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Last Words and Epitaphs

Law and Lawyers

Literary Offenses


Last Words and Epitaphs


Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.
     John Barrymore


So little done, so much to do.
     Alexander Graham Bell, last words


This is over my head. [Self-epitaph]
     Milton Berle


"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
     Sydney Carton in Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)


I'd hate to die twice. It's so boring.
     Richard Feynman, last words, quoted in James Gleick, Genius (1992)


On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia.
     W. C. Fields, epitaph


I had a hunch something like this would happen.
     Fontaine Fox, epitaph


Only one man ever understood me. And he didn't understand me.
     Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, last words


Pardon me for not getting up. [Self-epitaph]
     Ernest Hemingway


This is too deep for me. [Self-epitaph]
     Don Herold


And for my encore . . .
    Marilyn Horne, suggested epitaph


Over my dead body!
     George S. Kaufman, epitaph, quoted in Robert E. 
     Drennan (ed.), The Algonquin Wits (1985)


Is it me or did it just get dark in here?
    Howie Mandel, suggested epitaph


Here lies Sir Isaac Newton, Knight, who by a vigour of mind almost supernatural, first demonstrated, the motions and Figures of the Planets, the Paths of the comets, and the Tides of the Oceans. . . . Let Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of Nature.
     Epitaph on tomb of Isaac Newton at Westminster Abbey (1727)


Keep the line moving.
     Jack Paar, epitaph


Die, my dear doctor? That's the last thing I shall do.
     Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston


Dorothy Parker once requested that her epitaph read: "Excuse my dust." Later she suggested another reading: "This is on me."
     Dorothy Parker, quoted in Robert E. 
     Drennan (ed.), The Algonquin Wits (1985)


Why yes, a bulletproof vest!
     James W. Rodgers, final request before the firing squad, 1960


I've got my epitaph all worked out. ... "Here lies Will Rogers. He joked about every prominent man in his time, but he never met a man he didn't like."
     Will Rogers


They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist . . .
     General John Sedgwick was looking over a
     parapet at the battle of Spotsylvania (U.S. Civil
     War, 1864) when he gave his troops this assurance.
     He was wrong.


If this is dying, then I don't think much of it.
     Lytton Stracheym in Michael Holroyd, Lytton Strachey (1968)


If you can read this, you're too close; get off my grave, idiot!
     Glen Super, epitaph


One world at a time.
     Henry David Thoreau, said a few days before his death


Stranger, tread
This ground with gravity:
Dentist Brown is filling
His last cavity.


Here lies John Bunn.
He was killed by a gun.
His name was not Bunn but Wood
But Wood would not rhyme with gun
But Bunn would.


Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something.
     Pancho Villa, last words


I still live.
     Daniel Webster, 24 October 1852


I'm fine. Go away.
     H. G. Wells


Unable to pay the medical bills for his last illness, Wilde said, "I am dying as I have lived, beyond my means."
     Oscar Wilde


My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.
     Oscar Wilde, from Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (1988)



Law and Lawyers
(Sue Me)


What's the difference between a dead cat on the road and a dead lawyer on the road? A dead cat has skid marks around it.
     Orson Bean


A Man died leaving a large estate and many sorrowful relations who claimed it. After some years, when all but one had had judgment given against them, that one was awarded the estate, which he asked his Attorney to have appraised.
     "There is nothing to appraise," said the Attorney, pocketing his last fee.
     "Then," said the Successful Claimant, "what good has all this litigation done me?"
     "You have been a good client to me," the Attorney replied, gathering up his books and papers, "but I must say you betray a surprising ignorance of the purpose of litigation."
     Ambrose Bierce, Fantastic Fables (1898)
     "The Deceased and His Heirs"


Lawyer, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Litigation, n. A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


What I need is a lawyer who specializes in the law of the jungle.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


In law, nothing is certain but the expense.
     Samuel Butler


We do not get good laws to restrain bad people. We get good people to restrain bad laws.
     G. K. Chesterton


When you go into court you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.
     Norm Crosby


A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.
     Benjamin Disraeli


... You cannot administer a wicked law impartially; you can only destroy, you can only punish. And I warn you that a wicked law, like cholera, destroys everyone it touches: its upholders as well as its defiers. ...
     Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) in Nathan E. 
     Douglas (Nedrick Young) and Harold Jacob Smith, 
     Inherit the Wind (movie, 1960)


I am a lawyer and what is a lawyer but someone hired to produce a work of fiction, which, in court, will be compared with opposing counsel's work of fiction by a judge or jury, and they will decide which fiction most closely resembles the fictional picture of the world in their respective brains and decide for one or another side and thus is justice done.
     Michael Gruber


Lawyers are the closest thing we have to a conscience in this country; without them, big government and big corporations would run roughshod over us. Unlike journalists, lawyers are held to a code of ethics and when they violate it, they can lose their butts.
     Garrison Keillor, "Ask Mr. Blue" (, September 4, 2001)


He is no lawyer who cannot take two sides.
     Charles Lamb


Lawyers are the only persons in whom ignorance of the law is not punished.
     Charles Lamb


Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.
     Charles Lamb, "On Some Of The Old Benchers"


"What do you call five hundred lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? An excellent start." I used to resent jokes like that. Now I see them as simple truths.
     Gavin (Danny DeVito) in Michael Leeson, The War of the Roses (movie, 1989)


It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.
     James Madison


You know what I say: whenever you got business trouble the best thing to do is get a lawyer. Then, you got more trouble, but at least you got a lawyer.
     Antonio (Chico Marx)
     The Marx Brothers, At the Circus (movie, 1939)


"They tell me you're a great lawyer."
"Who does? Not my clients. Certainly not the ones who were hung last week."
     Pauline (Eve Arden) and J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho Marx)
     The Marx Brothers, At the Circus (movie, 1939)


Judge — A law student who marks his own examination-papers.
     H. L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)
     "SententiŠ — The Citizen and the State"


Jury — A group of twelve men who, having lied to the judge about their hearing, health and business engagements, have failed to fool him.
     H. L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)
     "SententiŠ — The Citizen and the State"


Lawyer — One who protects us against robbers by taking away the temptation.
     H. L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)
     "SententiŠ — The Citizen and the State"


Never ask a question of a witness if you don't already know the answer.
     Old Adage


A judge is not supposed to know anything about the facts of life until they have been presented into evidence and explained to him at least three times.
     Lord Chief Justice Parker, interview, 1961


Juries scare me. I don't want to put my fate in the hands of twelve people who weren't even smart enough to get out of jury duty.
     Monica Piper


“It wasn’t until ten years ago they replaced trial by ordeal here [Uberwald] with trial by lawyer, and that was only because they found that lawyers were nastier.”
    Carrot in Terry Pratchett, The Fifth Elephant (2000)


A tree never hits an automobile except in self defense.
     American Proverb


Lawyers [are] operators of the toll bridge across which anyone in search of justice has to pass.
     Jane Bryant Quinn, Newsweek (October 9, 1975)


I got off jury duty by telling them how long it took me to decide whether or not to buy a jacket.
     Rita Rudner, Naked Beneath My Clothes: 
     Tales of a Revealing Nature


The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.
     William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 2


"We human know our past, even when we're ashamed of it. I recognize this court system as the one that agreed with the line from Shakespeare: 'Kill all the lawyers' — "
"Which was done."
"— leading to the verdict 'Guilty until proven innocent.'"
"Of course. Bringing the innocent to trial would be unfair. You will now answer to the charge of being a grievously savage race."
     Picard and Q, "Encounter At Farpoint"
     STAR TREK:  The Next Generation


"Oh, yes, I recall how you used your superior morality when we first encountered you. You put us on trial for the crimes of humanity."
"The jury’s still out on that, Picard, make no mistake."
     Picard and Q, "True Q"
     STAR TREK:  The Next Generation


You have the right to refuse to answer questions, but such refusal may be construed as a sign of guilt.
     Gul Evek, describing the Cardassian justice system, "Tribunal"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


I'm always suspicious of people who are eager to help a police officer.
     Odo, "Rules of Engagement"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


There is no such thing as an impartial jury because there are no impartial people. There are people that argue on the Web for hours about who their favorite character on Friends is.
     Jon Stewart


Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.
     Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels (1726)


It is a maxim among these lawyers, that whatever has been done before may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice and the general reason of mankind. These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities, to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never fail of directing accordingly.
     Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels (1726)
     "A Voyage To The Houyhnhnms"


The more corrupt the republic, the more numerous the laws.
     Tacitus, Annals


... the incident is valuable as preserving to us a curious sample of the quaint laws of evidence of that remote time — a time so remote, so far back toward the beginning of evolution out of original idiocy that the intellectual difference between a bench of judges and a basket of vegetables was as yet so slight that we may say with all confidence that is didn't really exist.
     Mark Twain, "Switzerland, the Cradle of Liberty" (1892)


To succeed in the other trades, capacity must be shown; in the law concealment of it will do.
     Mark Twain, Following the Equator (1897)
     Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar


Mark Twain had just finished addressing a New England society banquet when the attorney William M. Evarts stood up with his hands in his pockets, as was his custom, and remarked: "Does it not seem unusual to this gathering that a professional humorist should really appear funny?"
     Twain arose and responded in his habitual drawl: "Does it not also appear strange to this assembly that a lawyer should have his hands in his own pockets?"
     Mark Twain, Alex Ayres (ed.), The Wit 
     and Wisdom of Mark Twain


Lawyers have been known to wrest from reluctant juries triumphant verdicts of acquittal for their clients, even when those clients, as often happens, were clearly and unmistakably innocent.
     Oscar Wilde, "The Decay of Lying" (1889)


I busted a mirror and got seven years bad luck, but my lawyer thinks he can get me five.
     Steven Wright


I can't wait to be arrested and go all the way to the witness stand. "Do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you, God?" "Yes, you're ugly. See that woman in the jury? I'd really like to sleep with her. Should I keep going or are you going to ask me questions?"
     Steven Wright



Literary Offenses, and Other Artistic Crimes


Vogon poetry is of course the third worst in the Universe. The second worst is that of the Azgoths of Kria. During a recitation by their Poet Master Grunthos the Flatulent of his poem, "Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning" four of his audience died of internal hemorrhaging, and the President of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs off. Grunthos is reported to have been "disappointed" by the poem's reception, and was about to embark on a reading of his twelve-book epic entitled My Favorite Bathtime Gurgles when his own major intestine, in a desperate attempt to save life and civilization, leaped straight up through his neck and throttled his brain. The very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator, Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex, England, in the destruction of the planet Earth.
     Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979)


Several tons of dynamite are set off in this picture — none of it under the right people.
     James Agee


The ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding.
     Francis Bacon, Novum Organon (1620)


The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything.
     Walter Bagehot, Literary Studies (1879)


If publishers conceive their function to be the reduction of literature to hamburger, we should feel no guilt about barbecuing it.
     Russell Baker, Poor Russell's Almanac (1972)


Attending an unsuccessful revival of the Maeterlink play Aglavaine and Selysette, Tallulah Bankhead commented to Aleck Woollcott, "There is less in this than meets the eye."
     Tallulah Bankhead, quoted in Robert E. 
     Drennan (ed.), The Algonquin Wits (1985)


Discussing a Broadway show: "It was one of those plays in which all the actors unfortunately enunciated very clearly."
     Robert Benchley, quoted in Robert E. 
     Drennan (ed.), The Algonquin Wits (1985)


[Review of Abie's Irish Rose, a smash-hit Broadway play panned by most critics:] People laugh at this every night, which explains why democracy can never be a success.
     Robert Benchley, quoted in Robert E. 
     Drennan (ed.), The Algonquin Wits (1985)


The covers of this book are too far apart.
     Ambrose Bierce


Many thanks; I shall lose no time in reading it. [This was Disraeli's standard reply to authors who sent him unsolicited manuscripts.]
     Benjamin Disraeli


"Someone in a novel, was he not? I don't take much stock of detectives in novels — chaps that do things and never let you see how they do them. That's just inspiration: not business."
     Inspector Alec MacDonald in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Valley of Fear (1915)


... the greatest literary experience for me in 1983 was not reading this novel [Norman Mailer's Ancient Evenings] ...
     Martin Gardner, Gardner's Whys and Wherefores (1989)
     "Kickshaws II"


I have read your book and much like it.
     Moses Hadas


Thank you for sending me a copy of your book. I'll waste no time reading it. (Said in a letter)
     Moses Hadas


This book fills a much-needed gap. (Said in a review)
     Moses Hadas


All our words from loose using have lost their edge.
     Ernest Hemingway


I heard someone tried the monkeys-on-typewriters bit trying for the plays of W. Shakespeare, but all they got was the collected works of Francis Bacon.
     Bill Hirst


I don't know much about art, but I know when somebody is getting away with murder.
     Bill Hoest


People do not read stupidities with impunity.
     Victor Hugo, Les MisÚrables (1862)


Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.
     Samuel Johnson


I didn't like the play, but then I saw it under adverse conditions — the curtain was up.
     George S. Kaufman


I was underwhelmed.
     George S. Kaufman


To the author of a badly received play: "I understand your play is full of single entendre."
     George S. Kaufman


As a young theater critic and aspiring playwright, Kaufman was assigned to cover a new Broadway comedy. In his review he wrote: "There was laughter in the back of the theater, leading to the belief that someone was telling jokes back there."
     George S. Kaufman, quoted in Robert E. 
     Drennan (ed.), The Algonquin Wits (1985)


Batman Forever almost lives up to its title. I thought it would never end.
     Stanley Kauffmann


A person wants to admire persistence, but who has time to listen to it?
     Garrison Keillor, WLT: A Radio Romance (1991)


The urge to perform is not a sign of talent.
     Garrison Keillor, WLT: A Radio Romance (1991)


Also, she [Bobbi] wrote good old western stories that you could really sink your teeth into, not all full of make-believe monsters and a bunch of dirty words, like the ones that fellow who lived up Bangor wrote.
     Stephen King, The Tommyknockers (1987)


A plagiarist should be made to copy the author a hundred times.
     Karl Kraus


This film needs something. Possibly burial.
     David Lardner


Having been popular in high school should have been enough. Do not share this experience with the reading public.
     Fran Lebowitz, Metropolitan Life (1978)


Very few people possess true artistic ability. It is therefore both unseemly and unproductive to irritate the situation by making an effort. If you have a burning, restless urge to write or paint, simply eat something sweet and the feeling will pass. Your life story would not make a good book. Do not even try.
     Fran Lebowitz, Metropolitan Life (1978)


People who like this sort of thing will find this is the sort of thing they like. [Criticism of book]
     Abraham Lincoln


From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.
     Groucho Julius Marx


I would sooner read a timetable or a catalogue than nothing at all. They are much more entertaining than half the novels that are written.
     W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up (1938)


Mystical theology is a prose-offering to the Almighty; and just as it is in the nature of a living sacrifice that it should be deprived of life before being offered up to the Godhead, so a prose-offering must be deprived of — sense.
     Peter Medawar, "Science and Literature" 
     (Romanes Lecture, Encounter 32 no 1, January 1969)


In all territories of thought which science or philosophy can lay claim to, including those upon which literature has also a proper claim, no one who has something original or important to say will willingly run the risk of being misunderstood; people who write obscurely are either unskilled in writing or up to mischief.
     Peter Medawar, "Science and Literature" 
     (Romanes Lecture, Encounter 32 no 1, January 1969)


But what, I wonder, was the origin of the philosophically self-destructive belief that obscurity makes a prima-facie case for profundity? — the origin, I mean, of the comically fallacious syllogism that runs Profound reasoning is difficult to understand; this work is difficult to understand; therefore this work is profound.
     Peter Medawar, Pluto's Republic (1982), "Introduction"


Review of a book about snails: The author told me almost more than I cared to know about snails.
     H. L. Mencken


Everywhere I go, I'm asked if the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.
     Flannery O'Connor


I suppose that this is another of those young writers who are worth watching. Not reading; just watching.
     Dorothy Parker


Anyway, there is this to be said for a volume such as Professor Phelp's Happiness. It is second only to a rubber duck as the ideal bathtub companion. It may be held in the hand without causing muscular fatigue or nerve strain, it may be neatly balanced back of the faucets, and it may be read through before the water has cooled. And if it slips down the drain pipe, all right, it slips down the drain pipe.
     Dorothy Parker, "Constant Reader" 
     (The New Yorker, November 5, 1927)


Tonstant Weader Fwowed up.
     Dorothy Parker, review of A. A. Milne, 
     The House at Pooh Corner


He is beyond question a writer of power; and his power lies in his ability to make sex so thoroughly, graphically, and aggressively unattractive that one is fairly shaken to ponder how little one has been missing. Bewildered is the fox who lives to find that grapes beyond reach can be really sour.
     Dorothy Parker, "Not Even Funny" (Review of 
     An American Girl by Tiffany Thayer) ("Constant 
     Reader," The New Yorker, March 18, 1933)


Commenting on Lucius Beebe's Shoot If You Must, Mrs. Parker declared, "This must be a gift book. That is to say, a book which you wouldn't take on any other terms."
     Dorothy Parker, quoted in Robert E. 
     Drennan (ed.), The Algonquin Wits (1985)


Of the play House Beautiful Mrs. Parker commented: "House Beautiful is the play lousy."
     Dorothy Parker, quoted in Robert E. 
     Drennan (ed.), The Algonquin Wits (1985)


Reviewing a book on science, Mrs. Parker wrote, "It was written without fear and without research."
     Dorothy Parker, quoted in Robert E. 
     Drennan (ed.), The Algonquin Wits (1985)


This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
     Dorothy Parker, quoted in Robert E. 
     Drennan (ed.), The Algonquin Wits (1985)


The play is one big piece of Swiss cheese, minus the cheese.
     Frank Rich


Very nice though there are dull stretches. [Reacting to a two-line poem]
     Antoine de Rivarol


Dear Contributor: Thank you for not sending us anything lately. It suits our present needs.
     Note from publisher received by Snoopy in Charles M. Schulz, "Peanuts"


With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his. ... It would positively be a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him.
     George Bernard Shaw, Dramatic Opinions and Essays (1907)
     "Blaming the Bard"


Sturgeon's Law: Ninety percent of everything is crap.
     Theodore Sturgeon


It had only one fault. It was kind of lousy.
     James Thurber


We have thus spoken freely of this man's stupefying simplicity and innocence, but we cannot deal similarly with his colossal ignorance. We do not know where to begin. And if we knew where to begin, we certainly would not know where to leave off. [From a highly critical "review" of The Innocents Abroad, written as a joke by Twain himself. Naturally, some people took the fake review seriously.]
     Mark Twain, "An Entertaining Article" (1870)


There was some books, too, piled up perfectly exact, on each corner of the table. ... One was Pilgrim's Progress, about a man that left his family, it didn't say why. I read considerable in it now and then. The statements was interesting but tough.
     Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)


I bored through Middlemarch the past week ... and nearly died from the overwork.
     Mark Twain, letter to William Dean Howells (1885)


When the Lord finished the world, he pronounced it good. That is what I said about my first work, too. But Time, I tell you, Time takes the confidence out of these incautious early opinions. It is more than likely that He thinks about the world, now, pretty much as I think about the Innocents Abroad. The fact is, there is a trifle too much water in both.
     Mark Twain, letter to an Unidentified Person (November 6, 1886)


That is what he thinks. That is, it is what he thinks he thinks. No, that is not quite it: it is what he thinks he can stupefy a particularly and unspeakably dull reader into thinking it is what he thinks.
     Mark Twain, "In Defence of Harriet Shelley" (1894)


[James Fenimore] Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in Deerslayer, and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.
     Mark Twain, "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" (1895)


... when a person talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a Negro minstrel in the end of it. But this rule is flung down and danced upon in the Deerslayer tale.
     Mark Twain, "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" (1895)


... the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate, and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the Deerslayer tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.
     Mark Twain, "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" (1895)


He saw nearly all things as through a glass eye, darkly.
     Mark Twain, "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" (1895)


I may be mistaken, but it does seem to me that Deerslayer is not a work of art in any sense; it does seem to me that it is destitute of every detail that goes to the making of a work of art; in truth, it seems to me that Deerslayer is just simply a literary delirium tremens.
     Mark Twain, "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" (1895)


Jane Austen's books, too, are absent from this library. Just that one omission alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn't a book in it.
     Mark Twain, Following the Equator (1897)


I haven't any right to criticise books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.
     Mark Twain, letter to Joseph Twichell (September 13, 1898)


He [Professor Trent] said that Scott would outlive all his critics. The fact of the business is, you've got to be one of two ages to appreciate [Sir Walter] Scott. When you're eighteen you can read Ivanhoe. And you want to wait until you are ninety to read some of the rest. It takes a pretty well-regulated, abstemious critic to live ninety years.
     Mark Twain, "Disappearance of Literature" 
     (speech, November 20, 1900)


She [Mark Baker Eddy] has a perfectly astonishing talent for putting words together in such a way as to make successful inquiry into their intention impossible.
     Mark Twain, Christian Science (1907)


I have to write a line, lazy as I am, to say how your Poe article delighted me; and to say that I am in agreement with substantially all you say about his literature. To me his prose is unreadable — like Jane Austen's. No, there is a difference. I could read his prose on salary, but not Jane's. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.
     Mark Twain, letter to William Dean Howells 
     (Stormfield, January 18, 1909)


By and by I found that he [Webster] had agreed to resurrect Henry Ward Beecher's Life of Christ. I suggested that he ought to have tried for Lazarus, because that had been tried once and we knew it could be done.
     Mark Twain, Bernard DeVoto (ed.), 
     Mark Twain in Eruption (1940)


Once you put it down, you simply can't pick it up. [Said of a book by Henry James]
     Mark Twain, attributed; in Alex Ayres (ed.), 
     The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain (1987)


A poet who reads his verse in public may have other nasty habits.


A young poet whom Voltaire had berated for writing and publishing trash replied to him, "I've gotta live, don't I?" Voltaire responded, "I don't see the necessity."


[Review of Rousseau's Ode to Posterity:] This poem will never reach its destination.


One feels like crawling on all fours after reading your work.
     Voltaire, letter to Rousseau (August 31, 1761)


Believe us, when a man starts referring to himself in the third person, the end of the good life is not far off.
     E. B. White, The Second Tree from the Corner (1954, 1984)
     "Answers to Hard Questions"


The play was a great success but the audience was a total failure.
     Oscar Wilde


There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope.
     Oscar Wilde


A poet can survive everything but a misprint.
     Oscar Wilde, "The Children of the Poets"


Over the piano was printed a notice: "Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best." I was struck by this recognition of the fact that bad art merits the penalty of death.
     Oscar Wilde, "Personal Impressions of America (Leadville)" (1993)


I wrote a few children's books, but not on purpose.
     Steven Wright


I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done, so now I just have to fill in the rest.
     Steven Wright


I'm writing an unauthorized autobiography.
     Steven Wright