Commonplace Book - Summer 2013

Conquest

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By Anne Matthews

June 10, 2013


 

 

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.

—Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Change for Peace” speech, April 16, 1953


If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans. We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.

—Stephen Hawking, “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking,” 2010


He increased his pace, and as the car devoured the street and leapt forth on the high road through the open country, he was only conscious that he was Toad once more, Toad at his best and highest, Toad the terror, the traffic-queller, the Lord of the lone trail, before whom all must give way or be smitten into nothingness and everlasting night.

—Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, 1908


Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak. They carried infections. They carried chess sets, basketballs, Vietnamese-English dictionaries, insignia of rank, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts, plastic cards imprinted with the Code of Conduct. They carried diseases, among them malaria and dysentery. They carried lice and ringworm and leeches and paddy algae and various rots and molds. They carried the land itself—Vietnam, the place, the soil—a powdery orange-red dust that covered their boots and fatigues and faces. They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity.

—Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried, 1990


Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

—W. B. Yeats, “The Wild Swans at Coole,” 1919


He had never read a book. He had never written a line worth reading. He had never said a prayer. He cared nothing for humanity. He had sprung out of some Californian gully, was perhaps ignorant of his own father and mother, and had tumbled up in the world on the strength of his own audacity.

—Anthony Trollope, The Way We Live Now, 1875


New Yorker Eugene Schieffelin, wishing that all Americans could hear each kind of bird mentioned in the works of Shakespeare, introduced sixty starlings to Central Park in 1890, and another forty in 1891. Like many introduced species they found their new circumstances, if anything, better than the old. Aggressive, gregarious, and highly social, they reproduced rapidly, displacing native species such as the American Bluebird as they spread across the continent, to the point where their flocks now darken the skies as Passenger Pigeons once did.

—Lynne Bruckner and Dan Brayton, “Warbling Invaders,” Ecocritical Shakespeare, 2011


Ever since I quit hanging out in Baltimore dive bars, the only place where I still regularly find myself in hostile confrontations with my fellow man is Amtrak’s Quiet Car … the battlefield where we quiet ones, our backs forced to the wall, finally hold our ground. The Quiet Car is the Thermopylae, the Masada, the Fort McHenry of quiet—which is why the regulars are so quick with prepared reproaches, more than ready to make a Whole Big Thing out of it, and why, when the outsiders invariably sit down and start in with their autonomic blather, they often find themselves surrounded by a shockingly hostile mob of professors, old ladies and four-eyes who look ready to take it outside.

—Tim Kreider, The New York Times, November 17, 2012


“Live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to overcome ’em with yeses, undermine ’em with grins, agree ’em to death and destruction, let ’em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open.” They thought the old man had gone out of his mind. He had been the meekest of men.

—Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, 1952


When yesterday Sophia and I were rowing past Mr. Prichard’s land, where the river is bordered by a row of elms and low willows, at 6 P.M., we heard a singular note of distress as it were from a catbird—a loud, vibrating, catbird sort of note, as if the catbird’s mew were imitated by a smart vibrating spring. I saw a little black animal making haste to meet the boat under the osiers. A young muskrat? A mink? No, it was a little dot of a kitten. … I took it up and dropped it in the boat, but while I was pushing off it ran the length of the boat to Sophia, who held it while we rowed homeward. Evidently it had not been weaned—was smaller than we remembered that kittens ever were—almost infinitely small; yet it had hailed a boat, its life being in danger, and saved itself.

—Henry David Thoreau, Journal, May 1853


Working into the mountain, the two streams drew closer to each other until the divide between them broke down and they were now confluent, one stream changing direction, captured. In this manner, some thousands of streams—consequent streams, pirate streams, beheaded streams, defeated streams—formed and reformed, shifting valleys, making hundreds of water gaps with the general and simple objective of finding in the newly tilted landscape the shortest possible journey to the sea.

—John McPhee, In Suspect Terrain, 1983


He had been extremely necessary where money was concerned. Peggy herself had been enabled to live in high style which her father could never have provided, to have everything she wanted, to cut a splendid figure in society; her brother had been maintained in a fashionable regiment; her father’s estate had been rescued from bankruptcy—the great Clayton revival had been financed entirely by him. Two of the family—he could acquit Sir Charles—had even been able to take up gun-running on the money he had sweated out of the Tonopah mud. Jesus, the English landed gentry! No wonder they’d taken over a quarter of the globe.

—George MacDonald Fraser, Mr. American, 1980


Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the SCHOLAR.


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