Home  »  Dictionary of Quotations  »  Swift

James Wood, comp. Dictionary of Quotations. 1899.


A true genius may be known by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.

A wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart.

Although men are accused of not knowing their weakness, yet perhaps as few know their strength.

Argument, as usually managed, is the worst sort of conversation; as it is generally in books the worst sort of reading.

As love without esteem is capricious and volatile, esteem without love is languid and cold.

At first one omits writing for a little while; and then one stays a little while to consider of excuses; and at last it grows desperate, and one does not write at all.

Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.

Bread is the staff of life.

Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent.

Chew the cud of politics.

Climbing is performed in the same posture as creeping.

Common distress is a great promoter both of friendship and speculation.

Complaint is the largest tribute heaven receives, and the sincerest part of our devotion.

Convey a libel in a frown, / And wink a reputation down.

Digressions in a book are like foreign troops in a state, which argue the nation to want a heart and hands of its own; and often either subdue the natives, or drive them into the most unfruitful corners.

Every dog must have his day.

Every man desires to live long, but no man would be old.

Fame and censure with a tether / By fate are always linked together.

Few have the gift of discerning when to have done.

Fingers were made before forks, and hands before knives.

Fools are apt to imitate only the defects of their betters.

For want of a block a man will stumble at a straw.

Good manners is the art of making those people easy with whom we converse. Whoever makes the fewest persons uneasy is the best bred in the company.

He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in phials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement seasons.

He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.

Hobbes clearly proves that every creature / Lives in a state of war by nature.

How is it possible to expect that mankind will take advice, when they will not so much as take warning.

Human brutes, like other beasts, find snares and poison in the provisions of life, and are allured by their appetites to their destruction.

I never saw, heard, or read that the clergy were beloved in any nation where Christianity was the religion of the country.

I pity the man who can travel from Dan to Beersheba, and cry: ’Tis all barren.

If a man makes me keep my distance, the comfort is he keeps his own at the same time.

Imaginary evils soon become real ones by indulging our reflections on them.

Invention is the talent of youth, and judgment of age.

It is impossible that anything so natural, so necessary, and so universal as death should ever have been designed by Providence as an evil to mankind.

It is not so much the being exempt from faults, as the having overcome them, that is an advantage to us.

It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.

It is with narrow-soul’d people as with narrow-neck’d bottles; the less they have in them the more noise they make in pouring it out.

Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.

Learning puffeth men up; words are but wind, and learning is nothing but words; ergo, learning is nothing but wind.

Love is a bottomless pit; it is a cormorant—a harpy that devours everything.

Man is a forked radish with head fantastically carved.

Man is a forked straddling animal with bandy legs.

Men are contented to be laughed at for their wit, but not for their folly.

Men of great parts are often unfortunate in the management of public business, because they are apt to go out of the common road by the quickness of their imagination.

No wild beast more to be dreaded than a communicative man having nothing to communicate.

Nothing is so great an instance of ill-manners as flattery. If you flatter all the company, you please none; if you flatter only one or two, you affront the rest.

Observation is an old man’s memory.

One of the best rules in conversation is, never say a thing which any of the company can reasonably wish we had left unsaid.

Our complaint is the largest tribute heaven receives, and the sincerest part of our devotion.

Pedantry is properly the overrating any kind of knowledge we pretend to.

Positiveness is a good quality for preachers and orators, because whoever would obtrude his thoughts and reasons upon a multitude, will convince others the more as he appears convinced himself.

Power is no blessing in itself, but when it is employed to protect the innocent.

Pride, ill-nature, and want of sense are the three great sources of ill-manners; without some one of these defects no man will behave himself ill for want of experience, or what, in the language of fools, is called knowing the world.

Proper words in proper places make the true definition of a style.

Reason is a very light rider, and easily shook off.

Reason itself is true and just, but the reason of every particular man is weak and wavering.

Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.

Seamen have a custom when they meet a whale to fling out an empty tub by way of amusement, to divert him from laying violent hands upon the ship.

She looks as if butter would not melt in her mouth.

She watches him as a cat would watch a mouse.

Some dire misfortune to portend, / No enemy can match a friend.

Some modern zealots appear to have no better knowledge of truth, nor better manner of judging it, than by counting noses.

Style may be defined, proper words in proper places.

The axe of intemperance has lopped off his green boughs and left him a withered trunk.

The common fluency of speech in many men and most women is owing to a scarcity of matter and a scarcity of words.

The latter part of a wise man’s life is taken up in curing the follies, prejudices, and false opinions he had contracted in the former.

The man truly proud thinks honours below his merit, and scorns to boast.

The reason why so few marriages are happy is because young ladies spend their time in making nets, not in making cages.

The sight of you is good for sore eyes.

The stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our desires is like cutting off our feet when we want shoes.

The tell-tale out of school is of all wits the greatest fool.

The want of belief is a defect which ought to be concealed when it cannot be overcome.

There is no vice or folly that requires so much nicety and skill to manage as vanity.

There is none so blind as they that won’t see.

There seems to be no part of knowledge in fewer hands than that of discerning when to have done.

’Tis an old maxim in the schools / That flattery’s the food of fools; / Yet now and then your men of wit / Will condescend to take a bit.

To be vain is rather a mark of humility than pride.

To call a man ungrateful is to sum up all the evil he can be guilty of.

To know the world, a modern phrase! a modern phrase / For visits, ombre, balls, and plays.

Ubi sæva indignatio cor ulterius lacerare nequit—Where bitter indignation cannot lacerate my heart any more.His epitaph.

Usually speaking, the worst-bred person in company is a young traveller just returned from abroad.

Vain men delight in telling what honours have been done them, what great company they have kept, and the like; by which they plainly confess that these honours were more than their due.

Vanity is rather a mark of humility than pride.

Vanity is the food of fools.

Vanity is the vice of low minds; a man of spirit is too proud to be vain.

Very few men, properly speaking, live at present, but are providing to live another time.

Virtue repulsed, yet knows not to repine, / But shall with unattainted honour shine.

We have just enough religion to make as hate, but not enough to make us love, one another.

What has been, may be; and what may be, may be supposed to be.

When a true genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.

When you cannot get dinner ready, put the clock back.

Whoever can make two ears of corn or two blades of grass grow where only one grew before, deserves better of mankind, and does more service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.

You frighten me out of my seven senses.

Your tongue runs before your wit.