Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Quotations #019

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." -- Sören Kierkegaard

"The great achievements of the past were the adventures of adventurers of the past. Only the adventurous can understand the greatness of the past." -- Alfred North Whitehead

"One day spent in the chamber of instruction is better for you than eternity outside it; the works thereof endure like the mountains." -- ancient Egyptian father's advice to a son (King, 19).

"Undoubtedly the desire for food has been, and still is, one of the main causes of great political events." -- Bertrand Russell

"Though we say that we cannot see the future, its conditions lie all around us. They are as if encrypted. We cannot read them because we lack the key (which will be in our hands only when it is too late to use it). But we see their coded fragments and must call them something. Many aspects of our own contemporary culture might be called premonitory shivers: panicky renderings of unreadable messages about the kind of society we are creating. Our dominating passion, after all, is to give life meaning, even if sometimes a hideous one." - Philip A. Kuhn, Soulstealers: The Chinese Sorcery Scare of 1768, Harvard UP, 1990, p. 1.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Square Eggs

Hard-boiled eggs being a very important dietary component of at least one annual holiday, it's hard to view them as "fun." But one of my favorite things in the kitchen is the egg cuber. We're going to see if our 3-year old will be more interested in eggs if they're square.

Quotations #018

"The empires of the future are the empires of the mind." -- Winston Churchill, speech at Harvard, 6 Sept. 1943

''Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.'' -- Philo of Alexandria, (early Jewish philosopher)

"A civilization, like a person, is no mechanically arranged game of solitaire; the knowledge of fragments, studied by turns, each for its own sake, will never produce the knowledge of the whole; it will not even produce that of the fragments themselves." -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 155.

"If any man wishes to write a clear style, let him first be clear in his thoughts." -- Johann W. von Goethe

"When two cultures collide is the only time when true suffering exists." -- Hermann Hesse

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Quotations #017

"It is useful to ask oneself questions, but very dangerous to answer them." -- Charles Seignobos, cited in Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 17.

"Success is simply a matter of luck. Ask any failure." -- Earl Wilson

"To the great despair of historians, men fail to change their vocabulary every time they change their customs. " -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 34.

"It is the preoccupation with possessions more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly." -- Bertrand Russell

"The aim of education is the knowledge not of facts but of values." -- William Ralph Inge, "The Training of the Reason"

Friday, November 26, 2004

Quotations #016

"Man is a history-making creature who can neither repeat his past, nor leave it behind." - W. H. Auden, "D. H. Lawrence"

"The true scholar should be the first to become anxious about the world's troubles and the last to enjoy its happiness." -- Fan Chung-yen (Song, 989-1052).

"The moving finger writes; and having writ, / Moves on: nor all thy piety and wit / Shall lure it back to cancel half a line, / Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it." -- The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

"Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense." -- Mark Twain

"The greatest danger to human beings is their consciousness of the trivialities of their aims." -- Gerard Brennan

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Thursday Poem: Thanksgiving Eve

I thought I'd take a break from the quotations and combine one of the blogosphere's more interesting traditions -- Thursday poems -- with the Thanksgiving holiday. This is, as most of my poetry posts will probably be, a song actually, in this case by Bob Franke, though I learned it via Garnet Rogers' recording, which omits the last verse.

Thanksgiving Eve
Words & Music by Bob Franke

It's so easy to dream of the days gone by
It's a hard thing to think of the times to come
But the grace to accept ev'ry moment as a gift
Is a gift that is given to some
What can you do with your days but work & hope
Let your dreams bind your work to your play
What can you do with each moment of your life
But love til you've loved it away
Love til you've loved it away
There are sorrows enough for the whole world's end
There are no guarantees but the grave
And the life that I live & the time I have spent
Are a treasure too precious to save
As it was so it is, as it is shall it be
And it shall be while lips that kiss have breath
Many waters indeed only nurture Love's seed
And its flower overshadows the power of death
©1982 Telephone Pole Music Publishing Co. (BMI)

(the index of other lyrics and poetry I've posted is here)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Quotations #015

"Any event, once it has occurred, can be made to appear inevitable by any competent journalist or historian." -- Joseph Pulitzer

"A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence...." David Hume, "On Miracles" (cited in Reilly II, 160)

"Sapere aude! 'Have courage to use your own reason!' -- that is the motto of enlightenment." -- Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason (cited in Reilly II, 162)

"A country without a memory is a country of madmen." -- George Santayana

"The scholar is content to ask: 'Why?' and he accepts the fact that the answer may not be simple." -- Marc Bloch

Monday, November 22, 2004

Quotations #014

"If power corrupts, weakness in the seat of power, with its constant necessity of deals and bribes and compromising arrangements, corrupts even more." -- Barbara Tuchman

"History is the record of an encounter between character and circumstance." -- Donald Creighton

"Whenever a fellow tells me he is bipartisan, I know he's going to vote against me." -- Harry S. Truman

"When a man says he approves of something in principle, it means he hasn't the slightest intention of putting it into practice." -- Otto von Bismarck

"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." -- Mark Twain

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Failed Messiahs

Someday I'd like to try my hand at fiction, and these are the kinds of raw materials I need:

This was a dream; some dreams deserve to be shared.

A while back, sometime around the 17th century, someone tried to force the Messiah to come. This is a theme that runs through some Chassidic and Kabbalistic folklore: the wonder-working rabbi who attempts to force Heaven into action through acts of intense faith and perseverence. Fasting and meditation are usually involved, and the attempt -- to bind Satan or end Death or bring the Messiah -- always fails through a momentary lapse of humility, concentration, faith.

The attempt to bring the Messiah failed; we don't know why. But the attempt did force a great number of slightly lesser souls to manifest themselves before their appointed ages. The problem is that, without adequate preparation, those souls have not had uniformly good effects: Great souls in unprepared vessels at the wrong moments can do immense harm as well as immense good.

There was a litany of names: you'd recognize most of them, as I did, but it's hard to remember them now. Marx and Stalin and Hitler and Roosevelt and Mandela were in the list, as were a number of scholars (Hegel, Kierkegaard, I think, Bertrand Russell) and writers (G.B. Shaw and Bradbury, I think) and other activists and political leaders whose names escaped me upon waking.

Quotations #013

"If our economy of freedom fails to distribute wealth as ably as it has created it, the road to dictatorship will be open to any man who can persuasively promise security to all." Will and Ariel Durant.

"Tradition is entirely different from habit, even from an excellent habit, since habit is by definition an unconscious acquisition and tends to become mechanical whereas tradition results from a conscious and deliberate acceptance." -- Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music (1947)

"Learning without thinking is labor lost; thinking without learning is perilous." (Analects, II:15)

"The only problems money can solve are money problems. Many of the problems the world faces today are the eventual result of short-term measures taken last century." -- Jay W. Forrester

"A fanatic is one who sticks to his guns whether they're loaded or not." -- Franklin P. Jones

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Quotations #012

"Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them." -- Alfred North Whitehead

"A faith that cannot survive collision with the truth is not worth many regrets." Arthur C. Clarke

"There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge." -- Bertrand Russell

"Both superpowers are dangerous enough (each in its own totally different way) but probably not as dangerous as each is depicted by its adversaries, according to a law I worked out and which, I hope, might one day bear my name. I developed it years ago when living, working, and meditating in a weak, underdeveloped, disorganized, totalitarian country, my own, and, at the same time, reading about it -- its far-seeing dictator, terrifying armaments, and awesome disciplined power -- in the foreign press. My law states that nations, organizations, institutions, bodies, or single human beings are never as powerful, intelligent, far-seeing, efficient, and dangerous as they seem to their enemies." -- Luigi Barzini, The Europeans, p. 219.

"History is a constant race between invention and catastrophe. Education helps but it is never enough. You also must run." -- Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Quotations #011

"No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft." -- H. G. Wells

"In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are only consequences." -- Robert B. Ingersoll

"Those who speak most of progress measure it by quantity and not by quality." -- George Santayana

"Highly organized research is guaranteed to produce nothing new." -- Frank Herbert, Dune.

"True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous and conflicting information." -- Winston Churchill

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Apology Double-play

If history were like baseball, I could tell you whether this was "unprecedented" or "rare" or "something that is statistically pretty normal." Baseball statisticians are incredibly adept and have immense quantities of nice, neat data at their fingertips. I do envy them.

Anyway, two major powers have both issued pretty heartfelt apologies for military errors: China, for a submarine incursion into Japanese waters, and Israel, for killing three Egyptian policemen. Apologies are rare enough in the world. It's nice to see even pretty hardened regimes have the capacity.

No, I don't think this is going to be a streak, or a trend, anymore than the triple-play is a common occurence on the diamond.


We finally got definitive word that there is no money for our hire. Except that our Dear Leader wants us to keep the search "open" in the hopes that the legislature might dribble some money for new hires our way in the spring (like we'd be near the top of that list, anyway, given that .... never mind), never mind that it'd be a twice-picked-over pool by the time we got to it, never mind the unethicality of keeping people on hold, however tenuous, for that long. You mustn't lose hope, Dear Leader said, keep pushing. And people with no hope, people who give up won't make it here, and should just go somewhere else. That explains our faculty retention problem, anyway.

Quotations #010

"Certainty about prediction is an illusion. One thing that history keeps teaching us is that the future is full of surprises and outwits all our certitudes." -- Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

"The impertinent question is the glory and engine of human inquiry. ... Whether reviled or revered in their lifetimes, history's movers framed their questions in ways that were entirely disrespectful of conventional wisdom. Civilization has always advanced in the shimmering wake of its discontents." -- Garry Trudeau, Commencement address, Trinity College, Hartford CT, 2003.

"Not only are there no happy endings, there aren't even any endings." -- Neil Gaiman, American Gods (2001: 483)

"We should do more and engage less in empty talk." -- Deng Xiaoping

"The best way I know of to win an argument is to start by being in the right." -- Quentin Hogg, M.D.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Quotations #009

"A historian has many duties. Allow me to remind you of two which are important. The first is not to slander; the second is not to bore." -- Voltaire

"History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives." -- Abba Eban

"What experience and history teach is this -- that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it." -- G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction

"The dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution is one of those pleasant falsehoods which men repeat after one another till they pass into commonplace, but which all experience refutes." -- J. S. Mill

"The most tragic paradox of our time is to be found in the failure of nation-states to recognize the imperatives of internationalism." -- Chief Justice Earl Warren

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Quotations #008

"Do not say when I have free time I will learn, lest you not have free time." -- Hillel

"Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results." -- Machiavelli

"History, as the study of the past, makes the coherence of what happened comprehensible by reducing events to a dramatic pattern and seeing them in a simple form." -- Johan Huizinga

"The family is the nucleus of civilization" -- Will and Ariel Durant

"History teaches everything, even the future." -- Alphonse de Lamartine

Monday, November 15, 2004

Quotations #007

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

"In history, the fetish of single cause is all too often only the insidious form of search for the responsible person -- hence a value judgment. The judge expresses it as: 'Who is right, and who is wrong?' The scholar is content to ask: 'Why?' and he accepts the fact that the answer may not be simple. Whether as a prejudice of common sense, a postulate of logicians, or a habit of prosecuting attorneys, the monism of cause can be, for history, only an impediment. History seeks for causal wave-trains and is not afraid, since life shows them to be so, to find them multiple. " -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 193-194.

"Prophecy, however honest, is generally a poor substitute for experience." -- Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo

"The fate of empires depends on the education of youth." -- Aristotle

"If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities." -- Voltaire

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Merit in Politics?

NY Times Headline: "G.O.P. Leader Says Specter Must Show He Deserves Chairmanship"

Shouldn't any prospective committee chair be required to be the best qualified member of the majority party? The system, as it stands now, is seniority-based: denying him the chair for political reasons throws the system into potential chaos. Not that that's a bad thing; it would force the parties to be meritocratic, or reveal their political reasons for violating merit-based appointment standards.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Lowering Expections?

Not me; our dear leaders! As Fallujah goes the way of the initial invasion, easier than expected but less successful, I think the Bush administration needs to start (keep) lowering expectations. Or they need to start trumpeting their small successes, which I'm sure must be there somewhere. Maybe in weather prediction.... and if they can lower peoples' expectations of operational success to the level of the trust they place in their local weather reporters, then they can't lose.

Quotations #006

"Writing history is a perpetual exercise in judgment." -- Cushing Strout

"Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better." -- Samuel Johnson, Dictionary, 1755

"The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy." -- Baron de Montesquieu

"Creative thinking may mean simply the realization that there's no particular virtue in doing things the way they have always been done." -- Rudolf Flesch

"We have lost our grip on historical truth." -- Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob in Telling the Truth About History

Friday, November 12, 2004

Quotations #005

"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." -- H.G. Wells, The Outline of History

"Education is when you read the fine print. Experience is what you get when you don't." -- Pete Seeger

"Next week there can't be any crisis. My schedule is already full." -- Henry A. Kissinger

"History is not a set of answers, but a fluid and argumentative process." - Jonathan Dresner

"Long experience has taught me that to be criticized is not always to be wrong." -- Anthony Eden (1956, during the Suez Crisis)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Quotations #004

"Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are." -- Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie du Goût, 1825.

"The best government is a benevolent tyranny tempered by an occasional assassination." -- Voltaire

"Never find your delight in another's misfortune." -- Publius Syrus (1c BCE)

"To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations -- such is a pleasure beyond compare." -- Yoshida Kenkō, Tsurezuregusa.

"It requires a very unusual mind to make an analysis of the obvious." -- Alfred North Whitehead

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Quotations #003

"The path of memory is neither straight nor safe, and we travel down it at our peril." -- Neil Gaiman, Mr. Punch.

"If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong." -- Arthur C. Clarke

"We are all innocent only in our own personal understanding." --- Gulya Hairullina, Novaya Gazeta 15 September 2003 (World Press Review December 2003)

"Ignorance is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their crops, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens." -- Henry Beveridge, Full Employment in a Free Society, 1944.

"The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity." -- G.B.Shaw, Devil's Disciple

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Quotations #002

"In every age 'the good old days' were a myth. No one ever thought they were good at the time. For every age has consisted of crises that seemed intolerable to the people who lived through them." -- Brooks Atkinson, Once Around the Sun

"Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children. Life is the other way around." -- David Lodge, British Museum (1965)

"All modern wars start in the history classroom." -- Anonymous

"History is neither written nor made without love or hate." -- Theodor Mommsen

"Like its politicians and its wars, society has the teenagers it deserves." -- J. B. Priestley

Monday, November 08, 2004

Quotations #001

"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." -- George Bernard Shaw

"The defect of equality is that we only desire it with our superiors." -- Henry Becque

"All human progress has been made by ignoring precedents." -- Viscount Philip Snowden

"Man's greatest need is a balanced ecology. Man's greatest asset is an unsettled mind." -- Isaac Asimov

"Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern but impossible to enslave." -- Lord Brougham (attributed)


I have collected a great many quotations. Most of them are history-related, in some form or fashion. I started collecting them to sprinkle them on my handouts, syllabi, etc. Many of them come from reading books of quotations in the bathroom. Others come from fiction (especially fantasy and science fiction), history or other commentary that I read. I will post quotations here in batches of five, with no particular rhyme or reason. I just like these quotations, find them thought-provoking (sometimes wrong, but nonetheless very interesting) and decided to write them down so I could have easy access to them. Now I'm going to share them.

Sunday, November 07, 2004