Lapham’s Quarterly and the Search For Great Quotes That No One Else Knows

Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin (1855–1888) by Ilia Efimovich Repin

“Nothing is ever so difficult that study and application cannot conquer it.”

This has been one of my favorite quotes since I read it nearly a year ago. I was struggling to make a living while freelancing in Portland, and this was the perfect line for me to come across. Fridge-worthy, right?

I didn’t read it online, on one of those sites that compiles and sorts thousands of quotes for your morning shot of inspiration. I read it in the Discovery issue of Lapham’s Quarterly.

The author, Leon Battista Alberti, was a Renaissance painter whose father trained him in mathematics. Literally and figuratively a Renaissance man. I can’t imagine I would have ever stumbled upon this quote without reading that issue of Lapham’s. In fact, Lapham’s has quickly become my favorite publication. A quarterly gift filled with bite-sized history, literature, essays, poetry, quotes, and art that all pertain to one subject. That quote came from a snippet of Alberti’s On Painting in the Discovery issue.

“For sooner will men hold fire in their mouths than keep a secret.”

Another favorite quote, this time by Petronius in the Spies issue. Yes, there’s an issue devoted to spies, spying, and deceit throughout the ages. I finally decided to read a John Le Carré novel because of a few pages in that issue. I ended up burning through five or six of his novels once I got a taste.

But there’s also an issue on Religion. And on Disaster, Fear, Music, Fashion, and Foreigners. Even Intoxication? Yup.

The essays are full length. The other excerpts average about two pages. In the time it takes to read a long novel, you can read through the choice selections of 50 or so authors.

And that’s part of what I love about Lapham’s. It’s a subscription that gives you the opportunity to read through some of the greats of literature and history in minutes, decide what you like, and explore it later on your own.

The selections are fantastic. The crew behind Lapham’s does an excellent job finding some of the most interesting and beautiful writing to fill the quarterly. The same goes for the artwork. It isn’t just Renaissance paintings or Greek statues. The selection is chosen from around the world, from prehistoric to contemporary times.

“Learn something; for when luck is sudden gone, Art stays nor ever leaves man’s life alone.”

That one’s from the Luck issue. Food for thought from Dicta Catonis c. 250.

Lapham’s is the subscription you need if you wish you’d read more classics or history, but don’t know where to start. There’s no commitment. Aside from a few longer, and always excellent, essays, you can read five or six authors before bed.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that Lewis Lapham and his staff understand the shift in attention spans the internet and its quick hits of entertainment have brought about. Are there many people clamoring to read 20 or 30 pages of Herodotus? Probably not. But what’s the number of people willing to read a page or two of his work? I’d have to guess it’s significantly higher.

That’s the beauty of the quarterly. You have three months to work your way through it, taking it slowly — fifteen minutes before bed — or blowing through it in a week. Either way you find yourself with an intimate, moving, strange, funny, and above all, interesting view of the subject at hand.

“If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

(Okay, that was Ferris Bueller. Still, though.)