His father was an ass and he is an ass. I imagine sooner than I should like I shall be playing uncle to a litter of asses.
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His father was an ass and he is an ass. I imagine sooner than I should like I shall be playing uncle to a litter of asses.

-T.A. Miles

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I used to read in books how our fathers persecuted mankind. But I never appreciated it. I did not really appreciate the infamies that have been committed in the name of religion, until I saw the iron arguments that Christians used. I saw the Thumbscrew—two little pieces of iron, armed on the inner surfaces with protuberances, to prevent their slipping; through each end a screw uniting the two pieces. And when some man denied the efficacy of baptism, or may be said, 'I do not believe that a fish ever swallowed a man to keep him from drowning,' then they put his thumb between these pieces of iron and in the name of love and universal forgiveness, began to screw these pieces together. When this was done most men said, 'I will recant.' Probably I should have done the same. Probably I would have said: 'Stop; I will admit anything that you wish; I will admit that there is one god or a million, one hell or a billion; suit yourselves; but stop.'But there was now and then a man who would not swerve the breadth of a hair. There was now and then some sublime heart, willing to die for an intellectual conviction. Had it not been for such men, we would be savages to-night. Had it not been for a few brave, heroic souls in every age, we would have been cannibals, with pictures of wild beasts tattooed upon our flesh, dancing around some dried snake fetich.Let us thank every good and noble man who stood so grandly, so proudly, in spite of opposition, of hatred and death, for what he believed to be the truth.Heroism did not excite the respect of our fathers. The man who would not recant was not forgiven. They screwed the thumbscrews down to the last pang, and then threw their victim into some dungeon, where, in the throbbing silence and darkness, he might suffer the agonies of the fabled damned. This was done in the name of love—in the name of mercy, in the name of Christ.I saw, too, what they called the Collar of Torture. Imagine a circle of iron, and on the inside a hundred points almost as sharp as needles. This argument was fastened about the throat of the sufferer. Then he could not walk, nor sit down, nor stir without the neck being punctured, by these points. In a little while the throat would begin to swell, and suffocation would end the agonies of that man. This man, it may be, had committed the crime of saying, with tears upon his cheeks, 'I do not believe that God, the father of us all, will damn to eternal perdition any of the children of men.'I saw another instrument, called the Scavenger's Daughter. Think of a pair of shears with handles, not only where they now are, but at the points as well, and just above the pivot that unites the blades, a circle of iron. In the upper handles the hands would be placed; in the lower, the feet; and through the iron ring, at the centre, the head of the victim would be forced. In this condition, he would be thrown prone upon the earth, and the strain upon the muscles produced such agony that insanity would in pity end his pain.I saw the Rack. This was a box like the bed of a wagon, with a windlass at each end, with levers, and ratchets to prevent slipping; over each windlass went chains; some were fastened to the ankles of the sufferer; others to his wrists. And then priests, clergymen, divines, saints, began turning these windlasses, and kept turning, until the ankles, the knees, the hips, the shoulders, the elbows, the wrists of the victim were all dislocated, and the sufferer was wet with the sweat of agony. And they had standing by a physician to feel his pulse. What for? To save his life? Yes. In mercy? No; simply that they might rack him once again.This was done, remember, in the name of civilization; in the name of law and order; in the name of mercy; in the name of religion; in the name of Christ.

-Robert G.

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I had ceased to be a writer of tolerably poor tales and essays, and had become a tolerably good Surveyor of the Customs. That was all. But, nevertheless, it is any thing but agreeable to be haunted by a suspicion that one's intellect is dwindling away; or exhaling, without your consciousness, like ether out of a phial; so that, at every glance, you find a smaller and less volatile residuum. Of the fact, there could be no doubt; and, examining myself and others, I was led to conclusions in reference to the effect of public office on the character, not very favorable to the mode of life in question. In some other form, perhaps, I may hereafter develop these effects. Suffice it here to say, that a Custom-House officer, of long continuance, can hardly be a very praiseworthy or respectable personage, for many reasons; one of them, the tenure by which he holds his situation, and another, the very nature of his business, which—though, I trust, an honest one—is of such a sort that he does not share in the united effort of mankind.An effect—which I believe to be observable, more or less, in every individual who has occupied the position—is, that, while he leans on the mighty arm of the Republic, his own proper strength departs from him. He loses, in an extent proportioned to the weakness or force of his original nature, the capability of self-support. If he possess an unusual share of native energy, or the enervating magic of place do not operate too long upon him, his forfeited powers may be redeemable. The ejected officer—fortunate in the unkindly shove that sends him forth betimes, to struggle amid a struggling world—may return to himself, and become all that he has ever been. But this seldom happens. He usually keeps his ground just long enough for his own ruin, and is then thrust out, with sinews all unstrung, to totter along the difficult footpath of life as he best may. Conscious of his own infirmity,—that his tempered steel and elasticity are lost,—he for ever afterwards looks wistfully about him in quest of support external to himself. His pervading and continual hope—a hallucination, which, in the face of all discouragement, and making light of impossibilities, haunts him while he lives, and, I fancy, like the convulsive throes of the cholera, torments him for a brief space after death—is, that, finally, and in no long time, by some happy coincidence of circumstances, he shall be restored to office. This faith, more than any thing else, steals the pith and availability out of whatever enterprise he may dream of undertaking. Why should he toil and moil, and be at so much trouble to pick himself up out of the mud, when, in a little while hence, the strong arm of his Uncle will raise and support him? Why should he work for his living here, or go to dig gold in California, when he is so soon to be made happy, at monthly intervals, with a little pile of glittering coin out of his Uncle's pocket? It is sadly curious to observe how slight a taste of office suffices to infect a poor fellow with this singular disease. Uncle Sam's gold—meaning no disrespect to the worthy old gentleman—has, in this respect, a quality of enchantment like that of the Devil's wages. Whoever touches it should look well to himself, or he may find the bargain to go hard against him, involving, if not his soul, yet many of its better attributes; its sturdy force, its courage and constancy, its truth, its self-reliance, and all that gives the emphasis to manly character.

-Nathaniel Hawthorne

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He’s close enough now that I can hear his footfall on the pavement, and I knowmy chances of outrunning him are slim. I’m practically in a full sprint, and my pounding heart is begging me to take it down a notch. I try to will my feet to keep pace with its beat; but I think it’s humanly impossible to run that fast. And then it dawns on me that my footsteps are the only ones I hear. Somewhere along the way, Tristan’s must have come to a stop. And I can’t quite explain why I’m running this fast in the first place. I slow to a jog, intending to just pick up with my original pace; but I can’t seem to suck in breaths fast enough to propel my feet any further. My molten shoes stutter to a stop, as my hands come to rest on my knees. I’m stillwheezily sucking in breath after breath of thick, humid air, when I warily turn to look over my shoulder.Tristan’s standing about fifty feet back, hands on his hips and a completelyflummoxed twist in his forehead, his chest rising and falling with equally winded gasps. Evidently I was running faster than I gave myself credit for. As he silently watches me, regaining his breath as I do mine, the confusion on his face turns to undeniable hurt (and not the physical kind). I’ve wounded him, and I can’t evenexplain why. Man, I really am an ass.I start the slow walk of shame back to where he stands, one hand upon my hipas I pull in a few more calming deep breaths. I’m debating whether to concoct some excuse for my behavior…Maybe I left my contacts out today, and didn’t recognize his face? Who would blame me for running for my life, if a stranger seemed to be following me? But as I amble closer—his wrinkled forehead already fading in the wake of a welcoming smile—I decide not to dig myself a deeper hole. I’m already astraight-up jerk. I’d rather not add lying to my repertoire.

-M.A. George

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Let us look once more at Yeats. At bottom, he was sceptical about the nonsense with which he satisfied what we can call his lust for commitment. Now and again he believed some of it, but in so far as his true commitment was to poetry he recognized his fictions as heuristic and dispensable, 'consciously false.' 'They give me metaphors for poetry,' he noted. The dolls and the amulets, the swords and the systems, were the tools of an operationalist. Yeats was always concerned that what made sense to him in terms of the system should make sense to others who shared with him not that arbitrary cipher-system but the traditional language of poetry. In this way he managed, sometimes at any rate, to have his cake and to eat it. The rough beast of the apocalyptic 'Second Coming,' and the spiralling falcon of the same poem, mean something in the system, but for the uninstructed reader they continue to mean something in terms of a broader system of cultural and linguistic conventions--the shared information codes upon which literature, like any other method of communication, depends. So too in the later plays, which analytic criticism tells us are very systematic, but which Yeats himself declared must conceal their esoteric substance and sound like old songs. So too with the Byzantium poems, and the Supernatural Songs; even a poem like 'The Statues,' which contains notions that are bound to see inexplicably strange to one who knows nothing of Yeats's historical and arthistorical opinions, takes its place in our minds not as a text which codes information more explicitly provided in On the Boiler but as one which in some measure our reading of the other poems, and the persona of the wild old man, can justify.Yeats, in a famous phrase which has occasionally floated free of its context, said that the System enabled him to hold together reality and justice in a single thought. Reality is, in this expression, the sense we have of a world irreducible to human plot and human desire for order; justice is the human order we find or impose upon it. The System is in fact all Justice; in combination with a sense of reality which has nothing whatever to do with it, it became a constituent of poems. The System is a plot, a purely human projection, though not more human than its apparent antithesis, reality, which is a human imagining of the inhuman. For a moment, in that expression, Yeats saw himself as an emperor dispensing equity, transcending both the fact and the pattern; it is what poets do. Only rarely did he forget that whatever devotes itself to justice at the expense of reality, is finally self-destructive. He might talk about the differences between the symbolic meanings of poetry and those 'emotional restless mimicries of the surface of life' which were for him the characteristics of 'popular realism,' but he understood very well the need for that 'moral element in poetry' which is 'the means whereby' it is 'accepted into the social order and becomes a part of life.' He understands the tension between a paradigmatic order where the price of a formal eternity is inhumanity, and the world of the dying generations; that is the subject of 'Sailing to Byzantium,' the poem I quoted at the outset of these talks. He was talking about this tension again in one of his last poems, when he distinguished between 'Players and painted stage'--the justice of formal poems--and 'the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart'--the human dirt and disorder that underlie them. The whole history of Yeats's style, which from the earliest times, before the turn of the century, he was trying to move towards colloquial uncertainty, reflects this regard for the reality that will not be reduced. In the end this modernism took on characteristic colours of violence, a sexual toughness and slang to represent what Yeats took to be a modern reality.

-Frank Kermode

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in your face I seem to read some trouble of mind. When you came in I read it, and that was why I addressed you at once. For in unfolding to you the story of my life, I do not wish to make myself a laughing-stock before these idle listeners, who indeed know all about it already, but I am looking for a man of feeling and education. Know then that my wife was educated in a high-class school for the daughters of noblemen, and on leaving, she danced the shawl dance before the governor and other personages for which she was presented with a gold medal and a certificate of merit. The medal … well, the medal of course was sold—long ago, hm … but the certificate of merit is in her trunk still and not long ago she showed it to our landlady. And although she is most continually on bad terms with the landlady, yet she wanted to tell some one or other of her past honours and of the happy days that are gone. I don’t condemn her for it. I don’t blame her, for the one thing left her is recollection of the past, and all the rest is dust and ashes. Yes, yes, she is a lady of spirit, proud and determined. She scrubs the floors herself and has nothing but black bread to eat, but won’t allow herself to be treated with disrespect. That’s why she would not overlook Mr. Lebeziatnikov’s rudeness to her, and so when he gave her a beating for it, she took to her bed more from the hurt to her feelings than from the blows. She was a widow when I married her, with three children, one smaller than the other. She married her first husband, an infantry officer, for love, and ran away with him from her father’s house. She was exceedingly fond of her husband; but he gave way to cards, got into trouble and with that he died. He used to beat her at the end: and although she paid him back, of which I have authentic documentary evidence, to this day she speaks of him with tears and she throws him up at me; and I am glad, I am glad that, though only in imagination, she should think of herself as having once been happy.… And she was left at his death with three children in a wild and remote district where I happened to be at the time; and she was left in such hopeless poverty that, although I have seen many ups and downs of all sorts, I don’t feel equal to describing it even. Her relations had all thrown her off. And she was proud, too, excessively proud.… And then, honoured sir, and then, I, being at the time a widower, with a daughter of fourteen left me by my first wife, offered her my hand, for I could not bear the sight of such suffering. You can judge the extremity of her calamities, that she, a woman of education and culture and distinguished family, should have consented to be my wife. But she did! Weeping and sobbing and wringing her hands, she married me! For she had nowhere to turn! Do you understand, sir, do you understand what it means when you have absolutely nowhere to turn? No, that you don’t understand yet…

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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