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- Steam is the friend of man. Steam engines are very human. Their very weaknesses are understandable. Steam engines do not flash back and blow your face in. They do not short-circuit and rive your heart with imponderable electric force. They have arms and legs and warm hearts and veins full of warm vapour. Give us steam every time. You know where you are with steam.
- "A Six-hour Shift : The Log of a Transport Engineer" in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. CXIX, No. 4 (April 1917), p. 449
- There are some men whom a staggering emotional shock, so far from making them mental invalids for life, seems, on the other hand, to awaken, to galvanize, to arouse into an almost incredible activity of soul.
- "On a Balcony", First lines, in The Atlantic Monthly (January 1920), p. 27
- One must choose between Obscurity with Efficiency, and Fame with its inevitable collateral of Bluff. There is a period, well on toward middle life, when a man can say such things to himself and feel comforted.
- Harbours of Memory (1921), p. 114
- A young man must let his ideas grow, not be continually rooting them up to see how they are getting on.
- Harbours of Memory (1921), p. 236
- Paraphrased variant: A man must let his ideas grow, not be continually rooting them up to see how they are getting on.
Casuals of the Sea (1916)
- Casuals of the Sea : The Voyage of a Soul
- To those who live and toil and lowly die,
Who past beyond and leave no lasting trace,
To those from whom our queen Prosperity
Has turned away her fair and fickle face;
To those frail craft upon the restless Sea
Of Human Life, who strike the rocks uncharted,
Who loom, sad phantoms, near us, drearily,
Storm-driven, rudderless, with timbers started;
To those poor Casuals of the way-worn earth,
The feckless wastage of our cunning schemes,
This book is dedicate, their hidden worth
And beauty I have seen in vagrant dreams!
The things we touch, the things we dimly see,
The stiff strange tapestries of human thought,
The silken curtains of our fantasy
Are with their sombre histories o'erwrought.
And yet we know them not, our skill is vain to find
The mute soul's agony, the visions of the blind.
- It is so much easier to tell intimate things in the dark.
- Book I: The Suburb, Ch. IV
- A trouble is a trouble, and the general idea, in the country, is to treat it as such, rather than to snatch the knotted cords from the hand of God and deal out murderous blows.
- Book I: The Suburb, Ch. IV
- It is extraordinary how many emotional storms one may weather in safety if one is ballasted with ever so little gold.
- Book I: The Suburb, Ch. X
- The world belongs to the enthusiast who keeps cool.
- Book I: The Suburb, Ch. XIII
- If fate means you to lose, give him a good fight anyhow.
- Book II: The City, Ch. II
- Terrible and sublime thought, that every moment is supreme for some man and woman, every hour the apotheosis of some passion!
- Book II: The City, Ch. IV
- People don't ever seem to realise that doing what's right's no guarantee against misfortune.
- Book II: The City, Ch. VI
- Also quoted as: Doing what's right is no guarantee against misfortune. Paraphrased variant: "People don't ever seem to realize that doing what's right's no guarantee against misfortune."
- Responsibility's like a string we can only see the middle of. Both ends are out of sight.
- Book II: The City, Ch. VI
- "The Market" from Modern Essays (1921) edited by Christopher Morley
- London is always beautiful to those who love and understand that extraordinary microcosm; but at five of a summer morning there is about her an exquisite quality of youthful fragrance and debonair freshness which goes to the heart.
- Roses just now predominate. There is a satisfying solidity about the bunches, a glorious abundance which, in a commodity so easily enjoyed without ownership, is scarcely credible. I feel no desire to own these huge aggregations of odorous beauty. It would be like owning a harem, one imagines.
- "And what are those things at all?" demands my companion, diverted for a moment from the flowers. She nods towards a mass of dull-green affairs piled on mats or being lifted from big vans. She is a Cockney and displays surprise when she is told those things are bananas. She shrugs and turns again to the musk-roses, and forgets. But to me, as the harsh, penetrating odor of the green fruit cuts across the heavy perfume of the flowers, comes a picture of the farms in distant Colombia or perhaps Costa Rica. There is nothing like an odor to stir memories.
- While my companion is busily engaged in getting copy for a special article about the Market, I step nimbly out of the way of a swarthy gentleman from Calabria, who with his two-wheeled barrow is the last link in the immense chain of transportation connecting the farmer in the distant tropics and the cockney pedestrian who halts on the sidewalk and purchases a banana for a couple of pennies.
Quotes about McFee
- He tells a story with the narrative power of a master of that art. His prose style has the rare combination of rhythm and smoothness together with a great deal of force... A quality not so much of style as of the writer's personality is his quiet, dry, and cutting humor. It crops out everywhere in his work... In the matter of his use of words, McFee seems to be going through some evolution. In Casuals of the Sea, he employs a number of words that necessitate more than an occasional reference to a good dictionary; however, in his later work, he has rid himself of this fault to a great degree, although a use of apt, but unusual, words may be said to be characteristic of his prose.
- Lloyd George, "William McFee — An Appreciation" in The Wisconsin Literary Magazine Vol. XXI, No. 3 (December 1921)
- He made a list of authors that floored me, beginning with Sinclair Lewis, William McFee — at that time famous for Casuals of the Sea, Command, Captain Macedoine's Daughter — and Vincent Sheehan and Mignon Eberhardt. Well, those were the plums, and he said, "I don't know if I can get any of them."
Well, he got them all--every single one of them! … McFee was quite deaf and like so many deaf people he shrieked at the top of his lungs and had a funny habit — he'd grab you by the ear and scream into your ear. Of course, he couldn't hear. He'd start screaming in Harry Maule's ear and Harry would try to quiet him down. I still remember that we used to fall on the floor laughing at McFee and Harry Maule. What a combination this was. He was a nice man — McFee — an old sea captain. Unfortunately he drifted off and lost his popularity, but he did write three fine books: Casuals of the Sea, Captain Macedoine's Daughter, and Command. I think they're as good as Conrad's Sea Tales.