Quotations about   deeds

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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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Action is character.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) American writer [Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald]
“Notes for The Last Tycoon” (1941)
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Added on 18-Sep-17 | Last updated 18-Sep-17
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Be careful how you live your life, it is the only Gospel many people will ever read.

Hélder Câmara (1909-1999) Brazilian Catholic Archbishop, social and political activist
(Attributed)

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."
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Thought is sad without action, and action is sad without thought.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel (1821-1881) Swiss philosopher, poet, critic
Journal (2nd Ed.,1889)
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Quoted in Cesare Lombroso, The Man of Genius (1896),
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There is only one proof of ability — action.

[Für das Können gibt es nur einen Beweis: das Tun.]

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830-1916) Austrian writer
Aphorisms [Aphorismen] [tr. Wister (1883)]
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Alt. trans.: "There is only one proof of ability: doing it."
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For action is indeed the sole medium of expression for ethics. We continually forget that the sphere of morals is the sphere of action, that speculation in regard to morality is but observation and must remain in the sphere of intellectual comment, that a situation does not really become moral until we are confronted with the question of what shall be done in a concrete case, and are obliged to act upon our theory.

Jane Addams (1860-1935) American reformer, suffragist, philosopher, author
Democracy and Social Ethics, ch. 7 “Political Reform” (1902)
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The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

Omar Khayyám (1048-1123) Persian poet, mathematician, philosopher, astronomer
Rubáiyát, 71 [tr. FitzGerald]

A reference to Daniel 5 in the Bible.
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Do not fancy, as too many do, that thou canst praise God by singing hymns to Him in church once a week, and disobeying Him all the week long. … Dost thou fancy as the heathen do, that God needs to be flattered with fine words? or that thou wilt be heard for thy much speaking, and thy vain repetitions? He asks of thee works as well as words; and more, He asks of thee works first and words after.

Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) English clergyman, historian, essayist, novelist (pseud. "Parson Lot")
The Good News of God, Sermon 4 “The Song of the Three Children (Daniel 3:16-18)” (1881)
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Added on 20-Jun-17 | Last updated 20-Jun-17
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Talk doesn’t cook rice.

Other Authors and Sources
Chinese proverb

Also attributed to the Japanese.
Added on 3-May-17 | Last updated 3-May-17
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Certainly, otherworldly concerns have a deep and significant place in all religions worthy of the name. Any religion that is completely earthbound sells its birthright for a mess of naturalistic pottage. Religion at its best, deals not only with man’s preliminary concerns but with his inescapable ultimate concern. When religion overlooks this basic fact it is reduced to a mere ethical system in which eternity is absorbed into time and God is relegated to a sort of meaningless figment of the human imagination.

But a religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man’s social conditions. Religion deals with both earth and heaven, both time and eternity. Religion operates not only on the vertical plane but also on the horizontal. It seeks not only to integrate men with God but to integrate men with men and each man with himself.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Stride Toward Freedom (1958)
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Men trust their ears less than their eyes.

Herodotus (c.484-c.420 BC) Greek historian
The Histories, Book 1, ch. 8
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Duty makes us do things well, but love makes us do them beautifully.

Brooks - duty well love beautifully - wist_info quote

Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) American clergyman, hymnist
(Attributed)
    (Source)

Quoted in Life and Light for Woman, Vol. 26, #1 (Jan 1896)
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Our acts make or mar us, we are the children of our own deeds.

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) French writer
(Attributed)

Quoted in Henry Southgate, Things a Lady Would Like To Know, 2nd ed. (1875). But not confirmed or found in Hugo's writings.
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The wish falls often warm upon my heart that I may learn nothing here that I cannot continue in the other world; that I may do nothing here but deeds that will bear fruit in heaven.

Jean-Paul Richter (1763-1825) German novelist, art historian, aesthetician [pseud. Jean-Paul]
Letter to Rector Werner (1781)
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Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.

Tutu - little bits of good - wist_info quote

Desmond Tutu (b. 1931) South African cleric, Archbishop of Cape Town, Nobel Laureate
(Attributed)
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If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul.

Asimov - foul foul foul - wist_info quote

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
I, Asimov: A Memoir (1994)
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It is circumstance and proper measure that give an action its character, and make it either good or bad.

Plutarch (AD 46-127) Greek historian, biographer, essayist [Mestrius Plutarchos]
Parallel Lives, “Agisilaus” [tr. Dryden (1693)]
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I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

Douglass - prayed with my legs - wist_info quote

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) American abolitionist, orator, writer
(Attributed)

Mentioned frequently as being part of his earlier speeches, but unsourced. Also found as "failed to see the slightest scintillation of an answer until I prayed with my legs."
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ANTONY: The evil men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Julius Caesar, Act 3, scene 2, l. 80 (1599)
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It is a great deal better to live a holy life than to talk about it. We are told to let our light shine, and if it does, we won’t need to tell anybody it does. Light-houses don’t ring bells and fire cannon to call attention to their shining — they just shine.

Moody - light-houses - wist_info quote

Dwight Lyman "D. L." Moody (1837-1899) American evangelist and publisher
(Attributed)

Sometimes quoted, "they just shine on."
Added on 27-Jan-16 | Last updated 27-Jan-16
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You don’t become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, then doing it so hard that you become great in the process.

Munroe - become great - wist_info quote

Randall Munroe (b. 1984) American webcomic writer, roboticist, programmer
XKCD, # 896 “Marie Curie” (9 May 2011)
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By doing good we become good.

Rousseau - doing good - wist_info quote

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) French philosopher and writer
Emile, ch. 4 (1762) [tr. Foxley (1911)]
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Sow good services: sweet remembrances will grow from them.

De Stael - sow good - wist_info quote

Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) Swiss-French writer, woman of letters, critic, salonist [Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein, Madame de Staël, Madame Necker]
(Attributed)

In J. D. Finod (trans.), A Thousand Flashes of French Wit, Wisdom, and Wickedness (1880).
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He that fasteth and doth no Good saveth his Bread but loseth his Soul.

Fuller - fasting - wist_info

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia, #2382 (1732)
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You never can tell when you do an act
Just what the result will be;
But with every deed you are sowing a seed,
Though the harvest you may not see.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) American author and poet.
“You Never Can Tell,” Custer And Other Poems (1896)
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Added on 21-Sep-15 | Last updated 21-Sep-15
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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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If you really want to judge the character of a man, look not at his great performances. Every fool may become a hero at one time or another. Watch a man do his most common actions; these are indeed the things which will tell you the real character of a great man.

Vivekananda (1863-1902) Indian Hindu monk, spiritual reformer, nationalist [b. Narendra Nath Datta]
Swami Vivekananda on Universal Ethics and Moral Conduct [ed. Swami Ranganathananda (1965)]
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Every good act is charity. A man’s true wealth hereafter is the good that he does in this world to his fellows.

Muhammad (570-632) Arabian merchant, prophet, founder of Islam [Mohammed]
(Attributed)
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Attributed in Rev. James Wood (ed.) Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893). Also sometimes attributed to Moliere.
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Deeds are better things than words are,
Actions mightier than boastings.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
The Song of Hiawatha (1855)
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I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.

John Locke (1632-1704) English philosopher
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
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It is easier to write ten volumes of philosophy than to put one principle into practice.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
Diary (17 Mar 1847)
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From his earliest diary entry, when he was 18. Variants:
  • "It is easier to produce ten volumes of philosophical writing than to put one principle into practice."
  • "It is easier to write ten volumes on theoretical principles than to put one principle into practice."
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Be what you wish others to become. Let yourself and not your words preach for you.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel (1821-1881) Swiss philosopher, poet, critic
Journal (7 Apr 1851) [tr. Ward (1887)]
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I doubt that anyone does not really believe in God. People may think they don’t have any belief, but you will usually find that there is a belief in something beyond himself. In any case, I would not judge a man’s character by his belief or unbelief. I would judge his character by his deeds; and no matter what he said about his beliefs, his behavior would soon show whether he was a man of good character or bad.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“The Wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt” (1963)
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He preaches well that lives well, quoth Sancho; that’s all the Divinity I understand.

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) Spanish novelist
Don Quixote, Part 2, Book 3, ch. 29 (1615) [tr. Motteux & Ozell (1743)]
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I hate to see a thing done by halves; if it be right, do it boldly; if it be wrong, leave it undone.

Bernard Gilpin (1517-1583) English theologian and clergyman
(Attributed)
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His preaching much, but more his practice wrought;
(A living sermon of the truths he taught).

John Dryden (1631-1700) English poet, dramatist, critic
“The Character of a Good Parson,” l. 77, Fables (1700)
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I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions.

Dorothy Day (1897-1980) American journalist, Catholic social activist
The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day (1952)
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You philosophers are sages in your maxims, and fools in your conduct.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
“Dialogue Between Franklin and the Gout” (22 Oct 1780)
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Neither praise, nor dispraise thyself; thy Actions will do it enough.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Introductio ad Prudentiam, # 338 (1731)
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The only things in which we can be said to have any property are our actions. Our thoughts may be bad, yet produce no poison; they may be good, yet produce no fruit. Our riches may be taken away from us by misfortune, our reputation by malice, our spirits by calamity, our health by disease, our friends by death. But our actions must follow us beyond the grave; with respect to them alone, we can not say that we shall carry nothing with us when we die, neither that we shall go naked out of the world.

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer
Lacon: or, Many Things in Few Words, # 52 (1821 ed.)
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Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.

Marcus Aurelius (121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
Meditations, Book 10, #16 [tr. Staniforth (1964)]
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The firefly only shines when on the wing.
So is it with the mind — when once we rest
We darken.

Philip James Bailey (1816-1902) English poet
Festus (1839)
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Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (10 Mar 1746)
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Next to doing things that deserve to be written, there is nothing that gets a man more credit, or gives him more pleasure, than to write things that deserve to be read.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (1739)
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We must be something in order to do something, but we must also do something in order to be something. The best rule, I think, is this: If we find it hard to do good, then let us try to be good. If, on the other hand, we find it hard to be good, then let us try to do good. Being leads to doing, doing leads to being. Yet below both as their common root is faith, — faith in God, in man, in ourselves, in the eternal superiority of right over wrong, truth over error, good over evil, love over all selfishness and all sin.

James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888) American theologian and author
(Attributed)

Quoted in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).
Added on 24-Oct-14 | Last updated 24-Oct-14
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When I had the strength, I did not have the patience. I have the patience today and I no longer have the power.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838) [ed. Auster (1983)]
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Do not let your deeds belie your words, lest when you speak in church someone may say to himself, “Why do you not practice what you preach?”

St. Jerome (c. 347-419) Roman Christian priest, theologian, historian, translator [Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus]
Letter 52, to Nepotian (AD 394)

Alt. trans.: "Do not let your deeds belie your words; lest when you speak in church someone may mentally reply, 'Why do you not practice what you profess?'" [Philip Schaff & Henry Wace (eds.) A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. 6 (1893)]
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Good impulses are naught, unless they become good actions.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838) [ed. Auster (1983)]
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The chief way to gain good will is by good deeds.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
De Officiis, 2.9 [tr. Edinger (1974)]
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I propose good fellowship — good friends all around. No matter what we believe, shake hands and let it go. That is your opinion; this is mine: let us be friends. Science makes friends; religion, superstition, makes enemies. They say: Belief is important. I say: No, actions are important. Judge by deed, not by creed. Good fellowship — good friends — sincere men and women — mutual forbearance, born of mutual respect.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“What Must We Do To Be Saved?” sec. 11 (1880)
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I have always been fond of the West African proverb “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”

Roosevelt - big stick - wist_info quote

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
Letter to Henry L. Sprague (26 Jan 1900)

Full text. This is the first known use by Roosevelt of his future catch phrase.  It attained more fame when he used it in a speech at the Minnesota State Fair (2 Sep 1901) (there are transcript variants):

  • "There is a homely adage which runs 'Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.' If the American nation will speak softly and yet build and keep at a pitch of highest training a thoroughly efficient Navy, the Monroe Doctrine will go far."
  • "Right here let me make as vigorous a plea as I know how in favor of saying nothing that we do not mean, and of acting without hesitation up to whatever we say. A good many of you are probably acquainted with the old proverb, 'Speak softly and carry a big stick — you will go far.' If a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble, and neither will speaking softly avail, if back of the softness there does not lie strength, power. In private life there are few beings more obnoxious than the man who is always loudly boasting, and if the boaster is not prepared to back up his words, his position becomes absolutely contemptible. So it is with the nation. It is both foolish and undignified to indulge in undue self-glorification, and, above all, in loose-tongued denunciation of other peoples. Whenever on any point we come in contact with a foreign power, I hope that we shall always strive to speak courteously and respectfully of that foreign power."
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‘What do you fear, lady?’ he asked.
‘A cage,’ she said. ‘To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.’

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) English writer, fabulist, philologist, academic [John Ronald Reuel Tolkien]
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Book 5, ch. 2 “The Passing of the Grey Company” [Aragorn and Eowyn] (1954)
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Deeds of kindness are equal in weight to all the commandments.

The Talmud (AD 200-500) Collection of Jewish rabbinical writings
(Unreferenced)

In Louis I. Newman, comp., The Talmudic Anthology, #177 (1945)
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Cato said the best way to keep good acts in memory was to refresh them with new.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Apothegms, #247 (1624)
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Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Letter from Birmingham Jail (16 Apr 1963)
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