Friday, October 31, 2008

Why I am wont to throw down some Mencken and follow up with some Vincent Millay for good measure.

"A person who publishes a book blog willfully appears before the populace with his pants down . . . . If it is a good book blog nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book blog, nothing can help him."
Edna St. Vincent Millay

"There are two kinds of books blogs: those that no one reads and those that no one ought to read."
H.L. Mencken

"There are no dull subjects--there are only dull writers."
H.L. Mencken

[those quotes and there's more | more | more | more]

How true you are people of the olden day age. How true. And, yes, remind me to read more H.L Mencken. He throws down the aphorisms like a mofo. We won't get into his confusingly elitist politics. N.B. for confusing read: possibly racist, definitely anti-democratic, but more than likely he was deliberately contrary in an effort to wind people up and get more attention. A cleverer Jeremy Clarkson, perhaps; although that's a comparison that only Jeremy Clarkson could be happy about.

But, what do I know. I am reading a book at the mo that's got a chapter on him, but it concentrates more on his writing than his life. So let's concentrate on the condensed and brutal sentences he churned out. Sit back and enjoy some superficial wit and perspicacity. How long have I waited to find a sentence where I could wedge that word in! Ahhh, shallow shallow shallow, but pleased...

Here. You. Look at these. Look at these:

H.L. Mencken

A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.

All men are frauds. The only difference between them is that some admit it. I myself deny it.

Before a man speaks it is always safe to assume that he is a fool. After he speaks, it is seldom necessary to assume it.

Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood.

Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.

It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry.

It is the dull man who is always sure, and the sure man who is always dull.

On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

He throws them down for fun, does H.L.M. I'm not sure if half of em means anythin, but they don't half sound good. And right proper clever. And he just seemed to come up with them in his lunch break. Many many many...

Okay, class. Notebooks out. Jones, are you listening? ... We'll all just wait for you, shall we? All sit here waiting ... Hmmm. Hurry up, boy! Thank you, tttt. Now then, where were we? Yes.

Here is your homework: remember at least one of these quotes and throw it into a conversation tomorrow and pretend it is yours. People will be flummoxed and assume that you are bear of great word power and intellect. Reading H.L. Mencken is like swallowing an entire year's worth of the Readers' Digest. (see how lame that line is compared to the Henckster's efforts). The only problem will be when someone says, "Who said that?" to which you reply, "H.L. Mencken, of course."

Cos there will be no point in pretending you made the line up. We know half of these already without realising where they come from. Pretend you've always been a fan of the great man. That's what I'm doing right now.

Now our Edna's words are less famous, so you might be able to get away with stealing them...

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Yes, don't forget about the Lady of the Aphorism, our Edna St. Vincent Millay. If he was a rabidly productive journalist, she was a poet whose word count wasn't in the same league, but she produced enough. And her politics were a little more to my taste.

These are perfect little boxes of words, wrapped and perfumed. You start to think they're a little trite and greetings cardsy, but, under the cleverness there's a little salty nugget of truth:

Life is a quest and love a quarrel ...

I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.

It's not true that life is one damn thing after another; it's one damn thing over and over.

My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night; but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends - it gives a lovely light!

The longest absence is less perilous to love than the terrible trials of incessant proximity.

Please give me some good advice in your next letter. I promise not to follow it.

Life must go on; I forget just why.

I'm especially fond of this one for soppy reasons:

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.


  1. I recently discovered that Albert Einstein said something amazing about just about everything, and I could read Mark Twain quotes cheerfully to the exclusion of everything else that's ever been written; I'd like to ingrain his quotes into my consciousness so that they just spring to mind whenever I need to say anything.

    There seems to be a dearth of writers still living who comment in such a way, people just don't seem to talk like that these days, which is a shame. It's not all that surprising when you consider who is admired and held up as role models, eloquence and evidence of great thinking don't seem to be admirable and are often even despised.

    But so, a quest to find something said by a person still living found one person, a certain Alain de Botton:

    “I passionately believe that's it's not just what you say that counts, it's also how you say it - that the success of your argument critically depends on your manner of presenting it.”

    “Snobbery exists in all areas of life, not least literary criticism. By snobbery I mean, any method of judging someone or something whereby you latch on to one or two features about them/it, and use these to come to a definitive, immovable judgement. In intellectual matters, the snob will often take the external features of a work as a guide to its value.”

    “We are certainly influenced by role models, and if we are surrounded by images of beautiful rich people, we will start to think that to be beautiful and rich is very important - just as in the Middle Ages, people were surrounded by images of religious piety.”

    (This would benefit from some formatting)

    I know very little of him, except that he is considered incredibly pretentious, which makes me want to cry and/or build a time machine. I've been thinking how nice it would be to be a great thinker in the time of great thinkers.

  2. I will take your advice on Mark Twain. He came up with, 'golf is a good walk spoiled' so he's alright with me. I need to read more of his stuff. And Einstein, I'm ashamed to say, I know next to nothing about. But he seems like a reasonably clever bloke... ahem.

    Mr de Botton (who I always want to call de Bottom) has got some good things to say, but history does tend to be a good editor of writers. The best lines last longest.

    I'm a big 'quotes of the day' reader (on my iGoogle). today has John Cage: "The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason." I wish I could think like that and express it so neatly. O sigh.

  3. There are some things you probably shouldn't get me started on.

    Mark Twain also said:

    "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

    and a billion other things, he was quite astounding(if scathing).

    Einstein was amazing (and a bit nicer), he is my new found ultimate hero. He said:

    "Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts."

    which says so much in what it would take me 537 words to not say, and he does seem to have said something about everything.

    Geraldine Google and Walter Wiki can tell you much more than I can.

    I love quotes, they can say what I want to say so much better than I can. So can you though, it must be your name. (Tarquin Sullivan, master of words). The quote of the day thing is ace, it usually gives a moment's thought provokage. Except other people get the same ones, annoyingly.

    Since I wrote that there last comment, I saw a QI book (in an actual shop!) that possibly answers my previous quest; it's called Advanced Banter and is a collection of quotes. But it's QI, so it may be all QIish and serve as nothing more than something to throw at QI.

    *waits to get pelted with virtual rotten eggs*

    Worth a nosy though.