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Friday, 5 May 2017

Michel de Montaigne


Livy (64 or 59 BCE – 17 CE):
Nothing is more deceitful than a depraved piety by which the will of the gods serves as a pretext for crimes.

Suetonius (c69 – after 122 CE):
He who suffers before he needs to, suffers more than he needs to.
(Life of Caesar)

The Road to Perdition

There is a plague on Man: his opinion that he knows something.
That is why ignorance is so strongly advocated by our religion as a quality appropriate to belief and obedience.
(pp 543-4)

In Man curiosity is an innate evil, dating from his origins …
The original Fall occurred when Man was anxious to increase his wisdom and knowledge: that path led headlong to eternal damnation.
Pride undoes man; it corrupts him; pride makes him leave the trodden paths, welcome novelty and prefer to be the leader of a lost band wandering along the road to perdition …
(p 555)

Whatever share in the knowledge of Truth we may have obtained, it has not been acquired by our own powers.
God has clearly shown us that [by choosing from among the common people] simple and ignorant apostles to bear witness of his wondrous secrets …
Our religion did not come to us through reasoned arguments or from our own intelligence: it came to us from outside authority, by commandments.
That being so, weakness of judgement helps us more than strength; blindness, more than clarity of vision.
We become learned in God's wisdom more by ignorance than by knowledge.
It is not surprising that our earth-based, natural means cannot conceive knowledge which is heaven-based and supernatural; let us merely bring our submissiveness and obedience …
(p 557)

Our minds are dangerous tools, rash and prone to go astray: it is hard to reconcile them with order and moderation. …
It is a miracle if you find one who is settled and civilized.
We are right to erect the strictest possible fences around the human mind. …
Certainly few souls are so powerful, so law-abiding and so well endowed that we can trust them to act on their own, allowing them liberty of judgement to sail responsibly and moderately beyond accepted opinion.
It is more expedient to keep them under tutelage.
(pp 629-30)

Every single idea which results from our own reflections and our own faculties — whether it is true or false — is subject to dispute and uncertainty. …
Everything we undertake without God's help, everything we try and see without the lamp of his grace, is vanity and madness.
(An apology for Raymond Sebond, p 622)

St Hilary, the Bishop of Poitiers and a famous enemy of the Arian heresy, was in Syria when he was told that his only daughter Abra, whom he had left overseas with her mother, was being courted by some of the most notable lords of the land …
He wrote to her … saying that he had found for her during his journey a Suitor who was far greater and more worthy, a Bridegroom of very different power and glory, who would vouchsafe her a present of robes and jewels of countless price.
His aim was to make her lose the habit and taste of worldly pleasures and to wed her to God; but since the most sure and shortest way seemed to him that his daughter should die, he never ceased to beseech God in his prayers, vows and supplications that he should take her from this world and call her to Himself.
And so it happened: soon after his return she did die, at which he showed uncommon joy. …

[And,] when St Hilary's wife heard from him how the death of their daughter had been brought about by his wish and design, and how much happier she was to have quitted this world than to have remained in it, she too took so lively a grasp on that eternal life in Heaven that she besought her husband, with the utmost urgency, to do the same for her.
Soon after, when God took her to Himself in answer to both their prayers, the death was welcomed with open arms and with an uncommon joy which both of them shared.
(On fleeing from pleasures at the cost of one's life, p 246)

Honour and Freedom

I condemn all violence in the education of tender minds which are being trained for honour and freedom … and I hold that you will never achieve by force what you cannot achieve by reason, intelligence and skill. …
I have never seen caning achieve anything except making souls more cowardly or more maliciously stubborn. …
[Indeed, even] if I were able to make myself feared [by my children,] I would rather make myself loved.
(On the affection of fathers for their children, pp 437 & 441)

Anyone can see that all things within a State depend upon the way it educates and brings up its children.
Yet quite injudiciously that is left to the mercy of the parents, no matter how mad or wicked they may be.
How many times have I been tempted, among others things, to make a dramatic intervention so as to avenge some little boys whom I saw being bruised, knocked about and flayed alive by some frenzied father or mother beside themselves with anger.
You can see fire and rage flashing from their eyes …
(On Anger, p 809)

(The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, M A Screech, Translator, Penguin, 1991)


Control through Fear
Education through Violence
Domination through Force
Obedience through Submission

Submission is a poor substitute for respect.
Fear instils only servility; it does not command respect.
It is important not to mistake one for the other.

(23 April 2017)

Wednesday, 1 March 2017


Peace and Long Life

Nicolas de Caritat (1743 – 94) [Marquis de Condorcet]:
The time will come, when the sun will shine only on free men, who know no other master, but their reason.

Nils Nilsson (1933):
Missing out on useful beliefs is the price we pay for extreme skepticism. …
Accepting bad beliefs is the price we pay for extreme credulity.
(Understanding Beliefs, MIT Press, 2014, p 20)

John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946):
In the long run we are all dead.
(A Tract on Monetary Reform, Ch 3, 1923, p 80)

John Clarke (1948 – 2017):
Reason is a tool.
Try to remember where you left it.
(John Clarke's Poetry, Earshot, ABC Radio National, 15 April 2017)

James Cabell (1879 – 1958):
The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.
(The Silver Stallion, 1926)

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951):
Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.
(Philosophical Investigations, 3rd Ed, 1967, Blackwell, p 4)

Arthur Clarke (1917 – 2008):
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Isaac Asimov (1920 – 92):
[Science] gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.

Democritus (c460 – c370 BCE):
The wise man belongs to all countries, for the home of a great soul is the whole world.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 – 1527):
It is much safer to be feared than loved.
Love is sustained by a bond of gratitude which, because men are excessively self-interested, is broken whenever they see a chance to benefit themselves.
But fear is sustained by a dread of punishment that is always effective.

Ralph Emerson (1803 – 82):
The order of things is as good as the character of the population permits.
(The Conservative, 1841)

Jules Verne (1828 – 1905):
The sea is everything.
It covers seven tenths of the globe …
The sea is only a receptacle for all the prodigious, supernatural things that exist inside it.
It is only movement and love; it is the living infinite.
(Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1870)

H L Mencken (1880 – 1956):
For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

Herman Melville (1819 – 1891):
He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it …
(Moby Dick, Chapter 41, 1851)

Imam Ali (599 – 661):
Knowledge is power …
(Saying 146, Nahj Al-Balagha)

Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749 – 1827):
An intelligence that, at a given instant, could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings that make it up, if moreover it were vast enough to submit these data to analysis, would encompass in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the lightest atoms.
For such an intelligence nothing would be uncertain, and the future, like the past, would be open to its eyes. (Philosophical Essay on Probabilities)

Plato (c428 – c347 BCE):
[How] can he who has magnificence of mind and is the spectator of all time and all existence, think much of human life?
(Republic, c380 BCE)

It has been proved to us by experience that if we would have true knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body …
[For] if while in company with the body the soul cannot have pure knowledge, knowledge must be attained after death, if at all.
For the impure are not permitted to approach the pure. …
And what is purification but the separation of the soul from the body? …
And this separation and release of the soul from the body is termed death.

Pliny (23-79):
There is nothing certain except that nothing is certain …
(Naturalis Historia, II, p vii)

Aristides (530 BCE – 468 BCE) [Plataea, 479 BCE]:

This is not the moment to argue … about matters of ancestry and personal courage. …
We did not come here to quarrel with our allies, but to fight our enemies, not to boast about our ancestors, but to show our courage in defence of Greece.
This battle will prove clearly enough how much any city or general or private soldier is worth to Greece.
(Plutarch, The Rise and Fall of Athens, Ian Scott-Kilvert, Translator, Penguin, 1960, p 114)

Greg Bear (1951)

In your day, many people were so severely handicapped by personality disorders or faulty thinking structures that they often acted against their own best interests.
If they had clearly defined goals, they could not reason or even intuit the clear paths to attain those goals.
Often adversaries had the same goals, even very similar belief systems, yet hated each other bitterly.
Now, no human has the excuse to ignorance or mental malfunction, or even lack of ability.
Incompetence is inexcusable, because it can be remedied.
(Eon, 1985, Gollancz 2002, pp 401-2)

The biological weapons and processes in [Quantico] are possible, but not in the way I have described them.
I have tried to persuade of the dangers without providing salient details.
The dangers are real, and immediate.
Sober judgment, self-less, nonpartisan planning, and sanity are the only solutions.
For those who go in harm's way, there is ultimately no politics.
Only pain, loss, death — and hope.
(Quantico, Harper, 2015, p 439)


The [Guest] lifted its head and said very clearly,
    I am sorry, but there is bad news.
(p 14)
    If you have the ability to leave, you will wish to do so.
    A disease has entered your system of planets.
    There is little time left for your world. …
    Our world is doomed? …
    Unless I sadly misknow your abilities, yes.
(p 42)
    Do you believe in God?
Without a moments hesitation, the Guest replied,
    We believe in punishment.
(p 62)

The woman turned and [he saw that] she was strikingly beautiful, tall and Nordic, a long face with [a] perfectly cut nose, clear blue eyes and lips both sensual and faintly disapproving.
He looked away quickly, all to intensely aware [that] she was [out of his league.]
He had long since learned that [women of this calibre] paid little attention to men of his mild appearance and social standing. …
[Then came] the high, painful interior singing he had always know when in the presence of the desirable and inaccessible woman, not lust, but an almost religious longing.
(p 270)

(The Forge of God, 1987, Gollancz, 2010)

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Dylan Thomas


[The] morning fishwife gulls … heckling over Donkey Street, observe: …
Mrs Dai Bread Two,
gypsied to kill in a silky scarlet petticoat above my knees,
dirty pretty knees,
see my body through my petticoat brown as a berry,
high-heel shoes with one heel missing,
tortoiseshell comb in my bright black slinky hair,
nothing else at all but a dab of scent,
lolling gaudy at the doorway,
tell your fortune in the tea-leaves,
scowling at the sunshine,
lighting up my pipe; …

Miss Price,
in my pretty print housecoat,
deft at the clothesline,
natty as a jenny-wren,
then pit-pat back to my egg in its cosy,
my crisp toast-fingers,
my homemade plum and butterpat; …

Polly Garter,
under the washing line, giving the breast in the garden to my bonny new baby.
Nothing grows in our garden, only washing.
And babies.
And where's their fathers live, my love?
Over the hills and far away.
You're looking up at me now.
I know what you're thinking, you poor little milky creature.
You're thinking, you're no better than you should be, Polly, and that's good enough for me. …

Polly Garter [Singing]:
I loved a man whose name was Tom
He was strong as a bear and two yards long
I loved a man whose name was Dick
He was big as a barrel and three feet thick
And I loved a man whose name was Harry
Six feet tall and sweet as a cherry
But the one I loved best awake or asleep
Was little Willy Wee and he's six feet deep.

Oh Tom Dick and Harry were three fine men
And I'll never have such loving again
But little Willy Wee who took me on his knee
Little Willy Wee was the man for me.

Eli Jenkins:
Every morning, when I wake,
Dear Lord, a little prayer I make,
O please to keep Thy lovely eye
On all poor creatures born to die.

And every evening at sun-down
I ask a blessing on the town,
For whether we last the night or no
I'm sure is always touch-and-go.

We are not wholly bad or good
Who live our lives under Milk Wood,
And Thou, I know, wilt be the first
To see our best side, not our worst.

O let us see another day!
Bless us this holy night, I pray,
And to the sun we all will bow
And say, goodbye - but just for now! …

Captain Cat:
I'll tell you no lies.
The only sea I saw
Was the seesaw sea
With you riding on it.
Lie down, lie easy.
Let me shipwreck in your thighs.

To Begin at the Beginning

[Silence …]
[Very softly]

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent, and the hunched courters'-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.
The houses are:
  • blind as moles (though moles see fine tonight in the snouting, velvet dingles) or
  • blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by:
    • the pump and the town clock,
    • the shops in mourning,
    • the Welfare Hall in widows' weeds.
And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.

  • the babies are sleeping,
  • the farmers, the fishers,
  • the tradesmen and pensioners,
  • cobbler, schoolteacher,
  • postman and publican,
  • the undertaker and the fancy woman,
  • drunkard, dressmaker,
  • preacher [and] policeman,
  • the webfoot cocklewomen and the tidy wives.
Young girls lie bedded soft or glide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided by glow-worms down the aisles of the organplaying wood.
The boys are dreaming wicked or of the bucking ranches of the night and the jolly, rodgered sea.

  • And the anthracite statues of the horses sleep in the fields,
  • and the cows in the byres,
  • and the dogs in the wetnosed yards;
  • and the cats nap in the slant corners or lope sly, streaking and needling, on the one cloud of the roofs. …

Only your eyes are unclosed, to see the black and folded town fast, and slow, asleep.
And you alone can hear the [dew falling, the hushed town breathing, and] the darkest-before-dawn minutely dewgrazed stir of the black, dab-filled sea where:
  • the Arethusa, the Curlew
  • the Skylark, Zanzibar, [and] Rhiannon,
  • the Rover, the Cormorant and the Star of Wales,
tilt and ride.

Listen [to the] night moving in the streets, the processional salt slow musical wind in Coronation Street and Cockle Row, it is the grass growing on Llareggub Hill, dew fall, star fall, the sleep of birds in Milk Wood. …

It is night,
  • in the chill, squat chapel, hymning, in bonnet and brooch and bombazine black, butterfly choker and bootlace bow, coughing like nannygoats, sucking mintoes, fortywinking hallelujah;
  • night in the four-ale, quiet as a domino;
  • in Ocky Milkman's loft, like a mouse with gloves;
  • in Dai Bread's bakery, flying like black flour.
It is tonight in Donkey Street, trotting silent, with seaweed on its hooves, along the cockled cobbles,
  • past curtained fernpot,
  • text and trinket,
  • harmonium [and] holy dresser,
  • watercolours done by hand,
  • china dog and rosy tin teacaddy.
It is night, neddying among the snuggeries of babies.

It is night,
  • dumbly, royally winding through the Coronation cherry trees;
  • going through the graveyard of Bethesda, with winds gloved and folded and dew doffed;
  • tumbling by the Sailors Arms. …

Come closer now.
Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets in the slow deep salt and silent black, bandaged night.
Only you can see, in the blinded bedrooms,
  • the coms and petticoats over the chairs,
  • the jugs and basins,
  • the glasses of teeth,
  • Thou Shalt Not on the wall, and
  • the yellowing dickybird-watching pictures of the dead.
Only you can hear and see, behind the eyes of the sleepers,
  • the movements and countries,
  • mazes and colours, …
  • dismays and rainbows, …
  • tunes and wishes, …
  • [the] flight and [the] fall, and …
  • [the] big seas of their dreams.

[Listen:] you can hear their dreams. …

At the sea-end of town, Mr and Mrs Floyd, the cocklers, are sleeping as quiet as death, side by wrinkled side, toothless, salt, and brown, like two old kippers in a box. …

Alone until she dies, Bessie Bighead, hired help, born in the workhouse, smelling of the cowshed, … picks a posy of daisies in Sunday Meadow to put on the grave of Gomer Owen who kissed her once by the pig-sty when she wasn't looking and never kissed her again although she was looking all the time. …

Willy Nilly postman downs his last bucket of black brackish tea and rumbles out bandy to the clucking back where the hens twitch and grieve for their tea-soaked sops.

Mrs Willy Nilly full of tea to her double-chinned brim broods and bubbles over her coven of kettles on the hissing hot range always ready to steam open the mail. …

Up the street, in the Sailors Arms, Sinbad Sailors, grandson of Mary Ann Sailors, draws a pint in the sunlit bar.
The ship's clock in the bar says half past eleven.
Half past eleven is opening time.
The hands of the clock have stayed still at half past eleven for fifty years.
It is always opening time in the Sailors Arms. …

A car drives to market, full of fowls and a farmer.
Milk churns stand at Coronation Corner like short, silver policemen. …

The morning's busy as bees.
[Out background organ music]
There's the clip clop of horses on the sunhoneyed cobbles of the humming streets, hammering of horseshoes, gobble quack and cackle, tomtit twitter from the bird-ounced boughs, braying on Donkey Down.
Bread is baking, pigs are grunting, chop goes the butcher, milk churns bell, tills ring, sheep cough, dogs shout, saws sing.
the Spring whinny and morning moo from the clog dancing farms,
the gulls' gab and rabble on the boat bobbing river and sea and
the cockles bubbling in the sand, scamper of sanderlings, curlew cry, crow caw, pigeon coo, clock strike, bull bellow, and
the ragged gabble of the beargarden school as the women scratch and babble in Mrs Organ Morgan's general shop where everything is sold: custard, buckets, henna, rat-traps, shrimp nets, sugar, stamps, confetti, paraffin, hatchets, whistles. …

Outside, the sun springs down on the rough and tumbling town.
It runs through the hedges of Goosegog Lane, cuffing the birds to sing.
Spring whips green down Cockle Row, and the shells ring out.
Llareggub this snip of a morning is wildfruit and warm, the streets, fields, sands and waters springing in the young sun. …

Spring stirs Gossamer Beynon, schoolmistress, like a spoon. …

Gossamer Beynon high-heels out of school.
The sun hums down through the cotton flowers of her dress into the bell of her heart and buzzes in the honey there and couches and kisses, lazy-loving and boozed, in her red-berried breast.
Eyes run from the trees and windows of the street steaming, 'Gossamer', and strip her to the nipples and the bees.
She blazes naked past the Sailors' Arms, the only woman on the Dai-Adamed earth. …

[The] clocks with no hands [are] forever drumming out [the] time without ever knowing what time it is. …

[A long silence]
The sunny slow lulling afternoon yawns and moons through the dozy town.
The sea lolls, laps and idles in, with fishes sleeping in [her] lap.
The meadows still as Sunday, the shut-eye tasselled bulls, the goat-and-daisy dingles, nap happy and lazy.
The dumb duck-ponds snooze.
Clouds sag and pillow on Llareggub Hill.
Pigs grunt in a wet wallow-bath, and smile as they snort and dream. …
[And the donkeys] angelically drowse on Donkey Down. …

Blind Captain Cat climbs into his bunk. Like a cat, he sees in the dark.
Through the voyages of his tears, he sails to see the dead.

(Under Milkwood, 1953)