Quotations

  • I have lately led so unsettled a life, and have been so desultory in my employments, that my mind, never of the most highly organised genus, is more than usually chaotic; or rather it is like a stratum of conglomerated fragments, that shows here a jaw and rib of some ponderous quadruped, there a delicate alto-relievo of some fern-like plant, tiny shells, and mysterious nondescripts encrusted and united with some unvaried and uninteresting but useful stone. My mind presents just such an assemblage of disjointed specimens of history, ancient and modern; scraps of poetry picked up from Shakspeare, Cowper, Wordsworth, and Milton; newspaper topics; morsels of Addison and Bacon, Latin verbs, geometry, entomology, and chemistry; Reviews and metaphysics, — all arrested and petrified and smothered by the fast-thickening every-day accession of actual events, relative anxieties, and household cares and vexations. How deplorably and unaccountably evanescent are our frames of mind, as various as the forms and hues of the summer clouds!
    George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), to Miss Lewis 4 Sep 1839, in John Walter Cross, ed., George Eliot’s life as related in her letters and journals (Boston: Estes & Laurait, 1895) 1:45. See “Constructing George Eliot’s Reader”, So many books 15 Mar 2009.
  • Dans la vie de la citéIn the life of the city all is transitory: religion and morals are no longer recognized, or else everyone interprets them in his own fashion. Concerning matters of an inferior sort, the same impotence of conviction and of existence; fame beats for barely an hour, books grow old in a day, writers do each other in to grab attention; but this too is vanity: no-one will even hear their last sigh. tout est transitoire : la religion et la morale cessent d’être admises, ou chacun les interprète à sa façon. Parmi les choses d’une nature inférieure, même impuissance de conviction et d’existence, une renommée palpite à peine une heure, un livre vieillit dans un jour, des écrivains se tuent pour attirer l’attention ; autre vanité: on n’entend pas même leur dernier soupir.
    François René de Chateaubriand, Mémoires de l’outre-tombe., 44c2; (Paris: Gallimard, 1951, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade) 2:917. Orig. publ. 1848; this passage written 1841.
  • Wealth, therefore, is ‘The possession of the valuable by the valiant’; and in considering it as a power existing in a nation, the two elements, the value of the thing, and the valour of its possessor, must be estimated together. Whence it appears that many of the persons commonly considered wealthy, are in reality no more wealthy than the locks of their own strong boxes are, they being inherently and eternally incapable of wealth; and operating for the nation, in an economical point of view, either as pools of dead water, and eddies in a stream (which, so long as the stream flows, are useless, or serve only to drown people, but may become of importance in a state of stagnation should the stream dry); or else, as dams in a river, of which the ultimate service depends not on the dam, but the miller; or else, as mere accidental stays and impediments, acting not as wealth, but (for we ought to have a correspondent term) as ‘illth,’ causing various devastation and trouble around them in all directions; or lastly, act not at all, but are merely animated conditions of delay, (no use being possible of anything they have until they are dead,) in which last condition they are nevertheless often useful as delays, and ‘impedimenta.’
    John Ruskin, Unto this day (1862, orig. publ. 1860 in the Cornhill Magazine).
  • I believe there exists, and I feel within me, an instinct for truth, or knowledge or discovery, of something of the same nature as the instinct of virtue, and that our having such an instinct is reason enough for scientific researches without any practical results ever ensuing from them.
    Charles Darwin, More letters (1908), quoted in Gamaliel Bradford Journal, 1883–1932 (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1933) 228
  • And what does the pursuit of history give us in the end? A good life, a lot of fun, and a glimpse into other worlds.
    Richard Watson, Descartes’s Ballet (South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine’s Press, 2007) xiii.
  • Les hommes en sociétéMen in society are so little given to positive things, that even the search for truth attracts them only to the point at which discovery ceases to have interest for the imagination. sont si peu faits pour les choses positives, qu’ils ne s’attachent à la recherche de la vérité même, que jusqu’au point où cette découverte cesse d’intéresser l’imagination.
    Charles Nodier, review of Mme de Staël’s Corinne and Delphine, in Mélanges de littérature et de critique, Paris: Raymond, 1820 (repr. Geneva: Slatkine 1973)
  • That a country, eminently distinguished for its mechanical and manufacturing ingenuity, should be indifferent to the progress of inquiries which form the highest departments of that knowledge on whose more elementary truths its wealth and rank depend, is a fact which is well deserving the attention of those who shall inquire into the causes that influence the progress of nations.
    Charles Babbage, Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, Gutenberg Project edition, p. 12
  • Le livre est un produit résolument dissident au regard des normes industrielles et commerciales, et peu rentable. Attendons que les capitaines d’industrie et les grands argentiers, que le pouvoir médiatique fascine, se lassent de leurs mécomptes et, surtout, que des reconversions urgentes les requièrent. Ils restitueront ce pouvoir infrangible à des professionnels que j’ai le redoutable honneur, aujourd’hui, de former, de préparer à cette échéance. Sans négliger que l’édition fut, de tout temps, la friche d’entrepreneurs autodidactes – fascinés par l’objet autant que par son contenu, tenaillés par la joie de transmettre, fiers d’être les maîtres de maison pour ces hôtes étranges et turbulents que sont leurs auteurs. éditer est un risque, c’est aussi un plaisir sans pareil.
    Dominique Autié, “Le pouvoir d’éditer”, Balles de match…, 7 Nov 2005
  • And as the sun set and turned the sky a hazy pink, four horses led by a white stallion burst from the flood waters on Claiborne Avenue and started grazing on the neutral ground on Elysian Fields Avenue.
    Jim Varney, “Scenes from New Orleans”, Times-Picayune 5 Sep 2005
    “We stayed here because the animals can't leave,” he said. “We were almost done with our ark and were training the animals to march in two-by-two, but we just didn't make it.”
    Mark Babineck, “New Orleans zoo animals survive Katrina’s wrath”, Reuters 5 Sep 2005
    A concrete slab that was once a $1,000,000 home that had nothing left but a gleaming white porcelain toilet sitting in the middle of it. No walls, no lumber, just the toilet. It was also the whitest toilet I have ever seen.
    Listening to a Navy chief tell his troops that they were not allowed to search for their homes (or the remnant thereof) because there was a job to do.
    The vapid look of animals that were abandoned and made it through.
    A big, beautiful deer, lying on its side, bloated but disturbingly clean.
    The houses in the middle of the road in Pass Christian, perfectly intact.
    The tree cutter who survived Katrina on the shore front by clinging to a tree.
    Josh Norman, Eye of the Storm, 1 Sep 2005
  • There are one or two living men, who, a couplepageturnof centuries hence, will be remembered as Descartes is now, because they have produced great thoughts which will live and grow as long as mankind lasts.
    If the twenty-first century studies their history, it will find that the Christianity of the middle of the nineteenth century recognised them only as objects of vilification. It is for you and such as you, Christian young men, to say whether this shall be as true of the Christianity of the future as it is of that of the present. I appeal to you to say “No,” in your own interest, and in that of the Christianity you profess.
    In the interest of Science, no appeal is needful; as Dante sings of Fortune
    Pur da color, che le dovrian dar lode
    Dandole biasmo a torto e mala voce.
    Ma elle s’ è beata, e ciò non ode :
    Con l’altre prime creature lieta
    Volve sua spera, e beat si gode:”
    so, whatever evil voices may rage, Science, secure among the powers that are eternal, will do her work and be blessed.
    Thomas H. Huxley, “Descartes’ Discourse on Method”, in:
    Methods and results. (New York and London: D. Appleton, s.d. [1893?]) 197–198 (a version of this is available at The Huxley File); Dante, Inferno 7:90–95 (trans. W. M. Rossetti)
  • Thus, although we are mere sojourners on the surface of the planet, chained to a mere point in space, enduring but for a moment of time, the human mind is not only enabled to number worlds beyond the unassisted ken of mortal eye, but to trace the events of indefinite ages before the creation of our race, and is not even withheld from penetrating into the dark secrets of the ocean, or the interior of the solid globe; free, like the spirit which the poet described as animating the universe,
    ——ire per omnes
    Terrasque, tractusque maris, cœlumque profundum.
    Charles Lyell, Scientific Papers. In Harvard Classics
    (New York: P. F. Collier, 1909–1914) 38pt8:4 [from Bartleby.com]
  • Au monastère d'Assise, un moine avait un accent grossier, qui puait sa Calabre. Ses compagnons se moquaient de lui. Or il était susceptible; il en vint à ne plus ouvrir la bouche que lorsqu'il s'agissait a'annoncer un accident, un malheur, enfin quelque événement en soi assez grave pour que son accent eût chance de passer inaperçu. Cependant, il aimait parler: il lui arriva d'inventer des catastrophes. Comme il était sincère, il alla jusqu'à en provoquer.
    Jean Paulhan, Les Fleurs de Tarbes (1941), pt1c3, in Œuvres complètes
    (Paris: Cercle de Livre Précieux, s.d) 3:33
  • Der Sinn versteht etwas nur dadurch, daß er es als Keim in sich aufnimmt, es nährt und wachsen läßt bis zur Blüte und Frucht. Also heiligen Samen streuet in den Boden des Geistes, ohne Künstelei und müßige Ausfüllungen.
    Friedrich Schlegel, Ideen 5, (Behler 2:223)
    See Der Boden des Geistes
  • L’état social, comme l’etat hypnotique, n’est qu’une forme du rêve, un rêve de commande & un rêve en action. N’avoir que des idées suggérées & les croire spontanées : telle est l’illusion propre au somnambule et aussi bien à l’homme social.
    Gabriel Tarde, Les lois de l’imitation (Paris: Félix Alcan, 2e éd., 1895) 88;
    see “Dream States” for a translation)