Food For Thought

A Collection of Heretical Notions and Wretched Adages
compiled by Jack Tourette

author index




If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music will not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore, a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.

Confucius (551-479 BC)
Analects, Book XIII, Chapter 3
Translated by James Legge

Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.

Bible, Matthew 15:10-11
The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha

...we should have a great many fewer disputes in the world, if words were taken for what they are, the signs of our ideas only; and not for things themselves.

John Locke (1632-1704)
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1690
Book III, Chapter X "Of the Abuse of Words"

As the language of the face is universal, so 'tis very comprehensive; no laconism can reach it; 'tis the short-hand of the mind, and crowds a great deal in a little room.

Jeremy Collier (1650-1726)
In Many Thoughts of Many Minds: A Treasury of Quotations from the
Literature of Every Land and Every Age
, 1896
Compiled by Louis Klopsch

I am always sorry when any language is lost, because languages are the pedigree of nations.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
18 September 1773
Tour to the Hebrides, 1785
by James Boswell (1740-1795)

I have always been convinced, that abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.

John Adams (1735-1826)
Letter to J.H. Tiffany, 31 March 1819
Works of John Adams, Volume 10, 1856
Edited by Charles Francis Adams (1807-1886)

Language is the archives of history.... Language is fossil poetry.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
"The Poet"
Essays: Second Series, 1844

Correct English is the slang of prigs who write history and essays. And the strongest slang of all is the slang of poets.

George Eliot (1819-1880)
Middlemarch, 1871-1872
Chapter 11

...exaggerated turns of speech conceal mediocre affections: as if the fulness of the soul might not sometimes overflow in the emptiest of metaphors, since no one, ever, can give the exact measurements of his needs, nor of his conceptions, nor of his sufferings, and the human word is like a cracked cauldron upon which we beat out melodies fit for making bears dance when we are trying to move the stars to pity.

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)
Madame Bovary, 1857
Chapter 12

A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling

For example, in Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped to be replased either by "k" or "s", and likewise "x" would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which "c" would be retained would be the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform "w" spelling, so that "which" and "one" would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish "y" replasing it with "i" and Iear 4 might fiks the "g/j" anomali wonse and for all.

Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez "c", "y" and "x" -- bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez -- tu riplais "ch", "sh", and "th" rispektivli.

Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

Mark Twain (1835-1910)
True authorship of this piece is in question
See caveat

No man means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.

Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918)
The Education of Henry Adams, 1907

W (double U) has, of all the letters in our alphabet, the only cumbrous name, the names of the others being monosyllabic. This advantage of the Roman alphabet over the Grecian is the more valued after audibly spelling out some simple Greek word, like epixoriambikos. Still, it is now thought by the learned that other agencies than the difference of the two alphabets may have been concerned in the decline of "the glory that was Greece" and the rise of "the grandeur that was Rome." There can be no doubt, however, that by simplifying the name of W (calling it "wow," for example) our civilization could be, if not promoted, at least better endured.

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
The Devil's Dictionary, 1911

Even if you do learn to speak correct English, who are you going to talk it to?

Clarence Seward Darrow (1857-1938)
Quoted in "You Can't Write Writing"
by Wendell Johnson
Reprinted from etc.: A Review of General Semantics
Volime 1, Number 1, August 1943

All the translations of a poem in all possible languages may add nuance to nuance and, by a kind of mutual retouching, by correcting one another, may give an increasingly faithful picture of the poem they translate, yet they will never give the inner meaning of the original.

Henri Bergson (1859-1941)
The Creative Mind: Introduction to Metaphysics, 1946

The contradiction so puzzling to the ordinary way of thinking comes from the fact that we have to use language to communicate our inner experience which in its very nature transcends linguistics.

Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (1870-1966)
"The Basis of Buddhist Philosophy"
Understanding Mysticism, 1980
edited by Richard Woods

Language serves not only to express thoughts, but to make possible thoughts which could not exist without it.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, 1961
Part III "The Philosopher of Language"
Chapter 11 "The Uses of Language"

Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which we will not put.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
Authenticity doubtful
See The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When, 2006
By Ralph Keyes

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1921
Section 5.6
Translated by Charles Kay Ogden (1889-1957)

...a whole world picture is wedded to the use of the transitive verb and the actor-action scheme that goes with it -- that if we spoke a different language we would perceive a different world.

Friedrich Waismann (1896—1959)
"Analytic-Synthetic V"
Analysis, Number 13, 1952

It is in vain to set up a language police to stem living developments. (I have always suspected that correctness is the last refuge of those who have nothing to say.)

Friedrich Waismann (1896—1959)
"Analytic-Synthetic V"
Analysis, Number 13, 1952

We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages.

Benjamin Whorf (1897-1941)
"Science and Linguistics"
MIT Technology Review, April 1940

We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native language.... Language is not simply a reporting device for experience but a defining framework for it.

Benjamin Whorf (1897-1941)
"Thinking in Primitive Communities"
New Directions in the Study of Language, 1964
Edited by Hoyer

Effective writing is a human necessity in anything resembling a democratic culture, and this becomes increasingly true as the culture becomes increasingly complex. If the effective use of language cannot be taught, or if it is not to be taught to a far greater extent than it has been, we may well have occasion to despair of the grand experiment dreamed by Voltaire, championed by Washington and Franklin, and cherished by the American people through many generations. And if we must despair of that, then truly, even if you do learn to speak correct English, it may well not seem to matter very much "who you talk it to." For when the people cannot adequately speak or write their language, there arise strong men to speak and write it for them -- and "at" them.

Wendell Johnson (1906-1965)
"You Can't Write Writing"
ETC: A Review of General Semantics
Volume 1, Number 1, August 1943

I was trying to be helpful. In tracking the derivation of "straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel," I pointed to the King James Version of the Bible, Matthew 23:24, and wrote: 'The original spokesperson, lest we forget, was Jesus of Nazareth."

"That would have been appreciated by 'Ma' Ferguson, the Texas Governor," writes the Reverend J. Carter Swaim, pastor emeritus of the Church of Covenant near the United Nations in New York, "who, when Spanish was proposed as a second language for schools in the Lone Star State, replied: 'Not while I am Governor! If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it is good enough for Texas children.'"

William Safire (1929-2009)
"On Language: Red-Hot Freeze"
The [Lexington NC] Dispatch
29 May 1982

I personally think we
developed language because of our deep inner need
to complain.

Jane Wagner (b.1935)
"The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe", 1986
Part II, "Howard Johnson's, Forty-Sixth and Broadway", Trudy
Page 133

...language is a virus from Outer Space.

Laurie Anderson (b.1947)
"New York Social Life"
United States Live, 1981

According to some anthropologists such as Levi-Strauss language arose spontaneously. There wasn't any build up to it. Just one day it was there (the same may be true of complex structures in evolution like the eye -- you can't get there gradually). I tried to imagine what it was like to suddenly have language. I can't even imagine what it was like to learn how to read. I learned to read at five -- according to Mom. The Little Golden Books. But if I try to remember (if I try to imagine) a streetsign - seeing a streetsign when I was four I still see STOP. No way to see it as a collection of curves and lines on a red background. So I asked great-great-grandma Donna what it was like on the day they got language. She said they were sitting around in their cold damp caves trying to express the boredom of the human condition. They already had painting -- it's true, writing came before speech. Great-great-great-uncle Olson stood up and said, "I'm hungry. I'm going out for a bison." Immediately everybody understood the concept of language. As with any new thing some folks were glad and some folks resented it. "If God had meant for us to talk, we would have been issued grammars." I asked great-great-grandma Donna what they used before language. She said it was like Freud said -- they had used telepathy. So I asked her what that was like and she gave me a thoughtful look. But I still haven't figured out what she meant.

Don Webb (b.1960)
A Spell for the Fulfillment of Desire, 1996

Grammar is not a vice (though excessive picking at it can be). And nonstandard words/grammar can be used to good effect -- but no one can do that without knowing how they're deviating.

Randy Clark
Posted to soc.motss
14 November 1991


[see also: EPITAPHS]

Decay is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.

Buddha (c.563-c.483 BC)

Vae, puto deus fio. (Woe is me, I think that I am becoming a god.)

Vespasian (9-79 AD)
Said when he was fatally ill
De vita Caesarum, "Vespasian"
by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c.69-c.122)
Translated by Robert Graves, 1957

I am going to seek a great perhaps; draw the curtain, the farce is played.

Francois Rabelais (c.1492-1553)
09 April 1553
Life of Rabelais
Peter Anthony Motteux (1660-1718)

I have a long journey to take, and must bid the company farewell.

Sir Walter Raleigh (1554-1618)
Sir Walter Raleigh
by Edward John Thompson, 1936

I am going to take a great leap into obscurity.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)
04 December 1679
Classical and Foreign Quotations, 1904
In note to entry 1179
Compiled by William Francis Henry King

Now I am about to take my last voyage -- a great leap in the dark.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)
04 December 1679
Famous Sayings and Their Authors, 1906
Collected by Edward Latham

It is not my design to drink or to sleep, but my design is to make what haste I can to be gone.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)
The History of Scotland, 1827
Book XI "Charles II - Protectorate, 1649-1659"
by George Buchanan

Macht doch den zweiten Fensterladen auch auf, damit mehr Licht hereinkomme. (Open the second shutter, so that more light can come in.)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
22 March 1832
Commonly given as "Mehr Licht!"
Famous Sayings and Their Authors, 1906
by Edward Latham, 1906

Don't forget to show my head to the people. It is well worth the trouble.

Georges-Jacques Danton (1759-1794)
Addressed to his executioner
Quoted in Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, 1989
by Simon Schama

This is the last of earth; I am content.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)
21 February 1848
Important Events of the Century: Containing Historical and
Important Events During the Last Hundred Years
, 1876
"Sketches of the Presidents"
by A.T. Benson and J. Rippey

Plaudite, amici, finita est comedia.
(Applaud, friends, the comedy is over.)

Ludwig von Beethoven (1770-1827)
Quoted in Memories of Beethoven: From the House of the Black-Robed Spaniards, 1992
By Gerhard van Breuning (1813-1892)

I still live.

Daniel Webster (1782-1852)
24 October 1852
The Public and Private Life of Daniel Webster, 1885
by Samuel P. Lyman

Die, my dear doctor! That's the last thing I think of doing.

Lord Palmerston (1784-1865)
Quoted in A Book About Lawyers, 1867
Part XII "Mirth"
Chapter LXVI "Wits in 'Silk' and punsters in 'Ermine'"
By John Cordy Jeaffreson

Of course He [God] will forgive me; that's His business.

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)
Journal, 23 February 1863
by Edmond and Charles de Goncourt

Now comes the mystery.

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)
08 March 1887
The Last Words (Real and Traditional) of
Distinguished Men and Women
, 1900
Collected by Frederic Rowland Marvin

What! what! men, dodging this way for single bullets! What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.

John Sedgwick (1813-1864)
In response to a suggestion that he should not show himself over the
parapet during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, 09 May 1864
"The Death of General John Sedgwick"
by Martin T. McMahon, Brevet MajorGeneral, U.S.V.
Condensed from a letter to General S.W. Latta,
President of the Sedgwick Memorial Association
Printed in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War
Volume IV, page 175, 1884, 1887, 1888

A little while and Crowfoot will be gone from among you; whither we cannot tell. From nowhere we come, into nowhere we go. What is life? It is as the flash of a firefly in the night. It is as a breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is as the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. I have spoken.

Crowfoot (1821-1890)
Quoted in Crowfoot, 1977
By Carlotta Hacker

But the peasants - how do the peasants die?

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
"Words, Last"
A Certain World, 1970
W.H. Auden (1907-1973)

Let us go in; the fog is rising.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
"Words, Last"
A Certain World, 1970
W.H. Auden (1907-1973)

I am better now.

Ebon Clark Ingersoll (1831-1879)
Quoted by Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) at his
brother's funeral, 31 May 1879
The Library of Choice Literature and Encyclopedia of
Universal Authorship
, 1893
by Ainsworth Rand Spofford
Ebon died peacefully of angina pectoris 21 July 1899

I've got to get to the top of the hill...

John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913)

To my friends: My work is done. Why wait?

George Eastman (1854-1932)
Founder of Kodak, Suicide note
14 March 1932

Put out the light, please.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)
06 January 1919
Theodore Roosevelt: An Intimate Biography, 1919
Chapter XXV "Prometheus Unbound"
by William Roscoe Thayer

Turn up the lights -- I don't want to go home in the dark.

O. Henry (1862-1910)
05 June 1910
Quoting a popular song;
in C.A. Smith O. Henry Chapter 9

I am perplexed.

Aleister Crowley (1875-1947)
01 December 1947
(Refuted by Lon Milo Duquette
in The Magick of Aleister Crowley: A Handbook of the
Rituals of Thelema
, 1993, Chapter Zero)

If this is dying, then I don't think much of it.

Lytton Strachey (1880-1932)
Lytton Strachey, 1968
Volume II
by Michael Holroyd (b.1935)

Die? I should say not, old fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.

John Barrymore (1882-1942)
Quoted in We Barrymores, 1951
By Lionel Barrymore, as told to Cameron Shipp
Chapter 26 "Tomorrow and Tomorrow"

Mind your own business.

Wyndham Lewis (1884-1957)
When his nurse asked him about the state of his bowels on his deathbed

This is it. I'm going. I'm going.

Al Jolson (1886-1950)
San Francisco
Beaver Valley [Pennsylvania] Times
24 October 1950

God bless...God damn.

James Thurber (1894-1961)
Quoted in Thurber: A Biography, 1975
Part III "Angst"
Chapter 19 "'Why doesn't somebody take this goddam thing away from me?'"
By Burton Bernstein

A lot of people, on the verge of death, utter famous last words or stiffen into attitudes, as if the final stiffening in three days' time were not enough; they will have ceased to exist three days' hence, yet they still want to arouse admiration and adopt a pose and tell a lie with their last grasp.

Henri de Montherlant (1896-1972)
"Explicit Mysterium"
Mors et Vita, 1932

Dear World: I am leaving because I am bored. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.

George Sanders (1906-1972)
Suicide note, 25 April 1972

Oh, God, here I go again.

Max Baer (1909-1959)
"Former Champ Max Baer Succumbs To Heart Attack"
The [New London CT] Day
16 November 1959

I have just had eighteen whiskeys in a row. I do believe that is a record.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)
White Horse Tavern, Greenwich Village

Why not. Yeah.

Timothy Leary (1920-1996)
31 May 1996

I done told you my last request a bullet-proof vest.

James W. Rodgers (1911?-1960)
30 March 1960
"Man Dies by Firing Squad"
Lincoln Evening Journal
30 March 1960

I wish to use my body as a torch
To dissipate the darkness
To waken Love among men
And to bring Peace to Viet Nam

Nhat Chi Mai (d.1967)
Vietnamese teacher
Suicide note, self-immolation

In keeping with Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts...and in living color, we bring you another first, an attempted suicide.

Christine Chubbuck (1944-1974)
"Sunshine Broadcast", WXLT-TV, Sarasota FL
15 July 1974
She shot herself during a broadcast

I feel great.

Pete Maravitch (1947-1988)
Moments before he collapsed and died

Thoreau on his deathbed and sinking fast was asked by his aunt who'd long worried about her nephew, "Have you made your peace with your God?" Thoreau, still alert, replied, "I never quarreled with my God." This is one of the great deathbed quotes if we excuse any put-down element in it. But the story does not end there. There's an addition which seems, to me, even better.

Thoreau's aunt pursued the matter, asking, "But aren't you concerned about the next world?" Thoreau, impatient now, said, "One world at a time."

This is an entire sermon, an entire religion, an entire philosophy condensed into one short sentence. This world, this life. It is enough. It is of cosmic relevance.

W. Edward Harris (b.1935)
(Minister emeritus of All Souls Unitarian Church, Indianapolis)
A Garage Sale of the Mind, 1993


[see also: JUSTICE, POLICE]

The more laws and order are made prominent,
The more thieves and robbers there will be.

Lao-tzu (c.604-c.531 BC)
The Way of Lao-tzu, 57

Written laws are like spiders' webs, and will like them only entangle and hold the poor and weak, while the rich and powerful will easily break through them.

Anacharsis (fl. c.600 BC)
Paraphrase from Plutarch quotation?

Anacharsis went to Solon's house at Athens, knocked at the door, and said, he was a stranger who desired to enter into engagements of friendship and mutual hospitality with him. Solon answered, Friendships are best formed at home. Then do you, said Anacharsis, who are at home, make me your friend, and receive me into your house. Struck with the quickness of his repartee, Solon gave him a kind welcome, and kept him some time with him, being then employed in public affairs, and in modeling his laws. When Anacharsis knew what Solon was about, he laughed at his undertaking, and at the absurdity of imagining he could restrain the avarice and injustice of his citizens by written laws, which in all respects resembled spiders' webs, and would, like them, only entangle and hold the poor and weak, while the rich and powerful easily broke through them. To this, Solon replied, Men keep their agreements when it is an advantage to both parties not to break them; and he would so frame his laws, as to make it evident to the Athenians, that it would be more for their interest to observe than to transgress them. The event, however, showed that Anacharsis was nearer the truth in his conjecture, than Solon was in his hope. Anacharsis having seen an assembly of the people at Athens, said he was surprised at this, that in Greece wise men pleaded causes, and fools determined them.

Plutarch (AD c.46-c.119)
Lives, "Solon"
Translated by John Langhorne and William Langhorne, 1857

The more corrupt the republic, the more numerous the laws.

Cornelius Tacitus (c.56-c.120)

Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.

Saint Augustine (340-430)
Homily VII, I John IV, 4-12, c.416
"Homilies on the First Epistle of John"
A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the
Christian Church: St. Augustin
, 1888
Translated by Rev. H. Brown, Revised by Rev. Joseph H. Myers

In their rules there was only one clause: Do what you will.

Francois Rabelais (c.1492-1553)
Gargantua and Pantagruel
Book I, 1534, Chapter 57

No rule is so general, which admits not some exception.

Robert Burton (1577-1640)
The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621-1651
Part I, section 2, member 2, subsec. 3

Ignorance of the law excuses no man; not that all men know the law, but 'tis an excuse every man will plead, and no man can tell how to refute him.

John Selden (1584-1654)
Table Talk, 1689

Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
A Critical Essay upon the Faculties of the Mind, 1707

It is a maxim among these lawyers, that whatever hath been done before, may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice and the general reason of mankind.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
"A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms"
Gulliver's Travels, 1726
Part 4, Chapter 5

Useless laws weaken the necessary laws.

Montesquieu (1689-1755)
De l'Esprit des Lois, 1748, XI, 3

For as regards nature, experience presents us with rules and is the source of truth, but in relation to ethical laws experience is the parent of illusion, and it is in the highest degree reprehensible to limit or to deduce the laws which dictate what I ought to do, from what is done.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Critique of Pure Reason, 1781
Translated by John Miller Dow Meiklejohn (1830-1902), 1855
I "Transcendental Doctrine of Elements"
2.2.1 "Of the Conceptions of Pure Reason"
Section 1 "Of Ideas in General"

We find, in the rules laid down by the greatest English judges, who have been the brightest of mankind; we are to look upon it as more beneficial, that many guilty persons should escape unpunished, than one innocent person should suffer. The reason is, because it is of more importance to the community, that innocence should be protected, than it is, that guilt should be punished; for guilt and crimes are so frequent in the world, that all of them cannot be punished; and many times they happen in such a manner, that it is not of much consequence to the public, whether they are punished or not. But when innocence itself, is brought to the bar and condemned, especially to die, the subject will exclaim, it is immaterial to me whether I behave well or ill, for virtue itself is no security. And if such a sentiment as this should take place in the mind of the subject, there would be an end to all security whatsoever.

John Adams (1735-1826)
History of the Boston Massacre, 1870
by Frederic Kidder (1804-1885)

In every society where property exists, there will ever be a struggle between rich and poor. Mixed in one assembly, equal laws can never be expected. They will either be made by numbers, to plunder the few who are rich, or by influence, to fleece the many who are poor.

John Adams (1735-1826)
A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States
of America
, 1787-88

It is better to prevent crimes than to punish them.

Cesare di Beccaria (c.1738-1794)
On Crimes and Punishments, 1764
Chapter 41 "Of the Means of Preventing Crimes"

Those laws, being forged for universal application, are in perpetual conflict with personal interest, just as personal interest is always in contradiction with the general interest. Good for society, our laws are very bad for the individuals whereof it is composed; for, if they one time protect the individual, they hinder, trouble, fetter him for three quarters of his life.

Marquis de Sade (1740-1814)
"Dialogue the Fifth: Yet Another Effort,
Frenchmen, If You Would Become Republicans"
Philosophy in the Bedroom, 1795

It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it will be tomorrow.

Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)
The Federalist Papers, Number 62

One Law for the Lion & Ox is Oppression.

William Blake (1757-1827)
"A Memorable Fancy"
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790-1793

Whatever is not forbidden is permitted.

Johann von Schiller (1759-1805)
Wallenstein's Camp, 1798
Scene vi

Good men must not obey the laws too well.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Essays: Second Series, 1844

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)
Democracy in America, Volume II, 1840
Book Four, Chapter VI
Translated by Henry Reeve

To despise legitimate authority, in whomsoever vested, is unlawful, as a rebellion against the divine will, and whoever resists that, rushes willfully to destruction.

Leo XIII (1810-1903)
Immortale Dei
On the Christian Constitution of States, number 5
01 November 1885

Moreover, the highest duty is to respect authority, and obediently to submit to just law; and by this the members of a community are effectually protected from the wrong-doing of evil men. Lawful power is from God, "and whosoever resisteth authority resisteth the ordinance of God"; wherefore, obedience is greatly ennobled when subjected to an authority which is the most just and supreme of all. But where the power to command is wanting, or where a law is enacted contrary to reason, or to the eternal law, or to some ordinance of God, obedience is unlawful, lest, while obeying man, we become disobedient to God. Thus, an effectual barrier being opposed to tyranny, the authority in the State will not have all its own way, but the interests and rights of all will be safeguarded -- the rights of individuals, of domestic society, and of all the members of the commonwealth; all being free to live according to law and right reason; and in this, as We have shown, true liberty really consists.

Leo XIII (1810-1903)
On the Nature of Human Liberty, number 13
20 June 1888

We bury men when they are dead, but we try to embalm the dead body of laws, keeping the corpse in sight long after the vitality has gone. It usually takes a hundred years to make a law; and then, after it has done its work, takes a hundred years to get rid of it.

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)
Life Thoughts, 1858

I know no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution.

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)
Inaugural address, 04 March 1869

Laws are sand, customs are rock. Laws can be evaded and punishment escaped, but an openly transgressed custom brings sure punishment.

Mark Twain (1835-1910)
The Gorky Incident, 1906

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

Anatole France (1844-1924)
The Red Lily, 1894
Chapter 7 is almost impossible systematically to constitute a natural moral law. Nature has no principles. She furnishes us with no reason to believe that human life is to be respected. Nature, in her indifference, makes no distinction between good and evil.

Anatole France (1844-1924)
The Revolt of the Angels, 1914
Chapter XXVII

We enact many laws that manufacture criminals, and then a few that punish them.

Benjamin R. Tucker (1854-1939)
Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy to Write One, 1893

He is barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Caesar and Cleopatra, 1898
Act II

I know how irritating it is to have somebody else lay down rules for your moral uplift, but you've got to stand a great deal in order to make progress....

William Howard Taft (1857-1930)
"Taft Seeks to Lure Back Party Voters"
New York Times, 04 October 1911

No tendency is quite so strong in human nature as the desire to lay down rules of conduct for other people.

William Howard Taft (1857-1930)
Paraphrase of above? See caveat

No written law has ever been more binding than unwritten custom supported by popular opinion.

Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947)
"Why We Ask for the Submission of an Amendment"
Speech at Senate hearing on woman's suffrage
13 February 1900

...the greater the number of laws, the greater the number of offences against them.

Havelock Ellis (1859-1939)
The Dance of Life, 1923
Chapter VII "Conclusion"

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under will.

Aleister Crowley (1875-1947)
The Confessions of Aleister Crowley
1929, Prelude

Observance of customs and laws can very easily be a cloak for a lie so subtle that our fellow human beings are unable to detect it. It may help us to escape all criticism, we may even be able to deceive ourselves in the belief of our obvious righteousness. But deep down, below the surface of the average man's conscience, he hears a voice whispering, "There is something not right," no matter how much his rightness is supported by public opinion or by the moral code.

Carl Gustave Jung (1875-1961)
The Inner World of Childhood
Introduction, 1931
by Frances G. Wickes

Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
"Ideas and Opinions", 1954

Congress and Hollywood are a great deal alike in lots of respects. We make in Hollywood what we think will be two kinds of Pictures, Comedy and Drama, or sad ones. Now you take the Capitol at Washington, that's the biggest Studio in the World. We call ours Pictures when they are turned out. They call theirs Laws. It's all the same thing. We often make what we think is Drama but when it is shown it is received by the audience as Comedy. So the uncertainty is about equal both places.

Will Rogers (1879-1935)
Newspaper column, 18 February 1923
How We Elect Our Presidents, 1952
Chapter 2 "Politics is Applesauce"
Selected and edited by Donald Day

In a Democracy only those laws which have their bases in folkways or the approval of strong groups have a chance of being enforced.

Abraham Myerson (1881-1948)
Speaking of Man, 1950
Chapter XII "Sterilization"

Nous savons tous ici que le droit est la plus puissante des ecoles de l'imagination. Jamais poete n'a interprete la nature aussi librement qu'un juriste la realite. (We all know here that the law is the most powerful of schools for the imagination. No poet ever interpreted nature as freely as a lawyer interprets the truth.)

Jean Giraudoux (1882-1944)
"La Guere de Troie n'aura pas lieu", 1935
(The Trojan War Will Not Take Place)
Act 2, Scene 5

Order, like law, to be respected must deserve respect. Disrespect for an order that does not deserve respect ought not to be condemned as degeneration but commended as healthy regeneration. I do not wish to be misunderstood: Disrespect of all law and order is not regenerative force, it is a degenerative force that creates chaos; but intellectual revolution against bad laws, bad administration, and bad procedures is just as healthy in 1966 as it was in 1763. It may take different forms and at some times it may take forms we do not like but progress will be denied if we do not seek out the causes of revolutionary disrespect.

James Chalmers McRuer (1890-1985)
"Current Decline in Respect for Law and Order -- Is There a Remedy?"
Speech before the Section of Judicial Administration
to the American Bar Association during ABA Annual Meeting
08 August 1966

The problem of cat versus bird is as old as time. If we attempt to resolve it by legislation who knows but what we may be called upon to take sides as well in the age old problems of dog versus cat, bird versus bird, and even bird versus worm. In my opinion, the State of Illinois and its local governing bodies already have enough to do without trying to control feline delinquency.

Adlai E. Stevenson (1900-1965)
As governor of Illinois, vetoing a bird-protection bill
23 April 1949
Papers of Adlai E Stevenson
Volume 3 Governor of Illinois 1949-1953, 1973
by Walter Johnson

When a hypothesis is deeply accepted it becomes a growth which only a kind of surgery can amputate. Thus, beliefs persist long after their factual bases have been removed, and practices based on beliefs are often carried on even when the beliefs which stimulated them have been forgotten. The practice must follow the belief. It is often considered, particularly by reformers and legislators, that law is a stimulant to action or an inhibitor of action, when actually the reverse is true. Successful law is simply the publication of the practice of the majority of units of a society, and by it the inevitable variable units are either driven to conform or are eliminated. We have had many examples of law trying to be the well-spring of action; our prohibition law showed how completely fallacious that theory is.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
and Edward Flanders Ricketts (1897-1948)
The Log from the Sea of Cortez, 1951
Chapter 17 "March 27"

...and we must consider...that since -- unfortunately -- we are forced to live together, the most important thing for us to remember is that the only way in which we can have any law at all is to have as little of it as possible. I see no ethical standard by which to measure the whole unethical conception of a State, except in the amount of time, of thought, of money, of effort and of obedience, which a society extorts from its every member. Its value and its civilization are in inverse ratio to that extortion. There is no conceivable law by which a man can be forced to work on any terms except those he chooses to set. There is no conceivable law to prevent him from setting them -- just as there is none to force his employer to accept them. The freedom to agree or disagree is the foundation of our kind of society....

Ayn Rand (1905-1982)
The Fountainhead, 1943
Part I, Chapter 9

To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law -- a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.

Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1923-1997)
A Canticle for Leibowitz, 1959
Chapter 29

Wife: Arrest him!

More: For what?

Wife: He's dangerous!

Roper: For all we know he's a spy!

Daughter: Father, that man's bad!

More: There's no law against that!

Roper: There is, God's law!

More: Then let God arrest him!

Wife: While you talk he's gone!

More: And go he should, if he were the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?

This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down (and you're just the man to do it!), do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

Robert Bolt (1924-1995)
"A Man for All Seasons", 1966

I think people believe that the only strategy we have is to put a lot of police officers on the street and harass people and make arrests for inconsequential kinds of things. Well, that's part of the strategy, no question about it.

Daryl Francis Gates (b.1926)
Los Angeles Times, 08 May 1988

I am asked frequently whether I believe in "blind obedience" to orders from legitimate authority, the code that permitted many Germans to carry out genocide. I do not. While there is a presumption of regularity that must obtain in any orders from legitimate superiors with which no government could function, I believe in individual responsibility, free will, and the rule of reason. There is a point beyond which I will not go, and that is anything my conscience tells me is malum in se (evil in and of itself) or my judgement tells me is irrational. I have no problem with doing something that is malum prohibitum (wrong only because of the existence of a law prohibiting it).

An example of malum in se would be the sexual assault of a child. In every society such a thing would be recognized as wrong. It would require no act of legislature forbidding it to inform people that it was wrong. An example of malum prohibitum, on the other hand, would be the statute prohibiting driving through a stop sign without coming to a complete halt. Absent such a law, to do so would be a morally indifferent act.

Common sense tells us that minor problems require and justify but minor responses, and only extreme problems require and justify extreme solutions. In the case of killing it is well to remember that the Ten Commandments, translated correctly from the original Aramaic, do not contain the injunction "Thou shalt not kill." It reads, "Thou shalt not do murder." Quite another thing. There are circumstances that not only justify killing but require it (when one is charged with the safekeeping of a child, for example, and the only way to prevent its death from another's attack is to kill that other person). These are all situations that require informed and responsible judgments.

There are other ethical doctrines that may be applied. In World War II some bomber pilots were concerned when they knew that, for example, the ball bearing factory that was their target was across the street from an orphanage and their bombing altitude meant that it was very likely the orphanage would also be hit. In such a situation the principle of double effect comes into play; the unintended secondary effect of the destruction of the orphanage is permissible. The classical example is that of the driver of a loaded schoolbus going down the one-lane mountain road with a sheer thousand-foot drop on either side rounding a turn to see a three-year-old girl on a tricycle in the middle of the road. He is going too fast to stop. The choices are go off the road and take thirty-five children and himself to certain death to spare the three-year-old, or run over the three-year-old and save the thirty-five. I'd run over the three-year-old. I also fail to see any distinction between killing an enemy soldier in time of declared war and killing an enemy espionage agent in a "cold" war, or even killing certain U.S. citizens. For example, were I back in my ODESSA position and were given the instruction from an appropriate officer of the government, I would kill Philip Agee if it were demonstrated (as it has often been argued) that his revelations have led directly to the death of at least one of his fellow CIA officers, that he intended to continue the revelations, and that they would lead to more deaths. Notice that this killing would not be retributive but preventive. It is the same rationale by which I was willing to obey an order to kill Jack Anderson. But I would do so only after satisfying myself that it was: a) an order from legitimate authority; b) a question of malum prohibitum; and c) a rational response to the problem.

G. Gordon Liddy (b.1930)
Will, 1980
Chapter XVIII

It is certainly wise to obey the laws if our primary concern is personal safety and comfort. However, it often happens that in retrospect, history places higher value on those individuals who violated questionable laws of their time because of foresight and high moral principles than those who has issued them for wrong reasons.

Stanislav Grof (b.1931)
Prologue, The Secret Chief, 1997
by Myron J. Stolaroff (b.1920)

No one, I think, welcomes the intervention of federal power in the affairs of a state, except as a last resort. That seems the crudest of solutions. It is not a moral solution at all. In being forced to do what is right, men lose the dignity of being right. The right itself is debased as an aim and incentive.

Wendell Berry (b.1934)
"The Landscaping of Hell: Strip-Mine Morality in East Kentucky", 1965
The Long-Legged House, 1969

Among tribal peoples, you don't find laws that forbid disruptive behavior. To the tribal mind, this would be supremely inane. Instead, you find laws that serve to minimize the damage of disruptive behavior. For example, no tribal people would ever frame a law forbidding adultery. Instead, what you find are laws that set forth what must happen when adultery occurs. The law prescribes what must happen when adultery occurs. The law prescribes steps that minimize the damage done by this act of infidelity, which has injured not only the spouse but the community itself by cheapening marriage in the eyes of the children. Again, the objective is not to punish but to make right, to promote healing, so that as far as possible, everything can return to normal. The same would be true of assault. To the tribal mind, it's futile to say to people, 'You must never fight.' What is not futile is to know exactly what must be done for the best when there's been a fight, so that everyone sustains the least damage possible. I want you to see how very different this is from the effects of your own laws, which, instead of reducing damage, actually magnify and multiply damage all across the social landscape, destroying families, ruining lives, and leaving victims to heal their own wounds.

Daniel Quinn (b.1935)
"The Crescent, Part II"
My Ishmael, 1997

To the tribal mind, it's asinine to formulate a law that you know is going to be disobeyed. To formulate a law that you know is going to be disobeyed is to bring the whole concept of law into disrepute. A prime example of a law that you know is going to be disobeyed is a law in the form thou shalt not. It doesn't matter what you follow those words with. Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not lie, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not injure -- every single one of these is a law that you know is going to be disobeyed. Because tribal peoples didn't waste time with laws they knew would be disobeyed, disobedience was not a problem for them. Tribal law did not outlaw mischief, it spelled out ways to undo mischief, so people were glad to obey it. The law did something good for them, so why would they break it?

Daniel Quinn (b.1935)
"The Crescent, Part II"
My Ishmael, 1997

The bastards are powerful, but they are also usually pretty stupid. Here's a shamanic discipline which I offer you: make a righteous distinction between "immoral" and "illegal," then never let a day go by in which you don't consciously break at least one of their immoral laws.

Jim DeKorne (b.1936)
"Shamanism -- Psychedelic and Otherwise: Using Entheogens for Inner Work"
(A Farewell Postscript)
The Entheogen Review
Winter Solstice, 1997

To live outside the law you must be honest.

Bob Dylan (b.1941)
"Absolutely Sweet Marie"
Blonde on Blonde, 1966

Laws are made for us; we are not made for the laws.

William Milonoff (b.1972?)
Executive Committee Vice-President,
Free Democratic Party, Russia, 1993

Law expands in proportion to the resources available for its enforcement.
A bad law is more likely to be supplemented than repealed.

Dallin H. Oaks
Dictionary of Politics, 1980
by Walter John Raymond (1930-2007)

Under any conditions, anywhere, whatever you are doing, there is some ordinance under which you can be booked.

Robert D. Sprecht (Rand Corp)

Laws don't work, unless they merely codify generally accepted behavior, in which case they are probably unnecessary.

In our society, sometimes you have to penalize (innocent) people for the good of everybody else.

Pittsburgh cop
16 October 1993



The choice of Ministers is a matter of no small moment to a Prince. Whether they shall be good or no depends on his prudence, so that the readiest conjecture we can form of the character and sagacity of a Prince, is from seeing what sort of men he has about him. When they are at once capable and faithful, we may always account him wise, since he has known to recognize their merit and to retain their fidelity. But if they be otherwise, we must pronounce unfavourably of him, since he has committed a first fault in making this selection.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)
The Prince, 1532
Chapter XXII "Of the Secretaries of Princes"

The most important quality in a leader is that of being acknowledged as such.

Andre Maurois (1885-1967)
"The Art of Leadership"
The Art of Living, 1940

The art of leadership...consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention.... The leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to one category.

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
Mein Kampf, 1925
Volume I, Chapter 3



Now an' then an innocent man is sent t' th' legislature.

Frank McKinney Hubbard (1868-1930)
The Best of Kin Hubbard: Abe Martin's Sayings and Wisecracks,
Abe's Neighbors, His Almanack, Comic Drawings
, 1984
Edited by David Hawes

In our last congressional elections, there was less turnover in the House of Representatives than there was in the Soviet Politburo: 98.5% of the incumbents were reelected!

John McCormack (b.1944)
Self-Made In America, 1990
Part One: Learning the Laws Of Success
Chapter One: Getting Naked

No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.

Quoted by Gideon J. Tucker, Surrogate, in 1866 report of the
final accounting in the estate of A.B.
New York Surrogate Reports
1 Tucker (N.Y. Surr.) 249, 1866

Pro is to con as progress is to Congress.



[see also: IDLENESS, TIME]

Money and time are the heaviest burdens of life, and...the unhappiest of all mortals are those who have more of either than they know how to use.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
The Idler, Number 30
Universal Chronicle
London, 11 November 1758

As seen from the economic point of view, leisure, considered as an employment, is closely allied in kind with the life of exploit; and the achievements which characterise a life of leisure, and which remain as its decorous criteria, have much in common with the trophies of exploit. But leisure in the narrower sense, as distinct from exploit and from any ostensibly productive employment of effort on objects which are of no intrinsic use, does not commonly leave a material product. The criteria of a past performance of leisure therefore commonly take the form of "immaterial" goods. Such immaterial evidences of past leisure are quasi-scholarly or quasi-artistic accomplishments and a knowledge of processes and incidents which do not conduce directly to the furtherance of human life. So, for instance, in our time there is the knowledge of the dead languages and the occult sciences; of correct spelling; of syntax and prosody; of the various forms of domestic music and other household art; of the latest properties of dress, furniture, and equipage; of games, sports, and fancy-bred animals, such as dogs and race-horses. In all these branches of knowledge the initial motive from which their acquisition proceeded at the outset, and through which they first came into vogue, may have been something quite different from the wish to show that one's time had not been spent in industrial employment; but unless these accomplishments had approved themselves as serviceable evidence of an unproductive expenditure of time, they would not have survived and held their place as conventional accomplishments of the leisure class.

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)
The Theory of the Leisure Class, 1899
Chapter 3 "Conspicuous Leisure"

The basis on which good repute in any highly organized industrial community ultimately rests is pecuniary strength; and the means of showing pecuniary strength, and so of gaining or retaining a good name, are leisure and a conspicuous consumption of goods.

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)
The Theory of the Leisure Class, 1899
Chapter 4 "Conspicuous Consumption"

To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization. At present very few people have reached this level.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
The Conquest of Happiness, 1930
Chapter 14

The idea that leisure is of value in itself is only conditionally true.... The average man simply spends his leisure as a dog spends it. His recreations are all puerile, and the time supposed to benefit him really only stupefies him.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
"Minority Report", Number 87
Notebooks, 1956

For the first time in recorded history, man -- an entire nation, has lived beyond the edge of hunger and privation. This he achieved in a work week that has shrunk in half a century from 52 to 40 hours. These 12 hours are not required for the necessities of life, but they are active and waking discretionary hours. Leisure, recreation, vacuity, or mischief can fill them. We will have to learn how to fill them -- the time we have literally manufactured in our factories. The record to date is not particularly comforting, and the future will present an even greater problem, for our work week will unquestionably shorten -- that is, the work week required for the necessities.

Devereux Colt Josephs (1893-1977)
Future of Man, 1959
Symposium, New York City
29 September 1959

It is already possible to imagine a society in which the majority of the population, that is to say, its laborers, will have almost as much leisure as in earlier times was enjoyed by the aristocracy. When one recalls how aristocracies in the past actually behaved, the prospect is not cheerful.

W.H. Auden (1907-1973)
"Work, Labor, and Play"
A Certain World, 1970


[see also: RIGHTS, SLAVERY]

It has been said, then, by the most learned men, that none but the wise man is free. For what is liberty? The power of living as you please. Who, then, is he who lives as he pleases, but the man who follows righteousness, who rejoices in fulfilling his duty, and whose path of life has been well considered and preconcerted; the man who obeys the laws of his country, not out of dread, but pays them respect and reverence, because he thinks that course the most salutary; who neither does nor thinks anything otherwise than cheerfully and freely; the man, all whose designs and all the actions he performs arise from and are terminated in his proper self; the man who is swayed by nothing so much as by his own inclination and judgment; the man who is master of fortune herself, whose influence is said to be sovereign, agreeably to what the sage poet says, "the fortune of every man is moulded by his character." To the wise man alone it happens, that he does nothing against his will, nothing with pain, nothing by coercion. It would, it is true, require a large discourse to prove that this is so, but it is a briefly stated and admitted principle, that no man but he who is thus constituted can be free.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC)
"Paradoxes", Number 5
Cicero's Three Books Of Offices, Or Moral Duties, 1856
Translated by Cyrus R. Edmonds

Liberty consists in the power of doing that which is permitted by law.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC)
Paraphrase of above? See caveat

[Freedom is] the power to live as you will. Who then lives as he wills?

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC)
Paraphrase of above? See caveat

I remind you, Lords, Senators, that extreme patriotism in the defense of freedom is no crime, and let me respectfully remind you that pusillanimity in the pursuit of justice no virtue in a Roman.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC)

For what is liberty but the unhampered translation of will into act.

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)
Letters, 1311

There is no man so good that if he placed all his actions and thoughts under the scrutiny of the law, he would not deserve hanging ten times in his life.

Montaigne (1533-1592)
Essays, Book III, 1595
Chapter 9

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom but license.

John Milton (1608-1674)
Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, 1649

A State also of Equality, wherein all the Power and Jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another: there being nothing more evident, than that Creatures of the same species and rank promiscuously born to all the same advantages of Nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst one another without Subordination or Subjection, unless the Lord and Master of them all, should by any manifest Declaration of his Will set one above another, and confer on him by an evident and clear appointment an undoubted Right to Dominion and Sovereignty.

John Locke (1632-1704)
Two Treatises of Government,
"The Second Treatise of Civil Government", 1690
Chapter 2 "Of the State of Nature"

Malo Periculosam Libertatem Quam Quietum Servitium.
(I prefer liberty with danger to peace with slavery.)

Raphael Leszczynski (1650-1703)
Quoted by Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
The Social Contract: or, The Principles of Political Rights, 1762
Book III, Chapter IV "Democracy"
Translated by Rose M. Harrington, 1893

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

Live Free or Die -- Death is not the worst of evils.

General John Stark (1728-1822)
Note included with letter to Gideon Olin,
Jonathan Robinson, and David Fay
31 July 1809

There is but one element of government, and that is THE PEOPLE. From this element spring all governments. "For a nation to be free, it is only necessary that she wills it." For a nation to be slave, it is only necessary that she wills it.

John Adams (1735-1826)
Letter to John Taylor, 1814

Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!

Patrick Henry (1736-1799)
Speech in the Virginia Convention
Richmond, 23 March 1775

An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
Dissertations on First Principles of Government
Paris, July 1795

In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot...they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer engine for their purpose.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
To Horatio Spafford, 17 March 1814

what country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? let them take arms. the remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. what signify a few lives lost in a century or two? the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. it is it's natural manure.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
Letter to William Stevens Smith
13 November 1787
(Capitalization and punctuation as in original)

The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
Letter to Edward Carrington
Paris, 17 May 1788

Of what use is political liberty to those who have no bread? It is of value only to ambitious theorists and politicians.

Jean Paul Marat (1743-1793)
Letter to Camille Desmoulins
24 June 1790

Every law is an infraction of liberty.

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
Theory of Legislation, 1802

None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Goethe's Opinions on the World, Mankind, Literature, Science, and Art, 1853
Translated by Otto Wenckstern (1819-1869)

I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachment by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.

James Madison (1751-1836)
Speech in the Virginia Convention
16 June 1788

Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.

James Madison (1751-1836)
Letter to Thomas Jefferson, 13 May 1798
The Republic of Letters, The Correspondence between
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison 1776-1826
, 1995
Edited by James Morton Smith

Schemes to subvert the liberties of a great community require time to mature them for execution. An army, so large as seriously to menace those liberties, could only be formed by progressive augmentations; which would suppose not merely a temporary combination between the legislature and the executive, but a continued conspiracy for a series of time. Is it probable that such a combination would exist at all? Is it probable that it would be preserved in, and transmitted along through all the successive variations in a representative body, which biennial elections would naturally produce in both houses? Is it presumable that every man the instant he took his seat in the national Senate or House of Representatives would commence a traitor to his constituents and to his country? Can it be supposed that there would not be found one man discerning enough to detect so atrocious a conspiracy, or bold or honest enough to apprise his constituents of their danger? If such presumptions can fairly be made, there ought to be at once an end of all delegated authority.

Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)
The Federalist Papers, Number 26

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.

William Pitt (1759-1806)
Speech to the House of Commons on the India Bill
18 November 1783

There is only one cure for the evils which newly acquired freedom produces; and that cure is freedom. When a prisoner first leaves his cell he cannot bear the light of day: he is unable to discriminate colours, or recognise faces. But the remedy is, not to remand him into his dungeon, but to accustom him to the rays of the sun. The blaze of truth and liberty may at first dazzle and bewilder nations which have become half blind in the house of bondage. But let them gaze on, and they will soon be able to bear it. In a few years men learn to reason. The extreme violence of opinion subsides. Hostile theories correct each other. The scattered elements of truth cease to contend, and begin to coalesce. And at length a system of justice and order is educed out of the chaos.

Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition, that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story who resolved not to go into the water till he had learnt to swim. If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait for ever.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859)
Edinburgh Review
August 1825

When men are pure, laws are useless; when men are corrupt, laws are broken.

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)
Contarini Fleming: A Psychological Romance, 1870

It profits me but little, after all, that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquility of my pleasures, and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life, and if it so monopolizes movement and life, that when it languishes everything languishes around it, that when it sleeps everything must sleep, and that when it dies the state itself must perish.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)
Democracy in America, 1835
Part 1, Chapter 5 "Decentralization in America - Its Affects"
Edited by Richard D. Heffner

The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil in someone else. The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
On Liberty, 1859
Chapter 1

Liberty consists in doing what one desires.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
On Liberty, 1859
Chapter 5

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country.... Corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money-power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Quoted in The Iron Heel, 1907
by Jack London (1876-1916)
Probable fabrication; see They Never Said It, page 85
See caveat

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of liberty.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Address at the Sanitary Fair, Baltimore
18 April 1864

Freedom is the absolute right of all adult men and women to seek permission for their action only from their own conscience and reason, and to be determined in their actions only by their own will, and consequently to be responsible only to themselves, and then to the society to which they belong, but only insofar as they have made a free decision to belong to it.

Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876)
Gesammelte Werke, 1921-1924
Book III, 9

The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free. They are the lovers of law and order who observe the law when the government breaks it.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Slavery in Massachusetts, 1854

Increase of freedom in the State may sometimes promote mediocrity, and give vitality to prejudice; it may even retard useful legislation, diminish the capacity for war, and restrict the boundaries of Empire.... A generous spirit prefers that his country should be poor, and weak, and of no account, but free, rather than powerful, prosperous and enslaved.

John Acton (1834-1902)
"The History of Freedom in Antiquity", 1877
An Address Delivered to the Members of the Bridgnorth Institute
26 February 1877

The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.

John Acton (1834-1902)
"The History of Freedom in Antiquity", 1877
An Address Delivered to the Members of the Bridgnorth Institute
26 February 1877

Experience teaches us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purpose is beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.

Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1856-1941)
Olmstead et al. vs. United States,
277 U.S. 438, 478, 1928

[The makers of the Constitution] conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone -- the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized man.

Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1856-1941)
Olmstead et al. vs. United States,
277 U.S. 438, 478, 1928

If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means — to declare that the Government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal — would bring terrible retribution.

Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1856-1941)
Olmstead et al. vs. United States,
277 U.S. 485, 1928

Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
"Maxims for Revolutionists: Liberty and Equality"
Man and Superman, 1903

[E]very human being's life in this world is inevitably mixed with every other life and, no matter what laws we pass, no matter what precautions we take, unless the people we meet are kindly and decent and human and liberty-loving, then there is no liberty. Freedom comes from human beings, rather than from laws and institutions.

Clarence Seward Darrow (1857-1938)
Closing Argument in the Case of People vs. Henry Sweet
Detroit Michigan, 11 May 1926
From transcript published in 1927 by the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People

The tendency of all strong governments has always been to suppress liberty, partly in order to ease the process of rule, partly from sheer disbelief in innovation.

John A. Hobson (1858-1940)
Free Thought in Social Sciences, 1926

The ingrained idea that, because there is no king and they despise titles, the Americans are a free people is pathetically untrue.... There is a perpetual interference with personal liberty over there that would not be tolerated in England for a week.

Margot Asquith (1864-1945)
My Impressions of America, 1922
Chapter 17

Can a nation be free if it oppresses other nations? It cannot.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924)
"The Right of Nations of Self-Determination"
4. "Practicality" In The National Question
First Published in Posveshcheniye number 4,5, & 6
April-June 1914

Through pressure of conformity, the Americans do have freedom of thought. The unfortunate fact is that there is nothing to choose from! If anything, the American freedom is the right to sit on one's porch swigging beer in pajamas and saying "Where else in the world could I do this?"

Peter Ustinov (1921–2004)
"Show Shops", by Kaspar Monahan
The Pittsburgh Press, 03 March 1968
Section 5, page 17

If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
Strictly Personal, 1941
Chapter 31

Limitation is the essence of liberty, for as soon as liberty is complete, it dies in anarchy.

Will Durant (1885-1981)
and Ariel Durant (1898-1981)
The Story of Civilization
Volume X, Rousseau and Revolution, 1967

When liberty destroys order, the hunger for order will destroy liberty.

Will Durant (1885-1981)

Authority and liberty are two incompatible ideas. Where the one exists, the other cannot.... Liberty diminishes in proportion as man progresses and becomes civilized.

Antonio de Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970)
Quoted by Antonio Ferro
Portugal Now, 1937
Chapter VII "Dictatorship and Civilization"
By Ralph Fox
(elipsis in original)

We have not tried to suppress true, legitimate liberty; on the contrary, we have tried to preserve it. We are for liberty, but liberty with order, the kind of liberty that will not threaten the basic principles of our nation, nor threaten its faith and unity.

Francisco Franco (1892-1975)
Speech in Vitoria, Spain, 09 August 1953
"Franco Ideology Stands Despite Pacts With West"
By Richard Mowrer
Christian Science Monitor, 21 August 1953

The remedy in the United States is not less liberty but real liberty -- and an end to the brutal intolerance of churchly hooligans and flag-waving corporations, and all the rest of the small but bloody despots who have made the word Americanism a synonym for coercion and legal crime.

Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982)
The Nation, 04 December 1937

When Hitler attacked the Jews, I was not a Jew, therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the unions and industrialists, I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned. Then, Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church -- and there was nobody left to be concerned.

Martin Niemoller (1892-1984)
14 October 1968
Congressional Record p.31636

First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one was left to speak up for me.

Martin Niemoller (1892-1984)
Time, 28 August 1989

It is not the fact of liberty but the way in which liberty is exercised that ultimately determines whether liberty itself survives.... When liberty is taken away by force it can be restored by force. When it is relinquished voluntarily by default it can never be recovered.

Dorothy Thompson (1894-1961)
Newspaper columns, May and August 1958

Mejor morir a pie que vivir en rodillas.
(It's better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.)

Dolores Ibarruri (1895-1989)
Radio broadcast, Paris
03 September 1936

Freedom is the by-product of economic surplus.

Aneurin Bevan (1897-1960)
Aneurin Bevan, 1962
Volume 1, Chapter 3
by Michael Foot

Man is forbidden to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He acts against God's command, he breaks through the state of harmony with nature of which he is a part without transcending it. From the standpoint of the Church which represented authority, this is essentially sin. From the standpoint of man, however, this is the beginning of human freedom.

Erich Fromm (1900-1980)
Escape from Freedom, 1941, 1969
Chapter II "The Emergence of the Individual and the Ambiguity of Freedom"

Like every deprivation of liberty, the concentration camp is certainly a harsh and tough measure. Hard productive labour, a regular way of life, exceptional cleanliness in living conditions and personal hygiene, a faultless diet, firm but fair treatment, instruction in learning how to work again, and opportunities to acquire a trade, are the training methods. The motto which stands above these camps reads: There is only one road to freedom. Its milestones are called: Obedience, Diligence, Honesty, Orderliness, Cleanliness, Sobriety, Truthfulness, Self-Sacrifice and Love of the Fatherland.

Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945)
Radio broadcast, September 1939
The Twisted Road to Auschwitz: Nazi Policy Toward German Jews, 1933-1939
Karl A. Schleunes

Freedom is not an ideal, it is not even a protection, it it means nothing more than freedom to stagnate, to live without dreams, to have no greater aim than a second car and another television set.

Adlai E. Stevenson (1900-1965)
"Putting First Things First"
Foreign Affairs, January 1960

The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do. It is freedom to refrain, withdraw and abstain which makes a totalitarian regime impossible.

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)
The Passionate State of Mind, 1955
Aphorism 176

War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.

George Orwell (1903-1950)
1984, 1949
Part I, Chapter 1 is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet, in other respects is free; because, once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
"Existentialism and Humanism", 1945

The only freedom which counts is the freedom to do what some other people think to be wrong. There is no point in demanding freedom to do that which all will applaud. All the so-called liberties or rights are things which have to be asserted against others who claim that if such things are to be allowed their own rights are infringed or their own liberties threatened. This is always true, even when we speak of the freedom to worship, of the right of free speech or association, or of public assembly. If we are to allow freedoms at all there will constantly be complaints that either the liberty itself or the way in which it is exercised is being abused, and, if it is a genuine freedom, these complaints will often be justified. There is no way of having a free society in which there is not abuse. Abuse is the very hallmark of liberty.

Hailsham of St. Marylebone (1907-2001)
The Dilemma of Democracy, 1978

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthty's methods to keep silent. or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves. as indeed we are, defenders of freedom - what's left of it - but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965)
See It Now
09 March 1954

I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!

Barry Goldwater (1909-1998)
Acceptance speech
Republican presidential nomination
16 July 1964, San Francisco

The fact, in short, is that freedom, to be meaningful in an organized society, must consist of an amalgam of hierarchy of freedoms and restraints.

Samuel Hendel (1909-1984)

The story of man is the history, first, of the acceptance and imposition of restraints necessary to permit communal life; and second, of the emancipation of the individual within that system of necessary restraints.

Abe Fortas (1910-1982)
Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience, 1968

What we want is not freedom but its appearances. It is for these simulacra that man has always striven. And since freedom, as has been said, is no more than a sensation, what difference is there between being free and believing ourselves free?

E.M. Cioran (1911-1995)
"Strangled Thoughts"
The New Gods, 1969
Section 3

...if anyone in this audience believes that God made his body, and your body is dirty, the fault lies with the manufacturer.

Lenny Bruce (1925-1966)
How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, 1963,1964,1965
Chapter 21

Sir Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, wrote tellingly of the collapse of Athens, which was the birthplace of democracy. He judged that, in the end, more than they wanted freedom, the Athenians wanted security. Yet they lost everything - security, comfort, and freedom. This was because they wanted not to give to society, but for society to give to them. The freedom they were seeking was freedom from responsibility. It is no wonder, then, that they ceased to be free.

Margaret Thatcher (b.1925)
"The Moral Foundations of Society"
Adapted from the concluding lecture in Hillsdale [Michigan]
College's Center for Constructive Alternatives seminar,
"God and Man: Perspectives on Christianity in the 20th Century"
November 1994

The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.

Stanley Milgram (1933-1984)
Obedience To Authority, 1974
Chapter 1 "The Dilemma of Obedience"

Power...offers a choice of servitudes but calls this choice liberty.

Raoul Vaneigem (b.1934)
The Revolution of Everyday Life, 1967 (translated 1983)

Had those who drew and ratified the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth Amendment or the Fourteenth Amendment known the components of liberty in its manifold possibilities, they might have been more specific. They did not presume to have this insight. They knew times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.

Anthony McLeod Kennedy (b.1936)
John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner, Petitioners v. Texas
On writ of certiorari to the court of appeals of Texas,
fourteenth district, 26 June 2003

I'm the one that has to die when it's time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to.

Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970)
"If 6 Was 9"
Axis: Bold As Love, 1967
The Jimi Hendrix Experience

America's enemies do not hate freedom; they hate what America does with its freedom.

Ian Banjo (b.1943)

We look upon authority too often and focus over and over again, for 30 or 40 or 50 years, as if there is something wrong with authority. We see only the oppressive side of authority. Maybe it comes out of our history and our background. What we don't see is that freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.

Rudolph Giuliani (b.1944)
Speech, 16 March 1994
Quoted in New York Times, 20 March 1994

When people say, “I have nothing to hide,” what they’re saying is, “My rights don’t matter.” Because you don’t need to justify your rights as a citizen – that inverts the model of responsibility. The government must justify its intrusion into your rights. If you stop defending your rights by saying, “I don’t need them in this context” or “I can’t understand this,” they are no longer rights. You have ceded the concept of your own rights. You’ve converted them into something you get as a revocable privilege from the government, something that can be abrogated at its convenience. And that has diminished the measure of liberty within a society.

Edward Snowden (b.1983)
"Edward Snowden: A ‘Nation’ Interview"
The Nation, 27 October 2014

The price of liberty is, always has been, and always will be blood: the person who is not willing to die for his liberty has already lost it to the first scoundrel who is willing to risk dying to violate that person's liberty. Are you free?

Andrew Ford (
rec.guns post, c.1992

Indeed, to quarantine a person with AIDS or the AIDS virus does entail a loss, in the short run, of human freedom. Agreed. But the idea of human freedom isn't now, and never has been, absolute. Besides, in the long run, as I have noted, all people with AIDS die.

John Lofton
Anti-Choice Columnist
The Washington Times, 31 March 1989
as quoted in "The Far Right, Speaking For Themselves,"
a Planned Parenthood pamphlet

Obedience to Law is Liberty.

Etched into the facade of the Worcester County Courthouse
Worcester Massachusetts


[see also: BIRTH, DEATH]

While you do not know life, how can you know about death?

Confucius (551-479 BC)
The Confucian Analects, book 11:11
From The Chinese Classics, 1861-1886
Translated by James Legge

Who knows but life be that which men call death,
And death what men call life.

Euripides (c.485-406 BC)
Phrixus, fragment 830

Bad men live that they may eat and drink, whereas good men eat and drink that they may live.

Socrates (c.470-399 BC)
How a Young Man Ought to Hear Poems
by Plutarch (AD c.46-c.119)

The life which is unexamined is not worth living.

Plato (c.428-348 BC)
Dialogues, Apology, 38

For as I approve of a young man in whom there is some characteristic of old age, so I approve of an old man in whom there is some characteristic of a youth: and the man who follows this maxim in body will perhaps be an old man, but he will never be an old man in mind.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC)
De Senectute (On Old Age)
Section XI
Translated by The Rev. Dr. M'Kay, 1857

Mature fias senex, si diu senex esse velis. (To live long, it is necessary to live slowly.)

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC)
De Senectute (On Old Age)
Section XI

Death twitches my ear. "Live," he says; "I am coming."

Virgil (70-19 BC)
Minor Poems
"Copa", line 38

Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero!
(Seize the day, put no trust in the morrow!)

Horace (65-8 BC)
Odes, Book I, 23 BC
Ode xi, last line

Nothing in the entire universe ever perishes, believe me, but things vary, and adopt a new form. The phrase "being born" is used for beginning to be something different from what one was before, while "dying" means ceasing to be the same. Though this thing may pass into that, and that into this, yet the sums of things remains unchanged.

Ovid (43 BC-AD 18)

Every day should be passed as if it were to be our last.

Publilius Syrus (1st century BC)
The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus, A Roman Slave
Maxim 633
Translated by Darius Lyman, 1856

You will find rest from vain fancies if you perform every act in life as though it were your last.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121-180)
Meditations, II, 5

The longest-lived and the shortest-lived man, when they come to die, lose one and the same thing.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121-180)
Meditations, II, 14

Mark how fleeting and paltry is the estate of man -- yesterday in embryo, tomorrow a mummy or ashes. So for the hairsbreadth of time assigned to thee, live rationally, and part with life cheerfully, as drops the ripe olive, extolling the season that bore it and the tree that matured it.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121-180)
Meditations, IV, 48

Siquidem uita breuis, sensus hebes, neglegentiae torpor, inutilis occupatio, nos paucula scire permittunt, et eadem iugiter excutit et auellit ab animo fraudatrix scientiae, inimica et infida semper memoriae nouerca, obliuio.
(The brevity of our life, the dullness of our senses, the torpor of our indifference, the futility of our occupation, suffer us to know but little: and that little is soon shaken and then torn from the mind by that traitor to learning, that hostile and faithless stepmother to memory, oblivion.

John of Salisbury (c.1115-1180)
Prologue to the Policraticus, 1909
Volume 1, p.12, line 13
Translated by Helen Waddell

Sic transit gloria mundi.
(So passes away the glory of this world.)

Thomas a' Kempis (1380-1471)
Imitation of Christ, c.1420
Book I, Chapter 3

Man and the animals are merely a passage and channel for food, a tomb for other animals, a haven for the dead, giving life by the death of others, a coffer full of corruption.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
The Notebooks, 1508-1518
Volume I, Chapter 1

Wherever your life ends, it is all there. The advantage of living is not measured by length, but by use; some men have lived long, and lived little; attend to it while you are in it. It lies in your will, not in the number of years, for you to have lived enough.

Montaigne (1533-1592)
Essays, Book I, 1580
Chapter 20

...the wise man lives as long as he ought, not so long as he can.

Montaigne (1533-1592)
Paraphrasing Seneca, Epist. 70
Essays, Book II, 1580
Chapter III "The Custom of the Isle of Cea"
Edited by William Hazlitt, 1845

And even as the Egyptians after their feastings and carousings caused a great image of death to be brought in and shewed to the guests and by-standers, by one that cried aloud, 'Drinke and be merry, for such shalt thou be when thou art dead:' So have I learned this custome or lesson, to have alwaies death, not only in my imagination, but continually in my mouth. And there is nothing I desire more to be informed of than of the death of men; that is to say what words, what countenance, and what face they shew at their death; and in reading of histories, which I so attentively observe. It appeareth by the shuffling and hudling up of my examples, I affect no subject so particularly as this. Were I a composer of books, I would keepe a register, commented of the divers deaths, which in teaching men to die, should after teach them to live.

Montaigne (1533-1592)
Chapter XIX "That to Philosophise is to Learne How to Die"
Montaigne's Essays, Book 1, 1603
Translated by John Florio (1553-1625)

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Macbeth, 1605-1606
Act V, Scene v, line 17

...Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
As You Like It, 1599-1600
Act II, Scene vii, line 139

We are all conceived in close prison...and then all our life is but a going out to the place of execution, to death. Nor was there any man seen to sleep in the cart between Newgate and Tyburn -- between prison and the place of execution, does any man sleep? But we sleep all the way; from the womb to the grave we are never thoroughly awake.

John Donne (1572-1631)
Quoted in The Unquiet Grave, 1944
by Cyril Connolly (1903-1974)

What is life? A madness. What is life? An illusion, a shadow, a story. And the greatest good is little enough: for all life is a dream, and dreams themselves are only dreams.

Pedro Calderon de la Barca (1600-1681)
Life is a Dream, 1636
Act II, "Second Day", line 1195

As our life is very short, so it is very miserable, and therefore it is well it is short.

Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667)
The Rule and Exercise of Holy Dying, 1651
Chapter 1, Section 4

When all is done, human life is, at the greatest and the best, but like a froward child, that must be played with and humored a little to keep it quiet till it falls asleep, and then the care is over.

Sir William Temple (1628-1699)
"Of Poetry"
Miscellanea, Part II, 1690

Often it is fatal to live too long.

Jean Racine (1639-1699)

The moon and sun are eternal travelers. Even the years wander on. A lifetime adrift in a boat, or in old age leading a leading a tired horse into the years, everyday is a journey, and the journey itself is home. Life is a journey, and the journey itself home.

Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)
"Narrow Road to the Interior", 1694
Translated by Sam Hamill

Let us work without theorizing, 'tis the only way to make life endurable.

Voltaire (1694-1778)
Candide, 1759
Chapter 30

I desire to have both heaven and hell ever in my eye, while I stand on this isthmus of life, between these two boundless oceans.

John Wesley (1703-1791)
Letter to Mr. John Smith
(Believed to be Dr. Thomas Seeker, Bishop of Oxford)
10 July 1747
The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M., 1839
Edited by John Emory

The whole of life is but keeping away the thoughts of death.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
Life of Johnson, 1791
by James Boswell (1740-1795)

Vivre, ce n'est pas respirer, c'est agir.
(Living is not breathing but doing.)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
Emile or On Education, 1762
Book 1, section 41

Do what you will this life's a fiction,
And is made up of contradiction.

William Blake (1757-1827)
Gnomic Verses, Number 23

Every day is a little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
"Counsels and Maxims"
Parerga and Paralipomena, 1851

There's a mirror likeness between those two
shining, youthfully-fledged figures, though
one seems paler than the other and more austere,
I might even say more perfect, more distinguished,
than he, who would take me confidingly in his arms
how soft then and loving his smile, how blessed his glance!
Then, it might well have been that his wreath
of white poppies gently touched my forehead, at times,
and drove the pain from my mind with its strange scent.
But that is transient. I can only, now, be well,
when the other one, so serious and pale,
the older brother, lowers his dark torch.
Sleep is so good, Death is better, yet
surely never to have been born is best.

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)
"Death and his Brother Sleep (Morphine)", 1855
Letzte Gedichte und Gedanken, 1869

We are always getting ready to live, but never living.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Journals, 13 April 1834

Youth is a blunder; manhood a struggle; old age a regret.

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)
Coningsby, Book III, 1844
Chapter 1

This is what is sad when one contemplates human life, that so many live out their lives in quiet lostness...they live, as it were, away from themselves and vanish like shadows. Their immortal souls are blown away, and they are not disquieted by the question of its immortality, because they are already disintegrated before they die.

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
"Balance between Esthetic and Ethical"
Either/Or, 1843, Volume 2

It is quite true what Philosophy says: that Life must be understood backwards. But that makes one forget the other saying: that it must be lived -- forwards. The more one ponders this, the more it comes to mean that life in the temporal existence never becomes quite intelligible, precisely because at no moment can I find complete quiet to take the backward-looking position.

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
The Diary of Soren Kierkegaard
1843 entry
Part 5, Section 4, Number 136
Edited by Peter Rohde, 1960

There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes his whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own.

Herman Melville (1819-1891)
Moby-Dick, 1851
Chapter 49 "The Hyena"

This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death and the stars.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
"A Clear Midnight," 1881
From Noon to Starry Night
Leaves of Grass, 1855

For every living creature that succeeds in getting a footing in life there are thousands or millions that perish. There is an enormous random scattering for every seed that comes to life. This does not remind us of intelligent human design. "If a man in order to shoot a hare, were to discharge thousands of guns on a great moor in all possible directions; if in order to get into a locked room, he were to buy ten thousand casual keys, and try them all; if, in order to have a house, he were to build a town, and leave all the other houses to wind and weather -- assuredly no one would call such proceedings purposeful and still less would anyone conjecture behind these proceedings a higher wisdom, unrevealed reasons, and superior prudence."

Friedrich Albert Lange (1828-1875)
History of Materialism: And Criticism of Its Present Importance, 1865
Book 1, Section 1, Chapter 1 "The Early Atomists, Especially Demokritos"
by Friedrich Albert Lange

...I could give no reasonable meaning to any actions of my life. And I was very surprised that I had not understood this from the very beginning. My state of mind was as if some wicked and stupid jest was being played upon me by some one. One can live only so long as one is intoxicated, drunk with life; but when one grows sober one cannot fail to see that is is all a stupid cheat. What is truest about it is that there is nothing even funny or silly in it; it is cruel and stupid, purely and simply.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
in The Varieties of Religious Experience
by William James
1902 (1961 translation), page 133

That which has been born must die. The two are one: birth and death are one event which happens to a being, but which is cleft in twain by a little fissure we call life.

Sir Edwin Arnold (1832-1904)
Death and Afterwards, 1897

I think that, as life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935)
Memorial Day Address, 1884

Life is an end in itself, and the only question as to whether it is worth living is whether you have enough of it.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935)
"Life as Joy, Duty, End"
Speech at Bar Association Dinner
Boston, 07 March 1900
The Mind and Faith of Justice Holmes: His Speeches, Essays,
Letters, and Judicial Opinions
, 1989
Selected and Edited by Max Lerner

Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.

William James (1842-1910)
"Is Life Worth Living?"
The Will to Believe, 1897

Is life not a hundred times too short to be bored in it?

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Beyond Good and Evil, 1885-1886
Part 7: Our Virtues, Aphorism 227

Life is just one damned thing after another.

Elbert Green Hubbard (1856-1915)
Philistine, December 1909

Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
The Doctor's Dilemma, 1906
Act V

For every age is fed on illusions, lest men should renounce life early and the human race come to an end.

Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)
Victory, 1915

Emotionally, I shall no doubt act as others do to the last moment of my existence. With my last breath I shall probably try to draw another, but, intellectually, I am satisfied that life is a serious burden, which no thinking, humane person would wantonly inflict on some one else. The strange part of the professional optimist's creed lies in his assertion that if there is no future life then this experience is a martyrdom and a hideous sham.

Clarence Seward Darrow (1857-1938)
The Story of My Life, 1932
Chapter 42 "Questions Without Answers"

Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die; and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life. Both life and death are parts of the same Great Adventure.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)
The Great Adventure, 1918

All our knowledge merely helps us to die a more painful death than the animals that know nothing. A day will come when science will turn upon its error and no longer hesitate to shorten our woes. A day will come when it will dare and act with certainty; when life, grown wiser, will depart silently at its hour, knowing that it has reached its term.

Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949)
Our Eternity, 1913

That life is worth living is the most necessary of assumptions, and, were it not assumed, the most impossible of conclusions.

George Santayana (1863-1952)
The Life of Reason, 1905-1906
Volume I, "Reason in Common Sense"

There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.

George Santayana (1863-1952)
"War Shrines"
Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies, 1922

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.

George Washington Carver (1864-1943)
My Soul Looks Back, 'Less I Forget:
A Collection of Quotations by People of Color
, 1991
edited by Dorothy Winbush Riley

There is one thing that matters -- to set a chime of words tinkling in the minds of a few fastidious people.

Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946)
Answer to question, two weeks before his death,
whether he had discovered any meaning in life
Quoted by Cyril Connolly in obituary
New Statesman, London, 09 March 1946

If you do not think about the future, you cannot have one.

John Galsworthy (1867-1933)
Swan Song, 1928

People seem good while they are oppressed, but they only wish to become oppressors in their turn: life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Letter to Ottoline Morrell
17 December 1920
The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell:
The Public Years, 1914-1970
, 2001
Edited by Nicholas Griffin

Life is an effort that deserves a better cause.

Karl Kraus (1874-1936)
Half-Truths and One-and-a-Half Truths : Selected Aphorisms, 1976
"Lord, forgive them..."

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.

Carl Gustave Jung (1875-1961)
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1963
Chapter XI "On Life After Death"

We cannot put off living until we are ready. The most salient characteristic of life is its coerciveness; it is always urgent, "here and now," without any possible postponement. Life is fired at us point blank.

Jose Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955)
Mission of the University, 1944

For my own part, regret nothing. Have lived life, free from compromise... and step into the shadow now without complaint.

Hermann Rorschach (1884-1922)
Journal, 01 November 1985
Rorschach's Journal is excerpted from the Watchmen graphic
novel, written by Alan Moore and published by DC Comics

Birth, and copulation, and death.
That's all the facts when you come to brass tacks;
Birth, copulation and death.

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
Sweeney Agonistes, 1932

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
"Little Gidding", Part 5
Four Quartets, 1942

Ideally, every human being ought to live each passing moment of his life as if the next moment were going to be his last. He ought to be able to live in the constant expectation of immediate death, and to live like this, not morbidly but serenely.... The closer a human being can come to attaining this ideal state of mind, the better and happier he and she will be.

A.J. Toynbee (1889-1975)
Man's Concern With Death, 1968

It's not true that life is one damn thing after another -- it's one damn thing over and over.

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
Letter to Arthur Davison Ficke
24 October 1930

Do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)
The Mother, 1932
Scene X

Who knows for what we live, and struggle, and die? ...
Wise men write many books, in words too hard to understand.
But this, the purpose of our lives, the end of all our struggle,
is beyond all human wisdom.

Alan Paton (1903-1988)
"Cry, The Beloved Country", 1948

Afraid of death? One should be afraid of life, not death.

Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992)
In conversation with Maximilian Schell

Life is nothing until it is lived; but it is yours to make sense of, and the of it is nothing other than the sense you choose.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
Existentialism and Humanism, 1946

We talk a great deal nowadays about the Common Man; actually there has never been an age which offered more to the exceptional man and less to the average. No longer hampered by a rigid social structure, his intellect no longer limited by traditional or provincial horizons, the gifted and the strongwilled have greater opportunities for good and evil than ever before. And is it not precisely among such people, whether scientists, artists, or businessmen, people who find their work fascinating and rewarded, that humanism, or government of the ego by the ego for the ego, is most easily accepted as a creed, for when one has great gifts, what answer to the meaning of existence should one require beyond the right to exercise them?

W.H. Auden (1907-1973)
"Foreword to The Flower of Grass, by Emile Cammaerts"
The Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Prose: Volume II, 1939-1948, 2002

Those who hate to go to bed fear death; those who hate to get up fear life.

W.H. Auden (1907-1973)

In the morning when we rise from bed, although surprised to find ourselves still alive, we are even no less amazed that everything is exactly as we left it the evening before.

Tommaso Landolfi (1908-1979)
"Dialogue on the Greater Harmonies"
Translated by Wayland Young
Gogol's Wife and Other Stories, 1961

The single most important thing I've ever learned was that I'm going to die. For once you accept your own death, all of a sudden you are free to live. You no longer care about your reputation, what other people say, whether you've got security, all that jazz. You no longer care except so far as your life can be used tactically -- to promote a cause you believe in.

Saul David Alinsky (1909-1972)
Rockchoppers: Growing Up Catholic in Australia, 1982
By Edmund Campion
Page 216

People find life entirely too time-consuming.

Stanislaw Jerzy Lec (1909-1966)
Unkempt Thoughts, 1962
Translated by Jacek Galazka
page 104

There are more dead people than living. And their numbers are increasing. The living are getting rarer.

Eugene Ionesco (1912-1994)
Rhinoceros, 1960, Act I

The tragedy of life is not in death but in what dies inside a man while he lives -- the death of genuine feeling, the death of inspired response, the death of the awareness that makes it possible to feel the pain or the glory of other men in oneself.

Norman Cousins (1912-1990)
"The Point About Schweitzer"
The Saturday Review, 02 October 1954

Now I can broach the notion of suicide. It has already been felt what solution might be given. At this point the problem is reversed. It was previously a question of finding out whether or not life had to have a meaning to be lived. It now becomes clear, on the contrary, that it will be lived all the better if it has no meaning.

Albert Camus (1913-1960)
The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942
"An Absurd Reasoning: Absurd Freedom"

No one imagines that symphony is supposed to improve as it goes along, or that the whole object of playing is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.

Alan Watts (1915-1973)
This Is It, 1960
"This is IT"

An individual of middle age looks back over half of his life, of his "allotted span," which after such expectations of endlessness seems like a very short, vivid, but slippery dream. And he or she knows by then that all that can be expected is another short, illusive dream. That when he, or she, comes to die -- and it will be soon -- they will look back on experiences no more substantial than what they wake up from each morning: events and atmospheres exciting or pleasant or horrifying that have slid away and are already half-forgotten.

Doris Lessing (b.1919)
Shikasta, 1979

Ah, but the choice of dreams to live,
there's the rub.

For all dreams are not equal,
some exit to nightmare
most end with the dreamer

But at least one must be lived...and died.

Stanislaw Lem (b.1921)
The Cyberiad, 1967

The principle of maximum diversity operates both at the physical and at the mental level. It says that the laws of nature and the initial conditions are such as to make the universe as interesting as possible. As a result, life is possible but not too easy. Always when things are dull, something new turns up to challenge us and to stop us from settling into a rut. Examples of things which make life difficult are all around us: comet impacts, ice ages, weapons, plagues, nuclear fission, computers, sex, sin and death. Not all challenges can be overcome, and so we have tragedy. Maximum diversity often leads to maximum stress. In the end we survive, but only by the skin of our teeth.

Freeman John Dyson (b.1923)
Infinite in All Directions, 1988
Part Two "People and Machines"
Chapter 17 "Butterflies Again"

It's all so painfully empty and lonesome.... I don't think I can stand any more of it...the whole dreadful way we are born, die, and are never missed. The fact there is nobody...nobody really.... We come out of a yawning tomb of flesh and sink back finally into another tomb. What is the point of it all? Who thought up this sickening circle of flesh and blood? We come into the world bleeding and cut and our bones half-crushed only to emerge and suffer more torment, mutilation, and then at the last lie down in some hole in the ground forever. Who could have thought it up, I wonder?

James Purdy (b.1923)
On Glory's Course, 1984
Page 265
(Ellipses in original)

I don't really believe there is a 'meaning' to life. I think life is simply a fact which we have to accept, for better or worse. It is up to us to provide meanings implicitly through our work and our behavior and our affections and our pleasures. Sometimes they seem enough, sometimes they don't. It is, above all, a question of patience.

Al Alvarez (b.1929)

All life is theatre.... We are all actors, you and I, in a play which nobody wrote and which nobody will see. We have no audience but ourselves.... Some players would say that is the best kind of theatre there can be.

Susan Cooper (b.1935)
Silver on the Tree, 1977
Part 3, Chapter 9

Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend - or a meaningful day.

Dalai Lama (b.1935)
Interview, Time
11 April 1988

Kindler and rekindler of universes, the fire burns forever. It is the flame of life that courses through all generations from first to last, that burns without consuming, that is itself consumed and renewed inexhaustibly, life after life, generation after generation, species after species, galaxy after galaxy, universe after universe, each sharing in the blaze for its season and going down to death while the fire burns on undiminished. The fire is life itself, the life of this universe, of this galaxy, of this planet, of this place and every place: the place by the rock and the place under the hill and the place by the river and the place in the forest, no two are alike anywhere. And the life of every place is god, who is the fire: the life of the pond, god; the life of the tundra, god; the life of the sea, god; the life of the land, god; the life of the earth, god; the life of the universe, god: in every place unique, as the life of every place is unique, and in every place the same, as the fire that burns is everywhere the fire of life.

Daniel Quinn (b.1935)
Providence, 1994
Epilogue "The Fire"

Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you're alive, it isn't.

Richard Bach (b.1936)
Illusions, 1977
Between Chapters 15 and 16

The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.

Richard Bach (b.1936)
Illusions, 1977
Chapter 19

Time runs backwards, at the end
You turn into a child again
Then you're dust.

Robyn Hitchcock (b.1936)
"Then You're Dust"
Respect, 1993

He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.

Douglas Adams (1952-2001)
The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 1979
Chapter 1

Dying is easy, it's living that scares me to death.

Annie Lennox (b.1954)
Diva, 1992

Two babies were born on the same day at the same hospital. They lay there and looked at each other. Their families came and took them away. Eighty years later, by a bizarre coincidence, they lay in the same hospital, on their death-beds, next to each other. One of them looked at the other and said, "So. What did you think?"

Steven Wright (b.1955)

Life, immortal or otherwise, may at times be boring, but is being dead more exciting?

Brian G. Wowk (b.1963?)
"The Question Column"
CRYONICS, Volume 9 Number 4, April 1988, Issue 93
Newsletter of ALCOR Life Extension Foundation, Inc.

Lif is too short.

Bart Gold (b.1970)
Lapel button, 1990

Life is a bridge. Cross over it, but build no house on it.

Indian Proverb
Quoted in The Songlines, 1987
Chapter 30, "From the Notebooks"
by Bruce Chatwin

a stopped clock
tells our story
with its frozen
it is right twice
a day.
we are right twice
a lifetime
we're born
we're dead

bhikku (

Obviously, you're too young and naive to have ralized the total futility of life.

We're here merely because our parents had a few meaningless moments of furtive lust that they probably didn't even enjoy. Our parents raised us not out of love, for who could really love a mewling, puking infant? They raised us because they're genetically programmmed to.

Once we're grown, we have our own furtive meaningless lusts with someone who doesn't love us, or whom we don't love, or both. We'll probably have children who don't love us either, and leave home at the earliest opportunity. We'll work in meaningless jobs, and our work won't affect anyone's lives, except perhaps to slightly annoy someone. When we die, no one will mourn our passing, except the people we owe money to.

Eric Murray
Posted to talk.bizarre
15 August 1991

Life is to the universe as rust is to iron. We are, in the final judgement (on a planetary scale, certainly), nothing more than an advanced form of corrosion, just one more way for the universe to wear itself out a little faster.

Solomon Short

Woke up this morning and found myself dead.

Bootleg Jimi Hendrix album title, 1986

Dead people are cool.



[see also: HAIKU, POETRY]

Dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah,
Dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah!
Dah dah dah dah dah,
Dah dah dah dah dah!
Dah dah dah dah fucking cunt.

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)
Fates Worse Than Death, 1991
Chapter XVIII
The wittiest limerick in the world,
bowdlerized for a family audience

The Binary Gray code is fun,
For in it strange things can be done.
Fifteen, as you know,
Is one, oh, oh, oh,
And ten is one, one, one, and one.

"Mathematical Games" by Martin Gardner
Scientific American, August 1972

I am sick unto death of obscure English towns that exist seemingly for the sole accommodation of these so-called limerick writers -- and even sicker of their residents, all of whom suffer from physical deformities and spend their time dismembering relatives at fancy dress balls.

Editor, Limerick Times
Limerick, Ireland

There was a young lady of Crewe
Whose limericks stopped at line two.

"Mathematical Games" by Martin Gardner
Scientific American, April 1977

There was a young man of Verdun.

"Mathematical Games" by Martin Gardner
Scientific American, April 1977

The limerick from a Mr. Nero could not be located.



[see also: BOOKS, WRITING]

The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.

Muhammad (c.570-632)
Tribute to Reason

I wonder so insupportable and so impertinent a thing, as a mere bookseller...was ever permitted to grow up in the commonwealth. For, many of our modern booksellers, are but needless excrements, or rather vermin; who being engendered by the sweat of scholars, printers, and bookbinders, do (as worms in timber, or like the generation of vipers) devour those that breed them.

George Wither (1588-1667)
The Schollers Purgatory, Discovered in the Stationer's
Commonwealth, and Described in a Discourse Apologeticall
, c.1624
Reworded to contemporary spelling

As a man may be eating all day, and for want of digestion receive no nourishment; so these endless readers may cram themselves with intellectual food, and without real improvement of their minds, for want of digesting it by reflection.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
The Improvement of the Mind, 1741
Chapter IV "Of Books and Reading"
Section IX

While an author is yet living, we estimate his powers by his worst performance; and when he is dead, we rate them by his best.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
Works, 1801
Volume IX

The good people know not what time and trouble it costs to learn to read. I have been employed for eighteen years on it, and cannot say that I have reached the goal yet.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Conversations of Goethe: With Eckermann and Soret, 1883
Monday, 25 January 1830
Translated by John Oxenford

When we are on a journey, and all kinds of remarkable objects press themselves on our attention, the intellectual food which we receive is often so large in amount that we have no time for digestion; and we regret that the impressions which succeed one another so quickly leave no permanent trace. But at bottom it is the same with travelling as with reading. How often do we complain that we cannot remember one thousandth part of what we read! In both cases, however, we may console ourselves with the reflection that the things we see and read make an impression on the mind before they are forgotten, and so contribute to its formation and nurture; while that which we only remember does no more than stuff it and puff it out, filling up its hollows with matter that will always be strange to it, and leaving it in itself a blank.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
Parerga and Paralipomena, 1851
Chapter 5 "Psychological Observations"
Translated by E.F.J. Payne (1895-1983), 1974

Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword.

Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803-1873)
Richelieu, 1839
Act II, Scene ii

Reading is sometimes an ingenious device for avoiding thought.

Arthur Helps, (1813-1875)
Friends in Council, 1847
Book II, Chapter 1

The thing that teases the mind over and over for years, and at last gets itself put down rightly on paper -- whether little or great, it belongs to Literature.

Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909)
Letter to Willa Cather
The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories, 1896

People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.

Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946)
Afterthoughts, 1931

Nobody at all is quite in a position to choose with certainty among modern works. To sift the wheat from the chaff is a process that takes an exceedingly long time. Modern works have to pass before the bar of the taste of successive generations. Whereas, with classics, which have been through the ordeal, almost the reverse is the case. Your taste has to pass before the bar of the classics. That is the point. If you differ with a classic, it is you who are wrong, and not the book. If you differ with a modern work, you may be wrong or you may be right, but no judge is authoritative enough to decide. Your taste is unformed. It needs guidance and it needs authoritative guidance.

Arnold Bennett (1867-1931)
Literary Taste: How to Form It, 1909
Chapter IV "Where to Begin"

It is only through a custom which owes its origin to the insincere language of prefaces and dedications that a writer says "my reader". In reality, every reader, as he reads, is the reader of himself. The work of the writer is only a sort of optic instrument which he offers to the reader so that he may discern in the book what he would probably not have seen in himself.

Marcel Proust (1871-1922)
Remembrance of Things Past
Volume VII, Time Regained, 1927
Chapter III "An Afternoon Party at the House of the Princesse De Guermantes"
Translated by Stephen Hudson (1868-1944), 1931

The production of souls is more important than the production of tanks.... And therefore I raise my glass to you, writers, the engineers of the human soul.

Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)
Speech at home of Maxim Gorky
26 October 1932

[C]ertain kinds of literature, like certain kinds of processed and manufactured food, can be said to look very much like nourishment, but to contain none of the essential vitamin ingredients, so that great quantities can be consumed without affecting one's spiritual undernourishment.

Samuel Ichiyé Hayakawa (1906-1992)
Language in Thought and Action, 1949
Chapter 9 "Art and Tension: Equipment for Living"

Fiction is a way of exploring possibilities present but undreamt of in the living of a single life.

Nadine Gordimer (b.1923)
Selected Stories, 1975

Science fiction is to the totalitarian state what Aesop's fables were to the institution of slavery in the sixth century BC. It is, of course, subversive. By taking ideas too seriously, it ridicules people. But it depends, for its subversive power, on people who are smart enough to be afraid of laughter. Modern history, especially as it expresses itself in the totalitarian hockey puck, has an excess of almost everything except a genuine appreciation of the ludicrous.

John Leonard (b.1939)
New York Times Book Review, 22 January 1982
Review of Memoirs of a Space Traveler, 1982
By Stanislaw Lem

The liveliness of literature lies in its exceptionality, in being the individual, idiosyncratic vision of one human being, in which, to our delight and great surprise, we may find our own vision reflected.

Salman Rushdie (b.1947)
"In Good Faith"
Independent on Sunday
London, 04 February 1990


[see also: REASON]

"Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)
Through the Looking-Glass, 1872
Chapter 4 "Tweedledum and Tweedledee"

Logic: An instrument used for bolstering a prejudice.

Elbert Green Hubbard (1856-1915)
The Philistine magazine
Philistine - A Periodical of Protest
Volume 22, Number 6, May 1906


Solitude, though silent as light, is, like light, the mightiest of agencies; for solitude is essential to man. All men come into this world alone; all leave it alone.

Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859)
Suspiria De Profundis, 1845
Part II "The Affliction of Childhood"

Our language has wisely sensed those two sides of man's being alone. It has created the word "loneliness" to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word "solitude" to express the glory of being alone.

Paul Johannes Tillich (1886-1965)
"Loneliness and Solitude", 1957
The Eternal Now: Sermons, 1963

What is hell?
Hell is oneself,
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from
And nothing to escape to. One is always alone.

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
The Cocktail Party, 1950
Act 1, scene 3

One day you'll be blind, like me. You'll be sitting there, a speck in the void, in the dark, for ever, like me.
One day you'll say to yourself, I'm tired, I'll sit down, and you'll go and sit down. Then you'll say, I'm hungry, I'll get up and get something to eat. But you won't get up. You'll say, I shouldn't have sat down, but since I have I'll sit on a little longer, then I'll get up and get something to eat. But you won't get up and you won't get anything to eat.
You'll look at the wall a while, then you'll say, I'll close my eyes, perhaps have a little sleep, after that I'll feel better, and you'll close them. And when you open them again there'll be no wall any more.
Infinite emptiness will be all around you, all the resurrected dead of all the ages wouldn't fill it, and there you'll be like a little bit of grit in the middle of the steppe.
Yes, one day you'll know what it is, you'll be like me, except that you won't have anyone with you, because you won't have had pity on anyone and because there won't be anyone left to have pity on.

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)
Endgame, 1958


[see also: LUCK]

I figure you have the same chance of winning the lottery whether you play or not.

Fran Lebowitz (b.1951)

Lotto fever hit New York again this week, and like the old saying goes, "You gotta be in it to win it...but first, you gotta have a dead-end job so pathetic you're willing to kill five hours standing in line for a 1 in 25 million chance."

Dennis Miller (b.1953)


[see also: FRIENDSHIP]

One word
Frees us of all the weight and pain of life:
That word is love.

Sophocles (c.496-406 BC)
Oedipus at Colonus, 406 BC
line 1616

Absence extinguishes small passions and increases great ones, as the wind will blow out a candle, and blow in a fire.

La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)
Sentences and Moral Maxims, 1678
Maxim 276
Translated from 1678 and 1827 editions by
J.W. Willis Bund and J. Hain Friswell, 1871

Say, is not Absence Death to those who love?

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
"Pastorals: Autumn", 1709

LOVE: A word properly applied to our delight in particular kinds of food; sometimes metaphorically spoken of the favorite objects of all our appetites.

Henry Fielding (1707-1754)
"A Modern Glossary"
The Covent-Garden Journal
Number 4, Tuesday, 14 January 1752

True love makes the thought frequent, easy, without terrors; it merely becomes the standard of comparison, the price one would pay for many things.

Stendhal (1783-1842)
"Various Fragments"
De l'Amour, 1822
Section 46

The magic of first love is our ignorance that it can ever end.

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)
Henrietta Temple, 1837
Part 4, Chapter 1

'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
"In Memoriam", 1850
Section 27, Stanza 4 my hatred for the men of our Earth there was always a yearning anguish: Why could I not hate them without loving them? Why could I not help forgiving them? And in my love for them there was a yearning grief: Why could I not love them without hating them?

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)
The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, 1877
translated by Constance Garnett

The root of the matter is a very simple and old-fashioned thing, a thing so simple that I am almost ashamed to mention it for fear of the derisive smile with which cynics will greet my words. The thing I mean -- please forgive me for mentioning it -- is love, or compassion. If you feel this, you have a motive for existence, a reason for courage, a guide in action, an imperative necessity for intellectual honesty. If you feel this, you have all that anybody should need in the way of religion.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1967)
The Impact of Science on Society, 1902

To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already three parts dead.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1967)
Marriage and Morals, 1929
Chapter XIX "Sex and Individual Well-Being"

Love is only the dirty trick played on us to achieve continuation of the species.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
A Writer's Notebook, 1949

A togetherness between two people is an impossibility, and where it seems, nevertheless, to exist, it is a narrowing, a reciprocal agreement which robs either one party or both of his fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against a wide sky!

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
Letters to a Young Poet, 1903
Translated by J.B. Greene and M.D.H. Norton the triumph of imagination over intelligence.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
Heliogabalus: A Buffoonery in Three Acts, 1920
Act II

It is wrong to think that love comes from long companionship and persevering courtship. Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity and unless that affinity is created in a moment, it will not be created for years or even generations.

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)
The Broken Wings, 1922
Chapter 6 "The Tempest"

And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)
The Prophet, 1923
Chapter 1 "The Coming of the Ship"

Our Lord told us to love our enemies. It is often easier to do that than not to hate those we love.

Francois Mauriac (1885-1970)
Woman of the Pharisees, 1946
Chapter 9

Unless you love someone, nothing else makes any sense.

E.E. Cummings (1894-1962)

Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944)
Wind, Sand, and Stars, 1939
Chapter IX "Barcelona and Madrid (1936)", section VI

...the unity that binds us all together, that makes this earth a family, and all men brothers and sons of God, is love.

Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938)
"The Anatomy of Loneliness"
The American Mercury, October 1941

We love in another's soul
whatever of ourselves
we can deposit in it;
the greater the deposit,
the greater the love.

Irving Layton (1912-2006)
The Whole Bloody Bird, 1969

Of course it's possible to love a human being if you don't know them too well.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)
Notes of a Dirty Old Man, 1969

Christians maintain a higher enjoyment level in the intimacy of their love life than the population in general.

Beverly LaHaye (b.1926)
The Act of Marriage, The Beauty of Sexual Love, 1976
as quoted in "The Far Right, Speaking For Themselves,"
a Planned Parenthood pamphlet

One would always want to think of oneself as being on the side of love, ready to recognize it and wish it well -- but, when confronted with it in others, one so often resented it, questioned its true nature, secretly dismissed the particular instance as folly or promiscuity. Was it merely jealousy, or a reluctance to admit so noble and enviable a sentiment in anyone but oneself?

Shirley Hazzard (b.1931)
The Evening of the Holiday, 1965
Chapter 9

Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it's cracked up to be. That's why people are so cynical about it.... It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don't risk everything, you risk even more. Life doesn't leave that many choices.

Erica Jong (b.1942)
"Intuition, extuition..."
How to Save Your Own Life, 1977

When you're in love it's the most glorious two and a half days of your life.

Richard Lewis (b.1947)

There are only four questions of value in life: What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for? What is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same: Only love.

Don Juan De Marco, 1995

Romance is the victory of imagination over intelligence, and the result in art of imagination uncontrolled by conscience. The Corellian recipe is here, and the secret of all immediately popular successes.

Osbert Burdett (1885-1936)
The Beardsley Period: An Essay in Perspective, 1925
Chapter VIII "The Prose Writers"

Love is what we call the situation which occurs when two people who are sexually compatible discover that they can also tolerate one another in various other circumstances.

Marc Maihueird

Relationships are complex because they are part real, part imaginary.

Martin F. Terman


[see also: FATE]

Bohr could hardly be called a raconteur, but there were a few stories he was fond of telling and we never grew tired of listening to even if we had heard them before. One of these was about a visitor to the Bohr country home in Tisvilde who noticed a horseshoe hanging over the entrance door. Puzzled, he turned to his host and asked him if he really believed that this brings luck. 'Of course not', Bohr replied, 'but I am told it works even if you don't believe in it.'

Niels Bohr (1885-1962)
The Early Years: The Niels Bohr Institute, 1921-1930, 1979
by Peter Robertson

What are we to make of luck in our methodology of science? In the inductive view, luck strikes me as completely inexplicable; it can arise only from the gratuitous obtrusion of something utterly unexpected upon the senses; it is like winning a prize in a lottery in which we did not buy a ticket.

Peter Brian Medawar (1915-1987)
Pluto's Republic, 1982



We are now suffering the evils of a long peace. Luxury, more deadly than war, broods over the city, and avenges a conquered world.

Juvenal (c.55-c.130)
Satires, VI, line 292

Give us the luxuries of life, and we will dispense with the necessaries.

J.L. Motley (1814-1877)
Quoted in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, 1858
Chapter 6
by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)

Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hinderances to the elevation of mankind.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Walden, 1854
Chapter 1, "Economy"

The lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master.

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)
"On Houses"
The Prophet, 1923

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Last update: 03-July-2015
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