C U R R E N T
A R C H I V E D
“[W]e…who are of the Puritan descent…came to this country to think our own thoughts with nobody to hinder…. We conversed with our own souls till we lost the art of communicating with other people. The typical family grew up strangers to each other…. It was awfully high, but awfully lonesome.”
— Samuel Gray Ward, letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 11 October 1891. Quoted in Warner Berthoff, American Trajectories: Authors and Readings 1790–1970, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994, pp. 44–45.
“[A Unesco] constitution signed on 16 November 1945 was the work of many minds, guided most forcefully by poet and former United States Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish, who wrote a gripping preamble: ‘since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed’… This is a lost world when poets were statesmen and scientists were wordsmiths.”
— Alison Bashford, The Huxleys: An Intimate History of Evolution, University of Chicago Press, 2022, p. 321.
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
— attributed to Arthur Ashe 
“To be poor in order to be simple, to produce less in order that the product may be more choice and beautiful, and may leave us less burdened with unnecessary duties and useless possessions — that is an ideal not articulate in the American mind; yet here and there I seem to have heard a sigh after it, a groan at the perpetual incubus of business and shrill society.”
— George Santayana, Character & Opinion in the United States, George Braziller, New York, 1955, p. 106
“We may achieve climate, but weather is thrust upon us.”
— O. Henry, “A Fog in Santone,” Complete Works of O. Henry, Doubleday & Co., 1953, p. 992
“Do not ask for whom the bell tolls. Don’t ask, don’t toll.”
— Y. t. (with apologies to John D.)
“[Paul Engle, long-time director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop,] always talked straight; he warned me about my grandiosity and my tendency to live six lives at once. His advice was very good: ‘Do one thing, not many.’ These were warnings that didn’t do much good.”
— Robert Bly, “When Literary Life Was Still Piled Up in a Few Places”, in A Community of Writers: Paul Engle and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, edited by Robert Dana, University of Iowa Press, 1999, p. 40.
“Since [T. H.] White could not travel to visit [David Garnett in the hospital], he wrote a succession of those sickbed letters which are so difficult to write — as one aims them at a person already slightly unknown because one does not know whether he is to live or die, as one’s own health abashes one with its rudeness, as one has no means of judging whether one’s attempt to be diverting allays or grates, as in all such letters one is forced back on what cheerfulness one can supply from one’s own resources and therefore must seem egoistic, fortunate and unconcerned.”
— Sylvia Townsend Warner, T. H. White: A Biography, Viking Press, 1968, p. 206.
“Americans cherish their opinions at least as much as their souls, and opinions allowed to take root where nobody’s around to crowd them grow great and very strange.”
— Ursula K. LeGuin, “H. L. Davis’s Honey in the Horn”, in Words Are My Matter: Writing on Life and Books, Mariner Books, 2019, p. 118.
“Most of the mathematicians I knew were very lonely people…. Among the young mathematicians I found a high proportion who were too crazy for my taste. …[I]t’s hard to think back, and it’s all so long ago, but we were a crazy bunch. I suppose the only one who wasn’t crazy was Davenport. He was unusual among mathematicians. …[F]irst of all, he loved his students. He had lots of students, and he had also a refreshingly normal family life. He seemed to belong to the human species in a way that most mathematicians don’t.
“When I think of mathematicians I knew at the time, none of them were really normal. Hardy, Littlewood, Besicovitch — none of them had a family life of the normal kind. They all, for one reason or another, were very much alone.
— Freeman Dyson, interview in The College Mathematics Journal, Vol. 25, No. 1, Jan. 1994, p. 13.
“Curiously he was a modest man. And as his life-dream became less and less likely Swingle became, as they say, merely philosophical — that is rueful, not embittered.
— Murray Bail, Eucalyptus, Harcourt, 1998, p. 95.
“It is not easy for a writer to convince himself that the little he can do is all he can do.
— A. A. Milne, War Aims Unlimited, Methuen & Company, Limited, 1941, p. 41. Quoted in Ann Thwaite, A. A. Milne: The Man Behind Winnie-the-Pooh, Random House, New York, 1990.
“[T]he freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.“
— Kahlil Gibran, “How I Became a Madman (Prologue)” at https://poets.org/poem/how-i-became-madman-prologue
“There is no terror like that of being known.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Vol. 5, Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1911, p. 108. Accessed at https://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/ralph-waldo-emerson/journals-of-ralph-waldo-emerson-volume-5-hci/page-6-journals-of-ralph-waldo-emerson-volume-5-hci.shtml. Quoted in Maria Popova, Figuring, Vintage Books, 2019, p. 117.
“The fabulous is now on sale. The manufacture of wonder-machines provides thousands of people with a livelihood. But the artist has played no part in this production of marvels. It arises from science and wealth. The bourgeois has invested his capital in fantasies, and is relying now on the ruin of common sense.“
— Paul Valéry, “Remarks on Progress,” 1928. Reprinted (with a few reproduction errors) at https://www.mediamatic.net/en/page/84049/remarks-on-progress
“Like all chronic debtors, Defoe was obliged to withdraw from the feasts and receptions of his liveried company, from his favourite coffee house or club, from the ‘treats’ of colleagues and even the dinner tables of friends and neighbors. He would not accept hospitality that he could not return.“
— Richard West, Daniel Defoe: The Life and Strange, Surprising Adventures, Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1998, p. 219.
“The dark side of self-creation is its underlying and abiding sense of fraud… Under the brazen ‘I made up a self’ of the American myth, the sinister sotto voce, ‘I am a lie.’ …Limitless, untethered freedom has, among its costs, a kind of paranoia: the self not built from the inside, accumulating in the manner of the tree, but rather postulated or improvised, moving backward and forward at the same time — this self is curiously unstable, insecure.“
— Louise Glück, American Originality: Essays on Poetry, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017, pp. 3-7.
“This is an old man’s problem: He knows very well that he is the same, but he would be hard put to it to provide convincing proof of this little proposition.
— Paul Valéry, Collected Works of Paul Valéry, Volume 2: Poems in the Rough, Princeton University Press, 2016, p. 313.
“A rising tide gathers no moss, but a rolling stone sinks all boats.”
— Yours truly
“Bad poetry is almost always the result of forgetting oneself… And for heaven’s sake, publish nothing before you are thirty.”
— Virginia Woolf, “Letter to a Young Poet,” in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974, pp. 220 & 224.
“We never know the value of our own work, and everything reasonable leads us to doubt it: For we can be certain that few contemporaries will be read in a hundred years. To desire to write poems that endure—we undertake such a goal knowing two things: that in all likelihood we will fail, and that if we succeed we will never know it.”
—Donald Hall, in “Poetry and Ambition” in Breakfast Served Any Time All Day, University of Michigan Press, 2003, p. 154.
“The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true, by the philosopher, as equally false, and by the magistrate, as equally useful.”
— Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, W. W. Gibbings, 1890, p. 37. Slightly misquoted in Leo Damrosch, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius, Houghton Mifflin, 2005, p. 343.
“Fermat knew what the preparation of his work for publication would entail. It would turn a fascinating, yet restful hobby into a drudging bore.”
— Michael Sean Mahoney, The Mathematical Career of Pierre de Fermat, Princeton University Press, 1973, p. 24.
“All power of fancy over reason is…pronounced madness [only] when it becomes ungovernable and apparently influences speech or action… [T]he mind, in weariness or leisure…feasts on the luscious falsehood whenever she is offended with the bitterness of truth. By degrees the reign of fancy is confirmed; she grows first imperious, and in time despotic. Then fictions begin to operate as realities, false opinions fasten upon the mind, and life passes in dreams of rapture or of anguish.”
— Samuel Johnson, Chapter XLIV, “The Dangerous Prevalence of Imagination”, in The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, 1759. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/34766/34766-h/34766-h.htm
“…towns that let pandemic politics drive medical professionals away are choosing…‘toxic individualism’ over the common good.”
— Frank Morris, “‘Toxic Individualism’: Pandemic Politics Driving Health Care Workers From Small Towns”, NPR, https://www.npr.org/2020/12/28/950861977/toxic-individualism-pandemic-politics-driving-health-care-workers-from-small-tow
“Here, in this vast, mad horror, that doesn’t know its size, or its strength, or its weakness, or its barbaric speed, stupidity, din, selfrighteousness, this cancerous Babylon, here we could cling together, sane, safe, & warm & face, together, everything.”
— Dylan Thomas, letter to his wife Caitlin written from 1669 Thirty-first Street, Washington D.C. on 11 March 1950. Quoted in The Marriage Book, edited by Lisa Grunwald and Stephen Adler, Simon & Schuster, 2015, p. 395.
“To revenge reasonable incredulity by refusing evidence is a degree of insolence with which the world is not yet acquainted; and stubborn audacity is the last refuge of guilt.”
— Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland. Quoted in Leo Damrosch, The Club, Yale University Press, 2019, p. 270. [NB to Sam: As of this writing, the world is very well acquainted…]
“This is not the place I would like to start
but this is where I am.
Here are hats and horns and names of states on sticks.
The speaker is spreading out the syllables
of blessings, curses, lies and incantations.
Only the lies are what they pretend to be.
— Miller Williams, “Logos”, Poetry, February 1982, p. 286
That baddies are baddies
is only too true
however one studies
the things that they do.
But what I find sad is
how painfully few
have noticed that goodies
— Piet Hein, Grooks 2, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1968, p. 20
“The collective mentality of nations…is that of a delinquent boy of fourteen, at once cunning and childish, malevolent and silly, maniacally egotistical, touchy, and acquisitive, and at the same time ludicrously boastful and vain.”
— Aldous Huxley, quoted in Nicholas Murray, Aldous Huxley: A Biography, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2002, p. 330.
“And yet sooner or later there has to be some indication from the outside, to prevent self-confidence from turning into the delusion of grandeur, which it must do to keep itself from crumbling altogether.”
— Galway Kinnell, interview with Albert Goldbarth and Virginia Gilbert, Iowa City, November 1970. In Walking Down the Stairs: Selections from Interviews by Galway Kinnell, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1978, p. 10.
“This is a moment when many people may want nothing more than a return to normalcy, or to a status quo that is only comfortable if we avert our gaze from injustice. As difficult as it may be to admit, that desire is itself a sign of privilege.”
— Tim Cook, memo to Apple employees, in response to the murder of George Floyd. Quoted at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-31/apple-s-cook-says-painful-past-is-still-present-today-in-memo.
“The world don’t need any more songs… The world don’t need any more poems, it’s got Shakespeare. There’s enough of everything. You name it, there’s enough of it.”
— Bob Dylan, in “Bob Dylan: The SongTalk Interview,” by Paul Zollo, SongTalk, Winter 1991. Quoted in Younger Than That Now: The Collected Interviews with Bob Dylan, Thunder’s Mouth Press, New York, 2004, pp. 255 & 257.
“In the artist of all kinds I think one can detect an inherent dilemma, which belongs to the co-existence of two trends, the urgent need to communicate and the still more urgent need not to be found.”
— D. W. Winnicott, “Communicating and Not Communicating Leading to a Study of Certain Opposites” (1963), in Reading Winnicott, edited by Lesley Caldwell and Angela Joyce, Routledge, London and New York, 2011, p. 189.
“At the end of your life, you are the only one who knows how far short you fell from what you intended. And that doesn’t help, because at the end of your life you don’t always know what you intended.”
— Joseph Mitchell, quoted in Thomas Kunkel, Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker, Random House, 2015, p. 317.
“Technology forges on, not from any need of the species, but from the need of certain of its more brilliant members for interesting games to play.”
— Kenneth Brower, The Starship and the Canoe, Harper & Row, 1983, p. 175.
“If you want to be a legend, God help you, it’s so easy. You just do one thing. You can be the master of suspense, say. But if you want to be as invisible as is practical, then it’s fun to do a lot of different things.”
— Mike Nichols, quoted in “Mike Nichols, Master of Invisibility”, The New York Times, April 10, 2009, https://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/12/movies/12mcgr.html?_r=1&8dpc
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
IS NOT FREEDOM TO SPEAK
IT IS THE FREEDOM
— Ian Hamilton Finlay, in Selections, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2012, p. 217.
“Today I am no longer, as I once was, the prisoner of interminable tasks, which so often prevented me from leaping into the unknown, mathematical or otherwise. The time of tasks for me is over. If age has brought me anything, it is lightness.”
— Alexandre Grothendieck, Esquisse d’un Programme, quoted in
http://www.ams.org/notices/200410/fea-grothendieck-part2.pdf, pp. 1209-1210.
“I always think fatigue is a great Saver from Ambition and worldly values, when all else fails!”
— Stevie Smith, letter to J. C. Powys, 11 July 1952. Quoted in Frances Spalding, Stevie Smith: A Biography, W. W. Norton 1988, p. 203.
“I too had said…that teaching ‘was a process trying to look like a result.’ As a careful and consequential thinker, or teacher, I was only twelve years or so in producing the corollary: ‘yes, but isn’t everything?’ like history, I meant, and life and the world entire.”
— Howard Nemerov, “In Conclusion,” from The Oak in the Acorn (1987), in A Howard Nemerov Reader, University of Missouri Press, 1991, p. 308.
“Years later, Edith [Carow Roosevelt] explained that her aloofness was simply ‘a trick of manner’ to obscure her own perceived defects. While it may have deprived her of camaraderie, her tactic succeeded in establishing the distance and mystery that prevented humiliation.”
— Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, Simon & Schuster, 2013, p. 117.
“However, the experts at the Western Union can tell, and I suppose that is all that matters. If I knew what it was they did, and how they were able to tell time by the stars, I should be an expert at the Western Union. That is, of course, provided that I was socially acceptable to the present experts.”
— Robert Benchley, “What Time Is It? And What Of It” in Chips Off the Old Benchley, Harper and Brothers, 1949, p. 114.
Updated 31 January 2023