Category: Quotation

r-nought literature

Say, Goddess, what causes, after so many centuries, brought forth among us this strange affliction. Did it reach our hemisphere, carried from the Western sea, after a select group of men set sail from Spain, braving the open waves and the unknown waters of changeful Ocean, as they searched for lands that lay in another world? For it is said that in those parts this pestilence reigns in every city with unending affliction, that it wanders abroad because of a perpetual flaw in the climate, sparing few people. Should we then believe that it was commerce that brought the disease to us, that, small at first, it gradually gained force and sustenance, spreading itself to every land? As when a spark happens to fall upon some dried twigs from a torch that a shepherd has forgotten in a field: at first it is little and appears to be biding its time; presently, as it gathers strength, it rises up and victoriously lays waste the harvest and the fields and the neighboring woods, tossing flames up to heaven. Far off some distant thicket, sacred to Jove, begins to roar, and for miles around the sky and the fields are aflame.

Girolamo Fracastoro, Syphilis (trans. J. Gardner), 1530

even journalists blame fact-checkers (1927)

For example, the problem of false news. How does so much of it get into the American newspapers, even the good ones? Is it because journalists, as a class, are habitual liars, and prefer what is not true to what is true? I don’t think it is. Rather, it is because journalists are, in the main, extremely stupid, sentimental, and credulous fellows—because nothing is easier than to fool them—because the majority of them lack the sharp intelligence that the proper discharge of their duties demands. The New York Times did not print all its famous blather and balderdash about Russia because the Hon. Mr. Ochs desired to deceive his customers, or because his slaves were in the pay of Russian reactionaries, but simply and solely because his slaves, facing the elemental professional problem of distinguishing between true and false, turned out to be incompetent. All around the borders of Russia sat propagandists hired to fool them. In many cases, I have no doubt, they detected that purpose, and foiled it; we only know what they printed, not what they threw into their wastebaskets. But in many other cases they succumbed easily, and even ridiculously, and the result was the vast mass of puerile rubbish that Mr. Lippmann later made a show of. In other words, the editors of the American newspaper most brilliantly distinguished above its fellows for its news-gathering enterprise turned out to be unequal to a job of news-gathering presenting special but surely not insuperable difficulties. It was not an ethical failure, but a purely technical failure.

H. L. Mencken, “Journalism in America,” Prejudices: Sixth Series (1927)

diffuse, vapid, rhetorical, but enchanting

As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurean. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us. Epictetus indeed, has given us what was good of the stoics; all beyond, of their dogmas, being hypocrisy and grimace. Their great crime was in their calumnies of Epicurus and misrepresentations of his doctrines; in which we lament to see the candid character of Cicero engaging as an accomplice. Diffuse, vapid, rhetorical, but enchanting. His prototype Plato, eloquent as himself, dealing out mysticisms incomprehensible to the human mind, has been deified by certain sects usurping the name of Christians; because, in his foggy conceptions, they found a basis of impenetrable darkness whereon to rear fabrications as delirious, of their own invention. These they fathered blasphemously on him whom they claimed as their founder, but who would disclaim them with the indignation which their caricatures of his religion so justly excite.Thomas Jefferson, Letter to William Short, October 31, 1819