Quotations

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“If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna.” — Napoleon

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“It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.” — Thoreau

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“Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities which he does not possess.” — Samuel Johnson

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“Perhaps in time the so-called Dark Ages will be thought of as including our own.” — Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

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“In literature, as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others.” — André Maurois

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“If all our misfortunes were laid in one common heap, whence everyone must take an equal portion, most people would be contented to take their own and depart.” — Socrates

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“I have never thought much of the courage of a lion tamer. Inside the cage he is at least safe from other men. There is not much harm in a lion. He has no ideals, no religion, no politics, no chivalry, no gentility; in short, no reason for destroying anything that he does not want to eat.” — George Bernard Shaw

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“We spend our time searching for security and hate it when we get it.” — John Steinbeck

“Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.” — Will Rogers

“Where is the Life we have lost in living?” — T.S. Eliot

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“We are terrified by the idea of being terrified.” — Nietzsche

“Present fears are less than horrible imaginings.” — Shakespeare

“Fear of danger is ten thousand times more terrifying than danger itself.” — Defoe

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“History may be read as the story of the magnificent action fought during several thousand years by dogma against curiosity.” — Robert Lynd

“Perfection of means and confusion of ends seems to characterize our age.” — Albert Einstein

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” — H.G. Wells

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“The mind is at its best when at play.” — J.L. Synge

In this spirit, Synge invented Vish (for “vicious circle”), a game designed to illustrate the hopeless circularity of dictionary definitions.

Each player is given a copy of the same dictionary. When the referee announces a word, each player writes it down and looks up its meaning. Then she chooses one word from the definition, writes that down and looks up its meaning. A player wins when the same word appears twice on her list.

The point is that any such list must eventually yield circularity — if it’s continued long enough, the number of words in the list will eventually exceed the total number of words in the dictionary, and a repetition must occur.

“Vish is no game for children,” Synge writes. “It destroys that basic confidence in the reasonableness of everything which gives to society whatever stability it possesses. To anyone who has played Vish, the dictionary is never the same again.”

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“The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope.” — Samuel Johnson

“If it were not for hopes, the heart would break.” — Thomas Fuller

“Always leave something to wish for; otherwise you will be miserable from your very happiness.” — Baltasar Gracián

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“A scholar is just a library’s way of making another library.” — Daniel Dennett

Anthropology

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“Man is a biped without feathers.” — Plato

“Drinking when we are not thirsty and making love all year round, madam; that is all there is to distinguish us from other animals.” — Pierre Beaumarchais

“Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them.” — Samuel Butler

“Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps, for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be.” — William Hazlitt

“Homo sapiens is the species that invents symbols in which to invest passion and authority, then forgets that symbols are inventions.” — Joyce Carol Oates

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“One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.” — Will Durant

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“Our ignorance of history makes us libel our own times. People have always been like this.” — Flaubert

Misc

  • Christopher Lee is Ian Fleming’s cousin.
  • £12.12s.8d = 12128 farthings
  • ii is real.
  • Shouldn’t Juliet have asked, “Wherefore art thou Montague?”
  • “Of soup and love, the first is the best.” — Thomas Fuller

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“Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.” — Lewis Carroll

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“Madam, it is the hardest thing in the world to be in love, and yet attend to business. A gentleman asked me this morning, ‘What news from Lisbon?’ and I answered, ‘She is exquisitely handsome.'” — Richard Steele

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“I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors.” — Thoreau

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“It is equally pointless to weep because we won’t be alive a hundred years from now as that we were not here a hundred years ago.” — Montaigne

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“People are usually more firmly convinced that their opinions are precious than that they are true.” — George Santayana

Dress Blues

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“All this buttoning and unbuttoning.”

— Anonymous 18th-century suicide note, cited in The Oxford Dictionary Of Quotations

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“A kitten is so flexible that she is almost double. The hind parts are equivalent to another kitten with which the fore part plays. She does not discover that her tail belongs to her till you tread upon it.” — Thoreau