This special search box searches the Commonplace Book for words or phrases, including words in quotations and in the names of authors. It is separate from the main website search box because it searches only the Commonplace Book.

Type the word or phrase you want to search for in the search box, and then hit ENTER. If you are searching for a phrase, remember to put the whole phrase in quotation marks. The search feature will show the beginning of each Commonplace Book page that contains the word or phrase searched for. Click the link at the end or each result where it says "Continue reading…" and scroll down until you see the word or phrase highlighted. There may be more than one hit on a page, and the search feature may have found hits on more than one page – scroll through to the bottom to be sure you have found them all.

Commonplace Book 5

Love your neighbor, but don’t pull down your hedge

Benjamin Franklin

Possunt, quia posse videntur.  (They can, because they think they can.)


God forbid something inevitable happens.

American Buffalo, by David Mamet (play, 1975)

The only way to teach these people is to kill them.

Teach, in ibid.

I think he’ll make a fine President. He was the finest clerk who ever served under me.

MacArthur, of Eisenhower

The twin bedmates of disaster.

Huey Long, on Roosevelt and Hoover

I’m the Constitution around here.

Huey Long

Picasso may be a great artist, but he ain’t no welder.

Engineer in charge of placing a Picasso statue in Chicago

We can’t be an opposition party if we’re afraid to oppose anything.

Al Sharpton (2003)

Amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics.


We can’t use hope as a method.

General “Hap” Arnold

Hit first, hit hard, keep hitting!

Admiral John Fisher

Hatred shall be our prayer, revenge our battle-cry.

Martin Bormann

And because people from Europe spend their time here only in the cities, and drive along the major roads, they cannot ever imagine what our Africa looks like.

Simon, in The Shadow of the Sun, by Ryszard Kapuscinski (2001)

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

Mark Twain

The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom.


There was need of profound thought, so that the clairvoyant undazzled eye like a diver might reach the bottom of deep-preserving thought.

from Hadrian the Seventh, by Baron Corvo (1904)

Gene Autry’s Cowboy Commandments (1939)

  1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man or take unfair advantage.
  2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
  3. He must always tell the truth.
  4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly and animals.
  5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
  6. He must help people in distress.
  7. He must be a good worker.
  8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action and personal habits.
  9. He must respect women, parents and his nation’s laws.
  10. The Cowboy is a patriot.


When you dream of an elephant, does an elephant appear to your mind? Indeed it appears very clearly. Is there an elephant there? No. The appearance of an elephant in your dream is a union of appearance and emptiness. It appears, yet it does not exist – yet it appears. It is the same with all external phenomena. If we understand the example of the appearance of something in a dream, it is easier to understand how the mind appears yet does not exist, and does not exist yet appears.

Tenchen Thrangu Rimpoché, Essentials of Mahamudra (2004)

When house and land are gone and spent
Then learning is most excellent.


And what was even more exciting, she felt, too, as she saw Mr. Ramsay bearing down and retreating, and Mrs. Ramsay sitting with James in the window and the cloud moving and the tree bending, how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach.

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (1927)

Once I used to know a gnu that had a nose for news,
A nose for news no newsman ever knew.
But now he’s dead, and though I know another nosy gnu,
I never knew a gnu that knew the news that that gnu knew.

Johnny Hart, B.C. (comic strip)

Gardens are not made
By sitting in the shade.


Writing occupies not just the fist or the foot while the rest of the body can be singing or jesting, but the whole man …

Martin Luther

The depravity of the business classes of our country is not less than has been supposed, but infinitely greater.

Walt Whitman, 1871

The present ear of incredible rottenness is not Democratic, it is not Republican, it is national. * * * Politics are not going to cure moral ulcers like these, nor the decaying body they fester upon.

Mark Twain to his brother Orion Clemens, 1875

In all history, no nation of mere agriculturalists ever made successful war against a nation of merchants.

General William T. Sherman

All meetings where I sit as director vote first and talk when I am gone.

Henry Huttleston Rogers of the Standard Oil Trust

We are not in business for our health, but are out for the dollars.

Henry Huttleston Rogers of the Standard Oil Trust

When America loses it ardor for mankind, it is time to elect a Democratic President.

Woodrow Wilson, quoted by Adlai Stevenson in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in 1956

In any dispute, whatever the general mass of opinion maintains is wrong.

Motto of chemist Georg Stahl, c. 1700

History is not what actually took place, but what we believe took place.

Paul Strathearn, Mendeleyev’s Dream (2002)

Enpedocles was to die when he leapt into the crater of Mount Etna, in an attempt to prove to his followers that he was immortal. Opinion remained divided at the time, but over the years his lack of reappearance went against him.


I wish I had time to care as much as I should.

Bill Keane, on a subordinate’s engagement

Politics is a formalized version of human relationships.

Michael Frayn

You know my rules for a gunfight? Bring a gun, bring two guns, bring all your friends with guns.

Major General James N. (“Mad Dog”) Mattis, USMC, in a briefing to his commanders near Fallujah, Iraq, April 4, 2004

One study concludes that while nine million Africans were shipped to the Americas between 1700 and 1850, 21 million were probably captured, five million dying in Africa and seven million remaining in slavery in the continent itself.

James Ferguson, A Traveler’s History of the Caribbean (1998)

One of the good things about dying young is that your papers get finished sooner.

Joseph Ellis (on Hamilton)

I write to find out what I’m thinking.

Joan Didion

The great reward for the adventure of youth is death.


Jazz loves virtuosity, but it loves truth more.

Robert J. O’Meally

What are you, slave, but a soul carrying a corpse and a quart of blood?


You can’t bleach the world.

Unkown chemist

Brick says, “I like an arch.”

Louis Kahn

A work of art is something that tells us nature cannot make what man can make.

Louis Kahn

Plants and their persecutors go on with their endless game of musical chairs; and we see the result as balance.

Paul Colinvaux, Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare (1978)

Herding and agriculture entailed the adoption of entirely new niches. For the first time an animal had adopted a new niche without speciating. It was the most momentous event in the history of life.


I’m too old for Hialeah, but too young to shoot.

Sophie Tucker

Nano is Greek for funding.

Dick Trauner, Berkeley chemistry professor

The point of the brain is so hypotheses die, not you.

Karl Popper

A page of history is worth a volume of logic.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!

Macbeth, 3.2.37

Treason is a question of dates.


All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a room alone.


To drive out a passion, reason is helpless; you need another passion.

Samuel Johnson

If hypocrisy can be said to be the homage vice pays to virtue, then theology could be said to be the homage nonsense pays to sense.

James Gould Cozzens, By Love Possessed (1957)

If you don’t want the customer to know something, put it in the disclosure statement.

Real estate adage

What the world needs is more geniuses with humility – there are so few of us left.

Oscar Levant

There’s a fine line between genius and insanity – I have erased this line.

Oscar Levant

Regulation of the Department of Psychedelic Education: You can’t take LSD 100 until you’ve completed Marijuana 1-A.

Timothy Leary, from 1967 film Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

The ant sets an example for all of us, but it is not a good one.

Max Beerbohm

It’s better not to try to learn from yourself – it ruins the relationship.

Kay Ryan

For us energy is the capacity for being actively at work, but [the Aristotelian word] energia is the fulfillment itself of that capacity, expressed not in locomotion but as a kind of vibrant stasis, when any being is fully at work just being itself, being what it was meant to be.

Eva Brann, Homeric Moments (2002)

One world at a time.

Thoreau, on his deathbed, asked if he would like to pray

His father was so rich he had gone down on the Titanic…

John O’Hara, Appointment in Samarra (1934)

I would rather restrain galloping horses than whip lazy mules.

Moshe Dayan, as Israeli chief of staff during the 1956 war

Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.

John Kenneth Galbraith

Everybody likes you when you’re someone else.

David Mamet, in Things Change (1988 film, co-written with Shel Silverstein)

quod in celis sol hoc in terra caesar

coin of Charles V (like the sun in heaven is Caesar on the earth)

The best thing is to find what there is. And there’s plenty.

John Cage, radio interview 1989

Delight is the wage for living.

Jack London, The Sea-Wolf (1904)

The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.

Julia Child

The spacious mind has room for everything. It is like the space in a room, which is never harmed by what goes in and out of it. In fact, we say “the space in this room,” but actually, the room is in the space, the whole building is in the space. When the building has gone, the space will still be there. The space surrounds the building, and right now we are containing space in a room. With this view we can develop a new perspective. We can see that there are walls creating the shape of the room and there is the space. Looking at it one way, the walls limit the space in the room. But looking at it another way, we see that space is limitless.

Ajahn Sumedho, from the Fall 1995 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

Too long have the workers of the world waited for some Moses to lead them out of bondage. I would not lead you out if I could, for if you could be led out, you could be led back again. I would have you make up your minds there is nothing that you cannot do for yourselves.

Eugene V. Debs

It is finished. I am content.

Last words of John Quincy Adams, collapsed on the floor of the House of Representatives, 1848

If the M-16 delivers the message, the F-16 delivers it better.

Avi Dichter, Israeli Minister of Internal Security, former Director of Shin Bet

[Ten Steps for Encountering an Object of Art]

  1. Write quickly your initial split-second reaction.
  2. Scribble down a detailed, pedantic description.
  3. What is the object’s physical condition? Wear, age, repair, corrosion, etc.
  4. Did it have a use? [how did function influence form, etc.]
  5. Style. Identifiable, datable, consistent? If inconsistent why: transitional or multi-influence, etc.
  6. Comparisons for subject matter?
  7. Iconography.
  8. Documentation.
  9. Scientific testing.
  10. Back to #1. What is your reaction now?

[These are taken from Thomas P. F. Hoving’s King of the Confessors (1981)]

There are three side effects of acid. Enchanced long term memory, decreased short term memory, and I forget the third.

Timothy Leary

I did try to found a heresy of my own, and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.

G. K. Chesterton

A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.

Samuel Johnson (from Boswell’s Life)

Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.

John Adams

I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.

H. D. Thoreau, Walden (1854)

God is as His servant perceives Him to be. If a servant perceives God to be close, then God is so. If God is seen as remote, then God is so.

Skaikh Ab al-Latif (Fultholy Saheb), cbquod in The Islamist, by Ed Husain (2009)

“They say that when good Americans die they go to Paris,” chuckled Sir Thomas, who had a large wardrobe of Humor’s cast-off clothes.

“Really! And where do bad Americans go when they die?” inquired the Duchess.

“They go to America,” murmured Lord Henry.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with balance and stealth.

Patti Smith

Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.

Isaac Asimov

Physics doesn’t care what scientists want.

Steven Weinberg

Reading is socially accepted disassociation. You flip a switch and you’re not there anymore. It’s better than heroin. More effective and cheaper and legal.

Mary Karr

Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day to day living that wears you out.

Anton Chekhov

It may be a dog-eat-dog world out there, but it’s also a dog-play-with-dog world.

Jon Carroll (in a column in the San Francisco Chronicle, January 26, 2012)

I am never out of your sight as I move about. Be my friend again, now especially.

Odysseus’ prayer to gray-eyed Athena, Iliad X:280 (Fagles translation)

I translate him [Plato] in the way I think will give him the most pleasure.

Leonardo Bruni (1370-1447)

As religion is to strategy, magic is to tactics.

Robert Pinsky, The Life of David (2005)

Archaeology is the closest history comes to shopping.

Alan Bennett, The History Boys (2004)

When I am in California, I am not in the West. I am west of the West.

Theodore Roosevelt

In regard to the question “What is Man,” the zoologist G. G. Simpson wrote “all attempts to answer that question before 1859 are worthless and … we will be better off if we ignore them completely.

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (1976)

I want to claim almost limitless power for slightly inaccurate self-replicating entities, once they arise anywhere in the universe.


Money is a formal token of delayed reciprocal altruism.


… I am skeptical of all myths. If we want to know where the trust lies in particular cases, we have to look.


[T]o a good approximation, all creatures are insects.

Robert May, quoted in ibid. (because there are so many insects]

[A]s soon as my age permitted me to pass from under the control of my instructors, I entirely abandoned the study of letters, and resolved no longer to seek any other science than the knowledge of myself, or of the breat book of the world.

René Descartes, Discourse on the Method (1637)

Blessed are those who are content to leave things more or less alone.

Herb Caen

Composing is improvisation slowed down.

Charles Mingus

John Kennedy was a realist brilliantly disguised as a romantic, Robert Kennedy, a romantic stubbornly disguised as a realist.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

The first 70 years of a man’s life are the happiest.


Work like you don’t need the money.
Love like you’ve never been hurt.
Dance like nobody’s watching.

Satchel Paige

Civilization will not achieve perfection until the last stone from the last church falls on the last priest.

Emile Zola

The profligacy that leads to a age of strict morals is never so great as the profligacy that follows one.

Thomas Babington Macaulay

When you back up, sculpture is what you bump into.

Ad Reinhardt

Things should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Albert Einstein

One guy doing something weird, that’s a nut; a whole town doing something weird, that’s a church.

Bengt Washburn

Chance favors the prepared mind.

Louis Pasteur

Harding was not a bad man. He was just a slob.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth

If you canot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?

Zen Master Dogen (13th century)

A child says, “It’s my toy.” That’s property law. A child says, “You promised me.” That’s contract law. A child says, “He hit me first.” That’s criminal law. A child says, “Daddy said I could.” That’s constitutional law.

Professor Harold J. Berman, Harvard Law School

Appeasers feed other people to the crocodiles in the hope that they will be eaten last.


Use no superfluous word, no adjective that does not reveal something.

Ezra Pound

A liberal is a conservative who’s been arrested.

John Grisham, The Brethren (2000)

When you hear hoofbeats, first think horses, then think zebras.

Medical training adage

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity


The harder I work, the luckier I get

Sam Goldwyn

Markets can stay irrational longer than you can stay liquid.

Maynard Keynes

All my life I have loved edges; and the boundary line that brings one thing sharply against another. All my life I have loved frames and limits; and I will maintain that the largest wilderness looks larger seen through a window.

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908)

A city is, properly speaking, more poetic than a countryside, for while nature is a chaos of unconscious forces, a city is a chaos of conscious ones. The crest of the flower or the pattern of the lichen may or may not be significant symbols. But there is no stone in the street and no brick in the wall that is not actually a deliberate symbol – a message from some man, as much as it if were a telegram or a post card.

G. K. Chesterton

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.

G. K. Chesterton

You don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste; it’s an opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid.

Rahm Emanuel, November 6, 2008 (two days after Obama’s election)

The demand that I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole life to reading my works.

James Joyce

The artist, like the God of the Creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.

James Joyce

In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag.

W. H. Auden

There is a simple way to become a buddha. When you refrain from unwholesome action, are not attached to birth and death, and are compassionate toward sentient beings, respectful to seniors and kind to juniors, not excluding or desiring anything, with no designing thoughts or worries, you will be called a buddha. Do not seek anything else.

Zen Master Dogen (13th century), quoted in Kazauki Tanahashi, ed., Moon in a Dewdrop (1985)

The purpose of life is to inform and delight.


Are we to understand that it is as easy for a pauper to get into the kingdom of heaven as a prince? We may say so, but, my friends, no prince will ever be got to believe it.

Sir Walter Besant, London (1982)

The alphabet is all there is to protect me; it’s what I was given instead of a gun.

Philip Roth, Operation Shylock (1993)

We should have wife, children, goods and above all health if we can; but we must not so set our heart upon them that our happiness depends on them. We must reserve a back shop wholly our own, entirely free … to the end that, when the occasion comes for us to lose them, it may be no new thing to be without them.


But the visions that I saw, not in dreams, not sleeping, nor in a frenzy, nor with bodily eyes or ears of an outward person, nor in hidden places did I see them, but awake and alert with a clear mind, with eyes and ears of an inward person, according to the will of God I received them.

Hildegard of Bingen (12th century)

The rest of Europe was free either to repel or to accept partly or wholly the mighty impulse that came from Italy. Where the latter was the case we may as well be spared the complaints over the early decay of medieval faith and civilization. Had these been strong enough to hold their ground, they would be alive to this day. If those elegaic nations which long to see them return had to spend but one hour in their midst, they would gasp to be back in modern air.

Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1868)

[D]emocracy, righthly understood, is government of the people, by the people, for the benefit of senators…

Henry Adams, Democracy (1880)

When the gods were no longer and Christ not yet, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius a unique moment occurred, when there was man, alone.

Gustave Flaubert (from a letter)

I’ve never been one to hold a grudge longer than absolutely necessary

Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail (1972)

Humans are the only animals that will follow an unstable pack leader.

Cesar Millan (the Dog Whisperer)

They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but the sea.

Francis Bacon

Spanish girls make wonderful wives. I’ve never had one so I know.

Ernest Hemingway

Religion is the politicization of spirituality.

Dame Judith Anderson

I couldn’t catch a ball to save my life. Why would I want to? I’d only have to throw it back again.

Character in Vigil, by Morris Panych (1995)

“What’ll we drink to?” the captain asked a couple of minutes later.
Dalmas said: “Let’s just drink.”

Raymond Chandler, from “Smart-Aleck Kill” (1934) in Pickup on Main Street

There are cities that your soul recognizes at first glance.

Irwin Shaw, Two Weeks in Another Town (1960), said of Rome

How pleasant it is to have money, heigh-ho, how pleasant it is to have money.

Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861)

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Steve Jobs

The object of education is not to make men carpenters, it is to make carpenters men.

W. E. B. DuBois

Men without imagination were necessary to execute a military policy devoid of imagination, devised by a man without imagination.

C. S. Forester, in The General (1936), said of Field Marshal Douglas Haig

The viewer is persuaded by his senses that he occupies the center of the world around him – a world he changes at will as he moves through it.

Art theorist Rudolf Arnheim, The Power of the Center (1988)

Music establishes an order between man and time. The stripe establishes an order between man and space.

Michel Pastoureau, The Devil’s Cloth (1991)

Actually all is space, form as well as what we see as empty space.

Piet Mondrian, “Toward the True Vision of Reality” (1941)

Art is limitation. The essence of every picture is the frame.

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908)

Dr. Johnson did not care to speak ill of a man behind his back, but he believed the gentleman was an attorney.

Anecdotes of [Samuel] Johnson, by Mrs. Piozzi (1789)

Like most men of my age my heart lives back on trails that have been plowed under.

Charles M. Russell (western artist, 62 when he made this statement in 1926)

He was given to the counting of blesings, which in practice meant the listing of assets …

Barry Unsworth, After Hannibal (1996)

I am an Apiarian – I flit like a bee from one religion to another sucking out the honey of each.


You can be young without money, but you can’t be old without it.

Tennesee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (play, 1955)

After eighty there are no enemies, only survivors.


Death is the dark backing a mirror needs before we can see ourselves.

Saul Bellow, quoted in coversation by Martin Amis

Conservatives understand Hallowe’en; liberals only understand Christmas.

Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All (1990)

  • Neither friend nor foe should ever know when your foot is asleep.
  • That friend who faints is your foe.
  • When friends are needed any wise man can make a friend of a foe.

Three maxims of King James I, from George Garrett, Death of the Fox (1971)

Unfortunately I am not married, so I am, thank God, a bachelor.

Johannes Brahms

Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall.

Virginia Woolf

I am of a sect by myself, so far as I know.


The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.

Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted (1775)

It is error alone that needs the support of government. Truth can stand on its own.


Love must be regarded as the final flower and fruit of justice; however, when it is substituted for justice it degenerates into sentimentality and may become the accomplice of tyranny.

Reinhold Niebuhr, “The Christian Faith and the World Crisis” (1941)

The truth of the matter can be put in this way: God is not known, he is not understood; he is used – sometimes as a meat-purveyor, sometimes as a moral support, sometimes as a friend, sometimes as an object of love. If he proves himself useful, religious consciousness asks no more than that. Does God really exist? How does he exist? What is he? are so many irrelevant questions.

James H. Leuba, quoted in William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1901-1902)

Why do we need the 20th century when we already have the 19th?

Joseph Brodsky

Don’t trust anyone more than you trust yourself.

Tabatha Coffey, It’s Not Really About the Hair (2011)

I wasn’t hired [as a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art] to know things, but to know where to look things up. I feel that everybody is a specialist. I know the contents of my pants pockets better than anyone else. I’m a specialist in that.

A. Hyatt Mayor

The more you know, the more you see.

A. Hyatt Mayor

Your tongue will be impeded by thirst, your body by sleepiness and hunger, before you manage to show with words what a painter can show in an instant.

Leonardo da Vinci [to a poet]

The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.


The less conscious one is of being a “writer,” the better the writing.

Pico Iyer

Until I grew up I thought I hated everybody, but when I grew up I realized it was just children I didn’t like.

Philip Larkin

Stay in the palace. Hold your ground. Don’t leave no matter what the threat or promise.

King Juan Carlos I of Spain, on how to put down a coup d’état.

If you can talk, you can write.

Christopher Hitchens

Nately had a bad start. He came from a good family.

Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)

Declaring war on another’s artistic philosophy is as pointless as a tree scolding the grass for being short.

Scott McCloud, Making Comics (2006)

History – it’s stuff that happened before I was even born.

Brian Copeland, The Waiting Period (2012)

Myth is the natural and indispensible intermediate stage between conscious and unconscious cognition.

Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963)

Henry James always chews, I think, more than he bites off.

Clover [Mrs. Henry] Adams, in Max Byrd’s Grant (2000)

A belief proves to me only the phenomenon of belief, not the content of the belief.

Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963)

Death doesn’t require us to make a day free.

Samuel Beckett

My conceit … is due not to my admiration of myself, but my contempt for every one else.

Henry Adams, in Max Byrd’s Grant (2000)

A friend of mine … used to say that a good marriage was a happy blending of the finest Wallsend with the most delicate Silkstone. But he was in the coal trade.

Sir Walter Besant, In Luck at Last (1884)

Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.


You cannot very well talk round a branch of mathematics, but heraldry is a subject surrounded by fields, meadows and lawns, so to speak, with beautiful flowers.

Sir Walter Besant, In Luck at Last (1884)

Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real.

Iris Murdoch

If I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.

Henry Ford

My grandfather always said that living was like licking honey off a thorn.

Louis Adamic

Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.

Flannery O’Connor

To err is human, to forgive – design.

Andrew Dillon

If you can’t annoy somebody, there is little point in writing.

Kingsley Amis

The books that everybody admires are those that nobody reads.

Anatole France

My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate.

Thornton Wilder

Half the fun of nearly everything, you know, is thinking about it beforehand, or afterward.

Howard R. Garis, author of the Uncle Wiggly stories

Reading and sauntering and lounging and dozing, which I call thinking, is my supreme happiness.

David Hume

Listen carefully. It is important that you understand this. No matter how powerful a man may be, no matter how rich a man may be, no matter how rich and powerful that man’s friends may be, there is always one thing that he will understand: violence.

Cockeyed Nick Ratteni, of the Genovese crime family (advice to his son).

It sometimes happens that the plans of Providence are a little difficult to follow.

Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians (1918)

Never use a long word where a short one will do.

George Orwell

Some people have a way with words, and other people … oh, uh, not have way.

Steve Martin

The art of diplomacy is to get other people to want what you want.

Madeleine Albright

Omit needless words!

William Strunk, Jr.

Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways.

Stephen Vincent Benét

Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.

Gore Vidal

It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.

Gore Vidal

Take nothing on looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.

Mr. Jaggers, the lawyer, in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1861)

Every enhancement of the type called man has so far been the work of an aristocratic society – and it will be so again and again.

Friedrich Nietzsche

The jest which is expected is already destroyed.

Samuel Johnson

I strive for two things in design: simplicity and clarity. Great design is born of those two things.

Lindon Leader, designer of the FedEx logo, quoted in Matthew May, The Laws of Subtraction (2012)

I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.

Daniel Boone

If the thing is there, why, there it is.

Walker Evans (speaking about photography)

I guess it hadn’t occurred to me that to be a playwright you had to write plays – I thought you could be a playwright and sulk.

Terrence McNally

A new dress goesn’t get you anywhere – it’s the life you’re living in the dress.

Diana Vreeland (fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue)

The best thing about London is Paris.

Diana Vreeland

I have achieved my 70 years in the usual way: by sticking strictly to a scheme of life which would kill anybody else.

Mark Twain

People like to ask me if writing can be taught, and I say yes. I can teach you how to write a better sentence, how to write dialogue, maybe even how to construct a plot. But I can’t teach you how to have something to say.

Ann Patchett

The first kiss is magic. The second is intimate. The third is routine.

Raymond Chandler

Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth is the floor of the sky.

Willa Cather (about Nebraska)

No matter how a war starts, it always ends in mud.

General “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell

Being president is like running a cemetery. You’ve got a lot of people under you, but nobody’s listening.

Bill Clinton

Adventure is just poor planning.

Roald Amundsen (Antarctic explorer)

Lead us not into temptation. Just tell us where it is; we’ll find it.

Sam Levenson

For Hindus, death is not the opposite of life; it is, rather, the opposite of birth.

Diana Eck, Banaras: City of Light (1981)

To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.

Somerset Maugham

If it sounds good, it is good.

Duke Ellington (about music; not so true about, say, politics)

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.

Proverbs 26:11

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.

A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh (1926)

[St. Francis] was the very contrary of that sort of oriental visionary who is only a mystic because he is too much of a skeptic to be a materialist.

G. K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi (1924)

In this matter of reality [St. Francis] was emphatically a realist,using the word realist in its much more real mediaeval sense. In this matter he really was akin to the best spirit of his age, which had just won its victory over the nominalism of the twelfth century. In this indeed there was something symbolic in the contemporary art and decoration of his period; as in the art of heraldry. The Franciscan birds and beasts were really rather like heraldic birds an beasts; not in the sense of being fabulous animals but in the sense of being treated as if they were facts, clear and positive and unaffected by the illusions of atmosphere and perspective. In that sense he did see a bird sable on a field azure or a sheep argent on a field vert.

G. K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi (1924)

“One, don’t wait for inspiration, just start the damn thing. Two, once you begin, keep on until the end. How do you know how the story should begin until you find out where it’s going?” These rules saved me half a career’s worth of time and gained me a reputation as the fastest writer in town. I’m not faster. I spend less time not writing.

Film critic Roger Ebert, quoting sportswriter Bill Lyon’s advice to him.

Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions never lie to you.

Roger Ebert, on film criticism (not so true about other things)

I wasn’t really naked … I simply didn’t have any clothes on.

Josephine Baker

I regret almost everything I’ve ever said that was not absolutely necessary to say, and even some of the few things that were necessary.

Anthony Amsterdam (law professor)

Everything is water if you look long enough.

Robert Creeley

So, I said to myself – I’ll paint what I see – what the flower is to me, but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it.  I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.

 Georgia O’Keeffe

Style is a simple way of saying complicated things.

Jean Cocteau

Housework can’t kill you, but why take a chance?

Phyllis Diller

Money is a formal token of delayed reciprocal altruism.

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (1976)

Some men are Baptists, others Catholics.  My father was an Oldsmobile man.

          Jean Shepherd


The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.

          G. K. Chesterton (from the Illustrated London News, April 19, 1924)


I was an expert councilor.  I knew how to have my advice taken up to a point.  I first find out what the men in doubt really want to do, and then I advise them to do that.  And so with propaganda.  You can’t tell anybody anything he does not know.  But you can remind men of what they do know and sometimes bring their knowledge into action.

          Lincoln Steffens, Autobiography (1931)


Public opinion, with votes, is some slight check upon a plutocracy.  It stops the noise of the grafting.



Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, stern and inflexible; it is not so much a particular principle as a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to the most urgent needs of our country ….  The government of the Revolution is the despotism of liberty against the tyrants.



Reason must first be established in the minds of the leaders, then gradually it descends and at length rules the people, who are unaware of its existence, but who, perceiving the moderation of their rulers, learn to imitate them.



Tell many people that your reputation is great; and they will repeat it, and those repetitions will make your reputation

          Jean-Marie Hérault de Séchelles, “The Theory of Ambition”


I wonder why I ever bothered with sex …, there’s nothing in this breathing world so gratifying as an artfully placed semicolon.

Hilary Mantel, A Place of Greater Safety (interior monologue of Camille Desmoulins)

Writing’s like running downhill; can’t stop if you want to.



If someone would trust me, I wouldn’t need to be so devious.

          Hilary Mantel, A Place of Greater Safety (interior monologue of Mirabeau)


Deprivation for me is what daffodils were for Wordsworth.

          Philip Larkin


There’s a saying in historical fiction: You can make a lot of stuff up, but Lincoln has to be tall.

          David O. Stewart


It is wonderful that we live in a world in which there are things that can eat us.  It keeps us from getting too cocky.

          Gary Larson


The tremendous fun of writing in rhyme is in reeling in whatever you’ve caught and being surprised by it.

          X. J. Kennedy


I know I’m drinking myself to a slow death, but then I’m in no hurry.

          Robert Benchley


It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.

          Robert Benchley    


Originality is just successfully obscuring your sources.

          Nina Paley


It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

          Upton Sinclair, in I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked (1935)


He needed a bottle of wine to get him through an evening with only a bottle of wine to get him through it.

          Martin Amis, Yellow Dog (2003)


If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.

          Stephen King (novelist)


The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.

          Dorothea Lange

You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.

          Eleanor Roosevelt


For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

          T. S. Eliot, from “East Coker” in Four Quartets (1940)


Fear is a reaction.  Courage is a decision.

          Winston Churchill


I couldn’t wait for success, so I went ahead without it.

          Jonathan Winters


Neither current events nor history show that the majority rule, or ever did rule.

          Jefferson Davis


Everything that needs to be said has already been said.  But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.

          André Gide


Charity is the price you pay for the luck you’ve had.

          Jon Carroll


A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.

          Jane Austen


To kindness, to knowledge, we make promises only; pain we obey.

          Marcel Proust


The purely righteous do not complain of the dark, but increase the light; they do not complain of evil, but increase justice; they do not complain of heresy, but increase faith; they do not complain of ignorance, but increase wisdom.

          Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Arpilei Tohar


Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.

          Berthold Brecht


The interesting thing about being nuts is you’re the last to know.

          Frank Hatfield