Wit and wisdom

Ninety years ago, when Beatrice and Sidney Webb founded the <em>New Statesman</em>, they pledged tha

Sidney and Beatrice Webb: It is not too much to say that, whether for good or for evil, the coming of Socialism is the outstanding feature of our time. 1913

George Bernard Shaw: Can it be possible that the fact that the man in the street is so much less sensible and direct than a dog be due to the fact that the dog does not read newspapers? 1913

George Bernard Shaw: We are a nation of governesses. 1913

Bertrand Russell: From the point of view of training the mind, of giving that well-informed, impersonal outlook which constitutes culture in the good sense of this much-misused word, it seems to be generally held indisputable that a literary education is superior to one based on science. 1913

Arnold Bennett: Many fine souls can only take the truth in very small doses, when it is the truth about someone or something they love. 1914

Walter de la Mare: There once was an old, old woman,
Who lived in a very old shoe,
And she had such numerous,
Though beautiful, children
She didn't know what to do.
So she gave them copies of the Spectator,
And told them to regard themselves as fed,
And when they complained, she cried loud in her anger:
You shall have the nineteenth century as well, she said.

Hilaire Belloc: If we are free we not only receive temporal authority, but also originate it. 1913

Leonard Woolf: It is not the duty of a democratic leader to lead, nor to choose the easy path of the emotions, his main duty is to get the crowd to think. And when a crowd begins to think, justice is done even though the heavens fall. 1916

T S Eliot: By "poetic" we often refer vaguely to a quality which may be equally desirable in poetry or prose, but which may not always be desirable in either. 1917

Aldous Huxley: Traditional religion and morality have gone by the board. In their stead, we see a vaguely personal religion and a home-made morality which consists of doing what you like and calling them, in fact, the rites of religion. 1919

Cyril Connolly: A reviewer has few epithets of praise at his command, owing to the high mortality in the vocabulary of appreciation, but of Decline and Fall he can say that though not a great book, it is a funny book, and the only one that, professionally, he has ever read twice. 1928

Cyril Connolly: The popular conception of a lady novelist is of a wildly unconventional creature giving hysterical tea parties in long white gloves and a picture hat. 1928

E M Forster: Islam has been feared, but has not yet been accepted as a civilisation; Christendom had that lesson to learn from Napoleon's day, and she has not succeeded in learning it properly yet. 1932

E M Forster: When we read about the past and try to understand the behaviour of great men, it is not so much our smallness that hinders us as our inexperience. 1937

E M Forster: Memory gives mental balance. The present is so heavy and so crude and so vulgar that something has to be thrown into the opposite scale. I throw in my own past. It may not be much, yet it is a counterweight to Mussolini, the Dorley clock, the coronation, and the incinerator. 1937

George Orwell: Our survival depends on the destruction of the present German political system. 1943

J B Priestley: What Broadcasting House needs now are a few madmen who have a flair and a passion for broadcasting. 1945

John Betjeman (on W S Gilbert): Anyone with an ear for metre and a public school accent can write this sort of facetiousness. 1946

Graham Greene (on Noel Coward): One suspects that this author, who has made a delightful corner for himself in artificial comedy, is sometimes unduly stirred by a chance contact with real human life: when he does overhear the common speech, he finds himself overwhelmed by the pathos of its very cheapness and inadequacy. 1947

Graham Greene: Literature like war produces the guerrilla of genius: the man who operates on the fringes of the real conflict, making his moving headquarters in the no-man's-land behind the enemy lines. 1951

Alex Comfort: If sadistic politicians, judges and psychiatrists had been able to beat their wives occasionally, the world might be a happier place. 1951

J B Priestley: It has been noticed lately that in addition to an economic and social rat race, we now have a sexual one. Triumphant male sex, with the girls apparently moaning for more, is now being imported from America. 1963

Marguerite Duras: Because of capitalism's astonishing prostitution of the cinema, we are confronted by a vast mountain of films which must surely be the greatest collection of rubbish of our time. 1973

Auberon Waugh: The art of journalism, it has always seemed to me, consists more than anything else in the exact judgement of what one can get away with at any given time. 1973

John Fowles: Ignorance, the sine qua non of any myth of pastoral bliss, has vanished beyond recall. One can only be a conscious peasant now. The irony is that there is a strong new middle-class desire to attempt just that; the city (above all, suburbia) is no longer an ambition but a faute de mieux. 1973

Martin Amis: Chess, with its combination of the profound and the banal, the cerebral and the spurious, its autodynamic symmetries and nebulous structures, has obvious affinities with George Steiner's criticism and thought. 1973

Martin Amis: Witness how Coleridge set about his genitals when he developed an endocele. Rather than consult a doctor he applied "fumigations of Vinegar", "Sal ammonica dissolved in verjuice", three leaches", "hot cloaths" and poultices of "bread grated & mixed up with a strong solution of Lead". Net gain? Five angry ulcers. Coleridge was the sort of man who would always come up with something to get him down. 1973

Clive James: [Kingsley] Amis is not now, nor has ever been, a true right-winger. He is a liberal appalled by the left. Nor is he a philistine: he is an artist sickened by the arty. 1974

Compiled by Adrian Cornell, Edward Howker,

Fiona Sibley and Sebastian Skeaping

A special reprint of the first issue of the New Statesman (12 April 1913) is included with this week's magazine

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