Gleanings From The Past #53



Small debts are like small shot; they are rattling on every side, and can scarcely be escaped without a wound: great debts are like cannon; of loud noise, but little danger.

— Samuel Johnson, extract from a letter to Joseph Simpson, cited in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 1, 1824

A Letter to his Son

[D]ress is a very foolish thing; and yet it is a very foolish thing for a man not to be well dressed, according to his rank and way of life; and it is so far from being a disparagement to any man’s understanding, that it is rather a proof of it, to be as well dressed as those whom he lives with: the difference in this case, between a man of sense and a fop, is, that the fop values himself upon his dress; and the man of sense laughs at it, at the same time that he knows he must not neglect it. There are a thousand foolish customs of this kind, which not being criminal must be complied with, and even cheerfully, by men of sense. Diogenes the Cynic was a wise man for despising them; but a fool for showing it. Be wiser than other people, if you can; but do not tell them so.

— Philip Stanhope, letter to his son, November 9, 1745, cited in Letters Written by Lord Chesterfield to his Son, 1872

Envious of Others

The lion craved the fox’s art;
The fox the lion’s force and heart;
The cock implored the pigeou’s flight,
Whose wings were rapid, strong, and light;
The pigeon strength of wing despised,
And the cock’s matehless valour prized;
The fishes wish’d to graze the plain;
The beasts to skim beneath the main:
Thus, envious of another’s state,
Each blamed the partial hand of Fate.

— John Gay, “The Eagle and Assembly of Animals”, The Fables of John Gay Illustrated, 1857

Adversity and Prosperity

They overlook truth in the judgment they pass on adversity and prosperity. The temptations that attend the former they can easily see, and dread at a distance; but they have no apprehensions of the dangerous consequences of the latter.

— Francis Atterbury, Encyclopedia Londonensis, Vol. 18, 1821


About Edmark M. Law

My name Edmark M. Law. I work as a freelance writer, mainly writing about science and mathematics. I am an ardent hobbyist. I like to read, solve puzzles, play chess, make origami and play basketball. In addition, I dabble in magic, particularly card magic and other sleight-of-hand type magic. I live in Hong Kong. I blog at You can find me on Twitter @EdmarkLaw and Facebook. My email is
This entry was posted in Miscellanea, Poetry and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Gleanings From The Past #53

  1. lindasschaub says:

    Interesting passages Edmark – I think my favorite was “Envious of Others” and I know we would not be human if we were not somewhat envious of others. Are we human enough to admit we are envious or covet what other’s have? But animals having envy is especially interesting – but then again, why not? All things are possible.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have been observing animals for a long time and I can argue that they indeed feel envy despite what other scientists say.

      For example, if you have a couple of dogs and you only give one of them attention, the other will be annoyed and will do its best to get your atrention. Certain birds like parrots are notorious for their jelousy streaks.

      When I told these observations to a biologist, he told me that animals aren’t rational enough to feel jealousy. He further told me that it’s just instinct at play. For instance, in the wild, animals relentlessly compete for resources, territories and mates. So, they seem to be “envious” at the other animals that possess them. However, he argued that it’s just a survival mechanism.

      While those arguments may seem sound, it would be foolish for us to dismiss anything that animals do as merely “instinct”, “evolutionary adaptation” or other words that trivialize their deeds. I believe that animals are a lot more complex than we give them credit for.

      Liked by 2 people

      • lindasschaub says:

        I agree with you Edmark, and, in the case of birds, I’ve had several pet birds in my lifetime, and the last one, a canary, was my companion pet. I have no family and I work at home, so I spent many waking hours in the same room with him, just a few yards away from his cage. I was very in tune with him, as he was with me. The moniker of “bird brain” is very incorrect, even as to the wild birds. I see it in my walks, just as I saw with Buddy. They learn trust quickly and they know whom to fear and whom to trust. I totally agree that animals are way more complex and of superior intelligence than people think.


  2. Really enjoyed “A Letter to his Son.” Makes me think of the times now, we KNOW dress is important, but more and more people are getting overly casual. Even going to the Opera in inappropriate attire! Dress code is being re-invented, but my Italian mother is still very strict on “dressing appropriately.” For example, when she sees tourists with gym shoes in the Florence she always says, “gym shoes are for exercise, not for walking around town.” If someone has shorts on, she says, “shorts are for the country or the beach, but NOT in town. It’s amusing…

    Also, enjoyed “Envious of Others,” good rhyming.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. The grass is actually not greener beyond the fence, and envy is a destructive force.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. mistermuse says:

    “A Letter to his Son” sounds like good advice, but I’m glad satirists like Oscar Wilde didn’t take it, and did “tell them so.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are definitely appropriate times and places for doing that without looking like a fool but the problem is many lack the judgment to determine when and where to do it.

      Also, many people do not possess the personality required to pull it off.


  5. masercot says:

    Note to self: If you loan Samuel Johnson money, make sure it isn’t much money…

    Liked by 3 people

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