A solemn friend of my grandfather used to go for walks on Sunday carrying a prayer-book, without the least intention of going to church. And he calmly defended it by saying, with uplifted hand, “I do it, Chessie, as an example to others.” The man who did that was obviously a Dickens character. And I am disposed to think that, in being a Dickens character, he was in many ways rather preferable to many modern characters. Few modern men, however false, would dare to be so brazen. And I am not sure he was not really a more genuine fellow than the modern man who says vaguely that he has doubts or hates sermons, when he only wants to go and play golf. Hypocrisy itself was more sincere. Anyhow, it was more courageous.
(G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1936, p. 20).
In many cases, though the ideas may be familiar enough, we might find it difficult to match Creole proverb with English equivalent. “It’s the old pot that makes the good soup,” might well be the motto for a Conservative association. “If your petticoats fit you well, don’t try to put on your husband’s breeches,” reminds us of one of Mrs. Lynn Lynton’s scolding diatribes; and “eating once doesn’t wear out the teeth” makes us think of Oliver Twist and his impertinent demand for more. In some of these sayings there seems to lurk a sombre irony. “It is when death comes that you think about your life;” “He who kills his own body works for the worms;” “The leprosy says it loves you, while it is eating your fingers.” There is something here, deeper and more mordant than is common in proverbial philosophy. Those who are proud of low aims and ignoble ambitions, may find a word for them in the homely saying, “Chickens don’t boast what good soup they make.” A delightful laxity in the law of slander seems to be indicated in the brief sentence “The tongue has no bones,” while, on the other hand, a strictness in the legal code is hinted at in this, “He who takes a partner takes a master.” A patriotic if mistaken zeal is shown in the protest against the custom of the rich planters who Send their sons to be educated in Europe, “He went to school a kid, and came back a sheep.” That we should learn by the misfortune of others seems to be the moral of this saying: “If you see your neighbor’s beard on fire, water your own.” “Behind the dog’s back it is ‘dog’, but before him it is ‘Mr. Dog,’” reminds us at once of a certain barrack-room ballad:
Oh, it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’
Tommy go away,
But it’s “Thank you, Mr. Atkins,” when
the band begins to play.
Good people who are over-sanguine as to the immediate accomplishment of all their little plans are quietly assured that “When the sky falls, all the flies will be caught.” Two pithy sayings deal with the root of all evil: “Money is good, but it’s too dear;” “Money has no blood relations.” Fair-Weather friends are hit off rather neatly in the next: “It’s when the wind is blowing that folks can see the skin of a fowl.”
(“Creole Proverbs,” The Living Age, Vol. CCXVI, 1898, pp. 471–472).
It makes no difference what men think of war. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.
(Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian. London: Picador, 2015, p. 262).
Who knows whether there has been enough of warfare? But never will it cease, till the palm-branch be grasped, which a spiritual power can alone extend. So long will blood continue to flow over Europe, until nations shall become conscious of the fearful frenzy, that urges them round in a vicious circle, and until touched and softened by celestial music, they shall return in motley crowds to their ancient altars, perform works of peace, and, on the reeking battle-plain, amid tears of joy, solemnize the festival of peace, the great repast of love. Religion alone can resuscitate Europe, can give security to nations, invest Christendom with new glory, and reinstate her in her old pacific functions.
(Novalis; quoted in James Burton Robertson, “Life and Writings of Novalis,” The Dublin Review, Vol. III, 1837, pp. 298–299).
I think that, in an ascending age, the classic of yesterday becomes the degenerate of to-morrow. […] In a descending age, the degenerate of yesterday becomes to-morrow’s classic. People too readily accept the endorsement of posterity as a demonstration of an artistic claim to merit. But if posterity is inferior to the age which condemned the artist originally, obviously the admiration of posterity is worth nothing, and a man who finds his works increasingly admired as he grows older, should ask himself whether the age is getting better or worse. It may be the increasing vulgarity of his contemporaries which alone accounts for his increasing popularity. Therefore, to outline the probable character of a work of art of the future is to grope entirely in the dark. For if man continues degenerating, modern standards will be too far above his head to be comprehended. And if he becomes more desirable than he is at present, modern classics will appear as so much rubbish.
(Anthony Ludovici; quoted in Meredith Starr, The Future of the Novel. Boston: Small, Maynard and Company, 1921, p. 46).
I readily compare what is called Philosophy, to the cabinet of a ministry. Each new chief arranges the cabinet after his fashion, changes the place of papers and labels, makes what is called a work of classification, nothing more.
He who goes has taken nothing; he who arrives brings nothing. They talk of amelioration and reforms. Do not believe them. Different classification, that is all. Each new great philosopher who sets us astir, only classifies our ideas, tickets our knowledge, in a way different from his predecessor’s. Rangement, arrangement, and even derangement! Some of them, like Proudhon, tear all the papers, smash the green boxes, throw the furniture out of the window; — then they are left standing in the middle of the cabinet, without so much as anything to sit on.
(Alphonse Daudet, “Notes on Life.” In: The Novels, Romances, and Memoirs of Alphonse Daudet, Vol. 14. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1904, p. 180).
“There can be only one permanent revolution — a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.”