Category Archives: Quotations

Seeing the Words Fly About the Room in All Directions

alex atkins bookshelf literatureYou may not know the name of Henry Crabb Robinson (1775-1867), a British lawyer who published his diary in 1869. What is significant about that work, titled Diary, Reminiscences and Correspondence, was that it provided a window into the minds and daily lives of the key figures of the English romantic movement — William Blake, Coleridge, Charles Lamb, and William Wordsworth. Poet and critic Algernon Charles Swinburne who wrote extensively about Blake noted: “Of all the records of these his latter years, the most valuable, perhaps, are those furnished by Mr. Crabb Robinson, whose cautious and vivid transcription of Blake’s actual speech is worth more than much vague remark, or than any commentary now possible to give.” Here is an excerpt of Robinson interviewing Blake about his writing process and philosophy:

“I enquired about his writings. ‘I have written more than Voltaire or Rousseau—six or seven epic poems as long as Homer, and 20 tragedies as long as Macbeth.’ He showed me his Vision (for so it may be called) of Genesis—’as understood by a Christian Visionary,’ in which in a style resembling the Bible the spirit is given. He read a passage at random. It was striking. He will not print any more. ‘I write,’ he says, ‘when commanded by the spirits, and the moment I have written I see the words fly about the room in all directions. It is then published, and the spirits can read. My MSS. of no further use. I have been tempted to burn my MSS., but my wife won’t let me.’ She is right, said I—and you have written these, not from yourself, but by a higher order. The MSS. are theirs and your property. You cannot tell what purpose they may answer unforeseen to you. He liked this, and said he would not destroy them. His philosophy he repeated—denying causation, asserting everything to be the work of God or the Devil—that there is a constant falling off from God—angels becoming devils. Every man has a devil in him, and the conflict is eternal between a man’s self and God, etc. etc. etc. He told me my copy of his songs would be 5 guineas, and was pleased by my manner of receiving this information. He spoke of his horror of money—of his turning pale when money had been offered him, etc.”

Read related posts: What Would Famous Authors Order at Starbucks
The Daily Word Quotas of Famous Authors
Random Fascinating Facts About Authors
Words Invented by Famous Authors
Daily Rituals of Writers: Truman Capote
Daily Rituals of Writers: William Faulkner
Daily Rituals of Writers: Isaac Asimov

For further reading: Diary, Reminiscences and Correspondence by Henry Crabb Robinson
William Blake: A Critical Essay by Algernon Charles Swinburne

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The Proust Questionnaire: Deepak Chopra

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsDuring the late 1800s, a fascinating parlor game arose in Paris. The game consisted of about three dozen probing questions that were believed to reveal a person’s true nature. The game was popularized by Antoinette Faure, daughter of the French president at the time, Felix Faure. One of the individuals that Faure presented the set of questions was the famous French writer and critic Marcel Proust. When published in 1892, Proust’s answers to the questions became quite famous; henceforth, the set of questions became known as the Proust Questionnaire. Fast forward to 1993 — the editors of Vanity Fair decided to adopt the Proust Questionnaire as one of their regular features. In 2009, a collection of the best of those interviews were published the insightful and beautifully illustrated book Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire: 101 Luminaries Ponder Love, Death, and the Meaning of Life. Deepak Chopra (born 1946) is a well-known alternative medicine advocate, prolific author, and public speaker. Here are some of his answers to the Proust Questionnaire:

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
It does not exist. If it did, we’d all be doomed to eternal senility.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Hypocrisy.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Success.

What is your greatest regret?
That I have no regrets to talk about or be nostalgic about.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
My children.

What do you regard the lowest depth of misery?
The hypnosis of social conditioning.

Who are your favorite writers?
Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, T. S. Eliot, George Bernard Shaw, William Shakespeare

How would you like to die?
In meditation.

What is your motto?
“Don’t take yourself seriously.”

Read related posts: 

The Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
The Wisdom of Maya Angelou
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
The Wisdom of the Ancient Greeks

The Wisdom of Lady Grantham
The Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz

The Wisdom of Yoda
The Wisdom of George Carlin
The Wisdom of Saint-Exupery
The Wisdom of Steven Wright
The Wisdom of Spock
The Wisdom of Elie Wiesel

For further reading: Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire: 101 Luminaries Ponder Love, Death, and the Meaning of Life edited by Graydon Carter


A Dictionary May Be Read an Infinite Number of Ways

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThough a work of literature can be read in a number of ways, this number is finite and can be arranged in a hierarchical order; some readings are obviously “truer” than others, some doubtful, some obviously false, and some, like reading a novel backwards, absurd. That is why, for a desert island, one would choose a good dictionary rather than the greatest literary masterpiece imaginable, for, in relation to its readers, a dictionary is absolutely passive and may legitimately be read in an infinite number of ways.

From The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays by W. H. Auden, English-American poet and essayist. Auden was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1948 for his long poem, The Age of Anxiety. His most popular poems include “Funeral Blues,” “Refugee Blues,” “The Unknown Citizen,” “Musée des Beaux Arts,” and “September 1, 1939.”


Reading Is, in the Highest Sense, Exercise

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsBooks are to be call’d for, and supplied, on the assumption that the process of reading is nor a half-sleep, but, in highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast’s struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself, must be on the alert, must himself or herself construct indeed the poem, argument, history, metaphysical essay — the text furnishing the hints, the clue, the start or frame-work. Not the book needs so much to be the complete thing, but the reader of the book does. That were to make a nation of supple and athletic minds well-train’d, intuitive, used to depend on themselves, not on a few coteries of writers.

From Prose Works of Walt Whitman (1819-1892),one of the most influential American poets, considered the father of free verse. He believed that there was s symbiotic relationship between society and the poet: “The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.” His seminal work, Leaves of Grass, published in 1855, celebrates nature and man’s relationship to it. Whitman was known for his unfettered experience of nature: he was an unabashed nudist and greatly enjoyed sunbathing in the nude.


We Are Drowning in Information, While Starving for Wisdom

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsWe are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.

From Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by Edward Osborne Wilson, Pulitzer Prize winning author, biologist, and naturalist. He is considered “the father of sociobiology”, “the father of biodiversity”, as well as the leading authority on ants. The Ants, co-written with Bert Holldobler, is considered the definitive scientific study of ant behavior; it won a Pulitzer Prize in 1991. He taught at Harvard from 1956 to 1996.


Books are Magic Doors

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsBooks are, indeed, “Magic Doors” through which one can walk into innumerable wonderful worlds. The desirable thing — if chance has not solved the matter for us — is to enter first through the door which attracts us personally. The book to start with is the book which will cause the most intense mental excitement and leave an indelible impression that books can be alive. The individual should begin with those books which deal with subjects or people or places which exercise some strong attraction on his curiosity.

American journalist Jesse Lee Bennett (1885-1931) from What Books Can Do For You: A Sketch Map of the Frontiers of Knowledge (1923)

For further reading: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.$b658756;view=1up;seq=34


Doublets: The Triumph of Evil When Good Men Do Nothing

atkins bookshelf quotations

Evils that befall the world are not nearly so often caused by bad men as they are by good men who are silent when an opinion must be voiced.

Lawrence Schiller, author of Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: The Uncensored Story of the JonBenet Murder and the Grand Jury’s Search for the Truth

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

This is one of the most well-known apocryphal quotes, that is, a quote that is of doubtful authenticity and is falsely attributed to a notable individual. This particular quote has been attributed to Edmund Burke, the Irish philosopher and statesman, but there is no written proof to support the claim. The only writing that comes close is this: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle. (1770).” Almost a century later, John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher, expressed a similar thought: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” Garson O’Toole, known as the Quote Investigator, tracked down  a medical bulletin from 1895 that had this sentence without any attribution: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” Perhaps over time, these quotations were conflated and attributed to Burke. Soon the quote made its way into prominent speeches, like JFK in 1961. From there the quotation was included in reference books, like the Yale Book of Quotations (1950) and Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 14th Edition (1980). Once the quote made its way to the internet, it joined the army of apocryphal quotes that marches on and propagates endlessly.

Read related posts: Doublets: Love
Doublets: Genius
Doublets: Youth and Maturity
Doublets: You Cannot Run Away From Yourself
Doublets: The Lessons of History
Doublets: Reading a Great Book
Doublets: Tolerance
Doublets: The Role of Religion
Doublets: Things Left Unsaid


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