Letter: Berlin's one-liners

May 4, 2001

The temptation to rise to Christopher Wood's imputation to Isaiah Berlin of failure to produce one-liners (Books, THES , April 13) is irresistible.

Berlin's writing and conversation were full of pithy sentences, such as: "I have always been prone to coloured descriptions of unimportant phenomena." "No town has ever taken itself so seriously with so little reason" (of Washington). "Detachment is itself a moral position." "Cosmopolitanism is the shedding of all that makes one most human." "Long runs are made of short runs." "A profound historian cannot be a shallow human being." He also said that sociologists reminded him of men who wear deep-sea diving suits to enter a room full of people to find out what they are doing.

One-liner sources are at http:///berlin.wolf.ox.ac.uk/ under "Quotations".

Henry Hardy
Wolfson College, Oxford

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