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James Wood, comp. Dictionary of Quotations. 1899.


A fool is often as dangerous to deal with as a knave, and always more incorrigible.

A strong soil that has produced weeds may be made to produce wheat with far less difficulty than it would cost to make it produce nothing.

A thorough-paced antiquary not only remembers what others have thought proper to forget, but he also forgets what others think proper to remember.

Age without cheerfulness is a Lapland winter without a sun.

Applause is the spur of noble minds, the aim and end of weak ones.

Attempts at reform, when they fail, strengthen despotism; as he that struggles tightens those cords he does not succeed in breaking.

Avarice has ruined more men than prodigality.

Bigotry murders religion, to frighten fools with her ghost.

Commerce flourishes by circumstances, precarious, contingent, transitory, almost as liable to change as the winds and waves that waft it to our shores.

Contemporaries appreciate the man rather than his merit; posterity will regard the merit rather than the man.

Corruption is like a ball of snow, when once set a rolling it must increase.

Count the world not an inn, but an hospital; and a place not to live in, but to die in.

Courage is generosity of the highest order, for the brave are prodigal of the most precious things.

Criticism is like champagne, nothing more execrable if bad, nothing more excellent if good.

Cruel men are the greatest lovers of mercy; avaricious, of generosity; proud, of humility,—in others.

Custom is the law of one set of fools, and fashion of another; but the two often clash, for precedent is the legislator of the one and novelty of the other.

Deliberate with caution, but act with decision; and yield with graciousness or oppose with firmness.

Doubt is the vestibule which all must pass before they can enter into the temple of wisdom.

Drunkenness is the vice of a good constitution or of a bad memory;—of a constitution so treacherously good than it never bends till it breaks; or of a memory that recollects the pleasures of getting intoxicated, but forgets the pains of getting sober.

Eloquence is the language of nature, and cannot be learned in the schools.

Eloquence, to produce her full effect, should start from the head of the orator, as Pallas from the brain of Jove, completely armed and equipped.

Ennui has perhaps made more gamblers than avarice, more drunkards than thirst, and perhaps as many suicides as despair.

Envy, if surrounded on all sides by the brightness of another’s prosperity, like the scorpion confined with a circle of fire, will sting itself to death.

Error is always more busy than ignorance. Ignorance is a blank sheet on which we may write, but error is a scribbled one from which we must first erase.

Error, when she retraces her steps, has farther to go before she can arrive at truth than ignorance.

Faith is the soul of religion, and works the body.

Falsehood is never so successful as when she baits her hook with truth.

Fame is an undertaker that pays but little attention to the living, but bedizens the dead, furnishes out their funerals, and follows them to the grave.

Friendship often ends in love; but love in friendship—never.

Gambling is the child of avarice, but the parent of prodigality.

Gaming has been resorted to by the affluent as a refuge from ennui; it is a mental dram, and may succeed for a moment, but, like other stimuli, it produces indirect debility.

God is on the side of virtue; for whoever dreads punishment suffers it, and whoever deserves it dreads it.

Great minds had rather deserve contemporaneous applause without obtaining it, than obtain without deserving it.

Greatness stands upon a precipice; and if prosperity carry a man never so little beyond his poise, it overbears and dashes him to pieces.

Gross and vulgar minds will always pay a higher respect to wealth than to talent; for wealth, although it is a far less efficient source of power than talent, happens to be far more intelligible.

He that aspires to be the head of a party will find it more difficult to please his friends than to perplex his foes. He must often act from false reasons, which are weak, because he dares not avow the true reasons, which are strong.

He that knows a little of the world will admire it enough to fall down and worship it; he that knows it most will most despise it.

He that will believe only what he can fully comprehend must have a very long head or a very short creed.

He who can enjoy the intimacy of the great, and on no occasion disgust them by familiarity or disgrace them by servility, proves that he is as perfect a gentleman by nature as his companions are by rank.

Honour is unstable, and seldom the same; for she feeds upon opinion, and is as fickle as her food.

If a cause be good, the most violent attack of its enemies will not injure it so much as an injudicious defence of it by its friends.

If Satan ever laughs, it must be at hypocrites; they are the greatest dupes he has.

If you would know and not be known, live in a city.

Imitation is the sincerest flattery.

Infidelity is not always built upon doubt, for this is diffident; nor philosophy always upon wisdom, for this is meek; but pride is neither.

It is not every man that can afford to wear a shabby coat.

It is with diseases of the mind as with those of the body; we are half dead before we understand our disorders, and half cured when we do.

Kings and their subjects, masters and slaves, find a common level in two places—at the foot of the cross and in the grave.

Law and equity are two things which God hath joined, but which man hath put asunder.

Levity is often less foolish, and gravity less wise, than each of them appears.

Liberty will not descend to a people; a people must raise themselves to liberty; it is a blessing that must be earned before it can be enjoyed.

Life is the jailer of the soul in this filthy prison, and its only deliverer is death. What we call life is a journey to death, and what we call death is a passport to life.

Literature has her quacks no less than medicine: those who have erudition without genius, and those who have volubility without depth.

Make no enemies; he is insignificant indeed that can do thee no harm.

Man, if he compare himself with all he can see, is at the zenith of his power; but if he compare himself with all he can conceive, he is at the nadir of his weakness.

Many books owe their success to the good memories of their authors and the bad memories of their readers.

Many speak the truth when they say that they despise riches and preferment; but they mean the riches and preferment possessed by other men.

Marriage is the feast where the grace is better than the dinner.

Memory is the friend of wit, but the treacherous ally of invention.

Men will wrangle for religion, write for it, fight for it, die for it—anything but live for it.

Mental pleasures never cloy: unlike those of the body, they are increased by repetition, approved of by reflection, and strengthened by enjoyment.

Moderation is the inseparable companion of wisdom, but with genius it has not even a nodding acquaintance.

Money is the most envied, but the least enjoyed; health is the most enjoyed, but the least envied.

Mystery magnifies danger, as a fog the sun; the hand that warned Belshazzar derived its horrifying influence from the want of a body.

No man can judge another, because no man knows himself; for we censure others but as they disagree with that humour which we fancy laudable in ourselves, and commend others but for that wherein they seem to quadrate and consent with us.

No man is wise enough or good enough to be intrusted with unlimited power.

Nobility is a river that sets with a constant and undeviating current directly into the great Pacific Ocean of Time; but, unlike all other rivers, it is more grand at its source than at its termination.

None are so seldom found alone, and are so soon tired of their own company, as those coxcombs who are on the best terms with themselves.

Of all the marvellous works of the Deity, perhaps there is nothing that angels behold with such supreme astonishment as a proud man.

Opinions, like showers, are generated in high places, but they invariably descend into lower ones.

Patience is the support of weakness; impatience, the ruin of strength.

Pedantry crams our heads with learned lumber, and takes out our brains to make room for it.

Philosophy is a bully that talks very loud when the danger is at a distance; but the moment she is hard pressed by the enemy, she is not to be found at her post, but leaves the brunt of the battle to be borne by her humbler but steadier comrade, Religion.

Philosophy is to poetry what old age is to youth; and the stern truths of philosophy are as fatal to the fictions of the one as the chilling testimonies of experience are to the hopes of the other.

Physical courage, which despises all danger, will make a man brave in one way; and moral courage, which defies all opinion, will make a man brave in another.

Pickpockets and beggars are the best practical physiognomists, without having read a line of Lavater, who, it is notorious, mistook a philosopher for a highwayman.

Pity is a thing often avowed, seldom felt; hatred is a thing often felt, seldom avowed.

Posthumous charities are the very essence of selfishness, when bequeathed by those who, when alive, would part with nothing.

Power will intoxicate the best hearts, as wine the strongest heads. No man is wise enough, no man good enough, to be trusted with unlimited power.

Power, like the diamond, dazzles the beholder, and also the wearer; it dignifies meanness; it magnifies littleness; to what is contemptible, it gives authority; to what is low, exaltation.

Pure truth, like pure gold, has been found unfit for circulation, because men have discovered that it is far more convenient to adulterate the truth than to refine themselves. They will not advance their minds to the standard, therefore they lower the standard to their minds.

Reason is progressive; instinct, stationary. Five thousand years have added no improvement to the hive of the bee nor the house of the beaver.

Religion, like its votaries, while it exists on earth, must have a body as well as a soul.

Repartee is perfect when it effects its purpose with a double edge. It is the highest order of wit, as it bespeaks the coolest yet quickest exercise of genius, at a moment when the passions are roused.

Reply with wit to gravity, and with gravity to wit.

Revenge is a debt, in the paying of which the greatest knave is honest and sincere, and, so far as he is able, punctual.

Rhetoric is the creature of art, which he who feels least will most excel in; it is the quackery of eloquence, and deals in nostrums, not in cures.

Secrecy of design, when combined with rapidity of execution, like the column that guided Israel in the desert, becomes the guardian pillar of light and fire to our friends, and a cloud of overwhelming and impenetrable darkness to our enemies.

Sensibility would be a good portress if she had but one hand; with her right she opens the door to pleasure, but with her left to pain.

Shakespeare stands alone. His want of erudition was a most happy and productive ignorance; it forced him back upon his own resources, which were exhaustless.

Some are cursed with the fulness of satiety; and how can they bear the ills of life when its very pleasures fatigue them?

That is indeed a twofold knowledge which profits alike by the folly of the foolish and the wisdom of the wise. It is both a shield and a sword; it borrows its security from the darkness, and its confidence from the light.

That is the briefest and sagest of maxims which bids us “meddle not.”

The excesses of our youth are draughts upon our age, payable with interest about thirty years after date.

The mob is a monster, with the hands of Briareus but the head of Polyphemus,—strong to execute, but blind to perceive.

The pains of power are real, its pleasures are imaginary.

The plainest man that can convince a woman that he is really in love with her, has done more to make her in love with him than the handsomest man, if he can produce no such conviction. For the love of woman is a shoot, not a seed, and flourishes most vigorously only when ingrafted on that love which is rooted in the breast of another.

The press is the foe of rhetoric, but the friend of reason.

There are three difficulties in authorship—to write anything worth the publishing, to find honest men to publish it, and to get sensible men to read it.

There are two modes of establishing our reputation—to be praised by honest men, and to be abused by rogues. It is best, however, to secure the former, because it will be invariably accompanied by the latter.

Those that are the loudest in their threats are the weakest in the execution of them.

Time is the most undefinable yet paradoxical of things; the past is gone, the future is not come, and the present becomes the past, even while we attempt to define it, and, like the flash of the lightning, at once exists and expires.

Time, that black and narrow isthmus between two eternities.

Times of general calamity and confusion have ever been productive of the greatest minds.

To despise our own species is the price we must too often pay for a knowledge of it.

To judge by the event is an error all abuse and all commit; for in every instance, courage, if crowned with success, is heroism; if clouded by defeat, temerity.

To know a man, observe how he wins his object, rather than how he loses it; for when we fail, our pride supports us,—when we succeed, it betrays us.

To write what is worth publishing, to find honest men to publish it, and get sensible men to read it, are the three great difficulties in authorship.

True friendship is like sound health, the value of it is seldom known until it be lost.

Two things, well considered, would prevent many quarrels: first, to have it well ascertained whether we are not disputing about terms rather than things; and, secondly, to examine whether that on which we differ is worth contending about.

Unlike the sun, intellectual luminaries shine brightest after they set.

We are ruined not by what we really want, but by what we think we do.

We are sure to be losers when we quarrel with ourselves; it is a civil war, and in all such contentions, triumphs are defeats.

We ask advice, but we mean approbation.

We cannot think too highly of our nature, nor too humbly of ourselves.

We hate some persons because we do not know them, and we will not know them because we hate them.

We have less charity for those who believe the half of our creed than for those who deny the whole of it.

We injure mysteries, which are matters of faith, by any attempt at explanation in order to make them matters of reason. Could they be explained, they would cease to be mysteries; and it has been well said that a thing is not necessarily against reason because it happens to be above it.

We may lay in a stock of pleasures, as we would lay in a stock of wine; but if we defer the tasting of them too long, we shall find that both are soured by age.

We should forgive freely, but forget rarely. I will not be revenged, and this I owe to my enemy; but I will remember, and this I owe to myself.

We should have all our communications with men as in the presence of God; and with God, as in the presence of men.

We should labour to treat with ease of things that are difficult; with familiarity, of things that are novel; and with perspicuity, of things that are profound.

Were we as eloquent as angels, we would please some men, some women, and some children much more by listening than by talking.

When the million applaud you, seriously ask yourself what harm you have done; when they censure you, what good.

When you have nothing to say, say nothing.

Women that are the least bashful are not unfrequently the most modest; and we are never more deceived than when we would infer any laxity of principle from that freedom of demeanour which often arises from a total ignorance of vice.

Words, “those fickle daughters of the earth,” are the creation of a being that is finite, and when applied to explain that which is infinite, they fail; for that which is made surpasses not the maker; nor can that which is immeasurable by our thoughts be measured by our tongues.

Works of true merit are seldom very popular in their own day; for knowledge is on the march, and men of genius are the “præstolatores” or “videttes,” that are far in advance of their comrades. They are not with them, but before them; not in the camp, but beyond it.