In order to write a good letter, it is necessary to have a good subject, that you may not rival the Frenchman who wrote to his wife— “I write to you because I have nothing to do: I stop because I have nothing to say.” Letters written without aim or object, simply for the sake of writing, are apt to be stupid, trivial, or foolish.
—from Cecil B. Hartley’s The Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness (1860)
Lying is universal—we all do it. Therefore, the wise thing is for us diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a good object, and not an evil one; to lie for others’ advantage, and not our own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously; to lie gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily; to lie firm, frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously, with pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of our high calling. Then we shall be rid of the rank and pestilent truth that is rotting the land; then shall we be great and good and beautiful, and worthy dwellers in a world where even benign Nature habitually lies, except when she promises execrable weather.
—from Mark Twain’s essay On the Decay of the Art of Lying (1880)
“I understand your education in these matters has been lacking. But propriety is no true propriety at all if we adhere to it only when others are watching. It is a matter of my personal honor that I observe all the rules of decorum rather than picking and choosing the ones that suit me. And a gentleman’s honor, let me assure you, is no frivolous indulgence. If he’s any sort of worthwhile man it’s his very backbone.”
He was dreadfully handsome when he spoke of honor. So righteous and terrible and vigorous he nearly gave off sparks. A more persuadable lady might be pledging to run off and join an order of nuns now, or whatever it was that zealously proper ladies did, just to win his approval.
— from Cecilia Grant’s A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong (2014)
A few lines I happened to highlight from various historical romances I’ve read in the past two months. I don’t usually highlight my books; I hate marks on bound copies. I blame my new Kindle for making this so easy.
Hypocrisy can never be agreeable to an elevated mind.
—from Loretta Chase’s Viscount Vagabond (1989)
…the ton would decide it was all her fault. For being pretty. For having a rich father. For sporting a low bodice. For breathing!
A convent in Italy was beginning to appeal.
—from Jo Beverly’s A Shocking Delight (2014)
Anger turned out to be an excellent antidote for lovesickness.
—from Carola Dunn’s Lavender Lady (1983)
But there weren’t enough orgasms in the world to give him relief from the want that coiled about him now.
—from Courtney Milan’s The Duchess War (2012)
source and original context of this public domain image
From the vignette “Window on Walls”:
In Mexico: Give the president minimum wage, so he too can feel the rage.
In Lima: We don’t want to survive. We want to live.
In Havana: You can dance to anything.
In Rio de Janeiro: He who is afraid of living is never born.
—from Eduardo Galeano’s Walking Words (1993), translated by Mark Fried
Contemplative and bookish men, must of necessitie be more quarrelsome than others, because they contend not about matter of fact, nor can determine their controversies by any certaine witnesses, nor judges.
— John Donne, in his preface to Biathanatos (1608)
“Publish your travel memoirs,” she said.
“Publish them,” she said again. “Take a chance and see if you soar.”
His eyes met hers for a moment, then they slid back down to his journal, still clutched in her hands. “They need editing,” he mumbled.
Penelope laughed, because she knew she had won. And he had won, too. He didn’t know it yet, but he had.
“Everyone needs editing,” she said, her smile broadening with each word. “Well, except me, I guess,” she teased. “Or maybe I did need it. [. . .] We’ll never know, because I had no one to edit me.”
—from Julia Quinn’s Romancing Mr. Bridgerton (2002)
He spat a date pip into his hand. “I have had failures before, but none quite so spectacular as the Rock of Abraham flying into the air.”
“You haven’t many failures.”
“This is a delightful conversational topic you’ve chosen, Russell. No, no; you wish to know my failures. Very well, let me think. I have had at least four men come to me for help, only to be murdered before I could do a thing for them. Granted, I later solved the murders, but that hardly mitigates the fact that from my clients’ point of view, the cases were not precisely successful. Irene Adler beat me, although that was a silly enough case. And that one with the submarine boat plans, what did Watson call that tale of his? Scott something? Howard?”
“Bruce,” I said. “Partington. And that wasn’t a failure, you did retrieve the plans.”
“I might as well have burnt them, for all the good it did.”
—Sherlock Holmes to Mary Russell in Laurie R. King’s O Jerusalem (1999)
Source and original context of this public domain image
No writer can be judged by the entirety of his writings, for these would include every note he ever sent round the corner; every memorandum he ever made upon his shirt cuff. But when a man sets out to write as a serious business, proclaiming by the nature of his publication and presentment that he is doing something he thinks worthy of the time and place in which he lives and of the people to whom he belongs, then if he does not construct he is negligible.
—Hilaire Belloc in his preface to Ernest Bramah’s Kai Lung’s Golden Hours (1922)
Struggling to finish some leftover projects from 2013? Chill. It’s only January, and you are not alone.
Every time I try to make it really easy, I end up complicating it more because creativity always overrides reason.
—independent filmmaker James Rolfe, Angry Video Game Nerd Movie Update (December 30 2013 video)
Hell, even your editor feels the same way about your work.
We never have hope of achieving the perfect book…. We do, however, have hope of achieving the best reasonable text within the constraints given to us as editors.
— a veteran editor I know, who still wishes to remain anonymous