Quotations about   courage

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The people I respect most behave as if they were immortal and as if society was eternal. Both assumptions are false: both of them must be accepted as true if we are to go on eating and working and loving, and are to keep open a few breathing-holes for the human spirit. No millennium seems likely to descend upon humanity; no better and stronger League of Nations will be instituted; no form of Christianity and no alternative to Christianity will bring peace to the world or integrity to the individual; no “change of heart” will occur. And yet we need not despair, indeed, we cannot despair; the evidence of history shows us that men have always insisted on behaving creatively under the shadow of the sword; that they have done their artistic and scientific and domestic stuff for the sake of doing it, and that we had better follow their example under the shadow of the aeroplanes.

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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Added on 20-Sep-19 | Last updated 20-Sep-19
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Be not afraid! In admitting a creator, refuse not to examine his creation; and take not the assertions of creatures like yourselves, in place of the evidence of your senses and the conviction of your understanding.

Frances "Fanny" Wright (1795-1852) Scottish-American writer, lecturer, social reformer
A Course of Popular Lectures, Lecture 3, “Of the more Important Divisions and Essential Parts of Knowledge” (1829)
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what matters most is
how well you
walk through the
fire.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) German-American author, poet
“How Is Your Heart?” (1986)
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Added on 4-Sep-19 | Last updated 4-Sep-19
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I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) American poet
“Starlings in Winter”
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In case signals can neither be seen nor perfectly understood, no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy.

Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) British admiral
Memorandum before the Battle of Trafalgar (9 Oct 1805)
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Added on 2-Feb-19 | Last updated 2-Feb-19
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Anxiety is the unwillingness to play even when you know the odds are for you. Courage is the willingness to play even when you know the odds are against you.

Thomas Szasz (b. 1920) Hungarian-American psychiatrist, educator
The Second Sin (1973)
Added on 1-Aug-18 | Last updated 1-Aug-18
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O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man’s company,
That fears his fellowship to die with us.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry V, Act 4, sc. 3 [Henry] (1599)
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Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace, there’s nothing so becomes a man,
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry V, Act 3, sc. 1 [Henry] (1599)
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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)
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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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Added on 18-Oct-17 | Last updated 10-Jan-18
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… a noble aim,
Faithfully kept, is as a noble deed,
In whose pure sight all virtue doth succeed.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) English poet
“Brave Schill! By Death Delivered, Take Thy Flight” (1809; pub. 1815)
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Sometimes misquoted "is a noble deed".
Added on 21-Jul-17 | Last updated 21-Jul-17
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The fortitude which has encountered no dangers, that prudence which has surmounted no difficulties, that integrity which has been attacked by no temptations, can at best be considered but as gold not yet brought to the test, of which therefore the true value cannot be assigned.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler #150 (24 Aug 1751)
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Added on 11-Apr-17 | Last updated 11-Apr-17
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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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Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Speech, Plymouth (22 Dec 1802)

Sometimes given as "Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish."
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I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will be still rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again with tear-drenched eyes have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs. Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
‘Where Do We Go From Here?” Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1967)
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Added on 28-Oct-16 | Last updated 28-Oct-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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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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If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.

William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton (b. 1946) American politician, US President (1993-2001)
Speech to students during the 1992 US Presidential campaign
Added on 2-Jun-16 | Last updated 2-Jun-16
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Hasten slowly, and without losing heart,
Put your work twenty times upon the anvil.

[Hâtez-vous lentement ; et, sans perdre courage,
Vingt fois sur le métier remettez votre ouvrage.]

Boileau - twenty times upon the anvil - wist_info quote

Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636-1711) French poet and critic
The Art of Poetry [L’Art Poétique], Canto 1, l. 171 (1674)
Added on 11-May-16 | Last updated 11-May-16
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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.]
Added on 21-Apr-16 | Last updated 21-Apr-16
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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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Added on 18-Apr-16 | Last updated 18-Apr-16
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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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Only evil grows of itself, while for goodness we want effort and courage.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel (1821-1881) Swiss philosopher, poet, critic
Journal (16 Nov 1864) [tr. Ward (1887)]
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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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Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British statesman and author
(Spurious)
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Not found in Churchill's works.
Added on 7-Dec-15 | Last updated 7-Dec-15
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It is impossible to discourage the real writers — they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write.

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) American novelist, playwright
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Dec-15 | Last updated 1-Dec-15
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      One word after another.
      That’s the only way that novels get written and, short of elves coming in the night and turning your jumbled notes into Chapter Nine, it’s the only way to do it.
      So keep on keeping on. Write another word and then another.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
“Pep Talk from Neil Gaiman,” National Novel Writing Month (2011)
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Added on 25-Nov-15 | Last updated 25-Nov-15
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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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Patience is not very different from courage. It just takes longer.

James Richardson - courage patience

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays, # 54 (2001)
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Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, ch. 13 (1759)
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The main idea in golf as in life, I suppose, is to learn to accept what cannot be altered, and to keep on doing one’s own reasoned and resolute best whether the prospect be bleak or rosy.

Robert Tyre "Bobby" Jones, Jr. (1902-1971) American amateur golfer, lawyer
Golf Is My Game (1960)
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There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons are designed to teach small children this.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
(Attributed)
Added on 15-Jul-15 | Last updated 15-Jul-15
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Our trouble is that we do not demand enough of the people who represent us. We are responsible for their activities. … We must spur them to more imagination and enterprise in making a push into the unknown; we must make clear that we intend to have responsible and courageous leadership.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
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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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‘Tis a lesson you should heed,
Try, try again;
If at first you don’t succeed,
Try, try again.

Other Authors and Sources
T. H. Palmer, “Try, Try Again,” The Teacher’s Manual (1840)
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Sometimes attributed to Charles Theodore Hart Palmer (1827-1897), but the book is clearly by Thomas H. Palmer, and was published in 1840 when Charles T. H. Palmer was 13 years old.
Added on 25-Nov-14 | Last updated 25-Nov-14
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The cruelties and the obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. It cannot be moved by those who cling to a present which is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger which comes with even the most peaceful progress. This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968) American politician
“Day of Affirmation,” address, University of Capetown, South Africa (6 Jun 1966)
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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)
Added on 11-Nov-14 | Last updated 11-Nov-14
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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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There’s a fine line between audacity and idiocy.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Turn Coat (2009)
Added on 21-Oct-14 | Last updated 21-Oct-14
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Providence requires three things of us afore it will help us — a stout heart, a strong arm, and a stiff upper lip.

Thomas Chandler Haliburton (1796-1865) Canadian politician, judge, humorist
Sam Slick’s Wise Saws and Modern Instances, Vol. 1 ch. 13 “The House without Hope” (1853)
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But I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink back from that frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric — and those who prefer that course should not cast their votes for me, regardless of party. But I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age — to all who respond to the Scriptural call: “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.” For courage — not complacency — is our need today — leadership — not salesmanship. And the only valid test of leadership is the ability to lead, and lead vigorously.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
“The New Frontier,” Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech, Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles (15 Jul 1960)
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Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.

Other Authors and Sources
Jon Sinclair
Added on 20-Jun-14 | Last updated 20-Jun-14
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Necessity makes even the timid brave.

[Necessitas etiam timidos fortes facit.]

Sallust (c. 86-35 BC) Roman historian and politician [Gaius Sallustius Crispus]
Catiline’s War [Bellum Catilinae], pt. 58 (42 BC) [tr. Loeb (1921)]
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Most people, given the choice to face a hideous or terrifying truth or to conveniently avoid it, choose the convenience and peace of normality. That doesn’t make them strong or weak people, or good or bad people. It just makes them people.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Turn Coat (2009)
Added on 29-Apr-14 | Last updated 29-Apr-14
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It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Attributed)
Added on 12-Nov-13 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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To do what you are afraid to do is to guide your life by fear. How much better not to be afraid to do what you believe in doing!

Jane Addams (1860-1935) American reformer, suffragist, philosopher, author
Editorial, Rockford Seminary Magazine (c. 1880)


Quoted in James Weber Linn, Jane Addams: A Biography (1935).

Reacting to Emerson. See also Schmich.

Added on 14-Aug-13 | Last updated 11-Aug-14
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Courage (in a soldier) is maintained by a certain anger; anger is a little blind and likes to strike out. And from this follows a thousand abuses, a thousand evils and misfortunes that are impossible to predict in an army during war.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838) [ed. Auster (1983)]
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Do one thing every day that scares you.

Mary Schmich (b. 1953) American newspaper columnist
“Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young,” Chicago Tribune (1 Jul 1997)
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Often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, but no reference found in her works or contemporaneous sources (though see this). Also attributed to Kurt Vonnegut and to Baz Luhrmann (who used the words in a song but credited them to Schmich).

Related predecessors can be found in other quotations (Emerson, Jane Addams, Mark Toby), linked back to this one below.  See here for more research into this quotation.

Added on 13-Jun-13 | Last updated 11-Aug-14
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The virtue of Prosperity is temperance; the virtue of Adversity is fortitude.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Adversity,” Essays, No. 5 (1625)
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Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country — hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Papers of the Adams Family, Part 6 “Two Fragments from a Suppressed Book Called ‘Glances at History’ or ‘Outlines of History'” (1939)
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