The Baroque Cycle

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Why Baroque? Because it is set in the Baroque, and it is baroque. Why Cycle? Because I am trying to avoid the T-word…Having said that, I know everyone's going to call it a trilogy anyway.

The Baroque Cycle is a series of three novels by Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver (2003), The Confusion (2004) and The System of the World (2004), concerning scientific discovery, global commerce and the struggles among European and Asian powers between 1649 and 1714. Many of the series' characters are ancestors of characters (or bear the same surname) from Stephenson's 1999 novel, Cryptonomicon (set in the mid and late 20th Century).

  • Why Baroque? Because it is set in the Baroque, and it IS baroque. Why Cycle? Because I am trying to avoid the T-word ("trilogy"). In my mind this work is something like 7 or 8 connected novels. These have been lumped together into three volumes because it is more convenient from a publishing standpoint, but they could just as well have been put all together in a single immense volume or separated into 7 or 8 separate volumes. So to slap the word "trilogy" on it would be to saddle it with a designation that is essentially bogus. Having said that, I know everyone's going to call it a trilogy anyway.
    • Baroque Cycle entry in now-defunct MetaWeb

Volume one: Quicksilver (2003)


About Quicksilver

Book One: Quicksilver


(Not to be confused with the "volume" Quicksilver of which the "book" Quicksilver is part one.)

Enoch had made himself something of an expert on longevity...had tried to develop the knack of edging around people's perceptions like one of those dreams that does not set itself firmly in memory, and is flushed into oblivion by the first thoughts and sensations of the day.
Among fine stone sea-merchants' houses, there is a brick-red door with a bunch of grapes dangling above it. Enoch goes through that door and finds himself in a good tavern. Men with swords and expensive clothes turn round to look at him.
  • He hadn't really known what to expect of America. But people here seem to do things—hangings included—with a blunt, blank efficiency that's admirable and disappointing at the same time. Like jumping fish, they go about difficult matters with bloodless ease. As if they were all born knowing things that other people must absorb, along with faery-tales and superstitions, from their families and villages. Maybe it is because most of them came over on ships.
    • "Enoch in Boston, 1713" (Boston Common, October 12, 1713, 10:33:52 a.m.)
  • Among fine stone sea-merchants' houses, there is a brick-red door with a bunch of grapes dangling above it. Enoch goes through that door and finds himself in a good tavern. Men with swords and expensive clothes turn round to look at him. Slavers, merchants of rum and molasses and tea and tobacco, and captains of the ships that carry those things. It could be any place in the world, for the same tavern is in London, Cadiz, Smyrna, and Manila, and the same men are in it. None of them cares, supposing they even knew, that witches are being hanged five minutes' walk away.
  • "Do I look like a schoolmaster to you?"
"No, but you talk like one."
"You know something of schoolmasters, do you?"
"Yes, sir," the boy says, faltering a bit as he sees the jaws of the trap swinging toward his leg.
"Yet here it is the middle of Monday—"
"The place was empty 'cause of the Hanging. I didn't want to stay and—"
"And what?"
"Get more ahead of the others than I was already."
"If you are ahead, the correct thing is to get used to it—not to make yourself into an imbecile. Come, you belong in school."
  • Enoch Root and 8-year-old Benjamin Franklin, "Enoch in Boston, 1713"
  • "So you see, Ben, journeying via Paris might have been roundabout, but it was infinitely safer. Besides, people in Paris had been pestering me, too, and they had more money than Mr. Clarke. So Mr. Clarke had to get in line, as they say in New York."
    • Enoch Root to Benjamin Franklin, "Enoch in Boston, 1713"
  • The old stars-and-moons act was a good way to farm the unduly trusting. But the need to raise money in the first place seemed to call into question one's own ability to turn lead into gold.
    • "Enoch in England, 1655"
  • Enoch had made himself something of an expert on longevity...had tried to develop the knack of edging around people's perceptions like one of those dreams that does not set itself firmly in memory, and is flushed into oblivion by the first thoughts and sensations of the day.
    • "Enoch in England, 1655"
  • "But Enoch knew that the alchemists of Europe were men just like Clarke--hoping, and dreading, that Enoch would return with the news that some English savant, working in isolation, had found the trick of refining, for the base, dark, cold, essential foecal matter of which the world was made, the Philosophick Mercury--the pure living essense of God's power and presence in the world--the key to the transmutation of metals, the attainment of immortal life and perfect wisdom.
    • "Enoch in England, 1655"
None of them cares, supposing they even knew, that witches are being hanged five minutes' walk away.
  • "Talent was not rare; the ability to survive having it was."
    • Enoch observes a six-year-old Isaac Newton; "Enoch in England, 1655"
  • "My father, Drake, educated me for one reason alone," Daniel finally says. "To assist him in his preparations for the Apocalypse. He reckoned it would occur in the year 1666—Number of the Beast and all that... When I came of age, I would be a man of the cloth, with the full university education, well versed in many dead classical languages, so that I could stand on the Cliffs of Dover and personally welcome Jesus Christ back to England in fluent Aramaic."
  • Daniel Waterhouse does not own slaves.... So little Godfrey sits on the lap, not of some Angolan negress, but of their neighbor: the daft but harmless Mrs. Goose, who comes into their home occasionally to do the one thing that she apparently can do: to entertain children by spouting all manner of nonsensical stories and doggerel that she has collected or invented.... Many words are said, but they make no more impact on Daniel than Mrs. Goose's incoherent narratives about cutlery leaping over cœlestial bodies and sluttish hags living in discarded footwear.
    • "Daniel Departs from Boston," 1713
  • ... but he knows that this ungainly moment will be edited from The Story that will one day live in the memories of the American Waterhouses. The Story is in excellent hands. Mrs. Goose has come along to watch and memorize, and she has a creepy knack for that kind of thing....
    • "Daniel Departs from Boston," 1713
  • "But they had, perversely, been living among people who were peering into the wrong end of the telescope, or something, and who had convinced themselves that the opposite was true--that the world had once been a splendid, orderly place--that men had made a reasonably trouble-free move from the Garden of Eden to the Athens of Plato and Aristotle, stopping over in the Holy Land to encrypt the secrets of the Universe in the pages of the Bible, and that everything had been slowly, relentlessly falling apart ever since."
    • "Aboard Minerva, Massachusetts Bay, October 1713"
  • "If we have a duty to be alert for the signs of the End Times, then let me go, Father. For if the signs are comets, then the first to know will be the astronomers. If the signs are plague, the first to know—"
    "—will be physicians. Yes, I understand. But are you suggesting that those who study natural philosophy can acquire some kind of occult knowledge—special insight into God's Creation, not available to the common Bible-reading man?"
    "Er ... I suppose that's quite clearly what I'm suggesting."
    Drake nodded. "That is what I thought. Well, God gave us brains for a reason—not to use those brains would be a sin."
    • "Plague Year: Drake and Daniel at Home"
  • "It is not skepticism for its own sake, Father. Simply an awareness that we are prone to error, and that it is difficult to view anything impartially."
    "That is fine when you are talking about comets."
    "I'll not discuss religion, then. Good-bye, Father."
    "God be with you, Daniel."
    • "Plague Year: Drake and Daniel at Home"
  • "It is a symbol of Mercury--patron of commerce--who has been worshipped in this cellar--and in this city--for a thousand years, by Bishops as well as business-men. It is a cult that adapts itself to any religion, just as easily as quicksilver adapts itself to any container."
    • Mr. Ham, in reference to a caduceus. "Plague Year: Daniel in London"
  • "I tell you again. True beauty is to be found in natural forms. The more we magnify, and the closer we examine, the works of Artifice, the grosser and stupider they seem. But if we magnify the natural world it only becomes more intricate and excellent."
Set above the door was a coat of arms carved into the stone: on a blank shield, a pair of human thigh-bones crossed.
  • Set above the door was a coat of arms carved into the stone: on a blank shield, a pair of human thigh-bones crossed. A Jolly Roger, minus skull. Daniel sat on his horse and contemplated its sheer awfulness for a while and savored the dull, throbbing embarrassment of being English.
    • "Daniel and Isaac at Woolsthorpe" [The blazon or formal description of the Newton family crest is "sable, two shinbones in saltire Argent (the dexter surmounted of the sinister)."]
  • Not that he was doing a good job of being sneaky. Isaac [Newton] was accustomed to being so much brighter than everyone else that he really had no idea of what others were or weren't capable of. So when he got it into his head to be tricky, he came up with tricks that would not deceive a dog.
    • "Daniel at Charing Cross"
  • "When we look at the canvas, then, we glimpse in a small way how God understands the universe—for he sees it from every point of view at once. By populating the world with so many different minds, each with its own point of view, God gives us a suggestion of what it means to be omniscient."
    • Gottfried Leibniz, discussing paintings of distant cities with Daniel, "Daniel and Leibniz Meet"
  • "I believe that binary arithemetickal engines will be of enormous significance"
    • Wilkins, "Wilkins on his Deathbed"
  • "The responsibility now falls upon you to make it all happen."
    "My Lord? To make what happen?"
    But Wilkins was either dead or asleep.
    • Daniel’s final conversation with John Wilkins, “Wilkins on His Deathbed”
  • Waterhouse: "Now, if you--the ingenious Dr. Leibniz--contrive a machine that gives the impression of thinking--is that really thinking, or merely reflecting your genius?"
    Leibniz: "You could as well have asked: are we thinking? Or merely reflecting God's genius?"
    Waterhouse: "If we are mere mechanisms, obeying rules laid down by God, then all of our actions are predestined, and we are not really thinking."
    Leibniz: "This is one of the two great labryrinths into which human minds are drawn: the question of free will versus predestination. You were raised to believe in the latter. You have rejected it--which must have been a great spiritual struggle--and become a thinker. You have adopted a modern, mechanical philosophy. But that philosophy now seems to be leading you back towards predestination."
    • excerpted, "Daniel and Leibniz Discourse (1)"

Book Two: King of the Vagabonds

One of those moments had arrived: Jack had been presented with the opportunity to be stupid in some way that was much more interesting than being shrewd would've been. Image: Battle of Vienna, 1683
  • One of those moments had arrived: Jack had been presented with the opportunity to be stupid in some way that was much more interesting than being shrewd would've been. These moments seemed to come to Jack every few days. They almost never came to Bob…. Jack had been expecting such a moment to arrive today. He'd supposed, until moments ago, that it had already come: namely, when he decided to mount the horse and ride after the ostrich. But here was a rare opportunity for stupidity even more flagrant and glorious. … Bob was convinced that the Imp of the Perverse rode invisibly on Jack's shoulder whispering bad ideas into his ear, and that the only counterbalance was Bob himself…
    But Bob was in England.
    • Jack Shaftoe's decision [without the benefit of his brother's supervision] to rescue a harem girl, Eliza, from summary execution; “Relief of Vienna
  • It turned out that if you did the mathematicks on a typical war, the cost of powder was more important than just about anything else — Herr Geidel insisted that the gunpowder in the arsenal of Venice, for example, was worth more than the annual revenue of the entire city. This explained a lot of oddness Jack had witnessed in various campaigns and forced him to reconsider (briefly) his opinion that all officers were mad.
    • Leipzig, April 1684,"Herr Geidel, His Mines and Mint." Footnote to a discussion on how the value of silver changes inversely to the value of gunpowder.
  • "He's rich," Jack muttered to Eliza, "or connected with rich persons."
    "Yes—the clothes, the coins ..."
    "All fakeable."
    "How do you know him to be rich, then?"
    "In the wilderness, only the most terrible beasts of prey cavort and gambol. Deer and rabbits play no games."
    • Leipzig, April 1684, "The Doctor"
  • Formerly a prosperous industry, upon which the fortunes of great families such as the Fuggers and Hacklhebers were founded, silver mining was laid low by the Thirty Years' War and the discovery, by the Spaniards, of very rich deposits at Potosi in Peru and Guanajuato in Mexico.
  • "Is it a good yarn?"
    "It is not a narrative. It is a mathematical technique so advanced that only two people in the world understand it," the Doctor said. "When published, it will bring about enormous changes in not only mathematics, but all forms of natural philosophy and engineering. People will use it to build machines that fly through the air like birds, and that travel to other planets, and its very power and brilliance will sweep old, tottering, worn-out systems of thought into the dustbin.”
    "And you invented it, Doctor?" Eliza asked, as Jack was occupied making finger-twirling movements in the vicinity of his ear.
    "Yes—seven or eight years ago."
    "And still no one knows about it, besides—"
    "Me, and the other fellow."
    "Why haven't you told the world about it?"
    "Because it seems the other fellow invented it ten years before I did, and didn't tell anyone."
    • Saxony, late April 1684, “Acta Eruditorum.” Leibniz attempts to explain the importance of the calculus to Jack.
  • "Why today? Because I do not believe God put me on this earth, and gave me either the best or second-best mind currently in existence, so that I could dig a large hole in the ground," the Doctor said. "I don't want my epitaph to be, 'He brought the price of silver down one-tenth of one percent.'"
    • Saxony, late April 1684, “An Inn of Saxony.” Leibniz, on his resolve to release his “Nova methodus pro maximis et minimis” (the calculus) for publication in Acta Eruditorum.
Jack drew nearer to a fire, partly because he was cold and partly because he wanted a closer look at one particular naked girl who was dancing around it.
  • On the principle that you never know when you'll find food again, he gestured for more, and they somewhat reluctantly handed him a second ladle, and uneasily watched him drink it…it had chunks of mushrooms or something on the bottom that might give some nourishment…People, frequently naked, danced around bonfires. A certain amount of fucking went on, as one would expect, but at least some of it seemed to be ceremonial fucking. Certain small animals might have died unnatural deaths. There was chanting and singing in a language that wasn't exactly German. Of course, presiding over the entire thing was Satan the Prince of Darkness, or so Jack assumed — as what else would you call a jet-black figure, horned and bearded, maybe a hundred feet high, dancing in the boiling, smoky, cloudy sky just above the summit?
    • The Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht 1684, Jack tries to interpret the shadow of a goat projected onto a cloud during the rites of Hexennacht (Witches' Night).
  • It being one of the many peculiar features of Jack's upbringing that…at the age when every boy engages in mock sword-fight, he and Bob happened to suddenly find themselves living in a military barracks, where their duels served as free entertainment for large numbers of men who actually did know a few things about fighting with swords, and who found the entertainment lacking if it was not well played…The result being that from a young age the Shaftoe boys had sword-fighting abilities considerably above their station in life (most people like them never came into contact with a sword at all, unless it was with the edge of the blade in the last instant of their life).
    • The Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht 1684, footnote.
  • Elsewhere, the same amount of labor might've made a keg of butter or a week's worth of firewood; here it was spent on raising a block several inches, so that it could be carted into the city and raised by other workers, higher and higher, so that Parisians could have rooms higher than they were wide, and windows taller than the trees they looked out at. Paris was a city of stone, the color of bone, beautiful and hard — you could dash yourself against it and never leave a mark. It was built, so far as Jack could tell, on the principle that there was nothing you couldn't accomplish if you crowded a few tens of millions of peasants together on the best land in the world and then never stopped raping their brains out for a thousand years.
    • The Dutch Republic, 1684 “The Entresol,” Jack Shaftoe's reflections as he proceeds into Paris.
  • Jack was finally going mad, and it was a small comfort to know that he'd picked the right city for it.
    • The Dutch Republic, 1684 “The Entresol,” Jack’s “French pox” reaches an advanced stage in Paris.
  • "What's troubling you, then? I daresay you are the brooding-est fellow I have ever seen."
    "These chairs."
    "Did I hear you correctly, sir?"
    "Look at them," Gomer Bolstrood said, in a voice hollow with despair. "Those who built this estate had no shortage of money, of that you can be sure—but the furniture! It is either stupid and primitive, like this ogre's throne I'm seated on.... I could make better chairs in an afternoon, drunk, given a shrub and a jackknife."
    • Paris, winter of 1684-1685, "Eliza and Gomer." The future New England furniture legend is briefly distracted from his Puritan political mission.
  • "I knew we'd reach this point in the conversation, Jack — the point where you accused me of being a traitor to my country and my religion — and so I'm ready for it, and I'm actually not going to cut your head off…I suppose I could reveal to you my innermost thoughts about what it's like to be a Protestant patriot in thrall to a Catholic King who loves France, but life is short, and I intend to spend as little of it as possible standing in dark stables apologizing to shit-covered Vagabonds.… Try to concentrate. You're a galley slave chained to a post in a stable in Paris. Be troubled by that."
  • Jack whipped the chain out of the fire and got it round his neck. It was stranglin' time in gay Paree.
    • Paris, spring 1685, “The Stables of Arcachon.”
  • But he mastered his rage, and answered in a tight voice: "Understand: Louis is not like us—he does not trifle with reasons. He is a reason. Which is why he must be destroyed.”
    "And it's your ambition to do the destroying?"
    "Humor me, girl, by using the word 'destiny' instead of 'ambition.'"
  • "Godspeed? Godspeed! What kind of a thing is that to say to a fucking galley-slave?"
    • Coast of Europe and of Northern Africa, 1685 "Barbary Corsairs," Jack to Mr. Foot.

Book Three: Odalisque

  • "It is an error for you to feign modesty when you are talking to me," the King said, firmly but not angrily.
    I saw my error. We use humility when we fear that someone will consider us a rival or a threat; and while this may be true of common or even noble men, it can never be true of le Roi and so to use humility in His Majesty's presence is to imply that the King shares the petty jealousies and insecurities of others.
    "Forgive me for being foolish, Sire."
    "Never; but I forgive you for being inexperienced.”
    • Eliza, recounting her conversation with Louie XIV in a letter to Jean Antoine de Mesmes, comte d'Avaux, 25 September 1685, “A Visit from le Roi
  • "He is still alive, I see," Roger mused. "If Hooke spent any more time lingering at Death's door, Satan himself would have the man ejected for vagrancy. Yet just as I am wondering whether I can make time for his funeral, I learn from Sources that he is campaigning like a French regiment through every whorehouse in Whitechapel."
"I am only trying to recover what Solomon knew," Isaac said.
  • "I am only trying to recover what Solomon knew," Isaac said.
    "I can't help but wonder if you — perhaps even I — don't know a hell of a lot more about practically every subject than Solomon ever did," Daniel said.
    Isaac said nothing for a moment, but something about his silhouette looked wounded, or sad.
  • "It's right there in the Bible, Daniel. First chapter: the Garden of Eden. Last chapter: the Apocalypse."
    "I know, I know, the world started out perfectly good and has gotten worse and worse since then, and the only question is how bad will it get before God brings down the curtain. I was raised to believe that this tendency was as fixed and unavoidable as gravity, Isaac. But the Apocalypse did not come in 1666."
    "It will occur not long after 1867," Isaac said. "That is the year when the Beast will fall."
    "Most Anglican cranks are guessing 1700 for the demise of the Catholic Church."
    "It is not the only way that the Anglicans are wrong."
    • "Isaac at Work"
"If Solomon knew all of this, why didn't he just come out and say, 'The sun is in the middle of the solar system and planets go round about it in ellipses?'"
"I believe he did say so, in the design of his temple."
  • "If Solomon knew all of this, why didn't he just come out and say, 'The sun is in the middle of the solar system and planets go round about it in ellipses?'"
    "I believe he did say so, in the design of his temple."
    "Yes, but why are God and Solomon alike so damned oblique in everything? Why not just come out and say it?"
    “… If you were to use me thus in a letter, I would conclude you were in the employ of the Beast, as some say you are."
    "What, merely for suggesting that the world does something other than rot?"
    • Daniel and Isaac, "Isaac at Work"
  • "Where do we find God in the world? That is all I want to know. I have not found Him yet. But when I see anything that does not rot — the workings of the solar system, or a Euclidean proof, or the perfection of gold — I sense I am drawing nearer to the Divine."
    • Isaac Newton to Waterhouse, "Isaac at Work"
  • "Burning books…is that not a favorite practice of the Spanish Inquisition?"
    "I have never been to Spain, Sir Richard, and so the only way I know that they burn books is because of the vast number of books that have been published on the subject."
  • "What!? Jack Ketch's performance made no impression on you at all?"
    "Oh, that? I assume you arranged it that way in order to buttress your position as the King's token Puritan bootlick — whilst in fact stirring rebellious spirits in the hearts and minds of the rich and powerful. Forgive me for not tossing out a compliment. Twenty years ago I'd have admired it, but by my current standards it is only a modestly sophisticated ploy."
    • Daniel and Roger, "A Scene at the Exchange"
  • "She said a lot then, in five words of French."
    "She was pithy, for she credits me with wit. I am discursive, for I can extend you no such consideration."
  • "I do not think you see what we can make of England now if we only try. I was brought up to believe that an Apocalypse was coming. I have not believed that for many years. But the people who believe in that Apocalypse are my people, and their way of thinking is my way. … there is something to the idea of an Apocalypse—a sudden changing of all, an overthrow of old ways—and that Drake and the others merely got the particulars wrong, they fixed on a date certain, they, in a word, idolized. If idolatry is to mistake the symbol for the thing symbolized, then that is what they did with the symbols that are set down in the Book of Revelation.”
    • “Daniel to William Penn; “Daniel and Penn”
But now there was a sail on the sand: a triangle of canvas, stretched drum-tight by the wet wind off the sea. Below it hovered a spidery rig of timbers with spoked wagon-wheels at their ends. It rushed past Eliza, moving faster than any horse could gallop.
  • "... those two belong to a common sect, or something—they knew and recognized each other. They dislike each other and work at cross-purposes but betrayal, corruption, any straying from whatever common path they have chosen, these are inconceivable. Is it the same sect as Gomer Bolstrood?"
    "No and yes. The Puritans are like Hindoos—impossibly various, and yet all of a type."
    • "William and Eliza Discourse of the Englishmen"
  • "Your fascination with Negroes is very odd. But I have observed that the best people are frequently odd in one way or another. I have got in the habit of seeking them out, and declining to trust anyone who has no oddities. Your queer ideas concerning slavery are of no interest to me whatever. But the fact that you harbor queer ideas makes me inclined to place some small amount of trust in you."
    • "William and Eliza Discourse of the Englishmen"
  • "I would wager he had a father who was very strong, probably older brothers, too. That he has been checked and baffled many times, never married, never enjoyed even the small homely success of having a child, and has come to that time in his life when he must make his mark, or fail. This has become all confused, in his thinking, with the coming rebellion against the English King. He has decided to gamble his life on it—not in the sense of living or dying, but in the sense of making something of his life, or not."
    William winced. "I pray you never see that deep into me. …there is a placid cruelty about you."
    "About me? What of you? To fight wars is kindness?"
    "Most men would rather be shot through with a broad-headed arrow than be described by you."
    • Eliza describes Daniel, based on one overheard conversation; **"William and Eliza Discourse of the Englishmen"
  • “So, all hail Isaac Newton! Let us give him his due, and glorify and worship whatever generative force can frame such a mind. Now, consider Hooke. Hooke has perceived things that no man before has ever perceived. … Newton makes his discoveries in geometrickal realms where our minds cannot go, he strolls in a walled garden filled with wonders, to which he has the only key. But you, Hooke, are cheek-by-jowl with all of humanity in the streets of London. … You are the millionth human to look at a spark, a flea, a raindrop, the moon, and the first to see it. For anyone to say that this is less remarkable than what Newton has done, is to understand things in but a hollow and jejune way, 'tis like going to a Shakespeare play and remembering only the sword-fights."
    • Daniel Waterhouse to Robert Hooke, “Daniel in the Tower”
  • "This may not however elevate your stature during the years you have remaining; for fame's a weed, but repute is a slow-growing oak, and all we can do during our lifetimes is hop around like squirrels and plant acorns.”
    • Daniel Waterhouse to Robert Hooke, “Daniel in the Tower”
  • "Ah but since — since you've been immured here — why, the King has begun to fall apart."
    "So far I've learned nothing remarkable, sergeant, other than that there is a sergeant in the King's service who actually knows how to use the word 'immured.'"
    • Bob Shaftoe and Daniel Waterhouse, "Daniel in the Tower"
  • When Newton encounters a truth — such as the inverse square law of gravity—he does not even consider trying to understand it, but instead says that the world simply is this way, because that is how God made it. To his way of thinking, any truths of nature lie outside the realm of Natural Philosophy and belong to a realm he thinks is best approached through the study of alchemy.
    Let me tell you why Newton is wrong.
    • "Daniel reads a letter from Leibniz"
"Nor am I of a humour to be rated a hobgoblin or any other figment of the humane imagination; for 'twas God who imagined me, just as He did you, and thereby brought us into being."
— Enoch Root
  • "Shall we then say, like Newton, that all such truths are made arbitrarily by God? Shall we seek truths in the occult? For if God has laid these rules down arbitrarily, then they are occult by nature. To me, this notion is offensive; it seems to cast God in the role of a capricious despot who desires to hide the truth from us. In some things, such as the Pythagorean Theorem, God may not have had any choice when He created the world. In others, such as the inverse square law of gravity, He may have had choices; but in such cases, I like to believe he would have chose wisely and according to some coherent plan that our minds--insofar that they are in God's image--are capable of understanding.
  • "Revolution is like the wheeling of stars round the pole. It is driven by unseen powers, it is inexorable, it moves all things at once, and men of discrimination may understand it, predict it, benefit from it."
    • Waterhouse; "Carver and Gripp"
  • ”Is longevity much on your mind, Mr. Waterhouse?"
    "It is on the mind of every man. And I am a man. Who or what are you?"
    Enoch had got a look as if he were trying to be patient—which was not the same as being patient. "There's a certain unexamined arrogance to your question, Daniel. … you presume it is all perfectly natural and pre-ordained that the earth should be populated by men, whose superstitions ought to be the ruler by which all things are judged; but why might I not ask of you, 'Daniel Waterhouse, who or what are you? And why does Creation teem with others like you, and what is your purpose?' … Nor am I of a humour to be rated a hobgoblin or any other figment of the humane imagination; for 'twas God who imagined me, just as He did you, and thereby brought us into being."
    • Enoch Root and Daniel Waterhouse; “The House of LeFebure”
  • When he and Hooke and Wilkins had cut open live dogs during the Plague Year, Daniel had looked into their straining brown eyes and tried to fathom what was going on in their minds. He'd decided, in the end, that nothing was, that dogs had no conscious minds, no thought of past or future, living purely in the moment, and that this made it worse for them. Because they could neither look forward to the end of the pain, nor remember times when they had chased rabbits across meadows.
    Hooke took up his blade and reached for Daniel.
    • Daniel Waterhouse's last thoughts before undergoing bladder stone surgery; "A farewell party"
  • Entries that are relatively reliable, according to scholarly sources, are in Roman type. Entries in italics contain information that is more likely to produce confusion, misunderstanding, severe injury, and death if relied upon by time travelers visiting the time and place in question.
    • “Dramatis Personae” (appendix)

Volume two: The Confusion (2004)


About The Confusion Please note: This volume contains the fourth and fifth "books" of the Baroque Cycle, but the Author or his Publisher broke up and reshuffled them together to create alternating, parallel plot lines — rather than present them as separate, consecutive stories (as in the other two volumes). The quotes below are presented in order of their appearance within their respective books, not in the alternating order in which they appear in The Confusion. (Gentle readers who find such diffusion of The Confusion confounding may Apply their Complaints within.)

Book 4: Bonanza

  • “‘Moses of the Cross?’ What the hell kind of name is that?”
    Moseh did not appear to find it especially funny. “It is a long story—even by your standards, Jack. Suffice it to say that the Iberian Peninsula is a complicated place to be Jewish.”
    • "Jack and Company in Algiers," October 1689
  • “Tied up alongside one of the great ships is a barque flying the glorious colors of His Majesty the Deformed, Monstrous Imbecile.” Then he paused to mutter a little prayer and cross himself. When Jeronimo attemped to say the words “King Carlos II of Spain,” this, or even less flattering expressions, would frequently come out of his mouth. “More than likely, this is the boat used by the tapeworms.”
    • "The Gulf of Cadiz," 5 August 1690
  • The next few hours provided more reminders of their lowly station in the world as they stroked upstream with the sun clawing at their faces. Van Hoek cursed almost without letup, and Jack reflected that, for an officer, nothing could be more humiliating than to face backwards, and never see where you were headed.
    • "The Gulf of Cadiz," 5 August 1690
Now Cairo was a sort of accomplice in everything that happened there. It was large enough to engulf any army, and wise enough to comprehend any Plan, and old enough to’ve outlived whole races, nations, and religions.
  • Now Cairo was a sort of accomplice in everything that happened there. It was large enough to engulf any army, and wise enough to comprehend any Plan, and old enough to’ve outlived whole races, nations, and religions. So nothing could really happen there without the city’s consent.
    Even if Jack had not known, when he’d disembarked from the galleot, that Egypt was the world’s oldest country, he’d have figured it out after an hour’s slow progress through Cairo’s streets. …all the space had been claimed, and there was nothing to do but shift the available materials from one site to another, much as the Nile continually built and dissolved the sand-bars of the Delta…
    Cairo was like the bottom of a vast pit whence the inhabitants had been madly trying to escape for thousands of years, and the only way out was to dig up clay, quarry limestone, and tear down empty houses and defenseless monuments, and pile the proceeds ever higher.
    • "Cairo," September 1690
  • “Very good then,” said Surendranath, “You have shown extreme wisdom in establishing your batna.”
    “Avast! We are all People of the Book here, and have no use for your idolatrous claptrap,” said Jeronimo.
    “Steady there, Caballero,” said Jack, “I know from personal experience that Books of India contain much of interest. What else can you tell us about this batna, Surendranath?”
    “I learnt it from English traders in Surat,” said the befuddled Surendranath, “It stands for 'Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement.'”
    A recess, now, as the phrase was translated into diverse languages.
  • Padraig, the big Irishman, stepped forward and spat into the fire. “We’ve a saying,” he said to Jack in English. “'Is this a private fight, or can anyone join in?' Well, I’m in, which ought to suffice. But if you want me to swear by something, then I do swear on my mother’s grave above the sea in Kilmacthomas, and damn you if you think that’s not as good as being a samurai.”
  • But these Moguls, like conquerors everywhere, had a keen sense of how to profit from local controversies, and their dark eyes were wide open…examining the guilty parties.
    Surendranath was obviously a Banyan, which was to say that he and his lineage had been more or less condemned by God to engage in foreign trade and make vast amounts of money all their lives.
    Jack, on the other hand, was a Frank wearing a snatch of leather held on by a crusty thong wedged up his butt-crack. The numerous scars on his back testified to his having been in trouble before—a nearly inconceivable amount of trouble.
    • "Jack in Ahmadabad," September 1693
  • Industrious monkeys had evidently been opening up bird-cages. The entire Flamingo Ward emerged at once. It looked as if a hogshead of fuchsia paint had been spilled down the steps of the hospital. Most of them were in for broken wings, so all they could do was mill around until one of them appointed himself leader and led them away on a random migration into the Habitation of Dust, pursued or accompanied by a couple of Japalura lizards making eerie booming noises.
    • "Jack in Ahmadabad," September 1693
  • “Northeast…so our destination is Shahjahanabad?” Jack inquired.
    “He would prefer to say Delhi,” Padraig put in, after Surendranath failed to answer.
    “Of course, because he is a Hindoo, and Shahjahanabad is the Mogul name,” Jack said. “Leave it to an Irishman.”
    “The English have given our cities any number of inventive names,” Padraig allowed.
    • "Kathiawar," September 1693
  • When several elephants with razor-sharp blades all over their tusks decide to pirouette in the midst of a tightly packed mob, there is apt to be disorder, and such was the case now; Jack…could infer as much from the vocalizations of the Marathas, which sounded like every Italian opera ever written being sung at once.
    • "The Road to Narmada," October 1693
  • “But you have not actually conducted an offensive operation against him in years.”
    “What, I’m besieging his citadel.”
    “You call it a Siege—others would describe it as a very long Picnic.”
    • "Jack Inspects His Realm in Hindoostan," late 1696
  • “Who the hell is that man in the robe, and why is he eating my saltpeter?” demanded Sword of Divine Fire. Everyone looked over to see that, indeed, a figure in a long off-white robe—a cross between a Frankish monk’s robe and an Arab djellaba—was nibbling at a handful of saltpeter-slush that he’d scooped up from one of the trays. … As he drew closer to the robed man, Jack was surprised—but then again, not really—to observe a red beard.
    • "Jack Inspects His Realm in Hindoostan," late 1696
  • “Did you bring the thing I asked for?”
    “We will speak of that later,” Enoch said judiciously. “But I did bring two things you should have asked for, and forgot to.”
    “Hmm, let me think…I love riddles…a replacement penis, and a keg of decent beer?”
    • "Jack Inspects His Realm in Hindoostan," late 1696
  • Jack laughed. “If it’s privacy you want, you’re in the wrong subcontinent.”
    • "Jack Inspects His Realm in Hindoostan," late 1696
We captured fragments of such weapons and brought them back to Christendom to find out their secrets…Nothing whatsoever was learned, except the depth of our own ignorance — but ever since, we have called this stuff Damascus steel.
  • Just when Jack was convinced that they were utterly lost in the most God-forsaken part of the world, he smelled camels, and they stumbled upon a caravan of Persians headed the same direction. This was a bit like running into a clan of kilted Scotsmen in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
    • "Watered Steel," late 1696
  • Like a few pebbles rattling down into a stoneware bowl, they descended into a rocky crater, maculated with schlock-heaps and filled with a perpetual miasma of woodsmoke.
    “Even if your taste is abominable, I must grant you credit for consistency,” Jack muttered. “How is it you always end up in the same sort of place?”
    • To Enoch Root, "Watered Steel," late 1696
  • “As soon as it is heated a bright cherry red, the lattice-work dissolves, like sugar in coffee, and the metal becomes brittle and worthless — as the Franks discovered during the Crusades, when we captured fragments of such weapons around Damascus and brought them back to Christendom and tried to find out their secrets in our own forges. Nothing whatsoever was learned, except the depth of our own ignorance — but ever since, we have called this stuff Damascus steel.”
    • Enoch Root, "Watered Steel," late 1696
  • "They tell a story--albeit in a fragmentary and patchwork way--of a sea-change that is spreading across Christendom, in large part because of men like Leibniz, Newton, and Descartes. It is a change in the way men think, and it is the doom of the Inquisition."
    • Edmund de Ath (Eduoard de Gex), "Mexico"

Book 5: Juncto

  • “These distinctions that you draw ’tween noble and common, what is proper and what is not, seem as arbitrary and senseless to me, as the castes and customs of Hindoos would to you,” Eliza returned.
    “It is in their very irrationality, their arbitrariness, that they are refined,” d’Avaux corrected her. “If the customs of the nobility made sense, anyone could figure them out, and become noble. But because they are incoherent and meaningless, not to mention ever-changing, the only way to know them is to be inculcated with them, to absorb them through the skin. This makes them a coin that is almost impossible to counterfeit.”
    • "Eliza and Rossignol," October 1689
  • Teague rhapsodized about Connaught all the time, and did it so convincingly that half the regiment was ready to move there. Bob had taken it with a grain of salt because he knew that Teague had never in his life ventured more than five miles’ distance from London Bridge, and was merely repeating tales told to him by his folk. From which Bob had collected, very early, something that it would have benefited the Partrys to know, namely that Ireland was a mentality, and not a physical place.
    • "Bob in the Ireland Campaign," 1690-1691
  • I pray that the question you sent to Dr. Waterhouse has been addressed, to your satisfaction, by the foregoing. If I have failed to satisfy, or (may God forbid it) given offense, I beg you to write back telling me as much, so that I may bend every effort to make it good. For it is my very great honour and pleasure to be your humble and obedient servant.
    P.S. If your intention is to mint French silver into English coin to pay the French and Irish troops that have been preparing to invade England from around Cherbourg in the third week of May, then I congratulate you on your ingenuity. Delivery of the coins from Mint to Front shall pose a not inconsiderable logistical challenge, and so I make you the following offer: If Admiral Tourville’s invasion-fleet makes it across the Channel without being sunk by the Royal Navy, and if the Papist legion establishes a beachhead on English soil without being destroyed by the Army or torn to bits by an enraged Mobb of English rurals, then I shall personally carry every single one of your coins from the Tower of London to the front in my arse-hole, and Deposit them in some Place where they may be easily Picked Up.
    • “Roger Comstock, Marquis of Ravenscar, to Eliza; 20 April 1692”
  • "He was selling us insurance against the contingency that our invasion fails to fail."
    • "Samuel Bernard to Eliza, 23 May 1692"
  • Indeed she made a mental note to ask this question of all prospective employees she interviewed in future:
    You are on your mistress’s jacht preparing for her petit levée when the vessel is taken by English marines and towed out to sea under fire from shore batteries. Barricaded in a cabin, waiting for a fate worse than death, you are picked up and hurled into the sea by a mysterious one-armed giant who has swung into a window on a rope. Do you (a) struggle bootlessly until you sink and drown, (b) scream until someone rescues you, or (c) dog-paddle to the nearest floating object and wait calmly for your mistress to resolve the difficulty?
    • Eliza, "Cabin of Météore, off Cherbourg, France" 6 June 1692
  • Few men were big, strong, and reckless enough to pick up Brigitte and toss her, when she was not of a mind to be. This fellow had been, prior to the loss of his arm. As matters stood, they were evenly matched, unless he elected to beat her senseless with the terrible flail first. Eliza thought she could see a tenderness about his eyes. And so a dire, ungainly, loud struggle, destructive of property and of the dignity of the participants, ranged all across the cabin.
    • "Cabin of Météore, off Cherbourg, France" 6 June 1692
  • "What does it say of us that our commerce is built 'pon forms and figments while that of Spain is built 'pon silver?"
    "Some would say it speaks to our advancement."
    • Daniel Waterhouse and Roger Comstock, "Roger and Daniel at a Coffee-house," September 1693
  • Roger got a glazed-over look, as he always did when abstract theological matters were dragged into the conversation. Unlike ordinary men, who required several minutes to become fully glazed over, Roger could do it in an instant, as if a window-sash had dropped in front of him from a great height.
    • "Roger and Daniel at a Coffee-house," September 1693
The nearest town of any size was called Bletchley…This bland countryside seemed oddly well suited for the hiding of secrets in plain sight.
  • Sir Richard Apthorp's Country dwelling was situated about midway between Cambridge and Oxford.... The nearest town of any size was called Bletchley, and Daniel had to stop to ask for directions there, because Sir Richard had in no way made his house an obvious one. This bland countryside seemed oddly well suited for the hiding of secrets in plain sight.
    • "Daniel Meets the Juncto," September 1693
  • “This is the world you have made,” Mr. White had said to Daniel — blaming him somehow for the Glorious Revolution. But Daniel saw it rather differently. This was the world Drake had made, a world where power came of thrift and cleverness and industry, not of birthright, and certainly not of Divine Right. This was the Whig World, and though Drake would have abhorred everything about most of these people, he would have had to admit that he had in a way caused this Juncto.
    • "Daniel Meets the Juncto," September 1693
  • "Lord of the Universe, Your humble servants Samuel Pepys and Daniel Waterhouse pray that You shall bless and keep the soul of the late Bishop of Chester, John Wilkins, who, wanting no further purification in the Kidney of the World, went to Your keeping twenty years since. And we give praise and thanks to You for having given us the rational faculties by which the procedure of lithotomy was invented, enabling us, who are further from perfection, to endure longer in this world, urinating freely as the occasion warrants.
    "Let our urine-streams, gleaming and scintillating in the sun’s radiance as they pursue their parabolic trajectories earthward, be as an outward and visible sign of Your Grace, even as the knobby stones hidden in our coat-pockets remind us that we are all earth, and that we are sinners. Do you have anything to add, Mr. Waterhouse?”
    “Only, Amen!”
    “Amen. Damn me, I am late for my next conspiracy! Godspeed, Daniel.”
    • Samuel Pepys, FRS, MP, JP, former kidney-stone sufferer, giving his customary post-urination prayer, "Daniel Meets the Juncto," September 1693
  • "You do not have a rival, Fatio. But Isaac Newton does."
    • Leibniz, "Leibniz and Fatio at Wolfenbuttel"
  • It made her wonder: Did the King know everything?
    The King continued: “Monsieur le comte d’Avaux has, as usual, spoken wisely. It follows that if we are to baffle Envy’s devotees, we should celebrate all that is magnificent in this Realm: with funerals, the magnificence that has passed, and with weddings, the magnificence that is yet to come. Let it be so.”
    And it was so.
  • If it eases your mind, know that the confusion of which you speak is the death-throes of an old system. The English, being a small and disorderly country, understood this a few years earlier than the French…The tide of quicksilver that rose up in that country around the time of Plague and Fire produced a generation of more than normally acute minds.
    • "Eliza to Rossignol, March 1694"
  • “Pay attention, that’s all,” Eliza said. “Notice things. Connect what you’ve noticed. Connect it into a picture. Think of how the picture might be changed; and act to change it. Some of your acts may turn out to have been foolish, but others will reward you in surprising ways; and in the meantime, simply by being active instead of passive, you have a kind of immunity that’s hard to explain.”
    • "Eliza and Caroline Journey to Leipzig," May 1694
  • “I had got the news that the Elector and his whore had died,” said Lothar mildly, in French, “and wondered if a visit from the Reaper might not be in store for me as well.”
    • "Eliza and Caroline Journey to Leipzig," May 1694
"Most come to terms with Death sooner or later. My failure to do so was an unintended consequence of a pact that my family had made with Enoch Root. In order for him to dwell among humankind he must don identities, and later, before his longevity draws notice, shed them." —Lothar von Hacklheber
  • "Most come to terms with Death sooner or later. My failure to do so was an unintended consequence of a pact that my family had made with Enoch Root. In order for him to dwell among humankind he must don identities, and later, before his longevity draws notice, shed them. My father knew about Enoch — knew a little of what he was…I was in some sense the quickest, for I came to know that Enoch was not like us. And I guessed that this was a matter of his having discovered some Alchemical receipt that conferred life eternal. A reasonable guess — but wrong. At any rate, it fired my interest in Alchemy until of late.”
    • Lothar von Hacklheber, "Eliza and Caroline Journey to Leipzig," May 1694
  • "Tactics, are what the Duchess of Arcachon has been pursuing; Baron von Hacklheber has quite neglected tactics for strategy."
    "Who won?"
    "Neither, for neither pure tactics nor pure strategy constitutes a wise course for a Prince, or a Princess."
    • Leibniz and Caroline, "Eliza and Caroline Journey to Leipzig," May 1694
  • "Confusion is a kind of bewitchment — a moment when what we supposed we understood loses its form and runs together and becomes one with other things that, though they might have had different outward forms, shared the same inward nature."
    • Eliza to Johann, "Eliza to Jean Bart, May 1694"
  • “I do hope you'll reconsider, now, all of the unpleasant things you have had to say in the past about Satan.” This was how Anne-Marie de Crépy, duchesse d’Oyonnax, greeted her cousin when his eyelids — which had been closed, three days ago, by a Jesuit father in Versailles — twitched open.
    • Father Édouard de Gex, "An Abandoned Church in France, March 1996"
”You know,” said Jack, “I was a King for a while in Hindoostan."
  • “Daemonic necromancy is so tedious, and fraught with unintended consequences,” said Oyonnax, “when syrup of poppies does the job perfectly well."
    • "An Abandoned Church in France, March 1996"
  • “But, cousine, I had always believed that you had only affected an interest in the Black Arts, when it was fashionable. That you considered it all perfect nonsense.”
    “You have been furious at me, Édouard, for deeming it all nonsense! For to call Satan a figment of man’s phant’sy is but one step from saying the same of God, is it not?”
    “Indeed, cousine, I should rather you were a sincere Satanist than a pretend one; for the former recognizes God’s majesty, and may be reformed, while the latter is an atheist, and doomed to the Lake of Fire.”
    • "An Abandoned Church in France, March 1996"
  • The kings of France and of the Vagabonds were alone together; the former had made a great show of dismissing his glorious courtiers, who had made a great show of being astonished….
    ”You know,” said Jack, “I was a King for a while in Hindoostan, and my subjects would get worked up into a lather about a potato, which to them was worth as much as a treasure chest. At first I’d want to know everything about the potato in question, and I would take a large stake in the matter, but towards the end of my reign—“ Here Jack rolled his eyes, as Frenchmen frequently did during encounters with Englishmen.
    LeRoy seemed to take his meaning very clearly. “It is the same with every King.”
    • King Louis XIV and Jack Shaftoe, after discussing their respective maritime losses, “Hôtel Arcachon, October 1702.”

Volume three: The System of the World (2004)


About The System of the World

Book Six: Solomon's Gold

  • “The Druids loved to set great stones on end,” commented the Earl. “For what purpose, I cannot imagine.”
    "You have answered the question by asking it.”
    • William Comstock, Earl of Lostwithiel, and Daniel Waterhouse, "Daniel at the Court of Stannary," Dartmoor, 15 January 1714
  • Daniel declined the tobacco with a wave of his hand. "One day that Indian weed will kill more white men, than white men have killed Indians."
    • Daniel Waterhouse, Dartmoor, 15 January 1714
  • “But those blows do not hurt me, because I am followed around—some would say, haunted—by a long train of angels and miracles that account for my having survived to such a great age. I think that this explains why I was chosen for this work: either I am living a charmed life, or else I have overstayed my welcome on this Planet; either way, my destiny’s in London.”
    • Daniel Waterhouse to William Comstock, Earl of Lostwithiel, at The Saracen's Head
  • To him, it was monstrously strange that an aged Natural Philosopher should materialize all of a sudden in the middle of Dartmoor, in a coonskin wrapper, and croak out a few words that would cause every gentleman in a twenty-mile radius to liquidate other holdings, and buy stock in that commercial Lunatick Asylum, the Proprietors of the Engine for Raising Water by Fire.
    • "Daniel and Threader Travel to London," Southern England, late January, 1714
  • The most important occupants of country estates were not men, but sheep, and the most important activity was conversion of grass into wool; for wool, exported, brought revenue, and revenue, farmed, enable gentle fold to pay rent, buy wine, and gamble in London, all winter long.
    • Southern England, late January, 1714
  • To a merchant, England was a necklace of sea-ports surrounding a howling impoverished waste. As with a burning log on a hearth, all the warmth, color and heat lay in the outer encrustation of ruby-red coals. The interior was cold, damp, dark, and dead. ... And yet England did have an interior. Daniel had quite forgotten this until he had been awakened by the sheep-teeth right in front of his face.
    • Southern England, late January, 1714
  • Winged-footed Mercury, messenger of the Gods, must have very little to do nowadays, as everyone in Europe seemed to be worshipping Jesus. If he could somehow be tracked down and put on retainer and put to work flitting back and forth from city to country and back, carrying information about who owed what to whom, and if one, furthermore, had rooms full of toiling Computers, or (engaging in a bit of Speculative Fiction here) a giant Arithmetickal Engine for balancing the accounts, then most transactions could be settled by moving a quill across a page, and movement of silver across England could be cut back to the minimum needed to settle the balance between city and country.
    • Southern England, late January, 1714
  • But when they had got through the obligatory stuff in the beginning of the service, and the Minister finally had an opportunity to stand up and share what was on his mind, it turned out that all of this fasting, humiliation, and wearing of rough garments was to bewail an event that Daniel had personally witnessed, from a convenient perch on his father’s shoulders, sixty-five years earlier.
    • Southern England, late January, 1714
  • “And so to make such a bother about one chap seems as bizarre, idolatrous, fetishistic, and beside the point to me, as Hindoos venerating Cows.”
    ”He lived in the neighborhood,” said Mr. Threader, meaning Windsor.
    ”A local connexion that was not even mentioned in the homily—not, I say, in the first, the second, or the third hour of it. Rather, I heard much talk that sounded to me like politics.”
    To you. Yes. But to me, Dr. Waterhouse, it sounded like church. Whereas, if we were to go there—" and Mr. Threader pointed at a barn in a field to the north side of Tyburn Road, surrounded by carriages, and emanating four-part harmony; i.e., a Meeting-House of some Gathered Church “—we would hear much that would sound like church to you, and politics to me.
    • Discussing an Anglican sermon commemorating the execution of King Charles I, Southern England, late January, 1714
  • “I’ll not take anyone’s money—yours, your banker’s, or your backer’s, sir. And I’ll not ask who your backer is, for it has gradually become obvious to me that your errand is—like a bat—dark, furtive, and delicate."
    • Threader to Daniel, Southern England, late January, 1714
  • "Are you a wagering man, Dr. Waterhouse?"
    "I was brought up to loathe it. But my return to London is proof that I am a fallen man."
    • Southern England, late January, 1714
  • That God hears the prayers of Lutherans, is a proposition hotly disputed by many, including many Lutherans. Indeed the late fortunes of the King of Sweden in his wars against the Tsar might lend support to those who say, that the surest way to bring something about, is for Lutherans to get down on their knees and pray that God forbid it.
    • Letter from Leibniz to Waterhouse; "Daniel at Crane Court"
  • "We are not letting the Pretender in! You were there at his so-called birth —you saw the sleight-of-hand involving the warming-pan— surely a man of your discrimination was not so easily deceived!"
    "To me it looked like a babe's head coming out of the Queen's vagina."
    "And you call yourself a man of science!"
    "Roger, if you would set aside this quaint notion that countries must be ruled by kings who are the sons of other kings, then it would not matter whether the Pretender entered St. James's Palace through a vagina, or a warming-pan; either way, to hell with him."
    "Are you suggesting I become a Republican?"
    "I'm suggesting you already are one."
    • Daniel Waterhouse and Roger Comstock, "Daniel at Crane Court"
  • Wren bore his eighty-one years as an arch supports tons of stone. He had been a sort of mathematical and mechanical prodigy. The quicksilver that had seemingly welled up out of the ground, round the time of Cromwell, had been especially concentrated in him. Later that tide had seemed to ebb, as many of the early Royal Society men had succumbed to a heaviness of the limbs, or of the spirit. Not so with Wren, who seemed to be changing from an elfin youth into an angel, with only a brief sojourn in Manhood.
    • "Day trip to Rotherhithe," London, late February, 1714
  • "There is a way to fool the weighing-test", Isaac said.
    "Impossible! Nothing is heavier than gold!"
    "I have discovered the existence of gold of greater than twenty-four-carat weight."
    "That is an absurdity", Daniel said, after a moment's pause to consider it.
    "Your mind, being a logical organ, rejects it", Isaac said, "because, by definition, pure gold weighs twenty-four carats. Pure gold cannot become purer, hence, cannot be heavier. Of course, I am aware of this. But I say to you that I have with my own hands weighed gold that was heavier than gold that I knew to be pure".
    From any other man on earth --Natural Philosophers included-- this would amount to saying "I was sloppy in the laboratory and got it wrong". From Sir Isaac Newton, it was truth of Euclidean clarity.
    • "Daniel visits Isaac at home", early April 1714.
  • “Dr. Waterhouse assures us that piss-boiling on a very large scale is needed to make phosphorus for these Infernal Devices,” Mr. Orney reminded them.
    “His account left little to the imagination,” Mr. Threader said.
    • A Subterranean Vault in Clerkenwell, early April 1714
  • "Technology is a sort of religious practice to me, a way of getting at the eternal by way of the mundane."
    • Daniel Waterhouse to Peter Hoxton ("Saturn"), "Meeting of the Clubb at Clerkenwell 1714"
  • "There is nothing quite so civilized as to be recognized in public places as the author of books no one has read."
    • Dappa to Roger Comstock, "Daniel and Dappa at the Kit-Cat Clubb"
  • "Condemn an Englishman to hell, and he'd plant a bed of petunias and roll out a nice bowling-green on the brimstone."
    • Daniel Waterhouse, "Daniel and Saturn Make a Lay at a Ken"
  • "Why does the tide rush out to the sea?"
    "The influence of the sun and the moon."
    "Yet you and I cannot see the sun or the moon. The water does not have senses to see, or a will to follow them. How then do the sun and moon, so far away, affect the water?"
    "Gravity", responded Colonel Barnes, lowering his voice like a priest intoning the name of God, and glancing about to see whether Sir Isaac Newton were in earshot.
    "That's what everyone says now. 'Twas not so when I was a lad. We used to parrot Aristotle and say it was in the nature of water to be drawn up by the moon. Now, thanks to our fellow-passenger, we say 'gravity'. It seems a great improvement. But is it really? Do you understand the tides, Colonel Barnes, simply because you know to say 'gravity'?".
    • Daniel Waterhouse and Colonel Barnes, "Aboard 'Atalanta' II: Barnes".

Book Seven: Currency

  • “Sir, my admiration for your work is mingled with wonder that a man of your age and dignity is out doing things like this.”
    Daniel turned to look him in the eye; and his creased face was grave and calm in the morning light. He looked nothing like the daft codger who had come to dinner yesterday evening and embarrassed the other English by dribbling wine down his shirt-front.
    “Listen to me. I did not wish to be summoned by your Princess. Summoned, I did not wish to come. But having been summoned, and having come, I mean to give a good account of myself. That’s how I was taught by my father, and the men of his age who slew Kings and swept away not merely Governments but whole Systems of Thought, like Khans of the Mind. I would have my son in Boston know of my doings, and be proud of them, and carry my ways forward to another generation on another continent. Any opponent who does not know this about me, stands at a grave disadvantage; a disadvantage I am not above profiting from.”
    • Johann von Hacklheber (Jean-Jacques) and Daniel Waterhouse, tracking Jacobite spies in a forest; “Herrenhäuser Allee”
  • “When you smoke your pipe, you feel an initial rush of stimulation, followed by a calmness, a steadying of the nerves. This is but a trace, a shadow, of nicotine poisoning. If you were cut with this dagger, that relaxation of the nerves would advance to the point where you would simply forget to breathe, and drown in air … every time you smoke tobacco, you are prefiguring your own death.”
    “Horrid … it makes me want to smoke something just to calm down.”
    “Mr. Hooke experimented with an herb called bhang that would cure what ails you — alas, it is harder to get.”
    • Daniel Waterhouse and Johann von Hacklheber, “Sophie’s Funeral”
  • “Because though I have not done violence I have seen rather a lot of it. Not all of the men who employ it are stupid, or evil. Only most of them. The rest use it reluctantly, as a way, when all else has failed, of seizing the main chance. Thus you tonight. Your mother will understand this and get her equilibrium back. But like a man who imbibes tobacco-smoke, you have died a little death tonight. I do not recommend that you become addicted to it.”
    • Daniel Waterhouse to Johann von Hacklheber, following a duel and a maternal tongue-lashing; “Sophie’s Funeral”
  • “Thank you, guv’nor,” the brewer said to the old man... “But I couldn’t possibly.” And he tossed the coin back… “If it was some other bloke in there, I’d take your money, guv. But this one’s on the house.”
    “You are a credit to your profession, sir.” Returned the old man, “as if it needed any.”
    • Beer barrel containing a safely rescued regimental sergeant is delivered to Roger Comstock, Marquis of Ravenscar “Between Black Mary’s Hole and Sir John Oldcastle’s, North of London,” dawn, 18 June 1714.
  • “Sergeant Shaftoe,” said the old man, “I do pity the Grim Reaper on the day that he shall finally come for you in earnest. I fear you’ll use him so roughly that he shall have to go on holiday for a fortnight.”
    • Roger Comstock to Bob Shaftoe, following his "delivery" from the Tower of London, “Between Black Mary’s Hole and Sir John Oldcastle’s, North of London,” dawn, 18 June 1714.
  • Comstock permitted himself a dry chuckle. “You are a man of many words but few specifics. You’d do well in Parliament.”
    Shaftoe shrugged. “I’m old. Your hirelings, who broke me out of the Tower, they are young lads, and were moved greatly by each little happening. Ask them to relate the story to you, and you shall hear a yarn far longer and more diverting than any I would tell.”
    “And less strictly true, I suspect,” said Comstock.
    • “Between Black Mary’s Hole and Sir John Oldcastle’s, North of London,” dawn, 18 June 1714.
  • Sergeant Shaftoe was not the sort who would admit to being startled or impressed by anything, but at least he did not look bored or contemptuous — a signal achievement for Roger Comstock.
    • “Between Black Mary’s Hole and Sir John Oldcastle’s, North of London,” dawn, 18 June 1714.
  • “Charles White was asking me a lot of odd questions…. He is planning something—“
    ”Oh, he planned it ages ago. Presently he is doing it. It is I who am planning something.”
    “A war?”
    “Much nastier: a Parliamentary inquiry.”
    • Shaftoe and Comstock, “Between Black Mary’s Hole and Sir John Oldcastle’s, North of London,” dawn, 18 June 1714.
  • A quarter of a mile south of the dogleg in the road….the frontier of London could be discerned by the Wise in the Ways of Real Estate. The most infallible sign of which was that, here, the track leading to Black Mary’s Hole had been improved with a name, Coppice Row, devised to conjure forth, from the fevered brains of would-be buyers, phant’sies of a cozy and bucolic character, be they never so removed from Truth.
    • The author’s first published observations about suburbia since Snow Crash, “Clerkenwell Court, 19 June 1714.”
  • "I'm keen to know whether the next English King is going to be German or French."
    • Jack Shaftoe, "Jack, Daniel, and Isaac Strike a Deal"
  • "The sorts who found a market a congenial and rewarding place to be, were those who thought quickly on their feet, and adapted to unlooked-for happenings with facility; they were, in a word, mercurial."
    • "Billingsgate Dock"
  • During lulls they engaged in Solomon Kohan’s idea of small talk:
    ”This is an interesting place.”
    “I am pleased you find it interesting.”
    “It puts me in mind of an operation I used to have in Jerusalem a long time ago.”
    “Now that you mention it, the full name of the Templars was the Knights of the Temple of Solomon. So if you are that Solomon—”
    “Do not play word games with me. I refer, not to this hole in the ground, which is but an indifferent crypt for long-forgotten knights, but to what lies over.”
    “The Court of Technologickal Arts?”
    “If that is what you call it.”
    “What would you call it?”
    “A temple.”
    • “Peter and Company at Clerkenwell”
  • “Which means you have ways of knowing things that we erudite fellows don’t. We have to be satisfied with practicing our religion.”
    “You make it sound unsatisfactory. Change your mind about this. It is better to know why you know things than simply to have things revealed to you.”
    • Daniel Waterhouse and Solomon Kohan, discussing technical/supernatural differences between “erudite” and “wise
  • Though this was not the most noble person who had ever set foot in the establishment (an honor that would have to go to Peter, or — who knows? — Solomon), he was unquestionable the best-dressed, and identifiable, from a thousand yards, as a courtier… “Frightfully sorry to intrude,” said the courtier, “but word has reached the Household that an important Man has come to London incognito. … From Muscovy, ‘tis said … The Lady of said Household is deathly ill. On her behalf, I have come to greet the said Gentleman, and to observe the requisite formalities.”
    Daniel nodded out the window toward the melee. “As we say in Boston: get in line.
    • “Confrontations in a Tavern”
  • "We are at a fork in the road just now. One way takes us to a wholly new way of managing human affairs. It is a system I have helped, in my small way, to develop: the Royal Society, the Bank of England, Recoinage, the Whigs, and the Hanoverian Succession are all elements of it. The other way leads us to Versailles, and the rather different scheme that the King of France has got going there."
    • Roger Comstock, "Ravenscar and Bolingbroke"

Book Eight: The System of the World

Trial of the Pyx, Goldsmiths' Hall, City of London, 2009
  • "Though you, and most other Fellows of the Royal Society, are true Christians, and believers in Free Will, the very doctrines and methods that the Royal Society has promulgated have caused many to question the existence of God. ... As so much of civilization is rooted in those beliefs, this strikes me as one way in which our System of the World might be set up wrongly and thus self-doomed."
    • Princess Caroline "Philosophick Showdown at Leicester House"
  • "But I'd have you know that my Stupidity and my Skepticism are two sides of the same coin, and are of a very particular kind, which is carefully thought out. ... The imbalance between the grand mysteries of the Universe as opposed to our own feeble faculties, leads us to set very modest expectations as to what we shall and shan't be able to understand--and makes us passing suspicious of anyone who propounds dogma or seems to phant'sy he has got it all figured out.
    "Pray explain how it is that there may be such a thing as free will, and a spirit that may do as it pleases, unbound by the Mathematick laws of our Mechanical Philosophy."
    • Waterhouse on Skepticism, "Philosophick Showdown at Leicester House"
  • "The mechanical world decays. Counterpoised against this tendency to decline must be some creative principle: the active seed--the Subtile Spirit."
    • Isaac Newton, "Philosophick Showdown at Leicester House"
  • "Space and Time! Two minor omissions that no one is likely to notice."
    • Isaac Newton, ibid.


  • Most men, standing knee-deep in gold, would talk about that.
    • “Leibniz-Haus, Hanover, November 1714”
  • “That’s why I was careful to say whenever some great prince sees fit to build it. If not the Tsar, then someone else who will come along after my death.”
    ”Or after mine, or my son’s or my grandson’s,” Johann says. “Human nature being what it is, I fear that this will only happen when the things that the Logic Mill is good at become important to a war.”
    • “Leibniz-Haus, Hanover, November 1714”
  • “I spied ‘em again this morning, Tomba! …I looked to the West and saw ‘em, all lit up by the red sun shining in off the sea. A line of hills, or mountains if you please. Laid out, waiting for us, like baked apples in a pan.”
    • “Carolina”
  • “...why, you just tell him that it was done by the Red-Neck Ronin, and that we went that-away!” And he thrusts his wakizashi into the untamed West….
    “Let’s head for the hills, boys.”
    • “Carolina”
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