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James Wood, comp. Dictionary of Quotations. 1899.


A great writer does not reveal himself here and there, but everywhere.

A poet must be before his age, to be even with posterity.

A wise scepticism is the first attribute of a good critic.

A wise writer does not reveal himself here and there, but everywhere.

A word once vulgarised can never be rehabilitated.

All men who know not where to look for truth, save in the narrow well of self, will find their own image at the bottom and mistake it for what they are seeking.

Before man made us citizens, great Nature made us men.

Brain is always to be bought, but passion never comes to market.

Earth’s noblest thing, a woman perfected.

Endurance is the crowning quality, and patience all the passion, of great hearts.

Every man feels instinctively that all the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action.

Evil is a far more cunning and persevering propagandist than good, for it has no inward strength, and is driven to seek countenance and sympathy.

Exact justice is commonly more merciful in the long run than pity, for it tends to foster in men those stronger qualities which make them good citizens.

Ez for war, I call it murder; / There you hev it plain and flat; / I don’t want to go no furder / Than my Testyment for that.

For whom the heart of man shuts out, / Straightway the heart of God takes in, / And fences them all round about / With silence ’mid the world’s loud din.

Fortune is the rod of the weak, and the staff of the brave.

From the summit of power men no longer turn their eyes upward, but begin to look about them.

Genius is that in whose power a man is.

God does not weigh criminality in our scales. God’s measure is the heart of the offender, a balance so delicate that a tear cast in the other side may make the weight of error kick the beam.

Good luck is the willing handmaid of upright, energetic character, and conscientious observance of duty.

Good to the heels the well-worn slipper feels / When the tired player shuffles off the buskin; / A page of Hood may do a fellow good / After a scolding from Carlyle or Ruskin.

Great fleas have little fleas / Upon their backs to bite ’em; / And little fleas have lesser fleas, / And so ad infinitum.

Great part of human suffering has its root in the nature of man, and not in that of his institutions.

Great poets are no sudden prodigies, but slow results.

Humbleness is always grace, always dignity.

If the devil takes a less hateful shape to us than to our fathers, he is as busy with us as he was with them.

In all literary history there is no such figure as Dante, no such homogeneousness of life and works, such loyalty to ideas, such sublime irrecognition of the unessential.

It is by presence of mind in untried circumstances that the native metal of a man is tested.

It is not the insurrections of ignorance that are dangerous, but the revolts of intelligence.

It is the privilege of genius that to it life never grows common-place, as to the rest of us.

It is the vain endeavour to make ourselves what we are not that has strewn history with so many broken purposes and lives left in the rough.

Large charity doth never soil, but only whiten, soft white hands.

Life is the jailer, death the angel sent to draw the unwilling bolts and set us free.

Light is the symbol of truth.

Literature draws its sap from the deep soil of human nature’s common and everlasting sympathies.

Men’s thoughts and opinions are, in a great degree, vassals of him who invents a new phrase or reapplies an old epithet.

Most men make the voyage of life as if they carried sealed orders which they were not to open till they were fairly in mid-ocean.

Most religion-mongers have bated their paradises with a bit of toasted cheese. They have tempted the body with large promises of possessions in their transmortal El Dorado.

Nature is always kind enough to give even her clouds a humorous lining.

No man can produce great things who is not thoroughly sincere in dealing with himself.

No man is born into this world whose work is not born with him; there is always work, and tools to work withal, for those who will; and blessed are the horny hands of toil.

Nothing is more certain than that great poets are no sudden prodigies, but slow results.

Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it; / We are happy now, because God wills it.

Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, / In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side.

One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning.

Patience, when it is a divine thing, is active, not passive.

Poesy is love’s chosen apostle, and the very almoner of God. She is the home of the outcast, and the wealth of the needy.

Poetry is something to make us wiser and better by continually revealing those types of beauty and truth which God has set in all men’s souls.

Praise follows truth afar off, and only overtakes her at the grave. Plausibility clings to her skirts and holds her back till then.

Pride of origin, whether high or low, springs from the same principle in human nature; one is but the positive, the other the negative, pole of a single weakness.

Reading Chaucer is like brushing through the dewy grass at sunrise.

Reputation is in itself only a farthing candle, of a wavering and uncertain flame, and easily blown out, but it is the light by which the world looks for and finds merit.

Sentiment is intellectualised emotion; emotion precipitated, as it were, in pretty crystals by the fancy.

Simple as it seems, it was a great discovery that the key of knowledge could turn both ways, that it could open, as well as lock, the door of power to the many.

Sincerity is impossible unless it pervades the whole being; and the pretence saps the very foundations of character.

Soft-heartedness, in times like these, / Shows softness in the upper storey.

Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is wholesome for the character.

Talent is that which is in a man’s power; genius is that in whose power a man is.

That cause is strong which has not a multitude, but one strong man behind it.

That philanthropy has surely a flaw in it which cannot sympathise with the oppressor equally as with the oppressed.

The eye is the only note-book of the true poet.

The first lesson of literature, no less than of life, is the learning how to burn one’s own smoke.

The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinion.

The Holy Supper is kept indeed / In whatso we share with another’s need; / Not what we give, but what we share, / For the gift without the giver is bare.

The intellect has only one failing: it has no conscience.

The only faith that wears well, and holds its colour in all weathers, is that which is woven of conviction, and set with the sharp mordant of experience.

The path of nature is indeed a narrow one, and it is only the immortals that seek it, and, when they find it, they do not find themselves cramped therein.

The poet’s heart is an unlighted torch, which gives no help to his footsteps till love has touched it with flame.

The true historical genius, to our thinking, is that which can see the nobler meaning of the events that are near him.

The way to be original is to be healthy.

There are two kinds of genius. The first and highest may be said to speak out of the eternal into the present, and must compel its age to understand it; the second understands its age, and tells it what it wishes to be told.

There is no good in arguing with the inevitable.

There is no work of genius which has not been the delight of mankind, no word of genius to which the human heart and soul have not, sooner or later, responded.

There is only one thing better than tradition, and that is the original and eternal life out of which all tradition takes its rise.

They are slaves who dare not be / In the right with two or three.

Though old the thought and oft repress’d, / ’Tis his at last who says it best.

’Tis heaven alone that is given away; / ’Tis only God may be had for the asking.

To educate the intelligence is to enlarge the horizon of its desires and wants.

To fail at all is to fail utterly.

To genius life never grows commonplace.

To have any chance of lasting, a book must satisfy, not merely some fleeting fancy of the day, but a constant longing and hunger of human nature.

To make the common marvellous, as if it were a revelation, is the test of genius.

Truly there is a tide in the affairs of men; but there is no gulf-stream setting for ever in one direction.

Truth for ever on the scaffold, wrong for ever on the throne.

Truth is quite beyond the reach of satire.

Two meanings have our lightest fantasies, / One of the flesh, and of the spirit one.

Verse itself is an absurdity except as an expression of some higher movement of the mind, or as an expedient to lift other minds to the same ideal level.

We never can say why we love, but only that we love. The heart is ready enough at feigning excuses for all that it does or imagines of wrong; but ask it to give a reason for any of its beautiful and divine motions, and it can only look upward and be dumb.

We seek but half the causes of our deeds, / Seeking them only in the outer life, / And heedless of the encircling spirit-world, / Which, though unseen, is felt, and sows in us / All germs of pure and world-wide purposes.

What a sense of security is in an old book which Time has criticised for us!

Where one man shapes his life by precept and example, there are a thousand who have it shaped for them by impulse and by circumstances.

Whom the heart of man shuts out, straightway the heart of God takes in.

With every anguish of our earthly part the spirit’s sight grows clearer; this was meant when Jesus touched the blind man’s lids with clay.

Would we but pledge ourselves to truth as heartily as we do to a real or imaginary mistress, and think life too short only because it abridges our time of service, what a new world we should have.