Quotations about   beauty

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I praise your body’s beauty. “Quite enough,”
Galla, you say, “it’s better in the buff.”
Let’s go a-bathing then, but you decline.
Galla, are you afraid you won’t like mine?

[Cum faciem laudo, cum miror crura manusque,
Dicere, Galla, soles ‘Nuda placebo magis,’
Et semper vitas communia balnea nobis.
Numquid, Galla, times, ne tibi non placeam?]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 3, epigram 51 [tr. Barger]
    (Source)

(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

When, Galla, thy face, hands, and legs I admire,
Thou say'st, I, when naked more pleasing shall be.
Yet, one common bath, I full vainly require:
Dost fear that I shall not be pleasing to thee?
[tr. Elphinston (1782), Book 4, Part 3 ep. 38]

When I praise your face, when I admire your limbs and hands,
You tell me, Galla, "In nature's garments I shall please you still better."
Yet you always avoid the same baths with myself!
Do you fear, Galla, that I shall not please you?
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

When I compliment your face, when I admire your legs and hands,
You are accustomed to say, Galla: "Naked I shall please you more,"
And yet you continually avoid taking a bath with me.
Surely you are not afraid, Galla, that I shall not please you?
[tr. Ker (1919)]

Whene'er I praise your legs and arms,
Your eyes and rosy cheeks admire,
You whisper low -- "My hidden charms
A deeper wonder will inspire."

And yet whenever I suggest
A bath together, you say no,
Perhaps you fear that when undressed
Without my clothes I shall not do.
[tr. Pott & Wright (1921)]

I praise your face and figure as divine
"But if you saw me nude -- I really shine"
Yet rather than shed clothes you seek distraction
Because a letdown will be my reaction?
[tr. Wills (2007)]

Added on 15-Oct-21 | Last updated 15-Oct-21
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The very women who object to the morals of a notoriously beautiful actress, grow big with pride when an admirer suggests their marked resemblance to this stage beauty in physique.

No picture available
Minna Antrim (1861-1950) American epigrammatist, writer
Naked Truth and Veiled Allusions (1901)
Added on 10-Sep-21 | Last updated 10-Sep-21
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After nine months of familiarity with this panorama, I still think, as I thought in the beginning, that this is the fairest picture on our planet, the most enchanting to look upon, the most satisfying to the eye and the spirit. To see the sun sink down, drowned on his pink and purple and golden floods, and overwhelm Florence with tides of color that make all the sharp lines dim and faint and turn the solid city to a city of dreams, is a sight to stir the coldest nature, and make a sympathetic one drunk with ecstasy.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Autobiography, “Chapters Added in Florence (1904)” (1924) [ed. Bigelow]
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Recounting his previous stay in, and view of, Florence, Italy, starting in 26 September 1892; written while again staying there in 1904.
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If a man should ascend alone into heaven and behold clearly the structure of the universe and the beauty of the stars, there would be no pleasure for him in the awe-inspiring sight, which would have filled him with delight if he had had someone to whom he could describe what he had seen.

[Si quis in coelum ascendisset, naturamque mundi, et pulchritudinem siderum perspexisset, insuavem illam admirationem ei fore; quae jucudissima fuisset, si aliquem, cui narraret, habuisset.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
“Laelius De Amicitia [Laelius on Friendship],” ch. 23 / sec. 88 (44 BC) [tr. Falconer (1923)]
    (Source)

Original Latin. Cicero attributes this as a paraphrase of Archytas of Tarentum (d. 394 BC), a Pythagorean philosopher and astronomer. Alternate translations:

If any one could have ascended to the sky, and surveyed the structure of the universe, and the beauty of the stars, that such admiration would be insipid to him; and yet it would be most delightful if he had someone to whom he might describe it.
[tr. Edmonds (1871)]

If one had ascended to heaven, and had obtained a full view of the nature of the universe and the beauty of the stars, yet his admiration would be without delight, if there were no one to whom he could tell what he had seen.
[tr. Peabody (1887)]

If a man could ascend to heaven and get a clear view of the natural order of the universe, and the beauty of the heavenly bodies, that wonderful spectacle would give him small pleasure, though nothing could be conceived more delightful if he had but had some one to whom to tell what he had seen.
[tr. Shuckburgh (1909)]

If a man could mount to heaven and survey the mighty universe with all the planetary orbs, his admiration of its beauties would be much diminished, unless he had someone to share in his pleasure.
[Source]

Added on 3-May-21 | Last updated 3-May-21
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Here’s a comforting thought for you, Peter. However long you may live, the world will never lose its ability to surprise you with its beauty.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Lies Sleeping (2018)
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Added on 2-Apr-21 | Last updated 2-Apr-21
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No object is so ugly that, under certain conditions of light and shade, or proximity to other things, it will not look beautiful; no object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
Lecture to Art Students, Royal Academy, London (30 Jun 1883)
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Added on 17-Mar-21 | Last updated 17-Mar-21
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The innocent and the beautiful
Have no enemy but time.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) Irish poet and dramatist
“In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz” (1927)
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Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
Cakes and Ale, ch. 11 (1930)
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Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance; at least I suppose this quill I hold in my hand writes better than a peacock’s would, and the peasants of Vevay, whose fields in spring time are as white with lilies as the Dent du Midi is with its snow, told me the hay was none the better for them.

John Ruskin (1819-1900) English art critic, painter, writer, social thinker
The Stones of Venice, ch. 2 “The Virtues of Architecture,” sec. 17 (1851)
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Added on 24-Feb-21 | Last updated 24-Feb-21
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For even the humblest person, a day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search for truth and perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.

Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) American writer, philosopher, historian, architect
The Condition of Man (1944)
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The ideal has many names, and beauty is but one of them.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
Cakes and Ale (1930)
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The good things of youth are strength and beauty, but the flower of age is moderation.

[Ἰσχὺς καὶ εὐμορφίη νεότητος ἀγαθά, γήραος δὲ σωφροσύνη ἄνθος.]

Democritus (c. 460 BC - c. 370 BC) Greek philosopher
Frag. 294 (Diels) [tr. Freeman (1948)]
    (Source)

Diels citation: "294. (205 N.)"; ; collected in Joannes Stobaeus (Stobaios) Anthologium IV, 115, 19.

Alternate translations:

  • "The good things of youth are strength and beauty; moderation is the flower of age." [Source]
  • "Strength and beauty are the blessings of youth; temperance, however, is the flower of old age."
Added on 26-Jan-21 | Last updated 23-Feb-21
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A full bosom is actually a millstone around a woman’s neck: it endears her to the men who want to make their mammet of her, but she is never allowed to think that their popping eyes actually see her.

Germaine Greer (b. 1939) English reformer, author, educator
“Curves,” The Female Eunuch (1970)
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Added on 25-Jan-21 | Last updated 25-Jan-21
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People who care for you inevitably become beautiful.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Bingo, ch. 38 (1988)
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Added on 9-Dec-20 | Last updated 9-Dec-20
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Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike. This natural beauty-hunger is made manifest in the little window-sill gardens of the poor, though perhaps only a geranium slip in a broken cup, as well as in the carefully tended rose and lily gardens of the rich, the thousands of spacious city parks and botanical gardens, and in our magnificent National parks.

John Muir (1838-1914) Scottish-American naturalist
The Yosemite, ch. 15 “Hetch Hetchy Valley” (1912)
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The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926-2004) Swiss-American psychiatrist, author
Death: The Final Stage of Growth (1975)
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Added on 14-Oct-20 | Last updated 14-Oct-20
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If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

[Si hortum in bibliotheca habes, deerit nihil.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Epistulae ad Familiares [Letters to Friends], Book 9, Letter 4 “To Varro” (46-45 BC)

In June 708 AUC. Sometimes rendered "nihil deerit."

Alt. trans.: "If you have a garden in your library, everything will be complete." [Source].

Original Latin in context.
Added on 12-Oct-20 | Last updated 12-Oct-20
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To emphasize only the beautiful seems to me to be like a mathematical system that only concerns itself with positive numbers.

Paul Klee (1879-1940) Swiss-German artist
Diary 3, #759 (Mar 1906)
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Youth is full of sunshine and life. Youth is happy, because it has the ability to see beauty. When this ability is lost, wretched old age begins, decay, unhappiness. […] Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) Czech-Austrian Jewish writer
In Gustav Janouch, Conversations with Kafka (1951; 1971 ed.)
Added on 30-Sep-20 | Last updated 30-Sep-20
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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Margaret Wolfe Hungerford (1855-1897) Irish novelist
Molly Bawn (1878)
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The first formulation of this precise phrase in print. The speaker "quotes" the words, as the sentiment was already widespread (believed to have originated from Hume).
Added on 23-Sep-20 | Last updated 23-Sep-20
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Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others.

David Hume (1711-1776) Scottish philosopher, economist, historian, empiricist
“Of the Standard of Taste” (1739)
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Added on 16-Sep-20 | Last updated 16-Sep-20
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Behold the hippopotamus!
We laugh at how he looks to us,
And yet in moments dank and grim,
I wonder how we look to him.

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) American poet
“The Hippopotamus”
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Added on 11-Sep-20 | Last updated 11-Sep-20
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The truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.

Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014) South African writer and political activist
“A Bolter and the Invincible Summer” (1963)
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See Keats.
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Who on earth could blame them? Ah, no wonder
the men of Troy and Argives under arms have suffered
years of agony all for her, for such a woman.
Beauty, terrible beauty!
A deathless goddess — so she strikes our eyes!

[Οὐ νέμεσις Τρῶας καὶ ἐϋκνήμιδας Ἀχαιοὺς
τοιῇδ’ ἀμφὶ γυναικὶ πολὺν χρόνον ἄλγεα πάσχειν·
αἰνῶς ἀθανάτῃσι θεῇς εἰς ὦπα ἔοικεν.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad, Book 3, ll. 156-58 (c. 750 BC) [tr. Fagles (1990), ll. 187-190]

Alt. trans.:
Surely there is no blame on Trojans and strong-greaved Achaians
if for long time they suffer hardship for a woman like this one.
Terrible is the likeness of her face to immortal goddesses.
[tr. Lattimore (1951)]

No wonder, such celestial charms
For nine long years have set the world in arms!
What winning graces! what majestic mien!
She moves a goddess, and she looks a queen.
[tr. Pope (1715-20)]

Trojans and Grecians wage, with fair excuse,
Long war for so much beauty. Oh, how like
In feature to the Goddesses above!
Pernicious loveliness!
[tr. Cowper (1791), ll. 181-83]

It is not a subject for indignation, that Trojans and well-greaved Greeks endure hardships for a long time on account of such a woman. In countenance she is wondrous like unto the immortal goddesses ....
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

Small blame is it that Trojans and well-greaved Achaians should for such a woman long time suffer hardships; marvellously like is she to the immortal goddesses to look upon.
[tr. Leaf/Lang/Myers (1891)]

And, "'tis no marvel," one to other said,
"The valiant Trojans and the well-greav'd Greeks
For beauty such as this should long endure
The toils of war; for goddess-like she seems."
[tr. Derby (1864)]

Small wonder that Trojans and Achaeans should endure so much and so long, for the sake of a woman so marvellously and divinely lovely.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

There is indeed no blame on the Trojans and well-greaved Achaians,
over a woman like this so long a time suffering sorrows;
dreadfully like the immortal goddesses is she to look on.
[tr. Merrill (2007)]
Added on 2-Sep-20 | Last updated 24-Nov-20
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Beauty, like truth and goodness, is a quality that may in one sense be predicated of all great art, but the deliberate attempt to beautify can, in itself, only weaken the creative energy. Beauty in art is like happiness in morals: it may accompany the act, but it cannot be the goal of the act, just as one cannot “pursue happiness,” but only something else that may give happiness.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
Anatomy of Criticism, “Mythical Phase: Symbol as Archetype” (1957)
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Ugly programs are like ugly suspension bridges: they’re much more liable to collapse than pretty ones, because the way humans (especially engineer-humans) perceive beauty is intimately related to our ability to process and understand complexity.

Eric S. Raymond (b. 1957) American software developer, writer [a.k.a. ESR]
The Cathedral & the Bazaar (1999)
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Marrying a woman for her beauty makes no more sense than eating a bird for its singing. But it’s a common mistake nonetheless.

Charles Frazier (b. 1950) American novelist
Cold Mountain (1997)
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Many complain of their looks, but none of their brains.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Italian proverb

Also noted as a Jewish or Yiddish proverb.

This is also often cited to Sally Koslow, Little Pink Slips, ch. 5 (2007); it appears there as ""Many complain of their looks, few of their brains," but is described as an unoriginal needlepoint on a pillow cover.

See also La Rochefoucauld for a similar construction.
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The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes,
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and empty skies.

Ewan MacColl (1915-1989) Scottish folk singer, songwriter, labour activist, playwright [stage name of James Henry (Jimmy) Miller]
“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (1957)
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Beauty without grace, is a hook without a bait.

Anne "Ninon" de l'Enclos (1620-1705) French author, courtesan, patron of the arts [Ninon de Lenclos, Ninon de Lanclos]
The Memoirs of Ninon de L’Enclos, Vol. 1, “Life and Character” (1761)
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Ralph Waldo Emerson used almost precisely the same phrase in "Beauty," The Conduct of Life (1860).
Added on 22-Jul-20 | Last updated 22-Jul-20
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Beauty is but a lease from nature.

No picture available
Edward Counsel (fl. 19th C) Australian author, composer
Maxims: Political, Philosophical, and Moral, #541 (2nd ed., 1892)
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She’s adorn’d
Amply that in her husband’s eye looks lovely —
The truest mirror that an honest wife
Can see her beauty in!

No picture available
John Tobin (1770-1804) British playwright
The Honey Moon, Act 3, sc. 4 (1805)
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The problem [with beauty] is that it’s like being born rich and getting poorer.

Joan Collins (b. 1933) English actress, author
“50 Is Beautiful,” Playboy (Dec 1983)
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BAIT, n. A preparation that renders the hook more palatable. The best kind is beauty.

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?) American writer and journalist
The Cynic’s Word Book (1906)
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Unexpected intrusions of beauty. This is what life is.

Saul Bellow (1915-2005) Canadian-American writer
Herzog (1964)
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If you go through life trading on your good looks, there’ll come a time when no one wants to trade.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Lynne Alpern & Esther Blumenfeld, Oh, Lord, I Sound Just Like Mama (1986)
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Beauty is as summer fruits, which are easy to corrupt, and cannot last.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Beauty,” Essays, No. 43 (1625)
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There are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.

Edward Abbey (1927-1989) American anarchist, writer, environmentalist
“TV Show: Out There On the Rocks,” One Life at a Time, Please (1988)
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Things are beautiful if you love them.

Jean Anouilh (1910-1987) French dramatist
Mademoiselle Colombe, Act 2, sc. 2 (1950) [tr. Kronenberger (1954)]
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The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms timidly, and struggles to be a light amid the thorns.

George Santayana (1863-1952) Spanish-American poet and philosopher [Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruíz de Santayana y Borrás]
Platonism and the Spiritual Life (1927)
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To give people pleasure in the things they must perforce use, that is one great office of decoration; to give people pleasure in the things they must perforce make, that is the other use of it.

William Morris (1834-1896) British textile designer, writer, socialist activist
“The Decorative Arts: Their Relation to Modern Life and Progress,” Lecture (4 Dec 1877)
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Morris' first public lecture. Later published as "The Lesser Arts" in Hopes and Fears for Art (1882).
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The universe could have been created ugly, and would have functioned. And yet there is beauty everywhere in creation. Beauty gives us an ache, to be worthy of that creation.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) American poet
Comments at Wellesley College (20 Oct 2010)
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The last phrase is frequently paraphrased, "We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it."
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Elegance is the only beauty that never fades.

Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) Belgian-English actress
(Attributed)
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The English Bible, a book which, if everything else in our language should perish, would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“John Dryden,” Edinburgh Review (Jan 1828)
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Review of John Dryden, The Political Works of John Dryden (1826)
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That the beauty of life is a thing of no moment, I suppose few people would venture to assert, and yet most civilized people act as if it were of none, and in so doing are wronging themselves and those that are to come after them; for that beauty, which is what is meant by art, using the word in its widest sense, is, I contend, no mere accident to human life, which people can take or leave as they choose, but a positive necessity of life, if we are to live as nature meant us to; that is, unless we are content to be less than men.

William Morris (1834-1896) British textile designer, writer, socialist activist
“The Beauty of Life,” lecture, Birmingham Society of Arts and School of Design (19 Feb 1880)
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Our golden rule: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

William Morris (1834-1896) British textile designer, writer, socialist activist
“The Beauty of Life,” lecture, Birmingham Society of Arts and School of Design (19 Feb 1880)
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Makeup: Western equivalent of the veil. A daily reminder that something is wrong with women’s normal looks. A public apology.

Marie Shear (1940-2017) American writer and feminist activist
“Media Watch: Celebrating Women’s Words,” New Directions for Women (May/Jun 1986)
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Life is not only full of sound and fury. It also has butterflies, flowers, art.

Claude Simon (1913-2005) French novelist, critic, Nobel Laureate (Literature)
“The Art of Fiction,” #128, Interview with A. Eyle, The Paris Review (Spring 1992)
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See Shakespeare.
Added on 28-Dec-18 | Last updated 28-Dec-18
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Many eyes go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (16 May 1834)
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Added on 6-Nov-18 | Last updated 6-Nov-18
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Makeup is not beauty. When artfully applied, it merely enhances what’s already there — the red paint on the fire engine.

Mae West (1892-1980) American film actress
Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It: The Autobiography of Mae West (1959)
Added on 26-Feb-18 | Last updated 26-Feb-18
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Beauties in vain their pretty Eyes may roll;
Charms strike the Sight, but Merit wins the Soul.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) English poet
The Rape of the Lock, Canto 5, l. 33 (1712)
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Added on 3-Oct-17 | Last updated 3-Oct-17
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If God didn’t want women to be looked at, he would have made ’em ugly — that’s reasonable, isn’t it? God isn’t a cheat; He set up the game Himself — He wouldn’t rig it so that the marks can’t win, like a flat joint wheel in a town with the fix on. He wouldn’t send anybody to Hell for losing in a crooked game.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Stranger in a Strange Land, ch. 27 [Patty] (1961)
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Added on 21-Jul-17 | Last updated 21-Jul-17
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Phryne Fisher had a taste for young and comely men, but she was not prone to trust them with anything but her body.

Kerry Greenwood (b. 1954) Australian author and lawyer
Cocaine Blues (1989)
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Added on 15-Jun-17 | Last updated 15-Jun-17
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Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, ch. 16 [Ford] (1979)
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Added on 14-Jun-17 | Last updated 14-Jun-17
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The Woman tempted me — and tempts me still!
Lord god, I pray You that she ever will!

Edmund Vance Cooke (1866-1932) Canadian poet
“Adam”
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Added on 8-May-17 | Last updated 8-May-17
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