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


Style is the dress of thoughts.

Earl of Chesterfield.

A temperate style is alone classical.


Every good writer has much idiom.


A good style fits like a good costume.


Set off with numerous breaks and dashes.


Not poetry, but prose run mad.


You gain your point if your industrious art can make unusual words easy.


The style of St. Jerome shines like ebony.


A pure style in writing results from the rejection of everything superfluous.

Mme. Necker.

Chaucer, I confess, is a rough diamond, and must be polished ere he shine.


Uncommon expressions are a disfigurement rather than an embellishment of discourse.


A chaste and lucid style is indicative of the same personal traits in the author.

Hosea Ballou.

The first requisite of style, not only in rhetoric, but in all compositions, is perspicuity.


Simplicity, without which no human performance can arrive at perfection.


Proper words in proper places.


  • In all you write be neither low nor vile:
  • The meanest theme may have a proper style.
  • Dryden.

  • The lives of trees lie only in the barks,
  • And in their styles the wit of greatest clerks.
  • Butler.

    Montesquieu had the style of a genius; Buffon, the genius of style.

    Baron Grimm.

    Let us not write at a loose rambling rate, in hope the world will wink at all our faults.


    Will no superior genius snatch the quill, and save me on the brink from writing ill?


    Nero was wont to say of his master, Seneca, that his style was like mortar without lime.


    An author can have nothing truly his own but his style.


    A sentence, well couched, takes both the sense and the understanding.


    Style is the gossamer on which the needs of truth float through the world.


    Every good writer has much idiom; it is the life and spirit of language.


    In the present day our literary masonry is well done, but our architecture is poor.


    Grace was in all her steps, heaven in her eye, in every gesture dignity and love.


    A good writer does not write as people write, but as he writes.


    Xenophon wrote with a swan’s quill, Plato with a pen of gold, and Thucydides with a brazen stylus.


    The truly sublime is always easy, and always natural.


    It is difficult to descend with grace without seeming to fall.


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


    Every style formed elaborately on any model must be affected and straight-laced.


    Men who make money rarely saunter; men who save money rarely swagger.


    Style, after all, rather than thought, is the immortal thing in literature.

    Alexander Smith.

    Style is only the frame to hold your thoughts. It is like the sash of a window; if heavy, it will obscure the light.


    One who uses many periods is a philosopher; many interrogations, a student; many exclamations, a fanatic.

    J. L. Basford.

    The lively phraseology of Montesquieu was the result of long meditation. His words, as light as wings, bear on them grave reflections.


    If a book come from the heart, it will contrive to reach other hearts; all art and author-craft are of small account to that.


    Oh, never will I trust to speeches penned!***taffeta phrases, silken terms precise, three-piled hyperboles.


    Such labored nothings, in so strange a style, amaze the unlearned and make the learned smile.


    Antithesis may be the blossom of wit, but it will never arrive at maturity unless sound sense be the trunk, and truth the root.


    The old prose writers wrote as if they were speaking to an audience; while, among us, prose is invariably written for the eye alone.


    Long sentences in a short composition are like large rooms in a little house.


    When we meet with a natural style, we are surprised and delighted, for we expected to find an author, and we have found a man.


    Obscurity in writing is commonly an argument of darkness in the mind. The greatest learning is to be seen in the greatest plainness.


    If you would be pungent, be brief, for it is with words as with sunbeams, the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.


    Submit your sentiments with diffidence. A dictatorial style, though it may carry conviction, is always accompanied with disgust.


    Unconsciousness is one of the most important conditions of a good style in speaking or in writing.

    Richard Grant White.

    Style supposes the reunion and the exercise of all the intellectual faculties. The style is the man.


    The least degree of ambiguity which leaves the mind in suspense as to the meaning ought to be avoided with the greatest care.


    Wherever you find a sentence musically worded, of true rhythm and melody in the words, there is something deep and good in the meaning also.


    With many readers brilliancy of style passes for affluence of thought; they mistake buttercups in the grass for immeasurable mines of gold under ground.


    As it is a great point of art, when our matter requires it, to enlarge and veer out all sail, so to take it in and contract it is of no less praise when the argument doth ask it.

    Ben Jonson.

    There is nothing in words and styles but suitableness that makes them acceptable and effective.


    The sublime and the ridiculous are often so nearly related that it is difficult to class them separately. One step above the sublime makes the ridiculous; and one step above the ridiculous makes the sublime again.

    Thomas Paine.

    Sir Francis Bacon observed that a well-written book, compared with its rivals and antagonists, is like Moses’ serpent, that immediately swallowed up and devoured those of the Egyptians.


    A sentence well couched takes both the sense and the understanding. I love not those cart-rope speeches that are longer than the memory of man can fathom.


    Style in painting is the same as in writing,—a power over materials, whether words or colors, by which conceptions or sentiments are conveyed.

    Sir Joshua Reynolds.

    Some have a violent and turgid manner of talking and thinking; they are always in extremes, and pronounce concerning everything in the superlative.

    Dr. Watts.

    Whatever professes to benefit by pleasing must please at once. The pleasures of the mind imply something sudden and unexpected; that which elevates must always surprise.

    Dr. Johnson.

    Mannerism is always longing to have done, and has no true enjoyment in work. A genuine, really great talent, on the other hand, has its greatest happiness in execution.


    The scholars of Ireland seem not to have the least conception of style, but run on in a flat phraseology, often mingled with barbarous terms.


    Style is indeed the valet of genius, and an able one too; but as the true gentleman will appear, even in rags, so true genius will shine, even through the coarsest style.


    I hate a style, as I do a garden, that is wholly flat and regular,—that slides like an eel, and never rises to what one can call an inequality.


    The beautiful invariably possesses a visible and a hidden beauty; and it is certain that no style is so beautiful as that which presents to the attentive reader a half-hidden meaning.


  • Expression is the dress of thought, and still
  • Appears more decent as more suitable;
  • A vile conceit in pompous words express’d,
  • Is like a clown in regal purple dress’d.
  • Pope.

    Persons are oftentimes misled in regard to their choice of dress by attending to the beauty of colors, rather than selecting such colors as may increase their own beauty.


    Justness of thought and style, refinement in manners, good-breeding and politeness of every kind, can come only from the trial and experience of what is best.


    I look upon paradoxes as the impotent efforts of men who, not having capacity to draw attention and celebrity from good sense, fly to eccentricities to make themselves noted.

    Horace Walpole.

    You know that in everything women write there are always a thousand faults of grammar, but, with your permission, a harmony which is rare in the writings of men.

    Mme. de Maintenon.

    One tires of a page of which every sentence sparkles with points, of a sentimentalist who is always pumping the tears from his eyes or your own.


    It is far more difficult to be simple than to be complicated; far more difficult to sacrifice skill and cease exertion in the proper place, than to expend both indiscriminately.


    The way to acquire lasting esteem is not by the fewness of a writer’s faults, but the greatness of his beauties, and our noblest works are generally most replete with both.


    Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.


    Those who make antitheses by forcing the sense are like men who make false windows for the sake of symmetry. Their rule is not to speak justly, but to make accurate figures.


    He who would reproach an author for obscurity should look into his own mind and see whether it is quite clear there. In the dusk the plainest writing is illegible.


    Propriety of thought and propriety of diction are commonly found together. Obscurity and affectation are the two greatest faults of style.


    A great writer possesses, so to speak, an individual and unchangeable style, which does not permit him easily to preserve the anonymous.


    The way to elegancy of style is to employ your pen upon every errand; and the more trivial and dry it is, the more brains must be allowed for sauce.

    F. Osborn.

    The secret of force in writing lies not so much in the pedigree of nouns and adjectives and verbs, as in having something that you believe in to say, and making the parts of speech vividly conscious of it.


    Nothing is so difficult as the apparent ease of a clear and flowing style; those graces which, from their presumed facility, encourage all to attempt an imitation of them, are usually the most inimitable.


    D’Alembert tells us that Voltaire had always lying on his table the “Petit Carême” of Massillon and the “Tragedies” of Racine; the former to fix his taste in prose composition, and the latter in poetry.

    Dugald Stewart.

    There is a certain majesty in plainness; as the proclamation of a prince never frisks in its tropes or fine conceits, in numerous and well-turned periods, but commands in sober, natural expressions.


    Plutarch would rather we should applaud his judgment than commend his knowledge, and would rather leave us with an appetite to read more than glutted with that we have already read.


    As the air and manner of a gentleman can be acquired only by living habitually in the best society, so grace in composition must be attained by an habitual acquaintance with classical writers.

    Dugald Stewart.

    The censure of frequent and long parentheses has led writers into the preposterous expedient of leaving out the marks by which they are indicated. It is no cure to a lame man to take away his crutches.


    Let the man who despises style, and says that he attends to the matter, recollect that if the lace is sold at a higher price than the noble metal, it owes its chief value to its elegance, and not to its material.


    Redundancy of language is never found with deep reflection. Verbiage may indicate observation, but not thinking. He who thinks much says but little in proportion to his thoughts.

    Washington Irving.

    Burke’s sentences are pointed at the end, instinct with pungent sense to the last syllable. They are like a charioteer’s whip, which not only has a long and effective lash, but cracks and inflicts a still smarter sensation at the end.

    John Foster.

    Miss Edgeworth and Mme. de Staël have proved that there is no sex in style; and Mme. la Roche Jacqueline, and the Duchesse d’Angouleme have proved that there is no sex in courage.


    The want of a more copious diction, to borrow a figure from Locke, is caused by our supposing that the mind is like Fortunatus’s purse, and will always supply our wants, without our ever putting anything into it.


    When you doubt between words, use the plainest, the commonest, the most idiomatic. Eschew fine words as you would rouge, love simple ones as you would native roses on your cheek.


    The words in prose ought to express the intended meaning; if they attract attention to themselves, it is a fault; in the very best styles, as Southey’s, you read page after page without noticing the medium.


    Generally speaking, an author’s style is a faithful copy of his mind. If you would write a lucid style, let there first be light in your own mind; and if you would write a grand style, you ought to have a grand character.


    Whatever is pure is also simple. It does not keep the eye on itself. The observer forgets the window in the landscape it displays. A fine style gives the view of fancy—its figures, its trees, or its palaces,—without a spot.


    A copious manner of expression gives strength and weight to our ideas, which frequently make impression upon the mind, as iron does upon solid bodies, rather by repeated strokes than a single blow.


    When I meet with any persons who write obscurely or converse confusedly, I am apt to suspect two things; first, that such persons do not understand themselves; and secondly, that they are not worthy of being understood by others.


    Only well-written works will descend to posterity. Fulness of knowledge, interesting facts, even useful inventions, are no pledge of immortality, for they may be employed by more skilful hands; they are outside the man; the style is the man himself.


    An era is fast approaching when no writer will be read by the majority, save and except those than can effect that for bales of manuscript that the hydrostatic screw performs for bales of cotton, by condensing that matter into a period that before occupied a page.


    The flowery style is not unsuitable to public speeches or addresses, which amount only to compliment. The lighter beauties are in their place when there is nothing more solid to say; but the flowery style ought to be banished from a pleading, a sermon, or a didactic work.


    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.


    Style is the dress of thoughts; and let them be ever so just, if your style is homely, coarse, and vulgar, they will appear to as much disadvantage, and be as ill received, as your person, though ever so well proportioned, would if dressed in rags, dirt, and tatters.


    In composing, think much more of your matter than your manner. To be sure, spirit, grace, and dignity of manner are of great importance, both to the speaker and writer; but of infinitely more importance is the weight and worth of matter.


    As the mind of Johnson was robust, but neither nimble nor graceful, so his style was void of all grace and ease, and, being the most unlike of all styles to the natural effusion of a cultivated mind, had the least pretension to the praise of eloquence.

    Sir J. Mackintosh.

    Perhaps that is nearly the perfection of good writing which is original, but whose truth alone prevents the reader from suspecting that it is so; and which effects that for knowledge which the lens effects for the sunbeam, when it condenses its brightness in order to increase its force.


    It is curious for one who studies the action and reaction of national literature on each other, to see the humor of Swift and Sterne and Fielding, after filtering through Richter, reappear in Carlyle with a tinge of Germanism that makes it novel, alien, or even displeasing, as the case may be, to the English mind.


    Style! style, why, all writers will tell you that it is the very thing which can least of all be changed. A man’s style is nearly as much a part of him as his physiognomy, his figure, the throbbing of his pulse,—in short, as any part of his being which is at least subjected to the action of the will.


    The style of writing required in the great world is distinguished by a free and daring grace, a careless security, a fine and sharp polish, a delicate and perfect taste; while that fitted for the people is characterized by a vigorous natural fulness, a profound depth of feeling, and an engaging naivete.


    We know much of a writer by his style. An open and imperious disposition is shown in short sentences, direct and energetic. A secretive and proud mind is cold and obscure in style. An affectionate and imaginative nature pours out luxuriantly, and blossoms all over with ornament.


    Style is the physiognomy of the mind. It is more infallible than that of the body. To imitate the style of another is said to be wearing a mask. However beautiful it may be, it is through its lifelessness insipid and intolerable, so that even the most ugly living face is more engaging.


    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.


    In some exquisite critical hints on “Eurythmy,” Goethe remarks, “that the best composition in pictures is that which, observing the most delicate laws of harmony, so arranges the objects that they by their position tell their own story.” And the rule thus applied to composition in painting applies no less to composition in literature.


    Propriety of thought and propriety of diction are commonly found together. Obscurity and affectation are the two great faults of style. Obscurity of expression generally springs from confusion of ideas; and the same wish to dazzle, at any cost, which produces affectation in the manner of a writer, is likely to produce sophistry in his reasoning.


    Harmony of period and melody of style have greater weight than is generally imagined in the judgment we pass upon writing and writers. As a proof of this, let us reflect what texts of scripture, what lines in poetry, or what periods we most remember and quote, either in verse or prose, and we shall find them to be only musical ones.


    The unaffected of every country nearly resemble each other, and a page of our Confucius and your Tillotson have scarce any material difference. Paltry affectation, strained allusions, and disgusting finery are easily attained by those who choose to wear them; they are but too frequently the badges of ignorance or of stupidity, whenever it would endeavor to please.


    A composition which dazzles at first sight by gaudy epithets, or brilliant turns or expression, or glittering trains of imagery, may fade gradually from the mind, leaving no enduring impression; but words which flow fresh and warm from a full heart, and which are instinct with the life and breath of human feeling, pass into household memories, and partake of the immortality of the affections from which they spring.


    If I were to choose the people with whom I would spend my hours of conversation, they should be certainly such as labored no further than to make themselves readily and clearly apprehended, and would have patience and curiosity to understand me. To have good sense and ability to express it are the most essential and necessary qualities in companions. When thoughts rise in us fit to utter among familiar friends, there needs but very little care in clothing them.


    Young people are dazzled by the brilliancy of antithesis, and employ it. Matter-of-fact men, and those who like precision, naturally fall into comparisons and metaphor. Sprightly natures, full of fire, and whom a boundless imagination carries beyond all rules, and even what is reasonable, cannot rest satisfied even with hyberbole. As for the sublime, it is only great geniuses and those of the very highest order that are able to rise to its height.

    La Bruyère.

    He who thinks much says but little in proportion to his thoughts. He selects that language which will convey his ideas in the most explicit and direct manner. He tries to compress as much thought as possible into a few words. On the contrary, the man who talks everlastingly and promiscuously, who seems to have an exhaustless magazine of sound, crowds so many words into his thoughts that he always obscures, and very frequently conceals them.

    Washington Irving.

    Gentleness in the gait is what simplicity is in the dress. Violent gesture or quick movement inspires involuntary disrespect. One looks for a moment at a cascade; but one sits for hours, lost in thought, and gazing upon the still water of a lake. A deliberate gait, gentle manners, and a gracious tone of voice—all of which may be acquired—give a mediocre man an immense advantage over those vastly superior to him. To be bodily tranquil, to speak little, and to digest without effort are absolutely necessary to grandeur of mind or of presence, or to proper development of genius.


    Some authors write nonsense in a clear style, and others sense in an obscure one; some can reason without being able to persuade, others can persuade without being able to reason; some dive so deep that they descend into darkness, and others soar so high that they give us no light; and some, in a vain attempt to be cutting and dry, give us only that which is cut and dried. We should labor, therefore, to treat with ease of things that are difficult; with familiarity, of things that are novel; and with perspicuity, of things that are profound.