Quotations about   experience

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To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Experience,” Essays: Second Series (1844)
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Added on 2-Oct-18 | Last updated 2-Oct-18
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That which we call sin in others, is experiment for us.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Experience,” Essays: Second Series (1844)
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Added on 4-Sep-18 | Last updated 4-Sep-18
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Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
A Room with a View, ch. 14 (1908)
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Added on 25-May-18 | Last updated 25-May-18
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It is said that his time was easier than ours, but I doubt it — no time can be easy if one is living through it.

James Baldwin (1924-1987) American author [James Arthur Baldwin]
“Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare”
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Remember, too, that you have the right to make mistakes. Exercise it. Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Starting from Scratch, Part 4 (1988)
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Added on 9-Apr-18 | Last updated 9-Apr-18
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What do you suppose makes all men look back to the time of childhood with so much regret (if their childhood has been, in any moderate degree, healthy or peaceful)? That rich charm, which the least possession had for us, was in consequence of the poorness of our treasures. That miraculous aspect of the nature around us, was because we had seen little, and knew less. Each increased possession loads us with a new weariness; every piece of new knowledge diminishes the faculty of admiration; and Death is at last appointed to take us from a scene in which, if we were to stay longer, no gift could satisfy us, and no miracle surprise.

John Ruskin (1819-1900) English art critic, painter, writer, social thinker
The Eagle’s Nest, Lecture 5 “The Power of Contentment in Science and Art,” Sec. 82 (22 Feb 1872)
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Added on 15-Feb-18 | Last updated 15-Feb-18
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Better to love amiss than nothing to have loved.

George Crabbe (1754-1832) English poet, writer, surgeon, clergyman
Tales in Verse, Tale 14 “The Struggles of Conscience” (1812)

See Tennyson (1849).
Added on 12-Sep-17 | Last updated 12-Sep-17
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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.
Added on 31-Jul-17 | Last updated 31-Jul-17
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I don’t think the boy of lively mind is hurt much by going to college. If he encounters mainly jackasses, then he learns the useful lesson that this is a jackass world.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“Editorial,” The American Mercury (April 1926)
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Reprinted in Prejudices: Sixth Series (1927).
Added on 12-Jul-17 | Last updated 18-Jul-17
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“The best moments in my life,” I said, “have come because I loved somebody.”

“Yeah,” he said.

“And the worst,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
The Professional, ch. 8 (2009)
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Added on 5-Jul-17 | Last updated 5-Jul-17
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“I truly don’t know her issues,” Weiss said. “But I’ve been in this line of work for a number of years, and my guesses are at least informed by experience.”

“Never a bad thing,” I said.

“Experience can inform,” he said. “It can also distort.”

“Sure,” I said. “But inexperience is rarely useful.”

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Rough Weather (2008)
Added on 21-Jun-17 | Last updated 21-Jun-17
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A wise man weaves a philosophy out of each acceptance life forces upon him.

Elizabeth Bibesco (1897-1945) Romanian-English writer
Haven (1951)
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Added on 25-May-17 | Last updated 25-May-17
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You advise me, too, not to stray far from the ground of experience, as I become weak when I enter the region of fiction; and you say, “real experience is perennially interesting, and to all men.” I feel that this also is true; but, dear Sir, is not the real experience of each individual very limited? And, if a writer dwells upon that solely or principally, is he not in danger of repeating himself, and also of becoming an egotist? Then, too, imagination is a strong, restless faculty, which claims to be heard and exercised: are we to be quite deaf to her cry, and insensate to her struggles? When she shows us bright pictures, are we never to look at them, and try to reproduce them? And when she is eloquent, and speaks rapidly and urgently in our ear, are we not to write to her dictation?

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) British novelist [pseud. Currer Bell]
Letter to G. H. Lewes (6 Nov 1847)
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Jenneth turned a blind eye to his part in their incipient suffering, a privilege that came with never really having suffered.

Emily Kate (E. K.) Johnston (contemp.) Canadian author
Ahsoka (2016)
Added on 20-Feb-17 | Last updated 20-Feb-17
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I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.

plath-love-my-rejection-slips-wist_info-quote

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) American poet and author
(Attributed)
Added on 23-Jan-17 | Last updated 23-Jan-17
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What refuge is there for the victim who is oppressed with the feeling that there are a thousand new books he ought to read, while life is only long enough for him to attempt to read a hundred?

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894) American poet, essayist, scholar
Over the Teacups, ch. 7 (1891)
Added on 29-Dec-16 | Last updated 29-Dec-16
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Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Danish philosopher, theologian
(Misattributed)

Misattributed to Kierkegaard by Cyril Connolly, Horizon, vol. 11 (1945). More properly attributed to Jacobus Johannes van der Leeuw (1893–1934), The Conquest of Illusion, ch. 1: "The mystery of life in not a problem to be solved, it is a reality to be experienced."
Added on 8-Dec-16 | Last updated 11-Dec-16
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You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be —
I had a mother who read to me.

Strickland Gillilan (1869-1954) American poet and humorist
“The Reading Mother”
Added on 3-Nov-16 | Last updated 3-Nov-16
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It is a dear and lovely disposition, and a most valuable one, that can brush away indignities and discourtesies and seek and find the pleasanter features of an experience.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
In The North American Review (1906)
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The only real training for leadership is leadership.

Antony Jay (b. 1930) English writer, broadcaster, director
(Attributed)
Added on 18-Jul-16 | Last updated 18-Jul-16
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As one gets older one doesn’t feel quite so strongly any more, one discovers that everything is always going to be exactly the same with different hats on.

Noël Coward (1899-1973) English playwright, actor, wit
Letter (1959)
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More frequently paraphrased (as in The Film Daily in 1964): "As one gets older, one discovers everything is going to be exactly the same -- with different hats on."
Added on 16-Jun-16 | Last updated 16-Jun-16
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But, on the other hand, Uncle Abner said that the person that had took a bull by the tail once had learnt sixty or seventy times as much as a person that hadn’t, and said a person that started in to carry a cat home by the tail was gitting knowledge that was always going to be useful to him, and warn’t ever going to grow dim or doubtful.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Tom Sawyer Abroad, ch. 10 (1894)
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Frequently misquoted as "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way."
Added on 10-May-16 | Last updated 10-May-16
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Before all masters, necessity is the one most listened to, and who teaches the best.

[La nécessité est, d’ailleurs, de tous les maîtres, celui qu’on écoute le plus et qui enseigne le mieux.]

Verne - masters necesity - wist_info quote

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
The Mysterious Island, Part 1, ch. 17 (1874)
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Please stop assuming that longevity and perfect health is always the correct option. No. Sometimes fun costs ya. It just does, you know? And that’s OK, you’re willing to make that purchase. Sammy Davis, Jr. was 64 when he died. Give me 64 Sammy-years, I’ll be happy.

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
Be More Cynical (2000)
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The oppression of women knows no ethnic nor racial boundaries, true, but that does not mean it is identical within those boundaries.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“An Open Letter to Mary Daly” (6 May 1979)
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I suppose when there’s no more room for another crow’s-foot, one attains a sort of peace?

Ronald Firbank (1886-1926) British novelist and playwright
Valmouth (1918)
Added on 25-Feb-16 | Last updated 25-Feb-16
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Say what you will, ’tis better to be left than never to have been loved.

William Congreve (1670-1729) English dramatist
The Way of the World, Act 2, sc. 1 (1700)

See also Tennyson.
Added on 24-Nov-15 | Last updated 24-Nov-15
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Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind. Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with all the other qualities.

Dee W. Hock (b. 1929) American businessman
In M. Mitchell Waldrop, “Dee Hock on Management,” Fast Company (Oct/Nov 1996)
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Adventure is something you seek for pleasure, or even for profit, like a gold rush or invading a country; for the illusion of being more alive than ordinarily, the thing you will to occur; but experience is what really happens to you in the long run; the truth that finally overtakes you.
Porter - experience - wist_info

Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) American journalist, essayist, author, political activist [b. Callie Russell Porter]
“St. Augustine and the Bullfight” (1955)
Added on 23-Oct-15 | Last updated 3-Jun-16
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The whole lesson of my life has been that no ‘methods of stimulation’ are of any lasting use. They are indeed like drugs — a stronger dose is needed each time and soon no possible dose is effective. We must not bother about thrills at all. Do the present duty — bear the present pain — enjoy the present pleasure — and leave emotions and ‘experiences’ to look after themselves.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
Letter to Mrs. Ray Garrett (12 Sep 1960)
Added on 14-Oct-15 | Last updated 14-Oct-15
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Between grief and nothing I will take grief.

William Faulkner (1897-1962) American novelist
The Wild Palms (1939)
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You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, that is why you must sing and dance, and write poems and suffer and understand, for all that is life.

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) Indian philosopher, mystic, orator
Think on These Things, Part 1, ch. 3 (1963)
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Added on 7-Aug-15 | Last updated 7-Aug-15
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There are more truths in twenty-four hours of a man’s life than in all the philosophies.

Raoul Vaneigem (b. 1934) Belgian writer
The Revolution of Everyday Life, 1.1 (1967)
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Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God, do you learn.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
(Attributed)

There are several variants, but no citation for this quotation. See Pliny the Younger.
Added on 8-Jul-15 | Last updated 30-Jul-15
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Most people won’t learn even by experience, Ira. Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Time Enough For Love [Lazarus Long] (1973)
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A learning experience is one of those things that say, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.”

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
Interview in The Daily Nexus (5 Apr 2000)

Reprinted in The Salmon of Doubt.
Added on 4-May-15 | Last updated 4-May-15
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We know nothing of what will happen in future, but by the analogy of experience.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Speech on the Sub-Treasury (26 Dec 1839)
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The knowledge of the world is only to be acquired in the world, and not in the closet.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (4 Oct 1746)
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First Shakespeare sonnets seem meaningless; first Bach fugues, a bore; first differential equations, sheer torture. But training changes the nature of our spiritual experiences. In due course, contact with an obscurely beautiful poem, an elaborate piece of counterpoint or of mathematical reasoning, causes us to feel direct intuitions of beauty and significance. It is the same in the moral world.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist and critic
Ends and Means (1937)
Added on 24-Dec-14 | Last updated 24-Dec-14
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Let the great book of the world be your principal study.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (7 Apr 1756)
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Studies … give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded by experience.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Studies,” Essays, No. 50 (1625)
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We acquire the strength we have overcome.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Considerations by the Way,” The Conduct of Life (1860)
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Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other people. Nothing that happens to a writer — however happy, however tragic — is ever wasted.

P.D. James (b. 1920) British mystery writer [Phyllis Dorothy James White]
In “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” The Guardian (20 Feb 2010)
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Added on 5-Jun-14 | Last updated 5-Jun-14
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Americans learn only from catastrophes and not from experience.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
Autobiography (1913)
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Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.

Dr. Seuss (1904-1991) American author, illustrator [pseud. of Theodor Geisel]
(Attributed)

Often attributed to Dr. Seuss without a citation of source. Also sometimes attributed, without citation to Gabriel García Márquez: "No llores porque ya se terminó ... sonríe, porque sucedió."
Added on 30-May-14 | Last updated 30-May-14
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Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“An Apology for Idlers” (1881)
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A proverb is a short sentence based on long experience.

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) Spanish novelist
Don Quixote, Part 2 (1615)
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To the question whether I am a pessimist or an optimist, I answer that my knowledge is pessimistic, but my willing and hoping are optimistic.

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) Alsatian theologian, philosopher, physician, philanthropist
Out of My Life and Thought, An Autobiography, Epilogue (1933) [tr. Campion]

See also Gramsci.
Added on 5-Apr-11 | Last updated 14-May-18
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Our experience is composed rather of illusions lost than of wisdom acquired.

Joseph Roux (1834-1886) French Catholic priest
Meditations of a Parish Priest: Thoughts, Part 4, #28 [tr. Hapgood (1886)]
Added on 29-Nov-10 | Last updated 28-Mar-16
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Woe be to him that reads but one book.

George Herbert (1593-1633) Welsh priest, orator, poet.
Jacula Prudentum, #1146 (1651)

See this Latin proverb.
Added on 19-Aug-10 | Last updated 3-Mar-16
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Zeus, who guided mortals to be wise,
has established his fixed law —
wisdom comes through suffering.
Trouble, with its memories of pain,
drips in our hearts as we try to sleep,
so men against their will
learn to practice moderation.
Favours come to us from gods
seated on their solemn thrones —
such grace is harsh and violent.

τὸν φρονεῖν βροτοὺς ὁδώ-
σαντα, τὸν [πάθει μάθος]
θέντα κυρίως ἔχειν.
στάζει δ’ ἀνθ’ ὕπνου πρὸ καρδίας
μνησιπήμων πόνος· καὶ παρ’ ἄ-
κοντας ἦλθε σωφρονεῖν.
δαιμόνων δέ που χάρις βίαιος
σέλμα σεμνὸν ἡμένων.

Aeschylus - awful grace - wist_info quote

Aeschylus (525-456 BC) Greek dramatist (Æschylus)
Agamemnon, ll. 175-183 [tr. Johnston (2007)]
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Alt. trans.:

  • [Hamilton (1930)]: "God, whose law it is that he who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despite, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God."
  • [Hamilton (1937)]: "Guide of mortal man to wisdom, he who has ordained a law, knowledge won through suffering. Drop, drop -- in our sleep, upon the heart sorrow falls, memory’s pain, and to us, though against our very will, even in our own despite, comes wisdom by the awful grace of God."

The first alternate was used, slightly modified, by Robert Kennedy in his speech on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (4 Apr 1968). Kennedy's family used it as an epitaph on his grave Arlington National Cemetery: "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom, through the awful grace of God."

See here for more discussion.

Added on 19-Aug-08 | Last updated 4-Dec-15
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We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it — and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again — and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator, ch. 11 (1897)
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Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years. That is what makes a marriage last — more than passion or even sex!

Simone Signoret (1921-1985) German-French actress [b. Simone Kaminker]
Daily Mail (London) (4 Jul 1978)
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Been through Hell? Whaddya bring back for me?

Ashleigh Brilliant (b. 1933) Anglo-American writer, epigramist, cartoonist
Pot-Shots
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But, on the other hand, Uncle Abner said that the person that had took a bull by the tail once had learnt sixty or seventy times as much as a person that hadn’t, and said a person that started in to carry a cat home by the tail was gitting knowledge that was always going to be useful to him, and warn’t ever going to grow dim or doubtful.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894)

Full text.

Variants sometimes seen:

  • The man who sets out to carry a cat by its tail learns something that will always be useful and which never will grow dim or doubtful.
  • A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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