- 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.
- 16,719 quotes and counting ...
Topic Cloudaction age America belief books change character Christianity creation death democracy education ego evil faith fear freedom future God government happiness history honesty humanity integrity justice leadership liberty life love morality perspective politics poverty power religion science society success truth 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
- “The Lesson for Today,” A Witness Tree (1942) (5,554)
- “Wealth and Poverty,” speech, National… (5,475)
- Agamemnon, ll. 175-183 [tr. Johnston (2007)] (5,372)
- Nobel prize acceptance speech (10 Dec 1962) (4,799)
- “The Triumph of Stupidity” (10 May 1933) (4,288)
- “In Search of a Majority,” Speech,… (3,629)
- “Get a Knife, Get a Dog, but Get Rid of… (3,435)
- “Hallowed Ground” (1825) (2,927)
- “On The Conduct of Life” (1822) (2,908)
- “The Historian as Participant,” Daedalus… (2,701)
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.
- 16-Aug-19 - Dave on About WIST.
- 13-Aug-19 - Mike Hardy on About WIST.
- 17-Jul-19 - Samuel Missal on Armistice Day address, Boston (11 Nov 1948).
- 24-May-19 - Dave on Inaugural Address (20 Jan 1989).
- 16-May-19 - Mike Gaudioso on Inaugural Address (20 Jan 1989).
- 23-Apr-19 - Dave on Letter to Baron von Stein, Dammartin le St. Père (7 Jan 1814).
It’s easy to do anything in victory. It’s in defeat that a man reveals himself.
Quoted in Gay Talese, Fame and Obscurity: Portraits (1970).
Love is the crowning grace of humanity, the holiest right of the soul, the golden link which binds us to duty and truth, the redeeming principle that chiefly reconciles the heart to life, and is prophetic of eternal good.
Quoted in In Henry T. Tuckerman, "Petrarch," The American Whig Review (May 1845). The first word is sometimes quoted as "charity".
The longest absence is less perilous to love than the terrible trials of incessant proximity.
Friendship, ch. 11 (1878)
Some people are just better than others at noticing things that don’t align with their concern, and Mum and Dad are simply oblivious to elves, vampires, vegans, and other esoteric manifestations of modernity.
The Nightmare Stacks, ch. 12 (2016)
He who gives only what he would as readily throw away gives without generosity; for the essence of generosity is in self-sacrifice.
Notes from Life, “Of Money: Giving and Taking” (1853)
The trouble with life isn’t that there is no answer, it’s that there are so many answers.
The word Martini is a nostalgic passport to another era — when automobiles had curves like Mae West, when women were eihter ladies or dames, when men wore hats, when a deal was done on a handshake, when boxing and polo were regular pastimes, when we lived for movies instead of MTV, and when jazz was going from hot to cool. It was a time when a relationship was called either a romance or an affair, when love over a pitcher of Martinis was bigger than both of us, sweetheart, and it wouldn’t matter if the Russians dropped the bomb as long as the gin was wet and the vermouth was dry. That as Martini Culture.
The Martini: An Illustrated History of an American Classic, “The Great Martini Revival” (1995)
Conrad reworked the passage in "Martini Madness" in Cigar Afficionado (Spring 1996):The Martini is a cocktail distilled from the wink of a platinum blonde, the sweat of a polo horse, the blast of an ocean liner's horn, the Chrysler building at sunset, a lost Cole Porter tune, and the aftershave of quipping detectives in natty double-breasted suits. It's a nostalgic passport to another era -- when automobiles had curves like Mae West, when women were either ladies or dames, when men were gentlemen or cads, and when a "relationship" was true romance or a steamy affair. Films were called movies then, the music was going from le jazz hot in Paris to nightclub cool in Vegas, and when a deal was done on a handshake, the wise guy who welched soon had a date with a snub-nosed thirty-eight. Love might have ended in a world war, but a kiss was still a kiss, a smile was still a smile, and until they dropped the atomic bomb there was no need to worry, schweetheart, as long as the vermouth was dry and the gin was wet. That was Martini Culture.
Added on 2-Sep-17 | Last updated 7-May-18
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I gladly come back to the theme of the absurdity of our education: its end has not been to make us good and wise but learned. And it has succeeded. It has not taught us to seek virtue and to embrace wisdom: it has impressed upon us their derivation and their etymology. We know how to decline the Latin word for virtue: we do not know how to love virtue. Though we do not know what wisdom is in practice or from experience we do know the jargon off by heart.
The Complete Essays, II:17 “On Presumption” [tr. Screech (1987)]
Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.
Stride Toward Freedom, “Three Ways of Meeting Oppression” (1958)
It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics. This is equally true whether the faith is Communism or Holy-Rollerism; indeed it is the bounden duty of the faithful to do so. The custodians of the True Faith cannot logically admit tolerance of heresy to be a virtue.
“Concerning Stories Never Written” (Oct 1952)
Character is simply habit long continued.
Moral Writings [Moralia], “On the Education of Children,” 4.3 [tr. Babbitt and Goodwin]
Better vexation than stagnation: marriage may often be a stormy lake, but celibacy is almost always a muddy horse pond.
Melincourt, ch. 7 (1817)
Somehow he has internalized the ur-cultural narrative: you grow up, go to university, get a job, meet Ms. Right, get married, settle down, have kids, grow old together … it’s like some sort of checklist. Or maybe a list of epic quests you’ve got to complete while level-grinding in a game you’re not allowed to quit, with no respawns and no cheat codes.
The Nightmare Stacks, ch. 9 (2016)
The pretext for indecisiveness is commonly mature deliberation; but in reality indecisive men occupy themselves less in deliberation than others; for to him who fears to decide, deliberation (which has a foretaste of that fear) soon becomes intolerably irksome, and the mind escapes from the anxiety of it into alien themes.
The Statesman: An Ironical Treatise on the Art of Succeeding, ch. 21 (1836)
Be careful how you live your life, it is the only Gospel many people will ever read.
Quoted in 1985 in Basta, the national news letter of the Chicago Religious Task Force on Central America.
Alt. trans.: "Watch how you live. Your lives may be the only gospel your brothers and sisters will ever read."
Man has no greater enemy than himself. I have acted contrary to my sentiments and inclination; throughout our whole lives we do what we never intended, and what we proposed to do, we leave undone.
Quoted in Johann Georg Ritter von Zimmermann, An Examination of the Advantages of Solitude and of Its Operations, ch. 5 (1783) [tr. F.S. (1808)].
The Abilities of Man must fall short on one side or other, like too scanty a Blanket when you are a-bed. If you pull it upon your Shoulders, you leave your Feet bare; if you thrust it down upon your Feet, your Shoulders are uncovered.
I am all for the short and merry life.
Letter to Frederick Tennyson (31 Dec 1850)
Later his epitaph.
Everyone loves a witch hunt as long as it’s someone else’s witch being hunted.
Twitter (10 Jan 2011)
Added on 26-Aug-17 | Last updated 5-Sep-17
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Schoolmasters and parents exist to be grown out of.
Added on 26-Aug-17 | Last updated 5-Sep-17
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To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”
“Loving Your Enemies,” Sermon, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery (25 Dec 1957)
A good martini, a good meal, a good cigar and a good woman … or a bad woman, depending on how much happiness you can stand.
Dr. Burns’ Prescription for Happiness, “Nine Definitions of Happiness” (1984)
From the standpoint of a professional military man there is one good thing about revolutions: the opportunities for swift promotion are excellent . . . even if the pay is inclined to be irregular.
Revolt in 2100, ch. 10 (1953)
Good general-purpose manners nowadays may be said to consist in knowing how much you can get away with.
“Manners,” Collected Impressions (1950)
But because we grew up surrounded by big dramatic story arcs in books and movies, we think our lives are supposed to be filled with huge ups and downs! So people pretend there is drama where there is none.
Books have led some to learning and others to madness, when they swallow more than they can digest.
Remedies for Fortune Fair and Foul [De Remediis Utriusque Fortunae] [tr. Elton (1893)]
Alt. trans.: "Books have brought some men to knowledge, and some to madness. whilst they drew out of them more than they could digest." [tr. Dobson (1791)]
Alt. trans.: "Books have led some to knowledge and some to madness, who drew from them more than they could hold." [tr. Rawski (1991)]
Rupert had never forgiven his mother for continuing to have children once she had achieved the heights of human creation by giving birth to Rupert.
Death at Victoria Dock, ch. 8 (1992)
Philosophy had supplied Socrates with convictions in which he had been able to have rational, as opposed to hysterical, confidence when faced with disapproval.
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 1 “Consolations for Unpopularity” (2000)
A lot of companies — I know it sounds crazy — but a lot of companies … hire people to tell them what to do. We hire people to tell us what to do. We figure we’re paying them all this money; their job is to figure out what to do and tell us.
“Steve Jobs: ‘Computer Science Is A Liberal Art’,” interview with Terry Gross, Fresh Air, NPR (1996)
There are a number of variants on this quotation. A common one: "It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do."
Ambition hath one heel nailed in hell, though she stretch her finger to touch the heavens.
Midas: A Comedy, Act 2, sc. 1 [Sophronia] (1592)
Sometimes misquoted as "nailed in well." Sometimes misattributed to Lao-tzu.
Added on 23-Aug-17 | Last updated 5-Sep-17
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Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to “jump at de sun.” We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.
Dust Tracks on a Road, ch. 2 “My Folks” (1942)
Alcohol: A liquid good for preserving almost everything except secrets.
Glory paid to ashes comes too late.
[Cineri gloria sera venit.]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 1, Epigram 25 “To Faustinus”
For my own part, I consider the best and most finished type of man to be the person who is always ready to make allowances for others, on the ground that never a day passes without his being in fault himself, yet who keeps as clear of faults as if he never pardoned them in others.
[Atque ego optimum et emendatissimum existimo, qui ceteris ita ignoscit, tamquam ipse cotidie peccet, ita peccatis abstinet tamquam nemini ignoscat.]
Epistles [Epistulae], Book 8, Letter 22 “To Geminus” [tr. J.B.Firth (1900)]
Alt. trans.: "The highest of characters, in my estimation, is his, who is as ready to pardon the moral errors of mankind, as if he were every day guilty of some himself; and at the same time as cautious of committing a fault as if he never forgave one."
Tolerance is not a moral absolute; it is a peace treaty.
“Tolerance is not a moral precept” (2 Jun 2017)
Considering the temptations under which politicians are placed, of changing their opinions, or rather their professions of opinion, from motives of self interest, the world will not give them credit for motives of honest conviction, unless when the change shall be to their manifest loss and disadvantage.
The Statesman: An Ironical Treatise on the Art of Succeeding, ch. 17 (1836)
The cots, the palaces and valleys here,
Are nought to me, their charm, alas! is fled;
Floods, rocks, and forests, solitudes so dear
One soul is wanting, and all else seems dead
[Que me font ces vallons, ces palais, ces chaumières,
Vains objets dont pour moi le charme est envolé?
Fleuves, rochers, forêts solitudes si chères,
Un seul être vous manque et tout est dépeuplé!]
“Solitude [L’isolement],”Poetic Meditations [Méditations Poétiques] (1820) [tr. J. Churchill]
Alt. trans. ["Isolation"]:
"What for me do these valleys, these palaces, these cottages,
Vain objects of which for me the charm has fled?
Streams, rocks, forests, solitudes so dear,
One single being from you is missing, and everything is depopulated."
"Sometimes, when one person is missing, the whole world seems depopulated."
No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.
The War of the Worlds, Book 1, ch. 1 (1898)
Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.
Letter to Renate and Eberhard Bethge (1944)
Alt. trans.: "It is not the thought but readiness to take responsibility that is the mainspring of action."
You’ve got to rattle your cage door. You’ve got to let them know that you’re in there, and that you want out. Make noise. Cause trouble. You may not win right away, but you’ll sure have a lot more fun.
Quoted in Gloria Steinem, "The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.," Ms. (Mar 1973).
One can be certain that every generally held idea, every received notion, will be an idiocy, because it has been able to appeal to a majority.
Quoted in Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety (2004).
I believe that happiness consists in having a destiny in keeping with our abilities. Our desires are things of the moment, often harmful even to ourselves; but our abilities are permanent, and their demands never cease.
Reflections on Suicide (1813)
Leave well — even “pretty well” — alone: that is what I learn as I get old.
Letter to W. F. Pollock (7 Dec 1869)
Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.
Hocus Pocus (1990)
I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter evenings.
The Big Sleep, ch. 3 (1939)
In the 1943 movie adaptation by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and J. Furthman, the Phillip Marlowe line is delivered by Humphrey Bogart: "I don't mind if you don't like my manners. I don't like them myself. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings."
The thing about Tom Clancy is that you can start reading a Tom Clancy book when the plane takes off in London and you’re still reading it when the plane lands in Sydney. And then you can use it to beat snakes to death.
Interview, Science Fiction Book Club (1999)
Everything passes, everything breaks, everything palls, everything gets replaced.
[Tout passe, tout casse, tout lasse, et tout se remplace.]
This ideal University of Life … would never take the importance of culture for granted. It would know that culture is kept alive by a constant respectful questioning — not by an excessive and snobbish attitude of respect. Therefore, rather than leaving it hanging why one was reading Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary, an ideal course covering nineteenth-century literature would ask plainly “What is it that adultery ruins in a marriage?” Students in the ideal University of Life would end up knowing much the same material as their colleagues in other institutions, they would simply have learned it under a very different set of headings.
“Reclaiming the Intellectual Life for Posterity,” Liberal Education (Spring 2009)
Truth is compar’d in Scripture to a streaming fountain; if her waters flow not in a perpetuall progression, they sick’n into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition.
[Truth is compared in Scripture to a streaming fountain; if her waters flow not in a perpetual progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition.]
But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red and yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small things priceless and worthless. A first-water diamond, an empty spool, bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a door long since crumbled away, a rusty knife-blade, old shoes saved for a road that never was and never will be, a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, a dried flower or two still a little fragrant.
In your hand is the brown bag. On the ground before you is the jumble it held — so much like the jumble in the bags, could they be emptied, that all might be dumped in a single heap and the bags refilled without altering the content of any greatly. A bit of colored glass more or less would not matter. Perhaps that is how the Great Stuffer of Bags filled them in the first place — who knows?
“How It Feels to Be Colored Me”, The World Tomorrow (May 1928)
Believe me, wise men don’t say “I shall live to do that,”
Tomorrow’s life is too late; live today.
[Non est, crede mihi, sapientis dicere “Vivam”:
Sera nimis vita est crastina: vive hodie.]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 1, Epigram 15 [tr. Bohn (1871)]
- "I'll live tomorrow," will a wise man say? Tomorrow is too late, then live today. [tr. Hay]
- No sage will e'er "I'll live tomorrow" say: Tomorrow is too late: live thou today. [tr. WSB]
- It sorts not, believe me, with wisdom to say "I shall live." Too late is tomorrow's life; live thou today. [tr. Ker (1919)]
- "I'll live to-morrow," 'tis not wise to say: 'Twill be too late to-morrow -- live to-day.
- Tomorrow will I live, the fool does say; Today itself's too late; the wise lived yesterday.
Alcoholism isn’t a spectator sport. Eventually the whole family gets to play.
Ambition is but Avarice on stilts and masked.