Quotations about   perspective

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The lesson of History is rarely learned by the actors themselves.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Letter to Professor Demmon (16 Dec 1871)
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Added on 18-Sep-20 | Last updated 18-Sep-20
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Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others.

David Hume (1711-1776) Scottish philosopher, economist, historian, empiricist
“Of the Standard of Taste” (1739)
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We are too prone to judge ourselves by our ideals and other people by their acts. All of us are entitled to be judged by both. We must recognize the dignity of our neighbors and before we act must place ourselves in the place of our neighbor and judge our acts through his eyes.

Dwight Morrow (1873-1931) American businessman, diplomat, politician
Quoted in “Close Mexican Ties Urged by Morrow,” New York Times (17 May 1930)
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The first sentence of this comment by Morrow was popularized in a biography of him, Harold Nicolson, Dwight Morrow (1935). Nicolson is, in turn, often erroneously credited with the quote.

Nicolson noted it was frequently used by Morrow ("'Remember,' he would often repeat, 'that we are all inclined to judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their acts.'"). He also recounts a variant, "All nations are prone to judge themselves by the loftiness of their own purposes, and to judge others nations by their failure to attain their high purposes."

More discussion of this quotation (and its predecessors) can be found here. Compare also to a related sentiment by Longfellow.
Added on 14-Sep-20 | Last updated 14-Sep-20
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Behold the hippopotamus!
We laugh at how he looks to us,
And yet in moments dank and grim,
I wonder how we look to him.

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) American poet
“The Hippopotamus”
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Added on 11-Sep-20 | Last updated 11-Sep-20
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Objects close to the eye shut out much larger objects on the horizon; and splendors born only of the earth eclipse the stars. So a man sometimes covers up the entire disk of eternity with a dollar, and quenches transcendent glories with a little shining dust.

Edwin Hubbell Chapin (1814-1880) American clergyman
Living Words (1860)
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I don’t think we injye other people’s suffin’, Hinnissy. It isn’t acshally injyement. But we feel betther f’r it.

[I don’t think we enjoy other people’s suffering, Hennessy. It isn’t actually enjoyment. But we feel better for it.]

Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936) American humorist and journalist
Observations by Mr. Dooley, “Enjoyment” (1902)
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Added on 10-Sep-20 | Last updated 10-Sep-20
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Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Matthew 7:3-5 [NRSV]
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Alt. trans.:
  • [KJV] "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."
  • [GNT] "Why, then, do you look at the speck in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye? How dare you say to your brother, 'Please, let me take that speck out of your eye,' when you have a log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
Added on 10-Sep-20 | Last updated 10-Sep-20
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Here’s to the crazy ones — the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things, they push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs (1955-2011) American computer inventor, entrepreneur
“To the Crazy Ones,” TV advertisement (1997)
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Often cited as a quotation from Steve Jobs, this was an Apple advertisement developed by Chiat/Day under the direction of Jobs after his return to the company in 1997, under the campaign "Think Different." The ad and its text was created by Chiat/Day talent like Craig Tanimoto, Rob Siltanen, and Ken Segall. (For more information on the ad's development, see Siltanen's article.)

Jobs did narrate the text at least once, but the original 1997 ad was voiced by Richard Dreyfuss.

Note: nearly all transcripts say, "But the only thing you can't do ..." while the word voiced is "About the only thing you can't do ...."
Added on 27-Aug-20 | Last updated 27-Aug-20
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Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one we have.

[Rien n’est plus dangereux qu’une idée, quand on n’a qu’une idée.]

Alain (1868-1951) French philosopher, journalist, pacifist [pseud. for Émile-Auguste Chartier]
Propos sur la religion, #74 (1938)

Alt. trans.: "Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when you have only one idea."

Sometimes also quoted as "Rien n'est plus dangereux qu'une idée lorsque c'est la seule idée que vous avez."
Added on 14-Aug-20 | Last updated 14-Aug-20
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Money helps, though not so much as you think when you don’t have it.

Louise Erdrich (b. 1954) American author, poet
“Insulation,” The Bingo Palace (1994)
Added on 10-Aug-20 | Last updated 10-Aug-20
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The murderer, the victim, the witness, each of us thinks our role is the lead.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
Invisible Monsters, ch. 1 (1999)
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Added on 28-Jul-20 | Last updated 28-Jul-20
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It is not the least of a martyr’s scourges to be canonized by the persons who burned him.

Murray Kempton (1917-1997) American journalist.
Part of Our Time: Some Ruins & Monuments of the Thirties, ch. 2 (1955)
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To return to the matter of the persona, I repeat that one cannot wholly eliminate oneself for a second, and also sufficient, reason: any fiction (and surely poetry too?) is bound to be transposed autobiography. (True, it may be this at so many removes as to defeat recognition.) I can, and indeed if i would not I still must, relate any and every story I have written to something that happened to me in my own life. But here I am speaking of happenings in a broad sense — to behold and react, is where I am concerned a happening; speculations, unaccountable stirs of interest, longings, attractions, apprehensions without knowable cause — these are happenings, also.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
Stories by Elizabeth Bowen, Preface (1959)
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Added on 6-Jul-20 | Last updated 6-Jul-20
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She’s adorn’d
Amply that in her husband’s eye looks lovely —
The truest mirror that an honest wife
Can see her beauty in!

John Tobin (1770-1804) British playwright
The Honey Moon, Act 3, sc. 4 (1805)
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Added on 30-Jun-20 | Last updated 30-Jun-20
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Everything is funnier in retrospect, funnier and prettier and cooler. You can laugh at anything from far enough away.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories, “Consolation Prizes” (2004)
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Added on 23-Jun-20 | Last updated 23-Jun-20
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Thare would be a grate supply ov wit and humor in this world, if we would only giv others the same credit for being witty that we claim for ourselfs.

[There would be a great supply of wit and humor in this world, if we would only give others the same credit for being witty that we claim for ourselves.]

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, “Mollassis Kandy” (1874)
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Happiness isn’t something you experience; it’s something you remember.

Oscar Levant (1906-1972) American pianist, composer, actor, wit
(Attributed)
Added on 28-May-20 | Last updated 28-May-20
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The most that experience seems tew do for us, is tew sho us, what kussid phools every boddy but we, hav made of themselfs.

[The most that experience seems to do for us is to show us what cussed fools everybody but we have made of themselves.]

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, “Mollassis Kandy” (1874)
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Added on 28-May-20 | Last updated 28-May-20
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A rich man cannot enjoy a sound mind nor a sound body without exercise and abstinence; and yet these are truly the worst ingredients of poverty.

Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696-1782) Scottish jurist, agriculturalist, philosopher, writer
Introduction to the Art of Thinking, ch. 2 (1761)
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Added on 15-May-20 | Last updated 15-May-20
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Every great work of art has two faces: one toward its own time and one toward the future, toward eternity.

Daniel Barenboim (b. 1942) Argentine-Israeli pianist and conductor
Quoted in the International Herald Tribune (20 Jan 1989)

The above is sometimes cited to his collaborative dialog with Edward Said, Parallels and Paradoxes (2002), but the passage there is slightly different: "I think that every great work of art has two faces: one toward its own time and one toward eternity."
Added on 14-May-20 | Last updated 15-May-20
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So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) American poet and satirist
“The Blind Men and the Elephant,” Moral, The Poems of John Godfrey Saxe (1872)
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Added on 8-May-20 | Last updated 11-May-20
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If you said to a bunch of average people two hundred years ago “Would you be happy in a world where medical care is widely available, houses are clean, the world’s music and sights and foods can be brought into your home at small cost, travelling even 100 miles is easy, childbirth is generally not fatal to mother or child, you don’t have to die of dental abcesses and you don’t have to do what the squire tells you” they’d think you were talking about the New Jerusalem and say ‘yes’.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
(Attributed)

Usually cited to alt.fan.pratchett, but not found in the repository.
Added on 17-Apr-20 | Last updated 17-Apr-20
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Things are beautiful if you love them.

Jean Anouilh (1910-1987) French dramatist
Mademoiselle Colombe, Act 2, sc. 2 (1950) [tr. Kronenberger (1954)]
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To make us feel small in the right way is a function of art; men can only make us feel small in the wrong way.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“A Book That Influenced Me,” Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)
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Just for the record, darling, not all positive change feels positive in the beginning.

Other Authors and Sources
S. C. Lourie
Added on 16-Mar-20 | Last updated 16-Mar-20
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There is no “True.” There are only ways of perceiving.

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) French writer, novelist
Letter to Léon Hennique (3 Feb 1880) [tr. Steegmuller (1982)]
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But I aint so sho that ere a man has the right to say what is crazy and what aint. It’s like there was a fellow in every man that’s done a-past the sanity or the insanity, that watches the sane and insane doings of that man with the same horror and the same astonishment.

William Faulkner (1897-1962) American novelist
As I Lay Dying (1930)
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Added on 3-Mar-20 | Last updated 10-Mar-20
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Keep cool: it will be all one a hundred years hence.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Montaigne; or, The Skeptic,” Representative Men, Lecture 4 (1850)
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SIR HUMPHREY: A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist.

Jonathan Lynn (b. 1943) English actor, comedy writer, director
Yes Minister, S3E4 “The Moral Dimension” (1982) [with Antony Jay]
Added on 28-Jan-20 | Last updated 28-Jan-20
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In the affluent society no sharp distinction can be made between luxuries and necessaries.

John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) Canadian-American economist, diplomat, author
The Affluent Society, ch. 21, sec. 4 (1998, 4th ed.)
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On sales taxes. Sometimes quoted (from other editions?) as "useful distinction."
Added on 14-Jan-20 | Last updated 14-Jan-20
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Comparison is the thief of joy.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
(Attributed)
Added on 9-Jan-20 | Last updated 9-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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Things seem to tend downward, to justify despondency, to promote rogues, to defeat the just; and by knaves as well as by martyrs the just cause is carried forward. Although knaves win in every political struggle, although society seems to be delivered over from the hands of one set of criminals into the hands of another set of criminals, as fast as the government is changed, and the march of civilization is a train of felonies, yet, general ends are somehow answered.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Representative Men, Lecture 4 “Montaigne; or, The Skeptic” (1850)
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We always require an outside point to stand on, in order to apply the lever of criticism. […] Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

Carl Jung (1875-1961) Swiss psychologist
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ch. 9 “Travels,” ii. “The Pueblo Indians” (1963)
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I’ve learned to write in the first-person singular while remembering always that my writing must speak to the first-person plural.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“The Art of Fiction,” Paris Review, #116, Interview with George Plimpton (1990)
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While we are poor, the necessarys ov life are the luxurys; after we git ritch, the luxurys are the necessarys.

[While we are poor, the necessaries of life are the luxuries; after we get rich, the luxuries are the necessaries.]

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, “Mollassis Kandy” (1874)
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Added on 9-Jun-19 | Last updated 9-Jun-19
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The salvation of America and of the human race depends on the next election, if we believe the newspapers. But so it was last year, and so it was the year before, and our fathers believed the same thing forty years ago.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (Oct 1848)
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It is by means of my vices that I understand yours.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (Spring-Summer 1844)
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He recorded this phrase multiple times, including in his lecture, "The Anglo-American" (7 Dec 1852), and Notebook S Salvage.
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The intoxication of anger, like that of the grape, shows us to others, but hides us from ourselves; and we injure our own cause, in the opinion of the world, when we too passionately and eagerly defend it.

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer
Lacon, Vol. 1, #240 (1820)
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We cannot do without it, and yet we disgrace and vilify the same. It may be compared to a cage, the birds without despair to get in, and those within despair to get out.

[Il en advient ce qui se veiod aux cages: les oyseaux qui en sont dehors, desperent d’y entrer: et d’un pareil soing en sortir, ceuix qui sont au dedans.]

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
“Upon Some Verses of Virgil,” Essays (1580-88)

On marriage. For more discussion of others who have used this metaphor, see here.

Alt. trans.: "We cannot live without it, and yet we do nothing but decry it. It happens, as with cages, the birds without despair to get in, and those within despair of getting out." [tr. Cotton (1877)]

Alt. trans.: "Though we cannot live without it, yet we do nothing but decry it. We see the same with birdcages: the birds outside despair to get in, and those within despair to get out. [Autobiography, ch. 6 "This Discreet Business of Marriage," tr. Lowenthal (1935)]

Added on 14-Nov-18 | Last updated 14-Nov-18
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Other people’s appetites easily appear excessive when one doesn’t share them.

André Gide (1869-1951) French author, Nobel laureate
The Counterfeiters, “Edouard’s Journal: Oscar Molinier” (1925)
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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 novelist, playwright, activist
“Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare”
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I would give all my fame for a pot of ale, and safety.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry V, Act 3, sc. 2 [Boy] (1599)
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My son, a perfect little boy of five years and three months, had ended his earthly life. You can never sympathize with me; you can never know how much of me such a young child can take away. A few weeks ago I accounted myself a very rich man, and now the poorest of all.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Letter to Thomas Carlyle (28 Feb 1842)
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Added on 20-Mar-18 | Last updated 20-Mar-18
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It is striking how much more seriously we are likely to be taken after we have been dead a few centuries.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 4 “Consolation for Inadequacy” (2000)
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One was never married, and that’s his hell; another is, and that’s his plague.

Robert Burton (1577-1640) English scholar
The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1.2.4.7 (1621-51)
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We do not judge men by what they are in themselves, but by what they are relatively to us.

Anne Sophie Swetchine (1782-1857) Russian-French author and salonist [Madame Swetchine]
The Writings of Madame Swetchine, “Airelles”, #25 (1869) [ed. Count de Falloux, tr. Preston]
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Added on 22-Nov-17 | Last updated 22-Nov-17
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I also think living in the country gives you faith. All you have to do is get up and look at the mountains and look at the other animals to realize that your problems are mostly made up or exacerbated by humans. But human life isn’t necessarily life. There’s so much more out there.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Interview in OutSmart (Jan 1998)
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Added on 30-Oct-17 | Last updated 30-Oct-17
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Better keep yourself clean and bright: you are the window through which you must see the world.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
The Revolutionist’s Handbook, “Honor” (1905)
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Added on 24-Oct-17 | Last updated 24-Oct-17
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Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.

Charles "Charlie" Stross (b. 1964) British writer
The Nightmare Stacks, ch. 18 (2016)
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A variant of Clarke's Third Law.
Added on 3-Oct-17 | Last updated 3-Oct-17
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Where Plenty smiles — alas! she smiles for few,
And those who taste not, yet behold her store,
Are as the slaves that dig the golden ore,
The wealth around them makes them doubly poor.

George Crabbe (1754-1832) English poet, writer, surgeon, clergyman
The Village, Book 1, line 136 (1783)
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Love, I find is like singing. Everybody can do enough to satisfy themselves, though it may not impress the neighbors as being very much.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) American writer, folklorist, anthropologist
Dust Tracks on a Road, ch. 14 “Love” (1942)
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No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

H.G. Wells (1866-1946) British writer [Herbert George Wells]
The War of the Worlds, Book 1, ch. 1 (1898)
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Added on 22-Aug-17 | Last updated 22-Aug-17
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More quotes by Wells, H.G.