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

George Eliot

  • A man’s a man,
  • But when you see a king, you see the work
  • Of many thousand men.
  • A woman’s rank
  • Lies in the fulness of her womanhood:
  • Therein alone she is royal.
  • A woman mixed of such fine elements
  • That were all virtue and religion dead
  • She’d make them newly, being what she was.
  • And rank for her meant duty, various
  • Yet equal in its worth, done worthily.
  • Command was service; humblest service done
  • By willing and discerning souls was glory.
  • Beauteous Night lay dead
  • Under the pall of twilight, and the love-star sickened and shrank.
  • But faithfulness can feed on suffering,
  • And knows no disappointment.
  • Conscience is harder than our enemies,
  • Knows more, accuses with more nicety.
  • Dark the Night, with breath all flowers,
  • And tender broken voice that fills
  • With ravishment the listening hours,—
  • Whisperings, wooings,
  • Liquid ripples, and soft ring-dove cooings
  • In low-toned rhythm that love’s aching stills!
  • Dark the night
  • Yet is she bright,
  • For in her dark she brings the mystic star,
  • Trembling yet strong, as is the voice of love,
  • From some unknown afar.
  • Death is the king of this world: ’tis his park
  • Where he breeds life to feed him. Cries of pain
  • Are music for his banquet.
  • For strong souls
  • Live like fire-hearted suns; to spend their strength
  • In furthest striving action.
  • For thoughts are so great—aren’t they, sir?
  • They seem to lie upon us like a deep flood.
  • His years with others must the sweeter be
  • For those brief days he spent in loving me.
  • In travelling
  • I shape myself betimes to idleness
  • And take fools’ pleasure.
  • It was in the prime
  • Of the sweet spring-time,
  • In the linnet’s throat
  • Trembled the love-note,
  • And the love-stirred air
  • Thrilled the blossoms there.
  • Little shadows danced,
  • Each a tiny elf,
  • Happy in large light
  • And the thinnest self.
  • Man thinks
  • Brutes have no wisdom, since they know not his:
  • Can we divine their world?
  • O radiant Dark! O darkly fostered ray!
  • Thou hast a joy too deep for shallow Day.
  • O that grave speech would cumber our quick souls
  • Like bells that waste the moments with their loudness.
  • One height
  • Showed him the ocean, stretched in liquid light,
  • And he could hear its multitudinous roar,
  • Its plunge and hiss upon the pebbled shore.
  • Our growing thought
  • Makes growing revelation.
  • Perhaps the wind
  • Wails so in winter for the summer’s dead,
  • And all sad sounds are nature’s funeral cries
  • For what has been and is not.
  • Speech is but broken light upon the depth
  • Of the unspoken.
  • The devil tempts us not; ’tis we tempt him,
  • Beckoning his skill with opportunity.
  • These gems have life in them: their colors speak,
  • Say what words fail of.
  • The human heart
  • Finds nowhere shelter but in human kind.
  • They the royal-hearted women are
  • Who nobly love the noblest, yet have grace
  • For needy suffering lives in lowliest place,
  • Carrying a choicer sunlight in their smile,
  • The heavenliest ray that pitieth the vile.
  • ’Tis God gives skill,
  • But not without men’s hands: He could not make
  • Antonio Stradivari’s violins
  • Without Antonio.
  • Two angels guide
  • The path of man, both aged and yet young,
  • As angels are, ripening through endless years,
  • On one he leans; some call her Memory,
  • And some Tradition; and her voice is sweet,
  • With deep mysterious accords; the other,
  • Floating above, holds down a lamp which streams
  • A light divine and searching on the earth,
  • Compelling eyes and footsteps. Memory yields,
  • Yet clings with loving check, and shines anew,
  • Reflecting all the rays of that bright lamp
  • Our angel Reason holds. We had not walked
  • But for Tradition; we walk evermore
  • To higher paths by brightening Reason’s lamp.
  • What if my words
  • Were meant for deeds.
  • When our two lives grew like two buds that kiss
  • At lightest thrill from the bee’s swinging chime,
  • Because the one so near the other is.
  • You love the roses—so do I. I wish
  • The sky would rain down roses, as they rain
  • From off the shaken bush. Why will it not?
  • Then all the valleys would be pink and white,
  • And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
  • As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be
  • Like sleeping and yet waking, all at once.
  • Over the sea, Queen, where we soon shall go,
  • Will it rain roses?
  • A blush is no language; only a dubious flag-signal which may mean either of two contradictories.

    A book which hath been culled from the flowers of all books.

    A fine lady is a squirrel-headed thing, with small airs and small notions; about as applicable to the business of life as a pair of tweezers to the clearing of a forest.

    A girl of eighteen imagines the feelings behind the face that has moved her with its sympathetic youth as easily as primitive people imagined the humors of the gods in fair weather. What is she to believe in if not in this vision woven from within?

    A man deep wounded may feel too much pain to feel much anger.

    A man’s a man; but when you see a king, you see the work of many thousand men.

    A peasant can no more help believing in a traditional superstition than a horse can help trembling when be sees a camel.

    A proud heart and a lofty mountain are never fruitful.

    A proud woman who has learned to submit carries all her pride to the reinforcement of her submission, and looks down with severe superiority on all feminine assumption as unbecoming.

    A suppressed resolve will betray itself in the eyes.

    A supreme love, a motive that gives a sublime rhythm to a woman’s life, and exalts habit into partnership with the soul’s highest needs, is not to be had where and how she wills; to know that high initiation, she must often tread where it is hard to tread, and feel the chill air, and watch through darkness.

    A woman’s hopes are woven of sunbeams; a shadow annihilates them.

    A woman’s lot is made for her by the love she accepts.

    Affection is the broadest basis of good in life.

    Anger and jealousy can no more bear to lose sight of their objects than love.

    Animals are such agreeable friends—they ask no questions. They pass no criticisms.

    As soon as we lay ourselves entirely at His feet, we have enough light given us to guide our own steps; as the foot-soldier, who hears nothing of the councils that determine the course of the great battle he is in, hears plainly enough the word of command which he must himself obey.

    As to people saying a few idle words about us, we must not mind that, any more than the old church-steeple minds the rooks cawing about it.

    Awful Night! Ancestral mystery of mysteries.

    Blessed influence of one true loving human soul on another.

    Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.

    Breed is stronger than pasture.

    But certain winds will make men’s temper bad.

    But for tradition, we walk evermore to higher paths by brightening reason’s lamp.

    Can man or woman choose duties? No more than they can choose their birthplace, or their father and mother.

    Character is not cut in marble; it is not something solid and unalterable. It is something living and changing, and may become diseased as our bodies do.

    Childhood has no forebodings; but then it is soothed by no memories of outlived sorrow.

    Coarse kindness is at least better than coarse anger; and in all private quarrels the duller nature is triumphant by reason of its dullness.

    Consequences are unpitying. Our deeds carry their terrible consequences, quite apart from any fluctuations that went before—consequences that are hardly ever confined to ourselves.

    Cruelty, like every other vice, requires no motive outside of itself; it only requires opportunity.

    Death is the only physician, the shadow of his valley the only journeying that will cure us of age and the gathering fatigue of years.

    Do we not all agree to call rapid thought and noble impulse by the name of inspiration?

    Don’t let us rejoice in punishment, even when the hand of God alone inflicts it. The best of us are but poor wretches, just saved from shipwreck. Can we feel anything but awe and pity when we see a fellow-passenger swallowed by the waves?

    Don’t seem to be on the lookout for crows, else you’ll set other people watching.

    Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult.

    Friend more divine than all divinities.

    Friendships begin with liking or gratitude—roots that can be pulled up.

    Gossip is a sort of smoke that comes from the dirty tobacco-pipes of those who diffuse it; it proves nothing but the bad taste of the smoker.

    Growing thought makes growing revelation.

    Half the sorrows of women would be averted if they could repress the speech they know to be useless,—nay, the speech they have resolved not to utter.

    Hate is like fire; it makes even light rubbish deadly.

    How will you find good? It is not a thing of choice; it is a river that flows from the foot of the Invisible Throne and flows by the path of obedience.

    I always think the flowers can see us, and know what we are thinking about.

    I could not live in peace if I put the shadow of a wilful sin between myself and God.

    I desire no future that will break the ties of the past.

    I have been a great deal happier since I have given up thinking about what is easy and pleasant, and being discontented because I could not have my own will. Our life is determined for us; and it makes the mind very free when we give up wishing, and only think of bearing what is laid upon us and doing what is given us to do.

    I like to read about Moses best, in th’ Old Testament. He carried a hard business well through, and died when other folks were going to reap the fruits; a man must have courage to look after his life so, and think what’ll come of it after he’s dead and gone.

    I think I am quite wicked with roses. I like to gather them, and smell them till they have no scent left.

    I think there are stores laid up in our human nature that our understandings can make no complete inventory of.

    I trust you as holy men trust God; you could do nought that was not pure and loving, though the deed might pierce me unto death.

    I’m proof against that word “failure.” I’ve seen behind it. The only failure a man ought to fear is failure in cleaving to the purpose he sees to be best.

    I’ve never any pity for conceited people, because I think they carry their comfort about with them.

    If I have read religious history aright, faith, hope, and charity have not always been found in a direct ratio with a sensibility to the three concords; and it is possible, thank heaven! to have very erroneous theories and very sublime feelings.

    “Ignorance,” says Ajax, “is a painless evil”; so, I should think, is dirt, considering the merry faces that go along with it.

    Ignorance is not so damnable as humbug; but when it prescribes pills it may happen to do more harm.

    Impatient people, according to Bacon, are like the bees, and kill themselves in stinging others.

    In every parting there is an image of death.

    In high vengeance there is noble scorn.

    In so complex a thing as human nature, we must consider it is hard to find rules without exception.

    In the man whose childhood has known caresses, there is always a fibre of memory that can be touched to gentle issues.

    Ingenious philosophers tell you, perhaps, that the great work of the steam-engine is to create leisure for mankind. Do not believe them; it only creates a vacuum for eager thought to rush in.

    Is it any weakness, pray, to be wrought on by exquisite music? to feel its wondrous harmonies searching the subtlest windings of your soul, the delicate fibres of life where no memory can penetrate, and binding together your whole being, past and present, in one unspeakable vibration; melting you in one moment with all the tenderness, all the love, that has been scattered through the toilsome years, concentrating in one emotion of heroic courage or resignation all the hard-learned lessons of self-renouncing sympathy, blending your present joy with past sorrow, and your present sorrow with all your past joy?

    It always seemed to me a sort of clever stupidity only to have one sort of talent—almost like a carrier-pigeon.

    It belongs to every large nature, when it is not under the immediate power of some strong unquestioning emotion, to suspect itself, and doubt the truth of its own impressions, conscious of possibilities beyond its own horizon.

    It is a fact capable of amiable interpretation that ladies are not the worst disposed towards a new acquaintance of their own sex, because she has points of inferiority.

    It is a wonderful subduer—this need of love, this hunger of the heart.

    It is difficult for a woman to try to be anything good when she is not believed in.

    It is easy finding reasons why other folks should be patient.

    It is easy to say how we love new friends, and what we think of them, but words can never trace out all the fibers that knit us to the old.

    It is generally a feminine eye that first detects the moral deficiencies hidden under the “dear deceit” of beauty.

    It is good to be unselfish and generous; but don’t carry that too far. It will not do to give yourself to be melted down for the benefit of the tallow-trade; you must know where to find yourself.

    It is hard to believe long together that anything is “worth while,” unless there is some eye to kindle in common with our own, some brief word uttered now and then to imply that what is infinitely precious to us is precious alike to another mind.

    It is in those acts called trivialities that the seeds of joy are forever wasted, until men and women look around with haggard faces at the devastation their own waste has made, and say the earth bears no harvest of sweetness, calling their denial knowledge.

    It is not true that love makes all things easy; it makes us choose what is difficult.

    It never rains roses; when we want more roses, we must plant more trees.

    It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.

    Jealousy is never satisfied with anything short of an omniscience that would detect the subtlest fold of the heart.

    Joy is the best of wine.

    Leisure is gone,—gone where the spinning-wheels are gone, and the pack-horses, and the slow wagons, and the peddlers, who brought bargains to the door on sunny afternoons.

    Life is like a game of whist. I don’t enjoy the game much; but I like to play my cards well, and see what will be the end of it.

    Life is very difficult. It seems right to me sometimes that we should follow our strongest feelings; but then such feelings continually come across the ties that all our former life has made for us,—the ties that have made others dependent on us,—and would cut them in two.

    Lord! Thou art with Thy people still; they see Thee in the night-watches, and their hearts burn within them as Thou talkest with them by the way. And Thou art near to those that have not known Thee; open their eyes that they may see Thee—see Thee weeping over them, and saying, “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life”—see Thee hanging on the cross and saying, “Father, forgave them, for they know not what they do”—see Thee as Thou wilt come again in Thy glory to judge them at the last. Amen.

    Love has a way of cheating itself consciously, like a child who plays at solitary hide-and-seek; it is pleased with assurances that it all the while disbelieves.

    Love is frightened at the intervals of insensibility and callousness that encroach by little and little on the dominion of grief, and it makes efforts to recall the keenness of the first anguish.

    Love supreme defies all sophistry.

    Maggie and Stephen were in that stage of courtship which makes the most exquisite moment of youth, the freshest blossom-time of passion,—when each is sure of the other’s love, but no formal declaration has been made, and all is mutual divination, exalting the most trivial words, the lightest gestures, into thrills delicate and delicious as wafted jasmine scent.

    Man cannot choose his duties.

    Man may content himself with the applause of the world and the homage paid to his intellect, but woman’s heart has holier idols.

    Mankind is not disposed to look narrowly into the conduct of great victors when their victory is on the right side.

    Many an inherited sorrow that has marred a life has been breathed into no human ear.

    Marriage must be a relation either of sympathy or of conquest.

    Melodies die out, like the pipe of Pan, with the ears that love them and listen for them.

    Mighty is the force of motherhood! It transforms all things by its vital heat; it turns timidity into fierce courage, and dreadless defiance into tremulous submission; it turns thoughtlessness into foresight, and yet stills all anxiety into calm content; it makes selfishness become self-denial, and gives even to hard vanity the glance of admiring love.

    Mirah’s was the sort of voice that gives the impression of being meant, like a bird’s wooing, for an audience near and beloved.

    More helpful than all wisdom is one draught of simple human pity that will not forsake us.

    Nature repairs her ravages,—repairs them with her sunshine and with human labor.

    Nemesis is lame; but she is of colossal stature, like the gods, and sometimes, while her sword is not yet unsheathed, she stretches out her huge left arm and grasps her victim. The mighty hand is invisible, but the victim totters under the dire clutch.

    No man can be wise on an empty stomach.

    No man is matriculated to the art of life till he has been well tempted.

    No soul is desolate as long as there is a human being for whom it can feel trust and reverence.

    Nothing at times is more expressive than silence.

    Nothing is so good as it seems beforehand.

    One couldn’t carry on life comfortably without a little blindness to the fact that everything has been said better than we can put it ourselves.

    One must be poor to know the luxury of giving.

    One’s self-satisfaction is an untaxed kind of property, which it is very unpleasant to find depreciated.

    “One soweth and another reapeth,” is a verity that applies to evil as well as good.

    Our deeds are like children born to us; they live and act apart from our own will. Children may be strangled, but deeds never.

    Our deeds determine us as much as we determine our deeds.

    Our life is determined for us; and it makes the mind very free when we give up wishing, and only think of bearing what is laid upon us and doing what is given us to do.

    Our selfishness is so robust and many-clutching that, well encouraged, it easily devours all sustenance away from our poor little scruples.

    Our vanities differ as our noses do: all conceit is not the same conceit, but varies in correspondence with the minutiæ of mental make in which one of us differs from another.

    Our words have wings, but fly not where we would.

    People glorify all sorts of bravery except the bravery they might show on behalf of their nearest neighbors.

    Speech is often barren; but silence also does not necessarily brood over a full nest. Your still fowl, blinking at you without remark, may all the while be sitting on one addled nest-egg; and when it takes to cackling, will have nothing to announce but that addled delusion.

    Steady work turns genius to a loom.

    Susceptible persons are more affected by a change of tone than by unexpected words.

    Sympathetic people are often uncommunicative about themselves; they give back reflected images which hide their own depths.

    That beneficent harness of routine, which enables silly men to live respectably and happy men to live calmly.

    That farewell kiss which resembles greeting, that last glance of love which becomes the sharpest pang of sorrow.

    That golden sky, which was the doubly blessed symbol of advancing day and of approaching rest.

    That is the bitterest of all—to wear the yoke of our own wrong-doing.

    The beauty of a lovely woman is like music.

    The best happiness will be to escape the worst misery.

    The best part of a woman’s love is worship; but it is hard to her to be sent away with her precious spikenard rejected, and her long tresses, too, that were let fall, ready to soothe the wearied feet.

    The commonest man, who has his ounce of sense and feeling, is conscious of the difference between a lovely, delicate woman and a coarse one. Even a dog feels a difference in her presence.

    The days of chivalry are not gone, notwithstanding Burke’s grand dirge over them; they live still in that far-off worship paid by many a youth and man to the woman of whom he never dreams that he shall touch so much as her little finger, or the hem of her robe.

    The devil tempts us not; ’tis we tempt him, beckoning his skill with opportunity.

    The dew-bead gem, of earth and sky begotten.

    The early months of marriage often are times of critical tumult,—whether that of a shrimp pool or of deeper water,—which afterwards subside into cheerful peace.

    The floods of nonsense printed in the form of critical opinions seem to me a chief curse of the times, a chief obstacle to true culture.

    The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.

    The happiest women, like the happiest nations, have no history.

    The human soul is hospitable, and will entertain conflicting sentiments and contradictory opinions with much impartiality.

    The idea of duty—that recognition of something to be lived for beyond the mere satisfaction of self—is to the moral life what the addition of a great central ganglion is to animal life.

    The Jews are among the aristocracy of every land; if a literature is called rich in the possession of a few classic tragedies, what shall we say to a national tragedy lasting for fifteen hundred years, in which the poets and the actors were also the heroes.

    The mother’s love is at first an absorbing delight, blunting all other sensibilities; it is an expansion of the animal existence.

    The responsibility of tolerance lies with those who have the wider vision.

    The reward of one duty is the power to fulfill another.

    The strength of the donkey mind lies in adopting a course inversely as the arguments urged, which, well considered, requires as great a mental force as the direct sequence.

    The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.

    The vainest woman is never thoroughly conscious of her beauty till she is loved by the man who sets her own passion vibrating in return.

    The world is great; the stars are golden fruit upon a tree all out of reach.

    There are glances of hatred that stab and raise no cry of murder.

    There are***robberies that leave man or woman forever beggared of peace and joy, yet kept secret by the sufferer.

    There is a chill air surrounding those who are down in the world; and people are glad to get away from them, as from a cold room.

    There is no despair so absolute as that which comes with the first moments of our first great sorrow, when we have not yet known what it is to have suffered and be healed, to have despaired and have recovered hope.

    There is no feeling, perhaps, except the extremes of fear and grief, that does not find relief in music,—that does not make a man sing or play the better.

    There is no killing the suspicion that deceit has once begotten.

    There is no sorrow I have thought more about than that,—to love what is great, and try to reach it, and yet to fail.

    Those old stories of visions and dreams guiding men have their truth; we are saved by making the future present to ourselves.

    Those only can thoroughly feel the meaning of death who know what is perfect love.

    ’Tis what I love determines how I love.

    To be a poet is to have a soul so quick to discern that no shade of quality escapes it, and so quick to feel that discernment is but a hand playing with finely ordered variety on the chords of emotion: a soul in which knowledge passes instantaneously into feeling, and feeling flashes back as a new organ of knowledge.

    To manage men one ought to have a sharp mind in a velvet sheath.

    To the old, sorrow is sorrow; to the young, it is despair.

    To think of the part one little woman can play in the life of a man, so that to renounce her may be a very good imitation of heroism, and to win her may be a discipline.

    Truth has rough flavors if we bite it through.

    Under every guilty secret there is hidden a brood of guilty wishes, whose unwholesome infecting life is cherished by the darkness.

    Until every good man is brave, we must expect to find many good women timid—too timid even to believe in the correctness of their own best promptings, when these would place them in a minority.

    Vanity is as ill at ease under indifference as tenderness is under a love which it cannot return.

    Veracity is a plant of Paradise, and the seeds have never flourished beyond the walls.

    We are all of us imaginative in some form or other; for images are the brood of desire.

    We are led on, like little children, by a way we know not.

    We are not apt to fear for the fearless, when we are companions in their danger.

    We hand folks over to God’s mercy, and show none ourselves.

    We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, “Oh, nothing!” Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts—not to hurt others.

    We must not inquire too curiously into motives. They are apt to become feeble in the utterance; the aroma is mixed with the grosser air. We must keep the germinating grain away from the light.

    What believer sees a disturbing omission or infelicity? The text, whether of prophet or of poet, expands for whatever we can put into it; and even his bad grammar is sublime.

    What furniture can give such finish to a room as a tender woman’s face? And is there any harmony of tints that has such stirring of delight as the sweet modulation of her voice?

    What is opportunity to the man who can’t use it? An unfecundated egg, which the waves of time wash away into nonentity.

    What loneliness is more lonely than distrust?

    What makes life dreary is the want of motive.

    When death, the great Reconciler, has come, it is never our tenderness that we repent of, but our severity.

    When one is five-and-twenty, one has not chalk-stones at one’s finger-ends that the touch of a handsome girl should be entirely indifferent.

    When what is good comes of age, and is likely to live, there is reason for rejoicing.

    When you see fair hair, be pitiful.

    Where you have friends you should not go to inns.

    Who shall put his finger on the work of justice, and say, “It is there”? Justice is like the kingdom of God: it is not without us as a fact; it is within us as a great yearning.

    Wine and the sun will make vinegar without any shouting to help them.

    Wise books for half the truths they hold are honored tombs.

    Your words bring daylight with them when you speak.