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(n) Everism

VIDEO

Mark Twain Quotes

mark-twain

Norman Cousins

Shortly after my surgery, I learned that there was no indication of metastasis. And now, more than fifteen years later, things are still looking good. Very good, indeed. Some of history’s most famous “(n) everisms” have been offered in humorous, ironic, or mock-serious ways. Three classic examples come from a character in Nelson

Algren’s 1956 novel A Walk on the Wild Side:

Never play cards with a man called Doc.

Never eat at a place called Mom’s.

Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.

The words came from a fictional character, but they appeared to reflect Algren’s personal views as well. He was fond of telling people that he learned these three rules from “an elderly Negro lady,” and he often added that they were the only rules he used to guide his life. He sometimes emphasized the last point this way: “And never, ever, no matter what else you do in your whole life, never sleep with anyone whose troubles are worse than your own.”

In most “(n) everisms”, people direct their cautionary warnings to someone else. Occasionally, though, we see people applying admonitions to them. In 1905, Mark Twain arrived at Delmonico’s restaurant in Manhattan to celebrate his seventieth birthday with 170 of his closest friends. Tucked into his pocket were notes he had made to guide him in the remarks he would be making later that evening. A few hours later, with the festivities in full gear, Twain finally rose to speak.

What were his secrets to successful aging? The legendary humorist began by declaring his love of smoking and his abhorrence of exercise, saying, “I have achieved my seventy years . . . by sticking strictly to a scheme of life which would kill anybody else.” He went on to say:

I have made it a rule never to smoke more than one cigar at a time.

It has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep, and never to refrain when awake.

A century ago, it was common for people to say I’ve made it a rule never to, but the use of such a phrase today is rare. It is a variation on the “(n) everisms” theme. Some examples - here are two: When I was younger, I made it a rule never to take strong drink before lunch. It is now my rule never to do so before breakfast.

Winston Churchill, to King George VI, said in 1952, when Churchill was seventy-seven years old I’ve made it a rule never to drink by daylight and never to refuse a drink after dark.

H. L. Mencken

In another variation on the theme, people sometimes use the phrase one must never or one should never when offering principles of living or rules of conduct. As a general rule, these kinds of admonitions have a highfalutin quality, and they rarely pack the imperative punch of a straight-out (n) everism. But not always.

In a discussion of “Objectivist Ethics” in The Virtue of Selfishness (1964), Ayn Rand asserted that mankind’s basic virtue was rationality. It is, she said, the wellspring of all other virtues and the only truly responsible guide to life. By contrast, she argued that man’s basic vice-and the source of all evil-is irrationality, a rejection of reason. Irrationality is not ignorance, which does simply not know, or blindness, which is not seeing. Irrationality is something far more pernicious, she maintained, and far more dangerous. It is “a refusal to see” and “a refusal to know.” In describing what it means to guide one’s life by the virtue of rationality, Rand offered a compelling explanation (the italics in the passage are provided for emphasis and do not appear in the original text):

It means that one must never sacrifice one’s convictions to the opinions or wishes of others (which is the virtue of Integrity)-that one must never attempt to fake reality in any manner (which is the virtue of Honesty)-that one must never seek or grant the unearned and undeserved, neither in matter nor in spirit (which is the virtue of Justice).

It means that one must never desire effects without causes,  and that one must never enact a cause without assuming full responsibility for its effects-that one must never act like a zombie, i.e., without knowing one’s own purposes and motives-that one must never make any decisions, form any convictions-or seek any values out of context, i.e., apart from or against the total, integrated sum of one’s knowledge- and, above all, that one must never seek to get away with contradictions.

This passage is longer than the quotations you’ve seen so far, but I wanted to make the point that some of history’s most powerful (n) everisms do not begin with the word never. For many intellectuals and others who wish to express themselves a bit more elegantly, one must never or one should never are commonly used phrases.

…and recall Willard Espy’s words from earlier, fall into the category of “Dissuasive advice given with authority.” Most of the quotes will be 100 percent pure admonitions, but occasionally you will find some that contain both an exhortative and a dehortative component, as in these examples:

Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses.

Confucius

Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.

John F. Kennedy

Always take your work seriously, never yourself.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, quoting an “old saying.” 

23.04.2013
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