ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR
A young man's raw face flicked around the door.
"Good morning, Mr. Dangerfield."
"A fine spring morning, a double and some
"Certainly, sir. Early today?"
"Little business to attend to."
"It's always business isn't it."
Some fine clichés there. Should be encouraged. Too many
damn people trying to be different. Coining phrases when a
good platitude would do and save anxiety.
--The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy
Gruffydd-Williams, on the other hand, seemed to show more positive
characteristics. The authoritative manner suited a man
presumably possessed of a lot of authority; a part from his seat on
the Council and on two or three of its committees, he had another
and undoubtedly better one on the board of the Cambrio-Sudanese Oil
Association, whose refinery makes its own peculiar contribution to
several cubic miles of air west of the town. And then, or
rather first of all, there was his money.
--That Uncertain Feeling by Kingsley Amis
I loved Vienna right away, and I encountered there a friend it took
me years to cultivate: the art of the rococo and baroque.
There's something fascinating about seeing something you don't like
at first but directly know you will love--in time. People are
that way, all through life. You come against a personality,
and it questions yours. You shy away but know there are
gratifying secrets there, and the half-open door is often more
exciting then the wide.
--I Like What I Know by Vincent Price
'Jeeves,' I said, 'a somewhat peculiar situation has popped up out
of a trap, and I would be happy to have your comments on it. I
am sorry to butt in when you are absorbed in your Spinoza and have
probably just got to the part where the second corpse is discovered,
but what I have to say is of great pith and moment, so listen
'Very good, sir.'
--Much Obliged, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
Besides, what did the great mass know of war in 1914, after nearly
half a century of peace? They did not know war, they had
hardly given it a thought. It had become legendary, and
distance had made it seem romantic and heroic. They still saw
it in the perspective of their school readers and of paintings in
museums; brilliant cavalry attacks in glittering uniforms, the fatal
shot always straight through the heart, the entire campaign a
resounding march of victory--"We'll be home at Christmas," the
recruits shouted laughingly to their mothers in August, 1914.
--The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig
Martland's word was as good as his bond, but his bond was mere
--Don't Point that Thing at Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli
Scholars and men of letters in Rome knew nothing for two centuries
of what we mean by 'publishing'. Down to the end of the
republic, they made copies of their works in their own houses or in
the house of some patron, and then distributed the manuscripts to
their friends. Atticus, to whom Cicero had entrusted his
speeches and his treatises, had the inspiration of converting the
copying studio he had set up for himself into a real industrial
concern. At the same time Caesar, no less a revolutionary in
things intellectual than in things material, helped to procure him a
clientele by founding the first State library in Rome, on the model
of the great library which existed in the museum at Alexandria.
The completion of the Roman library was due to Asinius Pollio, and
it soon begot daughter libraries in the provinces. The
multiplication of public and municipal libraries resulted in the
rise of publishers (bibliopolae, librarii). The new
profession soon had its celebrities: the Sosii, of whom Horace
speaks, who had opened a shop for volumina at the exit of
the Vicus Tuscus on the Forum, near the statue of the god Vertumnus,
behind the Temple of Castor; Dorus, to whom one went for copies of
Ciceror and Livy; Tryphon, who sold Quintilian's Institutio
Oratoria and Martial's epigrams; and rivals of Tryphon--Q.
Pollius Valerianus; Secundus, not far from the Forum of Peace; and
Atrectus in the Argiletum.
--Daily Life in Ancient Rome by Jerome Carcopino (tr. from
the French by E.O. Lorimer)
"Drunk?" said Alyosha.
They demurred at that. They were in the habit of appraising
accurately, not only as professional critics, but as fellow-artists,
and their standard was high. No, they said, not drunk--certainly
not drunk. "Wypimshi," they said, which can be well
rendered as "not drunk, but having drink-taken."
--Tinker's Leave by Maurice Baring
I plumped for the buffet car this time. A wrong decision.
at Liverpool, Exchange, there was an unusual notice on the barrier
blackboard: 'Regret no catering facilities on this train due to
vandalism.' The sort of story you'd like to hear more about,
really, and quite a collector's piece of connoisseurs of railway
regrets, if not quite a match for a favourite of mine at Paddington
once: 'Services subject to cancellation and delay owing to body on
line.' Where's the consideration, these days? I was made
late by that for a literary luncheon in Taunton, and had a struggle
with my good-taste angel all the way down, debating whether to work
it into the response for the guests.
--Accustomed As I Am by Basil Boothroyd
'You don't know what these blighters here are like. Most of
them are chapel folk with a moral code that would have struck
Torquemada as too rigid.'
'The Spanish Inquisition man.'
'Oh, that Torquemada?'
'How many Torquemadas did you think there were?'
I admitted that it was not a common name, and she carried on.
--Much Obliged, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
Perhaps the best test of a man's intelligence is his capacity for
making a summary.
--Henri Beyle in Books & Characters by Lytton
The word "Life" seemed to affect Kennedy as the word "Death"
affected me, and he accused me of "beastly, degrading cynicism" and
took off his coat to fight me. After that we didn't speak
again till the tragi-comedy ended in the national hunger strike, and
he took up his bed and returned to a hut where he could endure
"Death's iron discipline" among loyal comrades. Fortunately,
he thought better of it and lived to be a distinguished
parliamentarian of whom I could say complacently: "Yes, he and I
were in gaol together," which rather like the English "He and I were
in Eton together" but considerably more classy.
--An Only Child by Frank O'Connor
What follows, however, feels curiously willed: to be sure, it is
seen through Wilby's eyes (although the story, like the others, is
in the third person, Trevor is one of our truly great masters of
free indirect style, and we are, as it were osmotically imbued with
Wilby's consciousness through syntax and diction), and hence we may
take the story's conclusions as subjective if we choose.
--Signs of Struggle by Claire Messud reviewing Cheating
at Canasta by William Trevor in the February 14, 2008 edition
of The New York Review of Books
That firewood pale with salt and burning green
Outfloats its men who waved with a sound of drowning
Their saltcut hands over mazes of this rough bay.
Quietly this morning beside the subsided herds
Of water I walk. The children wade the shallows.
The sun with long legs wades into the sea.
There is a very important book--that's what we say these days when
wishing to draw attention to what we believe to be a good film,
book, play, exhibition, we say that it's 'important', as, for
instance, an 'important' new play by so and so (me, for instance),
we usually say it in an important manner, our voices becoming grave,
heavy, episcopal, so what exactly do I mean when I write that here
is a very 'important' book about piles waiting to be written--I
think I mean that piles might be found to have affected the course
of history now and then--no doubt Richelieu, given his steely mind,
his patience and his ambition, would have made the decisions he made
if he'd been piles-free, but Napoleon at Borodino, a few hours
before the battle, which led on to the disaster of Moscow, lingering
in his tent, hoping his piles would quieten down so that he could be
out and about on his horse, which he couldn't bear to mount--you see
how one could go on from there--for want of an ointment--there's one
currently on the market called Anus-oil, or very nearly that-which
is quite soothing, I believe--for want of a tube of Anus-oil the
battle of Borodino was lost--drawn, actually, I think, but a
strength-sapping draw, and so the unplanned diversion to Moscow--the
rest is history. Yup.
[N.B.: This is masterful comic writing. Indeed, that
interminably long first sentence, matching in form its subject
matter is a grammatical example of the first law of aesthetic
proportion (what artistic Neanderthals, who could curse at us in
antique meter, be it Latin or Greek, such being apotheosized in the
being of John Ruskin, would call 'beauty') being a close
correspondence of "fit to use." This example might even be
described as "important," but, like the Allies' Operation Market
Garden, such an adjective might be "a bridge too far," or, perhaps,
in modern political-speak, "a bridge to nowhere." Actually,
it's a bridge to somewhere--the masterful juxtaposition of that
sentence smack dab against that one-word comic yelp that even Ol'
Ezra (Pound that is, not grams and kilos, but good solid
measure--nuts too--but such are the finer poets) would blanche from
Oh, yes. So books. What books? I left London in
such disarray that I couldn't believe we'd get to the airport, let
alone to Barbados and the Coral Reef--when it came to packing books
I flung what was nearest to hand on to the bed for Victoria to pack,
and then, of course, when she was unpacking them and I saw from our
balcony all those ideal spots for reading--on the lawns, on the
beach, in the bar where I'm writing this, on the balcony
itself--well, there's a biography of Cardinal Richelieu, the only
book I brought with some deliberation. I picked it up with
pleasure until I twigged that I didn't want it at all, the book I'd
chosen with a degree of consideration was the wrong book, I'm not in
the slightest bit interested in Cardinal Richelieu (well, I am--but
only the slightest bit), the chap I'm keenly interest in is
Talleyrand, now and then Bishop Tallelyrand, who began his political
career by taking holy orders, receiving Voltaire's blessing almost
simultaneously, and went to survive the catastrophes of France, in
fact could be found near the centre of the catastrophes of France
from the end of the Ancien Règime
through the revolution, through the Empire, then through the
Restoration, then through the Republic--he should have been executed
once or twice every decade--'a shit in silk breeches,' Napoleon
called him, perfectly accurately, it seems to me, but Napoleon ended
up on St Helena, in the custody of a mean-spirited (or strait-laced,
depending on your point of view) English civil servant while old
Talleyrand was around to welcome Louis XVIII, Napoleon III, how did
he do it, is what I want to know, how did he get away with it,
playing with fire almost all his life, burning everybody but
himself? Now this is a pathetic account of Talleyrand's life,
everything I know about him has gone into a fog, which the book on
him would have dispelled if I'd brought it, rather than the book on
Richelieu, about whom I'm content to remain in a fog--in fact, apart
from a general outline of his life, much muddled by my having seen
four or five film versions of The Three Musketeers, about
the only hard fact I remember is that he suffered from piles,
towards the end of his life could scarcely rise from his bed, and
when compelled to do so by reasons of state, would have to be
--The Smoking Diaries by Simon Gray
[N.B.: It was from reading this passage which made me
intensely curious about Talleyrand--but what book could Simon Gray
be referring to? Well, thank goodness for google, because
after a little meandering about it became clear that he must have
been referring to the magisterial biography, Talleyrand, by
Duff Cooper. What a cracking read! As for the biography
of Richelieu, Gray was almost certainly not referring to the one by
Hilaire Belloc, but that's a cracking read too.]
"Well, I paid you. Read my future."
"Tomorrow will be like today, and day after tomorrow will be like
day before yesterday," said Appollonius. "I see your remaining
days each as quiet, tedious collections of hours. You will not
travel anywhere. You will think no new thoughts. You
will experience no new passions. Older you will become but not
wiser. Stiffer but not more dignified. Childless you
are, and childless you shall remain. Of that suppleness you
once commanded in your youth, of that strange simplicity which once
attracted a few men to you, neither endures, nor shall you recapture
any of them any more. People will talk to you and visit with
you out of sentiment or pity, not because you have anything to offer
them. Have you ever seen an old cornstalk turning brown,
dying, but refusing to fall over, upon which stray birds alight now
and then, hardly remarking what it is they perch on? That is
--The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney
It was Queen Anne who patronised not only Corneille but also the
great apostle of the poor Vincent de Paul, later canonised, known
then as 'Monsieur Vincent'. By making him in 1643 her director
of conscience, the Queen indicated her approval of his aim: this was
to tap the charitable instincts of ladies who wanted to do good but
did not want to become cloistered nuns. It was incarnated in
an organisation known as the Daughters of Charity. Appearing
at court in an old soutane and coarse shoes, Monsieur Vincent was a
striking philanthropic figure, concerned to support the poor.
--Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser
Throughout most of 1932, the middle-aged Rector of Stiffkey
(pronounced "Stewky" locally) had provided the British press with an
unending source of anti-clerical entertainment through his escapades
with battalions of teen-age waitresses in London teashops.
Defrocked, he ended his career in a lion's cage in 1937, where he
was billed to give a lecture. The lion objected.
--To Lose a Battle by Alistair Horne
Alistair Horne is both a great writer and historian. This
book, To Lose a Battle, about France's humiliating defeat
in 1940 at the hands (or should that be turrets) of the Nazi panzer
tanks was read by the Israeli military establishment with
regards to tank tactics that later proved quite successful in
Israel's numerous wars with the neighboring Arab states.
Another book of Horne's, A Savage War of Peace: Algeria
1954-1962, has been the focus of intense scrutiny by the
American military establishment and President George Bush as it
relates to the insurrectionary war in Iraq. I have chosen the
squib above, which formed a footnote, not for any of these reasons,
but because it highlights Horne's voracious curiosity regarding all
sorts of telling ephemera (close to an oxymoron, that). This
squib also highlights Horne's wit. "Stiffkey," alone, is
humorous enough, but to emphasize it by the pronunciation that, at
least locally, would seem to drain it of amusement actually serves
to heighten the mirth. And that last sentence is an absolute proof
that brevity is the soul of wit.]
The opposite wall of this entry was hung all over with a heathenish
array of monstrous clubs and spears. Some were thickly set
with glittering teeth resembling ivory saws; others were tufted with
knots of human hair; and one was sickle-shaped, with a vast handle
sweeping round like the segment made in the new-mown grass by a
long-armed mower. You shuddered as you gazed, and wondered
what monstrous cannibal and savage could ever have gone a
death-harvesting with such a hacking, horrifying implement.
Mixed with these were rusty old whaling lances and harpoons all
broken and deformed. Some were storied weapons. With
thin once long lance, now wildly elbowed, fifty years ago did Nathan
Swain kill fifteen whales between a sunrise and a sunset. And
that harpoon--so like a corkscrew now--was flung in Javan seas, and
run away with by a whale, years afterwards slain off the Cape of
Blance. The original iron entered nigh the tail, and like a
restless needle sojourning in the body of a man, travelled full
forty feet, and at last was found imbedded in the hump.
--Moby Dick by Herman Melville
[N.B.: One sign of a great writer (and, alas, a bad one) is
the impunity with which they break basic "rules" of the writing
craft. Here, Melville switches to the second person in the
middle of the paragraph and then back. Creative-writing
instructors and their widget writing tadpoles should not try that at
home--indeed, they are warned against it in the same breath that
they should "show and not tell." And so the great literary
behemoths of the writerly deeps lie content with nary a modern
novelist's harpoon grazing their tails.]