After weeks of what has been one of the slowest starting General Assembly sessions in memory, Virginia legislators are now in the thick of a heavy workload that has kept them meeting late into the night and on weekends.

As some of the more controversial measures begin to hit the House and Senate floor, the level of debate in both chambers is picking up.

When that happens, Robert F. Doutt, the Senate's deputy clerk, perks up his ears and picks up his pen.

Doutt, 54, has served the Assembly in one capacity or another since 1968. Doutt thus has come to have a keen appreciation for the speeches, off-the-cuff remarks or one-liners he hears almost every day.

Four years ago, he collected a bunch of them in a little booklet, "Legislative Ad-libs, Quotes & Things," that he distributed around the Capitol.

"I was just sitting up here listening one day," says Doutt, who normally works from a platform on the Senate floor. "I decided I shouldn't let these things go by, so I started writing the best ones down. I think they're worth keeping -- they reflect the personality of the legislature."

More accurately, they show that legislators -- in their best and worst moments -- are never at a loss for words.

They are modest: "The way this bill came about, it was my idea," Sen. William E. Fears (D-Accomac) up and confessed once.

They are brave in the face of defeat: "When I saw the red lights coming up on the board (indicating nay votes), I felt like a Kamikazi pilot diving into a sea of red lights," Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William) admitted.

They can learn from history: "Now I know how General Lee felt at Appomattox, our troops just melted away," former Sen. Omer L. Hirst (D-Fairfax) noted during a moment of defeat.

Some can be suspicious: "Everything that goes around in the dark is not Santa Claus," former Lt. Gov. Henry E. Howell once warned.

When a colleague is getting the best of a legislator in a debate, the wounded lawmaker knows how to counter-attack: "The senator from Hampton has a volume of words and turns the volume up," Sen. Clive L. DuVal II (D-Fairfax) said of Hunter B. Andrews, now Senate majority leader.

When Fears was fighting a bill that wasn't his idea, Sen. Edward E. Willey (D-Richmond) complained that "if the Senator from Accomac cries one more time, we will have to pass the hat for him."

As if answering his colleagues' question, Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Fairfax) once acknowledged: "I cannot be all things to all men all the time."

Doutt says legislators who use technical language and "really dig into a bill" have their place, "but sometimes you do better if you can laugh a bill to death."

Confined to the Senate and thus "denied the oratory of the House," Doutt relies on legislators and aides in the other chamber to bring him quotes.

His booklet made room for Del. L. Cleaves Manning (D-Portsmouth) the day Manning finished reading a study committee's report and noted, "I don't understand half of it, and the other half I do understand, I don't agree with."

Del. Orby L. Cantrell's (D-Wise) admonition that "some day we're going to have to eat the bullet instead of bitting it" also caught Doutt's attention.

The latest House offering concerns Virginia's reputation as "the mother of presidents -- we haven't produced any for so long she must be going through the change of life." Doutt hasn't tracked down the source yet, but when he does, the quote is sure to go in his new booklet.

On the subject of constituent pressure, Richmond's Senator Willey once described a bill that had sparked "telephone calls . . . from cousins that we have never heard of before."

Sometimes legislators have begged in public, like the former senator who pleaded: "I am not after a loaf of bread or half a loaf, but can't you just let us have a crumb?"

Most legislators are accused of talking too much, but Sen. Adelard L. Brualt (D-Fairfax) has had a different problem on occasion.

"When I spoke to the senator this morning about the subject, he had a mouth full of silence," Brault complained.

Some lawmakers don't always know what they are hearing: "Mr. President, the senator from Roanoke was speaking so eloquently I did not realize he was speaking against my bill," admitted Sen. William E. Parkerson Jr. (D-Henrico).

Others profess not to care: "Ignorance is bliss, and I am going to vote in my bliss," said Senator Fears.

And even when a legisltor had made up his or her mind, its not always a pleasure, according to Senator DuVal.

"This bill is like kissing your cousin," he once said. "It's a duty you have to do, but it leaves you kind of cold."

Asked why his booklet contained no quotes from master orator Raymond L. Garland, a 12-year veteran of the House who has just arrived in the Senate, Doutt replied sheepishly that he was having trouble jotting down the Roanoke Republican's big words.

"I'd quote Senator Garland more if I could just spell what he was saying," Doutt said.