisrael Meir Lau)                                                     (all from the obituary of Jean-Marie Lustiger, NYT, August 6)


“I am Jewish enough for the camps, but not for the rabbis.”                                                                                                                                                 (British photographer Chris Schwarz, who could not be buried in a Jewish cemetery because his mother was not Jewish, in a profile he wrote for his museum in Krakow, from his obituary in NYT, August 8)


Make Poverty Permanent

“To make the Society Happy … it is requisite that great numbers should be Ignorant as well as Poor.”                                                                                                                (Bernard Mandeville, ‘the shrewdest and wickedest social commentator of the eighteenth century’, according to Robert L. Heilbroner in The Worldly Philosophers, Chapter 2)


“Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget that the state lives at the expense of everyone.’”                                                 (Frédéric Bastiat, from Economic Sophisms, quoted by Robert L. Heilbroner in The Worldly Philosophers, Chapter 7)


Make Poverty History (cont.)

“It [a tax on land] would raise wages, increase the earnings of capital, extirpate pauperism, abolish poverty, give remunerative employment to whoever wishes it, afford free scope to human powers, purify government, and carry civilization to yet nobler heights.”                                                                  (19th century US economist Henry George, according to Robert L. Heilbroner in The Worldly Philosophers, Chapter 7)

“We shall soon with the help of God be within sight of the day when poverty will be banished from the nation.”                                                                                     (Herbert Hoover, according to Robert L. Heilbroner in The Worldly Philosophers, Chapter 9)


“He liked to maintain that he had always had three wishes – to be a great lover, a great horseman, and a great economist – but that, alas, life had granted him only two of three.”                                                                                                                         (Joseph Schumpeter, according to Robert L. Heilbroner in The Worldly Philosophers, Chapter 10)


“Analytical work embodies in the picture of things as we see them, and wherever there is any possible motive for wishing to see them in a given rather than another light, the way in which we see things can hardly be distinguished from the way in which we wish to see them.”                                                            (Joseph Schumpeter, in A History of Economic Analysis, p 42, quoted by Robert L. Heilbroner in The Worldly Philosophers, Chapter 10)


“Indeed, taking into account the strains and stresses clearly visible in the decades ahead, it is all too likely that any prospective socialism, especially in the less developed areas where its advent is most likely, will again develop tendencies for political megalomania, bureaucratic inertia, and ideological intolerance.”                                                                                                          (Robert L. Heilbroner in The Worldly Philosophers, Chapter11)


“He famously coined a phrase to describe what he abhors in modern fiction: ‘hysterical realism’, which refers to a style of writing that features rampant caricature, absurd plots and prose, and frequent references to popular culture combined with didactic social commentary.”                                        (from article on the critic James Wood, in NYT, August 9)


“I love the humbug of the English. I worship it. But I reserve the right from time to time to point it out.”                                                                                                                (Enoch Powell, to Charles Moore, as reported by the latter in the Spectator, August 4)


“Mayor Nagin said that he worried that killings in New Orleans made the city seem dangerous, but that news of such crimes ‘keeps the New Orleans brand out there’.”                                                                                                              (from NYT, August 11)


“It is preferable to hear the flatulence of camels than the prayers of fishes.”                                                                                                                        (Arabian proverb reflecting the fact that seafaring was a dangerous activity best undertaken by convicts, quoted by Jonathan Phillips in The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, Chapter 4)


“..for the man who has something to eat fights with a better chance of winning than the one with nothing in his stomach.”                                (Doge Enrico Dandolo, quoted by Jonathan Phillips in The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, Chapter 8)


“Our army was thus in an extremely desperate situation for never, in any city, have so many been besieged by so few.”               (Geoffrey of Villehardouin, quoted by Jonathan Phillips in The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, Chapter 9)


“Such was their delight at his ‘reappearance’ that the monks of St John’s abbey kept his whiskers and drank his bathwater.”                             (of the monks of Valenciennes, whose townsfolk accepted the jongleur who claimed to be Count Baldwin, reported by Jonathan Phillips in The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, Chapter 15)


“The judgement of God is never unjust even if it is sometimes hard to understand.”                                                                                                 (Gerald of Wales, quoted by Jonathan Phillips in The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, Chapter 15)


“In Louisiana, they skim the cream, steal the milk, hijack the bottle and look for the cow.”                                                                                       (James Bonazzani, FBI special agent in charge, investigating corruption at City Hall in New Orleans, NYT, August 14)


“’Thank you, God Almighty, that these terrible earthquakes did not cause death tolls like in years past,’ said President Garcia [of Peru], who is both admired and derided for his theatrical oratory.”                                                                                (NYT, August 18)


‘The Economy’ – or ‘Economics’?

“If you want to understand geology, study earthquakes. If you want to study the economy, study the Depression.”                                                                                                                          (Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, from NYT, August 20)


“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”                                                                                                                                        (Godwin’s Law, stated by Mike Godwin, according to NYT, August 20)


“We are to give money of which we have too little for land of which we already have too much.”                                                             (‘A Massachusetts congressman’, on the Louisiana purchase, from Seizing Destiny, by Richard Kluger, in NYT review, August 22)


“The arts and sciences are connected. Scientists have to start with a metaphor. All scientists start with imagination.”                                                                                                                     (Ray Bradbury, in interview with David Shaftel, reported in NYT, August 22)


“Every man has his own patch of earth to cultivate. What’s important is that he dig deep.”
(Communist Portuguese Nobel Prize for Literature laureate Jose Saramago, from NYT profile, August 26)



The cross the fork the zigzag – a few straight lines

For pain, quandary and evasion, the last of signs.

(poem by Robert Pinsky published in The Atlantic, September 2007)


“In Washington, one should never take friendship personally.”                                                                         (a saying reported by Matthew Scully in The Atlantic, September 2007)

“As Harry Truman used to say, ‘If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.’”                                                                   (from Washington Watch, in Prospect, September 2007)


“It is common these days to see moral arguments veer off into appeals to self-interest. We have reached a pretty pass when they start veering off into the world of etiquette.”                                                                          (B. R. Myers, in The Atlantic, September 2007)


“… Dyirbal, an Australian aboriginal language in which nouns are organized into ‘four linguistic categories whose representative members include: (1) men, kangaroos, fishing line, the moon, storms, rainbows and boomerangs; (2) women, dogs, fireflies, water, fire, stars and the hairy mary grub; (3) ferns, honey, cigarettes, wine and cake; (4) meat, bees, the wind, mud, grass, stones and language itself.’”                                                           (from Lear Hager Cohen’s review of Talking Hands, by Margalit Fox, in NYT, August 19)


“When Coco was asked if it were true that she had consorted with a German, she replied, ‘Really, sir, a woman of my age cannot be expected to look at his passport if she has a chance of a lover.’”                                                                                       (Cecil Beaton’s account of Coco Chanel’s explanation to the Comité d’Epuration for her ‘appalling wartime record’, reported by Lynn Jaeger in The Atlantic, September 2007)


“… the old Romanian peasant adage now applies in Britain as in the Balkans: a change of rulers is the joy of fools.”                           (Theodore Dalrymple, in the Spectator, August 11)


“If you wanted a unified Iraq, you never should have gotten rid of Saddam, because he was the only [one] who could hold this place together.”                                                          (a Kurdish official to Thomas L. Friedman, reported by him in NYT, August 29)


“It is the duty of all good parents to die young. Nobody is completely grown up until both his parents are gone.”                                                                                                                 (Auberon Waugh, according to Alexander Waugh in Fathers and Sons, Chapter 1)


“Sentimentality is the exact measure of a person’s inability to experience genuine feeling.”                                                                                                                         (Auberon Waugh, according to Alexander Waugh in Fathers and Sons, Chapter 1)


“From St John’s revelation that God is love, it has been a very short step to identify ‘love’ with a state of vacuous euphoria involving an infantile dependence on group stimulation.”                                                                                                            (Auberon Waugh, according to Alexander Waugh in Fathers and Sons, Chapter 4)


“It is curious that, alive as my father was to the disadvantages of his own experience, he should have set me on precisely the same road.”                                       (Evelyn Waugh in A Little Learning, according to Alexander Waugh in Fathers and Sons, Chapter 7)


“When I was married in 1990, the Roman Catholic priest, Father Caraman, asked me to testify that I loathed my future wife and had no intention of having children by her, so that should I ever wish for an annulment he could bear witness to my claim. I refused.”                                                                    (Alexander Waugh in Fathers and Sons, Chapter 9)


First Coinage

“……  Unraveled clues myself have missed

(You champion crux-verbalist!),….”                                                                                                             (Arthur Waugh, in a thank-you letter to his daughter-in-law, Laura, dated August 23rd, 1939, recorded by Alexander Waugh in Fathers and Sons, Chapter 9)


“No one can have any conception of what boredom really means until he has been to the tropics. The boredom of civilized life is trivial and terminable, a puny thing to be strangled between finger and thumb. The blackest thing sin European social life – rich women talking about their poverty, poor women talking about their wealth, weekend parties of Cambridge aesthetes or lectures from the London School of Economics, rival Byzantinists at Variance, actresses off the stage, psychologists explaining one’s own books to one, Americans explaining how much they have drunk lately, house flies at early morning in the South of France, amateur novelists talking about royalties and reviews, amateur journalists, quarrelling lovers, mystical atheists, raconteurs, dogs, people who try to look inscrutable, the very terrors, indeed, which drive one to refuge in the still remote regions of the earth are mere pansies and pimpernels to the rank flowers which flame grossly in those dark and steaming sanctuaries.”                                                                                                                          (Evelyn Waugh, in Remote People)


“I see nothing to choose between the National Front and the Race Relations board. Both are a collection of bores and busybodies and both are harmful to the degree that they are taken seriously.”                                                                                                (Auberon Waugh, according to Alexander Waugh in Fathers and Sons, Chapter 14)


“The trouble with socialism is that in the process of keeping the workers poor, oppressed and docile it must depart so far from its own sustaining rhetoric of liberty, equality, fraternity, prosperity and workers’ control as to create a psychotic society requiring mass imprisonment.”                                                                                                     (Auberon Waugh, according to Alexander Waugh in Fathers and Sons, Chapter 14)


Dr. Heinz Kiosk – Where Are You?

“The focus should be on cleaning up the social conditions that the sagging pants come out of. That they wear the pants the way they do is a statement of the reality that they’re struggling with on a day-to-day basis.”                                                                                                                               (Dr. Benjamin Chavis, former executive director of the N.A.A.C.P., and a chairman of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, commenting on moves to outlaw the wearing of ‘saggy pants’ as indecent, reported in NYT, August 30)


“There are many strong arguments for keeping creative writers out of politics, and Mr George Orwell is one of them.”                           (V. S. Pritchett in the New Statesman, April 30, 1938, quoted in V. S. Pritchett: A Working Life, by Jeremy Treglown, Chapter 3)


“Presumably one reason for the fact that the public reads long novels is that the reviewers praise them, and reviewers praise them because there is no time to read them through.”                                                                            (V. S. Pritchett in the New Statesman, February 27, 1932, quoted in V. S. Pritchett: A Working Life, by Jeremy Treglown, Chapter 5)


“It is no doubt one of the major sadness[es] of writers: to be haunted by the harrowing suggestion that they have powers unfulfilled, when in fact their powers were fulfilled long ago… “                                        (V. S. Pritchett, in letter to Gerald Brenan, March 14, 1950, quoted in V. S. Pritchett: A Working Life, by Jeremy Treglown, Chapter 5)


“The Princeton voice I can only describe as the low, polite gurgle of an in-growing toe-nail if it could talk.”                         (V. S. Pritchett, in letter to Dorothy Pritchett, October 10, 1953, quoted in V. S. Pritchett: A Working Life, by Jeremy Treglown, Chapter 7)


“Impious, derisive, fearless, and without qualms, Chojnicki used to say that the Kaiser was mindless and senile, the government  a gang of nincompoops, the Imperial Council a gathering of gullible and grandiloquent idiots, and the national authorities venal, cowardly, and lazy. The German Austrians were waltzers and boozy crooners, the Hungarians stank, the Czechs were born bootlickers, the Ruthenians were treacherous Russians in disguise, the Croats and Slovenes, whom he called Cravats and Slobbers, were brushmakers and chestnut roasters, and the Poles, of whom he himself was one after all, were skirt chasers, hairdressers, and fashion photographers. Every time he came home from Vienna or another haunt of high society where he romped about so familiarly, he would deliver a gloomy lecture, which went more or less:

‘This empire is doomed. The instant the Kaiser shuts his eyes, we’ll crumble into a thousand pieces. The Balkans will be more powerful than we. All the nations will set up their own filthy little states, and even the Jews are going to proclaim a king in Palestine. Vienna already stinks of the sweat of the Democrats; I can’t stand being on Ringstrasse anymore. The workers wave red flags and don’t care to work. The mayor of Vienna is a pious janitor, the padres are already going with the people; their sermons are in Czech. The Burgtheater is playing Jewish smut, and every week a Hungarian toilet manufacturer become s baron. I tell you, gentlemen, if we don’t start shooting now, we’re doomed! We’ll live to see it for ourselves!’”                                                                               (from Joseph Roth’s The Radetzky March, Chapter 9, translated by Joachim Neugroschel)


“This era no longer wants us! This era wants to create independent nationalities! People no longer believe in God. The new religion is nationalism. Nations no longer go to church. They go to national associations. Monarchy, our monarchy, is founded on piety, on the faith that God chose the Hapsburgs to rule over so and so many Christian nations. Our Kaiser is a secular brother of the Pope, he is His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty; no other is as apostolic, no other majesty in Europe is as dependent on the grace of God and on the faith of the nations in the grace of God. The German Kaiser still rules even when God abandons him; perhaps by the grace of the nation. The Emperor of Austria-Hungary must not be abandoned by God, but God has abandoned him!”                                                                                                                                         (Chojnicki, from Joseph Roth’s The Radetzky March, Chapter 10, translated by Joachim Neugroschel)


“That was a stern time, as we know. But it recognized exceptions and even liked them. It was one of the rare aristocratic principles, such as that mere commoners were second-class human beings yet certain middle-class officers became personal adjutants to the Kaiser; that Jews could claim no higher distinctions yet certain Jews were knighted and became friends with archdukes; that women had to observe a traditional morality yet certain women could philander like a cavalry officer. (Those were principles that would be labeled ‘hypocritical’ today because we are so much more relentless: relentless, honest, and humorless.”                                                                                           (from Joseph Roth’s The Radetzky March, Chapter 13, translated by Joachim Neugroschel)


“The Kaiser disguised his wisdom as simplicity: for it does not behoove an emperor to be as smart as his advisers. Far better to appear simple than wise. If he went hunting, he knew quite well that the game was placed in front of his rifle, and though he could have felled some other prey, he nevertheless shot only the prey that had been driven before his barrel. For it does not behoove an old emperor to show that he has seen through a trick and can shoot better than a gamekeeper. If he was told a fairy tale, he pretended to believe it. For it does not behoove an emperor to catch someone in a falsehood. If people smirked behind his back, he pretended not to know about it. For it odes not behoove an emperor to know that he is being smirked at, and this smirk is foolish so long as he refuses to notice it. If he ran a fever, and people trembled all around him, and the court physician lied to him, telling him he had no fever, the emperor said, ‘well, everything’s fine,’ although he knew he had a fever. For an emperor does not accuse a medical man of lying. Besides, he knew that the hour of his death had not yet come. He also experienced many nights of being plagued by fever unbeknownst to his physicians, for sometimes he was ill and no on realized it. And at other times he was well, and they said he was ill, and he pretended to be ill. When he was considered kind, he was indifferent. And when they said he was cold, his heart bled. He had lived long enough to know that it is foolish to tell the truth. So he allowed people their errors, and he believed less in the permanence of the world than did the wags who told jokes about his vast empire. But it does not behoove an emperor to compete with wags and sophisticates. So the Emperor held his tongue.”  (from Joseph Roth’s The Radetzky March, Chapter 15, translated by Joachim Neugroschel)


“Whether there is love at first sight is rightfully questioned by experts. But there is no question about friendship at first sight, a friendship between elderly men.”                       (from Joseph Roth’s The Radetzky March, Chapter 16, translated by Joachim Neugroschel)


“Lieutenant Trotta wasn’t experienced enough to know that uncouth peasant boys with noble hearts exist in real life and that a lot of truths about the living world are recorded in bad books; they are just badly written.”                                                                    (from Joseph Roth’s The Radetzky March, Chapter 17, translated by Joachim Neugroschel)




“Rejection of disbelief is as important a part of the process as acceptance of whatever one has chosen (or been conditioned) to believe. That is why I say it owes its existence to a hunger which may be broken down into three ingredients – the atavistic, the eschatological and the charismatic.

The charismatic – sacramental, or quasi-magical – element is the easiest to supply. You can do it with magic mushrooms, or incense, singing or dancing or just a heightened feeling of fellowship such as the army, the Boy Scout Movement, the new Catholic Church and the National Union of Mineworkers manage to promote.

The eschatological element caters for anxieties about the disappointments of human life, its brevity and apparent pointlessness. It keeps adherents on the straight and narrow and provides a solace to them in their misfortunes. The atavistic is the most mysterious, but I observe that it has always existed in every religion which has lasted longer than a transitory craze. Even Christianity, it must be remembered, was grafted on Judaic roots. For some reason which I do not understand this sense of community with ancestors, of belonging to an ancient tradition, of treading where generations have trod, is an essential part of religion’s survival.”                                                                               (Auberon Waugh, in the Spectator of April 14, 1984, republished in Brideshead Benighted, p 134)


True Hardship

“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe.”                                                                                      (Flannery O’Connor, the Roman Catholic author, quoted in NYT leader on Mother Teresa, September 5)


“There isn’t a 2-month old on the planet who knows how to hate anybody. It’s all taught.”                                                           (Brig. Gen. Burt Field, American field hospital commander in Balad, Iraq, quoted by Thomas L. Friedman in NYT, September 5)


“All novels end, but not all novels climax.”                                                               (Walter Kirn, in review of Jeffrey Lent’s A Peculiar Grace, in NYT, September 9)


“Multiculturalism created lots and lots of micro-constituencies, which universities didn’t have the courage to oppose. It’s much more like a supermarket – kids can take pretty much any courses they like: Jewish kids can take Jewish studies, gay students gay studies, black students African-American studies. You no longer have a university, but a series of identity constituencies all studying themselves.”                                                                                                 (Tony Judt, quoted by Rachel Donadio in NYT, September 16)


“History is what Napoleon did; biography is what it meant to him.”                    (‘Veteran biographer’ Kenneth Silverman, quoted by Megan Marshall in NYT, September 16)


“[In the Hall of the Mountain King} is something I can’t stand to listen to because it absolutely reeks of cow pies, ultra-Norwegian-ness and trollish self-sufficiency.” (Edvard Grieg, in a letter, quoted by Anthony Tommasini in NYT, September 16)


“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” (Carl Sagan, quoted in an advertisement for the John Templeton Foundation, in Atlantic Monthly, October)


“Anything that brings us closer to the intimate feelings of people who lived centuries ago tempts us to abolish the distance that stands between us and a lost world. The trap of modernity is to assume that nothing is ever new, that men expressing themselves in private speak the same language across the centuries.”                                                                            (The French medievalist Philippe Braunstein [where?], quoted by Benjamin Schwarz in review of Eamon Duffy’s Marking the Hours, in Atlantic Monthly, October )


“’No man is a hero to his valet’ may need updating to ‘No politician is a statesman to his spin-doctor.’”                                                                                       (anonymous comment in brief review of Alastair Campbell’s The Blair Years, in Atlantic Monthly, October)


“We must train socially minded people to help the community, and that’s why the revolution’s socialist program is being implemented. If they attack us because we’re indoctrinating, well yes, we’re doing it, because those capitalist ideas that our young people have – and that have done so much damage to our people – must be eliminated.”                                                                                                                  (Zulay Campos, a member of the Bolivarian State Academic Commission [in Venezuela] that evaluates [private schools’] compliance with academic guidelines, reported in NYT, September 18)


“Can the son of a general become a general? Yes. Can the son of a general become a marshal? No, the marshal has his own sons.” (a Soviet-era anecdote on nepotism recalled by President Vladimir Putin, reported by Serge Schemann in NYT, September 19)


“Any word [in Arabic] can have three meanings: the accepted definition, an opposite one, or it could refer to some part of a camel.’                                                                                  (‘Old orientalist joke’, reported by Gregory Johnson, in Verbatim, Spring 2006)


“A president must know how to be bored.”                                                           (President Mitterrand of France, according to Roger Cohen, in NYT, September 20)


“We are two different nations, an artificial state created as a buffer between big powers, and we have nothing in common except a king, chocolate and beer.” (Filip Dewinter, the leader of Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Bloc [in Belgium], quoted in NYT, September 21)


“It is one of the bizarre paradoxes of modern liberalism that those who trumpet their concern for the vulnerable should actually be such noisy supporters of criminals, the nastiest and most aggressive people in our society.”                                                                                                                                (Leo McKinstry, in the Spectator, September 15)


“Poverty, starvation, ignorance, inequality are not injustices. They are just facts, which can be allowed to speak for themselves. The real enemy is cant.”   (Jonathan Sumption, in review of V. S. Naipaul’s A Writer’s People, in the Spectator, September 15)


“And all the children are above average…”

“First, every child should be prepared to succeed when they [sic] show up in the classroom. Second, every classroom should be led by an excellent teacher. And third, every teacher should work in an outstanding school.”       (Presidential candidate John Edwards’s principles for educational reform, as reported in NYT, September 22)


“Economists tend to think people are crazy because they won’t sell their houses for less than they paid for them – and people think economists are crazy for thinking things exactly like that.”                       (Professor Christopher Mayer, director of the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate at Columbia Business School, quoted in NYT, September 23)


“We stole it, fair and square.”                                                                                                                              (Senator Samuel Hayakawa of California, of the Panama Canal, quoted by Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 20)


“Under the 1901 Act [in Australia], immigration was prohibited to anyone who could not write out at dictation fifty words of any European language chosen by the immigration officer. Immigration officers could thus ask a Greek or Italian to take down fifty words of Serbo-Croat.”                                                                                                                                          (Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 45)


“Speculation and conjecture as to the existence or non-existence of secret clauses in international treaties is a public privilege, the maintenance of which depends on official reticence.”                                                                                        (response by Earl Percy to a question about possible secret clauses, posed by Scottish Liberal MP James weir, quoted by Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 53)


“Utterly unwarlike, they outlast anybody else when war comes.”                                                                             (Walter Hines Page on the British people in World War I, quoted by Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 118)


“Rudyard Kipling admitted in his autobiography how he ‘never got over the wonder of a people who, having extirpated the aboriginals of their continent more completely that any modern race had ever done, honestly believed that they were a godly Hew England community, setting examples to brutal Mankind. This wonder I used to explain to Theodore Roosevelt, who made the glass cases of Indian relics [in the Smithsonian Institution] shake with his rebuttals.”                                                                                           (Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 144)


“There is no cause so vile that some human being will not be found to defend it.”                                                                                                              (Norman Douglas, according to Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 213)


“When national security is at stake, one does not judge a statesman by his successes in slum clearance.”                                (Robert Blake on Neville Chamberlain, quoted by Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 236)


“There is no more ironclad commandment in human affairs than the Law of Unintended Consequences…”                                                                                                        (Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 289)


“We Nazis never said we were nice democrats. The problem is that the British seem like sheep or bishops, but when the moment comes they are shown to be hypocrites, and they become a terribly tough people.”                                                                 (Reinhard Spitzy, Joachim von Ribbentrop’s private secretary, in conversation with Andrew Roberts, quoted by him in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 299)


“It is often said that History goes to the victors; in fact it often tends to go to the diarists.”  (Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 302)


“Few had the courage to speak the plain truth about the genuine capacity of a near-bankrupted Britain to pay for the extensive social provisions of the Beveridge report. One such was Sir John  Forbes Watson, Director of the Federation of British Employers, who told Beveridge’s Commission the obvious and unvarnished, but unpopular and subsequently ignored, truth that Britain entered the war against Germany to preserve freedom, not to improve social services.”                                                                     (Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, pp 324-325)


“It appears that Zionism is defined as a Jew who collects money from another Jew to send another Jew to Palestine. The collector, I gather, takes a good percentage of the collections.”                                                 (Clement Attlee in letter to his brother Tom, quoted by Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 399)


“Fourteen days after the Germans surrendered in May 1945, they had the Berlin system up and running again; that same day the London buses were on strike.”                       (Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 400)


“Liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or human happiness or a quiet conscience.”                                        (Isaiah Berlin in Two Concepts of Liberty, quoted by Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 418)


“Governor Eugene Talmadge of Georgia, for example, apparently saw no inherent inconsistency between his statement that “no religious or social prejudice has a place in the human heart’ and another remark of his, ‘I like the nigger, but I like him in his place. And his place is at the back door with a hat in his hand.’”                                             (Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 440)


“In his 1960 book Meeting Soviet Man, [Charles Manning Hope] Clark described Lenin as ‘Christ-like, at least in his compassion’, and ‘as lovable as a little child.’”                                                                                                                                  (pp 12 & 86, quoted by Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 535)


“People will endure their tyrants for years, but they tear their deliverers to pieces if a millennium is not created immediately.”                                                                                        (Woodrow Wilson on board USS George Washington, December 1918, quoted by Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 599)


“The duty of a politician is to educate the people, not to obey them.”                                                  (The British nineteenth-century historian Bishop Mandell Creighton, according to Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 623)


“International affairs cannot be conducted according to the Lord’s Prayer or the Sermon on the Mount.”                                                             (Lord Salisbury [where?], according to Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 637)


“It is useless to try to reason a man out of something he was not reasoned into.”                                                                                                     (Jonathan Swift [where?], according to Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, p 645)


“We [African-Americans] have a different way of responding to the world. We have different ideas about religion, different manners of social intercourse. We have different ideas about style, about language. We have different aesthetics. White directors are not qualified for the job.”                                                                              (August Wilson, upset that his Pulitzer prize-winning play was not made into a film because of his insistence on a black director, in a 1990 Spin magazine article, quoted in NYT, September 24)


“There is a parochialism which is worse than worldliness.”   (A squib of H. W. Garrod, in a paper on Jane Austen, according to Dacre Balsdon, in Oxford Now and Then, p 5)


“Lord Wastepaper in Peter Priggins [Peter Priggins, the College Scout, by Theodore Hook Esquire, pseudonym of James Hewlett] was asked to advise on a College for a young man: ‘but he had been at Christ Church himself, and really did not know the name of any other College.’”                           (Dacre Balsdon, in Oxford Now and Then, p 32)


“It [one of the most famous of all quotations about Oxford] is falsely attributed to Ouida, in the form, ‘All rowed fast, but none so fast as Stroke’. In fact it is Mr Cole’s Belinda [in D. E. T. Cole’s Sandford of Merton] who must be given the credit. ‘Sandford of Merton’s blade struck the water a full second before any others; the lad had started well … At length as the boats began to near the winning-post, his oar was dipping into the water nearly twice as fast as any other.’”          (Dacre Balsdon, in Oxford Now and Then, p 45)


“Oxford – what a wonder of a witch the old girl is. There is no fate in life which she does not fit us to confront.”                                                                                      (Mr Botteaux, in Mr Botteaux’s Farewell, from Dacre Balsdon’s  Oxford Now and Then, p 262)


“I am acutely conscious of and amused by class distinctions. I love them and hope they endure for ever. They are part of the spice of life, as is shown by the fact that they have always been an ingredient of the world’s greatest fiction. To claim that they do not or should not exist is as hypocritical and silly as to pretend there is no difference between white and black men. Human relations would be duller without them. Class barriers are a different matter which no sensible person would advocate. They are in any case rapidly being pushed down.”                                   (James Lees-Milne, in Another Self, Chapter V)


“Furthermore I could be genuinely and deeply in love with more than one person at a time, a state of affairs with which most people have little sympathy, particularly the contemporaneous loved ones…….      After all, a man’s reserves of love, both human and spiritual, are, unlike money, inexhaustible, and do not have to be rationed among the recipients.”                                                     (James Lees-Milne, in Another Self, Chapter V)


“There is nothing more pathetic than the wounded pride of little people…..”                                                                                       (James Lees-Milne, in Another Self, Chapter VI)


“One can only hate people one knows, that is to say one’s neighbours if they trespass upon one’s home ground, or one’s countrymen if they threaten to undermine the constitution of one’s country. In other words the only excuse for fighting others is personal indignation. Therefore a civil war, terrible though it is, seems to me an understandable and possibly justifiable kind of war.”                                                                                                                       (James Lees-Milne, in Another Self, Chapter VIII)


“Don’t think I don’t know that boys will be boys. Of course they will be. Don’t think Our Blessed Lord wouldn’t also have been, if indeed he had been one, which of course he never was. At least not in the sense you mean, I mean. Anyway, boys, don’t be boys too often, if you know what I mean. Got it?”                                                                            (“The Battalion Chaplain”, as recorded by James Lees-Milne, in Another Self, Chapter VIII)


“In 1943, when he [Roosevelt] was in Teheran, he discussed the Indian problem with Stalin and said: ‘Of course, Churchill’s an old Tory; we can’t trust him with India. The real answer, I think, will be to introduce the thorough Soviet system and make India anew.’”                                                          (The War Lords, by A. .J. P. Taylor, p 135)


“To help people do things, acquire things, be what they want to be, help their kids get on. Now that’s socialism in my book.”       (John Hutton, Secretary of State for Business and Enterprise in Gordon Brown’s government, quoted in the Spectator, September 22)


“Poor Africa, the happy hunting ground of the mythomaniac, the rock star buffing up his or her image, the missionary with a faith to sell, the child buyer, the retailer of dirty drugs or toxic cigarettes, the editor in search of a scoop, the empire builder, the aid worker, the tycoon wishing to rid himself of his millions, the school builder with a bucket of patronage, the experimenting economist, the diamond merchant, the oil executive, the explorer, the slave trader, the eco-tourist, the adventure traveler, the bird watcher, the travel writer, the escapee, the colonial and his crapulosities, the banker, the busybody, the Mandela-sniffer, the political fantasist, the buccaneer and your cousin the Peace Corps Volunteer. Oh, and the atoner, of whom Thoreau observed in a skeptical essay: “Now, if anything ail a man so that he does not perform his functions … if he has committed some heinous sin and partially repents, what does he do? He sets about reforming the world.” Thoreau, who had Africa specifically in mind, added, ‘Do you hear it, ye Wolofs?’”                                   (Paul Theroux, in review of Tim Jeal’s Stanley, in NYT, September 30)


God, Vice, and Sport in the US

“In the heat of the battle. It’s a hard-hitting, vicious game, and sometimes you lose perspective. As athletes, we’ve been doing it for so long, it seems like this is God’s will for our lives. And in an instant, it makes it clear we’re not in control.”                                                                                                          (Chris Kelsay, a Buffalo Bills’ defensive end, quoted in an article about playing-field prayer after injuries, in NYT, September 30)

“I feel a lot closer to God. Bull riding has made me a better person. It gives me a goal.”                        (Scott Davis, a high-school rodeo participant, quoted in NYT, September 30)


“Everything which is good in this curious world owes its origin to privileged persons.”                              (J. C. Masterman, quoted by Ben Macintyre in Agent Zigzag, Chapter 20)


Did they mean The Ten Commissars?

“Nearby, Ms. Donshina, the second-grade teacher, led her students in reciting the Ten Commandants before pointing to a tiny tree at the front of the room with branches but no leaves.”             (Story on return of religion in schools in Russia, from NYT, September 30)




“Before we get carried away with admiration for the ‘ancient’ system of moral intuition, let’s remember that it is the same system that in the name of protecting social group values gives us such charming practices as the ‘honor killing of women by their brothers and fathers.     The human need for moral rectitude is the same sense that fuels the religious believer’s murderous rage against those of other, competing faiths.”                                              (Letter from William Leiss, of Ottawa, in NYT Science Section, October 2)


“Have you ever seen a longer face than on an athlete who has quit in his prime?”                                                                                                                                            (attributed to four-time Olympic discus gold medalist Al Oerter, from his NYT obituary, October 2)


“I spy for dead empires. It’s my way of coping with the imperial ambitions of the living.”                         (Herbert Muschamp, architecture critic, from his NYT obituary, October 4)


“The government has avoided a new census [since 1932] because of the repercussions: power is delicately divided among Lebanon’s officially recognized 18 sects.”                                                                                                                 (report in NYT, October 6)


“The attempt to make heaven on earth invariably produces hell.”                                                                               (Karl Popper, according to Jonathan Rauch in NYT, October 7)


“History happens, but only just. The lives of individuals, as of nations, may hinge on a millimeter’s difference in the trajectory of a bullet, a road not taken on a whim or the random spray of shrapnel. But there is no undoing what is done.”                                                                                                                                     (Roger Cohen, in NYT, October 8)


“It was Ben [Tillett, trade union leader] who said, when asked why he dined in a fashionable West End hotel in the middle of a great industrial dispute, ‘Only the best is good enough for a British workingman.’”                                                                                                                                        (from Bevin of Britain, by Trevor Evans, Chapter 4)


Unlike some of the other foreign riff-raff

“It is not Tomski or Tomski’s manners I am troubled about, but the need for the maintenance of unity between two great working classes.”                                                                                                                                   (Bill Brown, pleading for relations with the Russian unions not to be broken off, from Bevin of Britain, by Trevor Evans, Chapter 6)


“If the boys from the secondary schools can save us in the Spitfires, the same brains can be turned to produce the new world.” (Ernest Bevin making the case for broadening entry into the Diplomatic Service, in 1940, Bevin of Britain, by Trevor Evans, Chapter 8)


“When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets, it is well for the timid to lock doors, shutter windows and lie low until the wrath has passed.”                                                                                                                (from The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer, Chapter 1)


“A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the desire for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation.”                                                                               (from The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer, Chapter 1)


“A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.”                                                                  (from The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer, Chapter 2)


“The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility, is boundless.”                                                                       (from The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer, Chapter 2)


“Fanatics, says Renan, fear liberty more than they fear persecution.” (from the Preface to Renan’s Hibbert Lectures, 1880: quoted in The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer Chapter 5)


“One of the rules that emerges from a consideration of the factors that promote self-sacrifice is that we are less ready to die for what we have or are than for what we wish to have and to be. It is a perplexing and unpleasant truth that when men have ‘something worth fighting for, they do not feel like fighting.”                                                                                                                                (from The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer, Chapter 6)


“Strength of faith, as Bergson pointed out [in The Two Sources of Morality and Religion], manifests itself not in moving mountains but in not seeing mountains to move.”                                                                             from The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer, Chapter 13)


“’Vanity’, said Napoleon [where?], ‘made the Revolution; liberty was only a pretext.’”                                                               (from The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer, Chapter 15)


“The Bolshevik menace, the un-English nature of Communism, were relentless themes of bourgeois propaganda in the inter-war period.”                                                       (The editorial committee of New Left review [Perry Anderson, Anthony Barnett, and Francis Mulhern], in interview with Raymond Williams, from Politics and Letters, p 33)


“There is a joke that someone says his family came over with the Normans and we reply: ‘Are you liking it here?’”                         (Raymond Williams, in Politics and Letters, p 36)


“When the railways were nationalized, I would talk to my father about the consequences of this move. Within six months he, who had always wanted it, was bitterly against the bureaucratic character of the new structure. It seemed to him the substitution of one kind of directorial board for another. He said that the immediate work discipline actually became harsher. The way he put it: ‘There used to be one inspector, now there are two.’”                                                                         (Raymond Williams, in Politics and Letters, p 71)


“After all, if it could have been done by talking, Wales would have been a socialist republic in the twenties.”                   (Raymond Williams, in Politics and Letters, p 369)


“After all, there is nobody more militant than a stockbroker after his killing.”                                                                                  (Raymond Williams, in Politics and Letters, p 380)


1984 will be a curio in 1984.”                                                                                         (The editorial committee of New Left review [Perry Anderson, Anthony Barnett, and Francis Mulhern], in interview with Raymond Williams, from Politics and Letters, p 387)


“The real tragedy [of a revolution] occurs at those dreadful moments when the revolutionary impulse is so nearly lost, or so heavily threatened, that the revolutionary movement has to impose the harshest discipline on itself and over relatively [!] innocent people in order not to be broken down and defeated.”                                                                                                              (Raymond Williams, in Politics and Letters, p 395)


“You should hate liars and cheats and those who won’t play the game. You should be able to take a joke. You should dislike extremes. You should be bad at dancing and sex and incapable of either without being drunk. You should resist invasion of your personal space. You should ignore what you dislike but give to charity. You should protect the countryside. You should respect the sovereign. You should say what you think. You should be classical on the outside and romantic within. You should put religion in the back seat and make sure it stays there. You should acknowledge your great good fortune.”                                                                (Duncan Fallowell, writer, responding to Gordon Brown’s invitation to define ‘British values’, in Prospect, October 2007)


“If people want a sense of purpose they should get it from their archbishop.” (Harold Macmillan [where?], according to Ferdinand Mount, in Prospect, October 2007)


“No male or female member of our community has the right to inter-marry with non-Jews; this law covers conversion, which we consider to be fictitious and valueless.”                                                                                              (from the 1935 Edict issued by Syrian-Jewish rabbis living in Brooklyn, still effective in 2007, from NYT, October 14)


“The beginning of wisdom lies in recognizing that history cannot be coerced.” (Reinhold Niebuhr, [where?], according to Paul Elie, in Atlantic Monthly, November 2007)


“Try this experiment. Go knock on someone’s door in west Oakland, Watts or Newark and say: ‘We gotta really big problem!’ They say: ‘We do? We do?’ ‘Yeah, we gotta save the polar bears! You may not make it out of this neighborhood alive, but we gotta save the polar bears!’”                                                                                               (Van Jones, a ‘black and green social activist’, quoted by Thomas L. Friedman in NYT, October 17)


“There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.”                                                                               (‘Political boss’ Mark Hanna, according to Paul Krugman in NYT, October 19)


“Louisiana likes its governors to know the fundamentals of the Cajun two-step, speak some derivation of French patois, and at least get to a duck blind, regularly and publicly.”                                                                                (Adam Nossiter, in NYT, October 19)


“A great navy is like oxygen: You notice it only when it is gone.”                                                                                            (Robert D. Kaplan, in Atlantic Monthly, November 2007)


Lines Rediscovered in Time to Commemorate the Award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Albert Gore

“When the sun’s perpendicular rays

Illumine the depths of the sea –

The fishes, beginning to sweat,

Cry, Damn it, how hot we shall be!”                                                                                                                                            (Beginning of an Undergraduate Poem, by Anon., from The Faber Book of Comic Verse, edited by Michael Roberts, p 157)


“This refusal to be assimilated, which has been repeated by so many generations of Jews since the first dispersals began in the sixth century B.C., is itself a very strange phenomenon. Save to some extent for the Gipsies, there seems to have been no other people which, scattered far and wide, possessing neither a nationality nor a territory of its own nor even any great ethnic homogeneity, has yet persisted indefinitely as a cultural entity. It is likely that the solution of this sociological puzzle is to be found in Jewish religion which not only – like Christianity and Islam – taught its adherents to regard themselves as the Chosen People of a single omnipotent God, but also taught them to regard the most overwhelming communal misfortunes – defeat, humiliation, dispersal – as so many tokens of divine favour, so many guarantees of future communal bliss. What made the Jews remain Jews was, it seems, their absolute conviction that the Diaspora was but a preliminary expiation of communal sin, a preparation for the coming of the Messiah and the return to a transfigured Holy Land – even though, after the final collapse of the Jewish state, they usually thought of that consummation as belonging to a remote and indefinite future. Moreover for the very purpose of ensuring the survival of the Jewish religion a body of ritual was elaborated which effectively prevented Jews from mixing with other people. Intermarriage with non-Jews was prohibited; eating with non-Jews made very difficult; even to read a non-Jewish book was an offence.”                                                                  (from Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium, Chapter 4)


“In the minds of the apocalyptic sectarians of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the rich layman was already undergoing the metamorphosis which in course of time was to transform him into the Capitalist of twentieth-century propaganda: a being truly demonic in its destructiveness, its cruelty, its gross sensuality, its capacity to deceive and, above all, its near omnipotence.”                                                                                                                                            (from Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium, Chapter 5)


“The core of his [John Hus’s] ‘heresy’ was his claim that the Papacy was not a divine but a human institution, that not the pope but Christ was the true head of the Church, and that an unworthy pope should be deposed. Ironically enough, the Council which condemned him had itself just deposed Pope John XXIII for simony, murder, sodomy and fornication.”                     (from Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium, Chapter 11)


“Unfortunately for their social experiment, the Taborite revolutionaries were so preoccupied with common ownership that they altogether ignored the need to produce. They even seemed to have believed that, like Adam and Eve in Paradise, the denizens of the new ideal communities would be exempted from all need to work.”                                                              (from Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium, Chapter 11)


“No humorist is ever funny after the age of fifty.”                                        (Robert Benchley, according to Charles Getchell, in Introduction to Benchley at the Theatre)


“…. We find an interesting example of what is known as ‘Onkerdonk’s Disease’. Onkerdonk was an English playwright (1794-1911) who was afflicted with a curious malady which took the form of a desire to write a ply about Americans. Never having been to America, he did the next best thing and subscribed to Punch for a year, at the end of which time he had a very good idea of how Americans really talked.”                           (Robert Benchley, from In the Vernacular, in Life Magazine, March 22, 1928)


“Nine tenths of the value of a sense of humor in writing is not in the things it makes one write but in the things it keeps one from writing. It is especially valuable in this respect in serious writing, and no one without a sense of humor should ever write seriously. For without knowing what is funny, one is constantly in danger of being funny without knowing it.”      (Robert Benchley, from ‘Dynamo’, in Life Magazine, March 28, 1929)


“We British writers are all – or almost all, one way or another – Chekhovian now.” (William Boyd, in review of William Trevor’s Cheating at Canasta, in NYT, October 21)


“Civil rights are like a muscle. If you don’t use them, they atrophy.” (Director of the Institute for Information Freedom Development Ivan Y. Pavlov, from NYT, October 27)


“When you mix religion and politics, you get politics.”                                                                                                         (Rev. Gene Carlson, quoted in NYT Magazine, October 28)


“I think the Gospel is offensive, and I think the cross is offensive. I think Jesus loved everybody and I think he loved the Pharisees, but he certainly told them how the cow eats the cabbage.”                                 (Rev. Joe Wright, quoted in NYT Magazine, October 28)


“The trouble was her [Katherine Hepburn’s] voice, which Tallulah Bankhead once likened to ‘nickels dropping in a slot machine.’”                              (from NYT, October 30)


“The purer something is, the dirtier it will become.”                          (Kenichi Yano, a retired Shinto priest, on tainted food scandals in Japan, from NYT, October 31)


“Laziness is the worst vice a poet can have. Sentimentality, cliché, pretension, falsity of emotion, vanity, dullness, over-ambition, self-indulgence, word-deafness, word-blindness, clumsiness, technical ineptitude, unoriginality – all of these are bad but they are usually subsets and products of laziness.”                                                                                                                                  (Stephen Fry, in The Ode Less Travelled, p 130)


“Satire squats hoof in mouth under every bush. The purpose of satire, it has been rightly said, is to strip off the never of comforting illusion and cosy half-truth. And our job, as I see it, is to put it back again.”                                                                                  (Michael Flanders, quoted in A Great, Silly Grin by Humphrey Carpenter, p 62, note)


“My father [a District Officer in Nigeria] used to receive news by boat six months after it was published. He’d open The Times and say, ‘Good God, Worcester are 78 for 6.’”                            (Peter Cook, quoted by Humphrey Carpenter in A Great, Silly Grin, p 82; also recalled, in a slightly different fashion, by Roy Keating, in the Spectator, October 6)


“John Fortune was shocked by this [Jonathan Miller’s statement in Beyond The Fringe that he was ‘just Jew –ish’], ‘because when I went up to Cambridge I thought Jews were only in the Bible – though there was a don at my college, King’s, who was Jewish, and I heard he’d been refused membership of a golf club because of it.’”                                                                                                 (from Humphrey Carpenter’s A Great, Silly Grin, p 112)


“David Frost told viewers [on That Was The Week That Was, 8 December 1962] that Reginald Maudling, Chancellor of the Exchequer, had ended a brief interview with a group of the unemployed by remarking, ‘I’ve got work to do, even if you haven’t.’”                                                                (from Humphrey Carpenter’s A Great, Silly Grin, p 233)


“It is a good thing to be laughed over – it is better than to be ignored.”                                                                                                                                            (Harold Macmillan on That Was The Week that Was, from Humphrey Carpenter’s A Great, Silly Grin, p 236)




“If Christ as alive, was here physically, he would drive them away with a whip.”                                                                                       (President Chavez of Venezuela, commenting on Roman Catholic bishops’ characterizing of his constitutional overhaul to allow him to be elected President permanently as ‘immoral’, from NYT, November 3)


“The biggest challenge we have in transforming synagogue life is transforming the basic relationship of most Jews to most synagogues. It’s a fee-for-service model. I’m going to write you a check, and you’re going to give me what I need – a rabbi on call, High Holy Day seats, a Hebrew school for my kids. It’s not deep.”                                                                                                                         (Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, in NYT, November 3)


“Everything I’ve done, I love. If you’re not in love, you can’t create. And if you’re calm when you’ve created something, you can rest assured that you’ve created nothing.”                           (Igor Moiseyev, choreographer, in 1965, from his NYT obituary, November 3)


“The Voses were surprised to discover that their friend was Jewish. ‘We never talked about Jews,’ Mrs. Vos recalled. ‘They were Dutch, that’s all.’”                               (from the obituary of Johtje Vos, who saved Dutch Jews during WW II, in NYT, November 4)


“No movie star has died of diarrhea. No politician has died of poverty.”                     (Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization, quoted in NYT, November 4)


“Someone – it’s been attributed to everyone from Dostoevsky to John Gardner – once said that there are only two possible stories: a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town. To these Richard Russo has added a third: schlub stays put.”                  (Stephen Metcalf, in review of Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs, in NYT, November 4)


“Some tribes in Mali believe, the report said, ‘that if the clitoris comes in contact with the baby’s head during birth, the child will die’, or that ‘a man could be killed by the secretion of a poison from the clitoris upon its contact with the penis.’”                   (from a US State Department report on female circumcision, reported in NYT, November 5)


“You see then, Gentlemen, here are two methods of Education: the one aspires to be philosophical, the other mechanical; the one rises towards ideas, the other is exhausted upon what is particular and external. Let me not be thought to deny the necessity, or decry the benefit, of such attention to what is particular and practical, of the useful or mechanical arts; life could not go on without them: we owe our daily welfare to them; their exercise is the duty of the many, and we owe to the many the debt of gratitude for fulfilling it. I only say that Knowledge, in proportion as it tends more and more to the particular, ceases to be Knowledge…”                                                          (Cardinal Newman, in 1832, quoted by Correlli Barnett in The Audit of War, Chapter 11)


“Liberal education makes not the Christian, nor the Catholic, but the gentleman. It is well to be a gentleman, it is well to have a cultivated intellect, a delicate taste, a candid, equitable, dispassionate mind, a noble and courteous bearing in the conduct of life; – these are the connatural qualities of a large knowledge; they are the objects of a University….”                                                                                                 (Cardinal Newman, in 1832, quoted by Correlli Barnett in The Audit of War, Chapter 11)


“An University that conceived of education as not involving it in principles of moral truths would be an evil.”                                                                 (Dr Thomas Arnold, in letter of 9th May, 1836, quoted by Correlli Barnett in The Audit of War, Chapter 11)


“Here [in Oxbridge], the children of wealth were taught that the pursuit of wealth was vulgar, ignoble and unknightly, not to say the mark of a cad and a bounder; and that the more estimable career lay in ‘public service’. With a secure mandarin career to be crowned by a knighthood in one of the proliferating imperial orders of chivalry, it was possible to despise, and socially humiliate, the ‘box-wallahs’ from whose activities derived the mandarin’s salary, perquisites and pension.”                                                                                                                     (Correlli Barnett in The Audit of War, Chapter 11)


“The amount of paper in the form of minutes and memoranda thus [by various government economic and industrial committees] generated between 1943 and 1945 would have amazed Field Marshal Montgomery or, for that matter, Albert Speer; not so much operational studies as wordy prize essays offering every intellectual distinction except clear strategic choice or decision; and the whole more redolent of the stateliness of the striped trouser than the dynamism of the rolled-up sleeve.”                                                                                                    (Correlli Barnett in The Audit of War, Chapter 13)


“We have a good arrangement: Roman lies to me and I pretend to believe him.”                                         (Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski’s second wife, as reported by Jonathan Keates in review of Christopher Sandworth’s Polanski, in The Spectator November 3)


“In politics it is necessary either to betray one’s country or the electorate. I prefer to betray the electorate.”                                                                                           (attributed to Charles de Gaulle in letter to NYT from Daniel P. Quinn, November 8)


“I would never have an affair, because I wouldn’t want my children to have for their mother the sort of woman who would be married to a man who would cheat on her.”                                                                                                                       (Alan Coren, as recalled by Michael Bywater in a remembrance of him in the Sunday Times, October 21)


“If we sent 30 per cent of the doctors in this country to Africa, we might raise the level of health in both continents.”                                                                                                     (Elliot Fisher, a physician and researcher at the Center for Evaluative Clinical Sciences at Dartmouth Medical School, quoted in Atlantic Monthly, December 2007)


“Whenever you read that a candidate ‘values loyalty above all else’ – run for the hills.”                                                                             (Gail Collins, in NYT, November 10)


“It was a great mistake to make an ignorant Polish peasant into a pope [John Paul II].”                                          (The Rev. Chad Varah, from his NYT obituary, November 10)


“The question of how good you are is one that really good novelists obsess about more than poor ones. Good novelists are always terribly affected by the fear that they’re not as good as they thought and why are they doing it, what are they up to?”                                                                     (Norman Mailer, quoted in his NYT obituary, November 11)


“Whether we like it or not, humans have becoming the meaning of the earth.”                                                        (from From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, quoted in NYT, November 13)


“Whe he was 15, her father had acted as a Mormon Paul Revere, riding to warn polygamists that the federal marshals were coming so that they could hide their wives. Her great-grandfather, three of his six wives, and a few dozen of his 52 children had been early settlers in San Bernadino, Calif.”                                                                                                               (from the obituary of Laraine Day, actress, in NYT, November 13)


“We Americans were drawn like magnets toward the Rusian troops, especially in the Soviet sector of the city. In the early months we liked the Russians the most of the occupying forces. Their country had exercised unexpected and decisive military power, and in their willingness to try anything, they more closley resembled Americans than the gentlemanly French and British. No French or British officer would ever help repair a car. That was for enlisted men.”       (from Richard W. Cutler’s Counterspy, Chapter 12)


“The welfare of America is intimately connected with the happiness of all mankind.”                                             (Marquis de Lafayette, in 1777, according to NYT, November 16)


“The secret of eternal youth is arrested development.”                      (Alice Roosevelt Longworth, according to Thomas Mallon in review of Alice, in NYT, November 18)

[compare: “If you’re more interesting as a child than as a grown-up, what’s the point of growing up?” (Philip Larkin, in a interview with John Haffenden, from Further Requirements)]


“People whose goal is to try to make other people happy usually make themselves and everyone else miserable.” (Peter Vanacore)

“Happiness is what happens when the government isn’t looking.” (Michael Tucker)                                                                                                (from letters in NYT, November 19)


“His father was a committed socialist who became wealthy by inventing a machine to make hooks for bra straps.”                                                                                                                             (from the obituary of Victor Rabinowitz, leftist lawyer, in NYT, November 20)


But if I have knowledge, if I know five languages,

If I have mathematics and the rest,

No one can steal that from me. The difference is:

No one inherits what I once possessed.

(from Children in Exile, by James Fenton)


Death is the envy of the hicks,

The last crap shot, the final fix,

It is the burning of the ricks.

Lovelier than sex, it

Beckons us across the Styx

And we must exit.

(from Letter to John Fuller, by James Fenton)


“..historically, poets are better off with imaginary lovers.”                (Jim Harrison, in review of Charle Bukowski’s The Pleasures of the Damned, in NYT, November 25)


“And who’s this little fellow in his itty-bity robe?

That’s tiny baby Adolf, the Hitlers’ little boy!”                                                                                                                                             (Wislawa Symborska, according to Richard Lourie, in review of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Young Stalin, in NYT, November 25)


“Humanity does not exist. There are only humans, driven by conflicting needs and illusions, and subject to every kind of infirmity of will and judgment.”                                                                                                                                (John Gray in Straw Dogs, according to Scott McLemee, in review of Gray’s Black Mass, in NYT, November 25)


“Not a single word said on stage was ever uttered by any of us. But all of it is true.”                      (Mel Tonkin, on Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor, about the Writer’s Room in Manhattan (Gary Belkin, Sheldon Keller, Michael Stewart, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Mel Tonkin, and Larry Gelbart), from his NYT obituary, November 27)


“At a recent Huckabee event in Iowa, Glenda Gherkey, an evangelical from Evansdale, posed a question to the candidate. ‘I’m concerned a lot of Christians are thinking about the values issues and forgetting about the creator behind the values issues,’ Ms. Gherkey said. ‘I guess I feel like this country and this world needs a president who would be able to pray to the God of the Bible and he would be able to hear his prayers.’ She wondered, Would Mr. Romney’s prayers ‘even get through’?”                                 (NYT, November 28)


“I had grown up to regard sexual recreation as a socially remote thing, like baccarat or clog dancing, and nothing happened to alter this view.”                                                                          (Philip Larkin, in Not The Place’s Fault, from Further Requirements)


“A very crude difference between novels and poetry is that novels are about other people and poetry is about yourself.”                                                                                                        (Philip Larkin in A Conversation with Ian Hamilton, from Further Requirements)


“The really happy moments of my life, such as when I caught the captain of the other side in the deep, or passed my driving test first go, aren’t really subjects for poetry.”                                   (Philip Larkin, in An Interview with John Haffenden, from Further Requirements)


“… for him [Betjeman], the modern poetic revolution has just not happened; there has been no symbolism, no Ezra Pound, no objective correlative, no rediscovery of myth, no Seven Types or Some Versions, no works of criticism with titles like Communication as Discipline or Implicit and Explicit Image-Obliquity in Sir Lewis Morris – his poems are written in the strong unregenerate belief that poetry is a simple matter of trying to construct a verbal device that will preserve and reproduce any given feeling or set of feelings indefinitely, and that nothing is to be gained by questioning an emotion once it has been experienced.”   (Philip Larkin, from Beyond a Joke, in Further Requirements)


“The ultimate aim of a poet should be to touch our hearts by showing his own, and not to exhibit his learning, or his fine taste, or his skill in mimicking the notes of his predecessors.” (Leslie Stephen, ‘copied into his diary by Thomas Hardy’, Beyond a Joke)


“Only mediocrities develop.”                                                                  (“a favourite quotation”, by whom?; cited by Philip Larkin in Stevie, Goodbye from Further Requirements)


“The facility for happiness, like a good French accent, is usually learned early in life or not at all.”                        (Robert Bernard Martin, quoted from Tennyson; The Unquiet Heart, by Philip Larkin in The Life Under The Laurels, from Further Requirements)


“Man’s most remarkable talent is for ignoring death. For once the certainty of permanent extinction is realized, only a more immediate calamity can dislodge it from the mind, and then only temporarily. Yet on all sides people are booking foreign holidays, applying for permission to build sun-parlours, joining the Social Democratic Party. Truly, as Anatole France said, ignorance – in the sense of ignoring – is the necessary condition of life itself.”                              (Philip Larkin, in Point of No Return, from Further Requirements)


“Harold Nicolson is reported as saying [from Cyril Connolly: Journal and Memoir] that when Gladstone was warned that a certain Canon of Windsor whom he was proposing to make a bishop was homosexual, he replied: ‘I have learnt that the pagan qualities to which you refer are frequently possessed by men with the greatest erudition, the most absolute integrity and the deepest religious convictions.’”                                                                                                (Philip Larkin, in Inner Horizons, from Further Requirements)




“Faith is the substance of hope. But then the question arises: do we really want this – to live eternally? Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment. To continue living for ever – endlessly – appears more like a curse than a gift. Death, admittedly, one would wish to postpone as long as possible. But to live always, without end – this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable.”                                                    (From Pope Benedict XVI’s Encyclical Letter Spe salvi)


“My chief concern in this matter is lest your natural chagrin at the manner in which your play has been received should not rob you of what is a sincere artist’s greatest privilege: namely to profit more by his failures than his successes.”      (From letter from Basil Dean to Noel Coward, quoted in review of The Letters of Noel Coward, NYT, December 3)


Well, He Would Know….

“The [Russian presidential] elections were so dirty, and the numerous violations were so outrageous, that only a blind or a deaf person could not have seen or heard them.” (Communist Party leader Gennadi A. Zyuganov, quoted in NYT, December 4)


“Intellectuals begin at Calais. If they are true to stereotype, they lose no time in moving to Paris. The café is assumed to be the natural habitat of the species: passionate, high-principled debate its preferred nourishment; demonstrating, signing manifestoes, and denouncing abuses of power its characteristic activities. And all this in the name of those absolutes – Reason, Truth, Morality, the Rights of Man, the Logic of History – with whom intellectuals allow it to be known they are on first-name terms despite requiring others to accord them the full majesty of their capital letters.”                                                                                                                                    (Stefan Collini, in Absent Minds, p 2)


“Intellectuals are to high culture what hem-lines are to haute couture.”                                                                                                                    (Stefan Collini, in Absent Minds, p 8)


“An atomic physicist is an intellectual only when he signs a petition against nuclear testing.”                                                                                                         (Jean-Paul Sartre, according to Michael Walzer, cited by Stefan Collini, in Absent Minds, p 61)


“Our general indifference to political theories; our quiet and respectable adherence to things that are … this propensity has for centuries assuredly distinguished us; we have been very little alive to all speculative innovations in morals and politics. Those continental writings that have set the rest of the world in a blaze, have never been widely popular with us.”                                                                                             (Bulwer Lytton, in England and the English, quoted by Stefan Collini, in Absent Minds, p 70)


“When intellectuals can do nothing else, they start a magazine.”                                                                              (Irving Howe, according to Stefan Collini, in Absent Minds, p 231)


“The intellectual is a man who carries a brief-case.” (Jacques Barzun)

“The intellectual is one who turns answers into questions.” (Harold Rosenberg)

(Stefan Collini, in Absent Minds, p 232)


“[American politicians] are a group that seems unique among the governing classes in having managed to be corrupt, uncultivated and incompetent all at once.”                                                         (Edmund Wilson, according to Stefan Collini, in Absent Minds, p 236)


“Nobody in Europe believes in the American way of life, that is, in private enterprise; or rather, those who believe in it are a defeated party, which seems to have no more future than the Jacobites in England after 1688.”                                                     (A. J. P. Taylor, on the Home Service in 1945, according to Stefan Collini in Absent Minds, p 387)


“No more than the scientist is the philosopher specially privileged to lay down the rules of conduct, or to prescribe an ideal form of life. If he has strong opinions on these points, and wishes to convert others to them, his philosophical training may give him a certain advantage in putting them persuasively: but, whether or not the values that he recommends are found to be acceptable, it is not from his philosophy that they can derive their title to acceptance. His professional task is done when he has made the issues clear. For in morals, and in politics at the stage where politics become a matter of morals, there is no repository of truth to which only the learned few have access. The question how men ought to live is one to which there is no authoritative answer. It has to be decided by each man for himself.”                                                                                                       (A. J. Ayer, in Claims of Philosophy, quoted by Stefan Collini in Absent Minds, p 395)


“For inside every apparently smooth, plump insider is a craggy, riven outsider waiting to be unmasked by ‘genuine’ insiders.”                (Stefan Collini in Absent Minds, p 415)


“In place of thought, we have opinion; in place of argument, we have journalism; in place of polemic, we have personality profiles; in place of reputation, we have celebrity.”                                        (Michael Ignatieff, quoted by Stefan Collini in Absent Minds, p 494)


“If that glass thing over there is a window, then it isn’t a Fenster or a fenêtre or whatever. Hautes Fenêtres, my God! A writer can have only one language, if language is going to mean anything to him.”                                                                                                                            (Philip Larkin, in An Interview with Paris Review, from Required Writing)


“Poetry isn’t a kind of paint-spray you use to cover selected objects with. A good poem about failure is a success.”                                                                                                                             (Philip Larkin, in An Interview with Paris Review, from Required Writing)


“I have too high an opinion of English poetry to think it can be killed with a little kindness. Very likely, prosperity, for the poet, is like poverty: one more technical problem he has to solve.” (Philip Larkin, in Subsidizing Poetry, from Required Writing)


“On the whole, as I am fond of saying, libraries are feminine: they respond, they do not initiate.” (Philip Larkin, in A Neglected Responsibility, from Required Writing)


“Certainly for a middle-class woman of thirty in North Cornwall in 1870 sixteen miles from the nearest railway station to get a husband some kind of divine intervention seems imperative.”                      (Philip Larkin, in Mrs Hardy’s Memories, from Required Writing)


“This is worth remembering in an age when almost any poet who can produce evidence of medical mental care is automatically rated higher than one who has stayed sane: ‘very mad, very holy’, as the natives say in one of Evelyn Waugh’s novels, and we must take care not to copy their way of thinking. Poetry is an affair of sanity, of things as they are. The less a writer’s work approximates to the maxim, the less claim he has on the attention of his contemporaries and of posterity.”                                                                                                                   (Philip Larkin, in Big Victims, from Required Writing)


“’That’s by Rodgers and Hammerstein,’ he [Cole Porter] would say, ‘if you can imagine it taking two men to write a song.’”                                                                                                                         (Philip Larkin, in Supreme Sophisticate, from Required Writing)


“’In the sex war, thoughtlessness is the weapon of the male, vindictiveness of the female,’ as Cyril Connolly wrote.”                                                                                                                             (Philip Larkin, in Dull Beyond Description, from Required Writing)


“Mad poets do not write about madness: they w rite about religion, sofas, the French Revolution, nature, their cat Jeoffry. Plath did. It was her subject. Her donnée..”                                                             (Philip Larkin, in Horror Poet, from Required Writing)


“If I were to frame Larkin’s Law of Reissues, it would say that anything you haven’t got already probably isn’t worth bothering about.”                                                                                                                                       (Philip Larkin, in Law, from Required Writing)


Identity (and Grammatical) Problems in Kosovo

“When you ask a Kosovar, ‘Are you a Kosovar?’, they will answer, ‘No, I am Albanian.’ If you ask a Serb, ‘Are you Kosovar?’ they will answer, ‘No, I am a Serb’.”                                                                                                                                   (Migjen Kelmendi, ‘a former rock star who is now a linguist and editor’, quoted in NYT, December 17)


“A law of physics is a pattern that nature obeys without exception.” (Sean Carroll, cosmologist at the California Institute of Technology, quoted in NYT, December 18)


“Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.”    (Saying attributed to Nobelist Richard Feynman, quoted in NYT, December 18)

“And even if by some extraordinary and terrible turn of events, or an act of betrayal on the part of Liberal politicians, the war itself should be lost, no threat to the British way of life would result; a whole battalion might be wiped out, national prestige sadly dimmed, but not a penny more would go on the income-tax, the Derby would still be run, and silk hats and frock-coats would still be worn at church parade.”                                                                                                                        (Osbert Lancaster, in All Done From Memory, p 43)


“There is no silence in the world so overwhelming as that which prevails on a small country station when a train has just left.”                                                                                                                                             (Osbert Lancaster, in All Done From Memory, p 78)


“The fact that Miss Marple in addition to her hump-back had also a heavy cavalry moustache did not count, as the Lancasters themselves were a hirsute lot (one of my great-aunts had several times been mistaken for Lord Kitchener), and among them such an adornment was considered rather a source of pride than of shame.”                                                                                                 (Osbert Lancaster, in All Done From Memory, p 83)


“Indeed, had the Germans only possessed a sense of humour they might almost have qualified as honorary Englishmen.”   (Osbert Lancaster, in All Done From Memory, p 84)


“Eccentricity, to be socially acceptable, had still to have at least four of five generations of inbreeding behind it.”                     (Osbert Lancaster, in All Done From Memory, p 112)


“As an ordained clergyman of the Church of England I am constrained to believe in a future life, but I don’t mind admitting, my dear fellow, that personally I should much prefer extinction.”                                                                                   (Dr, Holmes Dudden, Master of Pembroke, according to Osbert Lancaster, in With An Eye To The Future, p 62)


“Among my own friends and acquaintances attitudes [towards the Spanish Civil War] varied; the Café Royal was solidly pro-Republican as was most of Oxford; John Betjeman, for whom at that period Europe south of Tulse Hill did not exist, remained, I think, unaware of the conflict;..”(Osbert Lancaster, in With An Eye To The Future, p 138)


“Well, Brian……”

“…. organized sport illustrates one of the central insights of classical social theory, from Tönnie’s distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gescellschaft [sic] to Weber’s theory of rationalization: that the modern world is founded on an institutional separation of the realms of instrumental reason and value-driven action.”                                                                                                                          (David Goldblatt, in Prospect, December 2007)


“As one foreign office wag noted: ‘Sudan was the land of blacks ruled by Blues.’”                                                                                          (David Goldblatt, in Prospect, December 2007)


“Television has had enormous power as a unifier. Morecambe and Wise did more than Milton and Wordsworth to make us feel one people.”                                                                                                                       (Richard Jenkyns, in Prospect, December 2007)


“He was fiercely partisan and referred to himself as a ‘yellow dog’ Democrat, meaning he would vote for a yellow dog before he would vote for a Republican.”                                                                                                                                                    (from the obituary of Georgia Speaker of the House [1974-2002] Tom B. Murphy, in NYT December 20)


“I may be sending you to your death, Hannay. – Good God, what a damned task-mistress duty is!”                     (Sir Walter Bullivant in Greenmantle, by John Buchan, Chapter 1)


“We call ourselves insular, but the truth is that we are the only race on earth that can produce men capable of getting inside the skin of emote people. Perhaps the Scots are better than the English, but we’re all a thousand per cent. better than anybody else.”                                                                  (from John Buchan’s Greenmantle, Chapter 2)


“Then I realize something of the might of Germany. She produced good and bad, cads and gentlemen, but she could put a bit of the fanatic into them all.”                                                                                                             (from John Buchan’s Greenmantle, Chapter 5)


“Mankind has a sense of humour which stops short of the final absurdity. There never has been and there never could be a real Superman . . . But there might be a Superwoman.”                                       (Sandy Arbuthnot, in John Buchan’s Greenmantle, Chapter 15)


“The writer of contemporary history is like the man with his nose pressed against the mirror trying to see his whole body.”                                                                                                                  (Arnold Toynbee, according to Robert Dallek, in NYT, December 27)


“There are three ways of becoming a Jew: by birth, by conversion, by decree.”                                                                                  (Peter Gay, in My German Question, Chapter 3)


“… several fanatical Nazis he [Onkel Siegfried] knew, men with bright prospects in the party hierarchy, were disgraced when the required vigorous searches into their ancestors determined their racial heritage to be tainted. A Jewish grandfather or even a Jewish great-grandmother was enough to disqualify a German as a full Aryan. Such persons had to prove four generations of ‘pure blood,’ which is to say uncontaminated by Jewish admixtures.”                                            (Peter Gay, in My German Question, Chapter 4)


“But for my parents and me, cherishing our Jewishness was not an acceptable option. We did not want to be Jews by Nazi edict; their definition of our ‘race’ was just another lie that we repudiated as unhistorical and unscientific. We did not think of ourselves as members of a chosen people, divinely selected for glory or for suffering. Whatever our pious fellow-pariahs might say, we could not make ourselves believe what we did not believe, thought it might have been comforting at the time.”                                                                                                                (Peter Gay, in My German Question, Chapter 6)


“I enjoyed long strolls along the harbor [in Havana] and observed the fascinating exemplars of complex racial mixtures I encountered everywhere. The offspring of Spanish settlers, Central American Indians, blacks from the Caribbean Islands, and Chinese immigrants had met and mingled here and – one can see that I referred almost everything back to Germany! – made for a colorful refutation of the Nazis’ myth of ‘pure’ stock.”                                                    (Peter Gay, in My German Question, Chapter 9)


“A woman can be beautiful at 20, charming at 40 and irresistible all her life.”                                                                                                                     (Coco Chanel, according to Liesl Schillinger in review of Ellen T. White’s Simply Irresistible, in NYT, December 30)


“Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ is no more profound than ‘Eleanor Rigby’. But it’s a whole lot longer.”                                               (Anthony Tommasini, in NYT, December 30)


“We seem now to be living in a world where everyone has an artistic temperament – emotive and touchy, cold and self-obsessed – yet few people have the artistic gift. We are all outsiders, and we are all living in our own truth.” [Flaubert’s ‘dans le vrai’]                                       (from Lee Siegel’s review of Peter Gay’s Modernism, in NYT, December 30)


“She [Lady Jeanne Campbell] wrote in her unpublished memoirs that she and Norman Mailer fought so much, ‘we could empty a room quicker than any couple in New York. We would arrive at a party, and even the hosts would put on their hats and coats and leave.”                                                     (Rosemary Mahoney, in NYT, December 30)


“Breakups are so common that Cubans joke that anyone whose parents stay together needs a lifetime of therapy.”                                                                        (NYT, December 31)


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