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


A certain excess of animal spirits with thoughtless good-humor will often make more enemies than the most deliberate spite and ill-nature, which is on its guard, and strikes with caution and safety.

A distinction has been made between acuteness and subtlety of understanding. This might be illustrated by saying that acuteness consists in taking up the points or solid atoms, subtlety in feeling the air of truth.

A gentleman is one who understands and shows every mark of deference to the claims of self-love in others, and exacts it in return from them.

A great man is an abstraction of some one excellence; but whoever fancies himself an abstraction of excellence, so far from being great, may be sure that he is a blockhead, equally ignorant of excellence or defect of himself or others.

A hypocrite despises those whom he deceives, but has no respect for himself. He would make a dupe of himself, too, if he could.

A knave thinks himself a fool, all the time he is not making a fool of some other person.

A man’s reputation is not in his own keeping, but lies at the mercy of the profligacy of others. Calumny requires no proof.

A person who talks with equal vivacity on every subject excites no interest in any.

Affectation is as necessary to the mind as dress is to the body.

An accomplished coquette excites the passions of others in proportion as she feels none herself.

An honest man is respected by all parties.

Any one may mouth out a passage with a theatrical cadence, or get upon stilts to tell his thoughts; but to write or speak with propriety and simplicity is a more difficult task. Thus it is easy to affect a pompous style, to use a word twice as big as the thing you want to express; it is not so easy to pitch upon the very word that exactly fits it.

Art is the microscope of the mind, which sharpens the wit as the other does the sight; and converts every object into a little universe in itself. Art may be said to draw aside the veil from nature. To those who are perfectly unskilled in the practice, unimbued with the principles of art, most objects present only a confused mass.

Art must anchor in nature, or it is the sport of every breath of folly.

As a general rule, those who are dissatisfied with themselves will seek to go out of themselves into an ideal world. Persons in strong health and spirits, who take plenty of air and exercise, who are “in favor with their stars,” and have a thorough relish of the good things of this life, seldom devote themselves in despair to religion or the muses. Sedentary, nervous, hypochondriacal people, on the contrary, are forced, for want of an appetite for the real and substantial, to look out for a more airy food and speculative comforts.

As we are poetical in our natures, so we delight in fable.

Avarice is the miser’s dream, as fame is the poet’s.

Books wind into the heart.

By conversing with the mighty dead, we imbibe sentiment with knowledge. We become strongly attached to those who can no longer either hurt or serve us, except through the influence which they exert over the mind. We feel the presence of that power which gives immortality to human thoughts and actions, and catch the flame of enthusiasm from all nations and ages.

Cant is the voluntary overcharging or prolongation of a real sentiment; hypocrisy is the setting up a pretension to a feeling you never had and have no wish for.

Conceit is the most contemptible and one of the most odious qualities in the world. It is vanity driven from all other shifts, and forced to appeal to itself for admiration.

Cowardice is not synonymous with prudence. It often happens that the better part of discretion is valor.

Cunning is the art of concealing our own defects, and discovering other people’s weaknesses.

Dandyism is a species of genius.

Death is the greatest evil, because it cuts off hope.

Death puts an end to rivalship and competition. The dead can boast no advantage over us, nor can we triumph over them.

Despair swallows up cowardice.

Diffidence and awkwardness are antidotes to love.

Do you suppose we owe nothing to Pope’s deformity? He said to himself, “If my person be crooked, my verses shall be straight.”

Elegance is something more than ease; it is more than a freedom from awkwardness or restraint. It implies, I conceive, a precision, a polish, a sparkling, spirited yet delicate.

Envy is a littleness of soul, which cannot see beyond a certain point, and if it does not occupy the whole space, feels itself excluded.

Envy is the deformed and distorted offspring of egotism; and when we reflect on the strange and disproportioned character of the parent, we cannot wonder at the perversity and waywardness of the child.

Envy is the most universal passion. We only pride ourselves on the qualities we possess, or think we possess; but we envy the pretensions we have, and those which we have not, and do not even wish for. We envy the greatest qualities and every trifling advantage. We envy the most ridiculous appearance or affectation of superiority. We envy folly and conceit; nay, we go so far as to envy whatever confers distinction of notoriety, even vice and infamy.

Envy, among other ingredients, has a mixture of the love of justice in it. We are more angry at undeserved than at deserved good fortune.

Every man, in judging of himself, is his own contemporary. He may feel the gale of popularity, but he cannot tell how long it will last. His opinion of himself wants distance, wants time, wants numbers, to set it off and confirm it.

Experience makes us wise.

Faith is necessary to victory.

Fame is the inheritance not of the dead, but of the living. It is we who look back with lofty pride to the great names of antiquity, who drink of that flood of glory as of a river, and refresh our wings in it for future flight.

Fashion is an odd jumble of contradictions, of sympathies and antipathies. It exists only by its being participated among a certain number of persons, and its essence is destroyed by being communicated to a greater number.***Fashion constantly begins and ends in the two things it abhors most,—singularity and vulgarity.

Fashion is gentility running away from vulgarity, and afraid of being overtaken by it. It is a sign the two things are not far asunder.

Fashion is the abortive issue of vain ostentation and exclusive egotism: it is haughty, trifling, affected, servile, despotic, mean and ambitious, precise and fantastical, all in a breath,—tied to no rule, and bound to conform to every whim of the moment.

Friendship is cemented by interest, vanity, or the want of amusement; it seldom implies esteem, or even mutual regard.

Gallantry to women (the sure road to their favor) is nothing but the appearance of extreme devotion to all their wants and wishes, a delight in their satisfaction, and a confidence in yourself as being able to contribute towards it. The slightest indifference with regard to them, or distrust of yourself is equally fatal.

Genius only leaves behind it the monuments of its strength.

Genius, like humanity, rusts for want of use.

Grace has been defined, the outward expression of the inward harmony of the soul.

Grace in women has more effect than beauty. We sometimes see a certain fine self-possession, an habitual voluptuousness of character, which reposes on its own sensations, and derives pleasure from all around it, that is more irresistible than any other attraction. There is an air of languid enjoyment in such persons, “in their eyes, in their arms, and their hands, and their face,” which robs us of ourselves, and draws us by a secret sympathy towards them.

Great thoughts reduced to practice become great acts.

Habit in most cases hardens and encrusts by taking away the keener edge of our sensations: but does it not in others quicken and refine, by giving a mechanical facility and by engrafting an acquired sense?

Habit is necessary to give power.

Habitual liars invent falsehoods not to gain any end or even to deceive their hearers, but to amuse themselves. It is partly practice and partly habit. It requires an effort in them to speak the truth.

He who comes up to his own idea of greatness must always have had a very low standard of it in his mind.

He who expects from a great name in politics, in philosophy, in art, equal greatness in other things, is little versed in human nature. Our strength lies in our weakness. The learned in books are ignorant of the world. He who is ignorant of books is often well acquainted with other things; for life is of the same length in the learned and unlearned; the mind cannot be idle; if it is not taken up with on thing, it attends to another through choice or necessity; and the degree of previous capacity in one class or another is a mere lottery.

He who lives wisely to himself and his own heart looks at the busy world through the loopholes of retreat, and does not want to mingle in the fray.

He will never have true friends who is afraid of making enemies.

Honesty is one part of eloquence. We persuade others by being in earnest ourselves.

Hope is the best possession. None are completely wretched but those who are without hope; and few are reduced so low as that.

However we may flatter ourselves to the contrary, our friends think no higher of us than the world do. They see us with the jaundiced or distrustful eyes of others. They may know better, but their feelings are governed by popular prejudice. Nay, they are more shy of us (when under a cloud) than even strangers; for we involve them in a common disgrace, or compel them to embroil themselves in continual quarrels and disputes in our defence.

I am always afraid of a fool. One cannot be sure that he is not a knave as well.

I hate anything that occupies more space than it is worth. I hate to see a load of bandboxes go along the street, and I hate to see a parcel of big words without anything in them.

I have known persons without a friend—never any one without some virtue. The virtues of the former conspired with their vices to make the whole world their enemies.

If we are long absent from our friends, we forget them; if we are constantly with them, we despise them.

If we use no ceremony towards others, we shall be treated without any. People are soon tired of paying trifling attentions to those who receive them with coldness, and return them with neglect.

In love we never think of moral qualities, and scarcely of intellectual ones. Temperament and manner alone, with beauty, excite love.

Indolence is a delightful but distressing state; we must be doing something to be happy. Action is no less necessary than thought to the instinctive tendencies of the human frame.

It is a false principle that because we are entirely occupied with ourselves, we must equally occupy the thoughts of others. The contrary inference is the fair one.

It is better to desire than to enjoy, to love than to be loved.

It is hard to dispraise those who are dispraised by others. He is little short of a hero who perseveres in thinking well of a friend who has become a butt for slander, and a byword.

It is only those who never think at all, or else who have accustomed themselves to brood invariably on abstract ideas, that ever feel ennui.

It is remarkable how virtuous and generously disposed every one is at a play.

It is well that there is no one without a fault, for he would not have a friend in the world. He would seem to belong to a different species.

Keep your misfortunes to yourself.

Let a man’s talents and virtues be what they may, we only feel satisfaction in his society as he is satisfied in himself. We cannot enjoy the good qualities of a friend if he seems to be none the better for them.

Life is the art of being well-deceived.

Literature, like nobility, runs in the blood.

Lying is the strongest acknowledgement of the force of truth.

Man is a poetical animal, and delights in fiction.

Mankind are so ready to bestow their admiration on the dead, because the latter do not hear it, or because it gives no pleasure to the objects of it. Even fame is the offspring of envy.

Many a man would have turned rogue if he knew how.

Men of genius do not excel in any profession because they labor in it, but they labor in it because they excel.

Men of gravity are intellectual stammerers, whose thoughts move slowly.

Men of the greatest genius are not always the most prodigal of their encomiums. But then it is when their range of power is confined, and they have in fact little perception, except of their own particular kind of excellence.

Modesty is the lowest of the virtues, and is a confession of the deficiency it indicates. He who undervalues himself is justly undervalued by others.

No man can thoroughly master more than one art or science.

No really great man ever thought himself so.

No wise man can have a contempt for the prejudices of others; and he should even stand in a certain awe of his own, as if they were aged parents and monitors. They may in the end prove wiser than he.

Nothing gives such a blow to friendship as the detecting another in an untruth. It strikes at the root of our confidence ever after.

Nothing precludes sympathy so much as a perfect indifference to it.

Of all virtues, magnanimity is the rarest. There are a hundred persons of merit for one who willingly acknowledges it in another.

One said a tooth-drawer was a kind of unconscionable trade, because his trade was nothing else but to take away those things whereby every man gets his living.

One truth discovered is immortal, and entitles its author to be so; for, like a new substance in nature, it cannot be destroyed.

Our energy is in proportion to the resistance it meets. We can attempt nothing great but from a sense of the difficulties we have to encounter; we can persevere in nothing great but from a pride in overcoming them.

Our opinions are not our own, but in the power of sympathy. If a person tells us a palpable falsehood, we not only dare not contradict him, but we dare hardly disbelieve him to his face. A lie boldly uttered has the effect of truth for the instant.

People addicted to secrecy are so without knowing why; they are not so for cause, but for secrecy’s sake.

People do not persist in their vices because they are not weary of them, but because they cannot leave them off. It is the nature of vice to leave us no resource but in itself.

Perhaps propriety is as near a word as any to denote the manners of the gentleman; elegance is necessary to the fine gentleman; dignity is proper to noblemen, and majesty to kings.

Popularity disarms envy in well-disposed minds. Those are ever the most ready to do justice to others who feel that the world has done them justice. When success has not this effect in opening the mind it is a sign that it has been ill-deserved.

Poverty is the test of civility and the touchstone of friendship.

Poverty, labor, and calamity are not without their luxuries, which the rich, the indolent, and the fortunate in vain seek for.

Poverty, when it is voluntary, is never despicable, but takes an heroical aspect.

Prejudice is never easy unless it can pass itself off for reason.

Prejudice is the child of ignorance.

Pride is founded not on the sense of happiness, but on the sense of power.

Principle is a passion for truth.

Prosperity is a great teacher; adversity is a greater. Possession pampers the mind; privation trains and strengthens it.

Refinement creates beauty everywhere. It is the grossness of the spectator that discovers anything like grossness in the object.

Reflection makes men cowards. There is no object that can be put in competition with life, unless it is viewed through the medium of passion, and we are hurried away by the impulse of the moment.

Repose is as necessary in conversation as in a picture.

Sheridan once said of some speech, in his acute, sarcastic way, that “it contained a great deal both of what was new and what was true; but that unfortunately what was new was not true, and what was true was not new.

Silence is one great art of conversation. He is not a fool who knows when to hold his tongue; and a person may gain credit for sense, eloquence, wit, who merely says nothing to lessen the opinion which others have of these qualities in themselves.

Simplicity of character is the natural result of profound thought.

Success in business is seldom owing to uncommon talents or original power which is untractable and self-willed, but to the greatest degree of commonplace capacity.

Talent is the capacity of doing anything that depends on application and industry and it is a voluntary power, while genius is involuntary.

The amiable is the voluptuous in expression or manner. The sense of pleasure in ourselves is that which excites it in others; or, the art of pleasing is to seem pleased.

The chain of habit coils itself around the heart like a serpent, to gnaw and stifle it.

The corpse of friendship is not worth embalming.

The essence of poetry is will and passion.

The expression of a gentleman’s face is not so much that of refinement, as of flexibility, not of sensibility and enthusiasm as of indifference; it argues presence of mind rather than enlargement of ideas.

The fear of approaching death, which in youth we imagine must cause inquietude to the aged, is very seldom the source of much uneasiness.

The greatest offence against virtue is to speak ill of it.

The greatest pleasure in life is that of reading while we are young. I have had as much of this pleasure perhaps as any one.

The imagination is of so delicate a texture that even words wound it.

The last pleasure in life is the sense of discharging our duty.

The look of a gentleman is little else than the reflection of the looks of the world.

The love of fame is too high and delicate a feeling in the mind to be mixed up with realities,—it is a solitary abstraction.**A name “fast anchored in the deep abyss of time,” is like a star twinkling in the firmament, cold, silent, distant, but eternal and sublime; and our transmitting one to posterity is as if we should contemplate our translation to the skies.

The love of letters is the forlorn hope of the man of letters. His ruling passion is the love of fame.

The measure of any man’s virtue is what he would do if he had neither the laws nor public opinion, nor even his own prejudices, to control him.

The mind revolts against certain opinions, as the stomach rejects certain foods.

The more we do, the more we can do; the more busy we are, the more leisure we have.

The most phlegmatic dispositions often contain the most inflammable spirits, as fire is struck from the hardest flints.

The most violent friendships soonest wear themselves out.

The number of objects we see from living in a large city amuses the mind like a perpetual raree-show, without supplying it with any ideas.

The only vice that cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy. The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy.

The public have neither shame nor gratitude.

The same reason makes a man a religious enthusiast that makes a man an enthusiast in any other way, an uncomfortable mind in an uncomfortable body.

The secret of our self-love is just the same as that of our liberality and candor. We prefer ourselves to others only because we have a more intimate consciousness and confirmed opinion of our own claims and merits than of any other person’s.

The severest critics are always those who have either never attempted, or who have failed in original composition.

The soil of friendship is worn out with constant use. Habit may still attach us to each other, but we feel ourselves fettered by it. Old friends might be compared to old married people without the tie of children.

The soul of conversation is sympathy.

The surest hindrance to success is to have too high a standard of refinement in our own minds, or too high an opinion of the judgment of the public. He who is determined not to be satisfied with anything short of perfection will never do anything at all either to please himself or others.

The temple of fame stands upon the grave; the flame that burns upon its altars is kindled from the ashes of dead men.

The truly proud man knows neither superiors nor inferiors. The first he does not admit of: the last he does not concern himself about.

The truth is, we pamper little griefs into great ones, and bear great ones as well as we can.

The vain man makes a merit of misfortune, and triumphs in his disgrace.

The way to procure insults is to submit to them. A man meets with no more respect than he exacts.

The youth is better than the old age of friendship.

There are many who talk on from ignorance rather than from knowledge, and who find the former an inexhaustible fund of conversation.

There are no rules for friendship. It must be left to itself; we cannot force it any more than love.

There are persons who are never easy unless they are putting your books and papers in order—that is, according to their notions of the matter—and hide things lest they should be lost, where neither the owner nor anybody else can find them. This is a sort of magpie faculty. If anything is left where you want it, it is called litter. There is a pedantry in housewifery, as well as in the gravest concerns. Abraham Tucker complained that whenever his maid servant had been in his library, he could not see comfortably to work again for several days.

There cannot be a surer proof of low origin, or of an innate meanness of disposition, than to be always talking and thinking of being genteel.

There is a feeling of Eternity in youth which makes us amends for everything. To be young is to be as one of the immortals.

There is a heroism in crime as well as in virtue. Vice and infamy have their altars and their religion. This makes nothing in their favor, but is a proud compliment to man’s nature. Whatever he is or does, he cannot entirely efface the stamp of the divinity on him. Let him strive ever so, he cannot divest himself of his natural sublimity of thought and affection, however he may pervert or deprave it to ill.

There is a quiet repose and steadiness about the happiness of age, if the life has been well spent. Its feebleness is not painful. The nervous system has lost its acuteness. But, in mature years we feel that a burn, a scald, a cut, is more tolerable than it was in the sensitive period of youth.

There is no flattery so adroit or effectual as that of implicit assent.

There is nothing more to be esteemed than a manly firmness and decision of character. I like a person who knows his own mind and sticks to it; who sees at once what is to be done in given circumstances and does it.

There is nothing so remote from vanity as true genius. It is almost as natural for those who are endowed with the highest powers of the human mind to produce the miracles of art, as for other men to breathe or move. Correggio, who is said to have produced some of his divinest works almost without having seen a picture, probably did not know that he had done anything extraordinary.

There is some virtue in almost every vice, except hypocrisy; and even that, while it is a mockery of virtue, is at the same time a compliment to it.

There is something captivating in spirit and intrepidity, to which we often yield as to a resistless power; nor can he reasonably expect the confidence of others who too apparently distrusts himself.

They wear the livery of other men’s fortunes; their very thoughts are not their own.

Those only deserve a monument who do not need one, that is, who have raised themselves a monument in the minds and memories of men.

Those people who are always improving never become great. Greatness is an eminence, the ascent to which is steep and lofty, and which a man must seize on at once by natural boldness and vigor, and not by patient, wary steps.

Those who can command themselves command others.

Those who object to wit are envious of it.

Those who wish to forget painful thoughts do well to absent themselves for a while from the ties and objects that recall them; but we can be said only to fulfill our destiny in the place that gave us birth.

Though familiarity may not breed contempt, it takes off the edge of admiration.

Time,—the most independent of all things.

To be forward to praise others implies either great eminence, that can afford to part with applause; or great quickness of discernment, with confidence in our own judgments; or great sincerity and love of truth, getting the better of our self-love.

To be happy, we must be true to nature, and carry our age along with us.

To be wiser than other men is to be honester than they; and strength of mind is only courage to see and speak the truth.

“To elevate and surprise” is the great art of quackery and puffing; to raise a lively and exaggerated image in the mind, and take it by surprise before it can recover breath.

To expect an author to talk as he writes is ridiculous; or even if he did you would find fault with him as a pedant.

To great evils we submit; we resent little provocations. I have before now been disappointed of a hundred-pound job and lost half a crown at rackets on the same day, and been more mortified at the latter than the former.

To speak highly of one with whom we are intimate is a species of egotism. Our modesty as well as our jealousy teaches us caution on this subject.

To write a genuine familiar or truly English style is to write as anyone would speak in common conversation, who had a thorough command and choice of words, or who could discourse with ease, force, and perspicuity, setting aside all pedantic and oratorical flourishes.

To-day kings, to-morrow beggars, it is only when they are themselves that they are nothing.

Unlimited power is helpless, as arbitrary power is capricious. Our energy is in proportion to the resistance it meets. We can attempt nothing great but from a sense of the difficulties we have to encounter; we can persevere in nothing great but from a pride in overcoming them.

Vice, like disease, floats in the atmosphere.

Virtue may be said to steal, like a guilty thing, into the secret haunts of vice and infamy; it clings to their devoted victim, and will not be driven quite away. Nothing can destroy the human heart.

Want of principle is power. Truth and honesty set a limit to our efforts, which impudence and hypocrisy easily overleap.

We are governed by sympathy; and the extent of our sympathy is determined by that of our sensibility.

We are more jealous of frivolous accomplishments with brilliant success, than of the most estimable qualities without. Dr. Johnson envied Garrick, whom he despised, and ridiculed Goldsmith, whom he loved.

We are very much what others think of us. The reception our observations meet with gives us courage to proceed or damps our efforts.

We can bear to be deprived of everything but our self-conceit.

We do not die wholly at our deaths: we have mouldered away gradually long before. Faculty after faculty, interest after interest, attachment after attachment disappear; we are torn from ourselves while living, year after year sees us no longer the same, and death only consigns the last fragment of what we were to the grave.

We do not like our friends the worse because they sometimes give us an opportunity to rail at them heartily. Their faults reconcile us to their virtues.

We grow tired of ourselves, much more of other people.

We had rather do anything than acknowledge the merit of another if we can help it. We cannot bear a superior or an equal. Hence ridicule is sure to prevail over truth, for the malice of mankind, thrown into the scale, gives the casting weight.

We judge of others for the most part by their good opinion of themselves; yet nothing gives such offense or creates so many enemies, as that extreme self-complacency or superciliousness of manner, which appears to set the opinion of every one else at defiance.

We may give more offense by our silence than even by impertinence.

We prefer a person with vivacity and high spirits, though bordering upon insolence, to the timid and pusillanimous; we are fonder of wit joined to malice than of dullness without it.

We talk little if we do not talk about ourselves.

We would willingly, and without remorse, sacrifice not only the present moment, but all the interval (no matter how long) that separates us from any favorite object.

Weakness has its hidden resources, as well as strength. There is a degree of folly and meanness which we cannot calculate upon, and by which we are as much liable to be foiled as by the greatest ability or courage.

What passes in the world for talent or dexterity or enterprise is often only a want of moral principle. We may succeed where others fail, not from a greater share of invention, but from not being nice in the choice of expedients.

Whatever excites the spirit of contradiction is capable of producing the last effects of heroism; which is only the highest pitch of obstinacy, in a good or bad cause, in wisdom or folly.

When I take up a book I have read before, I know what to expect; the satisfaction is not lessened by being anticipated. I shake hands with, and look our old tried and valued friend in the face,—compare notes and chat the hour away.

Wit is the rarest quality to be met with among people of education, and the most common among the uneducated.

Wit is the salt of conversation, not the food.

Words are the only things that last forever.