C.N. Douglas, comp. Forty Thousand Quotations: Prose and Poetical. 1917.


Ambition is the mind’s immodesty.


Ambition’s cradle oftenest is its grave.


By that sin angels fell.


The glorious frailty of the noble mind.


The noblest spirit is most strongly attracted by the love of glory.


Ambition has no rest!


Men would be angels, angels would be gods.


The path of glory leads but to the grave.


Ambition, like a torrent, never looks back.

Ben Jonson.

Vaulting ambition, which overleaps itself.


Ambition is not a vice of little people.


  • I charge thee, fling away ambition:
  • By that sin fell the angels.
  • Shakespeare.

    No man is born without ambitious worldly desires.


    All may have, if they dare try, a glorious life or grave.


    Ambition is like love, impatient both of delays and rivals.


    Though ambition in itself is a vice, yet it is often the parent of virtues.


    If you wish to reach the highest, begin at the lowest.


  • Fatal ambition! say what wondrous charms
  • Delude mankind to toil for thee in arms?
  • Rowe.

    Ambition is but the evil shadow of aspiration.

    George Macdonald.

    You have greatly ventured, but all must do so who would greatly win.


    When once ambition has passed its natural limits, its progress is boundless.


    Nothing is too high for the daring of mortals: we storm heaven itself in our folly.


    Ambition is like hunger; it obeys no law but its appetite.

    H. W. Shaw.

    He who surpasses or subdues mankind must look down on the hate of those below.


    The highest and most lofty trees have the most reason to dread the thunder.


  • Ambition hath one heel nail’d in hell,
  • Though she stretch her fingers to touch the heavens.
  • Lilly.

  • They that stand high, have many blasts to shake them;
  • And if they fall, they dash themselves to pieces.
  • Shakespeare.

    Ambition breaks the ties of blood, and forgets the obligations of gratitude.

    Sir W. Scott.

    Think not ambition wise, because ’t is brave.

    Sir W. Davenant.

    Too low they build who build beneath the stars.


  • What is ambition but desire of greatness?
  • And what is greatness but extent of power?
  • Higgons.

    Beware ambition; heaven is not reached with pride, but with submission.


    Who soars too near the sun, with golden wings, melts them.


  • How like a mounting devil in the heart
  • Rules the unreined ambition!
  • Willis.

    Take away ambition and vanity, and where will be your heroes and patriots?


    It is the constant fault and inseparable ill quality of ambition never to look behind it.


  • Ah! curst ambition! to thy lures we owe
  • All the great ills that mortals bear below.
  • Teckell.

    Blood only serves to wash Ambition’s hands.


    Remarkable places are like the summits of rocks; eagles and reptiles only can get there.

    Madame Necker.

    Ambition hath but two steps; the lowest, blood; the highest, envy.


    We frequently pass from love to ambition, but one seldom returns from ambition to love.

    La Rochefoucauld.

  • ———there is a fire and motion of the soul,
  • But once kindled, quenchless evermore.
  • Byron.

    Most people would succeed in small things if they were not troubled with great ambitions.


    Proud-crested fiend, the world’s worst foe, ambition.


    Ambition thinks no face so beautiful as that which looks from under a crown.

    Sir P. Sidney.

    Ambition is the germ from which all growth of nobleness proceeds.

    T. D. English.

    It is by attempting to reach the top at a single leap that so much misery is produced in the world.


    Ambition often puts men upon doing the meanest offices; so climbing is performed in the same posture with creeping.


    The tallest trees are most in the power of the winds, and ambitious men of the blasts of fortune.

    William Penn.

    One may easily enough guard against ambition till five-and-twenty. It is not ambition’s day.


    Ambition, like love, can abide no lingering; and ever urgeth on his own successes, hating nothing but what may stop them.

    Sir P. Sidney.

    Neither love nor ambition, as it has often been shown, can brook a division of its empire in the heart.


    It is observed by Cicero, that men of the greatest and most shining parts are most actuated by ambition.


    The cheat ambition, eager to espouse dominion, courts it with a lying show, and shines in borrowed pomp to serve a turn.


    The ambitious deceive themselves when they propose an end to their ambition; for that end, when attained, becomes a means.

    La Rochefoucauld.

    Ambition is an idol, on whose wings great minds are carried only to extreme,—to be sublimely great, or to be nothing.


    What is ambition? It is a glorious cheat! Angels of light walk not so dazzlingly the sapphire walls of heaven.


  • Our natures are like oil; compound us with anything,
  • Yet will we strive to swim to the top.
  • Beaumont and Fletcher.

  • Ambition is a lust that’s never quenched,
  • Grows more inflamed, and madder by enjoyment.
  • Otway.

  • Ambition has but one reward for all:
  • A little power, a little transient fame,
  • A grave to rest in, and a fading name!
  • William Winter.

  • Uncurbed ambition, unresisting sloth,
  • And base dependence, are the fiends accurst.
  • Mason.

    Ambition sufficiently plagues her proselytes, by keeping themselves always in show, like the statue of a public place.


    In the world there are only two ways of raising one’s self, either by one’s own industry or by the weakness of others.

    La Bruyère.

    Unruly ambition is deaf, not only to the advice of friends, but to the counsels and monitions of reason itself.


    To wish is of little account; to succeed you must earnestly desire; and this desire must shorten thy sleep.


    When you are aspiring to the highest place, it is honorable to reach the second or even the third rank.


    The object of ambition, unlike that of love, never being wholly possessed, ambition is the more durable passion of the two.


  • Ambition is an idol, on whose wings
  • Great minds are carried only to extreme;
  • To be sublimely great or to be nothing.
  • Southey.

    For my part, I had rather be the first man among these fellows than the second man in Rome.


  • Dream after dream ensues,
  • And still they dream that they shall still succeed,
  • And still are disappointed.
  • Cowper.

    A slave has but one master; the ambitious man has as many masters as there are persons whose aid may contribute to the advancement of his fortune.

    La Bruyère.

    Like dogs in a wheel, birds in a cage, or squirrels in a chain, ambitious men still climb and climb, with great labor, and incessant anxiety, but never reach the top.


    Be always displeased at what thou art, it thou desire to attain to what thou art not; for where thou hast pleased thyself, there thou abidest.


    Every one has before his eyes an end which he pursues till death; but for many that end is a feather which they blow before them in the air.


    Ambition is a rebel both to the soul and reason, and enforces all laws, all conscience; treads upon religion, and offers violence to nature’s self.

    Ben Jonson.

  • But what will not ambition and revenge
  • Descend to? who aspires must down as low
  • As high he soar’d, obnoxious first or last
  • To basest things.
  • Milton.

    There is a native baseness in the ambition which seeks beyond its desert, that never shows more conspicuously than when, no matter how, it temporarily gains its object.


    The modesty of certain ambitious persons consists in becoming great without making too much noise; it may be said that they advance in the world on tiptoe.


    Wisdom is corrupted by ambition, even when the quality of the ambition is intellectual. For ambition, even of this quality, is but a form of self-love.

    Henry Taylor.

    I begin where most people end, with a full conviction of the emptiness of all sorts of ambition, and the unsatisfactory nature of all human pleasures.


  • Ambition’s like a circle on the water,
  • Which never ceases to enlarge itself,
  • ’Till by broad spreading it disperse to nought.
  • Shakespeare.

  • Talents angel-bright,
  • If wanting worth are shining instruments
  • In false ambition’s hand, to finish faults
  • Illustrious, and give infamy renown.
  • Young.

    We should be careful to deserve a good reputation by doing well; and when that care is once taken, not to be over anxious about the success.


  • O cursed ambition, thou devouring bird,
  • How dost thou from the field of honesty
  • Pick every grain of profit or delight,
  • And mock the reaper’s toil!
  • Havard.

  • All my ambition is, I own,
  • To profit and to please unknown;
  • Like streams supplied from springs below,
  • Which scatter blessings as they go.
  • Dr. Cotton.

    If love and ambition should be in equal balance, and come to jostle with equal force, I make no doubt but that the last would win the prize.


    Where ambition can be so happy as to cover its enterprises even to the person himself, under the appearance of principle, it is the most incurable and inflexible of all human passions.


    Most natures are insolvent; cannot satisfy their own wants, have an ambition out of all proportion to their practical force, and so do lean and beg day and night continually.


    Ambition! deadly tyrant! inexorable master! what alarms, what anxious hours, what agonies of heart, are the sure portion of thy gaudy slaves?


    A hop and skip shall raise the son of a cobbler, well underlaid with pieces, to the government of a prince, till overmuch ambitious cutting wears him to his last.


    It is not for man to rest in absolute contentment. He is born to hopes and aspirations, as the sparks fly upward, unless he has brutified his nature, and quenched the spirit of immortality, which is his portion.


    Ambition makes the same mistake concerning power that avarice makes concerning wealth. She begins by accumulating power as a mean to happiness, and she finishes by continuing to accumulate it as an end.


    Moderation cannot have the credit of combating and subduing ambition,—they are never found together. Moderation is the languor and indolence of the soul, as ambition is its activity and ardor.

    La Rochefoucauld.

    Ambition is but avarice on stilts, and masked. God sometimes sends a famine, sometimes a pestilence, and sometimes a hero, for the chastisement of mankind; none of them surely for our admiration.


  • Who knows but He, whose hand the lightning forms,
  • Who heaves old ocean, and who wings the storms,
  • Pours fierce ambition in a Cæsar’s mind.
  • Pope.

    Dreams, indeed, are ambition; for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream. And I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality, that it is but a shadow’s shadow.


    Ambition is like choler, which is a humor that maketh men active, earnest, full of alacrity, and stirring, if it be not stopped, but if it be stopped, and cannot have its way, it becometh fiery, and thereby malign and venomous.


    We should reflect that whatever tempts the pride and vanity of ambitious persons is not so big as the smallest star which we see scattered in disorder and unregarded on the pavement of heaven.

    Jeremy Taylor.

  • Ambition is a spirit in the world
  • That causes all the ebbs and flows of nations,
  • Keeps mankind sweet by action; without that,
  • The world would be a filthy, settled mud.
  • Crown.

    Aspiring to nothing but humility, the wise man will make it the height of his ambition to be unambitious. As he cannot effect all that he wishes, he will only wish for that which he can effect.


    Ambition is to the mind what the cap is to the falcon; it blinds us first, and then compels us to tower, by reason of our blindness. But alas! when we are at the summit of a vain ambition, we are also at the depth of misery.


    Ill-weaved ambition, how much art thou shrunk! when that this body did contain a spirit, a kingdom for it was too small a bound; but now, two paces of the vilest earth is room enough.


    When ambitious men find an open passage, they are rather busy than dangerous; and if well watched in their proceedings, they will catch themselves in their own snare, and prepare a way for their own destruction.


    If not for that of conscience, yet at least for ambition’s sake, let us reject ambition, let us disdain that thirst of honor and renown, so low and mendicant, that it makes us beg it of all sorts of people.


    Nothing can be more destructive to ambition, and the passion for conquest, than the true system of astronomy. What a poor thing is even the whole globe in comparison of the infinite extent of nature!


    Don Quixote thought he could have made beautiful bird-cages and toothpicks if his brain had not been so full of ideas of chivalry. Most people would succeed in small things if they were not troubled with great ambitions.


  • Be not with honor’s gilded baits beguil’d,
  • Nor think ambition wise, because ’tis brave;
  • For though we like it, as a forward child,
  • ’Tis so unsound, her cradle is the grave.
  • Davenant.

  • Ambition’s monstrous stomach does increase
  • By eating, and it fears to starve, unless
  • It still may feed, and all it sees devour;
  • Ambition is not tir’d with toil nor cloy’d with power.
  • Davenant.

  • Oh, sons of earth! attempt ye still to rise,
  • By mountains pil’d on mountains to the skies?
  • Heav’n still with laughter the vain toil surveys,
  • And buries madmen in the heaps they raise.
  • Pope.

    Ambition is a gilded misery, a secret poison, a hidden plague, the engineer of deceit, the mother of hypocrisy, the parent of envy, the original of vices, the moth of holiness, the blinder of hearts, turning medicines into maladies, and remedies into diseases.

    Thomas Brooks.

    Hard, withering toil only can achieve a name; and long days and mouths and years must be passed in the chase of that bubble, reputation, which, when once grasped, breaks in your eager clutch into a hundred lesser bubbles, that soar above you still.


    Ambition is frequently the only refuge which life has left to the denied or mortified affections. We chide at the grasping eye, the daring wing, the soul that seems to thirst for sovereignty only, and know not that the flight of this ambitious bird has been from a bosom or home that is filled with ashes.


    We must distinguish between felicity and prosperity; for prosperity leads often to ambition, and ambition to disappointment; the course is then over, the wheel turns round but once, while the reaction of goodness and happiness is perpetual.


  • What’s all the gaudy glitter of a crown?
  • What but the glaring meteor of ambition,
  • That leads the wretch benighted in his errors,
  • Points to the gulf and shines upon destruction.
  • Brooke.

    Ambition is torment enough for an enemy; for it affords as much discontentment in enjoying as in want, making men like poisoned rats, which, when they have tasted of their bane, cannot rest till they drink, and then can much less rest till they die.

    Bishop Hall.

    Ambition becomes displeasing when it is once satiated; there is a reaction; and as our spirit, till our last sigh, is always aiming toward some object, it falls back on itself, having nothing else on which to rest; and having reached the summit, it longs to descend.


    To be ambitious of true honor, of the true glory and perfection of our natures, is the very principle and incentive of virtue; but to be ambitious of titles, of place, of ceremonial respects and civil pageantry, is as vain and little as the things are which we court.

    Sir P. Sidney.

  • Lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,
  • Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
  • And when he once obtains the upmost round,
  • He then unto the ladder turns his back,
  • Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
  • By which he did ascend.
  • Shakespeare.

    Lives there the man with soul so dead as to disown the wish to merit the people’s applause, and having uttered words worthy to be kept by cedar oil to latest times, to leave behind him rhymes that dread neither herrings nor frankincense.


    A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself, and a mean man by one which is lower than himself. The one produces aspiration; the other, ambition. Ambition is the way in which a vulgar man aspires.


    Ambition, that high and glorious passion, which makes such havoc among the sons of men, arises from a proud desire of honor and distinction; and when the splendid trappings in which it is usually caparisoned are removed, will be found to consist of the mean materials of envy, pride, and covetousness.


    It is the nature of ambition to make men liars and cheats, and hide the truth in their breasts, and show, like jugglers, another thing in their mouths; to cut all friendships and enmities to the measure of their interest, and to make a good countenance without the help of a good will.


  • If at great things thou would’st arrive,
  • Get riches first, get wealth, and treasure heap,
  • Not difficult, if thou hearken to me;
  • Riches are mine, fortune is in my hand,
  • They whom I favor thrive in wealth amain,
  • While virtue, valor, wisdom, sit in want.
  • Milton.

  • The man who seeks one thing in life, and but one,
  • May hope to achieve it before life be done;
  • But he who seeks all things, wherever he goes,
  • Only reaps from the hopes which around him he sows
  • A harvest of barren regrets.
  • Owen Meredith.

  • Man was mark’d
  • A friend in his creation to himself,
  • And may, with fit ambition, conceive
  • The greatest blessings, and the highest honors
  • Appointed for him, if he can achieve them
  • The right and noble way.
  • Massinger.

    If we look abroad upon the great multitude of mankind, and endeavor to trace out the principles of action in every individual, it will, I think, seem highly probable that ambition runs through the whole species, and that every man, in proportion to the vigor of his complexion, is more or less actuated by it.

    Thomas Hughes.

  • Those that were up themselves, kept others low;
  • Those that were low themselves, held others hard;
  • He suffered them to ryse or greater grow;
  • But every one did strive his fellow down to throw.
  • Spenser.

  • I am as one
  • Who doth attempt some lofty mountain’s height,
  • And having gained what to the upcast eye
  • the summit’s point appear’d, astonish’d sees
  • Its cloudy top, majestic and enlarged,
  • Towering aloft, as distant as before.
  • Joanna Baillie.

    Say what we will, you may be sure that ambition is an error; its wear and tear of heart are never recompensed—it steals away the freshness of life,—it deadens its vivid and social enjoyments,—it shuts our souls to our own youth,—and we are old ere we remember that we have made a fever and a labor of our raciest years.


    There is no greater unreasonableness in the world than in the designs of ambition; for it makes the present certainly miserable, unsatisfactory, troublesome, and discontented, for the uncertain acquisition of an honor which nothing can secure; and, besides a thousand possibilities of miscarrying, it relies upon no greater certainty than our life; and when we are dead all the world sees who was the fool.

    Jeremy Taylor.

  • Farewell, a long farewell, to all my greatness!
  • This is the state of man. To-day he puts forth
  • The tender leaves of hope; to-morrow blossoms,
  • And bears his blushing honors thick upon him;
  • The third day comes a frost, a killing frost.
  • Shakespeare.

    It is a true observation of ancient writers, that as men are apt to be cast down by adversity, so they are easily satiated with prosperity, and that joy and grief produce the same effects. For whenever men are not obliged by necessity to fight they fight from ambition, which is so powerful a passion in the human breast that however high we reach we are never satisfied.


  • The cheat ambition, eager to espouse
  • Dominion, courts it with a lying show,
  • And shines in borrow’d pomp to serve a turn;
  • But the match made, the farce is at an end;
  • And all the hireling equipage of virtues,
  • Faith, honor, justice, gratitude and friendship,
  • Discharg’d at once.
  • Jeffreys.

  • The wondrous architecture of the world,
  • And measure every wandering planet’s course,
  • Still climbing after knowledge infinite,
  • And always moving as the restless spheres,
  • Will us to wear ourselves, and never rest
  • Until we reach the ripest fruit of all,
  • That perfect bliss and sole felicity,
  • The sweet fruition of a heavenly crown.
  • Marlowe.

    The shadow, wheresoever it passes, leaves no track behind it; and of the greatest personages of the world, when they are once dead, then there remains no more than if they had never lived. How many preceding emperors of the Assyrian monarchy were lords of the world as well as Alexander! and now we remain not only ignorant of their monuments, but know not so much as their names. And of the same great Alexander, what have we at this day except the vain noise of his fame?

    Jeremy Taylor.

  • On the summit see,
  • The seals of office glitter in his eyes;
  • He climbs, he pants, he grasps them! At his heels,
  • Close at his heels, a demagogue ascends,
  • And with a dexterous jerk soon twists him down,
  • And wins them, but to lose them in his turn.
  • Cowper.

    Ambition is, of all other, the most contrary humor to solitude; and glory and repose are so inconsistent that they cannot possibly inhabit one and the same place; and for so much as I understand, those have only their arms and legs disengaged from the crowd, their mind and intention remain engaged behind more than ever.


    There is a kind of grandeur and respect which the meanest and most insignificant part of mankind endeavor to procure in the little circle of their friends and acquaintance. The poorest mechanic, nay, the man who lives upon common alms, gets him his set of admirers, and delights in that superiority which he enjoys over those who are in some respects beneath him. This ambition, which is natural to the soul of man, might, methinks, receive a very happy turn; and, if it were rightly directed, contribute as much to a person’s advantage, as it generally does to his uneasiness and disquiet.


  • This raging, vehement desire,
  • Of sovereignty no satisfaction finds;
  • But in the breasts of men doth ever roll
  • The restless stone of Sisyph, to torment them,
  • And as his heart, who stole the heav’nly fire,
  • The vulture gnaws, so doth that monster rent them;
  • Had they the world, the world would not content them.
  • Earl of Sterling.