Commonplace Book - Summer 2011


By Anne Matthews | June 3, 2011


[Combat] not only raised pirates’ operating costs, but also threatened to reduce piratical revenue. … By signaling pirates’ identity to potential targets, the Jolly Roger prevented bloody battle that would needlessly injure or kill not only pirates, but also innocent merchant seamen. … The skulls, swords, and bleeding hearts that graced many black flags left little room for interpretation.

Peter T. Leeson, The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates, 2009

There seem to be things that I can almost get hold of, and think about; but when I am just on the point of seizing them, they start away, like slippery things.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, Journal entry on his unfinished last novel

[The Indian protesters] marched steadily with heads up, without the encouragement of music or cheering or any possibility that they might escape serious injury or death. The police rushed out and methodically and mechanically beat down the second column. There was no fight, no struggle; the marchers simply walked forward until struck down. … By eleven the heat reached 116 degrees in the shade and the activities of the Gandhi volunteers subsided. I went back to the temporary hospital to examine the wounded. They lay in rows on the bare ground in the shade of an open, palm-thatched shed. I counted 320 injured, many still insensible with fractured skulls.

—British journalist Webb Miller on the Salt March, Dungri, India, 1930

Once upon a time in Spain, there was a little bull, and his name was Ferdinand. … All the other bulls … wanted most of all to be picked to fight at the bull fights in Madrid. But not Ferdinand—he just wanted to sit quietly under the cork tree and smell the flowers. … His mother saw that he was not lonesome, and because she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy.

Munro Leaf, The Story of Ferdinand, 1936

He asked her if she liked strawberries. “Yes,” said Tess, “when they come.” “They are already here.” D’Urberville . . . stood up and held it by the stem to her mouth. “No-no,” she said quickly, putting her fingers between his hand and her lips. “I would rather take it in my own hand.” “Nonsense!” he insisted; and in a slight distress she parted her lips and took it in.

Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, 1891

How the hell could you resist, it was too freaking madly manic—  … Allen Ginsberg was in front of the microphone with finger cymbals on each hand, dancing around with a beard down to his belly and chanting Hindu chants into the microphone booming out over California, U.S.A., Hare krishna hare krishna hare krishna hare krishna—what the mollyfock is hairy krishna—who is this hairy freak—but you can’t help yourself, you got to groove with this cat in spite of yourself. Ginsberg … was a lot of things the Angels hated, a Jew, an intellectual, a New Yorker, but he was too much, the greatest straightest unstraight guy they ever met.

Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, 1968

Emerald cool we may be
As water in cupped hands
But oh that we might be
As splinters of glass
In cupped hands.

Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Freedom From Fear, 1991

When the doctor had gone out of the cell, I lay quite helpless, it seemed paradise to be without the suffocating tube, without the liquid food going in and out of my body and without the gag between my teeth. … I heard the sounds of the forced feeding in the cell next to mine. It was almost more than I could bear, it was Elsie Howey, I was sure. When the ghastly process was over and all quiet, I tapped on the wall and called out at the top of my voice, which wasn’t much just then, “No surrender,” and there came the answer past any doubt in Elsie’s voice, “No surrender.”

Lady Constance Lytton, 1910

Let your life be a counter-friction against the machine.

Henry David Thoreau, “Resistance to Civil Government,” 1848, posthumously titled “Civil Disobedience,” 1866

I shall revert to a more expletive method which I frequently use when I have to sermo with muddlecrass pupils. Imagine for my purpose that you are a squad of urchins, snifflynosed, goslingnecked, clothyheaded. … And you, Bruno Nowlan, take your tongue out of your inkpot! As none of you knows javanese I will give all my easyfree translation of the old fabulist’s parable. Allaboy Minor, take your head out of your satchel!

James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, 1939

He did not know their songs, and only listened and was borne along on the music, until from up front there came sweeping back wave by wave down the great slow-moving river of people a tune that he knew. He lifted his head and sang it with them, in his own language, as he had learned it: The Hymn of the Insurrection. It had been sung in these streets, in this same street, 200 years ago, by these people, his people: O eastern light, awaken / Those who have slept! / The darkness will be broken, / The promise kept.

Ursula K. Le Guin,The Dispossessed, 1974

The path of least resistance makes all rivers, and some men, crooked.

Napoleon Hill (1883–1970), motivational guru

Fatness & idleness—anxiety & responsibility—Eheu!! I should never know French,—or see the continent—or go to America, or go up in a Balloon. … Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire, &  books & music perhaps. … One cannot live this solitary life with groggy old age, friendless & cold, & childless staring one in one’s face, already beginning to wrinkle.—Never mind, trust to chance, keep a sharp look out—There is many a happy slave—Marry—Marry—Marry. Q.E.D.

Charles Darwin, notes to himself at age 29, 1838

Old trees are doomed to annual rebirth,
New wood, new life, new compass, greater girth,
And this is all their wisdom and their art—
To grow, stretch, crack, and not yet come apart.

Richard Wilbur, “A Black Birch in Winter,” 1974

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