This is something of a commonplace post for the year ahead with quotations taken from my withdrawn library book of quotations, that wealth of knowledge and marginalia about which the impoverish youths of the world have not a clue. Happy New Year.
For the life to come, I sleep out the thought of it. – Autolycus in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale
Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man. – Lewis in Shakespeare’s King John
When the tree is fallen, all go with their hatchets.
I have learned thy arts, and now Can disdain as much as thou. – Thomas Carew, “Disdain Returned”
On finding a wife:
Choose a wife rather by your ear than your eye.
Choose your wife as you wish your children to be.
Choose a good mother’s daughter, though her father were the devil. (The latter two come from Gaelic proverbs.)
Who riseth from a feast With that keen appetite that he sits down? Where is the horse that doth untread again His tedious measures with the unbated fire That he did pace them first? All things that are, Are with more spirit chased than enjoy’d. – Gratiano in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice
Turn your tongue seven times before talking. (Originally French)
What is new is seldom true; what is true is seldom new. (Originally German)
They say history is written by the winners, which is obvious because they are the ones still living. History is also written by people who implicitly swear to us they are telling the truth, that they have upturned the facts and have built the most complete picture they can of their subject.
Justin Taylor writes about Stanford professor Sam Wineburg’s book Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone) and draws out one example of a popular historian who has violated his oath. Howard Zinn urges us to believe the US dropped the bomb on Japan because we had the biggest hammer and we were going to use it. But the proof for this assertion crumbles when we start following citations.
That reminds me a quote I’ve looked up without resolution. It’s attributed to Calvin, but I can’t find where he may have written it. “False teaching is easily identified by the fact that it is willingly received by all and is to everyone’s liking.”
It could be that I haven’t found the right translation, but it’s likely in this new age of free quotation someone made it up.
What makes Johnson’s righteousness bearable is the fact that nothing he read himself — and he devoured more or less every word ever written — was able to guide him through the problems of his own life. Half-blind and wracked with self-disgust, Johnson was consumed by horrors: of annihilation, of madness, of destitution — what Beckett described as ‘the whole mental monster-ridden swamp’.
Frances Wilson describes the good and bad about a new book on Dr. Johnson’s thoughts, saying literary self-help guides are generally rotten, but Samuel Johnson is particularly good subject for the genre. (via Prufrock News)
I’m looking over some lost quotations and proverbs tonight, lost because they are collected in W. Gurney Benham’s A Book of Quotations: Proverbs and Household Words, published in 1907, an ugly volume I plan to throw out because I’ve wasted twenty years of my life with it sitting on my shelf.
But what was I saying? I’ve kept this book because of its curious collection. After the typical Bartlett’s stuff, it has a section of “waifs and strays,” “naturalised phrases,” and toasts, followed by Greek and Latin quotations, French and Spanish quotations, and then a long list of English proverbs. It’s the non-English language quotations that seemed most valuable to me. Where else would I find a curated list of pearls and miscellany from the past?
Quid enim salvis infamia nummis?
What indeed is infamy as long as our money is safe?
Going to ruin is silent work.
Omnis homo mendax.
Every man is a liar.
C’est l’imagination qui gouverne le genre humain.
It is imagination which rules the human race.
Quid Romae faciam? mentiri nescio.
What can I do at Rome? I do not know how to lie.
Vulnus alit venis et caeco carpitur igni.
She cherishes the wound in her veins and is consumed by an unseen fire.
But whether we have less or more,
Alway thank we God therefor.
Oliver Wendell Holmes gave us the phrase about shouting fire in a crowded theater. Most people are against such shouting, despite today’s audiences being more likely to look around with irritated curiosity than to panic. Pulling the fire alarm in a crowded theater would cause a problem, and this censorship of free expression is the law. (Why can’t you pull a fire alarm to express yourself? Why can’t you call 911 to talk to give your opinion? Is this 1984?)
Here’s what Justice Holmes actually wrote. “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”
He gave this opinion in support of the Supreme Court’s conviction of Charles Schenck, the Secretary of the Socialist Party of America, for writing a pamphlet in opposition to the WWI draft. Two similar cases came up that year and were decided the same way. Calls to “assert your rights” were compared to inciting panic in entertainment houses.
Back in 2012, Trevor Timm wrote about how abused the shouting-fire phrase has become and how much damage it has done to America’s concept of free speech. “Its advocates are tacitly endorsing one of the broadest censorship decisions ever brought down by the Court. It is quite simply, as Ken White calls it, ‘the most famous and pervasive lazy cheat in American dialogue about free speech.'”
To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted, so as to be most useful, I should answer, “by restraining it to true facts & sound principles only.” Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more compleatly deprive the nation of it’s benefits, than is done by it’s abandoned prostitution to falsehood. Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day. I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens, who, reading newspapers, live & die in the belief, that they have known something of what has been passing in the world in their time; whereas the accounts they have read in newspapers are just as true a history of any other period of the world as of the present, except that the real names of the day are affixed to their fables.
Did Jefferson go on to summarize his thoughts by saying, “If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed”? The Quote Investigator explains.
Isn’t this the one thing you know from Edmund Burke, an Irishman and political thinker? You didn’t even know he was Irish. All you knew about Burke was that he said the above quotation. Except he didn’t.
What he said that closely resembles this comes from his 1770 book, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents.
No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united Cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.
Now this is curious. Burke is arguing in favor of unity, of banding together to oppose “ambitious citizens” who have already united their efforts. We could call them The Establishment or a number of other things. Burke’s point appears to be that virtuous people should not believe their individual virtues, their personal choices, to be effective against those who are working together to oppose us.
William O’Flaherty runs the Essential C.S. Lewis website and has a first Saturday monthly feature on words misattributed to the great Jack Lewis. Yesterday he highlighted a quote that is actually from Lewis, but in isolation it reads contrary to its intended meaning in the story.
Seize the day, as it were. Take that hill. Do the thing.
O’Flaherty explains where these words are found in The Magician’s Nephew and what they mean. He has a long list of questionable quotations. See his list of the top five from 2015 here, including two that were spoken by Anthony Hopkins while playing Lewis, which doesn’t make them Lewis quotations.
That verse is loosely related to a quote attributed by some to Martin Luther. “For truth and duty it is ever the fitting time; who waits until circumstances completely favor his undertaking, will never accomplish anything.” As our readers often say, “That’s the truth,” but did Luther actually say this?
A great book of quotations would embarrass certain of your relatives and be banned by lesser school districts. When a writer says something new and real, it can be shocking, like a surprise emission from a bodily orifice. The books of quotations that rarely let you down are commonplace books, those intellectual scrapbooks made for personal use and compiled by a single avid reader.
An early holiday shopping message from Puritan preacher Thomas Brooks:
“Christians act below their spiritual birth and their holy calling, when they suffer their hearts to be troubled and perplexed for the want of temporal things. Could they read special love in such gifts? Would their happiness lie in the enjoyment of them? Nay then, believer, let not the want of those things trouble thee, the enjoyment of which could never make thee happy.”
The Quote Investigator relates this story. “In 1953 an Associated Press reporter described his experiences in Moscow after the death of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The journalist reported the caustic comment of an unnamed Russian:
I saw Muscovites by the countless thousands shuffle through the cold March days and nights, in long lines that stretched for miles into the suburbs, to see the dead body of the grim dictator.
Who first said, “With great power comes great responsibility”? Was it Marvel Comics writers for Spiderman? Was it Voltaire? Quote Investigator says there are better references, such as this from the French Revolution: “They must consider that great responsibility follows inseparably from great power.” A similar idea is found in Luke 12:48.