Category Archives: Quotations

There Is No Such Thing as a New Idea

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

American author and humorist Mark Twain (1835-1910). The quote appears in the biography of Mark Twain written by Albert Bigelow Paine (Volume 3, Part 1, 1900-07). Twain was discussing the copyrighting of ideas with some colleagues during a train ride in 1906. Interestingly, Twain was born just two weeks after Halley’s Comet passed near the Earth in 1835, and he died a day after it approached near the Earth again in 1910, when the comet appeared its brightest in its history (the comet appears every 76 years). And what is truly remarkable is that Twain predicted it; sometime in 1909, the famous author stated: “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'”

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The Wisdom of Benjamin Franklin

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom“Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790),” wrote Walter Isaacson, “was the most accomplished American of his age.” If you look up the word polymath (a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning) — you will find a photo of Franklin. He was a brilliant diplomat and political leader, founding father of the United States, accomplished writer, publisher (Poor Richard’s Almanac), inventor, scientist, and businessman. Over the course of his very rich life, he gained much wisdom. It was in his old age that he observed one of life’s greatest paradoxes: “Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.” Here is some of his timeless wisdom:

The noblest question in the world is: “What good may I do in it?”

There is too much stress today on material things. I try to teach my children not so much the value of cents, but a sense of values.

While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us.

Having been poor is no shame, but being ashamed of it is.

Money can help you get medicines but not health. Money can help you to get soft pillows, but not sound sleep. Money can help you get material comforts, but not eternal bliss. Money can help you get ornaments, but not beauty. Money will help you to get an electric earphone, but not natural hearing. Attain the supreme wealth, wisdom, and you will have everything.

In dealings between people, truth, sincerity and integrity are of the utmost importance to the felicity of life.

Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom to a
person in the course of their life.

Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.

He does not possess wealth that allows it to possess him.

There are two ways of being happy. We may either diminish our wants or augment our means — either will do — the result is the same. If you are
wise you will do both at the same time; and if you are very wise you will do both in such a way as to augment the general happiness of society.

Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of its filling a vacuum, it makes one. If it satisfies one want, it doubles and trebles that want another way.

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Read related posts: The Wisdom of a Grandmother
The Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
The Wisdom of Maya Angelou
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
The Wisdom of the Ancient Greeks

The Wisdom of Lady Grantham
The Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz

The Wisdom of Yoda
The Wisdom of George Carlin
The Wisdom of Saint-Exupery
The Wisdom of Steven Wright
The Wisdom of Spock
The Wisdom of Elie Wiesel

For further reading: Benjamin Franklin an American Life by Walter Isaacson


Doublets: Lazy Thinking

atkins bookshelf quotations“A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking.”

American comedian Steven Wright (born 1955), known for his deadpan delivery of ironic, paradoxical, nonsensical humor. Wright is fond of paraprosdokians — a figure of speech in which the end of the sentence is a surprise, or prompts the listener or reader to reinterpret the first part. For example, here are two Wright classic lines “On the other hand, you have different figures.” and “I went to a place to eat; it said ‘breakfast any time.” So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.”

“To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the need for thought.”

From (Jules) Henri Poincare’s Science and Hypothesis. Poincare (1854-1912) was a French mathematician, theoretical physicist, and philosopher of science. His pioneering studies laid the groundwork for chaos theory.

Read related posts: Doublets: Love
Doublets: Genius
Doublets: Youth and Maturity
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Doublets: The Lessons of History
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Doublets: Tolerance
Doublets: The Role of Religion
Doublets: Things Left Unsaid


The Greatest Life Lesson: Life is Transitory

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomOne of the greatest gifts of getting older is wisdom. Life’s journey, that inevitably traverses through the steepest hills and deepest valleys, eventually leads you to a plateau that is high enough for you to look back and reflect on it — to appreciate its point of origin and its meaning. And if you turn around and look ahead, it shows you a horizon that is wide enough that allows you to see the real possibilities. It is from this perspective, that one of life’s great lessons becomes crystal clear: life is transitory, ephemeral. In youth, we tend to think that some of life’s great moments or stages in one’s life are permanent; that they will last forever — or perhaps if not forever, it will be for a very long time that seems like forever. But as you get older, you realize that life is played out over decades and not days, like a massive ball of beads that is rolled out, each bead separated by a thin strand of twine, each representing a moment in time, each presenting something joyful or painful, happy or sad. So in youth, we obsess over each bead or group of beads, oblivious to the beads that will come after; but in middle-age and beyond, we view really large sections — hundreds, perhaps thousands of beads — at a time; mindful of the beads that come before and after those sections. To put this another way, life at any particular time in one’s life is not a moment, but a clip from a very long movie. Knowledge of this is what gives us hope and perseverance, to move forward to the next frame, to the next scene, especially if we want to move from the shadow to the light.

American poet, Carl Sandburg, was very much aware of this life lesson when he wrote the poem titled “The People, Yes” published in 1936. It was written in the midst of America’s Great Depression in the hope that it would inspire people to persevere through extremely challenging times. One of the greatest life lessons is buried inside the 300-page poem, told as a story about a king that wanted an inscription that would stand the test of time:

And the king wanted an inscription
good for a thousand years and after
that to the end of the world?
“Yes, precisely so.”
“Something so true and awful that no
matter what happened it would stand?”
“Yes, exactly that.”
“Something no matter who spit on it or
Laughed at it there it would stand
And nothing would change it?”
“Yes, that was what the king ordered
his wise men to write.”
“And what did they write?”
“Five words: This too shall pass away.”

Five simple words: “This too shall pass away.” May it provide some solace and inspiration as you walk through the darkest valleys of your life journey. Remember it always; and be sure to share it with a friend in need.

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The Wisdom of Elie Wiesel
The Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
The Wisdom of Maya Angelou
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
The Wisdom of the Ancient Greeks
The Wisdom of Lady Grantham
The Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz
The Wisdom of Yoda
The Wisdom of George Carlin
The Wisdom of Saint-Exupery
The Wisdom of Steven Wright
The Wisdom of Spock
The Wisdom of Muhammad Ali

God and Freedom are Totally Antipathetic Concepts

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“God and freedom are totally antipathetic concepts; and men believe in their imaginary gods most often because they are afraid to believe in the other thing [free will]. I am old enough now to realize they do sometimes with good reason. But I stick by the general principle, and that is what I meant to be at the heart of my story [The Magus]: that true freedom lies between each two [God/divine intervention and rational free will], never in one alone, and therefore it can never be absolute freedom. All freedom, even the most relative, may be a fiction; but mine, and still today, prefers the other hypothesis.”

From the Foreword to The Magus by British author and intellectual John Fowles. Fowles worked on the novel for 12 years and continued to revise it after publication. The Magus is considered a modern classic, ranked in the Modern Library 100 Best Novels (1999) and the BBC’s The Big Read (2003). In his review of The Magus, The New York Times critic Eliot Fremont-Smith heaps lavish praise on Fowles’ magnum opus: “The Magus is a stunner, magnificent in ambition, supple and gorgeous in execution. It fits no neat category; it is at once a pyrotechnical extravaganza, a wild, hilarious charade, a dynamo of suspense and horror, a profoundly serious probing into the nature of moral consciousness, a dizzying, electrifying chase through the labyrinth of the soul, an allegorical romance, a sophisticated account of modern love, a ghost story that will send shivers racing down the spine. Lush, compulsive, richly inventive, eerie, provocative, impossibly theatrical… No summary can convey accurately the sense of this extraordinary book. It is original and contemporary; it is intelligent… It is a marvelous, compelling novel, of a kind that doesn’t come around very often.”

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Read related posts: John Fowles on The French Lieutenant’s Woman
William Faulkner on the Writer’s Duty
Doublets: Why Writers Write

For further reading: The Magus by John Fowles

Every Adventure of the Mind is an Adventure With Words

alex atkins bookshelf words“In short, every adventure of the mind is an adventure vehicled by words. Every adventure of the mind is an adventure with words; every such adventure is an adventure among words; and occasionally an adventure is an adventure of words. It is no exaggeration to say that, in every word of every language — every single word or phrase of every language, however primitive or rudimentary or frag­mentarily recorded, and whether living or dead- we discover an enlightening, sometimes a rather frightening, vignette of history; with such a term as water we find that we require a volume rather than a vignette. Sometimes the history concerned may seem to affect only an individual. But, as John Donne remarked in 1624, ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;… any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’ History is not merely individual, it is collective or social; not only national, but international; not simply terrestrial, but universal. History being recorded in words and achieved partly, sometimes predominantly, by words, it follows that he who despises or belittles or does no worse than underestimate, the value and power, the ineluctable necessity of words, despises all history and therefore despises mankind (himself perhaps excluded). He who ignores the enduring power and the history of words ignores that sole part of himself which can, after his death, influence the world outside himself, the sole part that merits a posterity.”

From Adventuring Among Words (1961) by Eric Partridge (1894-1979), British lexicographer who wrote more than 40 books on English language, specifically etymology and slang. His magnum opus was A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English first published in 1937 (the 8th edition was published in 1984).

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Each Rereading of a Book is Unique Because We Have Changed

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Emerson said that a library is a magic chamber in which there are many enchanted spirits. They wake when we call them. When the book lies unopened, it is literally, geometrically, a volume, a thing among things. When we open it, when the book surrenders itself to its reader, the aesthetic event occurs. And even for the same reader the same book changes, for the change; we are the river of Heraclitus, who said that the man of yesterday is not the man of today, who will not be the man of tomorrow. We change incessantly, and each reading of a book, each rereading, each memory of that rereading, reinvents the text. The text too is the changing river of Heraclitus.”

From Seven Nights, a collection of seven lectures, that Argentine poet, short-story writer, and literary critic Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) delivered in Buenos Aires between June and August 1977. During the lecture series, Borges shared his profound and thought-provoking insights on Dante’s The Divine Comedy, nightmares, Buddhism, The Thousand and One Nights, poetry, The Kabbalah, and blindness. Borges’s father was a lawyer and aspiring writer who owned an incredible library of more than 1,000 books. Borges was home schooled up to the age of 11 and enjoyed exploring the treasures in his father’s library. By the age of 12 he had read most of Shakespeare’s works. Reflecting upon his education, Borges said, “If I were asked to name the chief event in my life, I should say my father’s library.” Borges was very near-sighted all his life. Sadly by the age of 29, Borges began losing his eyesight due to cataracts. Operations help extend his eyesight, but it deteriorated gradually over the years. Twenty years later he had lost vision in one eye and the other eye was barely functional. When he was 55 he fell during a walk that caused retinal detachment in his good eye. After an operation, Borges could see a little, but soon he was completely blind. In his thirties, Borges began his career as a public lecturer, and since he was losing his eyesight, he would write his lectures and commit them to memory. Alastair Reid notes, “Yet the obligation to memorize his material did Borges a great service, for, as his blindness encroached, he was at the same time memorizing a considerable private library of reference and quotation. Asked a question now, he will pause, as though riffling through bookshelves in his head, and come up with a verse from one of his essential texts, and idiosyncratic collection familiar to his readers.”

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Read related posts: What if Shakespeare Wrote the Hits: Don’t Stop Believin
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The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folio
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For further reading: Seven Nights by Jorge Luis Borges

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