I never tire of reading Tom Paine.
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I never tire of reading Tom Paine.

-Tom Paine

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Tom Paine has almost no influence on present-day thinking in the United States because he is unknown to the average citizen. Perhaps I might say right here that this is a national loss and a deplorable lack of understanding concerning the man who first proposed and first wrote those impressive words, 'the United States of America.'But it is hardly strange. Paine's teachings have been debarred from schools everywhere and his views of life misrepresented until his memory is hidden in shadows, or he is looked upon as of unsound mind.We never had a sounder intelligence in this Republic. He was the equal of Washington in making American liberty possible. Where Washington performed Paine devised and wrote. The deeds of one in the Weld were matched by the deeds of the other with his pen.Washington himself appreciated Paine at his true worth. Franklin knew him for a great patriot and clear thinker. He was a friend and confidant of Jefferson, and the two must often have debated the academic and practical phases of liberty.I consider Paine our greatest political thinker. As we have not advanced, and perhaps never shall advance, beyond the Declaration and Constitution, so Paine has had no successors who extended his principles. Although the present generation knows little of Paine's writings, and although he has almost no influence upon contemporary thought, Americans of the future will justly appraise his work. I am certain of it.Truth is governed by natural laws and cannot be denied. Paine spoke truth with a peculiarly clear and forceful ring. Therefore time must balance the scales. The Declaration and the Constitution expressed in form Paine's theory of political rights. He worked in Philadelphia at the time that the first document was written, and occupied a position of intimate contact with the nation's leaders when they framed the Constitution.Certainly we may believe that Washington had a considerable voice in the Constitution. We know that Jefferson had much to do with the document. Franklin also had a hand and probably was responsible in even larger measure for the Declaration. But all of these men had communed with Paine. Their views were intimately understood and closely correlated. There is no doubt whatever that the two great documents of American liberty reflect the philosophy of Paine....Then Paine wrote 'Common Sense,' an anonymous tract which immediately stirred the fires of liberty. It flashed from hand to hand throughout the Colonies. One copy reached the New York Assembly, in session at Albany, and a night meeting was voted to answer this unknown writer with his clarion call to liberty. The Assembly met, but could find no suitable answer. Tom Paine had inscribed a document which never has been answered adversely, and never can be, so long as man esteems his priceless possession.In 'Common Sense' Paine flared forth with a document so powerful that the Revolution became inevitable. Washington recognized the difference, and in his calm way said that matters never could be the same again. It must be remembered that 'Common Sense' preceded the declaration and affirmed the very principles that went into the national doctrine of liberty. But that affirmation was made with more vigor, more of the fire of the patriot and was exactly suited to the hour... Certainly [the Revolution] could not be forestalled, once he had spoken.{The Philosophy of Paine, June 7, 1925}

-Tom Paine

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Some people read for instruction, which is praiseworthy, and some for pleasure, which is innocent, but not a few read from habit, and I suppose that is neither innocent nor praiseworthy. Of that lamentable company am I. Conversation after a time bores me, games tire me, and my own thoughts, which we are told are the unfailing resource of a sensible man, have a tendency to run dry. Then I fly to my book as the opium-seeker to his pipe. I would sooner read the catalogue of the Army and Navy stores or Bradshaw's Guide than nothing at all, and indeed I have spent many delightful hours over both these works. At one time I never went out without a second-hand bookseller's list in my pocket. I know no reading more fruity. Of course to read in this way is as reprehensible as doping, and I never cease to wonder at the impertinence of great readers who, because they are such, look down on the illiterate. From the standpoint of what eternity is it better to have read a thousand books than to have ploughed a million furrows? Let us admit that reading with us is just a drug that we cannot do without who of this band does not know the restlessness that attacks him when he has been severed from reading too long, the apprehension and irritability, and the sigh of relief which the sight of a printed page extracts from him? and so let us be no more vainglorious than the poor slaves of the hypodermic needle or the pint-pot.And like the dope-fiend who cannot move from place to place without taking with him a plentiful supply of his deadly balm I never venture far without a sufficiency of reading matter. Books are so necessary to me that when in a railway train I have become aware that fellow-travellers have come away without a single one I have been seized with a veritable dismay. But when I am starting on a long journey the problem is formidable.

-W. Somerset Maugham

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I began to recall my own experience when I was Mercutio’s age (late teens I decided, a year or two older than Romeo) as a pupil at a public school called Christ’s Hospital. This school is situated in the idyllic countryside of the Sussex Weald, just outside Horsham. I recalled the strange blend of raucousness and intellect amongst the cloisters, the fighting, the sport, and general sense of rebelliousness, of not wishing to seem conventional (this was the sixties); in the sixth form (we were called Grecians) the rarefied atmosphere, the assumption that of course we would go to Oxford or Cambridge; the adoption of an ascetic style, of Zen Buddhism, of baroque opera, the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, and Mahler; of Pound, Eliot and e. e. cummings. We perceived the world completely through art and culture. We were very young, very wise, and possessed of a kind of innocent cynicism. We wore yellow stockings, knee breeches, and an ankle length dark blue coat, with silver buttons. We had read Proust, we had read Evelyn Waugh, we knew what was what. There was a sense, fostered by us and by many teachers, that we were already up there with Lamb, Coleridge, and all the other great men who had been educated there. We certainly thought that we soared ‘above a common bound’. I suppose it is a process of constant mythologizing that is attempted at any public school. Tom Brown’s Schooldays is a good example. Girls were objects of both romantic and purely sexual, fantasy; beautiful, distant, mysterious, unobtainable, and, quite simply, not there. The real vessel for emotional exchange, whether sexually expressed or not, were our own intense friendships with each other. The process of my perceptions of Mercutio intermingling with my emotional memory continued intermittently, up to and including rehearsals. I am now aware that that possibly I re-constructed my memory somewhat, mythologised it even, excising what was irrelevant, emphasising what was useful, to accord with how I was beginning to see the part, and what I wanted to express with it. What I was seeing in Mercutio was his grief and pain at impending separation from Romeo, so I suppose I sensitised myself to that period of my life when male bonding was at its strongest for me.

-Roger Allam

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