A Garden (Slough? Jungle? Compost heap?) of Quotations

or perhaps, in the words of Mrs. Malaprop, “a nice derangement of epitaphs”

For years I’ve been writing down gems of expression when I encountered
them. There’s no obvious way to organize such a gallimaufry, since the
items come from the full range of my interests and enthusiasms. To
qualify for admission, the item has to have tickled some particular fancy
(particularly nasty weather…) and also has to have done the
tickling when I had a piece of paper and a pen handy, and felt like
copying it out. And the item has to have survived the vicissitudes of
years of hoarding and cackling over the wit on bits of paper and 3×5
cards. A solitary vice, usually, though from time to time I’ve regaled
others with subsets of the corpus.

Perhaps putting these into a (potentially) hypertext format will inspire
me to evolving an organization that’s useful. Some have lost their
sources and attributions, and laying them out may inspire me to find them
once again. Many are tips of icebergs, caudal appendages (thereby hangs
a tale…), Pandora’s Boxes. Some are rocks out from under which can
slither some VERY odd things.

In this iteration of the page I’ll add new material at the top (formerly it was Lovingly Ordered)

“There are,” said Twain, “certain sweet-smelling, sugarcoated lies current in the world which all politic men have apparently tacitly conspired together to support and perpetuate… We are discreet sheep; we wait to see how the drove is going and then go with the drove. We have two opinions: one private, which we are afraid to express, and another one — the one we use — which we force ourselves to wear to please Mrs. Grundy.”

Lewis Lapham, Winter 2014 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly

In the troubled sea of the world’s ambition, men rise by gravity, sink by levity…

Lewis Lapham, Winter 2014 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.

Hunter S. Thompson, as cited by Amanda Palmer

At this point in my life, I either buy hay or experiences

Eleanor River, who raises sheep

says the protagonist’s tutor:

I am a student of language, Mr. Healey. You write with fluency and conviction, you talk with authority and control. A complex idea here, an abstract proposition there, you juggle with them, play with them, seduce them. There is no movement from doubt to comprehension, no breaking down, no questioning, no excitement. You try to persuade others, never yourself. You recognise patterns, but you rearrange them where you should analyse them. In short, you do not think. You have never thought. You have never said to me anything that you believe to be true, only things which sound true and perhaps even ought to be true: things that, for the moment, are in character with whatever persona you have adopted for the afternoon. You cheat, you short-cut, you lie. It’s too wonderful.

(Stephen Fry The Liar pp35-36)

…the important difference between curves that go whoosh
versus those that go doink doink doink…

Matthew Allen, via Bruce Sterling

We are all prisoners in the aspic of our time.

Terry Pratchett, in an interview in The Guardian, 12 December 2009

To fashion stars out of dog dung, that is the Great Work.

Alexandra David-Neel, quoting a Bhutanese naljorpa [‘holy man’]

The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard once observed that,
despite our persistent belief to the contrary, our ignorance is rarely a
blank slate waiting to be written upon. Instead, it has the assured grip
of deeply felt, fully formed (if unarticulated) assumptions which –no
matter how hard we try to shake them– prove dismayingly durable, even
regarding the simplest things.

John Thorne, Simple Cooking
55:2 (Sept-Dec 1997)

…a pig through a python…

Of a librarian:

Helen, marvelling at Joyce’s capacity for self-protection,
often wondered at her choice of career. It had something to do with
order, she decided; Joyce mistrusted books for their content, but liked
the way they could be marshalled. The readers were simply an
unlooked-for hazard.

Penelope Lively, Passing On, 63

George Burney was asked at the age of 93 what sex was like. He replied
‘like playing billiards with a rope’.

From a Polish hotel menu: Salad a firm’s own make; limpid red beet soup
with cheesy dumplings in the form of fingers; roast duck let loose; beef
rashers beaten in the country people’s fashion.

Jonathan Swift: What is the conscience but a pair of breeches which while
it serves as a cloak both for lewdness and nastiness, may be readily let
down in the service of either?

Adlai Stevenson: Flattery is alright if you don’t inhale.

(from John Murray’s A Gentleman Publisher’s Commonplace Book)

Patrick O’Brian on Pudding

[James A.H. Murray] liked to tell the story of a dream he
claimed to have had of Dr. Johnson. Johnson was speaking of his
Dictionary and Boswell, in an impish mood, asked “what would you say,
Sir, if you were told that in a hundred years’ time a bigger and better
dictionary than yours would be compiled by a Whig?” Johnson grunted. “A
Dissenter?” Johnson stirred in his chair. “A Scotsman.” Johnson began
“Sir…” but Boswell persisted “–and that the University of Oxford would
publish it.” “Sir,” thundered Johnson, “in order to be facetious it is
not necessary to be indecent.”

K.M. Elizabeth Murray
Caught in the Web of Words, 188

A French politician once wrote that it was a peculiarity of
the French language that in it words occur in the order in which one
thinks them.

Ludwig Wittgenstein Philosophische Untersuchungen I, 108e

New Englanders respect
privacy and practicality;
they cultivate their social conscience in their own ways and are
suspicious of experts;
tend to distrust public displays of emotion but
savor the private indulgences of the senses;
honor wit over
prefer understatement to pleasantries;
character over opportunism;
are suspicious of dogma;
their consciences and vote their prejudices;
prefer the yarn to
the sermon and the abrasive to the sonorous;
often mistake
education for morality;
tend to confuse art with
pretend to understand the difference between luxury
and comfort;
feign to fathom the eloquence of silence;
significance in boundaries;
negotiate neighbors with reason and
relatives with tolerance;
are eager to plunder a practical idea
but remain standoffish near an emotion.

(from Donald
Junkins “New England as Region and Idea: looking over the tafferel of
our craft” Massachusetts Review XXVI 2&3 pp

I brought virtually no context to the record. I simply took it home, put
it on, and had my life changed.

I heard a sound I’d never heard before,
but which, for some reason, I connected to. It was what Herman Melville
called the shock of recognition –and for me that
shock has always been the realization that you have recognized something
nothing could have led you to expect to recognize. The question turns out
not to be what-makes-the-music-great, but why you recognized its greatness
when, all things considered, you shouldn’t have understood it at all, or
even stumbled upon it in the first place…

(from Greil Marcus
“When you walk in the
room”, in The Dustbin of History [E169.04 .M365 1995], pg. 144)

on pedestrian research:
“…the onanistic pursuit of academic simulacritude”

(Garth Boomer in Goswami and Stillman Reclaiming the Classroom, 6)

You know where we come from here –whence we derive, I mean.
We are clerks, medieval clerks leading this mental life that is natural
and healthy only to men serving a transcendental idea. But have we that
now? And what, then, does all this thinking, poring, analysing, arguing
become –what but so much agony of pent-up and thwarted action? The
ceaseless driving of natural physiological energy into narrow channels of
mentation and intellection –don’t you think it’s dangerous? Don’t you
think we could be a dangerous, unbalanced caste once the purposes have
gone and the standards are vanishing? Don’t you think it?

(Michael Innes, Death at the President’s Lodging, 80)

Anyone who imagines that all fruits ripen at the same time as
the strawberries knows nothing about grapes.

Paracelsus [1493-1541]

Oh, how he hated grant proposals. The hollow promises; the
vaunting celebration of past success; the self-advertising emphasis on

importance and significance; the absence of understatement;
the omnipresence of exaggeration; the servile allegiance to tradition,
formula, and established procedure; the utter predictability of every
other sentence; the implicit greed of the genre…

David Carkeet Double Negative, 31

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there
is no path and leave a trail.

Anon., in Pickover

Several from Smilla’s Sense of Snow:

Language is a hologram (146)

Every attempt to compare cultures with the intention of determining which
is the most developed will never be anything other than one more bullshit
projection of Western culture’s hatred of its own shadows. (188)

I’ve always been fascinated by the melancholy shamelessness with which
Danes accept the enormous gap between their common sense and their
actions… (218)

People hold their lives together by means of the clock. If you make a
slight change, something interesting nearly always happens. (57)

One of the signs that your life needs cleaning up is when your posessions
gradually, overwhelmingly consist of things that you borrowed a long
time ago but now it’s too late to give them back because you’d rather
shave your head than confront the bogeyman who is the rightful owner…

A university is a reading and discussion club.
If students knew how to use the library, they wouldn’t need
the rest of the buildings. The faculty’s job, in great part,
is to teach students how to use a library in a living way.
All a student should really need is access to the library
and a place to sleep.

John Ciardi, in Ciardi Himself, 1989

They had in fact nothing to wish for, but the marriage of
Colonel Brandon and Marianne, and rather better pasturage for their

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility,

You can’t let the little pricks generation-gap you.

Molly, in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, 59

Scribbling while driving is to dance before the sleeping tiger.

J. Baldwin

The spread of specialized deafness means that someone who
ought to know something that someone else knows isn’t able to find it out
for lack of generalized ears.

Kenneth Boulding 1956:198

He is an English professor, Renaissance, and as is the case
with a good many academics, his essential kindness is somewhat damaged by
wit. And a finished reserve.

Carol Shields, The Box Garden, 100

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its
opponents, but rather because its opponents die, and a new generation
grows up that is familiar with it.

Max Planck

The existence of the relationship is not rendered noticeably
less puzzling by the discovery of its mathematical expression.

Marshall 1969:105

The data, unfortunately, did not share our enthusiasm for the
hypothesized pattern.

Leik and Matthews 1968

So flexible is the concept that it may be employed at any
level from that of acorns [Winston, 1956] or pieces of dung [Mohr, 1943]
to that of the universe itself.


For fools admire and like all things the more which they
perceive to be concealed under involved language and determine things to
be true which can prettily tickle the ears and are varnished over with
finely sounding phrases.


Wild reindeer can be more easily domesticated than wild
horses, owing to their taste for human urine; this makes it possible to
teach them to stay near the camp.


…’the uninhabited parts of the world, where the heathen
dwell’, to quote from an apocryphal sermon by a Church of England

Lattimore 1962:27

Alexander in his discussion of similar difficulties (1940:42)
remarks that one informant became deaf during the interview and one

Pickford 1956:214

Another sort there be who, when they hear that all things
shall be ordered, all things regulated and settled, nothing written but
what passes through the custom-house of certain Publicans that have the
tonnaging and poundaging of all free-spoken truth, will straight give
themselves up into your hands, make ’em and cut ’em out what religion
you please: there be delights, there be recreations and jolly pastimes
that will fetch the day about from sun to sun, and rock the tedious year
as in a delightful dream. What need they torture their heads with that
which others have taken so strictly and so unalterably into their own
purveying? These are the fruits which a dull ease and cessation of our
knowledge bring forth among the people. How goodly and how to be wished
were such an obedient unanimity as this. what a fine conformity would it
starch us all into! Doubtless a staunch and solid piece of framework, as
any January could freeze together.

John Milton,

Revelation came to Luther in a privy
Crosswords have been
solved there
Rodin was no fool
When he cast his
Cogitating deeply
Crouched in the position
Of a man at

(from Auden’s The Geography of the House, but for many years just a remembered fragment)

Herbert Spencer:

Evolution is an integration of matter and
concomitant dissipation of motion; during which the matter passes from an
indefinite, incoherent homogeneity, to a definite, coherent
heterogeneity, through continuous differentiations and


A change from a nohowish, untalkaboutable
all-alikeness to a somehowish and in general talkaboutable
not-all-alikeness by continuous somethingelseifications and

Jones 1994 The Language of

We know
what a masquerade all development is, and what effective shapes may be
disguised in helpless embryos –in fact, the world is full of hopeful
analogies and handsome dubious eggs called possibilities. (82)

The troublesome ones in a family are usually the wits or the idiots. (298)

The soul of man, when it gets fairly rotten, will bear you all sorts of
poisonous toadstools, and no eye can see whence came the seed
thereof. (401)

…it is a little too trying to human flesh to be conscious of expressing
one’s self better than others and never to have it noticed, and in the
general dearth of admiration for the right thing, even a chance bray of
applause falling exactly in time is rather fortifying. (452)

George Eliot, Middlemarch

Anyone who has ever moved will agree:

The Age of Property
holds bitter moments even for a proprietor. When a move is imminent,
furniture becomes ridiculous… Chairs, tables, pictures, books, that
had rumbled down to them through the generations, must rumble forward
again like a slide of rubbish to which she longed to give the final push,
and send toppling into the sea. But there were all their father’s books
–they never read them, but they were their father’s, and must be kept…

“…Only some rubbish about furniture. Helen says it alone endures while
men and houses perish, and that in the end the world will be a desert of
chairs and sofas –just imagine it!– rolling through infinity with no
one to sit upon them.” (151)

Forster, Howard’s End

And of course there’s The Annotated Pratchett File,
as an example of the breadths these things
can reach in the hands of the obsessed…

Esther, having thus fulfilled her obligations to her friends,
forgot them both instantly, and returned her attention to a volume called

and a German monograph on Sodoma;
works which she was reading and annotating by her own interleaved system,
a system which had evolved from her own inability to concentrate fully on
any one topic for more than 10 minutes. It had thrown up some very
challenging cross-references in its time, and she was at the moment
pursuing lichenology as a method of dating the antiquity of landscape: a
gratifyingly pointless and therefore pure pursuit which enabled her mind
to wander in the direction of Italy… and read on, waiting for some
little current to leap from one page or the other, from one lobe of the
brain to the other, and to ignite a new twig of meaning, to fill a small
new cell in her storehouse of erudition. She was content with twigs and
cells, or so it seemed. Sometimes, when accused of eccentricity or
indeed perversity of vision, she would claim that all knowledge must
always be omnipresent in all things, and that one could startle oneself
into seeing the whole by tweaking unexpectedly at the surprised corner of
the great mantle…

Margaret Drabble The Radiant Way pp

The dirty, tangled roots of childhood twisted back forever
and ever, beyond all knowing. Impacted, interwoven, scrubby,
interlocked, fibrous, cantakerous, tuberous, ancient, matted. Back in
the artificial pleasure ground, the dear, solitary, carefully nurtured
groups of saplings stood and shivered in loneliness, straight and slim,
sad and forlorn. Their roots in artificial loam, reared in artificial
fibre pots, carefully separate. Tastefully arranged, fruitlessly

Margaret Drabble The Middle Ground
pg 132

For my money, one of the greatest passages in a remarkable book, the sort
of writing to which ethnography should aspire:

The Gudgers’ house, being young, only eight years old, smells
a little dryer and cleaner, and more distinctly of its wood, than an
average white tenant house, and it has also a certain odor I have never
found in other such houses: aside from these sharp and yet slight
subtleties, it has the odor or odors which are classical in every
thoroughly poor white southern country house, and by which such a house
could be identified blindfold in any part of the world, among no matter
what other odors. It is compacted of many odors and made into one, which
is very thin and light on the air, and more subtle than it can seem in
analysis, yet very sharply and constantly notable. These are its
ingredients. The odor of pine lumber, wide, thin cards of it, heated in
the sun, in no way doubled or insulated, in closed and darkened air. The
odor of woodsmoke, the fuel being again mainly pine, but in part also,
hickory, oak, and cedar. The odors of cooking. Among these, most
strongly, the odors of fried salt pork and of fried and boiled pork lard,
and second, the odor of cooked corn. The odors of sweat in many stages
of age and freshness, this sweat being a distillation of pork, lard,
corn, woodsmoke, pine, and ammonia. The odors of sleep, of bedding and
of breathing, for the ventilation is poor. The odors of all the dirt
that in the course of time can accumulate in a quilt and matress. Odors
of staleness from clothes hung or stored away, not washed. I should
further describe the odor of corn: in sweat, or on the teeth, and breath,
when it is eaten as much as they eat it, it is of a particular sweet
stuffy fetor, to which the nearest parallel is the odor of the yellow
excrement of a baby. All these odors as I have said are so combined into
one that they are all and always present in balance, not at all heavy,
yet so searching that all fabrics of bedding and clothes are saturated
with them, and so clinging that they stand softly out of the fibers of
newly laundered clothes. Some of their components are extremely
‘pleasant’, some are ‘unpleasant’; their sum total has great nostalgic
power. When they are in an old house, darkened, and moist, and sucked
into all the wood, and stacked down on top of years of a moldering and
old basis of themselves, as at the Ricketts’, they are hard to get used
to or even hard to bear. At the Woods’, they are blowsy and somewhat
moist or dirty. At the Gudgers’, as I have mentioned, they are younger,
lighter, and cleaner-smelling. There too, there is another and special
odor, very dry and edged: it is somewhere between the odor of very old
newsprint and of a victorian bedroom in which, after long illness, and
many medicines, someone has died and the room has been fumigated, yet the
odor of dark brown medicines, dry-bodied sickness, and staring death,
still is strong in the stained wallpaper and in the

James Agee Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, pp

Other people gather up such commonplace fragments, of course. One such
is A science communicator’s quotation kit (“Instant erudition arranged by Ian Russell”)

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