Saturday 12 October 2019


“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”

"It is a misfortune," thought Augusto, "that we need the service of things and have to make use of them. All beauty is marred by use, if not destroyed. The noblest function of things is that of being contemplated. How beautiful is an orange before dinner!"
Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), Mist

“Fame is not really real. Nobody is real except the people we're close to.” 
Allen Ginsberg, quoted by Michael Rectenwald

“The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living differ from the dead.”

“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.”

"A man loses contact with reality if he is not surrounded by his books."
François Mitterrand


  1. The circumstance that lends words their greatest weight is the proximity of death. The “swan song” image does not pertain to the Western tradition alone. It is there already in The Analects of Confucius: “When a bird is about to die, his song is sad; when a man is about to die, his words are true.” Shakespeare seems to echo it: “The tongues of dying men / Enforce attention like deep harmony.” Besides, in Anglo-Saxon common law a statement made by a dying man possesses a special evidentiary status, since “a dying man is not presumed to lie”.
    No wonder the last words of the great are piously collected. The famous “Mehr Licht” (“More light”) of Goethe – assuming that he actually said it, and that he did not merely mean to ask that the shutters be opened – seems to suggest a lofty aspiration towards enlightenment and wisdom. By comparison, Thomas Mann’s ultimate query, “Where are my glasses?” sounds rather flat. At the moment of giving up the ghost on a hospital bed, the colourful Irish playwright Brendan Behan still had the wit to thank the nun who was wiping his brow: “Thank you, Sister! May all your sons become bishops.”
    I am especially moved by the way old Countess de Vercellis died. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who witnessed it, describes the episode in his Confessions: “With her serene mind and pleasant mood, she made the Catholic religion attractive to me. In the very end, she stopped chatting with us; but as she entered the final struggles of agony, she let off a big fart. ‘Well,’ she said, turning over in her bed, ‘a woman that farts is not dead.’ These were her last words.”
    The most heartbreaking last words are those of Pancho Villa. As the Mexican revolutionary was about to be shot, he found himself suddenly lost for words. He begged some journalists who stood nearby: “Don’t let it end like this! Tell them I said something.” Yet this time the journalists, instead of making something up, as is their usual practice, soberly reported the failure of inspiration in all its naked truth. Trust journalists!

    Simon Leys, Tell Them I Said Something

  2. "If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?"

    Frédéric Bastiat, The Law (1850)

  3. G.K. Chesterton, with his usual gentle audacity, once criticized Rudyard Kipling for his “lack of patriotism.” Since Kipling was renowned for glorifying the British Empire, this might have seemed one of Chesterton’s “paradoxes”; but it was no such thing, except in the sense that it denied what most readers thought was obvious and incontrovertible.

    Chesterton, himself a “Little Englander” and opponent of empire, explained what was wrong with Kipling’s view: “He admires England, but he does not love her; for we admire things with reasons, but love them without reason. He admires England because she is strong, not because she is English.” Which implies there would be nothing to love her for if she were weak.

    Of course Chesterton was right. You love your country as you love your mother — simply because it is yours, not because of its superiority to others.

    Joseph Sobran
    The Reluctant Anarchist

  4. Most writing is to nobody, for good reason & fair warning. Letters are near speech - nine tenth of what I do are draft letters.