Carl Van Doren

American biographer (1885-1950)

Carl Clinton Van Doren (September 10, 1885July 18, 1950) was a U.S. critic, historian, and Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer.

Yes, it's hard to write. But it's harder not to.

Quotes edit

  • Neither creator nor critic can make himself universal by barely taking thought about it. He is what he lives. The measure of the creator is the amount of life he puts Into his work. The measure of the critic is the amount of life he finds there.
    • The Roving Critic (1923), p. 20
  • The most familiar quotations are the most likely to be misquoted. Some misquotations are still variable, some have settled down to false versions that have obscured the true ones. They have passed over from literature into speech.
    • As quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (1941) by Alice Mary Smyth, p. vii
  • A classic is a book that doesn't have to be written again.
  • The race of man, while sheep in credulity, are wolves for conformity.
    • As quoted in Building A Speech (1990) by Sheldon Metcalfe
  • Yes, it's hard to write. But it's harder not to.
    • As quoted in ''Writing with Authors Kids Love : Writing Exercises by Authors of Children's Literature (1998) by Kathryn L. Johnson, p. 2

Why I am Not a Believer (1926) edit

Full text online
Page numbers here from the reprint of the essay in Christopher Hitchens (ed.), The Portable Atheist
  • There is no trustworthy evidence as to a god's absolute existence.
    • p. 139
  • Whoever says he knows that immortality is a fact is merely hoping that it is.
    • p. 140
  • I perceive that the race of men, while sheep in credulity, are wolves for conformity.
    • p. 141
  • Though he knows that knowledge is imperfect, he trusts it alone. If he takes, therefore, the less delight in metaphysics, he takes the more in physics.
    • p. 142

The Great Rehearsal (1948) edit

The Constitution has so long been rooted so deeply in American life — or American life rooted so deeply in it — that the drama of its origins is often overlooked.
Full text online
  • The most momentous chapter in American history is the story of the making and ratifying of the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution has so long been rooted so deeply in American life — or American life rooted so deeply in it — that the drama of its origins is often overlooked. Even historical novelists, who hunt everywhere for memorable events to celebrate, have hardly touched the event without which there would have been a United States very different from the one that now exists; or might have been no United States at all.
    The prevailing conceptions of those origins have varied with the times. In the early days of the Republic it was held, by devout friends of the Constitution, that its makers had received it somewhat as Moses received the Tables of the Law on Sinai. During the years of conflict which led to the Civil War the Constitution was regarded, by one party or the other, as the rule of order or the misrule of tyranny. In still later generations the Federal Convention of 1787 has been accused of evolving a scheme for the support of special economic interests, or even a conspiracy for depriving the majority of the people of their liberties. Opinion has swung back and forth, while the Constitution itself has grown into a strong yet flexible organism, generally, if now and then slowly, responsive to the national circumstances and necessities.
    • Preface
  • The parallel between 1787 and 1948 is naturally not exact. Even if it were, 1787 would have no authority over 1948. Each age must make or keep its own government and determine its own future. Nor do those citizens of the world who In 1948 desire to see a federal world government created assume that the process would have to follow the example of the United States of 1787 in the details of the new government. The Federal Convention did not follow any single example. Neither should a General Conference of the United Nations be expected to.
    • Preface
  • The opponents of the Constitution declared that the larger states would disturb the United States by their powerful contentions; the supporters replied that those contentions were sure to disturb the continent if the larger states were not united, much less sure to do it if they were united and so could be expected to arrive at peaceable agreements.
    The opponents of the Constitution were convinced that the people of the individual states could be protected only by their states armed with full, or at least substantial sovereignty. The supporters of the Constitution knew that conflicting sovereignties had been the causes of most wars, in which the people have regularly suffered.
    The opponents of the Constitution in 1787 could talk only of the difficulties of forming a new government The supporters of the Constitution aware of the dangers facing the Confederation, demanded that a new government be attempted, no matter what the difficulties.
    • Preface
  • It is obvious that no difficulty in the way of world government can match the danger of a world without it.
    • Preface

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