Quotations about   bravery

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Success covers a multitude of blunders, and the want of it hides the greatest gallantry and good conduct.

Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) British admiral
Letter to Andrew Hamond (1797)
    (Source)

Often misattributed to George Bernard Shaw.
Added on 5-Oct-20 | Last updated 5-Oct-20
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Always Sir Arthur lost so much blood that it was a marvel he stood on his feet, but he was so full of knighthood that knightly he endured the pain.

Thomas Malory (c. 1415-1471) English writer
Le Morte d’Arthur, Book 4, ch. 9 (1485)
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M. says he would much rather be a coward than brave because people hurt you when you are brave …

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
Quoted by Alice Forster in a letter (1883)
    (Source)

Ellipsis in original. Forster was 4 years old at the time. In P. N. Furbank, E. M. Forster: The growth of the novelist (1879-1914) (1977).
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In the pathway of the sun,
    In the footsteps of the breeze,
Where the world and sky are one,
    He shall ride the silver seas,
        He shall cut the glittering wave.

I shall sit at home, and rock;
Rise, to heed a neighbor’s knock;
Brew my tea, and snip my thread;
Bleach the linen for my bed.
    They will call him brave.

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) American writer
“Penelope” (1936)
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Brave men earn the right to shape their own destiny.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007) American historian, author, social critic
“The Decline of Greatness,” Saturday Evening Post (1 Nov 1958)
    (Source)

Reprinted in The Politics of Hope, ch. 2 (1963)
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Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods?

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“Horatius,” st. 27, Lays of Ancient Rome (1842)
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I believe in aristocracy, though — if that is the right word, and if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others as well as for themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure, and they can take a joke.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“What I Believe,” The Nation (16 Jul 1938)
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There is no more contemptible type of human character that that of the nerveless sentimentalist and dreamer, who spends his life in a weltering sea of sensibility and emotion, but who never does a manly concrete deed.

William James (1842-1910) American psychologist and philosopher
The Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1, ch. 4 “Habit” (1890)
    (Source)

This chapter originally published in Popular Science Monthly (Feb 1887).
Added on 23-Oct-17 | Last updated 23-Oct-17
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It’s a funny thing, the less people have to live for, the less nerve they have to risk losing — nothing.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) American writer, folklorist, anthropologist
Moses, Man of the Mountain, ch. 2 (1939)
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Heroism, the Caucasian mountaineers say, is endurance for one moment more.

George Kennan (1845-1924) American explorer, journalist, activist, lecturer
Letter to Henry Munroe Rogers (25 Jul 1921)
Added on 28-Dec-16 | Last updated 28-Dec-16
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The better part of valour is discretion.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry IV, Part 1, Act 4, sc. 4 (1598)
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We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, that’s not cowardly. Stupid maybe, but not cowardly.

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
Politically Incorrect (17 Sep 2001)

This controversy over this comment resulted in the series being cancelled.
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MINSTREL: [singing]
He was not in the least bit scared to be mashed into a pulp,
Or to have his eyes gouged out and his elbows broken,
To have his kneecaps split and his body burned away,
And his limbs all hacked and mangled, brave Sir Robin!
His head smashed in, and his heart cut out,
And his liver removed, and his bowels unplugged,
And his nostrils raped, and his bottom burnt off,
And his penis —

SIR ROBIN: That’s enough music for now, lads.

Monty Python (contemp.) British comedy troupe
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Added on 3-Jun-16 | Last updated 3-Jun-16
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I could name all day, those women I deem great in Greece alone and the records would scarcely be complete. And what of Joan of Arc and Emma Goldman? Kate Richards O’Hare and Sarah Bernhardt? Katherine the Great and Elizabeth Barrett Browning? H.D. and Sara Teasdale? Isibella of Spain who pawned her gems that Columbus might sail, and Edna St. Vincent Millay? And that queen, Marie, I think her name was, of some small province — Hungary I believe — who fought Prussia and Russia so long and so bitterly. And Rome — oh, the list is endless there, also — most of them were glorified harlots but better be a glorified harlot than a drab and moral drone, such as the text books teach us woman should be. Woman have always been the inspiration of men, and just as there are thousands of unknown great ones among men, there have been countless women whose names have never been blazoned across the stars, but who have inspired men on to glory.

Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) American author
Letter to Harold Preece (c. Dec 1928)
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Better hazard once than be always in fear.

Fuller - hazard once - wist_info quote

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732) [comp.]
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For man’s only weapon is courage that flinches not from the gates of Hell itself, and against such not even the legions of Hell can stand.

Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) American author
“Skulls in the Stars,” Weird Tales (Jan 1929)
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Pain nourishes my courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave. You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.

Moore - cant be brave - wist_info quote

Mary Tyler Moore (b. 1936) American actress
Interview, McCall’s, Vol. 108 (1980)
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Added on 23-Feb-16 | Last updated 23-Feb-16
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When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
The Cancer Journals (1997)
Added on 25-Jan-16 | Last updated 25-Jan-16
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Fortune favors the brave.

Virgil (70-19 BC) Roman poet [b. Publius Vergilius Maro; also Vergil]
Aeneid, Book 10, l. 284 (c. 29-19 BC)
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The brave only know how to forgive; it is the most refined and generous pitch of virtue human nature can arrive at. Cowards have done good and kind actions, cowards have even fought, nay some times, even conquered; but a coward never forgave. It is not in his nature; the power of doing it flows only from a strength and greatness of soul, conscious of its own force and security, and above the little temptations of resenting every fruitless attempt to interrupt its happiness.

Laurence Sterne (1713-1786) Anglo-Irish novelist, Anglican clergyman
Sermon 12, “Joseph’s History Considered”
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Added on 15-Jan-16 | Last updated 15-Jan-16
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There’s a brave fellow! There’s a man of pluck!
A man who’s not afraid to say his say,
Though a whole town’s against him.

Longfellow - brave pluck - wist_info quote

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
John Endicott, Act 2, sc. 2 (1868)
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We come to know best what men are, in their worse jeopardies.

Samuel Daniel (1562-1619) English poet, dramatist, historian
To Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton (1605)
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True bravery is shown by performing without witness what one might be capable of doing before all the world!

François VI, duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) French epigrammist, memoirist, noble
Réflexions ou sentences et maximes morales [Maxims], #216 (1665-1678)
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People glorify all sorts of bravery except the bravery they might show on behalf of their nearest neighbors.

George Eliot (1819-1880) English novelist [pseud. of Mary Ann Evans]
Middlemarch, Book 8, ch. 72 (1871-72)
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It is easy to be brave from a safe distance.

Aesop (620?-560? BC) Legendary Greek storyteller
“The Wolf and the Kid”
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It’s so wrong to think that spectacular courage is the best bravery. The noblest bravery is battling against these dreadful daily assaults, often very minor, on one’s spirit.

Trollope - noblest bravery - wist_info

Joanna Trollope (b. 1943) British writer [pseud. Caroline Harvey]
The Rector’s Wife (1991)
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A brave man is sometimes a desperado: a bully is always a coward.

Thomas Chandler Haliburton (1796-1865) Canadian politician, judge, humorist
Sam Slick’s Wise Saws and Modern Instances, Vol. 1 (1853)
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A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
The Necessity for Choice: Prospects of American Foreign Policy, 7.4 (1961)
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Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
You Learn By Living (1960)

An earlier version of this (the first sentence, at least) was included in a letter to Joseph Lash (13 Feb 1946).
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True courage … has so little to do with Anger, that there lies always the strongest Suspicion against it, where this Passion is highest. The true Courage is the cool and calm. The bravest of Men have the least of a brutal bullying Insolence; and in the very time of Danger are found the most serene, pleasant, and free. Rage, we know, can make a Coward forget himself and fight. But what is done in Fury, or Anger, can never be plac’d to the account of Courage.

Anthony Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713) English politician and philosopher
Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, Vol. 1, “Sensus Communis” (1711)
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I let out a battle cry. Sure, a lot of people might have mistaken it for a sudden yelp of unmanly fear, but trust me. It was a battle cry.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
“Something Borrowed,” My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding (2006)
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If we would guide by the light of reason, we must let our minds be bold.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262 (1932) [dissent]
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What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man. […] Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children. And if you don’t help us, who else in the world can help us do this?

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
Speech, Dominican Monastery of Latour-Maubourg (1948)

Speaking on the Holocaust. In Camus, Resistance, Rebellion and Death [tr. O'Brien (1961)]
Added on 27-Oct-14 | Last updated 27-Oct-14
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There’s a fine line between audacity and idiocy.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Turn Coat (2009)
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No one is so brave that he is not disturbed by something unexpected.

[Nemo est tam fortis, quin rei novitate perturbetur.]

Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) Roman general and statesman [Gaius Julius Caesar]
The Gallic Wars [De Bello Gallico], Book 6, ch. 39 (49 BC)
    (Source)

Alt. trans.: "No one is so courageous as not to be disconcerted by the suddenness of the affair." [tr. McDevitte and Bohn]
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Strength of numbers is the delight of the timid. The valiant in spirit glory in fighting alone.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian philosopher and nationalist [Mahatma Gandhi]
In Young India (17 Jun 1926)
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Your spirit, youth, and valour give me heart, not to mention necessity, which makes even the timid brave.

[Animus, aetas, virtus vostra me hortantur, praeterea necessitudo, que etiam timidos fortis facit.]

Sallust (c. 86-35 BC) Roman historian and politician [Gaius Sallustius Crispus]
Bellum Catilinae [The War of Catiline; The Conspiracy of Catiline], ch. 58, sent. 19 [tr. Rolfe (1931)]
    (Source)

Catiline, addressing his troops. Usually shortened to "Necessity makes even the timid brave" [Necessitas etiam timidos fortes facit.]. Original Latin.

Alt. trans.:
  • "From your youthful vigor and undaunted courage I expect every advantage. Even the difficulties of our situation inspire me with confidence; for difficulties have often produced prodigies of valor." [tr. Murphy (1807)]
  • "Your spirit, your age, your virtue encourage me; and our necessity, too, which even inspires cowards with bravery." [tr. Rose (1831), ch. 61]
  • "Your spirit, your age, your valour encourage me, the necessity moreover which makes even the timid brave." [Source (1841)]
  • "Your spirit, your age, your valor, give me confidence; to say nothing of necessity, which makes even cowards brave." [tr. Watson (1867)]
  • "Your resolution, your age, and your courage, and above all the inevitable nature of the encounter, which often makes even the timid brave, exhort me to this." [tr. Pollard (1882)]
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I think that if the heart in man could be held down by threats — any kind of threat, whether of jail or of retribution after death — then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion tamer in the circus with his whip, not the prophet who sacrificed himself . But don’t you see, this is just the point — what has for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel but an inward music: the irresistible power of unarmed truth, the powerful attraction of example.

Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) Russian poet, novelist, and literary translator
Doctor Zhivago, 2.10 (1957) [tr. Hayward & Harari (1958)]
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Respectfulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes laborious bustle; carefulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes timidity; boldness, without the rules of propriety, becomes insubordination; straightforwardness, without the rules of propriety, becomes rudeness.

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 8.2 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse, tr. Legge (1930)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:
  • "Without ritual, courtesy is tiresome; without ritual, prudence is timid; without ritual, bravery is quarrelsome; without ritual, frankness is hurtful." [tr. Leys (1997)]
  • "Unless a man acts according to the spirit of the rites, in being respectful, he will tire himself out; in being cautious, he will become timid; in being brave, he will become unruly; in being forthright, he will become derisive." [tr. Chin (2014)]
  • "Respectfulness without the rituals becomes laboriousness; discretion without the rituals becomes apprehensiveness; courage without the rituals becomes rebelliousness; straightforwardness without the rituals becomes impetuosity." [tr. Huang (1997)]
  • "Courtesy uncontrolled by the laws of good taste becomes labored effort, caution uncontrolled becomes timidity, boldness uncontrolled becomes recklessness, and frankness uncontrolled become effrontery." [tr. Soothill (1910)]
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The paradox of courage is that a man must be a little careless of his life even in order to keep it.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) English journalist and writer
All Things Considered, “The Methuselahite” (1908)
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Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Spurious)

A common "inspirational" quote, frequently attributed to Twain, but not found in writings. Earliest found is in H. Jackson Brown, P.S. I Love You (1990), attributed to Brown's mother. More info here.

Added on 13-Jun-11 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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BECKET: Until the day of his death, no man can be sure of his courage.

Jean Anouilh (1910-1987) French dramatist
Becket or The Honor of God [Becket ou l’honneur de Dieu], Act 1 (1959)
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Mankind is naturally divided into three sorts; one third of them are animated at the first appearance of danger, and will press forward to meet and examine it; another third are alarmed by it, but will neither advance nor retreat, till they know the nature of it, but stand to meet it. The remaining third will run or fly upon the first thought of it.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
(Attributed)

In R. W. Emerson, Journal (Aug 1851).
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Nothing is cheaper and more common than physical bravery. […] Common experience shows how much rarer is moral courage than physical bravery. A thousand men will march to the mouth of the cannon where one man will dare espouse an unpopular cause […] True courage and manhood come from the consciousness of the right attitude toward the world, the faith in one’s own purpose, and the sufficiency of one’s own approval as a justification for one’s own acts.

Clarence Darrow (1857-1938) American lawyer
Resist Not Evil, ch. 16 (1903)
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Even cowards gain courage from companionship.

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad, Book 13, l. 235 (c. 750 BC) [tr. Butler (1898)]
    (Source)

Poseidon, appearing as Thoas, talking with Idomeneus. Alt. trans.:
  • "We find, / That virtue co-augmented thrives in men of little mind." [tr. Chapman (1611), ll. 218-19]
  • "Not vain the weakest, if their force unite." [tr. Pope (1715-20)]
  • "Union much / Emboldens even the weakest." [tr. Cowper (1791), ll. 292-93]
  • "For useful is the valour of men, even the very pusillanimous, if combined." [tr. Buckley (1860)]
  • "E’en meaner men, united, courage gain." [tr. Derby (1864)]
  • "Ay, and very cowards get courage from company." [tr. Leaf/Lang/Myers (1891)]
  • "Prowess comes from fellowship even of right sorry folk." [tr. Murray (1924)]
  • "Even the poorest fighters turn into brave men when they stand side by side." [tr. Rieu (1950)]
  • "The worst cowards, banded together, have their power." [tr. Fagles (1990), l. 281]
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It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 2, 15 January 1907 (2010)
    (Source)
Added on 2-Nov-07 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.

Helen Keller (1880-1968) American author and lecturer
Atlantic Monthly (May 1890)
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Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
The Screw-Tape Letters, #29 (1942)
    (Source)
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One time I figured out this: if you aren’t brave, it doesn’t matter what other virtues you have, because you aren’t going to act them out. What good does it do to be able to see truth if you’re too chickenshit to act on the basis of what you see? I finally reduced all human virtues to one: bravery.

Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) American writer
(Attributed)

See Lewis.
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Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.

Erica Jong (b. 1942) American writer, poet
“The Artist as Housewife,” The First Ms. Reader, ed. Francine Kragbrun (1972)
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Without courage, wisdom bears no fruit.

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], # 4 (1647) [tr. Maurer (1982)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans. "Knowledge without courage is sterile." [tr. James (1892)]
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Be convinced that to be happy means to be free and that to be free means to be brave.

Thucydides (c. 460-400 BC) Greek historian
The Speeches of Pericles, “The Funeral Speech” [tr. Edinger (1979)

Alt trans.:

  • "The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom is courage."
  • "Happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous."

Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 19-Aug-14
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God, give us the grace to accept with serenity the things which cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) American theologian and clergyman
“The Serenity Prayer” (1934)

Niebuhr at one point claimed authorship (and took copyright fees from Hallmark Cards), but later on denied he had written it. It was later adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous. Discussion of the actual authorship here.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 14-Nov-15
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The greatest test of courage is to bear defeat without losing heart.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“The Declaration of Independence” (1876)
    (Source)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 2-Feb-16
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There comes a time in every normal man’s life when he must be tempted to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
Prejudices: First Series (1919)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 27-Nov-13
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