Quintilian once said 'the senses are less afflicted by physical suffering than by the thought of it.' Certainly for most men the preparation for death has been more tormenting than the pangs themselves. To contemplate a future death calls for a courage that is slow, and consequently difficult to acquire. The truth is we only have to prepare ourselves against our preparations for death. If you do not know how to die, never mind—nature will give you full and adequate instruction in the fullness of time. It is not for death that we should prepare ourselves; it is too momentary. A quarter of an hour's suffering, without any negative consequences to follow, does not deserve special attention.  The proper study of life is itself.

—Michel de Montaigne, Essays, On Physiognomy, p329.


If men's consciences were fully enlightened, if they were delivered from being confined to a private sphere, and brought to view, and consider things in general, and delivered from being stupefied by sensual objects and appetites, as they will be at the day of judgment, they would approve nothing but true virtue, nothing but general benevolence, and those affections and actions that are consistent with it, and subordinate to it—yet without possessing it in their hearts.

—Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True Virtue.


Erasure is as important as writing.... Prune what is turgid, elevate what is commonplace, arrange what is disorderly, introduce rhythm where the language is harsh, modify where it is too absolute.... The best method of correction is to put aside for a time what we have written, so that when we come to it again it may have an aspect of novelty, as of being another man's work; in this way we may preserve ourselves from regarding our writings with the affection that we lavish upon a newborn child.

—Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory X.iv.1,2, quoted in Leonard Wibberly, Something to Read.

She felt

Life and human beings are very important, and everybody is lonely, and nobody really knows much about anybody else.

—Nancibel, in The Feast, by Margaret Kennedy.

Appeal to Generosity

H. showed me three pages of intelligent sympathy from P., beginning, "Of course I had foreseen
the difficulty," and ending, "Either your pride or mine will have to be sacrificed—I can only
appeal to your generosity to let it be yours." H. said, "P. can always see the difficulty—that's
what's so disarming." Agree heartily—can't stand people who "can't see what the fuss is
about." H. now meekly prepared to accept.


Of late, lying awake in darkness and misery, I have asked if this be life, whether an immortal existence is not a curse to be feared, rather than a blessing to be hoped, and if the wretchedness we fear in the eternal world can be worse than what we sometimes suffer now,—such sinking of heart, such helplessness of fear, such a vain calling for help that never comes.

We are in ourselves so utterly helpless,—life is so heard and inexplicable, that we stand in perishing need of some helping hand, some sensible appreciable connection with God. How many hours have I gone round and round this dreary track,—chilled, weary, shivering, seeing no light, and hearing no voice! Now a divine ray has shone upon me, and all the burdens on my soul have gone at the sight of the Cross down into the sepulchre, to be seen no more. There is One who does love me,—the One Friend, whose love, like the sunshine, can be the portion of each individual of the human race, without exhaustion. This is the great mystery of faith.

Speak to me! tell me your innermost thoughts, as I have told you mine. Is not life short and sad and bitter enough, that those who could help each other should neglect the few things they can do to make it tolerable? Why do we travel side by side, lonely and silent,—each, perhaps, hiding in that silence the word of life the other needs?

—from Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oldtown Folks ch19, quoting 'New England Ministers', Atlantic Monthly, 1 (1858): 485-492.


It has always been a favorite idea of mine, that there is so much of the human in every man, that the life of any one individual, however obscure, if really and vividly perceived in all its aspirations, struggles, failures, and successes, would command the interest of all others. Besides this, every individual is part and parcel of a great picture of the society in which he lives and acts, and his life cannot be painted without reproducing the picture of the world he lived in. This is my only apology for offering my life as an open page to the reading of the public.

—Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oldtown Folks, ch1.

Depth of Meaning

The meaning of a story does not begin except at a depth where adequate motivation and psychology and determinism has been exhausted. Its interest resides in what we don't understand rather than in what we do, in possibility rather than in probability, in characters who are forced out of themselves to meet evil and grace and to act on trust.

—after Flannery O'Connor, The Grotesque in Southern Fiction.

Who is Tom Bombadil?

Tom Bombadil is just as he is. Just an odd ‘fact’ of that world. He won’t be explained, because as long as you are (as in this tale you are meant to be) concentrated on the Ring, he is inexplicable. But he’s there – a reminder of the truth (as I see it) that the world is so large and manifold that if you take one facet and fix your mind and heart on it, there is always something that does not come in to that story/argument/approach, and seems to belong to a larger story. But of course in another way, not that of pure story-making, Bombadil is a deliberate contrast to the Elves who are artists. But B. does not want to make, alter, devise, or control anything: just to observe and take joy in the contemplating the things that are not himself. The spirit of this earth made aware of itself. He is more like science (utterly free from technological blemish) and history than art. He represents the complete fearlessness of that spirit when we can catch a little of it. But I do suggest that it is possible to fear (as I do) that the making artistic sub-creative spirit (of Men and Elves) is actually more potent, and can ‘fall’, and that it could in the eventual triumph of its own evil destroy the whole earth, and Bombadil and all.

—J.R.R. Tolkien, to Nevill Coghill, August 21, 1954. ©2014 The Tolkien Estate Limited, published at

I Find Him Not

I found Him in the shining of the stars,
I marked Him in the flowering of His fields,
But in His ways with men I find Him not.
I fought for Him, and now I pass and die.
Wherefore O God above is all below
As if some lesser god had made the world,
But had not force to shape it as he would,
Until High God behold it from beyond,
And enter it, and make it beautiful?
Or else as if the world were wholly fair,
But that these eyes of men are dense and dim,
And have not power to see it as it is—
Perchance, because our shadow darkens it;—
I thought I could accomplish all His will,
And have but stricken with the sword in vain;
And all whereon I leaned in wife and friend
Is traitor to my peace, and all my realm
Reels back into the beast, and is no more.
My God, thou hast forgot me in my death!
Nay—Jesu Christ—I pass but shall not die.

—Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, The Passing of Arthur, p242.