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 3x5 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.

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 rhetoric;
prefer understatement to pleasantries;
encourage character over opportunism;
are suspicious of dogma;
discuss 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 decoration;
pretend to understand the difference between luxury and comfort;
feign to fathom the eloquence of silence;
find 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 202-203)

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.
Philippus 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 1994:255

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... (115-116)

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 cows.
Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility, 374-5

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.
Stoddart 1967:534

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.
Lattimore 1940:327fn
(and see this addendum)

...'the uninhabited parts of the world, where the heathen dwell', to quote from an apocryphal sermon by a Church of England divine.
Lattimore 1962:27

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

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

(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 integrations.
A change from a nohowish, untalkaboutable all-alikeness to a somehowish and in general talkaboutable not-all-alikeness by continuous somethingelseifications and sticktogetherations.
Jones 1994 The Language of Genes

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... (141)

"...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 86-87

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 deployed.

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 mattress.

James Agee Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, pp 154-155

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