literature quotations

Gutenberg Project

I expect a lot of people know about the Gutenberg Project but for those that don’t it’s a website and organisation that provides free books on the internet, works that are not copyrighted. The collection pre-dates the development of the world wide web and by now the catalogue is pretty substantial. I first downloaded from the site back in the 90s, but just one or two things which I didn’t anyway read start to finish because I didn’t particularly want to read a book on my computer. A couple of years ago I got a MacBook Pro and suddenly reading on that was a lot easier and now I read quite a lot that way. Mostly just in AscII text format but more and more in html because you can get illustrations that way. The thing’s that better about plain text is that you can leave a bookmark which I do using the word “bookmark” – I’ve yet to come across a text that contains that word so no duplicates. I’m sure I could work out a way to bookmark html but it’s no great sweat to find your place anyway.

Here are a few of the books I’ve read over the last however many months,

Geronimo’s Story Of His Life by Geronimo

This passage concerns an attack on a mule back train.

There were three drivers with this train. One was killed and two escaped. The train was loaded with mescal, which was contained in bottles held in wicker baskets. As soon as we made camp the Indians began to get drunk and fight each other. I, too, drank enough mescal to feel the effect of it, but I was not drunk. I ordered the fighting stopped, but the order was disobeyed. Soon almost a general fight was in progress. I tried to place a guard out around our camp, but all were drunk and refused to serve. I expected an attack from Mexican troops at any moment, and really it was a serious matter for me, for being in command I would be held responsible for any ill luck attending the expedition. Finally the camp became comparatively still, for the Indians were too drunk to walk or even to fight. While they were in this stupor I poured out all the mescal, then I put out all the fires and moved the pack mules to a considerable distance from camp. After this I returned to camp to try to do something for the wounded. I found that only two were dangerously wounded. From the leg of one of these I cut an arrow
head, and from the shoulder of another I withdrew a spear point. When all the wounds had been cared for, I myself kept guard till morning. The next day we loaded our wounded on the pack mules and started for Arizona.

My Diary In Serbia by Monica M Stanley

Miss Stanley worked as a nurse in Serbia during World War I. This excerpt is another cautionary tale of alcohol abuse.

To-day a man was seen buying Serbian whisky; he gave it to two of the patients and made them drunk. One of my orderlies did the same and was sent away last week. Owing to this one man the whole lot of Austrian orderlies were called into line, twenty-seven in all, and they were marched to the office tent, where Major Partridge talked to them all, boxed the man’s ears who bought the whisky and sent him to prison forten days.

There are three kinds of punishment for prisoners: first, boxing their ears; second, sending to prison for ten days on bread and water and solitary confinement; and third, to shoot them. It makes me quite ill to see the men have their ears boxed. The Serbians seem really good to their prisoners; I hope ours in Germany are being treated as well.

The Private Diary of John Dee

The main impression gained from the Elizabethan genius’ diary is how much trouble money was for him. Some of the most interesting passages relate some of his dreams. Here are three examples.

Sept. 10th, my dream of being naked, and my skyn all overwrowght with work like some kinde of tuft mockado, with crosses blew and red; and on my left arme, abowt the arme, in a wreath, this word I red– sine me nihil potestis facere:

…this night I had the vision and shew of many bokes in my dreame, and among the rest was one great volume thik in large quarto, new printed, on the first page whereof as a title in great letters was printed “Notus in Judæa Deus.”

Nov. 24th, Saterday night I dremed that I was deade, and afterward my bowels wer taken out I walked and talked with diverse, and among other with the Lord Thresorer who was com to my howse to burn my bokes when I was dead, and thought he loked sourely on me.

A Woman’s Journey Around The World by Ida Pfeiffer

Pfeiffer made a westward circumference of the planet starting in 1846 and taking nearly two and a half years. Considering the risks she ran as a single woman she had very few close-calls with death and dishonour. Even relatively civilised places could be very dangerous. Here she is on a steamer travelling in the Black Sea.

19th September.  During the night there was much storm and rain.  I begged permission to seat myself on the cabin steps, which I received; but, after a few minutes, an order came from the commandant to take me under cover.  I was much surprised and pleased at this politeness, but I was soon undeceived when I was led into the large sailors’ cabin.  The people smelt horribly of brandy, and some of them had evidently taken too much.  I hastened back on to the deck, where, in spite of the raging of the elements, I felt more comfortable than among these well-bred Christians.

21st September.  This was a terrible night!  One of the sailors, who was healthy and well the day before, and had taken his supper with a good appetite, was suddenly attacked with cholera.  The cries of the poor fellow disturbed me greatly, and I went upon deck, but the heavy rain and piercing cold were not less terrible.  I had nothing but my mantle, which was soon wet through; my teeth chattered; the frost made me shake throughout; so there was nothing to be done but to go below again—to stop my ears, and remain close to the dying man.  He was, in spite of all help, a corpse before the end of eight hours.  The dead body was landed in the morning, at Bschada; it was packed in a heap of sail-cloth, and kept secret from the travellers.  The cabin was thoroughly washed with vinegar, and scoured, and no one else was attacked.


A Second Edward

In my last Nonsense post I pondered briefly on a darker stream to the theme with the works of Alfred Jarry. Darker too are the works of the man who in my opinion is the greatest successor to Lear and Carroll to have appeared in the twentieth century, Edward Gorey. In fact Gorey was able to reveal that the darkness was already inherent in his earlier master, Lear. Take, for example, his interpretation of one of Lear’s great poems/songs/verses The Dong With The Luminous Nose.

Lear’s own drawing presents the Dong as rather a fun albeit anatomically impossible figure. As the character admits himself

What little sense I once possessed
Has quite gone out of my head

But what is eccentric quirkiness in Lear, is stretched by Gorey to a foreboding sense of manic obsession. Here the Dong has completed his luminous protuberance and prepares to try it on.

And here he wanders lovelorn lost in a dark bleak landscape under the black clouds of sadness and loneliness.

Much of Gorey’s own work is of course much darker still and I will consider some of that in a later post.

moth prose

An Evening Stroll

This is the 35th (Maybe) post of my blog. Not necessarily the sort of number that one usually celebrates and perhaps this is not a celebration. When I post something I write some words. That’s writing but not really what I’d call memorable writing. Once upon a time I used to write more. I wrote short prose pieces generally but some longer ones. I don’t think that anything I wrote had much merit. I’ve read a lot and generally know if something’s good or not. To be creative first of all you need to have good taste. Of course it’s impossible to say exactly what constitutes good taste. There’s nothing to prove really and anyway what does it matter? The proof is in the pudding as they say and different people like different puddings. Longevity should be the only proof and sometimes perhaps longevity is for some quirky reason while things with great value are lost like buried treasure never to be found.

So this is an ideal place for me to preserve some of my old prose writing. If there is anything half-decent it is very derivative. Below is an example dating from the 70s. As moths are central to the piece I also include a demo I did of a song of mine called 5 Dead Songs which I recorded in 2007 I think. Part of the first verse goes

breadcrumbs and kings
and moths and things

it is a fragment from another song which I think is called Possibly Somewhere In Between and which is one of the 5 songs referred to in the title. The demo is a home recording so the quality isn’t great. I was drinking while working on the recording (probably vodka) and by the time I came to sing the lyrics I was quite pissed and you can hear that fairly clearly. It certainly sounds to me that I was more drunk than I’ve ever been when recording my voice.


I stepped outside this evening to find the air full of moths. As I walked down the street hundreds brushed into me, some pausing on a part of my body, others simply bouncing along until they eventually regained their course.

I turned to a passing stranger and said, “Is this not a hindrance?”

“Sir,” he replied, “it was just so that night. The night Claudia left me. We had quarreled. I had vilified her mother, she had lost her temper and had stormed out of the house. I just let her go. Then I realised what it meant for me – to be alone like that. I ran out into the street, but it was just like this – thousands of moths – as I ran I swallowed them, they got in my eyes, even up my nose. I tore at them, I was completely lost in what seemed like a blizzard of moths. And I never found her. I’ve searched in all the cities of the world – nay in every town almost. I let her go. I was mad. And now it’s like that evening again – all these moths. Just like it was then.”

And he walked off into the night – leaving me as I stood there, pensively on the pavement, slowly picking the moths from my hair.

5 Dead Songs

micromuseum quotations vinyl

Not Lear But Lehrer

When I was about 8 or 9 my dad bought a record and encouraged everyone in the family to listen to it. I was the youngest. We all enjoyed it and to me then it was sort of a breakthrough into what you could find funny. It was sick but it was also very clever and made you think about things. The songs on the record were copyrighted in 1952 and 1953. Lynch’s Blue Velvet is like an 80s remake. Samuel Franklin George Dwight Gloop, son of Mayor Gloop, turns into Frank Booth

I still have the 10″ record which I guess didn’t hit the British market until the early 60s about the time my dad bought it. Here’s the front cover.

Below I’ve embedded a clip of Lehrer performing 2 songs the 2nd of which is from this album. But before that here’s a few quotations from the great man from an interview he gave about 10 years ago.

Laughter is involuntary. If it’s funny you laugh. But you can easily clap just to say ‘A ha, that’s funny, I think that’s funny.’ Sometimes they cut to the audience and you can see they are applauding madly. But they’re not laughing.

I have become, you might call it mature I would call it senile and I can see both sides. But you can’t write a satirical song with ‘but on the other hand’ in it, or ‘however’. It’s got to be one-sided.

The people who go to comedy shows are kids that don’t know anything, I think, and so you have to make jokes about your girlfriend or your family or that kind of thing only, make them as vulgar as possible.

The audience usually has to be with you, I’m afraid. I always regarded myself as not even preaching to the converted, I was titillating the converted.