Speaking through Texts
manifest culture; & action this day

arranged alphabetically by author

Compilation by
Robert Wilfred Franson


2 August 1914

At 2.20 today, 2nd August, the following note was handed to the French and German Ambassadors: 'The British Government would not allow the passage of German ships through the English Channel or the North Sea in order to attack the coasts or shipping of France.'

Be prepared to meet surprise attacks.

Admiralty to
    Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet;
    Vice-Admirals, 2nd and 3rd Fleet;
    Commander-in-Chief, Home Ports.

Randolph S. Churchill
Winston S. Churchill, 2: Young Statesman 1901-1914
W.S.C. Companion Volume 2, Part 3: 1911-1914

In the terrible years of the Yezhov terror [1937-1938], I spent seventeen months in the prison lines of Leningrad [for news about my arrested son]. Once, someone "recognized" me. Then a woman with bluish lips standing behind me, who, of course, had never heard me called by name before, woke up from the stupor to which everyone had succumbed and whispered in my ear (everyone spoke in whispers there):

"Can you describe this?"

And I answered: "Yes, I can."

Then something that looked like a smile passed over what had once been her face.

Anna Akhmatova
Requiem, "Instead of a Preface"
The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova

3 October 1910

To Robert Scott aboard Terra Nova [received at Melbourne]:

Beg leave to inform you Fram proceeding Antarctic.


Roland Huntford
Scott and Amundsen

Anyone who reads these essays knows that I am a women's libber, but I also have a love for the English language. I try to circumlocute "man" when I mean "human being" but the flow of sound suffers sometimes when I do. Please accept, in this article, "man" in the general, embracing "woman." (Yes, I know what I said.)

Isaac Asimov
"Look Long Upon a Monkey"
Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1974
Of Matters Great and Small

This was always the spirit that informed [Winston S. Churchill], in peace and war, and the words came to him after the First World War. Eddie Marsh [Churchill's private secretary] recorded in his memoirs:
He produced one day a lapidary epigram on the spirit proper to a great nation in war and peace: "In war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity; in peace, good-will."

(I wish the tones in which he spoke this could have been "recorded" — the first phrase a rattle of musketry, the second "grating harsh thunder," the third a ray of the sun through storm-clouds; the last, pure benediction.)

Edward Marsh

Randolph S. Churchill
Winston S. Churchill, 2: Young Statesman 1901-1914

[In the 1936 film Poppy, W. C. Fields plays McGargle, here running a carnival shell game:]

McGargle is tipped off as the mayor approaches and shifts gears without so much as a pause. "Gambling, my friends, is the root of all evil," he intones, quivering with righteousness. "For years I was a victim of this heartless scourge — gambling — a helpless pawn in the toils of Beelzebub."

The mayor comes forth to offer his hand, and McGargle asks if he has read his book on the evils of wagering.

"No ...," says the mayor, to which McGargle registers mock surprise.

"You haven't? It has a blue cover. Maybe that will recall it to your mind."

James Curtis
W. C. Fields
A Biography

KJV [the Bible: King James Version] was born archaic: it was intended as a step back. The Bishops' Bible of 1568 was not only itself out of date: it was a reworking of the second Great Bible, of 1540. The reasons for making KJV look back were three-fold: first, it was intended to reset the standard of the solid middle-of-the-road Anglican establishment, historically built since King Henry handed down the Verbum Dei. Second, Latinity, rather than contemporary English, was thought to bring with it the great weight of the authority of the past, of what was understood as fifteen hundred years of solid Christian faith, as well as generations of Latin education: and there were those, as there still are today, who refer to the Bible's 'original text' meaning the Latin Vulgate.

There is a third, more fundamental point. The world is divided into those who think that sacred Scripture should always be elevated above the common run — is not, indeed, sacred without some air of religiosity, of being remote from real life, with a whiff of the antiquarian: and on the other side those who say that the point of the Incarnation was that God became man, low experiences and all, and if the Greek is ordinary Greek, then ordinary English words are essential. ... In the earlier years of the seventeenth century, the weight of high Anglican politics was heavily on the side of increasing, as it was thought, a worshipful distance.

Yet one grieves at the chance missed in 1607. Had it been Geneva Bibles that were given out as the common base of King James's panels' revision, Geneva Bibles in Tomson's revision, with or without the Junius notes to Revelation, then how fine and forward looking an 'authorized' version we might have had. The Geneva annotations, so often so helpful in pure clarification, could have been revised: it was only bigotry that kept such illumination away. The music of the English text would not have been lost, as Tyndale could have been even more present. The nearly fifty-year-old Old Testament Hebrew work in Geneva could have been brought up to date ... The New Testament Textus Receptus which the KJV translated was already in Germany shown up for the ridiculous thing it was ...

... the forcible replacement from 1611 of the remarkable, accurate, informative, forward-looking, very popular Geneva Bibles at the time of their greatest dissemination and power, with the backward-gazing, conservative KJV was one of the tragedies of western culture.

David Daniell
"The King James Version, 1611"
The Bible in English
Its History and Influence  (2003)

Dear Mr. Campbell:

I am now preparing for publication as a hard-cover book an Index to the Science-Fiction Magazines. Started in 1935, it covers all of the American science fiction and most of the fantasy magazines from 1926 through 1950. Astounding Science Fiction and its predecessor Astounding Stories are covered back to the first issue in 1930 as are the thirty-nine issues of Unknown Worlds as well as forty-three other titles, over one thousand two hundred and fifty individual magazines in all. ...

In addition, it is desired to include all the information on pseudonyms that can be definitely verified. ... I would like to ask that all authors who have used pen names in the science-fiction or fantasy fields send the information to me at the address below. ...

Since transcription of the final copy from the file cards will begin shortly after the first of the year, the sooner this information is received, the more certain it is of inclusion.

Donald B. Day
letter in "Brass Tacks"
Astounding Science Fiction, January 1952

For some months a job that I had been assigned required me to listen to propaganda broadcasts beamed at the United States from the fascist powers. Every so often I heard a voice well known to me through a good many years, chanting in a curious parody of solemn high mass hundreds of judgments about this country and its people which the years had made even more familiar than the voice.

It was Ezra Pound, saying the things he had been saying for thirty years. There was nothing novel about them. Mr. Pound ... had himself originated some of these notions, perhaps, but the bulk of them he merely took over whole from what a generation of our literature was saying. I did not need to listen to Ezra Pound for this description of America — I could pick up books in my own library at random and find it nearly everywhere.

The base culture, the inferior people, the decadent civilization, the blindness and depravity and disgusting stench of an evil nation, everything that Mr. Pound was saying about us by short wave was at hand in the works of the superior class.

Bernard DeVoto
The Literary Fallacy  (1944)

We were six or seven riders, and they thought we might be an hostile ghrazzu [foray]. Alighting in silence, we sat down a little aloof: none of us so much as whispered to his companion by name; for the open desert is full of old debts for blood. At a strange meeting, and yet more at such hours, the nomads are in suspense of mind and mistrust of each other.

When, impatient of their mumming, I would have said Salaam! they prayed me be silent.

After the whisperers within had sufficiently taken knowledge of our peaceable demeanour, one approaching circumspectly, gave us the word of peace, Salaam aleyk, and it was readily answered by us all again, Aleykom es-salaam. After this sacrament of the lips between Beduw, there is no more doubt among them of any evil turn.

Charles M. Doughty
Travels in Arabia Deserta  (1888)

[George Orwell], for all his skill ... found himself having to allow [BBC wartime] broadcasts to go out to India, from speakers too important to offend, which he thought likely to do more harm than good; well then, the great organisation should accept the advice of an Editor, and simply tell the engineers to switch off the power. The man would be thanked and paid as usual, and could be told later if necessary that there had been an unfortunate technical hitch.

He seemed genuinely indignant when complaining that the BBC had refused; surely we could not expect to defeat Goebbels, if we were so luxuriously honest as all that.

(The stories about Milton when he was a propaganda chief [in the 1650s] amount to saying that he behaved as George wanted to do, very charitably in a way, so I won't believe that they are merely libels, as is always assumed by critics with no propaganda experience.)

William Empson
"Orwell at the BBC" [1941-1943]  (1971)
Essays on Literature and Culture  (1987)

He avoided with a very acute instinct the monotony that can come from a reiterated comic device and the disaster that comes from crossing the strict line which divides high comedy from awful foolishness. He was sure, wonderfully resourceful, and his style, really based on a lifelong respect for good writing, would have been admirable applied to anything.
Wolcott Gibbs
"Robert Benchley: In Memoriam"  (1945)
More in Sorrow

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
Omar Khayyam
The Rubaiyat  (circa 1100)
Edward FitzGerald translation
1st ed No. 56 (1859); 2nd ed No. 76 (1868)

It is good to read a little in the Files;
'Tis a sure and sovereign balm
Unto philosophic calm,
Yea, and philosophic doubt when Life beguiles.

When you know Success is Greatness,
When you marvel at your lateness ...

When your Imp of Blind Desire
Bids you set the Thames afire,
You'll remember men have done so — in the Files.

Rudyard Kipling
"The Files"  (The Sub-editor speaks)  (1903)
Rudyard Kipling's Verse,
Definitive Edition

It was subtle of God to learn Greek when he wanted to become an author — and not to learn it better.
Friedrich Nietzsche
Beyond Good and Evil, section 121  (1886)

And it was subtle of Nietzsche to leave it at that, even though the funny part depends upon knowing that God authored the New Testament in Koine or common Greek, not the high classical Greek of Sophocles and Aristophanes, Thucydides and Plato. Nietzsche's little joke suggests that by adopting common Greek for a non-Greek message, a shrewd Asian god took up again the old contest between Persians and Greeks, Asians and Europeans, a contest for the mind of European humanity — and that the Asian god won because he employed the common language, supplanting the high achievement of classical and post-classical Athens with a religion for the mob.

Laurence Lampert
"Nietzsche's Best Jokes", in
Nietzsche's Futures
edited by John Lippitt

What is striking is that no one in Paris [in 1936-1938] seems to have taken it as even an outlying possibility that Hitler might make decisions without paying much attention to any of his advisers, and that he did not simply seek an international order in which Germany had a larger role, but, in fact, wanted a war.

Nor did anyone around Daladier suggest that Hitler's assessments of France and other nations might be based less on their diplomatic maneuvers and their apparent military capabilities than on his impressions of their leaders and of public opinion.

Some of them must have sampled Mein Kampf. But, like officials in Germany, they did not take the book to be a basis even for speculation about the premises that might govern Hitler's decisions. That was an understandable mistake, but nevertheless a mistake.

Ernest R. May
Strange Victory:
Hitler's Conquest of France

[American newscast, year 2140]

On the world scene: ...

The results of last week's election in Russia are being challenged by twelve of the fourteen parties represented on the ballot; ...

The Central Diplomatic Council of the Reunited Nations has just announced, for the hundred and seventy-eighth time, that the Arab-Israel dispute has been finally, definitely and satisfactorily settled. ...

Which brings us to the local scene. On my way to the studio this morning, I stopped at City Hall, and found our genial Chief of Police Delaney, "Irish" Delaney to most of us, hard at work with a portable disintegrator, getting rid of record disks and recording tapes of old and long-settled cases. ...

H. Beam Piper & John J. McGuire
Astounding Science Fiction, February & March 1953
also titled Crisis in 2140

Now I know that we are all aware that some of Russias scientists & intellectuals have dared to criticize the Kremlin and some have been allowed to leave. No question but that they have shown great courage and I dont mean to detract from their heroism when I point out that they have a certain following, worldwide public opinion on their side & therefore possibly some protection against retaliation. But when a working stiff known only to his family and a few neighbors stands up and says "how do you transfer out of this chicken outfit," that's news. ...

One remarkable letter which reached the West was from a shipyard worker. I'm a little surprised & concerned that the story gave his name & where he worked. I keep trying to hope that maybe he used an alias because his letter could put him in Gulag for a long time. ...

Ronald Reagan
"Soviet Workers",
handwritten draft radio address, 25 May 1977
Reagan, In His Own Hand
edited by Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson, & Martin Anderson

Speaker's Room, Washington, D.C.
28 February, 1890

My dear Mr. Caruth: —

I shall not accept the invitation tendered me by the Blue Grass Club. The reason is very simple. I notice that Jay F. Durham is President. Now Jay F. Durham assured me during the late "disturbances" that if they had me in Kentucky they would kill me. Knowing the said Durham to be a journalist, his declarations to me import absolute verity. I do not wish to be killed, especially in Kentucky where such an event is too common to attract attention. For a good man to die anywhere is of course gain; but I think I can make more by dying later and elsewhere.

Yours truly,
T. B. Reed.

Samuel W. McCall
Thomas Brackett Reed

[Rome. The Forum.]


I come not, friends, to steal away your hearts.

I am no orator as Brutus is,
But, as you know me all, a plain blunt man
That love my friend; and that they know full well
That gave me public leave to speak of him.

For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech,
To stir men's blood. I only speak right on.

I tell you that which you yourselves do know,
Show you sweet Caesar's wounds, poor poor dumb mouths,
And bid them speak for me.

                                          But were I Brutus,
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffle up your spirits, and put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar that should move
The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.

William Shakespeare
Julius Caesar, 3.2.207-221  (circa 1599)

Alan Jay Lerner used to bemoan to me that someone like Paul Simon never wrote for the theatre. ...

When you're sitting in a theatre, you get one chance to grab those lyrics as they're flying through the air at you. Paul Simon once took me through his song "Hearts and Bones":

One and one-half wandering Jews ...

He explained to me that it was one and one-half because the song was about him, and he's Jewish, and his then wife Carrie Fisher, who's the daughter of Eddie Fisher, who's also Jewish, and Debbie Reynolds, who's not; hence, one and a half. So far, we'd spent about ten minutes deconstructing just five words, but I felt on top of them and was ready to move on. Then Simon said, "But it's also a reference to the flower."


"There's a flower called Wandering Jew." ...

"Ah." And you realize that, had Simon followed Lerner's advice and started writing musicals, we'd have had to get to the theatre at 10:30 in the morning to read up on the textual footnotes.

Mark Steyn
"The Rock"
Broadway Babies Say Goodnight
Musicals Then and Now  (1997)

The Common Speech, as the language of the Hobbits and their narratives, has inevitably been turned into modern English. ... Hobbits indeed spoke for the most part a rustic dialect, whereas in Gondor and Rohan a more antique language was used, more formal and more terse.

One point in the divergence may here be noted, since, though often important, it has proved impossible to represent. The Westron tongue made in the pronouns of the second person (and often also in those of the third) a distinction, independent of number, between 'familiar' and 'deferential' forms. It was, however, one of the peculiarities of Shire-usage that the deferential forms had gone out of colloquial use. They lingered only among the villagers, especially of the West-farthing, who used them as endearments.

J.R.R. Tolkien
Appendix F. II, "On Translation"
The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955)

Tyndale's most famous Gloucestershire encounter, again as told by Richard Webb in Foxe [Acts and Monuments, also known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs], was with 'a learned man', who said 'we were better without God's law than the pope's':

Master Tyndall hearing that, answered him, I defy the Pope and all his laws, and said, if God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.
David Daniell
"William Tyndale, ?1494-1536"
The Bible in English
Its History and Influence  (2003)


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