The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.
– Bertrand Russell
How the globe would get on, if entirely peopled with individuals, is impossible to foresee. However, Man has another wish, besides the wish to be free, and that is the wish to love, and perhaps something may be born from the union of the two. Love sometimes leads to an obedience which is not servile—the obedience referred to in the Christian epigram above quoted. Love, after a dreadful period of inflation, is perhaps coming back to its proper level and may steady civilization; up-to-date social workers believe in it. It is difficult not to get mushy as soon as one mentions love, but it is a tendency that must be reckoned with, and it takes as many forms as fear. The desire to devote oneself to another person or persons seems to be as innate as the desire for personal liberty. If the two desires could combine, the menace to freedom from within, the fundamental menace, might disappear, and the political evils now filling all the foreground of our lives would be deprived of the poison which nourishes them. They will not wilt in our time, we can hope for no immediate relief. But it is a good thing, once in a way, to speculate on the remoter future. It is a good thing, when freedom is discussed, not always to be wondering what ought to be done about Hitler, or whether the decisions of the Milk Marketing Board are unduly arbitrary. There is the Beloved Republic to dream about and to work for through our dreams; the better polity which once seemed to be approaching on greased wheels; the City of God.
– E.M. Forster, “The Menace to Freedom”
… the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
– George Eliot, Middlemarch
“Most persons have but a very moderate capacity of happiness; but no person ever finds this out without experience, very few even with experience: and most persons are constantly wreaking that discontent which has its source internally, upon outward things. Expecting therefore in marriage a far greater degree of happiness than they commonly find: and knowing not that the fault is in their own scanty capabilities of happiness–they fancy they should have been happier with some one else: or at all events the disappointment becomes associated in their minds with the being in whom they had placed their hopes–and so they dislike one another for a time–and during that time they would feel inclined to separate: but if they remain united, the feeling of disappointment after a time goes off, and they pass their lives together with fully as much happiness as they could find either singly or in any other union, without having undergone the wearing of repeated and unsuccessful experiments.”
– J.S. Mill to Harriet Taylor
ὁ δὲ ἀρτιτελής, ὁ τῶν τότε πολυθεάμων, ὅταν θεοειδὲς πρόσωπον ἴδῃ κάλλος εὖ μεμιμημένον ἤ τινα σώματος ἰδέαν, πρῶτον μὲν ἔφριξε καί τι τῶν τότε ὑπῆλθεν αὐτὸν δειμάτων, εἶτα προσορῶν ὡς θεὸν σέβεται, καὶ εἰ μὴ ἐδεδίει τὴν τῆς σφόδρα μανίας δόξαν, θύοι ἂν ὡς ἀγάλματι καὶ θεῷ τοῖς παιδικοῖς. ἰδόντα δ᾽ αὐτὸν οἷον ἐκ τῆς φρίκης μεταβολή τε καὶ ἱδρὼς καὶ θερμότης ἀήθης λαμβάνει: δεξάμενος γὰρ τοῦ κάλλους τὴν ἀπορροὴν διὰ τῶν ὀμμάτων ἐθερμάνθη ᾗ ἡ τοῦ πτεροῦ φύσις ἄρδεται, θερμανθέντος δὲ ἐτάκη τὰ περὶ τὴν ἔκφυσιν, ἃ πάλαι ὑπὸ σκληρότητος συμμεμυκότα εἶργε μὴ βλαστάνειν, ἐπιρρυείσης δὲ τῆς τροφῆς ᾤδησέ τε καὶ ὥρμησε φύεσθαι ἀπὸ τῆς ῥίζης ὁ τοῦ πτεροῦ καυλὸς ὑπὸ πᾶν τὸ τῆς ψυχῆς εἶδος: πᾶσα γὰρ ἦν τὸ πάλαι πτερωτή. ζεῖ οὖν ἐν τούτῳ ὅλη καὶ ἀνακηκίει, καὶ ὅπερ τὸ τῶν ὀδοντοφυούντων πάθος περὶ τοὺς ὀδόντας γίγνεται ὅταν ἄρτι φύωσιν, κνῆσίς τε καὶ ἀγανάκτησις περὶ τὰ οὖλα, ταὐτὸν δὴ πέπονθεν ἡ τοῦ πτεροφυεῖν ἀρχομένου ψυχή: ζεῖ τε καὶ ἀγανακτεῖ καὶ γαργαλίζεται φύουσα τὰ πτερά. ὅταν μὲν οὖν βλέπουσα πρὸς τὸ τοῦ παιδὸς κάλλος, ἐκεῖθεν μέρη ἐπιόντα καὶ ῥέοντ᾽—ἃ δὴ διὰ ταῦτα ἵμερος καλεῖται—δεχομένη τὸν ἵμερον ἄρδηταί τε καὶ θερμαίνηται, λωφᾷ τε τῆς ὀδύνης καὶ γέγηθεν: ὅταν δὲ χωρὶς γένηται καὶ αὐχμήσῃ, τὰ τῶν διεξόδων στόματα ᾗ τὸ πτερὸν ὁρμᾷ, συναυαινόμενα μύσαντα ἀποκλῄει τὴν βλάστην τοῦ πτεροῦ, ἡ δ᾽ ἐντὸς μετὰ τοῦ ἱμέρου ἀποκεκλῃμένη, πηδῶσα οἷον τὰ σφύζοντα, τῇ διεξόδῳ ἐγχρίει ἑκάστη τῇ καθ᾽ αὑτήν, ὥστε πᾶσα κεντουμένη κύκλῳ ἡ ψυχὴ οἰστρᾷ καὶ ὀδυνᾶται, μνήμην δ᾽ αὖ ἔχουσα τοῦ καλοῦ γέγηθεν. ἐκ δὲ ἀμφοτέρων μεμειγμένων ἀδημονεῖ τε τῇ ἀτοπίᾳ τοῦ πάθους καὶ ἀποροῦσα λυττᾷ, καὶ ἐμμανὴς οὖσα οὔτε νυκτὸς δύναται καθεύδειν οὔτε μεθ᾽ ἡμέραν οὗ ἂν ᾖ μένειν, θεῖ δὲ ποθοῦσα ὅπου ἂν οἴηται ὄψεσθαι τὸν ἔχοντα τὸ κάλλος: ἰδοῦσα δὲ καὶ ἐποχετευσαμένη ἵμερον ἔλυσε μὲν τὰ τότε συμπεφραγμένα, ἀναπνοὴν δὲ λαβοῦσα κέντρων τε καὶ ὠδίνων ἔληξεν, ἡδονὴν δ᾽ αὖ ταύτην γλυκυτάτην ἐν τῷ παρόντι καρποῦται. ὅθεν δὴ ἑκοῦσα εἶναι οὐκ ἀπολείπεται, οὐδέ τινα τοῦ καλοῦ περὶ πλείονος ποιεῖται, ἀλλὰ μητέρων τε καὶ ἀδελφῶν καὶ ἑταίρων πάντων λέλησται, καὶ οὐσίας δι᾽ ἀμέλειαν ἀπολλυμένης παρ᾽ οὐδὲν τίθεται, νομίμων δὲ καὶ εὐσχημόνων, οἷς πρὸ τοῦ ἐκαλλωπίζετο, πάντων καταφρονήσασα δουλεύειν ἑτοίμη καὶ κοιμᾶσθαι ὅπου ἂν ἐᾷ τις ἐγγυτάτω τοῦ πόθου: πρὸς γὰρ τῷ σέβεσθαι τὸν τὸ κάλλος ἔχοντα ἰατρὸν ηὕρηκε μόνον τῶν μεγίστων πόνων. τοῦτο δὲ τὸ πάθος…, πρὸς ὃν δή μοι ὁ λόγος, ἄνθρωποι… ἔρωτα ὀνομάζουσιν….
– Plato, Phaedrus 251-252
It is only that people are far more different than is pretended. All over the world men and women are worrying because they cannot develop as they are supposed to develop. Here and there they have the matter out, and it comforts them. Don’t fret yourself, Helen. Develop what you have; love your child. I do not love children. I am thankful to have none. I can play with their beauty and charm, but that is all—nothing real, not one scrap of what there ought to be. And others—others go farther still, and move outside humanity altogether. A place, as well as a person, may catch the glow. Don’t you see that all this leads to comfort in the end? It is part of the battle against sameness. Differences—eternal differences, planted by God in a single family, so that there may always be colour; sorrow perhaps, but colour in the daily grey.
– E.M. Forster, Howards End
The study of the past has been a constant joy, a privileged realm of intellectual eros. The necessary constraints under which the historian operates—to find evidence for every affirmation—I have accepted freely: that quest is what makes it so much fun. The mistakes I made—say, a project not finished (or as I like to say to myself, still remaining to be done)—seem trivial compared to really important mistakes, as those we might have made in parenting. Moreover, the study of the past provides rewards for moral sensibility and tools for critical understanding. No matter how evil the times, no matter how immense the cruelty, some elements of opposition or kindness and goodness emerge. No matter how bleak and constrained the situation, some forms of improvisation and coping take place. No matter what happens, people go on telling stories about it and bequeath them to the future. No matter how static and despairing the present looks, the past reminds us that change can occur. At least things can be different. The past is an unending source of interest, and can even be a source for hope.
– Natalie Zemon Davis
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
– Auden, “September 1, 1939”
… what room for poetry in a world so ruined and riddled by poverty and crisis?… Here’s what I think: I think that part of our common civic cause is each of us doing our small part to discover and cherish those mysteries of the deep that seem most remote from the immediate crises that threaten to destroy all that is best in our world. I am persuaded, though I cannot prove why, that the discovery of these mysteries is part of the broader struggle to make gentle the heart of man and thus improve the chances of mankind.
– Jeff Nunokawa
… to my knowledge, nobody professes to doubt that, so far forth as we possess a power of bettering things, it is our paramount duty to use it and to train all our intellect and energy to this supreme service of our kind. Hence the pressing interest of the question, to what extent modern progress in natural knowledge… is competent to help us in the great work of helping one another?
– T.H. Huxley, Evolution and Ethics
Practice everyday. Practice turning whatever pain or plainness you’re feeling or that’s feeling you into something Better. Learn some handicraft… that gets you out of bed, rising, shining, showing all your better self–the one that reaches and is reached in turn by the better selves lodged within the selves around you. That’s what you do. That’s all.
– Jeff Nunokawa, Note 3281
As people mature they cease to believe in sides or in Headmasters or in highly ornamental pots.
– Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own”
The self-realising principle… must overcome the ‘natural impulses’, not in the sense of either extinguishing them or denying them an object, but in the sense of fusing them with those of higher interests, which have human perfection in some of its forms for their object. Some approach to this fusion we may notice in all good men; not merely in those in whom all natural passions, love, anger, pride, ambition, are enlisted in the service of great public cause, but in those with whom such passions are all governed by some such commonplace idea as that of educating a family.
– T.H. Green, Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation
History, like every other subject, is a very big thing. The first step in learning it, is to discover how little we know, and how very many circumstances–nations, epochs, climates–of which we are wont to take no heed, contributed in an essential way to our own thought and feeling. The second step in history is to keep our eyes and ears always open and slowly to accumulate facts.
– J.A. Symonds to his daughter Katharine, 1893
One thought on “quotefile”
I love your selection of quotes, and I especially love the Auden poem. He wrote “Spain” in and around this time – 1939 – and I think it’s his best – have you read it?