4 December 2021

    I read a lot and, as I read, I often take note of some passage that catches my eye and tickles my fancy at the moment. Later, I can’t always remember why a particular quote stood out, but I still like the wording even without the meaning. Here are a few I’ve collected over the years. Make of them what you will.


John Adams, from his 1787 speech at the Constitutional Convention:

   “Having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being oblig'd, by better Information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the Judgment of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele, a Protestant in a dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our two churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrine, is, the Romish Church is infallible, and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But tho' many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility, as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain French lady, who in a little dispute with her sister, said, I don't know how it happens, Sister, but I meet with no body but myself that's always in the right. Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison.”


Part of a poem by Kabir Das, 15th century Indian poet; translated by Robert Bly. Like I am with many poems, I don’t really know what the poet was saying, but I love the pictures it conjures up for me:

“Inside this clay jug
There are canyons, and pine mountains,
And the maker of canyons and pine mountains.
All seven oceans are inside
And hundreds of millions of stars…

Kabir says, 'if you want the truth,
I'll tell you the truth,
Friend listen -
The God whom I love is inside”


Axel, speaking in John Le Carre’s “A Perfect Spy” (1986):

“If we are to judge Christianity by the misery it has caused mankind, who would ever be a Christian?”


From “Murphy’s Laws:”

“The Fifth Rule: You have taken yourself too seriously.”


John Bunyan, quoted in: G. B. Barr. 1963. The Pilgrim Prince:

   “The titles of Anabaptist, Independent, Separatist, Presbyterian, or the like, come neither from Jerusalem nor Antioch, but from Hell and Babylon, because they tend to division.”


From “Les Miserables,” by Victor Hugo. In “Fantine,” the first book of “Les Miserables,” Victor Hugo introduces us to Bishop Myriel,  a man who could be well-to-do, but choses to use most of his money and other resources for the poor and needy. In old age, he lives with his elderly sister and an equally elderly housekeeper, Mme. Magloire. His residence has a garden, divided into four plats, three of which Mme. Magloire uses to grow vegetables. Bishop Myriel uses the fourth for flowers. As Victor Hugo explains, the Bishop “did not study plants, he loved flowers.”

   Mme. Magliore gently chided the Bishop one time: “Monseigneur, you are always anxious to make everything useful, but yet here is a plat that is of no use. It would be much better to have salads there than bouquets.”

   “Madame Magliore,” replied the Bishop, “You are mistaken. The beautiful is as useful as the useful.” He added, after a moment’s pause, “perhaps more so.”


From Sir Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe:"

“Holy Mother!” said the monk, as he addressed the

assembled knights. “I am at last safe and in

Christian keeping!”

“Safe thou art,” replied DeBracy, “And for Christianity,

here is the stout Baron Reginald Front-de-Boeuf,

whose utter abomination is a Jew;

and the good Knight Templar, Brian de Bois-Gilbert,

whose trade is to slay Saracens.

If these are not good marks of Christianity,

I know no other which they bear above them.”


   Cordelia Gray to Sophie Tilling in “An Unsuitable Job for a Woman” (P. D. James, 1972):

   “Think, Sophie! Surely there are only two reasons for killing oneself. One is either escaping from something or to something. The first is rational. If one is in intolerable pain, despair or mental anguish and there is no reasonable chance of a cure, then it’s probably sensible to prefer oblivion. But it isn’t sensible to kill oneself in the hope of gaining some better existence or to extend one’s sensibilities to include the experience of death. It isn’t possible to experience death. I’m not even sure it’s possible to experience dying. One can only experience the preparations for death, and even that seems pointless since one can’t make use of the experience afterwards. If there’s any sort of existence after death, we shall all know soon enough. If there isn’t, we shan’t exist to complain that we’ve been cheated. People who believe in an afterlife are perfectly reasonable. They’re the only ones who are safe from ultimate disillusionment.”


Bertrand Russell, in his 1927 lecture “Why I am not a Christian.”     

"I think that there are a good many points upon which I agree with Christ a great deal more than the professing Christians do. I do not know that I could go with Him all the way, but I could go with Him much further than most professing Christians can.”


From the conclusion, ‘The Folk of the Air,” by Peter S. Beagle:

  "Farrell drove Julie to work for the last time. Neither of them spoke at all. They held hands all the way, even when Farrell had to shift gears. When he parked near her office, she got out by herself, walked around to the driver's side and pulled him halfway through the window to kiss him. 'Be careful,' she said. "You're the only one I've ever had.'

   "There was no way to avoid asking the question, and they were both laughing when she replied, 'Ah, if we only knew that. Wouldn't we be somewhere then?' She kissed him again and walked away without saying good-bye. Farrell found this oddly hopeful and reassuring, since he had never known Julie to say good-bye, and they had always seen each other again."


Me, musing about ten years ago:

   I'm left with a very large question: Would God - who everybody agrees is wise and just -- have entrusted the eternal fate of all of humankind to a small group of people who God knew would corrupt Jesus' teachings almost as soon as Jesus left the tomb, and would turn it into a message of division, rather than reconciliation? I can't believe it.


Adam Trask to his son Cal, in John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden:”

   “You see, there’s a responsibility in being a person. It’s more than just taking up space where air would be.”


 Adam Trask in John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden:”

   “It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world


 Robert Ingersoll, “Creed” recorded by Thomas Alva Edison at Menlo Park, New Jersey, 1882:

     "While I am opposed to all orthodox creeds, I have a creed myself; and my creed is this. Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so. This creed is somewhat short, but it is long enough for this life, strong enough for this world. If there is another world, when we get there we can make another creed.”


From Ben Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack:”

"Being ignorant is not so much a shame as being unwilling to learn.




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