Quotes of Note

“. . . After thirty years teaching in a university, I came to have a certain measured suspicion, sometimes edging onto contempt, for what I called (only to myself) ‘the good student.’  This good student always got the highest grades, because he approached all his classes with a single question in mind: ‘What does this teacher want?’  And once the good student decides he gives it to him—he delivers the goods.  The good student is thus able to deliver very different goods to the feminist teacher at 9:00 am, to the Marxist teacher at 10:00 am, to the conservative teacher at 11:00 am, and just after lunch to the teacher who prides himself on being without any ideology or political tendency whatsoever.” – Joseph Epstein, A Literary Education and Other Essays

“Promising to love each other for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health – even promising to forsake all others – had been no problem, but it was a good thing the Book of Common Prayer didn’t say anything about marrying our libraries and throwing out the duplicates.  That would have been a far more solemn vow, one that would probably have caused the wedding to grind to a mortifying halt.” – Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (1998)

“I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.” – Jack London

“Lord!  When you sell a man a book you don’t sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life.  Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book.” – Christopher Morley

“I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves.” – E. M. Forster, “Two Cheers for Democracy” (1951)

_ _ _

Scientists tell us that our DNA is very similar to that of monkeys.  But how do you explain the differences in behavior between monkeys and humans – or even between monkeys and other animals?  Think about it: can you name anything that monkeys build?  Do they do anything to make their living environment safer or more comfortable?  A bird can build a nest for its young, and a spider can spin a web to catch its food.  Why don’t monkeys do anything useful for themselves?

The story below appeared in Raymond L. Ditmars’ book Strange Animals I Have Known (1931).  In it Ditmars, who was a noted herpetologist and curator at the Bronx Zoo, discusses the proclivity of monkeys to wreak havoc every chance they get while seemingly being unable to do anything constructive.

“We have had pet monkeys at home from time to time, and though I know their proclivities for evil I accidentally let two of them escape once when we were all away.  When we returned the house looked exactly as if a hurricane had blown in one window and out the other.  The pair of monkeys were subdued and scared and had realized the awfulness of what they had done.

“It took a week to get the house back into shape again.  Pictures had been pulled off the walls, curtains torn, upholstery ripped out by its roots and lights all dragged from their wall sockets.  The saddest damage was to the sideboard where most of our glassware and silver were kept.  The devilish monkeys had even taken ashes out of the fireplace and scattered them everywhere; had torn pages from my favourite books; and had destroyed all our potted plants.

“The curious part of it was that the monkeys were two well-behaved pets of my daughter, in good health and always exercised properly.  They just became temporarily insane and, while outrageous, were really ingenious in their mutilation of my home.

“Whether such behavior is related to human conduct or not I must leave to the reader to judge.  Certainly it is not characteristic of other animals.  Even a puppy who might chew a few things to pieces would tire of his play long before he did any serious damage.

“I have been told by banana planters in the tropics that the same tendency is shown by a troop of monkeys entering a cultivated area.  They tear off one piece of fruit after another, take one bite from each and drop it no matter how ripe and delicious it is.

“Compare such vandalism with the superb parsimony of many other animals supposed to be far down the list in their relationship to human beings.  The prairie “dog,” for instance, painstakingly building its craters high against the rain and burrowing deep with its food and family.  The beaver is another, weaving branches into a dam, slaving day and night against the oncoming winter.

“In comparison, the average monkey is a worthless and slovenly vagrant no matter how amusing or how much like a man he may seem to be.  Even in the jungle he suffers in comparison with other animals.  He accomplishes absolutely nothing, never builds shelters, and has no thought of storing food.  While the spider is spinning and the lowly ant providing a larder for its young the monkey is only screeching in the treetops.

“I think that it is the inconsistency in monkey psychology and ability that undermines his position as man’s ancestor more than anything else.  An orang or chimpanzee will learn to do rather wonderful things with a club.  Yet it apparently does not occur to them to use the club as a weapon.  With all the dry sticks of great variety available in the jungle one does not see or hear of an orang using one to work with as he will do so readily in a zoo.

Ditmars goes on a bit longer before ending the chapter with two observations:

“It makes me wonder sometimes what a clever dog or beaver would do if he had a monkey’s hands.

“On the other hand, monkeys may be too smart to work!”

_ _ _

“A writer – and, I believe, generally all persons – must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource.” Jorge Luis Borges

“It is chiefly through books that we enjoy intercourse with superior minds.” – William Ellery Channing

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” – Bil Keane, cartoonist and creator of The Family Circus

“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.” – Oscar Wilde

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