Quintessential Quotations

Cynicism


Cleverness

"To think of it," Jurgen reflected, "that the world I inhabit is ordered by beings who are not one-tenth so clever as I am! I have often suspected as much, and it is decidedly unfair. Now let me see if I cannot make something out of being such a monstrous clever fellow."

James Branch Cabbell
Jurgen

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Complicity

These British people you mention: shall I tell you the truth? If they knew, they wouldn't mind. They'd have no scruples about making the most horrible weapon ever invented—none whatever—they wouldn't give it a thought. They'd take their wages and enjoy their sports field and be proud of the their children and, in fact, you know, they'd be proud of the weapon as well, and want one with a British flag on it, and sing about it in the music halls. Oh, there are a few idealists, pacifists—harmless people. There is room for them. But the majority are as I describe, not as you describe. Reality is with me. I promised you the truth: there it is.

And she knew that he was right.

Phillip Pullman
The Shadow in the North, Chapter 22

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Crime and Virtue

I am a citizen of the world, and I have met, in my time, with so many difficult sorts of virtue, that I am puzzled, in my old age, to say which is the right sort and which is the wrong. Here, in England, there is one virtue. And there, in China, there is another virtue. And John Englishman says my virtue is the genuine virtue. And John Chinaman says my virtue is the genuine virtue. And I say Yes to one, or No to the other, and am just as much bewildered about it in the case of John with the top-boots as I am in the case of John with the pigtail....

John Bull does abhor the crimes of John Chinaman He is the quickest old gentleman at finding out the faults that are his neighbors', and the slowest old gentleman at finding out the faults that are his own, who exists on the face of creation. Is he so very much better in his way, than the people whom he condemns in their way? English society, Miss Halcombe, is as often the accomplice, as it is the enemy, of crime. Yes! Yes! Crime is in this country what crime is in other countries—a good friend to a man and to those about him as often as it is an enemy. A great rascal provides for his wife and family. The worse he is, the more he makes them the objects for your sympathy. He often provides, also, for himself. A profligate spendthrift, who is always borrowing money, will get more from his friends than the rigidly honest man who only borrows of them once, under pressure of the direst want. In the one case, the friends will not be at all surprised, and they will give. In the other case, they will be very much surprised, and they will hesitate. Is the prison that John Scoundrel lives in, at the end of his career, a more uncomfortable place than the work-house that Mr. Honesty lives in, at the end of his career? When John-Howard-Philanthropist wants to relieve misery, he goes to find it in prisons, where crime is wretched—not in huts and hovels, where virtue is wretched too. Who is the English poet who has won the most universal sympathy—who makes the easiest of all subjects for pathetic writing and pathetic painting? That nice young person who began life with a forgery and ended it by a suicide—your dear, romantic, interesting Chatterton. Which gets on best, do you think, of two poor starving dressmakers—the woman who resists temptation, and is honest, or the woman who falls under temptation, and steals? You all know that the stealing is the making of the second woman's fortune—it advertises her from length to breadth of good-humored, charitable England—and she is relieved, as the breaker of a commandment, when she would have been left to starve, as the keeper of it. Come here, my jolly little Mouse! Hey! presto! pass! I transform you, for the time being, into a respectable lady. Stop there, in the palm of my great big hand, my dear, and listen. You marry the poor man whom you love, Mouse; and one half your friends pity, and the other half blame you. And now, on the contrary, you sell yourself for gold to a man you don't care for; and all your friends rejoice over you; and a minister of public worship sanctions the base horror of the vilest of all human bargains; and smiles and smirks afterward at your table, if you are polite enough to ask him to breakfast. Hey! presto! pass! Be a mouse again, and squeak. If you continue to be a lady much longer, I shall have you telling me that Society abhors crime—and then, Mouse, I shall doubt if your own eyes and ears are really of any use to you. Ah! I am a bad man, Lady Glyde, am I not? I say what other people only think; and when all the rest of the world is in a conspiracy to accept the mask for the true face, mine is the rash hand that tears off the plump pasteboard, and shows the bare bones beneath. I will get up on my big elephant's legs, before I do myself any more harm in your amiable estimations—I will get up, and take a little airy walk of my own. Dear ladies, as your excellent Sheridan said, I go—and leave my character behind me.

Wilkie Collins
The Woman in White, The Second Epoch, The Story Continued by Marian Halcombe, Chapter III

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Crimes, Undetected

It is truly wonderful how easily Society can console itself for the worst of its shortcomings with a little bit of clap-trap. The machinery it has set up for the detection of crime is miserably ineffective—and yet only invent a moral epigram, saying that it works well, and you will blind everybody to its blunders from that moment. Crimes cause their own detection, do they? And murder will out (another moral epigram), will it? Ask Coroners who sit at inquests in large towns if that is true, Lady Glyde. Ask secretaries of life-assurance companies, if that is true, Miss Halcombe. Read your own public journals. In the few cases that get into the newspapers, are there not instances of slain bodies found, and no murderers ever discovered? Multiply the cases that are reported by the cases that are not reported, and the bodies that are found by the bodies that are not found; and what conclusion do you come to? This: That there are foolish criminals who are discovered, and wise criminals who escape. The hiding of a crime, or the detection of a crime, what is it? A trial of skill between the police on one side, and the individual on the other. When the criminal is a brutal, ignorant fool, the police, in nine cases out of ten, win. When the criminal is a resolute, dedicated, highly intelligent man, the police, in nine cases out of ten, lose. If the police win, you generally hear all about it. If the police lose, you generally hear nothing. And on this tottering foundation you build up your comfortable moral maxim that Crime causes its own detection! Yes—all the crime you know of. And what of the rest?

Wilkie Collins
The Woman in White, The Second Epoch, The Story Continued by Marian Halcombe, Chapter III

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Money and Taste

Money can buy you love but can't even put down a deposit on good taste.

Jack Yeovil
The Big Fish, in Stephen Jones ed., Shadows Over Innsmouth, Fedogan & Bremer, 1994

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Naked Souls

The sight of a soul stripped of its conventional veneer and surface pretence is not always pleasant.

Robert E. Howard
Black Hound of Death, in Trails in Darkness

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Prayer

Rachaela had an urge to kneel down and pray. For what? She remembered school prayers, for which she was increasingly too late, Our Father which art in Heaven, the propitiation of a bad-tempered and jealous deity called always compassionate and with a need for praise worse than an insecure adolescent's.

Was there any God? Logically not. No one to lean on then. No one to understand or be implored. She was on her own as usual.

Tanith Lee
Dark Dance, Chapter 7

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The Shadow Government

Those who own the country purchase the government.

Noam Chomsky

. . . Of course, you know that the real business of government is carried on far out of the public eye. You may not be aware that much of it is unknown even to ministers, sometimes even to ministers of the departments that might be expected to be concerned. It is so with all states, of course, but particularly so in Britain, for some reason. Thanks to the contacts I made through Lord Wytham (though their purpose was quite unknown to him) I have my hands now on the levers of real power in Great Britain. But you know something, Miss Lockhart: in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases out of a thousand, this secret power, this invisible authority which no one has voted for, works for good. For the benefit of the ordinary citizen. In hundreds of ways that they could never understand, ordinary lives are better for this benevolent oversight, this hidden, fatherly hand that guides and protects. Among all men who are truly powerful—and, as I've explained, that is not always the men the world thinks are powerful—there is a kind of comradeship, an ideal, almost a freemasonry of service. Has the life of the employees of North Star improved? Is it better than when they were making locomotives? Of course it is. Go and look into their houses. Visit the schools. Inspect the hospital that we have just built. Watch a football match on the sports ground we have laid out. They are prosperous and healthy and happy. They don't know why, but you and I know. When wars have finally ceased, when peace reigns all over the world, they won't know why either; they'll put it down to improvements in education, or an evolution in the human brain, or the sophistication of the economic system, or an increase in churchgoing, or better drains. We shall know better. We shall know that the real reason is that gun which is too horrible to be used. But it doesn't matter that they won't know; let them feel the benefits—that is all that matters.

Phillip Pullman
The Shadow in the North, Chapter 22

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The Struggle for Power

She had suddenly realised something about people like this—whether they were businessmen, policemen, civil servants, hotel proprietors, landlords, or what: it was that they didn't mean what they said. They never told the truth. What they seemed to be doing—catching criminals, buying and selling, banking, administering, making things—wasn't the real business of their lives at all. It was a cover. They were only playing at it, and they didn't even do it well, because they didn't believe in it. The real, secret business of their lives lay in keeping power for people like themselves. That was all they really cared about, and they were desperately serious about it, because the thought of losing the little power they had was terrifying to them; and they didn't mind what damage they did to truth or honesty or justice in the struggle to hang onto it.

Phillip Pullman
The Shadow in the North, Chapter 17

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With Friends Like These...

Percival! Percival!" he cried, passionately, "do you know me no better than that? Has all your experience shown you nothing of my character yet? I am a man of the antique type! I am capable of the most exalted acts of virtue—when I have the chance of performing them. It has been the misfortune of my life that I have had few chances. My conception of friendship is sublime! Is it my fault that your skeleton has peeped out at me? Why do I confess my curiosity? You poor, superficial Englishman, it is to magnify my own self-control. I could draw your secret out of you, if I liked, as I draw this finger out of the palm of my hand—you know I could! But you have appealed to my friendship, and the duties of friendship are sacred to me. See! I trample my base curiosity under my feet. My exalted sentiments lift me above it. Recognize them, Percival! imitate them, Percival! Shake hands—I forgive you."

Wilkie Collins
The Woman in White, The Second Epoch, The Story Continued by Marian Halcombe, Chapter III

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Workers of the World

As semi-conscious machines, their industrial efficiency was nearly perfect.

H. P. Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop
The Mound, in The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions

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