The very globe we live on is a far more interesting sphere than it can have been when men supposed that men like themselves would be on it to the end of time. It is only since we heard what Darwin had to say … that the Book of Life has taken so strong a hold on us and “once taken up, cannot,” as the reviewers say, “readily be laid down.” The work doesn’t strike us as a masterpiece yet, certainly; but who knows that it isn’t—that it won’t be, judged as a whole?
When Nature intends anyone to be a highly cultivated artist, she generally forces them on by condemning them to fiendishness or loutishness until they fulfil her intention. However, there must be exceptions to this, except perhaps as to the fiendishness.
FAITH, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
… critics can usually be found to defend any nonsense and see in it proof of the subtlety of the author’s thought.
… there ain’t nothing you can do with a bag of crap except bury it.
The rise of slavery in the South was inevitable only in the sense that every event in history seems inevitable after it has occurred.
In the future, etiquette will become more and more important. That doesn’t mean knowing which fork to pick up—I mean basic consideration for the rights of other animals (human beings included) and the willingness, whenever practical, to tolerate the other guy’s idiosyncracies.
We live in a world where people preach at you constantly (like now, even)—telling you not to be fat, you can’t smoke, you can’t eat butter, sugar will kill you, everything is bad for you—especially sex. Every natural human urge has been thwarted in one way or another, so that some cocksucker gets to make a dollar off your guilt.
No quarter whatever should be given to the bigotry of people so unfit for social life as to insist not only that their own prejudices and superstitions should have the fullest toleration but that everybody else should be compelled to think and act as they do.
This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.
By most writers the invention of gunpowder is ascribed to the Chinese, but not upon very convincing evidence. Milton says it was invented by the devil to dispel angels with, and this opinion seems to derive some support from the scarcity of angels.
It is said that every people has the Government it deserves. It is more to the point that every Government has the electorate it deserves; for the orators of the front bench can edify or debauch an ignorant electorate at will. Thus our democracy moves in a vicious circle of reciprocal worthiness and unworthiness.
From the beginning you are immortal and children of eternal life. You wished to take death to yourselves as your portion in order that you might destroy it and annihilate it utterly, and that death might die in you and through you. For when you destroy the world and yourselves are not destroyed, then you are lords over the whole creation and over all decay.
To the small part of ignorance that we can arrange and classify we give the name Knowledge.
One legend of Alexandria, probably false, states that the library was still intact when Muslims captured the city in the seventh century. The emir Amrou Ibn El-Ass, having conquered Alexandria in 642, wrote to the caliph Omar asking (in part) what must be done with the library (and hoping against hope that the caliph would spare this great treasure). But the warlike and uncompromising Omar replied with the most stunning “heads I win, tails you lose” in all human history. The books, he proclaimed, are either contrary to the Koran, in which case they are heretical and must be destroyed, or they are consonant with the Koran, in which case they are superfluous and must also be destroyed. The contents of the library were therefore burned to heat water in the public baths of Alexandria. The books and scrolls kept the fires going for six months.
Omar will never win any praise from intellectuals, but I do grasp his point in an entirely reversed way. Microdictyon and Halkieria are, in a sense, either heretical (if lying outside the range of modern forms) or superfluous (if lying inside). But in either case, they are equally wonderful and worthy of our most cherished interest and protection—and in this judgment lies the difference between most of us and the enemies of the light. In this lies the turf that we must defend at all costs.
Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.
MIRACLE, n. An act or event out of the order of nature and unaccountable, as beating a normal hand of four kings and an ace with four aces and a king.
When a donkey flies, you don’t blame him for not staying up too long.
It has been argued that complete objectivity is impossible, since scholars are human beings, with their own loyalties and biases. This is no doubt true, but does not affect the issue. To borrow an analogy, any surgeon will admit that complete asepsis is also impossible, but one does not, for that reason, perform surgery in a sewer.
PATRIOT, n. One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.
Patriotism, though it is based upon the natural and indeed instinctive love of home, has been elevated in the modern world into an unparalleled congeries of imbecilities. What it demands of the individual citizen, as a practical matter, is that he yield not only his judgment but also his property and even his life to whatever gang of scheming politicians happen to be in power. The essence of his virtue as a patriot is that he ask not questions, once the band is set to playing.
POLITICS, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.
And it strikes me as gruesome and comical that in our culture we have an expectation that a man can always solve his problems. There is the implication that if you just have a little more energy, a little more fight, the problem can always be solved. This is so untrue that it makes me want to cry—or laugh. Culturally American men aren’t supposed to cry. So I don’t cry much—but I do laugh a lot. When I think about a stupid, uneducated black junkie in this city, and then I run into some optimist who feels that any man can lift himself above his origins if he’s any good—that’s something to cry about or laugh about. A sort of braying, donkeylike laugh. But every laugh counts, because every laugh feels like a laugh.
…we so easily make the mistake of assuming that our world—the world perceived by human senses—is the “real” world. A particular bit of forest is a very different place to a caterpillar, a bird, or a man living there. We naturally describe the forest in the way we see it—which works for most human purposes. But it doesn’t necessarily work if we are trying to understand the behavior of the bird or the caterpillar.
RELIGION, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.
Latter-day Protestantism, by selecting the humaner passages of the Bible, and teaching them to the world, whilst allowing those of a different sort to lie dormant, has produced the highest and purest and best individuals which modern society has known. Thus used, the Bible is the most valuable of books. but the strongly-worded authority for all the religious atrocities of the Middle Ages is still in it, and some day or other it may again become as heavy a curse to the world as it formerly was. The devastating powers of the Book are only suspended, not extinguished. An Expurgated Bible would not be an unuseful thing.
…I have never seen much point in getting heavy with either stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don’t bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone. They will not inherit the earth, but then neither will I….
How dangerous is the apparently pious doctrine that the Christian religion is a part of the common law. If it be true, all who disbelieve that religion are habitual breakers of the law. The Jew, the Hindoo, the Pagan, are perpetual malefactors . . . . It is a melancholy truth, that those who believe in one God, have been more intolerant than Pagans. Polytheism, however erroneous, by allowing the worship of numerous Gods, became indulgent to the introduction of many new ones. But the Mohammedans, the Jews, and above all, I am compelled to say, the Christians, have been guilty of the cruelest persecutions that ever afflicted the human race.
A penalty of the scholar’s vocation to which he must steel himself is the reading of rubbish….
In the course of our visit a discussion arose as to the credibility of any Negro assertion, though, indeed, that could hardly be called a discussion that was simply a chorus of assenting opinions. No Negro was to be believed on any occasion or anyh subject. No doubt they are habitual liars, for they are slaves; but there are some thrice honorable exceptions, who, being slaves, are yet not liars; and certainly the vice results much more from the circumstances in which they are placed than from any natural tendency to untruth in their case. The truth is that they are always considered as false and deceitful, and it is very seldom that any special investigation of the facts of any particular case is resorted to in their behalf. They are always prejudged on their supposed general characteristics, and never judged after the fact on the merit of any special instance.
Whenever a critic makes much use of a higher truth you may suppose he is trying to conceal a lower falsity.
…I have always found that the only kind of statement worth making is an overstatement. A half truth, like half a brick, is always more forcible as an argument than a whole one. It carries further.
Any fanciful way of naming the days would be bad, as too sharply differentiating one day from another. What we must strive for in the Dawn is that every day shall be as nearly as possible like every other day.
If one does not stand in the darkness, he will not be able to see the light.
Any man can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he’s supposed to be doing.
…we so easily make the mistake… The Forest and the Sea (New York, 1960), p. 142. Bates distinguishes among the perceptual environment (“including only the elements perceived by the organism”), the effective environment (“including all elements which affect the organism, whether perceived or not”), and total reality (“including all elements that can be detected or inferred, whether they influence the organism in any way or not”).
The very globe we live on… From the opening paragraph of “Quia Imperfectum” in And Even Now; p. 110 in my copy.
See also H. G. W*lls.
Any man can do… Quoted by Nathaniel Benchley in the Los Angeles Times for 12 December 1981
By most writers… from The Devil’s Dictionary; p. 125 in my copy.
FAITH… from The Devil’s Dictionary; p. 95 in my copy.
MIRACLE… from The Devil’s Dictionary; p. 218 in my copy.
PATRIOT… from The Devil’s Dictionary; p. 248 in my copy.
POLITICS… from The Devil’s Dictionary; p. 258 in my copy.
RELIGION… from The Devil’s Dictionary; p. 283 in my copy.
To the small part of ignorance… from Epigrams; p. 376 in volume viii of the Collected Works; I originally got it in an altered form by Leonard Louis Levinson, Webster’s Unafraid Dictionary, p. 130. Levinson writes: “A great number of the contributions were never said or written in word-definition form but were edited, revised and sometimes reversed to make them fit our requirements and framework.” (xii)
Latter-day Protestantism… untitled MS, in the University of Iowa edition of What is Man and other writings, pp. 57-8.
…there ain't nothin' you can do… From John Seelye, The True Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, p. 15.
Stephen Jay Gould:
One legend of Alexandria… “Enigmas of the Small Shellies,” in Natural History, October 1990, p. 17.
W. W. Greg:
… critics can usually be found…. The Shakespeare First Folio, Oxford, 1955, p. 270.
Jesus of Nazareth:
If one does not stand in the darkness… Dialogue of the Savior, 133.23-4.
Know what is in front…. Gospel of Thomas, logion 5 (Scholars Version); the Jesus Seminar gives the first part a gray rating and the second part a pink, for those who are interested in “authenticity”.
In the course of our visit… Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation in 1838-1839 (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1961) p. 155
…I have always found… From the preface to The Garden of Folly, New York, 1924. The quotation is the conclusion of the preface, on page x.
It has been argued that complete objectivity… From “In Defense of History,” Proceedings, American Philosophical Society (vol. 143, no. 4, 1999), p. 586.
This is a world of compensations… from a speech given in Cincinnati in 1859, cited in Stephen B. Oates, Abraham Lincoln: The Man Behind the Myths, Harper & Row, 1984, p. 76. From the Complete Works 3:376?
H. L. Mencken:
Patriotism, though it is based… Minority Report, pp. 115-6.
A penalty of the scholar’s vocation… Shakespeare’s Lives, first edition, p. 373. See also pp. 529-30: “The historian may lament the necessity of having to make his way through thousands of pages of rubbish, some of it lunatic rubbish. He must, however, reckon the heretical movements as part of his story, for anti-biography is, after all, an aspect of biography.”
It is said that every people… Complete Plays, I 452. From the preface to Heartbreak House.
No quarter whatever… Complete Plays, V 235. From the preface to The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet.
When Nature intends… Letter to Ellen Terry, 24 June 1892, found on p. 4 of Ellen Terry and Bernard Shaw; A Correspondence.
When a donkey flies… from the final episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Murray Slaughter was a character on that show; I don’t have the name of the writer for this particular show.
Whenever a critic… “The Present State of Old Testament Studies,” in JBL [volume number missing] p. 21.
Kenneth M. Stampp:
The rise of slavery in the South… The Peculiar Institution (New York, 1956), p. 5.
How dangerous is… from a speech in defense of a 7th Day Adventist accused of breaking the Sabbath laws, apparently unpublished, quoted by Fawn Brodie, pp. 54-5.
Hunter S. Thompson:
I have never seen much point… Rolling Stone #214, 3 June 1976.
From the beginning you are immortal… From Werner Foester, Gnosis 1:242. This is fragment 4 of Valentinus, from a lost homily quoted by Clement of Alexandria (Strom IV 13 = § 89, 2-3).
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.:
And it strikes me as gruesome… Playboy Interview, 1973.
H. G. W*lls:
Any fanciful way… From Max Beerbohm’s H. G. Wells parody, “Perkins and Mankind,” in A Christmas Garland, 1912.
In the future, etiquette… The Real Frank Zappa Book, 233.