First Paragraphs

How books begin, updated most days

I propose, subject to the patience of the reader, to devote two or three articles to prophecy. Like all healthy-minded prophets, sacred and profane, I can only prophesy when I am in a rage and think things look ugly for everybody. And like all healthy-minded prophets, I prophesy in the hope that my prophecy may not come true. For the prediction made by the true soothsayer is like the warning given by a good doctor. And the doctor has really triumphed when the patient the condemned to death has revived to life. The threat is justified at the very moment when it is falsified. Now I have said again and again (and I shall continue to say again and again on all the most inappropriate occasions) that we must hit Capitalism, and hit it hard, for the plain and definite reason that it is growing stronger. Most of the excuses which serve the capitalists as masks are, of course, the excuses of hypocrites. They lie when they claim philanthropy; they no more feel any particular love of men than Albu felt an affection for Chinamen. They lie when they say they have reached their position through their own organising ability. They generally have to pay men to organise the mine, exactly as they pay men to go down it. They often lie about the present wealth, as they generally lie about their past poverty. But when they say that they are going in for a “constructive social policy,” they do not lie. They really are going in for a constructive social policy. And we must go in for an equally destructive social policy; and destroy, while it is still half constructed, the accursed thing which they construct.

—Il dottore era questa notte colla Giovanna,—disse la Ghita.

'Tis hard to say if greater want of skill
Appear in writing or in judging ill,
But of the two less dangerous is the offense
To tire our patience than mislead our sense
Some few in that but numbers err in this,
Ten censure wrong for one who writes amiss,
A fool might once himself alone expose,
Now one in verse makes many more in prose.

The school of St. Margaret’s Hospital was fortunate in its lecturer on Medical Jurisprudence, or Forensic Medicine, as it is sometimes described. At some schools the lecturer on this subject is appointed apparently for the reason that he lacks the qualifications to lecture on any other. But with us it was very different: John Thorndyke was not only an enthusiast, a man of profound learning and great reputation, but he was an exceptional teacher, lively and fascinating in style and of endless resources. Every remarkable case that had ever been recorded he appeared to have at his fingers’ ends; every fact—chemical, physical, biological, or even historical—that could in any way be twisted into a medico-legal significance, was pressed into his service; and his own varied and curious experiences seemed as inexhaustible as the widow’s cruse. One of his favourite devices for giving life and interest to a rather dry subject was that of analysing and commenting upon contemporary cases as reported in the papers (always, of course, with a due regard to the legal and social proprieties); and it was in this way that I first became introduced to the astonishing series of events that was destined to exercise so great an influence on my own life.

It was four o’clock in the morning when George Dupont closed the door and came down the steps to the street. The first faint streaks of dawn were in the sky, and he noticed this with annoyance, because he knew that his hair was in disarray and his whole aspect disorderly; yet he dared not take a cab, because he feared to attract attention at home. When he reached the sidewalk, he glanced about him to make sure that no one had seen him leave the house, then started down the street, his eyes upon the sidewalk before him.

In the United States, where we have more land than people, it is not at all difficult for persons in good health to make money. In this comparatively new field there are so many avenues of success open, so many vocations which are not crowded, that any person of either sex who is willing, at least for the time being, to engage in any respectable occupation that offers, may find lucrative employment.

Once there was a royal couple who grieved excessively because they had no children. When at last, after long waiting, the queen presented her husband with a little daughter, his majesty showed his joy by giving a christening feast, so grand that the like of it was never known. He invited all the fairies in the land—there were seven altogether—to stand godmothers to the little princess; hoping that each might bestow on her some good gift, as was the custom of good fairies in those days.

In some natures there are no half-tones; nothing but raw primary colours. John Bodman was a man who was always at one extreme or the other. This probably would have mattered little had he not married a wife whose nature was an exact duplicate of his own.

The taxi’s radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast. Janaìcek’s Sinfonietta—probably not the ideal music to hear in a taxi caught in traffic. The middle-aged driver didn’t seem to be listening very closely, either. With his mouth clamped shut, he stared straight ahead at the endless line of cars stretching out on the elevated expressway, like a veteran fisherman standing in the bow of his boat, reading the ominous confluence of two currents. Aomame settled into the broad back seat, closed her eyes, and listened to the music.

The man in the corner pushed aside his glass, and leant across the table.