Recent Commonplace Entries


“The Cheka was set up under Lenin in December 1917 to take on foes of the fledgling Bolshevik state, and was generally understood to be less brutal than its successors.” (Robert Hornsby, in History Today, January 2024)

“The criterion of a successful theory is that it enables us to understand its predecessors in a newly intelligible way.” (Alasdair Macintyre, according to Jonathan Rée in London Review of Books, February 8)

“If I were God, I do not think that I would want to be studied by most contemporary theologians.” (Alasdair Macintyre, according to Jonathan Rée in London Review of Books, February 8)

“In the columns of NB there were regular protests against the idea, and the practice, of ‘separate-but-equal’ treatment of British black writers, which was gradually becoming embedded in the general conversation – a return to the bedrock of pre-civil rights segregation in the Unted States. Separate workshops for women of Asian origin sprang up in London and elsewhere, often funded by local authority culture departments eager to find worthy ways of spending taxpayers’ money. Would a woman of non-Asian appearance be asked to present ethnic certification at the door, on pain of being turned away? Anthologies reserved for black and Asian short story writers (the term BAME, standard for black, Asian and minority ethnic, had yet to come into common use) were announced, as well as prizes restricted to those who considered themselves black. If that condition of entry is broadly acceptable, then the argument is settled: we do live in a society in which people – in this case writers – can be separated according to the colour of their skin.” (James Campbell, in NB by J.C., pages 18-19)

“Unlike some pessimists who believe that only illusions render life bearable, he puts his faith in open-eyed realism: ‘To see things as they are, as opposed to how we would like them to be,’ has a healing, if not redemptive, effect, for it ‘allows us to extricate ourselves, with some dignity, from the entanglement that is human existence.’” (Robert Pogue Harrison, quoting Costica Bradatan, in review of In Praise of Failure: Four Lessons in Humility, in NYRB, March 7)

“His concern from now on would be the world as it is, not as religion would have it be. ‘I regard it as the irresistible effect of the Copernican Astronomy,’ he wrote, ‘to have made the theological scheme of Redemption absolutely incredible.’” (John Banville on Ralph Waldo Emerson, in review of Three Roads Back by Robert D. Richardson, in NYRB, March 7)

“It is commonplace that the British do not take easily to passepartout theories, such as Marxism, which aim to expound the whole of history. Give such an idea to a Frenchman and he will say that it originated in Paris; to a German and he will make a world-system out of it; to an American and he will attempt to market it; to an Irishman and he will weave a legend about it; to a Russian and he will become messianic or make himself miserable about it, perhaps both; to a Japanese and he will photograph it; to an Englishman and he will change the subject.” (from Michael Burn’s Turned Towards the Sun, p 65)

“’The sovereign people have spoken,’ Churchill had growled, ‘and have decided on their own destruction. So long as the power remains in me, I shall find in my duty to divert them from their fell intent.’” (describing Churchill’s reaction at Chartwell on losing the election in 1945, recorded by Sir Desmond Morton, from Michael Burn’s Turned Towards the Sun, p 165)

“An atheist is a man without visible means of support.” (Sir Wilmott Lewis, according to Iverach McDonald in his History of The Times 1939-1966, p 151, quoted by Michael Burn in Turned Towards the Sun, p 109)

“Lately the comparison of Bolshevism with disease has become common. This is not sufficiently true. Bolshevism is not only a disease; it is death, and a very quick death, or it is not real Bolshevism.

            Bolshevism in general is a catastrophe, a shipwreck.” (P. D. Ouspensky, in Letter IV from Letters from Russia, 1919)

“‘By the way’, he said, ‘did you ever hear of the Chief of Police here in Rostov just after the outbreak of the Revolution. One of his clerks found him in his office, examining some documents very carefully. At last he looked up and said, scratching his head, “Ye-es, I can understand that the proletariat of the world ought to unite; but what I don’t understand is why they should want to unite at Rostov-on-the-Don.”’” (P. D. Ouspensky, quoted by C. E. Bechofer in the Epilogue to Ouspensky’s Letters from Russia, 1919)

3 Responses to Recent Commonplace Entries

  1. Pingback: On Privacy and Publicity | Coldspur

  2. Michael

    Not sure where to find on the map “his . . . redbrick house at Purely with its back-garden tennis-court”. Just south of Corydon, perhaps? And a few other typos this month, which are I believe abhorred by you.

    • coldspur

      Thank you, Michael. That damned autocorrect feature, I am sure. I have rebuked my Chief Editor, Thelma. But I am responsible: the buck stops here.

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