Quotations by Thurber, James


“I don’t understand,” said the scientist, “why you lemmings all rush down to the sea and drown yourselves.”

“How curious,” said the lemming. “The one thing I don’t understand is why you human beings don’t.”

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
“Interview with a Lemming” (1941)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 8-Dec-10
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Men of all degrees should form this prudent habit:
Never serve a rabbit stew before you catch the rabbit.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
“Ivory, Apes, and People,” Further Fables for Our Time (1956)
Added on 24-Apr-20 | Last updated 24-Apr-20
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Now I am not a cat man, but a dog man, and all felines can tell this at a glance — a sharp, vindictive glance.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
“My Senegalese Birds and Siamese Cats,” Holiday Magazine

Reprinted in Lanterns & Lances (1961).
Added on 23-Dec-10 | Last updated 24-Dec-10
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You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
“The Bear Who Let It Alone”, The New Yorker (29 April 1939)
Added on 4-Nov-10 | Last updated 4-Nov-10
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Love is blind, but desire just doesn’t give a good goddam.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
“The Clothes Moth and the Luna Moth”, The New Yorker (19 May 1956)
Added on 9-Dec-10 | Last updated 9-Dec-10
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Discussion in America means dissent.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
“The Duchess and the Bugs” (1953)
Added on 10-Feb-11 | Last updated 10-Feb-11
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The only rules comedy can tolerate are those of taste, and the only limitations those of libel.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
“The Duchess and the Bugs”, Lanterns & Lances (1961)

A "response" to an award Thurber received from the Ohioana Library Association in 1953.

Added on 30-Dec-10 | Last updated 30-Dec-10
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There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
“The Fairly Intelligent Fly,” The New Yorker (4 Feb 1939)
Added on 24-Oct-07 | Last updated 24-Oct-07
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You can fool too many of the people too much of the time.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
“The Owl Who Was God,” New Yorker (29 Apr. 1939)
Added on 7-Apr-05 | Last updated 16-Sep-10
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“To hell with the handkerchief,” said Walter Mitty scornfully. He took one last drag on his cigarette and snapped it away. Then, with that faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he faced the firing squad; erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Mitty the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (1942)
Added on 16-Dec-10 | Last updated 16-Dec-10
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All men should strive to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
“The Shore and the Sea”, Further Fables for Our Time (1956)
Added on 11-Nov-10 | Last updated 11-Nov-10
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Early to rise and early to bed makes a male healthy and wealthy and dead.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
“The Shrike and the Chipmunks”, The New Yorker (18 Feb 1939)

Often misquoted as "Early to rise and early to bed makes a man healthy, wealthy, and dead."


Added on 21-Oct-10 | Last updated 21-Oct-10
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Man has gone long enough, or even too long, without being man enough to face the simple truth that the trouble with Man is Man.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
“The Trouble with Man is Man,” The New Yorker (27 Aug 1960)

Full text.

Added on 13-Jan-11 | Last updated 13-Jan-11
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Once upon a sunny morning a man who sat in a breakfast nook looked up from his scrambled eggs to see a white unicorn with a golden horn quietly cropping the roses in the garden. The man went up to the bedroom where his wife was still asleep and woke her. “There’s a unicorn in the garden,” he said. “Eating roses.” She opened one unfriendly eye and looked at him. “The unicorn is a mythical beast,” she said, and turned her back on him. The man walked slowly downstairs and out into the garden. The unicorn was still there; he was now browsing among the tulips.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
“The Unicorn in the Garden”, The New Yorker (31 Oct 1939)

Full text.

Added on 6-Jan-11 | Last updated 7-Jan-11
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If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
“Why Not Die?” The New Yorker (21 Sep 1935)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 8-Dec-10
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One martini is all right, two is too many, three is not enough.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
(Attributed)
    (Source)

Quoted in Time (15 Aug 1960) from an interview with Thurber by Glenna Syse of the Chicago Sun-Times. See also here.
Added on 5-Jul-13 | Last updated 5-Jul-13
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Art — the one achievement of Man which has made the long trip up from all fours seem well advised.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
Forum and Century (Jun 1939)

Also quoted in Clifton Fadiman, I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Certain Eminent Men and Women of Our Time (1939).
Added on 13-Apr-20 | Last updated 13-Apr-20
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There are two kinds of light — the glow that illumines, and the glare that obscures.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
Lanterns and Lances‎ (1961)

Sometimes misquoted: "... the glow that illuminates ..."
Added on 16-Jul-07 | Last updated 16-Sep-10
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The pounding of the cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1942)
Added on 18-Nov-10 | Last updated 18-Nov-10
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It’s a Naive Domestic Burgandy, Without Any Breeding, but I think you’ll be Amused by its Presumption.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
Cartoon caption, Men, Women and Dogs (1943)
Added on 10-Aug-09 | Last updated 10-Aug-09
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Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counseling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should say to himself, “How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style?” and avoid “How can I show him how I would write it, if it were my piece?”

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
Memo to The New Yorker (1959)

Reprinted in New York Times Book Review (4 Dec 1988)
Added on 27-Jan-11 | Last updated 27-Jan-11
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Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
Quoted in New York Post (29 Feb 1960)

Playing on a Wordsworth definition of poetry as "emotion recollected in tranquility."

Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 8-Dec-10
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The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people — that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
Television Interview with Edward R. Murrow, Small World (25 Mar 1959)

Transcript published in the New York Post.
Added on 3-Feb-11 | Last updated 3-Feb-11
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From now on, I think it is safe to predict, neither the Democratic nor the Republican Party will ever nominate for President a candidate without good looks, stage presence, theatrical delivery, and a sense of timing.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
Unpublished Note (20 Mar 1961), Collecting Himself (1989)

After the Kennedy-Nixon TV debates.

Added on 20-Jan-11 | Last updated 20-Jan-11
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