Quotations about   perspective

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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.
Added on 16-Apr-19 | Last updated 16-Apr-19
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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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Added on 18-Jan-19 | Last updated 18-Jan-19
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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 author [James Arthur Baldwin]
“Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare”
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Added on 14-May-18 | Last updated 14-May-18
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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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Added on 2-Oct-17 | Last updated 2-Oct-17
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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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Added on 6-Sep-17 | Last updated 6-Sep-17
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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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She ate her trifle, reflecting that grinding poverty, though loathsome while one is in it, has the advantage of making one enjoy money in a way denied to the rich-from-birth.

Kerry Greenwood (b. 1954) Australian author and lawyer
Flying Too High, ch. 2 (1990)
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Added on 13-Jul-17 | Last updated 13-Jul-17
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You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing’s sake, back home to aestheticism, to one’s youthful idea of “the artist” and the all-sufficiency of “art” and “beauty” and “love”, back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermuda, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.

Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) American writer
You Can’t Go Home Again, Book 7 “A Wind Is Rising and the Rivers Flow” (1940)
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Added on 1-Jun-17 | Last updated 12-Jun-17
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When you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue — you sell him a whole new life.

Christopher Morley (1890-1957) American journalist, novelist, essayist, poet
Parnassus on Wheels, ch. 4 (1917)
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The moral of it is, that if we would build on a sure foundation in friendship, we must love our friends for THEIR sakes rather than OUR OWN; we must look at their truth to THEMSELVES, full as much as their truth to US. In the latter case, every wound to self-love would be a cause of coldness; in the former, only some painful change in the friend’s character and disposition — some frightful breach in his allegiance to his better self — could alienate the heart.

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) British novelist [pseud. Currer Bell]
Letter to W S. Williams (21 Jul 1851)
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An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. And this is one of the big problems of life, that so many people never quite get to the point of rising above self. And so they end up the tragic victims of self-centeredness. They end up the victims of distorted and disrupted personality.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Conquering Self-Centeredness,” sermon, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama (11 Aug 1957)
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Added on 31-Mar-17 | Last updated 31-Mar-17
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Happiness ain’t a thing in itself, it’s only a contrast with something that ain’t pleasant. That’s all it is. There ain’t a thing you can mention that is happiness in its own self — it’s only so by contrast with the other thing. And so, as soon as the novelty is over and the force of the contrast dulled, it ain’t happiness any longer, and you have to get something fresh.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
“Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven,” Harper’s Monthly Magazine (Dec 1907)
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Most people, no doubt, when they espouse human rights, make their own mental reservations about the proper application of the word “human.”

Suzanne La Follette (1893-1983) American journalist, author, feminist
Concerning Women, “The Beginnings of Emancipation” (1926)
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Every man hears only what he understands.

goethe-every-man-hears-understands-wist_info-quote

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe, #385 [tr. Saunders (1892)]
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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.
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“Terrorism” is what we call the violence of the weak, and we condemn it; “war” is what we call the violence of the strong, and we glorify it.

harris-violence-of-the-weak-strong-wist_info-quote

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
“Nations Should Submit to the Rule of Law,” Clearing the Ground (1986)
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That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in the next.

mill-height-of-absurdity-wisdom-wist_info-quote

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
(Attributed)
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Often cited from a quote in Adlai Stevenson, Call to Greatness (1954), but appears earlier in, e.g., National Magazine (Nov 1911). Unverified in Mills' writings.
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Solitude is naught and society is naught. Alternate them and the good of each is seen.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1838)
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I know the colour rose, and it is lovely,
But not when it ripens in a tumour;
And healing greens, leaves and grass, so springlike,
In Limbs that fester are not springlike.

Daniel "Dannie" Abse (1923-2014) Welsh poet
“Pathology of Colours” (1968)
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When the political columnists say “Every thinking man,” they mean themselves, and when candidates appeal to “Every intelligent voter,” they mean everybody who is going to vote for them.

Adams - vote for them - wist_info quote

Franklin Pierce Adams (1881-1960) American journalist and humorist
Nods and Becks (1944)
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The ocean is a large drop; the drop, a small ocean.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1836)
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On a recent Sunday evening, Theo came up with an aphorism: the bigger you think, the crappier it looks. Asked to explain he said, “When we go on about the big things, the political situation, global warming, world poverty, it all looks really terrible, with nothing getting better, nothing to look forward to. But when I think small, closer in — you know, a girl I’ve just met, or this song we’re going to do with Chas, or snowboarding next month, then it looks great. So this is going to be my motto — think small.”

Ian McEwan (b. 1948) English novelist and screenwriter
Saturday (2005)
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In youth, the years stretch before one so long that it is hard to realize that they will ever pass, and even in middle age, with the ordinary expectation of life in these days, it is easy to find excuses for delaying what one would like to do but does not want to; but at last a time comes when death must be considered.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Summing Up, ch. 3 (1938)
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If conservatives get to call universal health care “socialized medicine,” then I get to call private, for-profit health care “soulless, vampire bastards making money off human pain.”

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
Real Time with Bill Maher (24 Jul 2009)
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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."
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The best advice I’ve ever received is, “No one else knows what they’re doing either.”

Gervais - what theyre doing either - wist_info quote

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
Tweet (7 Oct 2014)
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I bid good-bye to the old century, may it rest in peace as it has lived in war. Of the new century I prophesy nothing except that it will see the decline of the British Empire. Other worse empires will rise perhaps in its place, but I shall not live to see the day. It all seems a very little matter here in Egypt, with the pyramids watching us as they watched Joseph, when, as a young man four thousand years ago, perhaps in this very garden, he walked and gazed at the sunset behind them, wondering about the future just as I did this evening. And so, poor wicked nineteenth century, farewell!

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840-1922) English poet, critic, horse breeder
My Diaries, 1888-1914, 31 Dec 1900 (1921)
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A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity, and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.

Robertson Davies (1913-1995) Canadian author, editor, publisher
“Too Much, Too Fast” Peterborough Examiner (Canada) (16 Jun 1962)
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All people believe their suffering is greater than others’. Just as they secretly believe they are smarter, and more deserving of fame.

Erica Jong (b. 1942) American writer, poet
How to Save Your Own Life (1977)
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Things are much more complicated. Feminism versus pornography, for example. There are a lot of feminists who think it is bad, but others think it’s good. I have become, you might call it mature, I would call it senile, and I can see both sides. But you can’t write a satirical song with “but on the other hand” in it, or “however.” It’s got to be one-sided.

Tom Lehrer (b. 1928) American mathematician, satirist, songwriter
Interview, Sydney Morning Herald (2003)
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What Paul says about Peter tells us more about Paul than it does about Peter.

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) Dutch philosopher
(Attributed)
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Quoted by Erich Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion, 3 (1950).
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I hate mankind, for I think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am.

Baretti - hate mankind - wist_info quote

Giuseppe Baretti (1719-1789) Italian-English literary critic and translator [a.k.a. Joseph Baretti]
(Attributed)

Quoted in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791).
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It is circumstance and proper measure that give an action its character, and make it either good or bad.

Plutarch (AD 46-127) Greek historian, biographer, essayist [Mestrius Plutarchos]
Parallel Lives, “Agisilaus” [tr. Dryden (1693)]
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HAMLET: There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Hamlet, Act 2, scene 2, l. 254 (1600)
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You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the Moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

Mitchell - look at that - wist_info quote

Edgar "Ed" Mitchell (1930-2016) American aviator, engineer, astronaut
(Attributed)

The earliest source I can find of the quote is in People (8 Apr 1974), where it appears as an epigraph for a story on Mitchell three years after his flight to the Moon.
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You remember what people say when they are sick? What do they say? That after all, nothing is pleasanter than health. But then they never knew this to be the greatest of pleasures until they were ill.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
The Republic, Book 9
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Instead of comparing our lot with that of those who are more fortunate than we are, we should compare it with the lot of the great majority of our fellow men. It then appears that we are among the privileged.

Helen Keller (1880-1968) American author and lecturer
The Open Door (1957)
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Good and bad men are each less so than they seem.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) English poet and critic
Table Talk, “19 April 1830” (1835)
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Things are not getting worse; things have always been this bad. Nothing is more consoling than the long perspective of history. It will perk you up no end to go back and read the works of progressives past. You will learn therein that things back then were also terrible, and what’s more, they were always getting worse. This is most inspiriting.

Molly Ivins (1944-2007) American writer, political columnist [Mary Tyler Ivins]
The Progressive (Mar 1986)
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Added on 21-Dec-15 | Last updated 21-Dec-15
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None knows the weight of another’s burthen.

Herbert - anothers burden - wist_info quote

George Herbert (1593-1633) Welsh priest, orator, poet.
Outlandish Proverbs, #880 (1640)
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Value yourself according to the burdens you carry, and you will find everything a burden.

Richardson - burdens - wist_info quote

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays, # 52 (2001)
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Everyone thinks his sack heaviest.

George Herbert (1593-1633) Welsh priest, orator, poet.
Outlandish Proverbs, #748 (1640)
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“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
Prince Caspian (1951)
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