Quotations about   illusion

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The beautiful thing about losing your illusions, he thought, was that you got to stop pretending.

Daniel Abraham
Daniel Abraham (b. 1969) American writer [pseud. James S. A. Corey (with Ty Franck), M. L. N. Hanover]
Leviathan Wakes, ch. 18 (2011) [with Ty Franck]
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Added on 14-Apr-22 | Last updated 14-Apr-22
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People are egregiously mistaken if they think they ever can attain to permanent popularity by hypocrisy, by mere outside appearances, and by disguising not only their language but their looks. True popularity takes deep root and spreads itself wide; but the false falls away like blossoms; for nothing that is false can be lasting.

[Quodsi qui simulatione et inani ostentatione et ficto non modo sermone, sed etiam voltu stabilem se gloriam consequi posse rentur, vehementer errant. Vera gloria radices agit atque etiam propagatur, ficta omnia celeriter tamquam flosculi decidunt, nee simulatum potest quicquam esse diuturnum.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
De Officiis [On Duties; On Moral Duty; The Offices], Book 2, ch. 12 (2.12) / sec. 43 (44 BC) [tr. Edmonds (1865)]
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(Source (Latin)). Alternate translation:

Those people therefore are highly mistaken, who think of obtaining a solid reputation by vain shows and hypocritical pretences; by composed countenances and studied forms of words: for true glory takes deep root, and grows and flourishes more and more; but that which is only in show and mere outside, quickly decays and withers like flowers; nor can anything be lasting that is only counterfeit.
[tr. Cockman (1699)]

But if any suppose, that they can obtain a stable reputation by pretences, empty ostentation, hypocritical conversation, and even artificial looks, they are extremely mistaken. True fame takes deep root, and extends its shoots. Every counterfeit appearance, like blossoms, quickly falls off; and no pretense can be lasting.
[tr. McCartney (1798)]

If there be those who think to obtain enduring fame by dissembling and empty show, and by hypocrisy, not only of speech, but of countenance also, they are utterly mistaken. True fame strikes its roots downward, and sends out fresh shoots; all figments fall speedily, like blossoms, nor can anything feigned be lasting.
[tr. Peabody (1883)]

It is a delusion to suppose that glory can be founded on dissimulation, vain ostentation, and studied words and looks. True glory strikes root and spreads, everything unreal soon falls like the blossoms, a lie cannot last.
[tr. Gardiner (1899)]

True glory strikes roots, and grows: ill-founded reputations, like flowers, soon wither, nor can anything last long which is based on pretence.
[ed. Harbottle (1906)]

For if anyone thinks that he can win lasting glory by pretence, by empty show, by hypocritical talk and looks, he is very much mistaken. True glory strikes deep root and spreads its branches wide; but all pretences soon fall to the ground like fragile flowers, and nothing counterfeit can be lasting.
[tr. Miller (1913)]

If anyone thinks he can attain lasting glory by mimicry, by empty shows, by pretense in his looks and his conversation, he is far from correct. Genuine glory puts down roots and even sends out new growth; any pretense dies down quickly, like fragile flowers. Nothing simulated can be long-lasting.
[tr. Edinger (1974)]

 
Added on 24-Mar-22 | Last updated 11-Aug-22
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“Yes,” he said. “But I wonder … I’ve a peculiar feeling that I may never see you again. It is as if I were one of those minor characters in a melodrama who gets shuffled offstage without ever learning how things turn out.”

“I can appreciate the feeling,” I said. “My own role sometimes makes me want to strangle the author. But look at it this way: inside stories seldom live up to one’s expectations. Usually they are grubby little things, reducing down to the basest of motives when all is known. Conjectures and illusions are often the better possessions.”

Roger Zelazny (1937-1995) American writer
Sign of the Unicorn (1972)
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Bill Roth speaking with Corwin.
 
Added on 9-Feb-22 | Last updated 9-Feb-22
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Illusion is the dust the devil throws in the eyes of the foolish.

No picture available
Minna Antrim (1861-1950) American epigrammatist, writer
Naked Truth and Veiled Allusions (1901)
 
Added on 27-Aug-21 | Last updated 27-Aug-21
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Illusion is the first of all pleasures.

[L’illusion est le premier plaisir.]

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
The Maid of Orleans [La Pucelle d’Orléans] (1756 ed.)
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Sometimes misattributed to Oscar Wilde. This is part of a canto added from another Voltaire piece, probably by a publisher, to the end of the 1756 edition of Voltaire's poem, as noted in the "Additional Notes" included with 19th Century editions of the work. It reads in part:

O gift from heaven! tender love! sweet desire!
We are still happy with your image:
Illusion is the first of all pleasures.

[O don du ciel! tendre amour! doux désir!
On est encore heureux par votre image;
L'illusion est le premier plaisir.]

The canto was not included the Voltaire-authorized 1762 edition. The English translation of the quoted line goes back at least to 1881.

More information: Illusion.
 
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You are right in assuming that I am indifferent to the pattern of things. I am. I have never liked stale phrases and bodyless courage. I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) American writer, folklorist, anthropologist
Letter to Countee Cullen (5 Mar 1943)
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Added on 3-Apr-20 | Last updated 3-Apr-20
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What a man sees, Love can make invisible —
And what is invisible, that can Love make him see.

[Quel che l’huom vede Amor gli fa invisibile
E l’invisibil fa vedere Amore.]

Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533) Italian poet
Orlando Furioso, Canto 1, st. 56 [ll. 396-97] (1532) [tr. Waldman]


Alt. trans.:
  • "Love, what we can see, can from our sight remove, / And things invisible are seen by Love." [tr. Hoole (1807)]
  • "Since love, who sees without one guiding gleam, / Spies in broad day but that which likes him best." [tr. Rose (1831)]
 
Added on 23-Mar-20 | Last updated 30-Mar-20
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Stupidity lies in wanting to draw conclusions.

[L’ineptie consiste à vouloir conclure. […] Oui, la bêtise consiste à vouloir conclure.]

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) French writer, novelist
Letter to Louis Bouilhet (4 Sep 1850)
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The phrase is used twice in the letter. The initial phrase is usually translated to "foolishness" or "folly," the second to "stupidity."
 
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Men speak the truth of one another when each reveres the truth in his own mind and in the other’s mind; but how shall my friend revere the truth in my mind when I myself am careless about it, when I believe things because I want to believe them, and because they are comforting and pleasant?

William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) English mathematician and philosopher
“The Ethics of Belief,” Contemporary Review (Jan 1877)
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Added on 21-Jan-20 | Last updated 21-Jan-20
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There are few of us who are not protected from the keenest pain by our inability to see what it is that we have done, what we are suffering, and what we truly are. Let us be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearances only.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
Erewhon, ch. 3 “Up the River” (1872)
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Added on 28-Oct-19 | Last updated 28-Oct-19
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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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It had snowed in the night, and the world looked very clean, which I knew it not to be. But illusion is nice sometimes.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Painted Ladies, ch. 22 (2010)
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Added on 12-Jul-17 | Last updated 12-Jul-17
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All of God’s children are not beautiful. Most of God’s children are, in fact, barely presentable.

Fran Lebowitz (b. 1950) American journalist
Metropolitan Life, “Manners” (1978)
 
Added on 8-May-17 | Last updated 8-May-17
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Only the tiniest fraction of mankind want freedom. All the rest want someone to tell them they are free.

Irving Layton (1912-2006) Romanian-Canadian poet [b. Israel Pincu Lazarovitch]
The Whole Bloody Bird, “Obs II” (1969)
 
Added on 7-Feb-17 | Last updated 7-Feb-17
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An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.

Miller - basic illusions are exhausted - wist_info quote

Arthur Miller (1915–2005) American playwright and essayist
“The Year It Came Apart,” New York Magazine (30 Dec 1974)
 
Added on 28-Jul-16 | Last updated 28-Jul-16
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He shrugged his shoulders. “I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom’s realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer’s Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”

Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) American author
“Queen of the Black Coast” (1934)
 
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It was not the absence of intelligence which led us into trouble but our unwillingness to draw unpleasant conclusions from it.

H. A. de Weerd (1902-1979) American military historian, author [Harvey Arthur de Weerd]
“Strategic Surprise in the Korean War,” Orbis (1962)


On the US decision in 1950 to call China's bluff by advancing above the 38th parallel.
 
Added on 24-Feb-16 | Last updated 24-Feb-16
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SPOCK: Physical reality is consistent with universal laws. Where the laws do not operate, there is no reality.

Gene L. Coon (1924-1973) American screenwriter and television producer
Star Trek, 3×06 “Spectre of the Gun” (25 Oct 1968) [writing as Lee Cronin]
 
Added on 21-Sep-15 | Last updated 21-Sep-15
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Those who are destitute of philosophy may be compared to prisoners in a cave, who are only able to look in one direction because they are bound, and who have a fire behind them and a wall in front. Between them and the wall there is nothing; all that they see are shadows of themselves, and of objects behind them, cast on the wall by the light of the fire. Inevitably they regard these shadows as real, and have no notion of the objects to which they are due. At last, some man succeeds in escaping from the cave to the light of the sun; for the first time he sees real things, and becomes aware that he had hitherto been deceived by shadows. If he is the sort of philosopher who is fit to become a guardian, he will feel it is his duty to those who were formerly his fellow prisoners to go down again into the cave, instruct them as to the truth, and show them the way up. But he will have difficulty in persuading them, because, coming out of the sunlight, he will see shadows less clearly than they do, and will seem to them stupider than before his escape.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
The Republic, 7.514


Summ. Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, ch. 15 (1946)
 
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All descriptions of reality are limited expressions of the world of emptiness. Yet we attach to the descriptions and think they are reality. That is a mistake.

Shunryū Suzuki (1905-1971) Japanese Zen Buddhist master
Not Always So, “Letters from Emptiness” (2002)
 
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When capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity.

Sun-Tzu (fl. 6th C. AD) Chinese general and philosopher [a.k.a. Sun Wu]
The Art of War, “Estimates” (18) [tr. Griffith (1963)]
 
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I have laughed in bitterness and agony of heart, at the contrast between what I seem and what I am!

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) American writer
The Scarlet Letter, ch. 17 (1850)
 
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For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearance, as though they were realities, and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) Italian politician, philosopher, political scientist
The Discourses on Livy, Book 1, ch. 25 (1517)
 
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Appearances are deceptive.

Aesop (620?-560? BC) Legendary Greek storyteller
Fables [Aesopica], “The Wolf in Sheep Clothing” (6th C BC) [tr. Jacobs (1894)]
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Alternately, "Appearances often are deceiving." Versified by Gaius Julius Phaedrus, Fables bk. 4, as "Things are not always what they seem."

Note that there are two fables by this name. In this one, a wolf prospers by wearing a sheepskin he finds and drawing other sheep away to be eaten. In other versions, the wolf sneaks into the sheepfold wearing the skin, and then is killed and eaten by the farmer who wants sheep for dinner.
 
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Melancholy sees the worst of things, — things as they may be, and not as they are. It looks upon a beautiful face, and sees but a grinning skull.

Christian Nestell Bovee (1820-1904) American epigrammatist, writer, publisher
Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. 2 (1862)
 
Added on 1-Oct-13 | Last updated 17-Jan-20
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The staircase that leads to God. What does it matter if it is make-believe, if we really climb it? What difference does it make who builds it, or if it is made of marble or word, of brick, stone, or mud? The essential thing is that it be solid and that in climbing it we feel the peace that is inaccessible to those who do not climb it.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838) [ed. Auster (1983)]
 
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I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain’t so.

[I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, “Sollum Thoughts” (1874)
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This was Billings signature aphorism, and he used variations on multiple occasions. Variants and evolutions have also been misattributed to Will Rogers, Mark Twain, and Artemus Ward, sometimes from their own paraphrases of Billings. Some variations (usually without specific citations) include:
  • "The trouble with people is not that they don't know but that they know so much that ain't so."
  • "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."
  • "You’d better not know so much, than know so many things that ain’t so."
In a similar vein, Billings wrote, "Wisdum don't konsist in knowing more that iz new, but in knowing less that iz false. [Wisdom doesn't consist in knowing more that is new, but in knowing less than is false.]" [Source]

More discussion about this quotation:

 
Added on 26-Jan-11 | Last updated 16-Dec-21
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Our experience is composed rather of illusions lost than of wisdom acquired.

Joseph Roux
Joseph Roux (1834-1886) French Catholic priest
Meditations of a Parish Priest: Thoughts, Part 4, #28 [tr. Hapgood (1886)]
 
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A timid man sees dangers that do not exist.

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
Sententiae [Moral Sayings], # 688 [tr. Lyman (1862)]
 
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And do you know, it is a splendid thing to think that the woman you really love will never grow old to you. Through the wrinkles of time, through the mask of years, if you really love her, you will always see the face you loved and won. And a woman who really loves a man does not see that he grows old; he is not decrepit to her; he does not tremble; he is not old; she always sees the same gallant gentleman who won her hand and heart. I like to think of it in that way; I like to think that love is eternal. And to love in that way and then go down the hill of life together, and as you go down, hear, perhaps, the laughter of grandchildren, while the birds of joy and love sing once more in the leafless branches of the tree of age.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“The Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child” (1877)
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See also here.
 
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The longing for certainty and repose is in every human mind. But certainty generally is an illusion, and repose is not the destiny of man.

Holmes - certainty and repose - wist_info quote

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935) American jurist, Supreme Court Justice
“The Path of Law,” 10 Harvard Law Review 457 (1897)
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A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.

Saul Bellow (1915-2005) Canadian-American writer
To Jerusalem and Back (1976)
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We would rather be ruined than changed,
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.

W. H. Auden (1907-1973) Anglo-American poet [Wystan Hugh Auden]
The Age of Anxiety, Part 6 [Malin] (1948)
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Death, like life, is an affair of being more frightened than hurt.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
Erewhon (1872)
 
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