Quotations about   past

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Virtue extends our days: he lives two lives who relives his past with pleasure.

[Ampliat aetatis spatium sibi vir bonus. Hoc est
Vivere bis vita posse priore frui.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 10, epigram 23

    Alt trans.:
  • "The good man prolongs his life; to be able to enjoy one's past life is to live twice." [Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)]
  • "For he lives twice who can at once employ / The present well, and e'en the past enjoy." [Pope, Imitation of Martial]
  • "A good man lengthens his term of existence; to be able to enjoy our past life is to live twice." [tr. Bohn (1871)]
  • "The good man broadens for himself the span of his years: to be able to enjoy the life you have spent, is to live it twice." [tr. Nisbet (2015)]
  • "A good man widens for himself his age's span; he lives twice who can find delight in life bygone." [tr. Ker (1919)]
Added on 8-Aug-18 | Last updated 8-Aug-18
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The word Martini is a nostalgic passport to another era — when automobiles had curves like Mae West, when women were eihter ladies or dames, when men wore hats, when a deal was done on a handshake, when boxing and polo were regular pastimes, when we lived for movies instead of MTV, and when jazz was going from hot to cool. It was a time when a relationship was called either a romance or an affair, when love over a pitcher of Martinis was bigger than both of us, sweetheart, and it wouldn’t matter if the Russians dropped the bomb as long as the gin was wet and the vermouth was dry. That as Martini Culture.

Barnaby Conrad III (b. 1952) American author, artist, editor
The Martini: An Illustrated History of an American Classic, “The Great Martini Revival” (1995)
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Conrad reworked the passage in "Martini Madness" in Cigar Afficionado (Spring 1996):

The Martini is a cocktail distilled from the wink of a platinum blonde, the sweat of a polo horse, the blast of an ocean liner's horn, the Chrysler building at sunset, a lost Cole Porter tune, and the aftershave of quipping detectives in natty double-breasted suits. It's a nostalgic passport to another era -- when automobiles had curves like Mae West, when women were either ladies or dames, when men were gentlemen or cads, and when a "relationship" was true romance or a steamy affair. Films were called movies then, the music was going from le jazz hot in Paris to nightclub cool in Vegas, and when a deal was done on a handshake, the wise guy who welched soon had a date with a snub-nosed thirty-eight. Love might have ended in a world war, but a kiss was still a kiss, a smile was still a smile, and until they dropped the atomic bomb there was no need to worry, schweetheart, as long as the vermouth was dry and the gin was wet. That was Martini Culture.
Added on 2-Sep-17 | Last updated 7-May-18
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There’s nothing like studying the bestseller lists of bygone years for teaching an author humility. You’ve heard of the ones that got filmed, normally. Mostly you realize that today’s bestsellers are tomorrow’s forgotten things.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
“This Much I Know,” The Guardian (5 Aug 2017)
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Added on 28-Aug-17 | Last updated 28-Aug-17
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By virtue of depression, we recall those misdeeds we buried in the depths of our memory. Depression exhumes our shames.

Emile Cioran (1911-1995) Romanian philosopher and essayist [E.M. Cioran]
Anathemas and Admirations, ch. 11 “That Fatal Perspicacity” (1986) [tr. R. Howard (1991)]
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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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So fleet the works of men, back to their earth again;
Ancient and holy things fade like a dream.

Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) English clergyman, historian, essayist, novelist (pseud. "Parson Lot")
“Old and New,” ll. 3–4 (1848)
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Added on 18-Jul-17 | Last updated 18-Jul-17
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Each Morn a thousand Roses brings, you say;
Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?

Omar Khayyám (1048-1123) Persian poet, mathematician, philosopher, astronomer
Rubaiyat, 9 [tr. FitzGerald, 5th Ed. (1889)]
Added on 17-Jul-17 | Last updated 31-Jul-17
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For books are more than books, they are the life
The very heart and core of ages past,
The reason why men lived and worked and died,
The essence and quintessence of their lives.

Amy Lowell (1874-1925) American poet
“The Boston Athenaeum,” A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass (1912)
Added on 13-Jul-17 | Last updated 13-Jul-17
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Darkness and light divide the course of time, and oblivion shares with memory a great part even of our living beings; we slightly remember our felicities, and the smartest strokes of affliction leave but short smart upon us. Sense endureth no extremities and sorrows destroy us or themselves. To weep into Stones are fables. Afflictions induce callousities, miseries are slippery, or fall like Snow upon us, which notwithstanding is no unhappy stupidity. To be ignorant of evils to come, and forgetful of evils past, is a merciful provision in nature, whereby we digest the mixture of our few and evil days, and our delivered senses not relapsing into cutting remembrances, our sorrows are not kept raw by the edge of repetitions.

Thomas Browne (1605-1682) English physician and author
Hydriotaphia, or Urne-Buriall, ch. 5 (1658)
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Added on 29-May-17 | Last updated 29-May-17
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It used to be a good hotel, but that proves nothing — I used to be a good boy, for that matter. Both of us have lost character of late years.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Innocents Abroad, ch. 57 (1869)
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Added on 20-Apr-17 | Last updated 20-Apr-17
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The book has been man’s greatest triumph. Seated in my library, I live in a Time Machine. In an instant I can be transmitted to any era, any part of the world, even to outer space. I have lived in every period of history. I have listened to Buddha speak, marched with Alexander, sailed with the Vikings, ridden in canoes with the Polynesians. I have been at the courts of Queen Elizabeth and Louis XIV; I have been a friend to Captain Nemo and have sailed with Captain Bligh on the Bounty. I have walked in the agora with Socrates and Plato, and listened to Jesus deliver the Sermon on the Mount.

Best of all, I can do it all again, at any moment. The books are there. I have only to reach up to the shelves and take them down to relive the moments I have loved.

Louis L'Amour (1908-1988) American writer
The Sackett Companion (1988)
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Added on 20-Apr-17 | Last updated 20-Apr-17
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Even while I protest the assembly-line production of our food, our songs, our language, and eventually our souls, I know that it was a rare home that baked good bread in the old days. Mother’s cooking was with rare exceptions poor, that good unpasteurized milk touched only by flies and bits of manure crawled with bacteria, the healthy old-time life was riddled with aches, sudden death from unknown causes, and that sweet local speech I mourn was the child of illiteracy and ignorance. It is the nature of a man as he grows older, a small bridge in time, to protest against change, particularly change for the better. But it is true that we have exchanged corpulence for starvation, and either one will kill us.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968) American writer
Travels with Charley (1962)
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Added on 16-Mar-17 | Last updated 16-Mar-17
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We, or at least I, can have no conception of human life and human thought in a hundred years or fifty years. Perhaps my greatest wisdom is the knowledge that I do not know. The sad ones are those who waste their energy in trying to hold it back, for they can only feel bitterness in loss and no joy in gain.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968) American writer
Travels With Charley: In Search of America, Part 2 (1962)
Added on 23-Feb-17 | Last updated 23-Feb-17
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Am I the person who used to wake in the middle of the night and laugh with the joy of living? Who worried about the existence of God, and danced with young ladies till long after daybreak? Who sang “Auld Lang Syne” and howled with sentiment, and more than once gazed at the full moon through a blur of great, romantic tears?

Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946) American-English essayist, editor, anthologist
More Trivia, “Last Words” (1934)
Added on 9-Feb-17 | Last updated 9-Feb-17
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The trouble is, you can ignore history — but history won’t necessarily ignore you.

Charles "Charlie" Stross (b. 1964) British writer
The Fuller Memorandum (2010)
Added on 31-Jan-17 | Last updated 31-Jan-17
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Tragedy plus time equals comedy.

allen-tragedy-plus-time-equals-comedy-wist_info

Steve Allen (1922-2000) American composer, entertainer, and wit.
“Steve Allen’s Almanac,” Cosmopolitan (Feb 1957)

Similar formulations have been made by Carol Burnett, Lenny Bruce, Bob Newhart, and Woody Allen. For more discussion see here.
Added on 29-Dec-16 | Last updated 29-Dec-16
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It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Danish philosopher, theologian
Journals IV.A.164 (1843)

Commonly paraphrased: "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."
Added on 28-Dec-16 | Last updated 28-Dec-16
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We spake of many a vanished scene,
Of what we once had thought and said,
Of what had been, and might have been,
And who was changed, and who was dead;
And all that fills the hearts of friends,
When first they feel, with secret pain,
Their lives thenceforth have separate ends,
And never can be one again.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
“The Fire of Drift-Wood”, l. 13 in The Seaside and the Fireside (1850)
Added on 17-Nov-16 | Last updated 17-Nov-16
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I have had playmates, I have had companions;
In my days of childhood, in my joyful school days —
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

Charles Lamb (1775-1834) Welsh-English essayist
“Old Familiar Faces” (1798)
Added on 20-Oct-16 | Last updated 20-Oct-16
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Every old man complains of the growing depravity of the world, of the petulance and insolence of the rising generation. He recounts the decency and regularity of former times, and celebrates the discipline and sobriety of the age in which his youth was passed; a happy age which is now no more to be expected, since confusion has broken in upon the world, and thrown down all the boundaries of civility and reverence.

johnson-growing-depravity-of-the-world-wist_info-quote

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler, #50 (8 Sep 1750)
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You bid me burn your letters. But I must forget you first.

adams-but-i-must-forget-you-first-wist_info-quote

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to Abigail Adams (28 Apr 1776)
Added on 4-Oct-16 | Last updated 4-Oct-16
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Lucius Arruntius killed himself, he said, to escape both the future and the past.

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
“A Custom of the Island of Cea,” Essays (1588) [tr. Frame (1958)]
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You couldn’t get hold of the things you’d done and turn them right again. Such a power might be given to the gods, but it was not given to women and men, and that was probably a good thing. Had it been otherwise, people would probably die of old age still trying to rewrite their teens.

Stephen King (b. 1947) American author
The Stand (1978)
Added on 27-Jul-16 | Last updated 27-Jul-16
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Our deeds still travel with us from afar.
And what we have been makes us what we are.

Eliot - deeds still travel with us - wist_info quote

George Eliot (1819-1880) English novelist [pseud. of Mary Ann Evans]
Middlemarch (1871-72)
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The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries.

René Descartes (1596-1650) French philosopher, mathematician
Discourse on Method [Discours de la méthode] (1637)
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Remember that man’s life lies all within this present, as ’twere but a hair’s-breadth of time: as for the rest, the past is gone, the future yet unseen.

Marcus Aurelius (121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
Meditations, Book 3, #10
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It’s hard to let go of anything we love. We live in a world that teaches us to clutch. But when we clutch we’re left with a fist full of ashes.

LEngle - fist full of ashes - wist_info quote

Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007) American writer
A Ring of Endless Light, ch. 4 [Adam] (1980)
Added on 11-Jun-16 | Last updated 11-Jun-16
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The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall; nations perish; civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead.

Clarence Day (1874-1935) American author and cartoonist
The Story of the Yale University Press (1920)
Added on 9-Jun-16 | Last updated 9-Jun-16
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We can draw lessons from the past, but we cannot live in it.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) American poltician, educator, US President (1963-69)
Speech, Consumer Advisory Council, Washington, DC (13 Dec 1963)
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But the greatest gift in the power of loneliness to bestow is the realization that life does not consist either of wallowing in the past or of peering anxiously at the future; and it is appalling to contemplate the great number of often painful steps by which one arrives at a truth so old, so obvious, and so frequently expressed. It is good for one to appreciate that life is now. Whether it offers little or much, life is now — this day — this hour — and is probably the only experience of the kind one is to have.

Charles Macomb Flandrau (1871-1938) American author and essayist
Viva Mexico!, ch. 7 (1908)
Added on 25-May-16 | Last updated 25-May-16
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The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.

Buddha (c.563-483 BC) Indian mystic, philosopher [b. Siddharta Gautama]
(Attributed)

In The Teaching of Buddha [The Buddhist Bible] (1934) by the Federation of All Young Buddhist Associations of Japan.
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Whichever way we look the prospect is disagreeable. Behind, we have left pleasures we shall never more enjoy, and therefore regret; and before we see pleasures which we languish to possess, and are, consequently, uneasy till we possess them.

Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774) Irish poet, playwright, novelist
The Citizen of the World, Letter 44 (1762)
Added on 31-Mar-16 | Last updated 31-Mar-16
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There’s a particular kind of safety that comes from being on the streets where you went to school, had your first snog, or drink, or threw up your first chicken vindaloo.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Moon Over Soho (2011)
Added on 18-Nov-15 | Last updated 18-Nov-15
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I met my old lover on the street today
She seemed so glad to see me; I just smiled
And we talked about the old times, and drank ourselves some beers
Still crazy after all these years.

Paul Simon (b. 1941) American musician, singer-songwriter.
“Still Crazy After All These Years” (1975)
Added on 12-Nov-15 | Last updated 12-Nov-15
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It is folly to pretend that one ever wholly recovers from a disappointed passion. Such wounds always leave a scar. There are faces I can never look upon without emotion. There are names I can never hear spoken without almost starting.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
Hyperion, Book 2, ch. 3 (1839)
Added on 3-Nov-15 | Last updated 3-Nov-15
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When thinking about life, remember this: no amount of guilt can change the past, and no amount of anxiety can change the future.

Other Authors and Sources
Anonymous
Added on 29-Oct-15 | Last updated 29-Oct-15
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Dead battles, like dead generals, hold the military mind in their dead grip.

Barbara W. Tuchman (1912-1989) American historian and author
The Guns of August, ch. 2 (1962)
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The man who sticks to his plan will become what he used to want to be.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten Second Essays, #349 (2001)
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Clinging to the past is the problem. Embracing change is the answer.

Gloria Steinem (b. 1934) American feminist, journalist, activist
“Doing Sixty,” Moving Beyond Words (1994)
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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In reactive problem solving we walk into the future facing the past — we move away from, rather than toward, something. This often results in unforeseen consequences that are more distasteful than the deficiencies removed.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
The Art of Problem Solving (1978)
Added on 12-Mar-15 | Last updated 12-Mar-15
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Come, clear the way, then, clear the way:
Blind creeds and kings have had their day.
Break the dead branches from the path;
Our hope is in the aftermath —
Our hope is in heroic men,
Star-led to build the world again.
To this Event the ages ran:
Make way for Brotherhood — make way for Man.

Edwin Markham (1852-1940) American poet
“Brotherhood,” The Man with the Hoe and Other Poems (1899)
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However accurately we may determine the “facts” of history, the facts themselves and our interpretations of them, and our interpretation of our own interpretations, will be seen in a different perspective or a less vivid light as mankind moves into the unknown future. Regarded historically, as a process of becoming, man and his world can obviously be understood only tentatively, since it is by definition something still in the making, something as yet unfinished. Unfortunately for the “permanent contribution” and the universally valid philosophy, time passes; time, the enemy of man as the Greeks thought; to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow creeps in this petty pace, and all our yesterdays diminish and grow dim: so that, in the lengthening perspective of the centuries, even the most striking events (the Declaration of Independence, the French Revolution, the Great War itself; like the Diet of Worms before them, like the signing of the Magna Carta and the coronation of Charlemagne and the crossing of the Rubicon and the battle of Marathon) must inevitably, for posterity, fade away into pale replicas of the original picture, for each succeeding generation losing, as they recede into a more distant past, some significance that once was noted in them, some quality of enchantment that once was theirs.

Carl L. Becker (1873-1945) American historian
“Everyman His Own Historian” (3), speech, American Historical Association, Minneapolis (29 Dec 1931)
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Great as our differences are, all of us — professors, politicians, preachers — would no doubt find that we had much in common after all if it were possible to meet in the flesh some distinguished representatives from a former age.

Carl L. Becker (1873-1945) American historian
The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-century Philosophers (1932)
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It is from the ruins of the Capitol that we perceive, as from a great distance, a thousand years filled with dim shapes of men moving blindly, performing strangely, in an unreal shadowy world.

Carl L. Becker (1873-1945) American historian
The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-century Philosophers, “The New History” (1932)
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Things past redress are now with me past care.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Richard II, Act 2, sc. 3 (1595)
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The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.

Buddha (c.563-483 BC) Indian mystic, philosopher [b. Siddharta Gautama]
In Bukkyõ Dendõ Kyõkai, The Teaching of Buddha (1966)

Likely a paraphrase of a variety of the Buddha's teachings.
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It isn’t good to hold on too hard to the past. You can’t spend your whole life looking back. Not even when you can’t see what lies ahead. All you can do is keep on keeping on, and try to believe that tomorrow will be what it should be — even if it isn’t what you expected.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Death Masks (2003)
Added on 12-Aug-14 | Last updated 12-Aug-14
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TURHAN: The past tempts us, the present confuses us, and the future frightens us. And our lives slip away, moment by moment, lost in that vast, terrible in-between.

J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski (b. 1954) American screenwriter, producer, author [a/k/a "JMS"]
Babylon 5, “The Coming of Shadows” (1 Feb 1995)
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Memory is often the attribute of stupidity; it generally belongs to heavy spirits whom it makes even heavier by the baggage it loads them down with.

François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) French writer, politican, diplomat
Memoirs from Beyond the Grave [Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe], Book 2, ch. 1 (1848-1850) [tr. Kline]
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But Goethe tells us in his greatest poem that Faust lost the liberty of his soul when he said to the passing moment: “Stay, thou art so fair.” And our liberty, too, is endangered if we pause for the passing moment, if we rest on our achievements, if we resist the pace of progress. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Speech, Paulskirche, Frankfurt, Germany (25 Jun 1963)
    (Source)

Variant in some locations: "... And those who look only to the past are certain to miss the future."
Added on 31-Dec-13 | Last updated 31-Dec-13
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We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than them and things at a greater distance.

Bernard of Chartres (d. after 1124) French philosopher, scholar, administrator. [a.k.a. Bernardus Carnotensis]
(Attributed)

Attributed in John of Salisbury, The Metalogicon, 3.4 (1159). Paraphrase of this original: "Bernard of Chartres used to say that we [the Moderns] are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants [the Ancients], and thus we are able to see more and farther than the latter. And this is not at all because of the acuteness of our sight or the stature of our body, but because we are carried aloft and elevated by the magnitude of the giants." See here for more discussion. See also Isaac Newton.
Added on 12-Dec-13 | Last updated 18-Jun-15
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Therefore, two bad habits must be forbidden, both the fear of the future and the memory of by-gone trouble; the latter no longer belongs to me, the former, not yet.

Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC-AD 65) Roman statesman, philosopher, playwright [Lucius Annaeus Seneca]
Moral Letters to Lucilius [Epistulae morales ad Lucilium], letter 78, sec. 14
Added on 10-Sep-13 | Last updated 16-Jun-14
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You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.

Henry Ford (1863-1947) American industrialist
(Attributed)
Added on 24-Jul-13 | Last updated 17-Jun-16
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Do not think of knocking out another person’s brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago.

Horace Mann (1796-1859) American educator
Thoughts (1867)
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Added on 29-May-12 | Last updated 16-Jun-17
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