Quotations by Maugham, W. Somerset


Common sense appears to be only another name for the thoughtlessness of the unthinking. It is made of the prejudices of childhood, the idiosyncracies of individual character, and the opinion of the newspapers.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
“Clinical Notes,” American Mercury (Nov 1924)
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It’s a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
“The Treasure,” The Mixture as Before (1940)
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She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
(Attributed)
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I would sooner read a timetable or a catalog than nothing at all.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
(Attributed)
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There is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
(Attributed)
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An unfortunate thing about this world is that the good habits are much easier to give up than the bad ones.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
(Attributed)
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There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
(Attributed)

The earliest (uncited) attribution is from 1977. More discussion here.
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What mean and cruel things men do for the love of God.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
A Writer’s Notebook
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If forty million people say a foolish thing it does not become a wise one, but the wise man is foolish to give them the lie.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
A Writer’s Notebook (1949)

An entry in 1901. See Anatole France.
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There are few minds in a century that can look upon a new idea without terror. Fortunately for the rest of us, there are very few new ideas about.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
A Writer’s Notebook, “1896” (1949)
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It’s no good trying to keep up old friendships. It’s painful for both sides. The fact is, one grows out of people, and the only thing is to face it.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
Cakes and Ale (1930)
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From the earliest times, the old have rubbed it into the young that they are wiser than they, and before the young had discovered what nonsense this was they were old too, and it profited them to carry on the imposture.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
Cakes and Ale, ch. 11 (1930)
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It’s asking a great deal that things should appeal to your reason as well as your sense of the aesthetic.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
Of Human Bondage (1915)
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Like all weak men he laid an exaggerated stress on not changing one’s mind.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
Of Human Bondage, ch. 39 (1915)
    (Source)
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It is not difficult to be unconventional in the eyes of the world when your unconventionality is but the convention of your set.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Moon and Sixpence
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It is a salutary discipline to consider the vast number of books that are written, the fair hopes with which their authors see them published, and the fate which awaits them. What chance is there that any book will make its way among that multitude? And the successful books are but the successes of a season. Heaven knows what pains the author has been at, what bitter experiences he has endured and what heartache suffered, to give some chance reader a few hours’ relaxation or to while away the tedium of a journey. And if I may judge from the reviews, many of these books are well and carefully written; much thought has gone into their composition; to some even has been given the anxious labour of a lifetime. The moral I draw is that the writer should seek his reward in the pleasure of his work and in release from the burden of his thoughts; and, indifferent to aught else, care nothing for praise or censure, failure or success.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Moon and Sixpence (1919)
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You cannot imagine the kindness I’ve received at the hands of perfect strangers.

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W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Narrow Corner, ch. 15 (1932)
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It is dangerous to let the public behind the scenes. They are easily disillusioned and then they are angry with you, for it was the illusion they loved.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Summing Up (1938)
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The prestige you acquire by being able to tell your friends that you know famous men proves only that you are yourself of small account.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Summing Up (1938)
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A good style should show no signs of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Summing Up, ch. 13 (1938)
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I have not been afraid of excess: excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of a habit.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Summing Up, ch. 15 (1938)
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I wonder how anyone can have the face to condemn others when he reflects upon his own thoughts.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Summing Up, ch. 16 (1938)
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Suffering did not ennoble; it degraded. It made men selfish, mean, petty and suspicious. It absorbed them in small things … it made them less than men.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Summing Up, ch. 19 (1938)

On his experiences as a medical student and the patients he observed.
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Most people have a furious itch to talk about themselves and are restrained only by the disinclination of others to listen. Reserve is an artificial quality that is developed in most of us but as the result.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Summing Up, ch. 19 (1938)
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In youth, the years stretch before one so long that it is hard to realize that they will ever pass, and even in middle age, with the ordinary expectation of life in these days, it is easy to find excuses for delaying what one would like to do but does not want to; but at last a time comes when death must be considered.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Summing Up, ch. 3 (1938)
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An occasional glance at the obituary column of The Times has suggested to me that the sixties are very unhealthy; I have long thought that it would exasperate me to die before I had written this book, and so it seemed to me that I had better set about it at once. When I have finished it I can face the future with serenity, for I shall have rounded off my life’s work.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Summing Up, ch. 3 (1938)
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Now that I have grown old, I realize that for most of us it is not enough to have achieved personal success. One’s best friend must also have failed.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
Comment (1959)

On his 85th birthday. Quoted in Richard Cordell, Somerset Maugham: A Biographical and Critical Study (1961). Cordell mentions the influence of La Rochefoucauld, and the quote is often attributed to him though it is not in his Maxims. Also attributed to Gore Vidal, Iris Murdoch, Genghis Khan. (More info here.)

Pithier (and more common) paraphrases:

  • "It is not enough to succeed; one’s best friend must fail."
  • "It is not enough to succeed; one’s friends must fail."
  • "It is not enough to succeed; others must fail."
  • "It’s not enough that I should succeed, others should fail."
  • "It is not sufficient that I succeed –- all others must fail."
Added on 10-Sep-12 | Last updated 10-Sep-12
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