Wit and Sense

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There is an association in men’s minds between dullness and wisdom, amusement and folly, which has a very powerful influence in decision upon character, and is not overcome without considerable difficulty. The reason is that the outward signs of a dull man and a wise man are the same, and so are the outward signs of a frivolous man and a witty man; and we are not to expect that the majority will be disposed to look to much more than the outward sign. I believe the fact to be that wit is very seldom the only eminent quality in the mind of any man; it is commonly accompanied by many other talents of every description, and ought to be considered as a strong evidence of a fertile and superior understanding.

— Sydney Smith, quoted in The Ladies’ Repository, September 1858

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In order that life should be a story or romance to us, it is necessary that a great part of it, at any rate, should be settled for us without our permission. … A man has control over many things in his life; he has control over enough things to be the hero of a novel. But if he had control over everything, there would be so much hero that there would be no novel.

— G.K. Chesterton, Heretics, 1906

Misc

  • Conceptual artist Joseph Beuys accepted responsibility for any snow that fell in Düsseldorf February 15-20, 1969.
  • Any three of the numbers {1, 22, 41, 58} add up to a perfect square.
  • Nebraska is triply landlocked — a resident must cross three states to reach an ocean, gulf, or bay.
  • The only temperature represented as a prime number in both Celsius and Fahrenheit is 5°C (41°F).
  • “A person reveals his character by nothing so clearly as the joke he resents.” — Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

“I was tossing around the names of various wars in which both the opponents appear: Spanish-American, Franco-Prussian, Sino-English, Russo-Japanese, Arab-Israeli, Judeo-Roman, Anglo-Norman, and Greco-Roman. Is it a quirk of historians or merely a coincidence that the opponent named first was always the loser? It would appear that a country about to embark on war would do well to see that the war is named before the fighting starts, with the enemy named first!” — David L. Silverman

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There is one very valid test by which we may separate genuine, if perverse and unbalanced, originality and revolt from mere impudent innovation and bluff. The man who really thinks he has an idea will always try to explain that idea. The charlatan who has no idea will always confine himself to explaining that it is much too subtle to be explained.

— G.K. Chesterton, Daily News, December 9, 1911

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la rochefoucauld

More maxims of François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613–1680):

  • “Fortune shews our Virtues and Vices, as Light does Objects.”
  • “‘Tis never more difficult to speak well than when we are ashamed of our Silence.”
  • “Since great Men can neither bestow Health of Body, nor Peace of Mind, we certainly pay too dear for all else they can.”
  • “Our Wisdom is no less at Fortune’s Mercy than our Wealth.”
  • “The Desire of appearing Persons of Ability often prevents our being so.”
  • “There are some Faults, which when well-managed make a greater Figure than Virtue itself.”
  • “We like better to see those on whom we confer Benefits, than those from whom we receive them.”
  • “We should not be much concerned about Faults we have the Courage to own.”
  • “In the Adversity of our Friends, we always find something that don’t displease us.”
  • “Misers mistake Gold for their Good; whereas ’tis only a Means for attaining it.”
  • “When our Merit declines our Taste declines.”
  • “There is near as much Ability requisite to know how to make use of good Advice, as to know how to act for one’s self.”
  • “We had rather speak ill of ourselves than not speak at all.”
  • “We give up our Interest sooner than our Taste.”
  • “We forgive as long as we love.”

And “We sometimes lose People whom we regret more than we sorrow for; and others whom we are sorry for, yet don’t regret.”

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“It is a waste of energy to be angry with a man who behaves badly, just as it is to be angry with a car that won’t go. The difference is that you can compel your car to go to a garage, but you cannot compel Hitler to go to a psychiatrist.” — Bertrand Russell