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james branch cabell Quotes
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James Branch Cabell Quotes



    • Good and evil keep very exact accounts... and the face of every man is their ledger.
    • The comedy is always the same. In the first act the hero imagines a place where happiness exists. In the second he strives towards that goal. In the third he comes up short or what amounts to the same thing he achieves his goal only to find that happiness lies a little further down the road.
    • I have read that the secret of gallantry is to accept the pleasures of life leisurely, and its inconveniences with a shrug; as well as that, among other requisites, the gallant person will always consider the world with a smile of toleration, and his own doings with a smile of honest amusement, and Heaven with a smile which is not distrustful - being thoroughly persuaded that God is kindlier than the genteel would regard as rational.
    • A book, once it is printed and published, becomes individual. It is by its publication as decisively severed from its author as in parturition a child is cut off from its parent. The book 'means' thereafter, perforce, - both grammatically and actually, - whatever meaning this or that reader gets out of it.
    • Tell the rabble my name is Cabell.
    • Criticism, whatever may be its pretensions, never does more than to define the impression which is made upon it at a certain moment by a work wherein the writer himself noted the impression of the world which he received at a certain hour.
    • Sad hours and glad hours, and all hours, pass over; One thing unshaken stays: Life, that hath Death for spouse, hath Chance for lover; Whereby decays   Each thing save one thing: - mid this strife diurnal Of hourly change begot, Love that is God-born, bides as God eternal, And changes not; - Nor means a tinseled dream pursuing lovers Find altered by-and-bye, When, with possession, time anon discovers Trapped dreams must die, - For he that visions God, of mankind gathers One manlike trait alone, And reverently imputes to Him a father's Love for his son.
    • The Terrible and Marvellous History of Manuel Pig-Tender That Afterwards Was Named Manuel the Redeemer.
    • In the beginning the Gods made man, and fashioned the sky and the sea, And the earth's fair face for man's dwelling-place, and this was the Gods' decree: - 'Lo, We have given to man five wits: he discerneth folly and sin; He is swift to deride all the world outside, and blind to the world within: So that man may make sport and amuse Us, in battling for phrases or pelf, Now that each may know what forebodeth woe to his neighbor, and not to himself.'
    • For this is the song of the double-soul, distortedly two in one, - Of the wearied eyes that still behold the fruit ere the seed be sown, And derive affright for the nearing night from the light of the noontide sun. For one that with hope in the morning set forth, and knew never a fear, They have linked with another whom omens bother; and he whispers in one's ear. And one is fain to be climbing where only angels have trod, But is fettered and tied to another's side who fears that it might look odd.
    • And one would worship a woman whom all perfections dower, But the other smiles at transparent wiles; and he quotes from Schopenhauer. Thus two by two we wrangle and blunder about the earth, And that body we share we may not spare; but the Gods have need of mirth.
    • From the dawn of the day to the dusk he toiled, Shaping fanciful playthings, with tireless hands, - Useless trumpery toys; and, with vaulting heart, Gave them unto all peoples, who mocked at him, Trampled on them, and soiled them, and went their way.
    • Thus he labors, and loudly they jeer at him; - That is, when they remember he still exists. Who. you ask, is this fellow? - What matter names? He is only a scribbler who is content.
    • The desire to write perfectly of beautiful happenings is, as the saying runs, old as the hills - and as immortal.
    • Some few there must be in every age and every land of whom life claims nothing very insistently save that they write perfectly of beautiful happenings.
    • A man of genuine literary genius, since he possesses a temperament whose susceptibilities are of wider area than those of any other, is inevitably of all people the one most variously affected by his surroundings. And it is he, in consequence, who of all people most faithfully and compactly exhibits the impress of his times and his times' tendencies, not merely in his writings - where it conceivably might be just predetermined affectation - but in his personality.
    • Always the fact remains that to the mentally indolent this book may well seem a volume of disconnected short stories. All of us being more or less mentally indolent, this possibility constitutes a dire fault.
    • At what cost, now, may one attempt to write perfectly of beautiful happenings?
    • It spurred me to such action as I took, - but it has robbed me of sugared eloquence, it has left me chary of speech. It is necessary that I climb very high because of my love for you, and upon the heights there is silence.
    • Time changes all things and cultivates even in herself an appreciation of irony, - and, therefore, why shouldn't I have changed a trifle?
    • Oh, do the Overlords of Life and Death always provide some obstacle to prevent what all of us have known in youth was possible from ever coming true?'
    • I have made at worst some neat, precise and joyous little tales which prevaricate tenderly about the universe and veil the pettiness of human nature with screens of verbal jewelwork. It is not the actual world they tell about, but a vastly superior place where the Dream is realized and everything which in youth we knew was possible comes true. It is a world we have all glimpsed, just once, and have not ever entered, and have not ever forgotten. So people like my little tales. . . . Do they induce delusions? Oh, well, you must give people what they want, and literature is a vast bazaar where customers come to purchase everything except mirrors.'
    • I was born, I think, with the desire to make beautiful books - brave books that would preserve the glories of the Dream untarnished, and would re-create them for battered people, and re-awaken joy and magnanimity.
    • The Dream, as I now know, is not best served by making parodies of it, and it does not greatly matter after all whether a book be an epic or a directory. What really matters is that there is so much faith and love and kindliness which we can share with and provoke in others, and that by cleanly, simple, generous living we approach perfection in the highest and most lovely of all arts. . . . But you, I think, have always comprehended this.
    • Hey, my masters, lords and brothers, ye that till the fields of rhyme, Are ye deaf ye will not hearken to the clamor of your time?
    • We are talking over telephones, as Shakespeare could not talk; We are riding out in motor-cars where Homer had to walk; And pictures Dante labored on of mediaeval Hell The nearest cinematograph paints quicker, and as well. But ye copy, copy always; - and ye marvel when ye find This new beauty, that new meaning, - while a model stands behind, Waiting, young and fair as ever, till some singer turn and trace Something of the deathless wonder of life lived in any place. Hey, my masters, turn from piddling to the turmoil and the strife! Cease from sonneting, my brothers; let us fashion songs from life.
    • American literature was enriched with Men Who Loved Allison.... Of the actual and eventual worth of this romance I cannot pretend to be an unprejudiced judge. The tale seems to me one of those many books which have profited, very dubiously indeed, by having obtained, in one way of another, the repute of being indecent.
    • Before 1914 had well begun to make the world safe for hypocrisy, these stories had blended into one continuous and fairly long Comedy of Evasion, called then In the Flesh, but a little later rechristened The Cream of The Jest...
    • This book did not get for me any general recognition. It got for me, instead, something in every way more valuable. For it was The Cream of the Jest which first made for me in the seventeenth year of my writing, a few warm friends who but a little later were to fight in my behalf very nobly, and with wholly heroic tenacity... If few writers have met with more smug, more prurient, or more disingenuous opponents, no writer whatever, I think has found more faithful allies.
    • Kennaston no longer thought of himself as a man of flesh-and-blood moving about a world of his compeers. Or, at least, that especial aspect of his existence was to him no longer a phase of any particular importance.
    • I also begin where he began, and follow wither the dream led him. Meanwhile, I can but entreat you to remember it is only by preserving faith in human dreams that we may, after all, perhaps some day make them come true.
    • You touch on a disheartening truth. People never want to be told anything they do not believe already.
    • It was not his to choose from what volume or on which page thereof he would read; accident, as it seemed, decided that; but the chance-opened page lay unblurred before him, and he saw it with a clarity denied to other men of his generation.
    • The Wardens of Earth sometimes unbar strange windows, I suspect - windows which face on other worlds than ours: and They permit this-or-that man to peer out fleetingly, perhaps, just for the joke's sake; since always They humorously contrive matters so this man shall never be able to convince his fellows of what he has seen or of the fact that he was granted any peep at all. The Wardens without fail arrange what we call - gravely, too - 'some natural explanation.'
    • The man was not merely very human; he was humanity. And I reflected that it is only by preserving faith in human dreams that we may, after all, perhaps some day make them come true.
    • It is true I have not told you everything. Why should I? No Author ever does....
    • I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me - that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter - except to show how very dull we are...
    • James Branch Cabell made this book so that he who wills may read the story of mans [sic] eternally unsatisfied hunger in search of beauty. Ettarre stays inaccessible always and her lovliness [sic] is his to look on only in his dreams. All men she must evade at the last and many ar [sic] the ways of her elusion.
    • The insect looked at Jurgen, and its pincers rose erect in horror. The bug cried to the three judges, - Now, by St. Anthony! this Jurgen must forthwith be relegated to limbo, for he is offensive and lewd and lascivious and indecent.: - And how can that be?: says Jurgen. - You are offensive,: the bug replied, - because this page has a sword which I chose to say is not a sword. You are lewd because that page has a lance which I prefer to think is not a lance. You are lascivious because yonder page has a staff which I elect to declare is not a staff. And finally, you are indecent for reasons of which a description would be objectionable to me, and which therefore I must decline to reveal to anybody.:
    • In Philistia to make literature and to make trouble for yourself are synonyms,: the tumblebug explained. - I know, for already we of Philistia have been pestered by three of these makers of literature. Yes, there was Edgar, whom I starved and hunted until I was tired of it: then I chased him up a back alley one night, and knocked out those annoying brains of his. And there was Walt, whom I chivvied and battered from place to place, and made a paralytic of him: and him, too, I labelled offensive and lewd and lascivious and indecent. Then later there was Mark, whom I frightened into disguising himself in a clown's suit, so that nobody might suspect him to be a maker of literature: indeed, I frightened him so that he hid away the greater part of what he had made until after he was dead, and I could not get at him. That was a disgusting trick to play on me, I consider. Still, these are the only three detected makers of literature that have ever infested Philistia, thanks be to goodness and my vigilance, but for both of which we might have been no more free from makers of literature than are the other countries.:
    • The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.
    • 'They were so beautiful,' she said, 'so young, so confident in what was to be, and so pitiable! And now some of them are gone away into the far-off parts of the earth, and some of them are gone down under the earth in their black narrow coffins, and the husks of those that remain hereabouts are strange and staid and withered and do not matter any longer. Life is a pageant that passes very quickly, going hastily from one darkness to another darkness with only ignes fatui to guide; and there is no sense in it. I learned that, Kerin, without moiling over books. But life is a fine ardent spectacle; and I have loved the actors in it: and I have loved their youth and high-heartedness, and their ungrounded faiths, and their queer dreams, my Kerin, about their own importance and about the greatness of the destiny that awaited them, - while you were piddling after, of all things, the truth!'
    • There is an outcry against epoch-making masterpieces of philosophy like Jurgen. The salacious musical comedy goes its libidinous way rejoicing, while Ibsen and Bernard Shaw are on the black list. The fact is, of course, that the puritan has been turned by sexual repression into a sexual pervert and degenerate, so that he is insane on the subject.
    • In the early part of the 20th century, there was a fantasy writer named James Branch Cabell who had a theory of writing as magic. His books (highly recommended, especially Jurgen) are both funny and mythological ... and it's easy to see how his process of creating characters was really a process of evocation and invocation.
    • The Silver Stallion, Jurgen, The High Place: Eighteen volumes of beautiful, worldly-wise writing by a forgotten American master. The books aren't all in print, and they range all over genre (including poetry and literary criticism). Of the fantasies, The Silver Stallion, Jurgen, and The High Place are three of the most notable, each book different but united in their sly wisdom.
    • I think that unless a reviewer gets their facts completely wrong, the author should shut up (and even then, the author should probably let it go - although I'm a big fan of a letter that James Branch Cabell wrote to the New York Times pointing out that their review of Figures Of Earth was bollocks. ... For most authors, not being James Branch Cabell, it's probably wisest after reading a particularly stupid or vicious or bad review to mentally compose your letter to the editor, fill it with your sharpest and most cutting and brilliant bon mots, and then, having made it up, to successfully resist the urge to put it to paper, and to return cheerfully to work.
    • A Cabellesque satire on religion and sex.
    • A book of dreams it is, and of very wonderful dreams.
    • A curious, singular and enchanting book. I have read it with admiration and delight.
    • Surely the cosmic irony that loves men's dullness because it alone can preserve them from madness, and retorts upon the cosmic terrors with a jest, is higher than gallantry and more enduring. It arrives at tolerance for all human shortcomings; it embraces high and low in its sympathies; it achieves urbanity as a final goal. It is the stuff of which great literature is made. And Mr. Cabell is creating great literature. A self-reliant intellectual, rich in the spoils of all literatures, one of the great masters of English prose, the supreme comic spirit thus far granted us, he stands apart from the throng of lesser American novelists, as Mark Twain stood apart, individual and incomparable.
    • Cabell's Biography of Manuel had been structured as parallel examinations of three contrasting modes of life, the Way of the Artist, the Way of Chivalry, and the Way of Gallantry. Cabell's personal 'picture' of gallantry is said to have derived from the phony chivalry of late 19th century Virginians, which he imbibed with his mother's milk, his family being respectably connected to the upper crust of Virginian aristocracy. ... The models he cites, however, are the gallants of Restoration Comedy ... Mark Twain, fascinated by the chivalric ideal, was quite taken with Cabell's writings on the subject. His encouragement directed to Cabell resulted in Domnei, published in 1911 as The Soul of Melicent. ... in both The Silver Stallion and in his explications, Cabell conceptualizes the progressive vitiation of the Life as a matter of the blurring of the realities of person and place by the remove of time and the world's will to be deceived, and the work of the cosmic Romancer.
    • Once we understand the fundamentals of Mr. Cabell's artistic aims, it is not easy to escape the fact that in Figures of Earth he undertook the staggering and almost unsuspected task of rewriting humanity's sacred books, just as in Jurgen he gave us a stupendous analogue of the ceaseless quest for beauty. For we must accept the truth that Mr. Cabell is not a novelist at all in the common acceptance of the term, but a historian of the human soul. His books are neither documentary nor representational; his characters are symbols of human desires and motives. By the not at all simple process of recording faithfully the projections of his rich and varied imagination, he has written thirteen books, which he accurately terms biography, wherein is the bitter-sweet truth about human life.
    • I have finished Jurgen; a great and beautiful book, and the saddest book I ever read. I don't know why, exactly. The book hurts me - tears me to small pieces - but somehow it sets me free. It says the word that I've been trying to pronounce for so long. It tells me everything I am, and have been, and may be, unsparingly... I don't know why I cry over it so much. It's too - something-or-other - to stand. I've been sitting here tonight, reading it aloud, with the tears streaming down my face...
    • Mr. Cabell has a profound creed of comedy rooted in that romance which is his regular habit. ... only gradually did his gaiety strengthen into irony. Although that irony was the progenitor of the comic spirit which now in his maturity dominates him, it has never shaken off the romantic elements which originally nourished it. Rather, romance and irony have grown up in his work side by side. ... He allows John Charteris in Beyond Life - for the most part Mr. Cabell's mouthpiece - to set forth the doctrine that romance is the real demiurge, 'the first and loveliest daughter of human vanity,' whereby mankind is duped - and exalted.
    • Poor and naked as this aspiring ape must seem to the eye of reason, asks Mr. Cabell, is there not something magnificent about his imaginings? Does the course of human life not singularly resemble the dance of puppets in the hands of a Supreme Romancer? How, then, may any one declare that romance has become antiquated or can ever cease to be indispensable to mortal character and mortal interest? The difference between Mr. Cabell and the popular romancers who in all ages clutter the scene and for whom he has nothing but amused contempt is that they are unconscious dupes of the demiurge whereas he, aware of its ways and its devices, employs it almost as if it were some hippogriff bridled by him in Elysian pastures and respectfully entertained in a snug Virginian stable.
    • Of all the fine places in the world where beautiful happenings come together, Mr. Cabell argues, incomparably the richest is in the consciousness of a poet who is also a scholar. There are to be found the precious hoarded memories of some thousands of years: high deeds and burning loves and eloquent words and surpassing tears and laughter. There, consequently, the romancer may well take his stand, distilling bright new dreams out of ancient beauty. And if he adds the heady tonic of an irony springing from a critical intelligence, so much the better.
    • If the poets and warriors who make up the list of Mr. Cabell's heroes devote their lives almost wholly to love, it is for the reason that no other emotion interests him so much or seems to him to furnish so many beautiful happenings about which to write perfectly. Love, like art, is a species of creation, and the moods which attend it, though illusions, are miracles none the less. ... In this tale love is canonized: throned on alabaster above all the vulgar gods it diffuses among its worshipers a crystal radiance in which mortal imperfections perish - or are at least forgotten during certain rapturous hours. Ordinarily one cynical touch will break such pretty bubbles; but Mr. Cabell, himself a master of cynical touches and shrewdly anticipant of them, protects his invention with the competent armor of irony...
    • I had not been two weeks in the United States before someone said to me: 'Well, at any rate, there is Cabell.' That was a new name to me. I was given Beyond Life to read. My excitement during the discovery of that perverse and eloquent testament was one of the happiest moments of my American stay. I spent then a wild and eccentric search after his earlier masterpieces. Inside the cover of Beyond Life there were the titles of no less than fourteen books. I could see from the one which I held in my hand that Mr. Cabell was no careless writer. He had been writing then for many years and he was unobtainable! 'No, he has never had any success,' a bookseller told me. 'No one ever asks for his books.' That situation is now changed. There are, I imagine, a great many more persons in the United States of America asking for Jurgen than are likely to obtain it. That good, at any rate, an idiotic censorship has done.
    • I am amazed that this remarkable and original talent has been at America's service for nearly twenty years, its patient waiting entirely unrewarded whether by the public or the critics or even the superior cranks. Let it be said at once that Cabell's art will always be a sign for hostilities. Not only will he remain, in all probability, forever alien to the general public, but he will also, I suspect, be to the end of time a cause for division among cultivated and experienced readers. His style is also at once a battleground. It is the easiest thing in the world to denounce it as affected, perverse, unnatural, and forced. It would be at once an artificial style were it not entirely natural to the man.
    • Ideal Beauty, Ideal Love, and a Dream World belong to the romanticist. And it is through his concepts of these terms and the exercise of his talents with them that James Branch Cabell overtops to-day all other romantic writers in America. To watch his progress, to trace it through his works, is to observe how he cast off shackle after shackle of limitation, to ultimate unhampered movement over the earth, in the zenith that is Heaven or the pit that is Hell.
    • Cabell certainly doesn't take himself too seriously. I enjoyed Figures of Earth a lot; its humour was so enjoyably sophisticated that I had to check that the author really was an American :-).
    • Mundus Vult Decepi - JBC Tribute site
    • James Branch Cabell Library
    • Profile at Fantastic Fiction
    • Bibliography at the Internet Science-Fiction Database
    • Works by James Branch Cabell at Project Gutenberg
    • Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice online at Universtity of Virginia
    • The Cream of The Jest online at University of Wisconsin
    • Domnei - online at Litrix Reading Room
    • Chronology of the life of James Branch Cabell
    • James Branch Cabell page
    • James Branch Cabell's Influence on Robert A. Heinlein
    • james branch cabell

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