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Chapter and Verse

Correspondence on not-so-famous lost words

September-October 2010

William Storrer hopes that someone can provide a source for the quotation, supposedly from Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West, that George reads aloud near the end of the second act of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The text runs: “And the West, encumbered by crippling alliances, and burdened with a morality too rigid to accommodate itself to the swing of events, must…eventually…fall.”


Wesley Moore asks who wrote a short unidentified poem, found on a website, that begins, “Stranger, go, tell the Spartans--/No; simply say ‘we obeyed’.../Make us sound laconic and all iron.…” and ends, “What truth soldiers would speak/None would hear, and none repeat.”


“Wisdom is so rare an attribute that it were better it come late than not at all” (July-August). We thank the more than two dozen readers—lawyers, law professors, a judge, and a longtime professional Supreme Court watcher among them—who wrote to identify this misstated version of a comment by Justice Felix Frankfurter, dissenting in Henslee v. Union Planters National Bank & Trust Co., 335 U.S. 595, 600 (1949). The correct wording is: “Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.” Richard Spector’s reply was the first to reach us. Dominic Ayotte noted that the case does concern the estate tax. And Anthony Shipps offered the gentle reminder that a query about the same quotation ran in this column in May-June 1986, and was answered in the subsequent issue by B. Abbott Goldberg and Erwin Griswold.