- WIST is my personal collection of quotations, curated for thought, amusement, turn of phrase, historical significance, or sometimes just (often-unintentional) irony. Please feel free to browse and borrow.
- 17,275 quotes and counting ...
Topic Cloudaction age America author beauty belief change character courage death democracy education ego evil faith fear freedom future God government happiness history humanity integrity leadership liberty life love morality perspective politics poverty power reality religion science society success truth tyranny virtue war wealth wisdom writing
- I've been adding topics/tags since 2014, so not all quotes have been given one. Full topic list.
- * Visual quotes (graphics, memes) only
- “Wealth and Poverty,” speech, National… (6,548)
- “The Lesson for Today,” A Witness Tree (1942) (5,792)
- Agamemnon, ll. 175-183 [tr. Johnston (2007)] (5,679)
- Nobel prize acceptance speech (10 Dec 1962) (4,867)
- “The Triumph of Stupidity” (10 May 1933) (4,801)
- “On The Conduct of Life” (1822) (3,900)
- “In Search of a Majority,” Speech,… (3,807)
- “Get a Knife, Get a Dog, but Get Rid of… (3,658)
- “The Historian as Participant,” Daedalus… (3,055)
- “Hallowed Ground” (1825) (3,055)
Most Quoted Authors
Author CloudAdams, John • Bacon, Francis • Bible • Bierce, Ambrose • Billings, Josh • Butcher, Jim • Chesterton, Gilbert Keith • Churchill, Winston • Einstein, Albert • Eisenhower, Dwight David • Emerson, Ralph Waldo • Franklin, Benjamin • Fuller, Thomas (1654) • Gaiman, Neil • Galbraith, John Kenneth • Gandhi, Mohandas • Goethe, Johann von • Hazlitt, William • Heinlein, Robert A. • Hoffer, Eric • Huxley, Aldous • Ingersoll, Robert Green • James, William • Jefferson, Thomas • Johnson, Lyndon • Johnson, Samuel • Kennedy, John F. • King, Martin Luther • La Rochefoucauld, Francois • Lewis, C.S. • Lincoln, Abraham • Mencken, H.L. • Orwell, George • Pratchett, Terry • Roosevelt, Eleanor • Roosevelt, Theodore • Russell, Bertrand • Seneca the Younger • Shakespeare, William • Shaw, George Bernard • Stevenson, Adlai • Stevenson, Robert Louis • Twain, Mark • Watterson, Bill • Wilde, Oscar
- Only the 45 most quoted authors are shown above. Full author list.
- 20-May-20 - Introduction to the Art of Thinking, ch. 1, "Friendship" (1761) | WIST on John 15:13 (KJV).
- 18-May-20 - Chamblee54 on Clouds, ll. 998-999 (423 BC) [tr. Athenian Soc. (1912)].
- 18-May-20 - Chamblee54 on Mills E. Godwin, Governor of Virginia (Dec 1966).
- 11-May-20 - Chamblee54 on “Indian Summer,” Enough Rope (1926).
- 1-May-20 - Quoted in The Observer (17 Mar 1985) | WIST on Robert J. Hanlon, “Hanlon’s Razor,” Murphy’s Law, Book Two (ed. A. Bloch) (1980).
- 1-May-20 - Grow, Grow – Traditional Iconoclast on Midrash Rabba, Bereshit 10:6.
It is not the idea as such which the censor attacks, whether it be heresy or radicalism or obscenity. He attacks the circulation of the idea among the classes which in his judgment are not to be trusted with the idea.
Men of Destiny, ch. 8 “The Nature of the Battle Over Censorship,” sec. 2 (1927)
More gold has been mined from the brains of men than has ever been taken from the earth.
Naturally I am not pointing a finger at me,
But I must admit that I find Mr. Ickes or any other speaker far more convincing when I agree with him than when I disagree.
Be fit for more than the thing you are now doing. Let everyone know that you have a reserve in yourself, — that you have more power than you are now using. If you are not too large for the place you occupy, you are too small for it.
“Elements of Success,” speech at Spencerian Business College, Washington, DC (29 Jun 1869)
Reprinted in in B. A. Hinsdale, ed., President Garfield and Education: Hiram College Memorial, ch. 8 (1882).
There are three things which are real: God, human folly, and laughter. Since the first two pass our comprehension, we must do what we can with the third.
Rama Retold (1954)
MAME: Yes! Life is a banquet, and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death! Live!
Auntie Mame, Act 2, sc. 6 (1956) [with Robert E. Lee]
Based on the novel Patrick Dennis, Auntie Mame (1955), turned first into this Broadway play by Lawrence and Lee, a 1958 movie, then the musical Mame (1966), followed by a movie of the musical (1974). The line is original with Lawrence and Lee.
I told him that, thank God, under our constitution there was no connection between Church and State, and that in my action as President of the U.S. I recognized no distinction of creeds in my appointments to office.
Diary entry (14 Oct 1846)
Ignorance iz the wet nuss of prejudice.
[Ignorance is the wet nurse of prejudice.]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, “Puddin and Milk” (1874)
So it is not a matter of whether it is possible to attain Buddhahood, or if it is possible to make a tile a jewel. But just to work, just to live in this world with this understanding is the most important point, and that is our practice. That is true zazen.
Lecture in Los Altos, California (1 Sep 1967)
My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them.
Frankenstein, ch. 14 (1818)
Narrated by the Monster.
Amply that in her husband’s eye looks lovely —
The truest mirror that an honest wife
Can see her beauty in!
The Honey Moon, Act 3, sc. 4 (1805)
I probably differ from most people, who believe in Belief, and are only sorry they cannot swallow even more than they do. My law-givers are Erasmus and Montaigne, not Moses and St. Paul.
“What I Believe,” The Nation (16 Jul 1938)
And just as the law in civilized countries assumes that the voice of conscience tells everybody, “Thou shalt not kill,” even though man’s natural desires and inclinations may at times be murderous, so the law of Hitler’s land demanded that the voice of conscience tell everybody: “Thou shalt kill,” although the organizers of the massacres knew full well that murder is against the normal desires and inclinations of most people. Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it — the quality of temptation.
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, ch. 8 (1963)
We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe.
Letter to Mrs. William Froude (27 Jun 1848)
In C. S. Dessain (ed.), Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, vol. 12 "Rome to Birmingham" (1961).
NEMO: What you fail to understand is the power of hate. It can fill the heart as surely as love can.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, screenplay (1954) [with Richard Fleischer]
Explaining his campaign on wagers of war. Based on the novel by Jules Verne (1870). The words are not in the novel.
I’d rather die on my feet, than live on my knees.
[Prefiero morir de pie que vivir de rodillas.]
Often misattributed to Che Guevara, José Martí, and other revolutionaries. Popularized by "La Pasionaria" Dolores Ibárruri, during her speeches and broadcasts in the Spanish Civil War. More discussion here.
- "I'd prefer to die standing, than to live always on my knees! [¡Prefiero morir de pie que vivir siempre arrodillado!]"
- "Men of the South! It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!"
- "I would rather die standing than live on my knees!"
- "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!"
- "I prefer to die standing than to live forever kneeling."
- "Prefer death on your feet to living on your knees."
A politician or political thinker who calls himself a political realist is usually boasting that he sees politics, so to speak, in the raw; he is generally a proclaimed cynic and pessimist who makes it his business to look behind words and fine speeches for the motive. This motive is always low.
“American Realist Playwrights,” On the Contrary (1961)
It happens sometimes that two opposite tendencies flourish together, deriving strength from a sense of the danger with which each is threatened by the popularity of the other. Where the antagonism is not absolute, each may gain by being compelled to recognise the strong points in the rival position. In a serious controversy the right is seldom or never all on one side; and in the normal course of events both theories undergo some modification through the influence of their opponents, until a compromise, not always logically defensible, brings to an end the acute stage of the controversy.
“Institutionalism and Mysticism” (1914), Outspoken Essays: First Series (1914)
It costs me never a stab nor squirm
To tread by chance upon a worm.
“Aha, my little dear,” I say,
“Your clan will pay me back some day.”
“Thoughts for a Sunshiny Morning,” New Yorker (3 Apr 1927)
Reprinted in Sunset Gun (1927).
True is, that whilome that good poet sayd,
The gentle minde by gentle deeds is knowne:
For a man by nothing is so well bewrayd,
As by his manners.
The Faerie Queene, Book 6, Canto 3, st. 1 (1589-96)
Spender is referencing Chaucer's "Wife of Bath's Tale" in the Canterbury Tales: "he is gentil that doth gentil dedis."
The reason ours is a creedless faith is because we have a theory about Creation and our theory — unlike that of most religious traditions — is that Creation is too grand, too glorious, too complex and too mysterious to be captured in any narrow creed or reflected in any single metaphor. It is exactly because we so cherish the world in all its multi-hued grandeur that we resist the temptation to see it through only one lens. Our conviction is that we will come a little closer to the truth about the world — and certainly be more receptive to its splendour if we set a variety of vehicles to apprehend it: all the world’s great religious traditions, for example, but also the sciences, the secular arts, the disciplines of mysticism, and the electric touch of love.
Finding Time & Other Delicacies (1992)
Continuous association with base men increases a disposition to crime.
[Φαύλων ὁμιλίη ξυνεχὴς ἕξιν κακίης συναέξει]
Fragment 184 [tr. Freeman (1948)]
Collected in Joannes Stobaeus (Stobaios) Anthologium II, 31, 90
- "Associating with scoundrels frequently increases the possession of wickedness." [tr. @sententiq, as Fr. 234]
- "By associating with scoundrels, you will turn out a scoundrel"
- "Continuous association with the wicked increases bad character."
Knowledge fills a large brain; it merely inflates a small one.
It is a measure of the Negro’s circumstance that, in America, the smallest things usually take him so very long, and that, by the time he wins them, they are no longer little things: they are miracles.
Part of Our Time: Some Ruins & Monuments of the Thirties, ch. 8 (1955)
On the formation of the Pullman Porters union.
Everybody has something about which they are proud to be broad-minded but they also have other things about which you would be wasting your breath if you tried to convince them that they were a bigot.
Modern politics cannot be a matter of genuine moral consensus. And it is not. Modern politics is civil war carried on by other means.
After Virtue: A Study of Moral Theory, ch. 17 (1981)
Human psychology has a near-universal tendency to let belief be colored by desire.
The concentration camps, by making death itself anonymous (making it impossible to find out whether a prisoner is dead or alive), robbed death of its meaning as the end of a fulfilled life. In a sense they took away the individual’s own death, proving that henceforth nothing belonged to him and he belonged to no one. His death merely set a seal on the fact that he had never existed.
The Origins of Totalitarianism, Part 3, ch. 12, sec. 3 (1951)
Everything is funnier in retrospect, funnier and prettier and cooler. You can laugh at anything from far enough away.
Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories, “Consolation Prizes” (2004)
Smart data structures and dumb code works a lot better than the other way around.
The Cathedral and the Bazaar, ch. 2, Lesson 9 (1999)
He used to say that states fail when they cannot distinguish fools from serious men.
[τότ’ ἔφη τὰς πόλεις ἀπόλλυσθαι, ὅταν μὴ δύνωνται τοὺς φαύλους ἀπὸ τῶν σπουδαίων διακρίνειν.]
Fragment 103, in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Book 6, sec. 11 [tr. @sentantiq]
You know, that might be the answer — to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That’s a trick that never seems to fail.
Catch-22 [Col. Korn] (1961)
There are very few historical characters who are alive enough to be hated.
“St. Paul” (1914), Outspoken Essays: First Series (1914)
If with the literate I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.
‘A Pig’s-Eye View of Literature: Oscar Wilde,” Life (2 Jun 1927)
Reprinted in Sunset Gun (1928).
Ill can he rule the great, that cannot reach the small.
The Faerie Queene, Book 5, Canto 2, st. 43 (1589-96)
It would seem that in youth we sow our wild oats, in old age our tame anecdotes.
The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, Introduction (1985)
Politics is, among other things, the art of anticipating consequences, and even trying to anticipate unfamiliar consequences.
“The Agony of the Campus,” Dissent #16 (Sep-Oct 1969)
A man should keep his little brain-attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it.
“The Five Orange Pips,” The Strand (Nov 1891)
A revolution requires of its leaders a record of unbroken infallibility; if they do not possess it, they are expected to invent it.
Part of Our Time: Some Ruins & Monuments of the Thirties, ch. 3 (1955)
A learned fool is more foolish than an ignorant one.
[Un sot savant est sot plus qu’un sot ignorant.]
The Learned Ladies [Les Femmes Savantes], Act 4, sc. 3, l. 1296 [Clitandre] (1672)
When people reject a truth or an untruth it is not because it is a truth or an untruth that they reject it,
No, if it isn’t in accord with their beliefs in the first place they simply say, “Nothing doing,” and refuse to inspect it.
Likewise when they embrace a truth or an untruth it is not for either its truth or its mendacity,
But simply because they have believed it all along and therefore regard the embrace as a tribute to their own fair-mindedness and sagacity.
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
Speech, Young Men’s Lyceum, Springfield, Illinois (27 Jan 1838)
This seems to be the source of this far more prosaic, and spurious, Lincoln quote: "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."
Belief like any other moving body follows the path of least resistance.
Erewhon Revisited, ch. 11 (1901)
Real power begins where secrecy begins.
The Origins of Totalitarianism, Part 3, ch. 12, sec. 1 (1951)
I love being with people. But I need a script, a role, something that will help me overcome my fears of rejection and shame. Most religions and belief systems provide a blueprint for some sort of community. And the religion’s leaders model a way of being. For example, in my book Choke, a character enacts his own death and resurrection every night — as does the narrator in Fight Club. Here’s Jesus, allowing himself to look terrible in front of his peers. That’s the biggest purpose of religious gathering: permission to look terrible in public.
“Those burnt tongue moments–Chuck Palahniuk in interview”, Interview by Andrew Lawless, Three Monkeys (May 2005)
A man may hear a thousand lectures, and read a thousand volumes, and be at the end of the process very much where he was, as regards knowledge. Something more than merely admitting it in a negative way into the mind is necessary, if it is to remain there. It must not be passively received, but actually and actively entered into, embraced, mastered. The mind must go half-way to meet what comes to it from without.
The Idea of a University, Lecture 9 “Discipline of Mind,” sec. 4 (1852)
There is no accepted test of civilization. It is not wealth, or the degree of comfort, or the average duration of life, or the increase of knowledge. All such tests would be disputed. In default of any other measure, may it not be suggested that as good a measure as any is the degree to which justice is carried out, the degree to which men are sensitive as to wrong-doing and desirous to right it? If that be the test, a trial such as that of Servetus is a trial of the people among whom it takes place, and his condemnation is theirs also.
Historical Trials, ch. 7 (1927)
John Calvin ordered Michael Servetus be imprisoned for heresy in Geneva; he was tried, then burned at the stake in 1553.
The head of the fish is the first part to smell
Ἰχθὺς ἐκ τῆς κεφαλῆς ὄζειν ἄρχεται: ἐπὶ τῶν ἐπιστάτας φαύλους ἐχόντων
The head of a fish begins to stink first. Used of bad rulers, whose contagion poisons the rest of the people. The expression seems to derive from the language of common people.
[Piscis primum a capite foetet … Piscis a capite primum incipit putere. Dictum in malos principes, quorum contagione reliquum vulgus inficitur. Apparet ab idiotarum vulgo sumptum.]
Apostolius 9.18.12, Tilley F 304
From Erasmus, Adages, Book 4, ch. 2, #97 [tr. Drysdall], who cites Apostolius, who appears to have been the first to record the proverb. Alt. trans.:
- "Fish start to stink at the top: [this is a proverb] applied to people who have scoundrels for leaders." [tr. @sentantiq]
- "The fish always stinks from the head downwards: The freshness of a dead fish can be judged from the condition of its head. Thus, when the responsible part (as the leaders of a country, etc.) is rotten, the rest will soon follow. ἰχθὺς ἐκ τῆς κεφαλῆς ὄζειν ἄρχεται, a fish begins to stink from the head." -- Jennifer Speake, ed., Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs (2015) [Source]
Even a stopped clock is right twice every day. After some years, it can boast of a long series of successes.
[Die still stehende Uhr, die täglich zwei Mal die richtige Zeit angezeigt hat, blickt nach Jahren auf eine lange Reihe von Erfolgen zurück.]
Aphorisms, #67 (1880)
With St. Paul it is quite different. He is a saint without a luminous halo. His personal characteristics are too distinct and too human to make idealisation easy. For this reason he has never been the object of popular devotion. Shadowy figures like St. Joseph and St. Anne have been divinised and surrounded with picturesque legends; but St. Paul has been spared the honour or the ignominy of being coaxed and wheedled by the piety of paganised Christianity. No tender fairy-tales are attached to his cult; he remains for us what he was in the flesh. It is even possible to feel an active dislike for him.
“St. Paul” (1914), Outspoken Essays: First Series (1914)