And weary days they must have been to this friendless custom-house officer

From Melville’s Redburn: His First Voyage (ch.29) – only interesting as a personal prophecy given that several decades later Melville himself would work as a customs official for about twenty years.

During the many visits of Captain Riga to the ship, he always said something courteous to a gentlemanly, friendless custom-house officer, who staid on board of us nearly all the time we lay in the dock.

And weary days they must have been to this friendless custom-house officer; trying to kill time in the cabin with a newspaper; and rapping on the transom with his knuckles. He was kept on board to prevent smuggling; but he used to smuggle himself ashore very often, when, according to law, he should have been at his post on board ship. But no wonder; he seemed to be a man of fine feelings, altogether above his situation; a most inglorious one, indeed; worse than driving geese to water.

Impossible to come, lie follows

From Proust’s Le Temps Retrouve (pg.281 of v.4 of the Pleiade):

…sans que Gilberte sut si son mari arriverait vraiment ou s’il n’enverrait pas une de ces depeches dont M. de Guermantes avait spirituellement fixe le modele: IMPOSSIBLE VENIRE, MENSONGE SUIT

…without Gilberte knowing whether her husband would arrive or would send one of those telegrams, the model of which M. De Guermantes had wittily set in place: Impossible to come, lie follows

A walk up Ladder-lane, and down Hemp-street

From Herman Melville’s Redburn: His First Voyage (ch. 17)

Sailors have a great fancy for naming things that way on shipboard. When a man is hung at sea, which is always done from one of the lower yard-arms, they say he “takes a walk up Ladder-lane, and down Hemp-street.”

The phrase does actually appear in Bartlett Whiting’s Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrasings.


Incredulity is sometimes the vice of a fool, and credulity the failing of a man of intelligence

From Denis Diderot’s Pensees Philosophiques (no. 32), though I found the quote through Baudelaire’s La Fanfarlo, where he presents it as the something like the key to his main character’s behavior (see further below):

Incredulity is sometimes the vice of a fool, and credulity the failing of a man of intelligence.  The man of intelligence sees far into the immensity of possibilities; the fool sees hardly anything as possible except what already exists.  It is this perhaps which makes the one a coward, the other rash.

L’incrédulité est quelquefois le vice d’un sot, et la crédulité le défaut d’un homme d’esprit. L’homme d’esprit voit loin dans l’immensité des possibles ; le sot ne voit guère de possible que ce qui est. C’est là peut-être ce qui rend l’un pusillanime, et l’autre téméraire.

Baudelaire’s further commentary:

This pensee of Diderot explains as well all the blunders Samuel committed in his life, blunders that a fool would not have committed.  This portion of the public that is essentially cowardly will hardly understand the character of Samuel, who was essentially credulous and rich in imagination, to the point that, as poet, he believed in his public – as man, in his own passions.

La pensée de Diderot …. explique aussi toutes les bévues que Samuel a commises dans sa vie, bévues qu’un sot n’eût pas commises. Cette portion du public qui est essentiellement pusillanime ne comprendra guère le personnage de Samuel, qui était essentiellement crédule et imaginatif, au point qu’il croyait, comme poëte, à son public, — comme homme, à ses propres passions.

Ballads we sang, the wind in the pines

Another poem of Li Po – pg 151 in the Penguin Classics Li Po and Tu Fu, translated by Arthur Cooper.


At dusk I came down from the mountain,
The mountain moon as my companion,
And looked behind at tracks I’d taken
That were blue, blue below the skyline:
You took my arm, led me to your hut
Where small children drew hawthorn curtains
To green bamboos and a hidden path
With vines to brush the travellers’ clothes;
And I rejoiced at a place to rest
And good wine, too, to pour out with you:
Ballads we sang, the wind in the pines,
Till, our songs done, Milky Way had paled;
And I was drunk and you were merry,
We had gaily forgotten the world!

Yes, Sir, but the University were not to be hanged the next morning

More Boswell and Johnson, now to page 274 of the first volume:

About this time there had been an execution of two or three criminals at Oxford on a Monday. Soon afterwards, one day at dinner, I was saying that Mr. Swinton the chaplain of the gaol, and also a frequent preacher before the University, a learned man, but often thoughtless and absent, preached the condemnation-sermon on repentance, before the convicts, on the preceding day, Sunday; and that in the close he told his audience, that he should give them the remainder of what he had to say on the subject, the next Lord’s Day. Upon which, one of our company, a Doctor of Divinity, and a plain matter-of-fact man, by way of offering an apology for Mr. Swinton, gravely remarked, that he had probably preached the same sermon before the University: “Yes, Sir, (says Johnson) but the University were not to be hanged the next morning.”

They ask me where’s the sense on jasper mountains?

A poem of Li Po – pg. 115 in the Penguin Classics edition of Li Po and Tu Fu, translated by Arthur Cooper.  Cooper’s introduction and commentaries, incidentally, are some of the best I’ve ever read.


They ask me where’s the sense
on jasper mountains?
I laugh and don’t reply,
in heart’s own quiet:

Peach petals float their streams
away in secret
To other skies and earths
than those of mortals

It will be ascribed to deep policy, when, in fact, it was only a casual excuse for laziness

From Boswell’s Life of Johnson (v.1 ~pg 185)

The Plan was addressed to Philip Dormer, Earl of Chesterfield, then one of his Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State; a nobleman who was very ambitious of literary distinction, and who, upon being informed of the design, had expressed himself in terms very favourable to its success. There is, perhaps in every thing of any consequence, a secret history which it would be amusing to know, could we have it authentically communicated. Johnson told me, ‘Sir, the way in which the Plan of my Dictionary came to be inscribed to Lord Chesterfield, was this: I had neglected to write it by the time appointed. Dodsley suggested a desire to have it addressed to Lord Chesterfield. I laid hold of this as a pretext for delay, that it might be better done, and let Dodsley have his desire. I said to my friend, Dr. Bathurst, “Now if any good comes of my addressing to Lord Chesterfield, it will be ascribed to deep policy, when, in fact, it was only a casual excuse for laziness.”