“The young man, they found, was a naturalist, an astronomer, a geographer, a geologist, a botanist, an authority on Indian antiquities, a linguist, an artist—an academy unto himself, as the poet Goethe [one of Humboldt’s friends] would say. He was at home in any subject. He had read every book. He had seen things almost impossible to imagine. ‘We all consider him as a very extraordinary man,’ [Albert] Gallatin told his wife, speaking apparently for [Thomas] Jefferson’s entire official family, ‘and his travels, which he intends publishing on his return to Europe, will, I think, rank above any other productions of the kind.’ He also talked at double the speed of anybody Gallatin had ever met before and would shift suddenly from English, which he spoke superbly, into French or Spanish or German, seemingly unaware of what he was doing, but never hesitating for a word, apparently to the very great confusion of his newfound American friends, Jefferson and the Swiss-born Gallatin not included.
“Gallatin, a man not easily impressed, found the extent of the visitor’s reading and scientific knowledge astonishing. ‘I was delighted,’ he said, ‘and swallowed more information of various kinds in less than two hours than I had for two years past in all I had read and heard.’” – David McCullough describing the polymath Alexander von Humboldt in Brave Companions: Portraits in History. Unfortunately, Humboldt is mostly remembered today for the Pacific Ocean current that bears his name – despite the facts that its existence had been known for centuries before he studied it and that he never claimed to have discovered it.
“For centuries, children were part of women’s realm and therefore deemed unworthy of serious scientific interest. So long as men dominated academia, developmental psychology was inevitably marginalized. At Berkeley, for example, a number of renowned developmental psychologists worked in research institutes; none of them was ever offered a position in the university proper. (In fact, until 1973 there were no women at all in the Berkeley psychology department.) the work that did go on often was in the context of practical issues in education and child rearing. One male colleague discovered in the sixties at Cornell that he had to take a home economics degree in order to study developmental psychology. The advent of women academics in the university helped, very slowly, to make studying babies and children seem respectable.” – Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff, and Patricia K. Kuhl; The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Brain
“The library is a whispering post. You don’t need to take a book off a shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you, and behind that was someone who truly believed that if he or she spoke, someone would listen. It was that affirmation that always amazed me. Even the oddest, most peculiar book was written with that kind of courage—the writer’s belief that someone would find his or her book important to read. I was struck by how precious and foolish and brave that belief is, and how necessary, and how full of hope it is to collect these books and manuscripts and preserve them. It declares that stories matter, and so does every effort to create something that connects us to one another, and to our past, and to what is still to come.” – Susan Orlean, The Library Book
“And now, what about a Watson? Are we to have a Watson? We are. Death to an author who keeps his unraveling for the last chapter, making all the other chapters but prologue to a five-minute drama. This is no way to write a story. Let us know from chapter to chapter what the detective is thinking. For this he must Watsonize or soliloquize; the one is merely a dialogue form of the other, and, by that, more readable. A Watson, then, but not of necessity a fool of a Watson. A little slow, let him be, as so many of us are, but friendly, human, likeable . . .” – A. A. Milne, The Red House Mystery
“Everyone has a moment in history which belongs particularly to him. It is the moment when his emotions achieve their most powerful sway over him, and afterward when you say to this person ‘the world today’ or ‘life’ or ‘reality’ he will assume that you mean this moment, even if it is fifty years past. The world, through his unleashed emotions, imprinted itself upon him, and he carries the stamp of that passing moment forever.” – John Knowles, A Separate Peace
“I can imagine my mother’s fear on the night I was born.
“It was April 3, 1941. She and two hundred other women, all waiting to give birth, were gathered in the dark, airless basement of a hospital in Kiel, Germany. Bombs from the Allied forces of World War II thundered around them, sirens screamed, the ground shook with one explosion after another, and she must have felt so alone and so terrified as she lay there praying for the safe delivery of her child.
“I arrived just in time. A few days later, another swarm of bombs destroyed the hospital where I took my first breath.” – Eric Braeden (Victor Newman of The Young and the Restless), I’ll Be Damned: How My Young and Restless Life Led Me to America’s #1 Daytime Drama
“I’d have liked to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sister–anything a woman can be to a man. The idea of you is part of my mind; you influence my likes and dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of times when I don’t realize it. You really are a part of me.” – Willa Cather, My Ántonia
“He wanted to know how they prayed to God in Eldorado. ‘We do not pray to him at all,’ said the reverend sage. ‘We have nothing to ask of him. He has given us all we want, and we give him thanks continually.’” – Voltaire, Candide