Tag Archives: Project Gutenberg

Dickens on Philosophers

From Chapter 2 of Oliver Twist:

The members of this board were very sage, deep, philosophical men; and when they came to turn their attention to the workhouse, they found out at once, what ordinary folks would never have discovered—the poor people liked it! It was a regular place of public entertainment for the poorer classes; a tavern where there was nothing to pay; a public breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper all the year round; a brick and mortar elysium, where it was all play and no work. ‘Oho!’ said the board, looking very knowing; ‘we are the fellows to set this to rights; we’ll stop it all, in no time.’ So, they established the rule, that all poor people should have the alternative (for they would compel nobody, not they), of being starved by a gradual process in the house, or by a quick one out of it. With this view, they contracted with the water-works to lay on an unlimited supply of water; and with a corn-factor to supply periodically small quantities of oatmeal; and issued three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week, and half a roll of Sundays. They made a great many other wise and humane regulations, having reference to the ladies, which it is not necessary to repeat; kindly undertook to divorce poor married people, in consequence of the great expense of a suit in Doctors’ Commons; and, instead of compelling a man to support his family, as they had theretofore done, took his family away from him, and made him a bachelor! There is no saying how many applicants for relief, under these last two heads, might have started up in all classes of society, if it had not been coupled with the workhouse; but the board were long-headed men, and had provided for this difficulty. The relief was inseparable from the workhouse and the gruel; and that frightened people.

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Math Can Determine Good Books

At first I thought that this declaration was due to journalistic bravado, since no academic would ever propose that one narrow study would be so broadly definitive. But then there’s this:

After analysing 800 novels available to download at Project Gutenberg Yejin Choi, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University, claims she can predict literary “success” with 84% accuracy.

Completely unrelated to that topic, this paragraph caught my eye:

Less successful books, they found, contained a higher percentage of verbs, adverbs, and foreign words. “They also rely more on topical words that could be almost cliché,” found the academics, “and extreme (‘breathless’) and negative (‘bruised’) words.”

Interesting about calling “breathless” an extreme word. I personally pass over the word “breathless,” probably from its general overuse. Maybe that’s okay within context, but “breathless” is just a word describing a temporary physical state. Narration like “Eyes bulging, his inhales were ragged with desperation,” is more likely to make my palms damp*.

* “Write less” is only a guideline to rescue readers from needless verbiage, not a divine literary command. If the situation calls for description, I would dress it up. The idea, in this context, is that it’s better to make the reader feel the breathlessness, not just tell him about it.

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Monasticism and Trigonometry

"Okay to visit. Wouldn't want to live there."

“Okay to visit. Wouldn’t want to live there.”

From Chapter 3 of Lost Horizon:

He was also interested in the mountain beyond the valley; it was a sensational peak, by any standards, and he was surprised that some traveler had not made much of it in the kind of book that a journey in Tibet invariably elicits. He climbed it in mind as he gazed, choosing a route by col and couloir until an exclamation from Mallinson drew his attention back to earth; he looked round then and saw the Chinese had been earnestly regarding him. “You were contemplating the mountain, Mr. Conway?” came the enquiry.

“Yes. It’s a fine sight. It has a name, I suppose?”

“It is called Karakal.”

“I don’t think I ever heard of it. Is it very high?”

“Over twenty-eight thousand feet.”

“Indeed? I didn’t realize there would be anything on that scale outside the Himalayas. Has it been properly surveyed? Whose are the measurements?”

“Whose would you expect, my dear sir? Is there anything incompatible between monasticism and trigonometry?”

Conway savored the phrase and replied: “Oh, not at all—not at all.” Then he laughed politely. He thought it a poorish joke, but one perhaps worth making the most of. Soon after that the journey to Shangri-La was begun.

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Gulliver on the Good Life

Not an example of the good life.

Not an example of the good life.

From Chapter 10 of Gulliver’s Travels:

No man could more verify the truth of these two maxims, “That nature is very easily satisfied;” and, “That necessity is the mother of invention.” I enjoyed perfect health of body, and tranquility of mind; I did not feel the treachery or inconstancy of a friend, nor the injuries of a secret or open enemy. I had no occasion of bribing, flattering, or pimping, to procure the favour of any great man, or of his minion; I wanted no fence against fraud or oppression: here was neither physician to destroy my body, nor lawyer to ruin my fortune; no informer to watch my words and actions, or forge accusations against me for hire: here were no gibers, censurers, backbiters, pickpockets, highwaymen, housebreakers, attorneys, bawds, buffoons, gamesters, politicians, wits, splenetics, tedious talkers, controvertists, ravishers, murderers, robbers, virtuosos; no leaders, or followers, of party and faction; no encouragers to vice, by seducement or examples; no dungeon, axes, gibbets, whipping-posts, or pillories; no cheating shopkeepers or mechanics; no pride, vanity, or affectation; no fops, bullies, drunkards, strolling whores, or poxes; no ranting, lewd, expensive wives; no stupid, proud pedants; no importunate, overbearing, quarrelsome, noisy, roaring, empty, conceited, swearing companions; no scoundrels raised from the dust upon the merit of their vices, or nobility thrown into it on account of their virtues; no lords, fiddlers, judges, or dancing-masters.

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