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- Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.
- The New Statesman (1933-02-25)
- Destroy him as you will, the bourgeois always bounces up — execute him, expropriate him, starve him out en masse, and he reappears in your children.
- The Observer (1937-03-07)
- Mr. Wilson does not write as one who believes in a particular religion but rather as an intellectual who is being forced more and more into accepting religion as the only solution to the problem of the Outsider. In other words, the anxiety and uneasiness, the sheer horror of being oneself in the modern world is not to be cured by reason or even of study of philosophies which set out to explain them, like Existentialism; the unpleasant symptoms have to be lived through, leading to the worst, in order that the final, mystical experience may be attained. The Outsider has it within him to become a saint. Yet, though Mr. Wilson is drawn to religion, and all his arrows point that way, he never departs from his standards of intellectual analysis.
- 'Loser Take All', Sunday Times, p. 5 (27 May 1956)
- He reduced everything to politics; he was also unalterably of the Left. His line may have been unpopular or unfashionable, but he followed it unhesitatingly; in fact it was an obsession. He could not blow his nose without moralising on conditions in the handkerchief industry.
Enemies of Promise (1938)
- Andre Deutsch Limited, ISBN 0-293-964886 Invalid ISBN
Part 1: Predicament
- I greet you, my educated fellow bourgeois, whose interests and whose doubts I share.
- Ch. 1: The Next Ten Years (p. 5)
- I shall christen this style the Mandarin, since it is beloved by literary pundits, by those who would make the written word as unlike as possible to the spoken one. It is the style of all those writers whose tendency is to make their language convey more than they mean or more than they feel, it is the style of most artists and all humbugs.
- Ch. 2: The Mandarin Dialect (p. 13)
- The Mandarin style at its best yields the richest and most complete expression of the English language. It is the diction of Donne, Browne, Addison, Johnson, Gibbon, de Quincey, Landor, Carlyle and Ruskin as opposed to that of Bunyan, Dryden, Locke, Defoe, Cowper, Cobbett, Hazlitt, Southey and Newman. It is characterized by long sentences with many dependent clauses, by the use of the subjunctive and conditional, by exclamations and interjections, quotations, allusions, metaphors, long images, Latin terminology, subtlety and conceits. Its cardinal assumption is that neither the writer nor the reader is in a hurry, that both are possessed of a classical education and a private income. It is Ciceronian English.
- Ch. 3: The Challenge to the Mandarins (p. 17-18)
- Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism what will be grasped at once, and they require separate techniques.
- Ch. 3: The Challenge of the Mandarins (p. 19)
- We write in the language of Dryden and Addison, of Milton and Shakespeare, but the intellectual world we inhabit is that of Flaubert and Baudelaire; it is to them, and not to their English contemporaries, that we owe our conception of modern life. The artist whose reward is perfection and where perfection can be obtained only by a separation of standards from those of the non-artist is led to adopt one of four rôles: the High Priest (Mallarmé, Joyce, Yeats), the Dandy (Firbank, Beerbohm, Moore), the Incorruptible Observer (Maugham, Maupassant) or the Detached Philosopher (Strachey, Anatole France). What he will not be is a Fighter or Helper.
- Ch. 4: The Modern Movement (p. 30)
- The lesson one can learn from Firbank is that of inconsequence. There is the vein which he tapped and which has not yet been fully exploited.
- Ch. 5: Anatomy of Dandyism (p. 36)
- So wrote Pater, calling an art-for-art's sake muezzin to the faithful from the topmost turret of the ivory tower.
- Ch. 5: Anatomy of Dandyism (p. 37)
- The refractory pupil of Socrates, Aristippus the Cyrene, who believed happiness to be the sum of particular pleasures and golden moments and not, as Epicurus, a prolonged intermediary state between ecstasy and pain.
- Ch. 5: Anatomy of Dandyism (p.38)
Part 2: The Charlock’s Shade
- Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first call promising.
Young writers if they are to mature require a period of between three and seven years in which to live down their promise. Promise is like the mediaeval hangman who after settling the noose, pushed his victim off the platform and jumped on his back, his weight acting a drop while his jockeying arms prevented the unfortunate from loosening the rope. When he judged him dead he dropped to the ground.
- Ch. 13: The Poppies (p. 109-110)
- There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.
- Ch. 14: The Charlock’s Shade (p. 116)
- Popular success is a palace built for a writer by publishers, journalists, admirers and professional reputation makers, in which a silent army of termites, rats, dry rot and death-watch beetles are tunnelling away, till, at the very moment of completion, it is ready to fall down. The one hope for a writer is that although his enemies are often unseen they are seldom unheard. He must listen for the death-watch, listen for the faint toc-toc, the critic's truth sharpened by envy, the embarrassed praise of a sincere friend, the silence of gifted contemporaries, the implications of the don in the manger, the visitor in the small hours. He must dismiss the builders and contractors, elude the fans with an assumed name and dark glasses, force his way off the moving staircase, subject every thing he writes to a supreme critical court. Would it amuse Horace or Milton or Swift or Leopardi? Could it be read to Flaubert? Would it be chosen by the Infallible Worm, by the discriminating palates of the dead?
- Ch. 15: The Slimy Mallows (p. 122-123)
- It is after creation, in the elation of success, or the gloom of failure, that love becomes essential.
- Ch. 16: Outlook Unsettled (p. 136)
- Failure on the other hand is infectious. The world is full of charming failures (for all charming people have something to conceal, usually their total dependence on the appreciation of others) and unless the writer is quite ruthless with these amiable footlers, they will drag him down with them.
- Ch. 16: Outlook Unsettled (p. 136-137)
- It is by a blend of lively curiosity and intelligent selfishness that the artists who wish to mature late, who feel too old to die, the Goethes, Tolstoys, Voltaires, Titians and Verdis, reach a fruitful senescence. They cannot afford to associate with those who are burning themselves up or preparing for a tragedy or whom melancholy has marked for her own. Not for them the accident-prone, the friend in whom the desire for self-destruction keeps blistering out in broken legs or threatening them in anxiety-neuroses. Not for them the drumming finger, the close-cropt nail, the chewed glasses, the pause on the threshold, the wandering eye, or the repeated ‘um’ and ‘er.’
- Ch. 16: Outlook Unsettled (p. 137)
Part 3: A Georgian Boyhood
- To this period [age seven] I trace my worst faults. Indecision, for I found that by hesitating for a long time over two toys in a shop I would be given both and so was tempted to make two alternatives always seem equally attractive; Ingratitude, for I grew so used to having what I wanted that I assumed it as a right; Laziness, for sloth is the especial vice of tyrants; the Impatience with boredom that is generated by devotion; the Cruelty which comes from a knowledge of power and the Giving way to moods, for I learnt that sulking, crying, moping and malingering were bluffs that paid.
- Ch. 18: The Branching Ogham (p. 149)
- Were I to deduce any system from my feelings on leaving Eton, it might be called The Theory of Permanent Adolescence. It is the theory that the experiences undergone by boys at the great public schools, their glories and disappointments, are so intense as to dominate their lives and arrest their development. From these it results that the greater part of the ruling class remains adolescent, school-minded, self-conscious, cowardly, sentimental, and in the last analysis homosexual.
- Ch. 24: Vale (p. 253)
- You imply our education is of no use to you in after life. But no education is. We are not an employment agency; all we can do is to give you a grounding in the art of mixing with your fellow men, to tell you what to expect from life and give you an outward manner and inward poise, an old prescription from the eighteenth century which we call a classical education, an education which confers the infrequent virtues of good sense and good taste and the benefit of dual nationality, English and Mediterranean, and which, taking into account the difficulties of modern life, we find the philosophy best able to overcome them.
- Ch. 24: Vale (p. 258)
- No education is worth having that does not teach the lesson of concentration on a task, however unattractive. These lessons, if not learnt early, will be learnt, if at all, with pain and grief in later life.
- Ch. 24: Vale (p. 259)
The Unquiet Grave (1944)
- Persea Books, 1981, ISBN 0-89255-058-9
- Beneath a mask of selfish tranquility nothing exists except bitterness and boredom. I am one of those whom suffering has made empty and frivolous: each night in my dreams I pull the scab off a wound; each day, vacuous and habit-ridden, I help it re-form.
- Part I: Ecce Gubernator (p. 6)
- 'Dry again?' said the Crab to the Rock-Pool. 'So would you be,' replied the Rock-Pool, 'if you had to satisfy, twice a day, the insatiable sea.'
- Part I: Ecce Gubernator (p. 11)
- The friendships which last are those wherein each friend respects the other's dignity to the point of not really wanting anything from him.
- Part I: Ecce Gubernator (p. 17)
- A stone lies in a river; a piece of wood is jammed against it; dead leaves, drifting logs, and branches caked with mud collect; weeds settle there, and soon birds have made a nest and are feeding their young among the blossoming water plants. Then the river rises and the earth is washed away. The birds depart, the flowers wither, the branches are dislodged and drift downward; no trace is left of the floating island but a stone submerged by the water; — such is our personality.
- Part I: Ecce Gubernator (p. 20)
- Life is a maze in which we take the wrong turning before we have learnt to walk.
- Part I: Ecce Gubernator (p. 23)
- No city should be too large for a man to walk out of in a morning.
- Part I: Ecce Gubernator (p. 35)
- Everything is a dangerous drug to me except reality, which is unendurable.
- Part I: Ecce Gubernator (p. 37)
- Imprisoned in every fat man a thin one is wildly signalling to be let out.
- Part II: Te Palinure Petens (p. 58)
- There are many who dare not kill themselves for fear of what the neighbours will say.
- Part II: Te Palinure Petens (p. 62)
- A mistake which is commonly made about neurotics is to suppose that they are interesting. It is not interesting to be always unhappy, engrossed with oneself, malignant or ungrateful, and never quite in touch with reality. Neurotics are heartless.
- Part II: Te Palinure Petens (p.64)
- The true index of a man’s character is the health of his wife.
- Part II: Te Palinure Petens (p. 64)
- Miserable Orpheus who, turning to lose his Eurydice, beholds her for the first time as well as the last.
- Part II: Te Palinure Petens (p. 70)
- Like water, we are truest to our nature in repose.
- Part III: La Clé des Chants (p. 91)
- Flaubert spoke true: to succeed a great artist must have both character and fanaticism and few in this country are willing to pay the price. Our writers have either no personality and therefore no style or a false personality and therefore a bad style; they mistake prejudice for energy and accept the sensation of material well-being as a system of thought.
- Part III: La Clé des Chants (p. 93)
- Ridiculous as may seem the dualities of conflict at a given time, it does not follow that dualism is a worthless process. The river of truth is always splitting up into arms that reunite. Islanded between them, the inhabitants argue for a lifetime as to which is the mainstream.
- Part III: La Clé des Chants (p. 98)
- Variant: Truth is a river that is always splitting up into arms that reunite. Islanded between the arms, the inhabitants argue for a lifetime as to which is the main river.
- As quoted in The International Thesaurus of Quotations (1970) compiled by Rhoda Thomas Tripp. This version has also appeared in earlier published sources, but it may be a misquotation.
- There is no hate without fear. Hate is crystallized fear, fear's dividend, fear objectivized. We hate what we fear and so where hate is, fear will be lurking. Thus we hate what threatens our person, our liberty, our privacy, our income, our popularity, our vanity and our dreams and plans for ourselves. If we can isolate this element in what we hate we may be able to cease from hating. Analyse in this way the hatred of ideas or of the kind of people whom we have once loved and whose faces are preserved in Spirits of Anger. Hate is the consequence of fear; we fear something before we hate; a child who fears noises becomes the man who hates them.
- Part III: La Clé des Chants (p.103)
- Melancholy and remorse form the deep leaden keel which enables us to sail into the wind of reality; we run aground sooner than the flat-bottomed pleasure-lovers but we venture out in weather that would sink them and we choose our direction.
- Part III: La Clé des Chants (p.115)
The Condemned Playground (1945)
- Vulgarity is the garlic in the salad of charm.
- "Told in Gath" (a parody of Aldous Huxley)
- "Man axalotl here below but I ask very little. Some fragments of Pamphylides, a Choctaw blood-mask, the prose of Scaliger the Elder, a painting by Fuseli, an occasional visit to the all-in wrestling, or to my meretrix; a cook who can produce a passable 'poulet à la Khmer,' a Pong vase. Simple tastes, you will agree, and it is my simple habit to indulge them!"
- "Told in Gath"
- Peace ... is a morbid condition, due to a surplus of civilians, which war seeks to remedy.
- "What Will He Do Next?" (a lampoon on military analysis)
Quotes about Cyril Connolly
- We are now living in an age of literary exhaustion; we get used to the bleak landscape. Cyril Connolly said that the writer's business is to produce masterpieces; but what masterpieces have been produced in the past fifty years?
- Colin Wilson in Tree By Tolkien, p. 11 (1974)