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But this work has not changed the savage nature
and austere beauty of the river itself. Man draws near to it,
fights it, uses it, loves it, but it remains remote, unaffected.
Between the fairy willows of the banks or the green slopes of the
levees it moves unhurried and unpausing; building islands one year
to eat them the next; gnawing the bank on one shore till the levee
caves in and another must be built farther back, then veering
wantonly and attacking with equal savagery the opposite bank; in
spring, high and loud against the tops of the quaking levees; in
summer, deep and silent in its own tawny bed; bearing eternally the
waste and sewage of the continent to the cleansing wide-glittering
Gulf. A gaunt and terrible stream, but more beautiful and dear
to its children then Thames or Tiber, the mountain brook or limpid
estuary. The gods on their thrones are shaken and changed, but
it abides, aloof and unappeasable, with no heart except for its own
task, under the unbroken and immense arch of the lighted sky where
the sun, too, goes a lonely journey.
--Lanterns on the Levee by William
Although Lao Pei's father had been a
bannerman, Lao Pei himself was a generation removed from the
tragedies of the 1911 revolution, and I felt that he was a cut above
the typical foreigner's cook. He knew some English, and was a
superb cook, too, being a master of anything from shashlik
to that work of patient love, Peking Dust--roasted chestnuts ground
to a power, poured into a mold of glazed berries, and topped with
spun sugar and whipped cream. But soon after he came to me he
began to do unpleasant things. I found that he had been
killing chickens by driving a long needle slowly through their
brains. He sometimes banged his head against the rockery in my
garden until blood dripped from his hair. He was overwhelmed,
he explained, by the woes of China.
--Peking Story by David Kidd
Among the compensations of advancing age is a
wholesome pessimism, which, while it takes the fine edge off
whatever triumphs may come to us, had the admirable effect of
preventing Fate from working off on us any of those gold bricks,
coins with strings attached, and unhatched chickens at which Ardent
Youth snatches with such enthusiasm, to its subsequent
disappointment. As we emerge from the twenties we grow into a
habit of mind which looks askance at Fate bearing gifts. We
miss, perhaps, the occasional prize, but we also avoid leaping
light-heartedly into traps.
--Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse
Because the Devil--and God too--had always used
comic people, futile people, little suburban natures and the maimed
and warped to serve his purposes. When God used them you
talked emptily of Nobility and when the devil used them of
Wickedness, but the material was only dull shabby human mediocrity
in either case.
--The Ministry of Fear by Graham
I'm a peevish old man with a penny-whistle
Blowing under your window this blessed evening
But pause a moment and hear the tune I'm playing
I never was handsome and my limbs aren't straight
But I raise my finger and the girls all follow me
And leave some of the spruce young fellows gaping
I had a painted girl whom none spoke well of
And I had a milkmaid who didn't know cow from bull
And a girl with green flesh out of a lucky hill
And I had a lady fine as fine and as proud as you
To follow me forty leagues and bed under a bush
And I left her weeping at the long lane's end
And are you sure where you will lie to-night,
--John Heath Stubbs (from New
British Poets: An Anthology)
A bus entered the square. I went and
ordered another mild from the landlord, who'd just come in rubbing
his hands hard together. He was a very well-dressed man with a
carnation in his buttonhole and long, carefully brushed gray hair.
I thought it would be nice to exchange the pleasures of meditation
for those of communion with my fellow creatures, and addressed him.
After a brisk left-right-left of platitude ("Good evening"--"Lovely
drop of weather, what?"--"Marvelous, isn't it?") I at once went on
to rehearse the nice-room-this gambit, the
I-drew-up-the-plan-for-this-place-myself gambit, the
of-course-television's-ruining-this-business gambit, the
gambit, the how-do-you-like-these-titchy-bottles-I-only-got-them-just-for-silly
gambit, and finally silence. His smiles, however, grew more
and more intimate as the talk petered out.
--That Uncertain Feeling by Kingsley
Ennis was seeing, projected on to the bare
staves of his manuscript paper, Concepcion in a cold England,
shivering over the fireless grate, jaundiced-looking against the
snow, Concepcion in the fish queue, the "bloody foreigner" in the
English village, the "touch of the tar brush" from the tweeded
gentry. He foresaw the ex-prisoner-of -war Luftwaffe pilot,
flaxen, thick-spoken, absorbed into the farming community, playing
darts with the boys ("That were a bloody good one, Wilhelm"),
Concepcion and himself in the cold smokeroom ("That foreigner that
there Mr Ennis did marry"). Finally he saw Laurel meeting
Concepcion, Laurel slim and patrician, sunny hair glowing under the
floppy hat, over the flowered frock, at some garden party: "But
she's terribly sweet; that accent is most attractive; such
an unusual, such a perfectly fascinating biscuit-coloured
complexion; I'm sure we shall be great friends."
--A Vision of Battlements by Anthony
Ashe noted as a curious fact that while the
actual valet of any person under discussion spoke of him almost
affectionately by his Christian name, the rest of the company used
the greatest ceremony and gave him his title with all respect.
Lord Stockheath was Percy to Mr. Ferris, and the Hon. Frederick
Threepwood was Freddie to Mr. Judson; but to Ferris Mr. Judson's
Freddie was the Hon. Frederick, and to Judson Mr. Ferris' Percy was
Lord Stockheath. It was rather a pleasant form of etiquette,
and struck Ashe as somehow vaguely feudal.
--Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse
When the final introduction had been made,
conversation broke out again. It dealt almost exclusively, as
far as Ashe could follow it, with the idiosyncrasies of the
employers of those present. He took it that this happened all
down the social scale below stairs. Probably the lower
servants in the Servants' Hall discussed the upper servants in the
Steward's Room, and the still lower servants in the housemaids'
sitting-room discussed their superiors of the Servants' Hall, and
the still-room gossiped about the housemaids' sitting-room. He
wondered which was the bottom circle of all, and came to the
conclusion that it was probably represented by the small respectful
boy who had acted as his guide a short while before. This boy,
having nobody to discuss anybody with, presumably sat in solitary
meditation, brooding on the odd-job man.
--Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse
"You must know," began Bishop Flanagan, "that
our minds have recently been exercised by certain untoward
happenings which gave rise to the conviction that there were
sorcerers in the neighborhood. For many nights King Cormac
Silkenbeard had been deprived of his rest by the hideous
caterwauling of a platoon of cats, who mustered on the roofs
surrounding the royal dwelling, and there raised a clamor so uncouth
and deformed that it was speedily doubted whether their behavior did
not proceed from the operation of a powerful spell. On the
fourth night, King Cormac told me, he had drunken deeply of brown
ale in an endeavor to forget his cares; and, enraged by the
persistence of the persecution to which he was being subjected, he
seized his sword and rushed out into the garden in his night attire.
To his horror he beheld several felines engaged in what appeared to
be animated conversation, while on the wall sat a brindled tom of
monstrous size with gleaming eyes and large white eyeballs, who
grinned sarcastically at the King and waved his paw in derision.
There could be no further doubt but that these were enchanted cats;
and on my advice, two conjurors and a ventriloquist who had come to
the town for the annual fair, were immediately seized. As they
persisted obstinately in denial, they were put to the question."
"With favorable results?" asked the friar,
whose professional interest was aroused.
"Yes," said the Bishop with satisfaction.
"After three days' application of the best available monkish
tortures, they agreed to admit anything. Further proof of
their guilt was afforded by the fact that no sooner had they been
apprehended by the King's men, than the enchanted cats ceased to
trouble the royal repose."
Father Furiosus nodded approvingly. "It's
a well-known fact," he said, "attested by all the Fathers of the
Church, that when the officers of justice lay their hands upon a
sorcerer, he is at that moment bereft of his execrable powers."
"Unfortunately," said the Bishop, "the two
conjurors and the ventriloquist, having been crippled in the course
of the judicial examination, had to be carried to the stake.
The burning was a colorful ceremony, but I should have wished that
they could have walked."
--The Unfortunate Fursey by Mervyn
'A bewildering procession of the Unemployed,'
the lady journalist remarked. 'More ominous than the last
'Yes. I don't know what is going to
happen. Processions are indelicate manifestations and are best
discouraged by indifference. But an idle curiosity sends
everyone out into the streets to see what is happening and swells
the ranks of the dissatisfied. It is the same with
revolutions. Mankind is periodically beset by mass
dissatisfaction when, at some obscure, unmeaning signal, men
suddenly begin to air their private grievances in a mass--as though
that could possibly help them; and then, growing hearty, and with
that corporate look in their eyes, they are ready to track down the
Evil in their life to any handy bogey--the capitalist, the Jew, the
profiteer, the Bolshevik, or any foreigner. It used to be
religion--the Jesuit, the Pope, the Turk, or the Freemason--but that
is now out of fashion.
--Doom by William Gerhardie
Charlotte immediately detected that something
other than his concern for academic achievement was now seeping into
that sincere expression of his. She knew this was the moment
to put a stop to it. The thought of his starting to "hit on"
her again was unpleasant and even frightening . . . and yet she
didn't want to put a stop to it. The present moment
was much too early in her experience for her to have expressed it in
a sentence, but she was enjoying the first stirrings, the first in
her entire life, of the power that woman can hold over that creature
who is as monomaniacally hormonocentric as the beasts of the field,
--I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe
"Have you ever heard of sexiling?"
"Yeah . . ."
"Has it ever happened to you?"
"To me? No, but it happens."
"Well--it happened to me," said Charlotte.
"My roommate comes in about three o'clock in the morning and--"
She proceeded to tell the story. "But the worst thing was the
way she made me feel guilty. I was supposed
to know that if she gets drunk and picks up some guy
somewhere and brings him up to the room, that's more important than
me being able to stay in my room and get some sleep before a test in
A pause. "I guess it's the same way
--I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe
Your London traffic, your tubes and rolling
stairways, and the wide streets and high buildings of the richer
quarters, would not amaze an Elizabethan for more than a few hours:
'Thy pyramids built up with newer might
To me are nothing novel, nothing strange;
They are but dressings of a former sight.'
More lasting would be his astonishment at the
uniformity of dress. In Elizabeth's time, a man's wealth and
rank, or poverty and low occupation, clothed him wherever he went,
so that the young received the gradations of the world as their
first and deepest impression.
--The Return of William Shakespeare by
The "moderate Muslim" is not entirely
fictional. But it would be more accurate to call them
quiescent Muslims. In the 1930s, there were plenty of
"moderate Germans," and a fat lot of good they did us or them.
Today, the "moderate Muslim" is a unique contributor to cultural
diversity: unlike all the visible minorities, he's a non-visible
one--or, at any rate, non-audible. But that doesn't mean we
can't speak up on his behalf. So, for example, EU officials
have produced new "guidelines" for discussing the, ah, current
unpleasantness. The phrase "Islamic terrorism" is out.
Instead, the EU bureaucrats have replaced it with the expression
"terrorists who abusively invoke Islam."
--America Alone by Mark Steyn
In 1946, Colonel William Eddy, the first United
States minister to Saudi Arabia, was told by the country's founder,
Ibn Saud, "We will use your iron, but you will leave our faith
--America Alone by Mark Steyn
In P.D. James's The Children of Men,
there are special dolls for women whose maternal instinct has gone
unfulfilled: pretend mothers take their artificial children for
walks on the street or to the swings in the park. In
Japan, that's no longer the stuff of dystopian fantasy. At the
beginning of the century, the century, the country's toymakers
noticed they had a problem: toys are for children and Japan doesn't
have many. What to do? In 2005, Tomy began marketing a
new doll called Yumel--a baby boy with a range of 1200 phrases
designed to serve as a companion for the elderly. He says not
just the usual things--"I wuv you"--but also asks the questions your
grandchildren would ask, if you had any: "Why do elephants have long
noses?" Yumel joins his friend the Snuggling Ifbot, a toy
designed to have the conversation of a five-year-old child, which
its makers, with the usual Japanese efficiency, have determined is
just enough chit-chat to prevent the old folks going senile.
It seems an appropriate final comment on the social-democratic
society where adults have been stripped of all responsibility, you
need never stop playing with toys. We are the children we
--America Alone by Mark Steyn
For Islam's first two or three centuries,
scholars busied themselves figuring out what the divine revelations
of the Koran actually meant for the daily routine of believers.
But by the eleventh century all four schools of Islamic law had
concluded they were pretty much on top of things and there was no
need for any further interpretation or investigation. And from
that point on Islam coasted, and then declined. The famous
United Nations statistic from a 2002 report--more books are
translated into Spanish in a single year than have been translated
into Arabic in the last thousand--suggests at the very minimum an
extraordinarily closed world. What books are among the few
they do translate? Mein Kampf and The Protocols
of the Elders of Zion, both of which are prominently displayed
bestsellers in even moderate Muslim countries--and, indeed, even in
the Muslim stores on Edgware Road in the heart of London. No
Islamic nation could have flown to the moon or invented the
Internet, simply because for a millennium the culture has suppressed
the curiosity necessary for such a venture.
--America Alone by Mark Steyn
[N.B.: We hear a lot about the bad old
days when books were burnt or otherwise oppressed--along with their
authors. Mark Steyn, though, is an actual, modern example.
Excerpts of the book quoted above were published in a magazine in a
Canada and, as result, Steyn is on trial before the British Columbia
Human Rights Tribunal for the crime of his article having the
"likely" effect of exposing Muslims to "hatred or contempt."
The punishment could entail preemptive censorship (indeed, this is
the most likely outcome). Back to the future: let the Bonfire
of the Vanities commence! I always thought Savonarola got a
bum rap--and burning.]
Modern history had given us enough warning
against treating simplifications as real. The totalitarian
states, the great sponsors of mass atrocity against innocent human
beings, had been propelled by ideologies, and what else was an
ideology except a premature synthesis? As the time for
assembling my reflections approached, I resolved that a premature
synthesis was the thing to be avoided.
--Cultural Amnesia by Clive James
[N.B.: As T.S. Eliot once remarked of
Henry James that he had a mind so fine that no idea could penetrate
it (the greatest of compliments to one's intellect), the same sort
of sentiment seems somewhat applicable to our modern
poor-man's-James, Clive. His book, Cultural Amnesia,
stands as a refutation to the notion (not even an idea) that the man
of letters has gone the way of the dodo. Perhaps on this side
of the Atlantic our creative-writing workshops and scholastic
sinecures have as effectively eliminated such creatures as the
parties of hale-and-hearty hunters long ago blotted out the masses
of carrier pigeons which once darkened the noonday sky. But at
least there's one intellectual carrier pigeon left, Clive James (not
the greatest of compliments but those totalitarians have been much
more thorough than on our own parasitical professoriate).]
Revolutionaries themselves are the last people
to realize when, through force of time and circumstance, they have
gradually become conservatives. It is scarcely to be wondered
at if the public is very nearly as slow in the uptake. To the
public a red flag remains a red rag even when so battered by wind
and weather that it could almost be used as a pink coat.
Nothing is so common as to see a political upheaval pass practically
unnoticed merely because the names of the leaders and their parties
remain the same. Similarly in the world of music, the fact
that some of the key-names in modern music, such as Stravinsky and
Schönberg, are the same as before the
war has blinded us to the real nature of the present-day musical
--Music Ho! by Constance Lambert
[N.B.: The above excerpt consists of the
first few sentences which begin Lambert's study of modern music
circa the date of its publication (i.e., 1934). I think most
novelists would be envious of having a beginning sentence with as
much memorable pungency (excepting, as always, Dickens and his A
Tale of Two Cities). And where is Lambert now?
Completely forgotten--but not out of the purgatory of copyright.]
"As soon as you hang up I'll tell Parnell, bare
and hairy chested king of killers, to alert the underworld to let
you pass safely and swiftly."
"Can you put me up?"
"Up. Exactly. I can if you want to
hang by your throat from the ceiling. We supply all guests
with a hook. I've got little rings in the ceiling. The
room is nine by eleven and I can put up forty guests of an evening.
His Majesty couldn't do any better. Of course I sleep on a
bed. A little disconcerting to have so many twisting feet
pointing down at you of a morning. Get that trampled feeling."
"Would you say Mac there was a bit of the
abattoir in it?"
"I'd say that. When are we going to see
"Right away. Just have to dress so as not
to present a state of undress to the public."
"Do you know how to get here?"
"I'd say so Mac. But this is top secret.
Not a word to anyone. Expect me in an hour."
"The red, white and blue carpet will be out.
There are two huge animals out front. Put your fist in the
mouth of the one on the left, nothing political in that, and pull on
"If it bites me, Mac, I'll never forgive you."
--The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy
"I thought the poor in Russia had no rights.
I thought any one could be put in prison at any moment for anything,
because, after all, you are governed by an autocrat."
"That's is just it. Well, take your own
case. You were put in prison the other night . . . we had
better get back into the carriage--that is the second bell ringing."
They climbed back into the compartment. "You were put in
prison," he went on, "the other night for being 'drunk and
disorderly and for assaulting the police.'" Miles blushed.
"If that had happened in England, what would have been done to
you? Would you have been sent home by the police? Would
the police have called on you the next morning, and asked you to
give them something towards a new uniform, seeing that you had
spoilt three Government uniforms, made them 'unserviceable.' I
think not. You would have been locked up for the night.
You would have had to appear the next morning before the magistrate,
and you would have been fined, or put in prison; and it would
probably have been written about in the newspapers--most certainly
so if you were well known. Here in Russia you are sent home
with care, like a precious parcel, and no questions asked."
--Tinker's Leave by Maurice Baring
[N.B.: This was written prior to The
Great War and the Russian Revolution.]