Commonplace Book

“Everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”

— Paul Bowles

Commonplace Book

Another good quote: Samuel Johnson from Boswell’s Life:

“Questioning is not the mode of conversation among gentlemen. It is assuming a superiority, and it is particularly wrong to question a man concerning himself. There may be parts of his former life he may not wish to be made known to other persons, or even brought to his own recollection.”

This HAS to be the ultimate source of Patrick O’Brian’s Diana Maturin’s ” I do not find Question and Answer a Liberal form of conversation…”

Sent by commenter “rob’s uncle” on just that subject– emphasis his.

Commonplace Book

From an essay by Jonathan Rosen (author of the highly recommended The Life of the Skies), in an essay in Richard Barnes’ Animal Logic, which I recently posted on:

“All this talk of artificiality mingled with reality might seem like mere aesthetic maundering except for the fact that artificiality isn’t something imposed on human existence, it is something bound up with it…In other words, the artificial is natural when it comes too human beings. King Lear may shout ‘off, you lendings’, in an effort to strip down to the bare essentials, but human beings are in certain ways never naked.”

From the Commonplace Book

A poem by Gavin Maxwell. He doubtless did others but this one imagining wild Iceland from home is the only one I know. It resonates for this traveler stuck at home at least for the present…

Slowly through a Land of Stone

So although no ghost was scotched
We were happy while we watched
Ravens from their walls of shale
Cruise around the rotting whale,

Watched the sulphur basins boil
Loops of steam uncoil and coil,
While the valley fades away
To a sketch of Judgment Day.

Rows of books around me stand,
Fence me round on either hand;
Through that forest of dead words
I would hunt the living birds-

Great black birds that fly alone-
Slowly through a land of stone,
And the gulls who weave a free
Quilt of rhythm on the sea.

Commonplace Book

From the Essays of Montaigne:

“The men who serve us do so more cheaply than our falcons, our horses or our hounds, and they are less carefully looked after…what menial tasks will we not bow down to for the convenience of these animals! The most abject slaves, it seems to me, will not willingly do for their masters what princes are proud to do for such creatures. When Diogenes saw his parents striving to purchase his freedom he exclaimed: ‘They must be fools; my master looks after me and feeds me; he is my servant!’ So too those that keep animals can be said to serve them, not be served by them”.

Commonplace Book: I don’t want to kill a tiger but…

From a letter Peter Fleming, Ian’s older brother and the better writer (News From Tartary— all the other editions are insanely expensive and this gives you two good books in one volume), wrote to his four- year- old son in England while he was working in intelligence in Burma in WW II:

“If you are good at spelling and writing, and also a sensible sort of chap, it is rather a good thing, because when you grow up it makes it easier to do the things you want to do, and sometimes people will send you specially in an aeroplane to some lovely place to write things about it, and you can generally take Mummy with you, or one of your friends, and perhaps there will be tigers to shoot, or something equally nice.”`

From the Commonplace Book

“…one must never be deterred from doing what one wants for lack of money don’t you agree?” (Nancy Mitford to Robert Byron)

On the late President Turkmenbashi of Turkmenistan:
“Stories trickling out of the country described a tyrant with the flair of Liberace and the savagery of Stalin”. (Eric Enno Tamm, The Horse that Leaps Though Clouds)

On Xinjiang: “The province’s traditions of hospitality are all its own, and the death- rate at banquets appalling”. (Peter Fleming)