While history runs its course, it is not history to us. We can rarely get a glimpse of what lies ahead. It would be different if it were given to us to live a second time through the same events with all the knowledge of what we have seen before. It is probably fortunate that man can know of no laws which history must obey.
At five I went to a kind of dame-school, where children were taught to read and do simple sums. At this school I told my first lie to a person in authority. When we began arithmetic, we worked with counters. I discovered that rows of dots on the blue cover of one’s exercise book could be made to serve the same purpose of counters. One day, an injured spinsterly voice said to me, “These specks we’ve found on the cover of your book, John; you’ve not using them as counters, have you?” I said, “No.”
For a hundred years after the death of Newton a thorough inquiry into the nature of the universe was still impossible. For the astronomer cannot invent his own experiments as the physicist, the chemist, or the biologist can. He cannot travel about the universe examining the items that interest him.
I could never pass botany at my university. This was because I could never see through a microscope. My instructor would explain how anybody can see through a microscope, but I would say, “Well, I can’t see anything.” I would put my eye to the microscope and see nothing at all, except now and again a nebulous milky substance ―― a phenomenon of maladjustment. He would readjust the microscope properly for me, and I would look again and see milk.
The civilized man is distinguished from the savage by forethought. He is willing to endure present pains for the sake of future pleasure. This habit began to be important with rise of agriculture. No animal and no savage would do work in the spring in order to have food next winter.
One wall of my room is completely lined with books. It is the first time I have had the pleasure of working with a collection of books. The fact that in the past I did my work without the aid of a library I look upon as an advantage. The moment the passion of reading took hold on me I encountered nothing but obstacles. The books I wanted to read were always out at the public library and I never had the money to buy them. A book lives through the passionate recommendation of one reader to another. Nothing can throttle this basic impulse in the human being. Men will always strive to share their deepest experiences. The better the man, the more easily will he part with his most cherished possessions.
Poetry has a value for the people of the poet’s language. We lose much less in reading a novel in translation than in reading a poem. It is easier to think in a foreign language than it is to feel in it. No art is more national than poetry.
There are some natures so constituted that, due to be hung at ten o’clock, they will play chess at eight. Such men invariably rise. They have spiritual cold storage, in which are preserved their nervous systems. They are men of facts and of decision switching imagination on and off at will, subordination sentiment to reason.
That the educated person is happier than the uneducated is by no means self-evident. To be educated above the level of those whose social habits and tastes one has inherited, may cause a division within a man which interferes with happiness. Too much education, like too little education, can produce unhappiness.
Our development depends upon the people whom we meet in the course of our lives. The benefit of meetings is due as much to the differences as to the resemblances. Fortunate is the man who meets the right friend and fortunate also is the man who meets the right enemy. The friction, not only between individuals but between groups, is quite necessary for civilization. The universality of irritation is the best assurance of peace.
A characteristic of American culture is the glorification of the self-made man. Now there is in America a curious combination of pride in having risen to a position where it is no longer necessary to depend on manual labor for a living and genuine delight in what one is able to accomplish with his hands.
Thought is free. A man can never be hindered from thinking so long as he conceals what he thinks. But it is painful if he is not permitted to communicate his thought to others. Some have preferred, like Socrates, to face death rather than conceal their thoughts.
Communication originally meant to pass information to others, but later it came to mean a channel from place to place. After the Industrial Revolution it came to mean a way of travelling and carrying. To avoid confusion between them, for describing the means of travelling and carrying, the word transport is better than communication. In any case, communication means a form of transmitting and receiving information.
Economics is about everyday things in life. We realize the important part played in our life by economic factors because the war has upset our ordinary routine. As long as we had a job, we assumed that there would be the things to buy. Since the war, however, we have realized that we are dependent on the four corners of the world for the goods in our daily life.
Although the social and political changes have been both drastic and widespread in Japan during the past hundred years, there has never occurred a violent revolution. Then a certain basic continuity with past traditions has been preserved. In Japan, old and new exist together and so Eastern and Western elements do.
He was an old man who fished in a skiff in the Gulf Stream. A boy felt sad to see the old man come in with his skiff empty and always helped him to carry either the coiled lines or the sail. The sail patched with flour sacks looked like the flag of permanent defeat.
The human mind is inconsistent. We say that all men are equal, but when a man takes a dangerous operation, he does not think one doctor is just as good as another. When they require Civil Servants, even democratic governments make a careful selection. The pious mediaeval nobleman who believed in forgiving enemies was ready to draw his sword at the slightest provocation.
One of the chief things in science is careful observation, for things that look alike may actually be different. A professor of medicine told his students that he wanted them to do after him exactly what he did. He dipped a finger in the dirty water and then put a finger in his mouth. The students came up one by one and put a finger in the water and then in the mouth bearing the unpleasant taste. The professor said: “Unfortunately you do not observe carefully. I put my second finger in the water and then put the third finger in my mouth.” It is important to notice what really happens and not what we think is going to happen.
The flat sea sent the glare of the sun at his eyes so that it hurt sharply and he rowed the boat without looking into it. He kept the fishing-lines straighter than anyone did while others let them drift with the current.
It is impossible to be happy without activity, but it is also impossible to be happy if the activity is excessive or of a repulsive kind. The activity is agreeable when it is directed to a desired end and is not contrary to impulse. A modern complex society has few activities of this naturalness. The consequence is that most people have to find their happiness outside the work.
One of the happiest things is to have a happy childhood. Our house was truly a happy house. That was largely due to my father, for my father was a very agreeable man. The quality of agreeableness is not much stressed nowadays. But Charles Dickens put the matter delightfully in David Copperfield : ‘Is your brother an agreeable man, Peggotty?’ ‘Oh what an agreeable man he is!’ Ask yourself that question about your friends, and you will be surprised at how seldom your answer will be the same as Peggotty’s.
It is not the function of the dictionary-maker to tell you how to speak, any more than it is the function of the map-maker to move rivers or rearrange mountains or fill in lakes. A dictionary should tell you what is commonly accepted usage.
Thinking is an unnatural and laborious activity. We seldom think more than we have to. We are most unwilling to think when we are feeling the most comfortable. In easy and prosperous times we are just content to live through history. People have the delusion that history is something disagreeable that is never going to overtake their own generation.
Steep though the ascent may be, the reward is ours when we stand on the top of the hill.
The season was late for an outdoor concert; already leaves were drifting on to the grass stage.
The Sunday had been brilliant, without a stain of cloud.
Sometimes the light will be cut off for a moment as a stray cloud stands in front of the moon.
A bicycle is the thing I wanted most in the world, and had least hope of getting, for it was beyond my mother’s purse.
I had let myself go on crying because it didn’t matter when nobody could see me.
I fought my way up the courtyard like a ma pushing through a crowd.
Rain was universal; a thick robe of it swept from hill to hill.
Shakespeare is one of the world’s greatest poet and dramatist. Words, phrases and quotations from Shakespeare’s writings have become part of the common property of English-speaking people. Shakespeare made full use of the great resources of the English language. It is well worth the effort to study the various ways in which Shakespeare uses the English language.
Two people in a railway compartment who have never met before start talking about the weather. This is because it can be quite embarrassing to be alone in the company of someone he is not acquainted with and not to speak to him. Language is not simply a means of communicating information. It is also a very important means of establishing and maintaining relationships with other people. Whenever we speak we cannot avoid giving our listeners clues about our origins and the sort of person we are. All of this information can be used by the people we are speaking with to help them formulate an opinion about us.
People may decide to study foreign languages for various reasons. They may do so for some public examination or a holiday abroad. Men of business may have to deal with foreign correspondence and research workers may have to read the latest accounts in a foreign language. People who are interested in political affairs in a foreign country may need to acquire the close knowledge through foreign newspapers and journals. Students of literature must be able to read the masters at first hand. Learning a new language implies approaching a new world and leads to a widening of intellectual experience.
A sense of humour is and has been the most prized of national possessions of British people. Such a characteristic is bound to spill over into literature. It is through humour that the British imagination has found its characteristic form in the modern novel.