Commonplace 2014


Keep Those Fires Burning

“’He wanted to kill me, but I ran into the water,’ Mr. Alier, 28, said. What left him in shock was more than the violence and the threat to his life. Until that moment Mr. Alier thought that the two, who came from different ethnic groups but went to a teacher training institute together, were friends. They lived together ‘as brothers and sisters,’ Mr. Alier said of the two groups, his disbelief evident as he stood beside a tree that was now the only shelter for his extended family of more than 30 people.”                                                                                                                                                  (from report on the Dinka and the Nuer in South Sudan, in NYT, January 4)

“Referring to Mr. Maliki’s government and its Shiite ally Iran, the fighter shouted, ‘We are here to defend you from the army of Maliki and the Iranian Safavids!’ The Safavid dynasty ruled present-day Iran and Iraq hundreds of years ago.”   (from report on militant members of the Islamic State for Iraq and Syria, in NYT, January 4)

“Mr. Halford and Mr. Hsu loaded the pictures of 677 chief executives onto a website called, which measures what it describes as “neoclassical beauty” by looking at the symmetry of a face — “the ratio of nose to ear length, the ratio of eye width compared to inner-ocular distance, the ratio of nose width to face width, the ratio of face width to face height, and the ratio of mouth width to nose width.”                              (from report in NYT, January 7)

“You can go on living with someone who doesn’t love you, but what is really killing is someone who dislikes you.”                    (Elizabeth Jane Howard, to the Independent in 2002, from her NYT obituary, January 8)

“Before I joined the project most of the English people with whom I made personal contacts were left wing, and affected in some degree or other by the same kind of philosophy. Since coming to Harwell I have met English people of all kinds, and I have come to see in many of them a deep-rooted firmness which enables them to lead a decent way of life. I do not know where this springs from and I don’t think they do, but it is there.”                                                        (from Klaus Fuchs’s confession to Skardon, in Alan Moorehead’s The Traitors, p 146)

“France is the worst place for Roma to be born. It suffers from centuries of ‘Enlightenment’, the many centuries that created this Jacobin so-called ‘universalist’ frame without any regard to subjugated knowledge or subjugated peoples. In France, ethnic minorities are not even recognized – there’s a process of negation of identity that leads to the absurd category of ‘gens de voyage’.”                              (Rom writer Sarah Carmona, in the New Yorker, January 13)

“He used to say that while he could never remember dates on a page, he had only to see a painting of a prince or cardinal and he could date the costume to within fifty years.”  (Artemis Cooper of Patrick Leigh Fermor, in her biography of him, PLF: An Adventure, p 29)

“This is just one instance of the interplay of Paddy’s memory and his imagination. It is hardly surprising that in the act of transposing one part of the journey to another, different memories of being on horseback in Hungary were grafted on to his early impressions of the Alföld. This is what novelists do every day. But since Paddy was making a novel of his life – and his readership would expect the a story to be true – he was also creating a new memory, shaped and coloured by his imagination, so perfect in every detail that he could say: ‘When I was riding across the Alföld’, meaning most of it, without a trace of self-consciousness.”                                                                                     (from Artemis Cooper’s Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, p 65)

“The general laughed harshly. He tapped on a window glass. ‘Do you see the multitude of people on this square? These are ordinary citizens, and all of them are suspects who remain on the other side of the walls of this building so far. On this side, there are no suspects – only convicts. You’re arrested, therefore, you’re convicted. If it’s expedient, we’re ready to grant amnesty to you.’”    (General Abakumov to Dmitri Bystrolyotov, from Emil Draitser’s Agent Dmitri, p 319)

“If a government is willing to kill as many people as necessary to stay in power, it usually stays in power for a very long time.”                                      (Andrey Lankov,  a Russian expert on North Korea, from review of ‘Secret State of North Korea’  in NYT, January 14, 2014)

“In so far as the disappearance of the two Foreign Office officials themselves [Burgess and Maclean] was concerned, I can only emphasize the inescapable truth that no shred of legal evidence has ever been available against either of them which could have served as grounds for the issuing of a warrant for their arrest.” (from Sir Percy Sillitoe’s Cloak Without Dagger, p 161)

“  . . .  the prime motive of Soviet policy during the war and after it was fear, not domination.”  (A.J. P. Taylor, in the Observer, 1972, quoted by Victoria Schofield in Witness to History, p 259)

“Thirdly, I do honestly regard him as the greatest of British Foreign Secretaries since Palmerston and perhaps since Castlereagh, although equally the worst PM since Spencer Perceval or anyway since Liverpool, and the combination of this shining success and abysmal failure fascinates me.”                                                                                                                                       (Sir John Wheeler-Bennett on Lord Avon, quoted by Victoria Schofield in Witness to History, p 263)

“Meanwhile, the BLI film officer, Richard Ford, advised London about the United States’ newsreel needs. Ford called for more war footage, more film of the royal family, and more coverage of the Labour Party Cabinet ministers. Irritated by his persistent requests, the MoI’s deputy secretary, Colonel Scorgie, suggested sending:

‘A newsreel of Mt. Bevin, Mr. Morrison, and the Prime Minister jointly and severally beating the quarter-mile amateur record eastward from the White Cliffs of Dover with a German tank in chase, background Canterbury Cathedral blitzed, with archbishop holding a service in the ruins supported by cardinal Hinsley and the Chief Rabbi, foreground a cheering crowd of acceptable Princesses also Royal Duchesses . . .  especially wearing trousers.’”                                                                                                     (from Nicholas John Cull’s Selling War, p 140)

July 1938

“Every time you sacrifice one of your potential allies to this pathetic desire to appease the tyrants, you merely bring nearer and make more inevitable that war which you pretend you are trying to avoid.” (Josiah Wedgwood, MP, July 26, 1938)

“I do wish it might be possible to get at any rate The Times, Camrose, Beaverbrook, Press etc. to write up Hitler as the apostle of peace. It will be terribly short sighted if this is not done.” (Sir Nevile Henderson, in letter to Cadogan, July 26, 1938)        (both cited by Hugh Ragsdale in The Soviets, the Munich Crisis, and the Coming of World War II, p 51)

“If there is any prospect of the refinement and improvement of conclusions such as these, it awaits the capricious impulses of the furtive Neanderthals who are keepers of the secrets of the Russian archives.”                                                                                                                      (Hugh Ragsdale in The Soviets, the Munich Crisis, and the Coming of World War II, p 192)

“I think we are born into this world and inherit all the grudges and rivalries and hatreds and sins of the past. But we also inherit the beauty and the joy and the goodness of our forebears.”                                                 (Barack Obama, to David Remnick, in the New Yorker, January 27)

“The first time I met the great Peter Medawar, he startled my student self with a deliciously sacrilegious remark, delivered with his characteristically patrician, yet impish style. ‘The trouble with Julian is that he really doesn’t understand evolution.’ Fancy saying that – of a Huxley! I could hardly believe my ears and, as you see, I have never forgotten it. I later heard another Nobel Prize winner, the French molecular biologist Jacques Monod, say something a bit similar, though not about Huxley: ‘The trouble with natural selection is that everybody thinks he understands it.’”                              (Richard Dawkins, in An Appetite for Wonder, p 269)


“[Nonconformity was to be encouraged] in order that society may be fragmented and articulated and sophisticated and self-governing and responsible, and lest one good custom should corrupt the world. I hate uniformity, which leads only to mass culture, intellectual banality and the political instability of huge, mindless electorates and demagogic rulers . . .”                                                                (Hugh Trevor-Roper, quoted by David Womersley in review of One Hundred Letters from Hugh Trevor-Roper, in the Spectator, January 18)

“It is an established scientific fact that monetary policy has had virtually no effect on output and employment in the U.S. since the formation of the Fed. Bond buying is as effective in bringing prosperity as rain dancing is in bringing rain.”             (Professor Prescott, 2004 Nobelist in economic science, quoted in NYT, January 28)

“The historian has the right, and is under an obligation, to make up his own mind by the methods proper to his own science as to the correct solution of every problem that arises for him in the pursuit of that science. He can never be under any obligation, or have any right, to let someone else make up his mind for him.”

“When the historian accepts a ready-made answer to some question he has asked, given him by another person, this other person is called his ‘authority’, and the statement made by such an authority and accepted by the historian is called ‘testimony’. In so far as an historian accepts the testimony of an authority and treats it as historical truth, he obviously forfeits the name of historian; but we have no other name by which to call him.”                                                                                                                                    (R.G. Collingwood, in The Idea of History, p 256)

“Confronted with a ready-made statement about the subject he is studying, the scientific historian never asks himself: ‘Is this statement true or false?, in other words ‘Shall I incorporate it in my history of that subject or not?” The question he asks himself is: ‘What does this statement mean?” And this is not equivalent to the question ‘What did the person who made it mean by it?”, although that is doubtless a question that the historian must ask, and must be able to answer. It is equivalent, rather, to the question ‘What light is thrown on the subject in which I am interested by the fact that this person made this statement, meaning by it what he did mean?’ This might be expressed by saying that the scientific historian does not treat statements as statements but as evidence; not as true or false accounts of the facts of which they profess to be accounts, but as other facts which, if he knows the right questions to ask about them, may throw light on those facts.”                                              (R.G. Collingwood, in The Idea of History, p 275)


News from Israel

“Tellingly, the Supreme Court recently rejected an attempt by Israeli liberals to have their nationality or ethnicity listed simply as ‘Israeli’ in the national population registry (which has categories like Jew, Arab, Druse, etc.). The court found that doing so would be a serious threat to Israel’s founding identity as a Jewish state for the Jewish people.

Israel remains the only country on earth that does not recognize its own nationality, as that would theoretically avail equal rights to all its citizens, undermining its ‘ethnocratic”’ identity. The claim that B.D.S., a nonviolent movement anchored in universal principles of human rights, aims to ‘destroy’ Israel must be understood in this context.” (Omar Barghouti, in NYT, February 2)

“On recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Mr. Abbas said, ‘This is out of the question,’ noting that Jordan and Egypt were not asked to do so when they signed peace treaties with Israel. He presented a 28-page packet he has been distributing widely that included a 1948 letter signed by President Harry Truman in which ‘Jewish state’ was crossed out and replaced by ‘State of Israel’; statements by Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion; and a paper on Edwin Montagu, a Jewish member of the British cabinet who opposed the 1917 Balfour Declaration supporting a ‘national home for the Jewish people’ in Palestine.” (from NYT, February 3)

“Our children must really be confused. We want them to go to church on Sunday, and we teach them about Jesus Christ, and then they go to school on Monday and they can’t pray. They can’t learn about creationism.” (Texas State Senator Dan Patrick, quoted in NYT, February 3, 2014)

“Mr. Snowden learned something critical about the N.S.A.’s culture: While the organization built enormously high electronic barriers to keep out foreign invaders, it had rudimentary protections against insiders. ‘Once you are inside the assumption is that you are supposed to be there, like in most organizations,’ said Richard Bejtlich, the chief security strategist for FireEye, a Silicon Valley computer security firm, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.”               (from NYT, February 9)

“’No Egyptologist has ever seen Ramses’ Marc Bloch points out in The Historian’s Craft. ‘No expert on the Napoleonic Wars has ever heard the sound of the cannon at Austerlitz.’ Historians ‘are in the predicament of a police magistrate who strives to reconstruct a crime he has not seen; of a physicist who, confined to his bed with the grippe, hears the results of his experiments only through the reports of his laboratory technician.’”                                                                                                                                       (from John Lewis Gaddis’s The Landscape of History, p 35)

“I get curious about a problem and start reading up on it. What I read causes me to redefine the problem. Redefining the problem causes me to shift the direction of what I’m reading. That in turn further reshapes the problem, which further redirects the reading. I go back and forth like this until it feels right, then I write it up and ship it off to the publisher.” (William H. McNeill describing his method of writing history.)                                                                                                                                         (from John Lewis Gaddis’s The Landscape of History, p 48)

“Like other historians, biographers fit representations to realities, but in a particular kind of way. It’s not enough simply to chronicle what a person did. Biographers must also try to determine why he or she did it, and that requires retrieving a set of mental processes of which even the subject of the biography may not have been fully aware. It’s this need to bridge the gap between actions, consciousness and subconsciousness that makes biography such a daunting enterprise. It ought also to make biographers humble.”                                                                                                                                             (from John Lewis Gaddis’s The Landscape of History, p 114)

“For in ‘mapping’ the past, the historian too is laying down a grid, stifling particularity, privileging legibility, all with a view to making the past accessible for the present and the future. As is also the case with states, the effect is both constraining and liberating: we oppress the past even as we free it.”                             (from John Lewis Gaddis’s The Landscape of History, p 135)

“By uprooting the past, I mean what happens when someone seeks to marginalize or even eliminate something he or she doesn’t like in the present by rewriting history in such a way as to accomplish that end. It can take the form of forgeries like the Protocols of Zion, that fake document that led to so much real misery for Jews in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It can result from imagining a community, the process that is the basis for most nationalism, which implies the exclusion or persecution of those not part of the community. It can involve discovering a direction in which history is moving, as Marx did, thereby providing Lenin and his followers with a justification for suppressing all classes other than ‘proletarians’. It can surely show up as discrimination, whether on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability or simply appearance, all of which require constructing some historical sense that certain people are superior to others. It can even take the form of deconstruction as practiced by some postmodernists, who confuse the indisputable fact that social constructions do exist with the highly disputable propositions that their own findings are not among them.”                                                                              (from John Lewis Gaddis’s The Landscape of History, p 142)

“’Good,’ the cardinal says, ‘because it’s below a Percy. I mean.’ He adds, ‘below, in a dynastic sense. I am not speaking of what one might do in a haystack on a warm night.’”                  (from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, p 63)

“More pats his arm. ‘Have you no plans to marry again, Thomas? No? Perhaps wise. My father always says, choosing a wife is like putting your hand into a bag full of writhing creatures, with one eel to six snakes. What are the chances you will pull out the eel?’”                                           (from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, p 113)

“’My lady,’ he turns to Anne, ‘you would not like to be in Harry Percy’s country. For you know he would do as those northern lords do, and keep you in a freezing turret up a winding stair, and only let you come down for your dinner. And just as you are seated, and they are bringing in a  pudding made of oatmeal mixed with the blood of cattle they have got in a raid, my lord comes thundering in, swinging a sack – oh, sweetheart, you say, a present for me? And he says, aye, madam, if it please you, and opens the sack and into your lap rolls the severed head of a Scot.’”                                                                                                 (from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, p 318)

“A private army resembles a bridge player who forgets that he has a partner.”                                                                                                         (from David Mure’s Master of Deception, p 75)

“The only way in which even a whisper of a climax should be hinted at is by finding a way by which over-elaborate attempts to cover up the possibility of one are leaked to the enemy. If the Archbishop of Canterbury called on the nation to pray for those ‘about to invade the continent of Europe’, as he did in the course of Plan Cockade, this means that no one was going to cross the Channel.”  (from David Mure’s Master of Deception, p 222)

“Describing a tea at the American Embassy in Moscow in September 1934, with British liberals, including a founder of Fabian socialism, Sidney Webb, he [George Kennan] noted that British liberals “think very abstractly and find it easy to be enthusiastic about Communism because their attitude is a complete pose. In their hearts, they never dream of being Bolshevistic or anything else except plain British.”                                                                                                                                                 (from Fareed Zakaria’s review of  The Kennan Diaries, in NYT, February 23)


“There was another avenue of escape. Russian anti-semitism was without racial bias, and Jews had freedom of residence anywhere if they elected for baptism. Forget that you were born a Hebrew, Russia said, go to church, and you are one of us. Quite a number took this course, with a sort of placid resignation. They had not been very good Jews, and they did not make very good Christians.”                                                 (from Flora Solomon’s From Baku to Baker Street, p 17)

“If this is the Jewish state, it is one that must have Torah at the center.”                                (Rabbi Mordechai Bloy, an educator of Haredi youth in Bnei Brak, quoted in NYT, March 3)

“What I have discovered, however is that historical truth – in that it exists at all – lies not in documents alone, nor in memoirs, diaries, biographies or oral history. All these are essential and invaluable factors in the historian’s armoury but, when the chips are down, the final result depends on the historian himself alone, on his ability to weigh, assay and analyze the accumulated material at his disposal and to come up with his own honest opinions and conclusions. There are no answers at the back of the book.”                                                                                              (from Sir John Wheeler-Bennett’s Friends, Enemies and Sovereigns, p 58)

“While economic recovery and more college education are generally believed to lift wages, that didn’t happen in the 2000s and hasn’t since the end of the last recession. What’s needed to raise pay are policies like a higher minimum wage; trade pacts that foster high labor and regulatory standards; and more support for union organizing. Increasing the number of high-paying jobs also depends on strategies like enhancing public spending to fix roads and bridges and to hire more teachers, as well as developing new energy and technology industries through government-financed research. Otherwise, the norm may very well be an economy where even college-educated workers cannot thrive.”                                                 (from NYT leader, March 3)

“I don’t care for withered flowers of poesy.  I’m not tolerant of platitudes, empty pieties, self-evident propositions, commencement oratory and anything that sounds as though it might have come from the insides of a fortune cookie.” (to Smithsonian magazine in 1991)

“I’m in love with the 19th century. For biography it’s a terrific time because it’s just before the telephone comes in. And it means that the talking and ideas and the relationships that now disappear into nothingness over the telephone were then put into letters or diaries.” (in 1981 interview with The Washington Post)                                                                                       (from the NYT obituary of Justin Kaplan, editor of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, March 4)

“His friends used to say that he [Maclean] did not know the difference between an electric hair-dryer and a cyclotron.”                              (from E. H. Cookridge’s The Third Man, p 126)

“That’s one of the central problems of history, isn’t it, sir? The question of subjective versus objective interpretation, the fact that we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us?”          (Adrian Finn to Old Joe Hunt, in Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending, p 12)

Ethnic News

“Several Yeniseian languages are known only from czarist fur tax records. Pumpokol, Arin, Assan and Kott have not been spoken for two centuries. The only surviving language, Ket, has fewer than 200 living speakers.”

“Moshe Gafni of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, said, “Today Israel lost the right to be called a Jewish state,” according to the Ynet Hebrew news site. He said the Haredim “will not forget or forgive” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his associates for what he called the affront to the Haredi public and to Torah study.”

“Ethnic Malays, who make up about half of the population, hold nearly all top government positions and receive a host of government preferences because of their status as ‘sons of the soil.’”

“Because of an editing error, an article on March 3 about the steps that the interim Ukrainian government was taking after Russia took control of the country’s Crimean region described the population of eastern Ukraine incorrectly. Most of the people are ethnic Ukrainian, not ethnic Russian.”                                                                                              (all from NYT, March 13)

“This was a trend that Solzhenitsyn, in the woods of New England, and so many Russians throughout the Soviet Union, could not easily abide. It defied their sense of history. To them, Ukraine was no more a real nation than Glubbdubdrib or Freedonia.”                                                      (David Remnick in the New Yorker, March 17)

“As Gardiner G. Hubbard, the first president of the National Geographic Society, said in 1888, when his magazine set out to chart everything in the known universe, ‘The more we know, the greater we find is our ignorance.’”                                         (Pico Iyer, in NYT, March 21)

“In 2011, she [Ellen Sandseter, a professor of early childhood education at Queen Maud University College in Trondheim] published her results in a paper called ‘Children’s Risky Play From an Evolutionary Perspective’ . . .   In the paper, Sandseter identifies six kinds of risky play: (1) Exploring heights, or getting the “bird’s perspective”, as she calls it – “high enough to evoke the sensation of fear.” (2) Handling dangerous tools – using sharp scissors or knives, or heavy hammers that at first seem unmanageable but that kids learn to master. (3) Being near dangerous elements – playing near vast bodies of water, or near a fire, so kids are aware there is danger nearby. (4) Rough-and-tumble play – wrestling, play-fighting – so kids learn to negotiate aggression and cooperation. (5) Speed – cycling or skiing at a pace that just feels too fast. (6) Exploring on one’s own.”                                   (Hanna Rosin, in the Atlantic, April 2014, p 80)

“To encourage me, my father bought me hip-highwaders and, though both rivers were fast-flowing and subject to rapid flooding, it never occurred to my parents to worry about my safety out there, often alone. No doubt, today, their attitude would be considered reprehensible but it taught me self-reliance, which was worth all the risk.”                                                                                        (Chapman Pincher, in Dangerous to Know, page 6)

“Precisely because the Hapsburg imperialists governed a mélange of ethnic and religious groups stretching from the edge of the Swiss Alps to central Romania, and from the Polish Carpathians to the Adriatic Sea, they abjured ethnic nationalism and sought a universalism almost post-modern in its design. What followed the Hapsburgs were mono-ethnic states and quasi democracies that persecuted minorities and helped ease the path to Nazism.

All of these Empires [i.e. including Athens, Rome, Venice, Great Britain and the Ottoman Empire] delivered more peace and stability than the United Nations ever has or probably ever could.”                                                              (Robert D. Kaplan in the Atlantic, April 2014, p 14)

The International Community

“The time for phrases about the international community and pledges of international solidarity is past: their place must be taken by the solidarity of the German nation.”                     (Hitler, in 1933, according to A. O. Chubaryan, in Purnell’s History of the Twentieth Century, No 59)

“We believe firmly and completely that the enemy that wants to oppose Russia’s freedom, the capitalist class in Germany, will finally be compelled to enter the international community of the family of European democracy.”                  (Alexander Kerensky, in Helsinki, March 16, 1917, quoted in Richard Abraham’s Alexander Kerensky, p 155)

“It’s just that under Stalin, if a prominent cultural figure dared to protest he’d be shot; under Brezhnev he’d be imprisoned; now he just risks losing state donations and having to travel economy class — but this often proves enough. It’s a fascinating sight to watch people make this moral choice.”                                                                                        (Writer Boris Akunin, declining to sign a Russian government petition over Crimea, quoted in NYT, March 28)


Hooray for Britain!

“In the 1930s the governments of other countries were creating revolutionary new programs and policies to cope with the Depression that had devastated their economies. The United States had the New Deal; France, the Popular Front; Germany, the Third Reich; the Soviet Union, the Five-Year Plan. The British government did not follow suit.”                                                              (from Lynne Olson’s Troublesome Young Men, p 71)

“The middle years of the 1930s were symbolized in England not by Hitlerism or even the Spanish war, but by the Royal Jubilee.” (from Stephen Spender’s World within World, p 142)

“But Russians had learned to be wary of the English: Tolstoy remarked that the tablecloths in a Lucerne hotel were as white as the false teeth of the English tourists; Dostoevsky complained that ‘the English don’t lose their gloomy nature even when making merry’; Chekhov suspected that ‘If the Russians evolved from a magpie and the Germans from a fox, the English evolved from frozen fish.’”              (Donald Rayfield in the Times Literary Supplement, March 28)

“He is the embodiment of a national narrative of the Jew who sacrificed himself for his people.”                      (Michael B. Oren, an American-born historian who gave up his citizenship in 2009 to become Israel’s ambassador to Washington, on the spy Jonathan Pollard, in NYT, April 4)

Neo-Fascist Corner

“The Roma should eventually return to Romania and Bulgaria. They have a way of life that is extremely different from ours.” (French Prime Minster Manuel Valls, quoted in NYT, April 11)

“At Mr. Putin’s direction, a committee led by his chief of staff is developing a new ‘state policy in culture.’ Widely expected to be enacted into law, the proposed cultural policy emphasizes that ‘Russia is not Europe’ and urges ‘a rejection of the principles of multiculturalism and tolerance’ in favor of emphasizing Russia’s ‘unique state-government civilization,’ according to Russian news accounts that quoted a presidential adviser on culture, Vladimir Tolstoy.”                                             (from report in NYT, April 13)

“The [Brecht] center’s mission, according to its website, is to ‘create, within existing society, a counter-hegemonic culture of working people and their allies, who are capable of challenging the capitalist agenda, prefiguring new ways of thinking and of self-organization, as well as creating new ways of relating to each other and nature.’”                 (from report in NYT, April 14)

“At no stage in his [George VI’s] career did he ever seriously make history. Instead it was history that happened to him. And that is just about the hardest kind of history to write – or to live.”                       (from King George VI, in David Cannadine’s History in Our Time, p 67)

“When Paul Johnson appears to be talking sense on a contemporary issue, and when the defence of the monarchy is left to such comic-opera characters as Lords Rees-Mogg and St John of Fawley, then things are clearly getting rather desperate.”    (from The Prince of Wales, in David Cannadine’s History in Our Time, p 75)

“Many different people, in many different places, at many different times, and for many different reasons, have experienced patriotic feelings welling up within them. But these sentiments may be conformist or subversive, governmental or oppositional, selfless or selfish, national or local, socialist or capitalist, proletarian or bourgeois, pacifist or militarist, Catholic or Protestant, and instrument of social control from above or of determined resistance from below. The most that can be said is that patriotism is ideologically ambiguous, politically contentious, morally uncertain and historically unspecific – a battle zone, a contested territory, an arena of disputation, where the combatants, the engagement and the outcome change according to circumstance. Thus described, patriotism is the ultimate floating signifier – something at once so protean and so pervasive as to be devoid of any conceptual rigour, analytical purchase or explanatory power.”                                                    (from Patriotism, in David Cannadine’s History in Our Time, p 95)

Pace Mrs Thatcher, the fact that Communism has been discredited does not by itself invalidate Marxism as a framework for historical analysis.”                    (from Class, in David Cannadine’s History in Our Time, p 185)

“At about the same time as I received this letter [from T. S. Eliot], Harold Nicolson told me of a painful experience he had after unfavourably reviewing the novel of a friend. Grieving as I had done, he wrote a letter of explanation and apology. A few days later he got the answer which ran (as I remember) something like this: ‘Little as I can forgive you for stabbing me in the back in public, I can forgive still less that you should apologize in private.”                                               (from Stephen Spender’s World within World, p 149)

“Having heard of my socialist sympathies, she [Lady Ottoline Morrell] explained to me once that she had much sympathy for the workers – was prepared to love them – but there was this difficulty – they would stare so.”                (from Stephen Spender’s World within World, p 161)

“It is difficult to describe moods of intense depression, because they are, in their way, revelations, and they pass away when what they have revealed (overwhelmingly true as it seemed then) has vanished, been refuted by a different mood, and cannot be recalled.”               (from Stephen Spender’s World within World, p 206)

“The tragedy of the 1930’s was the blindness of the many; the tragedy of the 1940s the ineffectiveness of the few.”                         (from Stephen Spender’s World within World, p 291)

“The Fire Service fulfilled one of the aspirations which had been a part cause of my joining the Communists. This was to get to know the workers. Knowing them did not help me understand better what had always seemed to me a mysterious aspect of Communism: the idea that the proletariat had some virtue whereby, when they had made the revolution, all the evils of the bourgeois class would be removed by a classless society.”                                                                                                                            (from Stephen Spender’s World within World, p 305)

“Though she moved with apparent ease in American literary circles, reading and lecturing widely, Ms. Cassian by her own inclination remained something of an outsider. She was amused, for instance, by a practice she deemed singularly American, in which a poet giving a reading precedes each work with a précis of the very work to be read.

Parodying this practice, as The New York Times reported in 1995, Ms. Cassian liked to say:

“There was a pear tree on my grandfather’s farm, and one day I noticed that when its blossoms fell, they looked like dandruff falling on my grandfather’s shoulders. So I wrote a poem about it. It goes like this:

On my grandfather’s farm

there used to be a pear tree.

When its blossoms fell,

they looked like dandruff

falling on Grandfather’s shoulders.

(from the obituary of Romanian poet Nina Cassian, in NYT, April 20)

“And he [Claude Elliott] emphasized, on every relevant occasion, that you should never go through life expecting justice or you will end up with a permanent chip on your shoulder.”                                                            (from Nicholas Elliott’s Never Judge a Man by his Umbrella, p 46)

But he [Sir Nevile Bland] felt impelled to emphasise that, in the diplomatic service, it was a sackable offence to sleep with the wife of a colleague (or rather to be found out so doing). In fairness, he added, this statement was not strictly speaking true because the wives of Head of Mission were unofficially regarded as fair game, and the culprit would normally get away with a severe reprimand and retarded promotion (depending on the repulsiveness or otherwise of the lady in question and the obtrusiveness or otherwise of with which the act had been committed.)”                                                  (from Nicholas Elliott’s Never Judge a Man by his Umbrella, p 93)

“General Spears once told me that de Gaulle had never forgiven him for rescuing him from France.”                         ( from Nicholas Elliott’s Never Judge a Man by his Umbrella, p 109)

Lordy! Lordy! Lordy!

“Currently there are four churches in Ukraine, all claiming to be national churches. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate is part of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate is a non-canonically recognized church that formed after the independence of 1991. The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was created in 1921 as part of a struggle for Ukrainian statehood. It was disbanded in the 1930s in Soviet Ukraine but thrived in diaspora communities abroad. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is a hybrid denomination, which has a Byzantine tradition and liturgy but recognizes papal authority. Fearing Vatican interference, Stalin outlawed the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church when Western Ukraine was annexed to the Soviet Ukraine after the Second World War. It remained so until the collapse of the Soviet Union, before which its five million adherents were the largest religious community in the world denied the chance to practice their religion.”     (Catherine Wanner, in History Today, April 2014)

“The Internal Revenue Service has paid more than $2.8 million in bonuses to employees with recent disciplinary problems, including $1 million to workers who owed back taxes, a government investigator said Tuesday. . . . Other examples of misconduct by workers getting bonuses included misusing government credit cards for travel, drug use, violent threats and fraudulently claiming unemployment benefits.”              (from report in NYT, April 23)

“I was told by a friend in Washington the story about Chou-en-lai being asked by President Nixon what effect it would have had on the world if the assassin had killed Khrushchev and not Kennedy. He replied that he was certain that Aristotle Onassis would not have married Mrs Khrushchev.”       (from Nicholas Elliott’s With My Little Eye, p 45)

“A friend of mine once remarked of a colleague who subsequently achieved some eminence in public life ‘He is sufficiently clever to be able to recognize a joke but he lacks the intelligence to think it funny.’”                                       (from Nicholas Elliott’s With My Little Eye, p 93)


“The Russian historian Alexei Miller has said that if you walked from Russian-speaking Moscow to Ukrainian-speaking Lviv, at the very western edge of Ukraine, you would not find two adjoining villages on the way that spoke a mutually incomprehensible dialect. And yet at some point along the way, you, as a Russian speaker from Moscow, would cease to understand.”                                (Keith Gessen, in the New Yorker, May 12)

“If only – ‘If only,’ a certain outspoken and impatient member of the London diplomatic corps is supposed to have said recently to Lord Halifax when the Foreign Secretary had piously murmured something about ‘If only Hitler would back his will to peace with deeds’ – ‘If only your aunt had * * * * *, she would be your uncle.’”                                                                                                   (from G. E. R. Gedye’s Betrayal in Central Europe [Fallen Bastions], p 240)

“The French pronounce the British Premier’s name as M. ‘Neville J’aime-Berlin.”                                       (from G. E. R. Gedye’s Betrayal in Central Europe [Fallen Bastions], p 274)

“There was indeed a story going round, which you are not obliged to believe, that Henlein offered to do so on condition that he be given the post of Minister of the Interior. Hodza is supposed to have replied that he could not do this, but would create for Henlein the post of Minister for Colonies.

‘How come?’ retorted Henlein. ‘That’s impossible – Czechoslovakia has no colonies.’

‘What of it?’ returned Hodza. ‘Has not Italy a Minister of Finance and Germany a Minister of Justice?’”                                                                                                                                                             (from G. E. R. Gedye’s Betrayal in Central Europe [Fallen Bastions], p 429)

“’Yes’, he [a friend] said, ‘this horrid thing is on the march, and against it there seems to be only one active force – militant Socialism. As you know, I am not and never could be a Socialist. I belong to the town-house, country-mansion, automobile and dinner-jacket class. Socialism probably – Communism certainly – would deprive me of most of the good things in life which I now enjoy – not, I hope, selfishly. But this other thing – Nazism, Fascism – call it what you will – is too hideous to contemplate. The other night I was talking all this over with my wife, who is a very wise woman, and she said: –

“We of the well-to-do-classes with cultures and liberal minds must always fight against the danger of either Socialism or Fascism putting an end to our pleasant and useful existences. But if the choice – which God forbid – should ever be forced upon us, I should feel that we were being compelled to choose between perishing in the drought of Fascism and the flood of Socialism – perhaps of Communism. Both, drought and flood, destroy, and either way, our sort of life would come to an end. But when the drought has passed, it leaves behind an arid desert where nothing new can live. After the flood subsides, new forms of life spring up, some monstrous, some young, vigorous and healthy – we see it in this world of ours today. I think, dear, that you and I could never choose the drought.”’

And you?”  (from G. E. R. Gedye’s Betrayal in Central Europe [Fallen Bastions], p 494)

“Decentralization of power must not turn into decentralization of corruption.”        (Grigoriy Pustovit, the governor of the Volyn region, in western Ukraine, quoted in NYT, May 14)

“One must remember the often repeated statement that the only way to fight fascism is by adopting fascism ourselves.”                                         (Philip Wittenberg, in American Introduction to Guilty Men, by “Cato”)

“The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are rat-like cunning, a plausible manner, and a little literary ability.”                              (Nicholas Tomalin, according to D. D. Guttenplan, in TLS, May 9)

“Since Bryan College’s founding in 1930, its statement of belief, which professors have to sign as part of their employment contracts, included a 41-word section summing up the institution’s conservative views on creation and evolution, including the statement: ‘The origin of man was by fiat of God.’ But in February, college officials decided that professors had to agree to an additional clarification declaring that Adam and Eve ‘are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life-forms.’

Dr. Livesay said that Bryan’s leaders were determined to proceed with the clarification. ‘I don’t think you have to believe the Bryan way in order to be a strong evangelical,’ he said. ‘But this is Bryan College, and this is something that’s important to us. It’s in our DNA. It’s who we are.’”               (from report in NYT, May 21)

“He came, he swore, he conquered.”  (on Beaverbrook, from Andrew Roberts’s Eminent Churchillians, p 40)

“Old men forget, but old politicians forget selectively.”                                                                                                                                            (Andrew Roberts, in Eminent Churchillians, p 137)

“For Churchill, brought up with imperial grandeur and deeply nostalgic for his exhilarating world role of 1940-5, disputes between electricians and their employers, or even lock-outs in Dundee printing-works, were quarrels in a faraway country between people of whom he knew nothing.”                                                          (Andrew Roberts, in Eminent Churchillians, p 254)

“Mitterand is not actually a socialist. He has just learned how to sound like one.”                    (Guy Mollet, according to Patrick Marnham, quoted by Ian Irvine in Prospect, May 2014)


“When graduation from a four-year college does not guarantee a job, what does? When young people who successfully play by our society’s rules join the degreed unemployed, what do they do?”                                                   (from letter by Theodore S. Voelker in NYT, June 12)

“The charm of most mediaeval churches consists in what history has left, and one learns to delight in little, the dregs of history: a few 15th-century bench ends; an alabaster tomb chest or, where glass is concerned, just the leavings of bigotry, with ideology weakening when it came to out-of-reach tracery – the hammer too heavy, the ladder too short – so that only fragments survive, a cluster of crockets and towers maybe, the glimpse of a golden city with a devil leering down.”           (Alan Bennett in Fair Play, in London Review of Books, June 19)

“A household without unread books is a household running without any additional epistemic resources.”                                                                                                                                     (Rupert Read, reader in philosophy, University of East Anglia, in letter to Prospect, June 2014)

“As well as ascertaining their conventional class position, we asked people whether they regarded themselves as ‘working class,’ ‘middle class’ or ‘upper class’. It turns out that almost one in three gives the ‘wrong’ answer: nine million ABC1 adults consider themselves working class, while five million C2DE adults say they are middle class.”                                           (Peter Kellner, President of YouGov, in Prospect, June 2014)

“In February 1925, Sir James Headlam-Morley, historical adviser of the British Foreign Office, warned his government that the Vistula, not the Rhine, was the real danger point in Europe and thus of vital concern to the Western powers. In a remarkably prophetic memorandum to Foreign Minister Sir Austen Chamberlain, he posed a critical question:

‘Has anyone attempted to realize what would happen if there were to be a new partition of Poland, or if the Czechoslovak state were to be curtailed and dismembered that it in fact disappeared from the map of Europe? The whole of Europe would at once be in chaos. There would no longer be any principle, meaning, or sense in the territorial arrangements of the continent. Imagine, for instance, that under some improbable condition, Austria rejoined Germany; that Germany using the discontented minority in Bohemia, demanded a new frontier far over the mountains, including Carlsbad and Pilsen, and that the same time an alliance with Germany, the Hungarians recovered the southern slope of the Carpathians. This would be catastrophic, and, even if we neglected to interfere in time to prevent it, we should afterwards be driven to interfere, probably too late.’” (Studies in Diplomatic History, 182, 184)

(from The Versailles Treaty and Its Legacy: The Failure of the Wilsonian Vision by Norman A. Graebner and Edward M. Bennett, p 80)

“You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.”    (Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in interview in New York magazine, October 2013)

“In some of her last interviews, Dr. Wing said she had come to believe that most people have some autistic traits. ‘I do believe you need autistic traits for real success in science and the arts, and I am fascinated by the behaviors and personalities of musicians and scientists,’ she told The Guardian. ‘One of my favorite sayings is that nature never draws a line without smudging it. You cannot separate into those ‘with’ and ‘without’ traits. They are so scattered.’”                                                                                                                                                 (from NYT obituary of Dr. Lorna Wing, who gave the term ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ to mild forms of autism, June 22, 2014)

“Mr. Ajami strove to put Arab history into a larger perspective. He often referred to Muslim rage over losing power to the West in 1683, when a Turkish siege of Vienna failed. He said this memory had led to Arab self-pity and self-delusion as they blamed the rest of the world for their troubles. Terrorism, he said, was one result.” (from NYT obituary of Fouad Ajami, June 23)

“We English hate fascism, but we loathe bolshevism as much. So, if there is somewhere where fascists and bolshevists can kill each other off, so much the better.”                                (Stanley Baldwin, quoted in Juliet Gardiner’s The Thirties: An Intimate History, p 493)

Spanish Stereotypes

“This spirit of vengeance and of exacting full payment from the fallen has made its appearance time and time again in Spanish history, and no doubt will continue to do so through the ages. For every Spaniard, deep down or otherwise, has a Moorish spark in his character, which political strife inevitably fans to flame, and it is an axiom of Spanish politics that the man on top must hit the man underneath.”            (Thomas W. Pears, to Sir H. Chilton, from Bilbao, October 6, 1937, published in British Documents on Foreign Affairs, Part II, Volume 27)

“Nevertheless, they had admitted that, being busy people with jobs and families, they had little time to do any serious research in the archives, which was one of the reasons, apart from their natural Spanish disposition to kindness, why they were so generous to me.”                                   (Gerald Howson, in Arms for Spain, p 250)

“If you think about it it is the humanities, if you do it it’s the arts.”                                                                                                 (Banaby Keeney, first chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, quoted in letter by William H. Adams in the Times Literary Supplement, June 20)

“’Woman has become her own master.’

‘And very often someone else’s mistress.’”                                                                                                                            (Professor Mavrin and Lushington, in Antony Powell’s Venusberg, p 118)

“I don’t pretend that my love affairs are not sordid. They are. They always have been. I like sordid love affairs. What I object to is the assumption that just because one’s love affairs are sordid it doesn’t matter whether or not they are wrong.”                                           (Chipchase, in Anthony Powell’s Agents and Patients, p 1)

“There is no mystery as to why the British government welcomed ‘Non-Intervention’. The English are less a ‘nation of shopkeepers’, as Napoleon called them, than a nation of schoolmasters, whose chief satisfaction is to put other people ever so slightly, or better still very much, in the wrong.”             (Gerald Howson, in Arms for Spain, p 38)


“After all, it may be easy to make fun of Mormon theology, but it is surely no more absurd to believe that the resurrected Christ visited America in A.D. 34 than it is to believe that Moses parted the Red Sea, or that Muhammad ascended to heaven on a winged horse, or that Jesus was born of a virgin. To see Mormonism in this broader context is to be constantly confronted with questions of belief, of how much nonsense humans will suffer for the sake of making sense of their lives.”  (Benjamin Moser, in NYT review of Alex Beam’s American Crucifixion, July 6)

“Last year, Yossi Klein Halevi, a respected American-Israeli author, wrote about barely managing to stop a religious Jew from assaulting a young Arab man who was riding the rail with a young Jewish woman. Mr. Halevi, who himself is religious, was hit with pepper spray by a gathering mob, and, after identifying the culprit to the police, was told, ‘You’ve lost the world to come, and also this world.’”                   (from story about Jerusalem railway in NYT, July 14)

“Autobiography can’t be written until one is old, can’t hurt anyone’s feelings, can’t be sued for libel, or, worse, contradicted.”                                       (Nadime Gordimer, in 1963, according to her NYT obituary, July 15)

Roosevelt and Stalin

“On March 18 [1942] Roosevelt wrote a particularly fatuous note to Churchill: ‘I know you will not mind my being brutally frank when I tell you that I think I can personally handle Stalin better than your Foreign Office or my State Department. Stalin hates the guts of all your top people. He thinks he likes me better and I hope he will continue to do so.’ This was the beginning of Roosevelt’s disastrous courtship of the Soviet dictator.”                                                                                                                                    (from Steven Miner’s Between Churchill and Stalin, p 219)

“His award-winning Roosevelt biography, for example, was frank in its admiration of its subject. But the book nonetheless distilled, with equal frankness, Roosevelt’s failings and character flaws; it faulted him for not seizing the moment and cementing the good relations between the United States and the Soviet Union when war had made them allies. This lack of foresight, Mr. Burns argued, was a primary cause of the two nations’ drift into the Cold War.”                                      (from the obituary of James MacGregor Burns in NYT, July 16)

“A probably apocryphal Second World War story records that one Intelligence Corps recruit told an interviewer that he knew ‘Arabic, and Modern and Classical Greek. I can also read cuneiform and hieroglyphics.’

‘What are hieroglyphics?’

‘The language of the Pharaohs, sir.’

He was duly posted to No. 319 Field Security Section in the Faroe Islands.”                                                                      (from Geoffrey Elliott’s and Harold Shukman’s Secret Classrooms, p 64)

“It is a nice conceit to think that Bodmin or Crail might have been replicated in a windswept cluster of huts somewhere out on the steppes, where deserters from the Catering Corps taught estuary vowel sounds, or that Salisbury Villas and Russell Square might have their mirror images in the suburbs of St. Petersburg, where starched old Scottish nannies left high and dry on the banks of the Neva after the Revolution, or wet-eyed dewlapped defectors, took serious, bespectacled young Soviets through Enid Blyton and the finer points of cricket’s ‘Leg Before Wicket’ rule, or squeezed into crinolines and bustles to perform The Importance of Being Earnest.”                      (from Geoffrey Elliott’s and Harold Shukman’s Secret Classrooms, p 214)

“It was Kafka who taught me that at any moment banality might turn sinister, for existence was not meant to be unfailingly genial.”                                                      (Thomas Berger to Richard Schickel ‘in a rare interview in 1980’, published in NYT, from Berger’s NYT obituary, July 22)

“The Soviet-German Non-Aggression pact is a milestone in the development of Europe, a milestone in the improvement of relations between the two greatest States of Europe. This pact not only removes the threat of war with Germany, narrows the field of possible hostilities in Europe and thus promotes universal peace, but also assures to us new possibilities of growing strength, a reinforcement of our position and the further growth of the influence of the Soviet Union on international developments.”                                                                                                (from August 31, 1939 speech of M. Molotov, quoted in Pravda, September 1, 1939)

“Several traits make a worthy biographer. (1) Affection for his subject, but not blind adulation. (2) An interesting personality with a winning style. (3) Neither excessive brevity nor tiresome long-windedness. (4) A judicious sense of what ­matters and what doesn’t. (5) Awareness that a portrait requires a suitable frame, i.e., attention to context and background. (6) A far-ranging erudition. (7) Maybe most important: a sense of humor. Ziegler, the author of 20 books, most of them biographies, qualifies on all seven counts.”                                                                                                                                        (John Simon, in review of Ziegler’s Olivier, in NYT, July 27)

“Autobiography would be easier had we all eccentric parents.”                                                                                                                                (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 15)

“I felt at an early age that the strength of the British lies in their ability to know when they are making fools of themselves.”                            (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 27)

“Hume says somewhere – and if he doesn’t I do – that lack of capacity for wonder is a sign of low intelligence, and it is nice to think so when one is continually taken aback.”                              (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 15)

“’I’ve only known one poet, and he was an ass,’ said to me the old Duke of Devonshire.”                                                                                                 (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 93)

“With rare exceptions nothing is duller than the ephemeral affairs of others, which exemplify the difficulty of either remaining in love or getting out of it.”               (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 104)

“We incline to overpraise those whom we have served, to belittle those whom we fail, because the first remind us of our virtues, the second of our vices.”               (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 114)

“American dances had just crept in, and Paul Cambon – one of those rare Frenchmen who seemed never to have been young – watching them at work in Mayfair, summed up: Visages tristes, derrières gais. The saying is sometimes attributed to Clemenceau, who did not go to dances.”                                                          (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 117)

“One must begin by deducting 25% or more from the value of documents written with an eye to publication. ‘Beware of documents,’ said Clemenceau: ‘pitfalls’ for historians, he called them, and history is indeed a tricky business.”        (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 129)

“It is sad to see great talent mistake itself for genius.” [of G. B. Shaw]                               (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 133)

“The British are most interesting people. They are kinder to animals – although they like blood sports – than to their political opponents; they can laugh at anything – including themselves – so that parliamentary humour is distressingly feeble; they are so respectable that they sometimes commit murder to avoid adultery; they are cheerful and the world’s finest grumblers; they boast of their smallest possession, common sense, and win victories for which no foresight qualified them.”                 (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 148)

“Yet we British assume too lightly that, on grounds of dignity, we must put up with evil till it ceases. I have thought that we should rage till we uproot it.”       (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 157)

“My sympathies – not that they mattered – were with intervention. Force is justifiable to repel violence, but never to impose doctrine. Having no doubt that communism would continue to be the enemy of the free world, I was amazed that we played a good hand so badly. There is an inexhaustible contingent of British masochists addicted to the vice of chastising themselves in public for the benefit of adversaries. We here acquired, and never shed, the habit of lapsing into moral defensives, and allowed ineffective precaution to justify rancor through the years.” (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 180)

“In Paris and Washington it is easier to keep a harem than a secret.”                                                                                                                        (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 202)

“The higher a man stands the harder it is to get bad ideas out of his head.”                                                                                                             (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 247)

“With delight in the long arm of coincidence I mentioned to the Prime Minister [Lloyd George] the entry in our archives: ‘the Public Prosecutor should investigate this man, or he will be made a peer.’”                                                               (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 271)

“A good nickname means that a man is rising, a sharp one that he is on the way out.”                                                                                             (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 293)

“Cultivated persons, willing to find redeeming features on Christ, occasionally thought of Him about 10:55 a.m. on Sundays, if they lived in the country: but the world’s great altar stairs led nowhere, though we laid on them more sacrifices than ever.”                                                          (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 311)

“Socialists never forgive bumble-bees for flying. In American Capitalism Professor Galbraith likens it to the bumble-bee, which according to the laws of science cannot fly and does.” (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 318)

“After the age of forty conversation replaces love as a secondary cause of jealousy.”                                                                                              (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 342)

“If the intellectual has any function in society, it is to preserve a cool and unbiased judgment in the face of all solicitations to passion.” [Baldwin quoting Bertrand Russell]                                                 (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 354)

“There is a catch in neutrality: having refused to distinguish between Right and Wrong, you will next be careful not to offend the Wrong.”            (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 379)

“According to Baldwin ‘a fool’s paradise is only the ante-room to a fool’s hell’.”                                                                                                   (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 388)

“’Liberty,’ said Clemenceau, ‘is the right to discipline oneself in order not to be disciplined by others.’”                                                   (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 416)

“Britain too bristled with honest men driven by fire in their mouths but not in their bellies, strength of language but not of loin. Belligerent pacifists rehearsed for louder demonstrations later; socialists blamed the Disunited Kingdom for not using the weapons which they withheld. Hypocrisy is the cheapest vice, and Britain indulged in it throughout the decade.”                                           (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 438)

“Baldwin said later ‘if you adopt a sanction without being ready for war, you are not an honest trustee of the nation’.”                                  (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 439)

“Peace is not truly desired by those unprepared to defend it.”      (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 444)

“This was the beginning of a season when English books sold well if they were anti-British under cover of anti-fascism. Unfortunately parts of the British centre and left remained anti-British long after any need to remain anti-fascist. Fascism was in fact used as a pretext for communism. Self-styled intellectuals foregathered to announce at intervals that the human mind was fettered by ‘a dying social system’, but the moribund retained fact and vigour.”                                                                  (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 452)

“If I am a great man,’ said Bonar Law, ‘then all great men are frauds.’”                                                                                                                  (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 464)

“Others escaped by the skin of their fangs.” [on The Night of the Long Knives]                                                                                                       (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 495)

“Our Ambassador in Berlin was once kept waiting by Göring, who excused himself. ‘I have been shooting.’ ‘Animals, I hope’ was the reply alleged but ben trovato.”   (from Lord Vansittart’s The Mist Procession, p 495)

“Free men cannot start a war, but once it is started, they can fight on in defeat. Herd men, followers of a leader, cannot do that, and so it is always the herd men who win battles and the free men who win wars.”           (Orden to Lanser, in John Steinbeck’s The Moon Is Down, p 111)

What We Don’t Know

Re “Beyond Energy, Matter, Time and Space” (Raw Data, July 22):

Physics is the study of what humans can observe. Metaphysics deals with issues beyond what can be observed. The line between the two has moved over the centuries, but there will always be questions that transcend the observable. Science eschews speculative, metaphysical explanations. It does not deny them; they simply are not part of the scientific method. Questioning evolution (or any other theory) is fundamental science, but speculation disconnected from observation is not. (David, of California)

Mathematics often deals in reasoning about abstract, idealized objects that may have some relation to the world, but not necessarily, and often serve only as a kind of approximation. Believing that mathematical truths determined by logical reasoning about such objects represent truths in the world we live in is not based on logic but something beyond logic (religion?). This doesn’t deny the utility and power of mathematics, only that we need to be cautious when using it.  (ME, of Toronto) “                                         (letters in Science Times, from NYT, July 29)


“When the production [of Hamlet, starring Mark Rylance] was staged at Broadmoor, a mental institution west of London, one inmate is said to have rushed the stage and cried out, “You were really mad — take it from me, I should know, I’m a loony.”     (Ben Brantley, in NYT, July 30)


“Why, he wonders, wouldn’t the independence of Scotland be followed by the unstitching of Shetland?”             (Nicholas Crane, in review of Alastair Bonnet’s Off the Map, in TLS, July 25)

“Every anti-semitism, anti-niggerism, anti-moorism that I can recall in history was base, had its foundations in the meanest kind of envy and greed. It makes me sick to see you covering yourself with such filth. It is not an arguable question, has not been arguable for at least nineteen centuries. Either you know men to be men, and not something less, or you make yourself an enemy of mankind at large.”                                                                                                   (Basil Bunting to Ezra Pound in December 1938, quoted by Richard Burton in letter to TLS, July 25)

“’The Chekists in his time laughed at official Soviet ideology,’ Gleb Pavlovlsky, a former adviser to Putin, told me. ‘They thought it was a joke.’ Putin, in 1999, admitted that Communism had been a ‘blind alley, far away from the mainstream of civilization.’”                      (David Remnick, in the New Yorker, August 11 & 18)

“In New Problems in Medical Ethics (1956), Peter Flood, a Benedictine, stated that Christians in pain should accept suffering ‘as permitted by God for our betterment’. Pain was a ‘privilege, in union with the redemptive sufferings of Christ’. It was essential that a physician tell people they might be close to death, even if they weren’t sure, so that the patient’s opportunity for repentance wasn’t squandered and their admission to heaven put at risk. Pain relief might be administered in small doses, except to those such as lapsed Catholics – the fear being that even small does might prevent them returning to the religion of their baptism. In the same volume Eugene Tesson, a Jesuit, sanctioned physicians to administer pain relief only to the dying who had ‘made an act of submission to the Divine’ and those ‘in danger if falling into despair and blaspheming the goodness of God’.”                                                          (Gavin Francis, in review of Joanna Bourke’s The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers, in London Review of Books, August 21)

On Pluralism

“The Balkan wars were bloodier than they would have been if we had understood the futility of forcing disparate people with separate interests, values and ambitions to pretend to unite under a single partisan flag. We should abandon the idea of preserving Iraq as a single state within the present borders.”                                                                                                               (Richard Perle, former chairman of the US Defense Policy Board, in Prospect, August 2014)

“Iraq’s situation is desperate. What makes it worse is that its political class, and many American officials, continue to push a cure that would be worse than the disease: a breakup of Iraq along sectarian lines.”                                                                         (Zaid al-Ali in NYT, August 11)

“In Britain Philby had been too British to be doubted; in Russia he was too British to be believed.”                                              (Ben Macintyre, in A Spy Among Friends, Chapter 20)

“The only way out of the quagmire the Jewish people of Israel have gotten themselves into is by granting all living under the control of the State of Israel the same political rights and social and economic rights and opportunities. Although this will result in a state no longer exclusively Jewish it will be a state with a level of righteousness on the basis of which I could accept the title of ‘Righteous among the Nations’ you awarded to my mother and me.”                 (Henk Zanoli, when returning his medal to the Israeli Embassy in the Hague, reported in NYT, August 16)

“In the guidelines drawn up last year by the German Museums Association recommending how to care for human remains, a reference to scalps from ‘the indigenous people of America’ who ‘fashioned trophies from the heads of their killed enemies’ is listed under exceptions to human remains acquired in a context of injustice. ‘Killing one’s enemy and making use of his physical remains were socially accepted acts in those cultures,’ the recommendations say.”                 (from report in NYT on the Karl May Museum in Radebeul, August 18)

“Motives and purposes: they are not the same. Modern psychoanalysis as well as much of modern literature confuses or ignores their differences. A motive is a push from one’s past; a purpose is a pull of one’s future.”          (John Lukacs in June 1941: Hitler and Stalin, p 91)

“. . . Rosenberg let me have a glimpse of one of the reasons for his atheism. ‘You know’, he said, ‘if we in Germany hadn’t spent thirty years fighting amongst ourselves as to how we were supposed to say our prayers, you British wouldn’t have had the chance to annex half the world.”                    (F. W. Winterbotham in The Nazi Connection, p 91)

“A large part of Western failure has been the inability to counter the attraction of such extremism. Perhaps racked with historical guilt, European nations with populations from former colonies often seem unable to celebrate their values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”    (Roger Cohen, in NYT, August 26)

“Fifty years later it cannot be denied that nationalism remains the most potent force in the world. We are all national socialists now.”                                               (John Lukacs, in The Duel, p 223)

“By the early 1960s, by contrast, the British had come to see their empire as neither good nor bad but simply ridiculous – it is no accident that the founders of Private Eye were largely men who, thanks to National Service, had seen the last days of empire in Jamaica and Malaya.”            (Richard Vinen, in TLS review of Martin Thomas’s Fight or Flight, August 22 & 29)


“The policy, which was announced on the county’s official website, is similar to initiatives in Tibet. In the announcement, the county director, Yasen Nasi’er, said that interethnic marriages were ‘an important step in the harmonious integration and development of all ethnicities.’ He called such marriages ‘positive energy’ and a means by which Xinjiang could realize the ‘Chinese Dream,’ an amorphous term popularized by President Xi Jinping.”                  (from report in NYT on incentives for marriages between Hans and Uighurs, September 3)

“In some of the most famous words interpreting the Bill of Rights, Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote in the decision, issued on Flag Day 1943, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”   (from NYT, September 7)

“He [Mario Draghi] means that without labour-market flexibility, incentives to invest and radical trimming of public-sector fat, sustained recovery is impossible. The Irish and the Spanish have heard that message. The French, Italians and Greeks are holding out against it, in the vain hope that Draghi can solve their problems for them. He can’t.”                                                                   (Martin Vander Weyer, in the Spectator, August 30)

“Last year in the great cricket match of England v Australia, the former took the latter’s victory quietly, with chivalrous acknowledgement of her opponent.”    (Kaiser Wilhelm, observing that the British were good losers, in letter to his uncle Prince Edward, February 4, 1900, quoted by Jane Ridley in The Heir Apparent, p 410)

“He [Felix Gorski] also had realized that when terror is at its height danger becomes meaningless and it is pointless to take precautions.”  (Elisabeth Poretsky, describing Moscow in 1937, from Our Own People, p 180)

“Gaitskell interrogated Monnet about the effect of tariffs on particular Commonwealth countries and was unimpressed by Monnet’s answers. Finally Monnet protested, ‘You must have faith’, to which Gaitskell replied, ‘I don’t believe in faith, I believe in reason, and you have not shown me any.’”                                                                                   (from Brian Brivati’s Hugh Gaitskell, p 412, originally cited in J. Campbell’s Nye Bevan and the Mirage of British Socialism, p 71)

The Socially-Aware Naomi Mitchison Struggles with Issues of Pluralism, Collectivism and Equality

“. . . so if I go now, and it isn’t as bad as I imagine, then I shall cease to feel towards the idea of revolution as I feel now: terribly frightened and yet attracted.”

“I think of all the people I’ve met and telephoned to this week; of Maisky at the Embassy party, smiling and being nicely mysterious, as though everything were going to be all tight – he always makes one fell that, much as a religious person does, but not annoyingly. He has a sense of happy destiny. Of other people at the party – Ellen Wilkinson and Dorothy Woodman, the bad girls of the Labour movement, always playing with the naughty boys and getting away with it. . ”

“It is a little difficult for us to realize the religious-political situation here. In England, and still more in Scotland, religion is a private thing, a contract between every individual man and woman and the universe. It may be mystic, or it may be mainly a matter of ethics; in Scotland, at least it is something to be argued about. But we are shocked at the idea that it should be political. It very often is, in practice, but this is not admitted, and is scarcely a factor that can be counted upon. Most bishops, no doubt, are Conservatives. But a Socialist bishop would not be impossible in England.”

“I am inclined to think that Protestantism – at any rate ours in Scotland, where we let no man, not even the Kirk Session, come between us and our concept of the universe – is essentially equalitarian and therefore Social Democrat, though it may be too individualist to allow of Communism. But once you get an ordered Church with a hierarchy, and a hierarchy who through their magic-giving office can deny or delay or hasten the contact between man and his at-one-ment, then immediately you have sympathy with other forms of hierarchy, especially those of the State; the Church necessarily joins hands with the monarchy and Conservatism.”

“I believe that suffering and ugliness are relative, are a matter of standards. It does matter less that animals should be hurt (say) than that children should be hurt. It does matter less that uncivilized, less aware, less conscious people should be killed and hurt than really civilized, aesthetically, and socially aware people. And these Viennese workers, they were valuable to the world, to mankind; they were gay and brave and friendly; they had the good manners that come of living well in the heart. It does matter to the whole of civilization that they should have been smashed up. For the sake of mankind and the future, as well as for the sake of Socialism (which is perhaps the same thing), they must be helped and saved, in so far as in us lies.”    (extracts from Naomi Mitchison’s Vienna Diary 1934)

“Ice in Antarctic waters, meanwhile, is hitting record-high levels, which scientists attribute to local climatic conditions.”                                         (from AP report in NYT, September 23)

“I do not agree with you. I do not regard the Communists as any present or future threat to our country. In fact, I look upon Russia as our strongest ally in the years to come. As I told you when you began your investigation, you should confine yourself to Nazis and Fascists. While I do not believe in Communism, Russia is far better off and the world is safer with Russia under Communism than under the tsars. Stalin is a great leader, and although I deplore some of his methods, it is the only way he can safeguard his government.”                         (Roosevelt to the HUAC Chairman Dies, in 1940, according to Gary Kern’s A Death in Washington, p 222)

Another Confused Naomi . …

“She proposes a ‘Great Transition,’ not only to sustainable sources of energy, but also to a new mode of governance, marked by increased public spending, investment in infrastructure, reduced workweeks, higher wages, universal health care, rewriting campaign finance laws to eliminate corporate influence, returning the management of utilities to the public sector and opening borders to immigrants displaced by the effects of a warming climate. To pay for the transition to a new economy, she lays out a series of taxes, mainly assessed on the extremely rich. ‘This Changes Everything’ reads like a campaign book for a candidate who would have exactly zero chance of winning the American presidency.”                                                                                                            (from review of Naomi Wells’s This Changes Everything, in NYT, September 23)

“Mr. Crocker remembered Mr. Karzai saying in 2011 that he was counting the days until he could leave office: ‘I think I remember his words verbatim: “The worst thing that could happen to Afghanistan would be for me to continue in office.” Then he said: “No, that would be the second-worst thing. The worst thing would be if one of my brothers was elected.”’ ”   (from NYT report on the outgoing President of Afghanistan, September 24)

“A recent report issued jointly by two European Jewish organizations found that 40 percent of European Jews hide their Jewishness.”                                    (from report in NYT, September 24)

“One needs to differentiate between information, knowledge and wisdom. The more time one spends simply absorbing information, the less time one has to apply wisdom. And then there’s common sense. Lord Salisbury had long periods of reflection in which he applied wisdom and common sense.”                                                (Henry Kissinger, in the Spectator, September 20)


“Over the past 23 years Ukraine created a negative image of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was not about famine and repression. The Soviet Union was mines, factories, victory in the Great Patriotic War and in space. It was science and education and confidence in the future.” (Boris O. Litvinov, chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Donetsk Republic, quoted in NYT, October 7)

“Faith is the one thing that makes otherwise good people do bad things.”                           (from Edward O. Wilson’s The Meaning of Human Existence, quoted in NYT review, October 10)

“In Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, far more Jews were killed in the 12 months after the end of the war than in the 12 years before 1939.”                                        (Sam Leith, quoting from Victor Sebestyen’s 1946: The Making of the Modern World, in the Spectator, October 11)

“Those whom fate has destined for annihilation easily can appear disgusting to others and be removed beyond the pale of human relations. . . if one person’s disaster benefits someone else, an urge appears to persuade oneself, and others, that the disaster was morally justified.”      (Polish philosopher Stanislaw Ossowski, quoted by Victor Sebestyen in his 1946: The Making of the Modern World, reviewed in the Spectator, October 11)

“Does not example after example of conqueror and dictator in modern history – Napoleon, Dollfuss, Stalin among the foremost – demonstrate how unassuageable and remorseless is the lust for power when it wakes in a breast only four feet from the ground?”                                                  (John Lehmann, Whispering Gallery, p 180)

“Although the Viennese reforms – unlike those in the Soviet Union – were not the fruit of violent and bloody revolution, they nevertheless exacted their price. To pay for all those free kindergartens, free hospitals, and free burials, to build housing projects and subsidize workers’ lending libraries, the government introduced a ‘soak the rich’ tax program. Since there were not that many rich left to soak, however, the heaviest tax burden fell on the middle classes. This did not endear Vienna’s generous social-welfare system to members of the bourgeoisie.”                                                                                          (David Clay Large, in Between Two Fires, p 62)

“Considering the supreme efforts and the enormous sacrifices made by Italy during the [Great War]. Considering the fantastic and unprecedented progress achieved in every field since the advent of Fascism, and considering the act that Italy has been a powerful bulwark against the spread of Bolshevism at the most critical moment, it is a very poor reward to tell her that she may not enjoy the colonial privileges enjoyed by all other nations.”                  (Major Polson Newman, quoted by David Clay Large, in Between Two Fires, p 168)

“The thorough Leningrad operation was particularly unnerving, since the subarctic nights provided no shadowy cover for those small-hour knocks on the door. Light at midnight, it seemed, was even worse than darkness at noon.”         (David Clay Large, in Between Two Fires, p 303)

“Diplomats and intelligence agents, in my experience, are even bigger liars than journalists, and the historians who try to reconstruct the past out of their records are, for the most part, dealing in fantasy.”                                                    (Malcolm Muggeridge, The Infernal Grove, p 149)

“’ I was busy having an affair,’ [Rosemary] Harris told him [Tom Stoppard], and she quoted from the letter, on House of Commons notepaper, by which Tony Crosland, the influential Labour Party politician, and the future author of ‘The Future of Socialism,’ successfully introduced himself, after he had read a copy of the Evening Standard in which both he and Harris were praised. ‘He said, “Don’t you think we should get together to celebrate our glorious futures before they become our dim and dismal pasts?” How could any girl resist that?’”                                                                                                                               (from the New Yorker, October 20)

“The idea that the middle class can act as the savior of liberal values is not an empirical belief. Like Marx’s theory of history, it is secular theology – a rationalist residue of a religious faith in providence.”                                                                                (John Gray in Prospect, October)


“There is enough of heaven in a hedgerow, and enough of hell in the perfidy of man.”                                                                               (Clive James, interviewed in the NYT, November 1)

“There are elections when you choose between A and B, and then there are the more difficult ones when you choose between A and A,” he said. “You are a liberal, so you do not understand this. In the Russian consciousness, you can choose between A and A and A, and choosing between an infinite number of A’s is true freedom.”                                 (Aleksandr A. Prokhanov, the editor in chief of the Russian nationalist newspaper Zavtra, quoted in NYT, November 3)

“If you want to attract investors, you need to ensure returns on investments.”                                                    (Gervais Pellissier, deputy chief executive at Orange, quoted in NYT, November 3)

“History is not so much memory as collective evidence. It is what had happened, what is thought to have happened, what some claim to have happened. The collective past is fact and fabrication – much like our private pasts. There is no received truth, just a tenuous thread of events amid a swirl of dispute and conflicting interpretation.”                                                             (Penelope Lively, in Dancing Fish and Ammonites, p 138)

“For a novel to work, you want to come away from reading it with a sense that everything has gathered towards a convincing conclusion – not one that necessarily ties up every loose end, but one that feels an integral part of what had gone before. It must make sense of the space between the beginning and the end. You start reading a novel with no idea where this thing is going to go; you should finish it feeling that it could have gone no other way.”                                                                                (Penelope Lively, in Dancing Fish and Ammonites, p 140)

“I am an agnostic who relishes the equipment of Christianity: its mythologies, its buildings, its ceremonies, its music, the whole edifice without which ours would be a diminished world. I like to attend a service. I am a church-visiting addict, with cathedrals the ultimate indulgence. An ambiguous position; some may say, hypocritical. I want it all to go on, I want it all to be there, but I can’t subscribe to its beliefs.” (Penelope Lively, in Dancing Fish and Ammonites, p 219)

“Nationalism is the illegitimate marriage of patriotism with a habitual inferiority complex.”                                                               (John Lukacs, in The Legacy of the Second World War, p 11)

“And on 14 February 1945 Hitler said to his attentive circle: ‘Pride of race is a quality which the German, fundamentally, does not possess. We use the term of Jewish race as matter of convenience, for in reality and from the genetic point of view there is no such thing as the Jewish race.’”                                    (John Lukacs, in The Legacy of the Second World War, p 102)

“Stalin did not reward honest people – he persecuted them. It was a lesson that Kravchenko knew only too well, but defectors often capriciously reverse their sentiments after breaking with their country for good, as do ordinary immigrants.”                 (Gary Kern, in The Kravchenko Case: One Man’s War Against Stalin, p 125)

“All the authors feared persecution. All knew that they had left their loved ones for good. All believed that the Bolsheviks resorted to lies, terror and violence because they lacked a popular mandate to rule. All advocated opposition to the Bolshevik state on both the national and individual levels. All were dismayed by the pervasion of pro-Soviet attitudes they encountered in the West. All thought that by writing their book they were justifying their deception.”   (Gary Kern, in The Kravchenko Case: One Man’s War Against Stalin, p 189)

“Third, Mr. Cuomo needs to address immigrants’ rights, an issue on which New York lags behind states like California and Illinois. Mr. Cuomo had given feeble support to a bill to help unauthorized immigrants get state financial aid for college, but he needs to do more.”                              (from NYT leader, November 10)

“Fantasies of a comeback are, of course, the last hope of ousted politicians.”                                                                                                          (David Reynolds in In Command of History, p 178)

“Herken says that he [Joe Alsop] refused to eat in Paris restaurants whose cellars were close to the Métro, because the vibrations might have disturbed the sediment in the wine bottles.” (from Joe Menand’s article on Gregg Herken’s The Georgetown Set, in the New Yorker, November 10)

“On the day of Germany’s invasion of Poland – 1 September 1939 – the officers of the Home Publicity Division met to discuss what immediate action could be taken to counteract panic resulting from air raids:

  1. Lady Grigg said that the most comforting thing – at least where women were concerned – was to have a cup of tea and get together to talk things over.”      (from Ian McLaine’s Ministry of Morale, p 27)

“A Communist who’s trying to infiltrate isn’t going to call attention to himself.”                        (Dr. Irving Peress, a target of Senator McCarthy, quoted in his NYT obituary, November 18)

“Don’t join the new two-bottle men.”                         (John Galsworthy to Hugh Walpole in 1913, quoted in Rupert Hart-Davis’s Hugh Walpole, p 97: cf. Evelyn Waugh and Roger Hollis)

“Moscow is just like Huddersfield plus patches of colour.”                                                 (Granville Barker to Hugh Walpole, quoted in Rupert Hart-Davis’s Hugh Walpole, p 110)

“His [Conrad’s] final quarrel with Wells was: ‘The difference between us, Wells, is fundamental. You don’t care for humanity but think they are to be improved. I love humanity but know they are not!’”                                                                                                                                  (Hugh Walpole’s diary of Jan 23, 1918, as quoted in Rupert Hart-Davis’s Hugh Walpole, p 168)

“Rules for every honest diarist:

  1. No self-consciousness.
  2. No sense of shame.
  3. No false modesty.
  4. No sham bravery.
  5. No fine writing.
  6. No fear of indecencies.
  7. No scorn of trivialities.
  8. No self-disgust.” (from Hugh Walpole’s diary entry for June 19, 1924, quoted in Rupert Hart-Davis’s Hugh Walpole, p 251)

“I liked him [Hitler] because he seemed a poor fish quite certain to be shortly killed. He was shabby, unkempt, very feminine, very excitable  . . . There was something pathetic about him, I felt. I felt rather maternal to him! He spoke a great deal about his admiration of England and the need of her alliance with Germany.”                                                                            (Hugh Walpole in diary entry for August 1925, quoted in Rupert Hart-Davis’s Hugh Walpole, p 264)

“He’s like a large genial English cricketer! We sat together at supper after and he delighted me with his hatred of hysterics.”          (Hugh Walpole on C. G. Jung, after meeting him in Zurich in 1930, quoted in Rupert Hart-Davis’s Hugh Walpole, p 314)

“There is more actual positive reality in one square inch of the beach at Scarborough than in the whole extent of Hollywood.”                                                                                  (Hugh Walpole, in diary entry for August [?] 1935, quoted in Rupert Hart-Davis’s Hugh Walpole, p 360)

“Maybe its Gruberism: the belief that everybody else is slightly dumber and less well-motivated than oneself and therefore, politics is more about manipulation than conversation.”  (David Brooks, in NYT, November 18)

“Mr. Trevelyan’s accounts of his forebears’ role in British history covered well-known historic episodes as well as obscure ones that were telling about imperial rule.

He recounted, for example, a 400-mile journey across the south of India by Thomas Babington Macaulay, the historian and former secretary of war, traveling ‘on men’s shoulders.’ The bearers kept up a chant, which Macaulay presumed to be ‘extemporaneous eulogies,’ but which he later learned were something else.

Roughly translated, Mr. Trevelyan wrote, the bearers sang, ‘There is a fat hog, a great fat hog/How heavy he is, hum-hum/Shake him, shake him well.’”           (from the NYT obituary of Raleigh Trevelyan, November 23)

“I’m starting to think that all of the world’s major problems can be solved with either oyster sauce or backing vocals.”                        (Brian Eno, according to Marcus Berkmann in the Spectator, November 8)

Poets and Ice Splinters

“There’s a splinter of ice in his character.”     (P.D. James on Inspector Dalgleish, from her NYT obituary, November 28)

“I’m sure that one has to have a sort of splinter of ice in the heart.”                                                                                                                         (Cecil Day-Lewis, of poets, from interview with Elizabeth Jane Howard in Queen magazine, 1971, quoted in Peter Stanford’s C Day-Lewis, A Life, p 266)

”. . .  the small fatalists accept more easily than most philosophers the knowledge that what is, is, and seem to bear a charmed life because they know so little of any life but their own.”                 (from C. Day-Lewis’s The Buried Day, quoted by Peter Stanford in C Day-Lewis, A Life, p 14)

“Do I fail you because my need for you is not great enough? I suppose that is possible: though when I am thinking that I ought to leave you & leave the field clear for someone who might need you more & love you better, I am overwhelmed by misery at the mere thought of it.”                                                                                                                                       (Cecil Day-Lewis in undated letter to Rosamond Lehmann, from Peter Stanford’s C. Day-Lewis: A Life, p 197)

“We [Lee and Day-Lewis] both agreed on the end that the impulse to write poetry can only really endure so long as one lives a slightly abnormal and physically unconsummated life. Marriage – ie happy marriage – is death in a poet!”                   (Laurie Lee, according to Peter Stanford in C. Day-Lewis: A Life, p 206)

“People will endure their tyrants for years,’ he mused in November 1918 on the boat across to Europe, ‘but they will tear their deliverers to pieces if a millennium is not created immediately.’”             (President Wilson, according to David Reynolds in The Long Shadow, p 92)

“Alfred Sherman, a young communist in the 1930s who eventually became a guru of Thatcherism, later summed up the mental gymnastics of these fellow travellers: ‘If the Soviet paradise did not exist, it had to be invented to substantiate their socialist faith. It was not so much that they were deceived by Soviet propaganda as that they deceived themselves with the aid of Soviet propaganda.’”                                       (David Reynolds, in The Long Shadow, p 153)

“’Jews and mosquitoes,’ he told one correspondent in 1925, were ‘a nuisance that humankind must get rid of some way or other,’ adding: ‘I believe the best thing would be gas!’”     (The Kaiser, according to David Reynolds in The Long Shadow, p 289)


“Two academics, Dovid Katz and Danny Ben-Moshe, initiated the ‘Seventy Years Declaration in the Anniversary of the Final Solution Conference at Wannsee’ in 2012 to protest against attempts by several European states to draw a moral equivalence between the crimes of Nazism and Communism. The declaration was signed by 70 prominent politicians from across Europe.” (from Collaborator, by Gareth Pritchard and Desislava Gancheva, in History Today, December)

“It never ceases to amaze me how little men understand female sexual arousal and satisfaction, and how little it has to do with what they think it has to do with. Clive James writes that Philip Larkin must have been sexually proficient in the boudoir (something his poetry denies), and in this review names two of the several women who could not get enough of him. What James does not get his head around or grasp in the slightest is that the poetry of a genius like Larkin, combined with what no doubt (this review suggests) was dirty talk as he did whatever he did, no matter how limited, can take a lady over the moon.”                                                                                                                 (letter from Sarakay Smullens, in NYT Book Review, December 7)

“Riots are the voice of the unheard. You can never replace the lives of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, but you can always replace broken windows.”                 (Ms. Felarca, a Berkeley alumna, reported in NYT, December 10)

“She was the perfect wife and they proceeded to live that most infuriating thing for a modern biographer – model lives together.”                                    (Andrew Roberts in The Holy Fox, p 12)

“Knowledge of, or even interest in, one’s subject was not considered a necessary prerequisite for a Cabinet post in the 1920s.”                                          (Andrew Roberts in The Holy Fox, p 23)

“The great liberal Lloyd George left his 1936 meeting with Hitler likening Mein Kampf to the Magna Carta and calling Hitler ‘the Resurrection and the Way’ for Germany.”                  (Andrew Roberts in The Holy Fox, p 95)

“He used ‘tiresome’ to describe Cabinet meetings, foreign ambassadors, talks with Sir John Reith, the Lord Mayor’s banquet, the Japanese, secret sessions of the House of Lords, and anything else that was either boring or did not go according to his satisfaction. It was a word which fitted in perfectly with his rather languid Edwardian air of effortless superiority.”                 (Andrew Roberts in The Holy Fox, p 360)

“It [the Carlton Club plot of 1922] was seen as the triumph of Respectability over waywardness and piracy: the victory of the bishops over the bookies.”             (Andrew Roberts in The Holy Fox, p 411)

“In comparison with the full cart of the Jewish religion, that of secular Judeity was empty, and has remained so, The deeper one digs into this question, the more one is forced to recognize that there is no Jewish cultural baggage that is not religious.”      (Schlomo Sand, in How I Stopped Being a Jew, p 47)

“The old religious identity of the ‘chosen people’ has gradually given way to the modern, and very effective, secular cult not only of the ‘chosen victim’ but also of the ‘exclusive victim’.”                                                                    (Schlomo Sand, in How I Stopped Being a Jew, p 64)

“Laura Hobgood-Oster, professor of religion and environmental studies at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Tex., and an expert on the history of dog-human interaction, said she believed that there would be a backlash from religious conservatives, but that it would take time. ‘The Catholic Church has never been clear on this question; it’s all over the place, because it begs so many other questions,’ she said. ‘Where do mosquitoes go, for God’s sake?’”                         (from report on the Pope’s suggestion that dogs go to heaven, in NYT, December 12)

“I have learned several things: without knowing what is menacing us, we cannot protect our safety; in 1940, it was too late for any answer except remorse, and misery, and hidden resistance; in 1935, we could have saved ourselves that agony. For the basic reality of power politics is always this: who is going to control your life – you or your enemy? There is no evasion of that question. If you ignore it, you have lost.”                                                                                                                                              (Vaugiroud, in Helen MacInnes’s The Venetian Affair, Chapter 6)

“’Even non-Communists would say, ‘Yes, he is obviously in sympathy with the Communists, perhaps he is even a party member. But that isn’t against the law. Besides, you know our Communist intellectuals: they talk ideas, make propaganda, but they aren’t militant. They may be annoying, but they are harmless. They want peace, not war. They quote Izvestia, but they weren’t trained under Beria. They don’t torture or kill.’”                                                                                                                (Carlson, in Helen MacInnes’s The Venetian Affair, Chapter 9)

“They really are much cleverer than the Nazis. Hitler’s patience was too easily exhausted. He wanted everything all at once: a thousand-year Reich in ten years. But the Communists think of politics as the art of the impossible; just take everything in thin slices, little by little.”                                                                         (Fenner, in Helen MacInnes’s The Venetian Affair, Chapter 15)

“”As I was saying, if you had only tipped me off when I met you at Orly – ‘

‘About what?’

‘That you were with Intelligence.’

‘But I wasn’t.’

Ballard laughed shortly. ‘That’s what they all say.’”                                                                                                               (Ballard and Fenner, in Helen MacInnes’s The Venetian Affair, Chapter 23)

“But, thought Kalganov, I do not use that as a subterfuge to evade what had to be done. These intellectuals are always the same: they talk of sending in the tanks to shoot down rebellion, of using firing squads and bulldozers to plow traitors into massed graves, of forcing prisoners into screaming insanity for the sake of information, but they do it from the end of a telephone, from the committee table, from the anonymous distance.”                                                                                                                          (from Helen MacInnes’s The Venetian Affair, Chapter 26)

“Years of Soviet oppression and recent restrictions on freedom of expression in Russia were best described by my friend from Moscow: ‘We Russians think one way, speak another way and act a different way.’”                                                 (letter in NYT  by Martin Doyle, December 18)

“The manual [Manual of Instruction in Army Signalling: 1876] also candidly admitted that ‘the most accurate way of transmitting intelligence is by means of an orderly carrying a written message.’”                                                                                         (from British Intelligence: Secrets, Spies and Sources by Stephen Twigge, Edward Hampshire & Graham Macklin, p 291)

“Historians from the right can sometimes write as though the nineteenth century did not take place; historians from the left can often write as though the twentieth century never happened.”                                                               (Adam Gopnik, in the New Yorker, December 22 & 29)

Hispanics? Latinos?

“For some, the rigors of mastering the rules of the road are compounded by language challenges. Madera and vicinity are hubs for indigenous Mexicans from Oaxaca — an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people, most of them farmworkers whose first language may be Mixtec, Zapotec or Trique. The written exam is offered in 32 languages, but not those.”    (from article on illegal Mexican immigrants in California, in NYT, December 20)

“My life has been one long descent into respectability.”  (Mandy Rice-Davies, quoted in her NYT obituary, December 20)

“These are the equivalent of storm troopers marching in and throwing their weight around and telling lies about it afterward. The lawsuit is an effort to make these people accountable that has not been available through the political system.”        (Edward Kane, finance professor at Boston College, on the government bail-out of AIG, from NYT, December 21)

Culture & Civilisation

“Mr. Manhart, addressing the Berlin conference, at one point showed a slide of Afghans at an antiquity site under a banner written in Dari and English — ‘A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive.’”                                                              (from NYT, December 20)

“The novelist Christopher Beha cited Evelyn Waugh’s ‘The Sword of Honor’ trilogy. ‘I think it is Waugh’s best work, and it is also one of his most explicitly religious,’ Beha said. ‘As a traditionalist Catholic, Waugh was deeply disappointed by the Allied partnership with the Soviet Union, and the underlying theme of the book — that a civilization under threat won’t survive by abandoning what is worth preserving about it — is one worth remembering.’”                                                                                            (from NYT Book Review, December 21)

“Tonya Hinkle (a pseudonym) is a mother of three who lives in a small town in Mississippi because her husband’s job is there. Her children were harassed at school after it became known that the Hinkles did not belong to a church. When Tonya’s first-grade twins got off the school bus crying, she learned that ‘this one girl had stood up on the bus and screamed — right in their faces — that they were going to HELL. That they were going to burn in all eternity because they didn’t go to church.’

Such experiences make plain that being a secular parent in Southern California or New York City is very different from raising a family in areas where the first question asked of a newcomer often is ‘What church do you go to?’

Zuckerman is a sensitive interviewer who lets people speak for themselves without extraneous comment. An 87-year-old atheist recalls her reaction when her second child died of leukemia at age 4. ‘I remember, just after Billy died, when the first person said to me something like, “Well, you know, the Lord has called Billy home — it was just Billy’s time.” I said to him, “No — don’t you tell me it was ‘Billy’s time.’ I won’t hear it.”’ ”                                                         (Susan Jacoby, in review of Phil Zuckerman’s Living the Secular Life, in NYT, December 21)

Remember the Alamo! (one in a series)

“Russians tend to recall every historical slight, and on cue a union member nearby groused, ‘He seeks to avenge the Battle of Poltava!’ — when Russian forces crushed an attempt by King Charles XII of Sweden to conquer Moscow in 1709.”                     (from a report on the Swede Bo Inge Andersson, brought in to turn round the struggling Lada factory, in NYT, December 22)

“I cannot remember a single instance in my career when we ever stopped a plot based purely on signals intelligence.”     (Charles (Sam) Faddis, a retired C.I.A. counterterrorism chief, reported in NYT, December 22)

“It’s just that next time we think about military intervention in a foreign country that hasn’t attacked us, it might be worth running a thought experiment to work out at exactly which moment, in the many internecine conflicts that have afflicted the British Isles, our forbears would have most benefited from the arrival of 3500 troops and eight helicopters, and for which ‘side’ those troops would have fought.”  (James Meek, in London Review of Books, December 18)

“Young children have so little life experience that they inevitably assume that what happens round them is the norm.”                                                 (from John Cleese’s So, Anyway  . . ., p 7)

“Loyalty is undoubtedly a virtue, but loyalty to tyranny turns all morality on its head.”                                                                                                      (Roy Berkeley, in A Spy’s London, p 276)

“What then was he [Canaris] to do? To such a question there are always two answers: there is the life of action, which forestalls destiny by creating new alternatives, and there is the fatalism of those who accept in advance their defeat. Action requires faith: fatalism is the absence of it.”                           (Hugh Trevor-Roper, in The Secret World, p 57)

“There are no absolute rules in intelligence – except that intelligence officers must be intelligent.”                                                 (Hugh Trevor-Roper, in The Secret World, p 150)

“Intellectuals often pretend that, as a class, they are advocates of liberty. This is seldom true. Intellectuals like the beauty of mathematical order. They like tidiness, symmetry. Liberty is untidy, asymmetrical. Consequently young intellectuals, even when they speak of liberty, really worship power.”                                              (Hugh Trevor-Roper, in The Secret World, p 160)

“As for why I’m getting married, it’s for the same reason everybody does – to have adventures. If there weren’t marriage, there wouldn’t be infidelity, and who could live without the dirty?” (Norman Mailer, in March 1954, on the eve of his wedding to Adele, reported in TLS, December 19 & 26)                                [compare Lee & Day-Lewis in November Commonplace]

“To read history, to debate history, is to test our assumptions in the laboratory of real events; to learn, in the process, some appropriate humility about our capacity to forestall crises; and to grasp that extraordinary moments generally demand that ordinary assumptions be hurled out the window. Model-based social sciences, with their search for certainties that appear constant to large sets of data, teach neither humility nor flexibility. For this reason alone, a comparative study of the 1930s and 2000s should be part of every economic syllabus.”                                                                                            (Sebastian Mallaby, in The Atlantic, January/February 2015)


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