"What lies behind facts like these: that so recently one could not have said Scott was not perfect without earning at least sorrowful disapproval; that a year after the Gang of Four were perfect, they were villains; that in the fifties in the United States a nothing-man called McCarthy was able to intimidate and terrorise sane and sensible people, but that in the sixties young people summoned before similar committees simply laughed."
"If in time, as in place, there were degrees of high and low, I verily believe that the highest of time would be that which passed between the years of 1640 and 1660. For he that thence, as from the Devil's Mountain, should have looked upon the world and observed the actions of men, especially in England, might have had a prospect of all kinds of injustice, and of all kinds of folly, that the world could afford, and how they were produced by their dams hypocrisy and self-conceit, whereof the one is double iniquity, and the other double folly."
"For if I should not believe all that is written by Historians, of the glorious acts of Alexander, or Caesar; I do not think the Ghost of Alexander, or Caesar, had any just cause to be offended; or any body else, but the Historian. If Livy say the Gods made once a Cow speak, and we believe it not; we distrust not God therein, but Livy. So that it is evident, that whatsoever we believe, upon no other reason, then what is drawn from authority of men only, and their writings; whether they be sent from God or not, is Faith in men only."
"It was the world of Southern, rural, black growing up, of folks sitting on porches day and night, of folks calling your mama, 'cause you walked by and didn't speak, and of the switch waiting when you got home so that you could be taught some manners. It was a world of single black older women schoolteachers, dedicated, tough; they had taught your mama, her sisters, and her friends. They knew your people in ways that you never would and shared their insight, keeping us in touch with generations. It was a world where we had a history."
"Primitive times are lyrical, ancient times epical, modern times dramatic. The ode sings of eternity, the epic imparts solemnity to history, the drama depicts life. The characteristic of the first poetry is ingeniousness, of the second, simplicity, of the third, truth."
"If, then, this civilization is to be saved, if it is not to be submerged by centuries of barbarism, but to secure the treasures of its inheritance on new and more stable foundations, there is indeed need for those now living fully to realize how far the decay has already progressed."
"We are living in a demented world. And we know it. It would not come as a surprise to anyone if tomorrow the madness gave way to a frenzy which would leave our poor Europe in a state of distracted stupor, with engines still turning and flags streaming in the breeze, but with the spirit gone."
"He who wishes to maintain that the past of mankind no longer has any absolute value in life ... must also be ready to deny his own life until the present moment, indeed in advance until the last moment, as worthless. He who realizes that culture is the giving of form will also see that the highest forms that it is given to the human spirit to recognize have always been, psychologically considered, such evasions from the present. Considerations such as these do not at all square with the direction of America's mind."
"Thanks to recent trends in the theory of knowledge, history is now better aware of its own worth and unassailability than it formerly was. It is precisely in its inexact character, in the fact that it can never be normative and does not have to be, that its security lies."
"We have to transpose ourselves into this impressionability of mind, into this sensitivity to tears and spiritual repentance, into this susceptibility, before we can judge how colorful and intensive life was then."
"But one sound always rose above the clamor of busy life and, no matter how much of a tintinnabulation, was never confused and, for a moment lifted everything into an ordered sphere: that of the bells."
"Our medieval historians who prefer to rely as much as possible on official documents because the chronicles are unreliable, fall thereby into an occasionally dangerous error. The documents tell us little about the difference in tone which separates us from those times; they let us forget the fervent pathos of medieval life."
"During medieval times, all those emotions were missing which have made us cautious and tentative in matters of justice: the insight into diminished capacity, the concept of judicial fallibility, the awareness that society has to share in the blame for the guilt of individuals, the question whether an individual ought not be rehabilitated rather than made to suffer. Or, perhaps, better stated: a vague sense of all this is not lacking, but rather concentrates itself, unverbalized, in instant impulses of charity and forgiveness, unconcerned with the issue of guilt, which could suddenly break through the cruel satisfaction over the administration of justice. While we administer a hesitant, toned down justice, partially filled with a guilty conscience, the Middle Ages knew only two extremes: the full measure of cruel punishment or mercy."