I have taken to the ski slopes to read, relax, replenish my ashen self with an après-ski concoction of Jim Beam and Jack Daniels (I’ve come up in the world), and plan my strategy for the months ahead.
On my bookshelf is a copy of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, the 1992 edition.
This massive volume is a veritable treasury of wit and wisdom. Put differently, it’s a big book with a lot of laughs and bright observations. It contains a high percentage of Shakespeare’s greatest lines: Macbeth’s “Out, out, brief candle!” speech, delivered on his receiving the news of his wife’s death, gets the full treatment, as does Hamlet’s soliloquy on suicide, “To be, or not to be: that is the question,” though the editors unaccountably neglect to include Horatio’s excellent meteorological observation, “It is a nipping and an eager air.”
Lovers of Horace will enjoy his incisive advice: “Si possis recte, si non, quocumque modo rem.” (“If possible honestly, if not, somehow, make money.”) And “Misce stultiiam consiliis brevem: Dulce est desipere loco.” (“Mix a little foolishness with your prudence: it’s good to be silly at the right moment.”)
For those for whom Latin is not the native tongue, there are gems like this, from Oscar Wilde: “The Book of Life begins with a man and a woman in a garden. It ends with Revelations.” And this, most appropriate for the season of electoral politics: “Every great man nowadays has his disciples, and it is always Judas who writes the biography.”
American sages are represented, but not well. John Updike has just six quotations deemed wise by the deeming editors. Among them: “America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy.”
A fine remark. If, in the next edition, the Oxford elite select for inclusion one of my campaign slogans—“Dead of America arise! You have nothing to lose but your bones and ashes!”—buy it.