Quotations about   popularity

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Popular art is normally decried as vulgar by the cultivated people of its time; then it loses favour with its original audience as a new generation grows up; then it begins to merge into the softer lighting of “quaint” and cultivated people become interested in it, and finally it begins to take on the archaic dignity of the primitive.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
Anatomy of Criticism, “Mythical Phase: Symbol as Archetype” (1957)
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Added on 15-Nov-21 | Last updated 15-Nov-21
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Who sneers at epigrams and feigns to scout them,
Believe me, does not know a thing about them.
The real bores are the dreary epic spinners
Who rant of Tereus’ or Thyestes’ dinners,
Who rave of cunning Daedalus applying
The wings to Icarus to teach him flying,
Or else to show what dullards they esteem us
Bleat endless pastorals on Polyphemus.
My unpretentious Muse is not bombastic,
But deems these robes of Tragedy fantastic.
“Such things,” you say, “earn all men’s commendation,
As works of genius and inspiration.”
Ah, very true — those pompous classic leaders
Do get the praise — but then I get the readers!

[Nescit, crede mihi, quid sint epigrammata, Flacce,
Qui tantum lusus ista iocosque vocat.
Ille magis ludit, qui scribit prandia saevi
Tereos, aut cenam, crude Thyesta, tuam,
Aut puero liquidas aptantem Daedalon alas,
Pascentem Siculas aut Polyphemon ovis.
A nostris procul est omnis vesica libellis,
Musa nec insano syrmate nostra tumet.
“Illa tamen laudant omnes, mirantur, adorant.”
Confiteor: laudant illa, sed ista legunt.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 4, epigram 49 (4.49) [tr. Pott & Wright (1921)]
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"To Valerius Flaccus." (Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

Though little know'st what epigram contains,
Who think'st it all a joke in jocund strains.
He direly jokes, who bids a Tereus dine;
Or dresses suppers like, Thyestes, thine;
Feins him who fits the boy with melting wings,
Or the sweet shepherd Polyphemus sings.
Or muse disdains by fustian to excel;
by rant to rattle, or in buskin swell.
Those strains the learn'd applaud, admire, adore.
Those they applaud, I own; but these explore.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), ep. 48]

Thou know'st not, trust me, what are Epigrams,
Flaccus, who think'st them jest and wanton games.
He wantons more, who writes what horrid meat
The plagu'd Tyestes and vex't Tereus eat,
Or Daedalus fitting is boy to fly,
Or Polyphemus' flocks in Sicily.
My booke no windy words nor turgid needes,
Nor swells my Muse with mad smothurnal weedes.
Yet those things all men praise, admire, adore.
True; they praise those, but read these poems more.
[tr. May]

You little know what Epigram contains,
Who deem it but a jest in jocund strains.
He rather jokes, who writes what horrid meat
The plagued Thyestes and vex't Tereus eat;
Or tells who robed the boy with melting wings;
Or of the shepherd Polyphemus sings.
Our muse disdains by fustian to excel,
By rant to rattle, or in buskins swell.
Though turgid themes all men admire, adore,
Be well assured they read my poems more.
[Westminster Review (Apr 1853)]

He knows not, Flaccus, believe me, what Epigrams really are,
who calls them mere trifles and frivolities.
He is much more frivolous, who writes of the feast of the cruel
Tereus; or the banquet of the unnatural Thyestes;
or of Daedalus fitting melting wings to his son's body;
or of Polyphemus feeding his Sicilian flocks.
From my effusions all tumid ranting is excluded;
nor does my Muse swell with the mad garment of Tragedy.
"But everything written in such a style is praised, admired, and adored by all."
I admit it. Things in that style are praised; but mine are read.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

He does not know, believe me, what epigrams are, Flaccus,
who styles them only frivolities and quips.
He is more frivolous who writes of the meal of savage
Tereus, or of thy banquet, dyspeptic Thyestes,
or of Daedalus fitting to his son melting wings,
or of Polyphemus pasturing Sicilian sheep.
Far from poems of mine is all turgescence,
nor does my Muse swell with frenzied tragic train.
"Yet all men praise those tragedies, admire, worship them."
I grant it: those they praise, but they read the others.
[tr. Ker (1919)]

You think my epigrams are silly?
Far worse is bombast uttered shrilly --
Like Tereus baking human pie.
Or Daedal son who tried to fly.
Monster Cyclopes keeping sheep.
My verse is of such nonsense free.
It poses not as tragedy.
But praise for those things does exceed?
Those things men praise -- but mine they read.
[tr. Wills (2007)]

Trust me, Flaccus, anyone who says it's just "ditties" and "jokes"
doesn't know what epigram is.
The real joker is the poet who describes the feast of cruel
Tereus, or the dinner that gave Thyestes indigestion,
or Daedalus strapping melting wings ot his son,
or Polyphemus pasturing his Sicilian sheep.
No puffery gets near my little books;
my Muse doesn't swell and strut in the trailing robe of Tragedy.
"But that stuff gets the applause, the awe, the worship."
I can't deny it: that stuff does get the applause. But my stuff gets read.
[tr. Nisbet (2015)]

Who deem epigrams mere trifles,
     Flaccus, know not epigram.
He trifles who describes the meal
     wild Tereus, rude Thyestes ate,
The Cretan Glider moulting wax,
     the one-eyed shepherd herding sheep.
Foreign to my verse the tragic sock,
     it's turgid, ranting rhetoric.
"Men praise -- esteem -- revere these works."
     True: them they praise ... while reading me.
[tr. Whigham (1987)]

Added on 29-Oct-21 | Last updated 29-Oct-21
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You would think we would envy only what we love, for being loveable. But no, we envy those the world loves, because we care less for being loveable than being loved.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
“Vectors: 56 Aphorisms and Ten-second Essays,” Michigan Quarterly Review, # 37 (Spring 1999)
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Added on 19-Oct-21 | Last updated 19-Oct-21
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Having a large audience does not, of course, prove that something is necessarily good. I subscribe to the theory that only a creation that speaks to succeeding generations can truly be labeled art.

Charles Schulz (1922-2000) American cartoonist
“My Life and Art with Charlie Brown and Others,” My Life with Charlie Brown (2010) [ed. Inge]
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Added on 29-Mar-21 | Last updated 29-Mar-21
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To become a popular religion, it is only necessary for a superstition to enslave a philosophy.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“The Idea of Progress”, Romanes Lecture, Oxford (27 May 1920)
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Added on 17-Aug-20 | Last updated 17-Aug-20
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He who would acquire fame must not show himself afraid of censure. The dread of censure is the death of genius.

William G. Simms (1806-1870) American writer and politician
Egeria, Or Voices of Thought and Counsel, for the Woods and Wayside, “Ambition” (1853)
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Added on 15-Apr-20 | Last updated 15-Apr-20
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The validity of an idea or action is determined not by whether it is widely believed or widely reviled but by whether it obeys the rules of logic. It is not because an argument is denounced by a majority that it is wrong nor, for those drawn to heroic defiance, that it is right.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 1 “Consolation for Unpopularity” (2000)
Added on 28-Feb-19 | Last updated 28-Feb-19
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The reward for conformity was that everyone liked you but yourself.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Venus Envy, ch. 15 (1993)
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Often paraphrased in the present tense: "The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself."
Added on 2-Apr-18 | Last updated 2-Apr-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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Not in the clamor of the crowded street,
Not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng,
But in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
“The Poets,” Atlantic Monthly (Jul 1878)
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Added on 23-May-17 | Last updated 23-May-17
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To tax and to please, no more than to love and be wise, is not given to men.

burke-tax-please-love-wise-wist_info-quote

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) Anglo-Irish statesman, orator, philosopher
“American Taxation,” speech, House of Commons (19 Apr 1774)
Added on 26-Sep-16 | Last updated 26-Sep-16
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Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody.

Franklin Pierce Adams (1881-1960) American journalist and humorist
Nods and Becks (1944)

Adams earlier used a similar phrase (not claiming attribution) in his "Conning Tower" column (13 Nov 1916): "Voters went to the polls, as had been observed frequently, with the intention to vote against Somebody rather than for Somebody." See also Fields.

More discussion about the origins of this quotation: I Never Vote For Anybody. I Always Vote Against – Quote Investigator.
Added on 9-Sep-16 | Last updated 21-Sep-21
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How many sacrifice honor, a necessity, to glory, a luxury?

Joseph Roux
Joseph Roux (1834-1886) French Catholic priest
Meditations of a Parish Priest: Thoughts, ch. 4, #38 (1886)
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When I was a fighting man, the kettle-drum they beat,
The people scattered gold-dust before my horse’s feet;
But now I am a great king, the people hound my track
With poison in my wine-cup, and daggers at my back.

Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) American author
“The Phoenix on the Sword” (1932)
Added on 25-Apr-16 | Last updated 25-Apr-16
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Do what you think is right and to hell with your popularity.

Brian Mulroney (b. 1939) Canadian politician, Prime Minister (1984-93)
Remark to US President Bill Clinton (2 Jun 1993)
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Quoted by Mulroney in a press conference.
Added on 30-Mar-16 | Last updated 30-Mar-16
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No one can govern who cannot afford to be unpopular, and no democratic official can afford to be unpopular. Sometimes he has to wink at flagrant injustice and oppression; at other times a fanatical agitation compels him to pass laws which forbid the citizen to indulge perfectly harmless tastes, or tax him to contribute to the pleasures of the majority.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“Our Present Discontents,” Outspoken Essays: First Series (1919)
Added on 23-Nov-15 | Last updated 4-Jan-16
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When ye build yer triumphal arch to yer conquerin’ hero, Hinnisssey, build it out of bricks so the people will have somethin’ convanient to throw at him as he passes through.

Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936) American humorist and journalist
“Fame”
Added on 11-Sep-15 | Last updated 11-Sep-15
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Please all, and you will please none.

Aesop (620?-560? BC) Legendary Greek storyteller
Fables [Aesopica], “The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey” (6th C BC) [tr. Jacobs (1894)]
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Alternate translation: "By endeavoring to please everybody he had pleased nobody." [tr. James (1848), "The Miller, His Son, and Their Ass"]
Added on 21-Aug-15 | Last updated 16-Sep-21
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If you mean to profit, learn to please.

Charles Churchill (1732-1764) English poet and satirist
Gotham, 2.1.8 (1764)
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Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the road less traveled by and they CANCELLED MY FRIKKIN’ SHOW. I totally shoulda took the road that had all those people on it. Damn.

Joss Whedon (b. 1964) American screenwriter, author, producer [Joseph Hill Whedon]
Bronze Beta board (14 Feb 2004)
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Posted after learning the WB had canceled "Angel".
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Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
Tao te Ching
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Neither human applause nor human censure is to be taken as the test of truth. He who should satisfy himself either with being popular, or with being unpopular, would equally be taking man’s judgment for his standard. But either the one or the other should set us upon careful self-examination.

Richard Whately (1787-1863) English logician, theologian, archbishop
Sermon, Christ Church, Dublin (22 Oct 1837)
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Added on 8-Sep-14 | Last updated 8-Sep-14
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Virtue has never been as respectable as money.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Innocents Abroad, ch. 55 (1869)
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It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

Steve Jobs (1955-2011) American computer inventor, entrepreneur
In BusinessWeek (25 May 1998)
Added on 6-Dec-12 | Last updated 27-Aug-20
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Everybody’s private motto: It’s better to be popular than right.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1902 [ed. Paine (1935)]

Comment on an unlined sheet his papers.
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Popularity is a Crime from the Moment it is sought; it is only a Virtue where Men have it whether they will or no.

George Savile, Marquis of Halifax (1633-1695) English politician and essayist
“Of Ambition,” Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Reflections (1750)
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Added on 31-Jul-12 | Last updated 30-Jan-20
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Poverty must have many satisfactions, else there would not be so many poor people.

Don Herold (1889-1966) American humorist, cartoonist, author
So Human (1924)
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Vanity asks the question — is it popular? Conscience asks the question — is it right?

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Sermon, Passion Sunday, National Cathedral, Washington, DC (31 Mar 1968)

See also this.
Added on 30-Mar-09 | Last updated 19-Jan-15
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Moral cowardice that keeps us from speaking our minds is as dangerous to this country as irresponsible talk. The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.

Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1965) American politician (US Senator, Maine)
Speech, Westbrook Junior College (7 Jun 1953)
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If it has to choose who is to be crucified, the crowd will always save Barabbas.

[S’il faut choisir un crucifié, la foule sauve toujours Barabbas.]

Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) French writer, filmmaker, artist
“Le Coq et l’Arlequin” (1918), Le Rappel à l’ordre (1926)
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Truth is not determined by majority vote.

Doug Gwyn
Doug Gwyn (b. 1959) American minister, theologian, author
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 25-Oct-21
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Conscience is, in most men, an anticipation of the opinion of others.

Henry Taylor (1800-1886) English dramatist, poet, bureaucrat, man of letters
The Statesman: An Ironical Treatise on the Art of Succeeding, ch. 9 (1836)
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When, however, the lay public rallies round an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists and supports that idea with great fervor and emotion — the distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
Fantasy & Science Fiction (in answer to Clarke’s First Law) (1977)

See Clarke.
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