“On Virtues: Quotations and Insight to Live a Full, Honorable, and Truly American Life” is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse ’s new book that features a compilation of quotations the Rhode Island Democrat finds inspirational.
Whitehouse writes that his family never talked about the hardships they endured in service to the country or why. “Perhaps that something was too big to talk about. Perhaps that’s why I find it easier to look for that something in other people’s words than to describe it in my own.”
And that’s exactly what the book aims to do by quoting others, though Whitehouse takes the time to give context to the quotes he collected over a 20-year period, all in a small nondescript notebook.
“Sometimes a quote doesn’t make any sense unless you’ve got some history around it,” Whitehouse said.
As an example, he said the daring shown in Adm. Lord Nelson’s quote (on Page 27 of his book) about ignoring a signal to disengage from the 1801 Battle of Copenhagen has more gravity when you know that another admiral had been recently condemned to death for failing to follow orders.
Whitehouse also takes time to relate some quotes to his personal life. The first passage in the book is a quote from Isaiah: “And the Lord said, whom shall I send, and who shall go for us? Then said I, here am I; send me.” Whitehouse notes that he used the quote for his father’s eulogy because “it captured well his lifetime of service.”
Tucked in among the Daniel Webster, Winston Churchill and William Shakespeare quotes are lines from everyday people Whitehouse has met during his life.
For example, he attributes a quote about the importance of being honest and loving to his brother’s friend Earl, who spoke at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting the senator attended with his brother.
In another passage, he quotes his own son: “‘Hey, you know what? Whenever I fall, I make it into a move.’ — My son, Alexander, age 6, on dancing (and life).”
Whitehouse said he hopes readers of the quotes he first began collecting for use in the courtroom will inspire public servants, such as those he works with in Congress, to bring “more of a sense of conscience in the service of justice ... and a sense of both proportion and principle” to political battles.
One of his favorite quotes — from 19th-century French Prime Minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord — illustrates this point, he said.
“One ought not to be obstinate, except when one ought to be; but when one ought to be, then one ought to be unshakable.”