Quotations about   posterity

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When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something. Our children and their children will ask us, “What did you do? What did you say?” For some, this vote may be hard. But we have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.

John Lewis
John Lewis (1940-2020) American politician and civil rights leader
Speech, House of Representatives (18 Dec 2019)
    (Source)


During the House vote to impeach Donald Trump.
 
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Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

Timothy Snyder (b. 1969) American historian, author
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, ch. 18 (2017)
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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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Then welcome fate!
‘Tis true I perish, yet I perish great:
Yet in a mighty deed I shall expire,
Let future ages hear it, and admire!

[νῦν αὖτέ με μοῖρα κιχάνει.
μὴ μὰν ἀσπουδί γε καὶ ἀκλειῶς ἀπολοίμην,
ἀλλὰ μέγα ῥέξας τι καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad [Ἰλιάς], Book 22, l. 303ff (22.303) [Hector] (c. 750 BC) [tr. Pope (1715-20), l. 385ff]
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Original Greek. Alternate translations:

But Fate now conquers; I am hers; and yet not she shall share
In my renown; that life is left to every noble spirit,
And that some great deed shall beget that all lives shall inherit.
[tr. Chapman (1611), l. 266ff]

But I will not fall
Inglorious; I will act some great exploit
That shall be celebrated ages hence.
[tr. Cowper (1791), l. 347ff]

Fate overtakes me. Nevertheless I will not perish cowardly and ingloriously at least, but having done some great deed to be heard of even by posterity.
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

My fate hath found me now.
Yet not without a struggle let me die,
Nor all inglorious; but let some great act,
Which future days may hear of, mark my fall.
[tr. Derby (1864)]

Now my fate hath found me. At least let me not die without a struggle or ingloriously, but in some great deed of arms whereof men yet to be born shall hear.
[tr. Leaf/Lang/Myers (1891)]

My doom has come upon me; let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

Now again is my doom come upon me. Nay, but not without a struggle let me die, neither ingloriously, but in the working of some great deed for the hearing of men that are yet to be.
[tr. Murray (1924)]

But now my death is upon me. Let me at least not die without a struggle, inglorious, but do some big thing first, that men to come shall know of it.
[tr. Lattimore (1951)]

Now the appointed time's upon me. Still, I would not die without delivering a stroke, or die ingloriously, but in some action memorable to men in days to come.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1974)]

So now I meet my doom. Well let me die --
but not without struggle, not without glory, no,
in some great clash of arms that even men to come
will hear of down the years!
[tr. Fagles (1990), l. 359ff]

But now has my doom overcome me. But let me at least not die without making a fight, without glory, but a great deed having done for the men of the future to hear of.
[tr. Merrill (2007)]

May I not die without a fight and without glory
but after doing something big for men to come to learn about.
[tr. @Sentantiq (2011)]

 
Added on 24-Mar-21 | Last updated 8-Dec-21
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If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright.

Amanda Gorman (b. 1998) American poet and activist
“The Hill We Climb” (2021)
    (Source)


Read at the Presidential Inauguration (20 Jan 2021).
 
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As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity.
The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber
Burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning.
So one generation of men will grow while another dies.

[Οἵη περ φύλλων γενεὴ τοίη δὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν.
φύλλα τὰ μέν τ’ ἄνεμος χαμάδις χέει, ἄλλα δέ θ’ ὕλη
τηλεθόωσα φύει, ἔαρος δ’ ἐπιγίγνεται ὥρη·
ὣς ἀνδρῶν γενεὴ ἣ μὲν φύει ἣ δ’ ἀπολήγει.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad [Ἰλιάς], Book 6, l. 146ff (6.146-149) (c. 750 BC) [tr. Lattimore (1951)]
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Like the race of leaves
The race of man is, that deserves no question; nor receives
My being any other breath? The wind in autumn strows
The earth with old leaves, then the spring the woods with new endows;
And so death scatters men on earth, so life puts out again
Man’s leavy issue.
[tr. Chapman (1611), l. 141ff]

Like leaves on trees the race of man is found,
Now green in youth, now withering on the ground:
Another race the following spring supplies,
They fall successive, and successive rise:
So generations in their course decay;
So flourish these, when those are past away.
[tr. Pope (1715-20)]


For, as the leaves, such is the race of man.
The wind shakes down the leaves, the budding grove
Soon teems with others, and in spring they grow.
So pass mankind. One generation meets
Its destined period, and a new succeeds.
[tr. Cowper (1791), l. 175ff]

As is the race of leaves, even such is the race of men. Some leaves the wind sheds upon the ground, but the fructifying wood produces others, and these grow up in the season of spring. Such is the generation of men; one produces, another ceases.
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

The race of man is as the race of leaves:
Of leaves, one generation by the wind
Is scatter'd on the earth; another soon
In spring's luxuriant verdure bursts to light.
So with our race; these flourish, those decay.
[tr. Derby (1864)]


Even as are the generations of leaves such are those likewise of men; the leaves that be the wind scattereth on the earth, and the forest buddeth and putteth forth more again, when the season of spring is at hand; so of the generations of men one putteth forth and another ceaseth.
[tr. Leaf/Lang/Myers (1891)]

Men come and go as leaves year by year upon the trees. Those of autumn the wind sheds upon the ground, but when spring returns the forest buds forth with fresh vines. Even so is it with the generations of mankind, the new spring up as the old are passing away.
[tr. Butler (1898)]


Even as are the generations of leaves, such are those also of men. As for the leaves, the wind scattereth some upon the earth, but the forest, as it bourgeons, putteth forth others when the season of spring is come; even so of men one generation springeth up and another passeth away.
[tr. Murray (1924)]


Very like leaves upon this earth are the generations of men -- old leaves, cast on the ground by wind, young leaves the greening forest bears when spring comes in. So mortals pass; one generation flowers even as another dies away.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1974)]


Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men.
Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth,
now the living timber bursts with the new buds
and spring comes round again. And so with men:
as one generation comes to life, another dies away.
[tr. Fagles (1990), ll. 171-75]
 
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The future has no lobby.

Peter G. Peterson (1926-2018) American investment banker, author, politician
“The Morning After,” Atlantic (Oct 1987)
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There is a raging tiger inside every man whom God put on this earth. Every man worthy of the respect of his children spends his life building inside himself a cage to pen that tiger in.

Murray Kempton (1917-1997) American journalist.
America Comes of Middle Age: Columns, 1950-1962 (1963)
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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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The real and lasting victories are those of peace and not of war.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Worship,” The Conduct of Life, ch. 6 (1860)
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That the beauty of life is a thing of no moment, I suppose few people would venture to assert, and yet most civilized people act as if it were of none, and in so doing are wronging themselves and those that are to come after them; for that beauty, which is what is meant by art, using the word in its widest sense, is, I contend, no mere accident to human life, which people can take or leave as they choose, but a positive necessity of life, if we are to live as nature meant us to; that is, unless we are content to be less than men.

William Morris (1834-1896) British textile designer, writer, socialist activist
“The Beauty of Life,” lecture, Birmingham Society of Arts and School of Design (19 Feb 1880)
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If glory comes after death, I hurry not.

[Si post fata venit gloria, non propero.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 5, epigram 10 (5.10) [tr. Rush]


Alt. trans.: "If glory comes only after death I am in no hurry for it." [tr. Bohn (1871)]
 
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When you teach your son, you teach your son’s son.

The Talmud (AD 200-500) Collection of Jewish rabbinical writings
Seder Nashim, Kiddushin 30a


Paraphrase of "This serves to say to you that whoever teaches his son Torah, the verse ascribes him credit as though he taught him, and his son, and his son’s son, until the end of all generations" (alt. trans. "to him who teaches his son Torah, the Writ ascribes merit as though he had taught him, his son and his son's son until the end of all time!"). This is in turn referenced to Deut. 4:9.
 
Added on 27-Jul-17 | Last updated 31-Jul-17
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Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
(Attributed)
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Recounted in the Pennsylvania School Journal, Vol. 46, #7 (Jan 1898) as an anecdote from a clergyman printed in the New York Tribune.
 
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A teacher’s major contribution may pop out anonymously in the life of some ex-student’s grandchild.

Wendell Berry (b. 1934) American farmer, educator, poet, conservationist
“Wallace Stegner and the Great Community,” What Are People For? (1990)
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In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and in eternity.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Annual Message to Congress (1 Dec 1862)
 
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The proper time to influence the character of a child is about a hundred years before he is born.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
More Lay Thoughts of a Dean (1931)
 
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The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.

nelson-ultimate-test-of-mans-conscience-wist_info-quote

Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005) American politician and environmentalist
“Ah, Wilderness! Save It,” New York Times (4 Sep 1984)
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Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to Abigail Adams (26 Apr 1777)
    (Source)
 
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Consider as well that, however one may sing the praises of those who by their virtue either defend or increase the glory of their country, their actions only affect worldly prosperity, and within narrow limits. But the man who sets fallen learning on its feet (and this is almost more difficult than to originate it in the first place) is building up a sacred and immortal thing, and serving not one province alone but all peoples and all generations. Once this was the task of princes, and it was the greatest glory of Ptolemy. But his library was contained between the narrow walls of its own house, and Aldus is building up a library which has no other limits than the world itself.

Desiderius Erasmus (1465-1536) Dutch humanist philosopher and scholar
The Adages, “Make Haste Slowly [Festina Lente]” (1508 ed.)
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Discussing the Aldine Press, the first modern publishing house. In Margaret Mann Phillips, ed., Erasmus on His Times (1967).
 
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Teachers need our active support and encouragement. They are doing one of the most necessary and exacting jobs in the land. They are developing our most precious national resource: our children, our future citizens.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Centennial Celebration Banquet, National Education Association (4 Apr 1957)
 
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A politician, for example, is a man who thinks of the next election; while the statesman thinks of the next generation.

James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888) American theologian and author
“Wanted, a Statesman!”, Old and New Magazine (Dec 1870)
    (Source)


Often paraphrased: "A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation."
 
Added on 19-Sep-14 | Last updated 19-Sep-14
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What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British statesman and author
Speech, Dundee (10 Oct 1908)
 
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I am certain that after the dust of centuries have passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Speech (29 Nov 1962)
 
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It behooves all men who wish to excel the other animals to strive with might and main not to pass through life unheralded, like the beasts, which Nature has fashioned groveling and slaves to the belly. All our power, on the contrary, lies in both mind and body; we employ the mind to rule, the body rather to serve; the one we have in common with the Gods, the other with the brutes. Therefore I find it becoming, in seeking renown, that we should employ the resources of the intellect rather than those of brute strength, to the end that, since the span of life which we enjoy is short, we may make the memory of our lives as long as possible.

[Omnis homines qui sese student praestare ceteris animalibus summa ope niti decet ne vitam silentio transeant veluti pecora, quae natura prona atque ventri oboedientia finxit. Sed nostra omnis vis in animo et corpore sita est; animi imperio, corporis servitio magis utimur; alterum nobis cum dis, alterum cum beluis commune est. Quo mihi rectius videtur ingeni quam virium opibus gloriam quaerere et, quoniam vita ipsa qua fruimur brevis est, memoriam nostri quam maxume longam efficere.]

Sallust (c. 86-35 BC) Roman historian and politician [Gaius Sallustius Crispus]
Bellum Catilinae [The War of Catiline; The Conspiracy of Catiline], ch. 1, sent. 1-3 [tr. Rolfe (1931)]
    (Source)


Original Latin. Alt. trans.:

"To maintain the dignity of human nature is the true ambition of man; and to that end it becomes the duty of all, who aspire to distinguish themselves from the race of inferior animals, to exert their most strenuous efforts, lest they pass their days in silence, like the herds of the field, formed by nature prone to the earth, and governed altogether by the incitements of appetite. Man is composed of mind and body, and in the exercise of both consists the energy of his nature. The mind is the directing principle; the body is subservient. The former we participate with the gods; the latter we hold in common with the brute creation. Hence the fame acquired by our intellectual powers has ever appeared to me the truest glory, far superior to all that can be achieved by mere corporeal vigor; and since the life we enjoy is frail and transitory, it should be the endeavour of every man to extend his fame, and leave a lasting memorial of his existence." [tr. Murphy (1807)]

"Men who would act up to the dignity of their nature ought not to pass their lives in obscurity, like the beasts of the field, formed with bodies prone to the earth, and under necessary subjection to their appetites. Now, our faculties are twofold; those of the soul, and those of the body: the soul was designed for sovereign command, the body for subjection: the former we enjoy in common with the gods, the latter with the brute creation. So that to me it appears more agreeable to nature to pursue glory by the abilities of the mind than those of the body; and as our lives are but of short duration, it should be our study to render our memory immortal." [tr. Rose (1831)]

"It becomes all men, who are anxious that they should excel other animals, to strive with their utmost might that they may not pass their life in silence like cattle, which nature has formed with their faces downwards, and slaves to their belly. But all our vigour is placed in the mind and in the body. We for the most part make use of the government of the mind, the submission of the body. The one we have in common with the gods, and the other with brutes. Wherefore it appears to me more proper to seek for glory by the abilities of the mind rather than by those of mere force; and since that life which we enjoy is short, to make the memory of ourselves as lasting as possible." [Source (1841)]

"It becomes all men, who desire to excel other animals, to strive, to the utmost of their power, not to pass through life in obscurity, like the beasts of the field, which nature has formed groveling and subservient to appetite. All our power is situated in the mind and in the body. Of the mind we rather employ the government; of the body, the service. The one is common to us with the gods; the other with the brutes. It appears to me, therefore, more reasonable to pursue glory by means of the intellect than of bodily strength, and, since the life which we enjoy is short, to make the remembrance of us as lasting as possible." [tr. Watson (1867)]

"Every man who is anxious to excel the lower animals should strive with all his power not to pass his life in obscurity like the brute beasts, whom nature has made the grovelling slaves of their belly. Now our whole ability resides jointly in our mind and body. In the case of the mind it is its power of guidance, in the case of the body its obedient service that we rather use, sharing the former faculty with the gods, the latter with the brute creation. This being so, I think it right to seek repute by my powers rather of intellect than of strength, and since the very life which we enjoy is short, to make the memory of us as abiding as may be." [tr. Pollard (1882)]

"All persons who are enthusiastic that they should transcend the other animals ought to strive with the utmost effort not to pass through a life of silence like the cattle, which nature has fashioned to be prone and obedient to their stomachs. Our entire power resides in the mind as well as the body: we use the mind to command, the body to serve; the former we share wit the gods, the latter with the beasts. Therefore it seems to me more correct to seek glory with our intellectual rather than with our physical resources, and, because the very life that we enjoy is short, to ensure that a recollection of ourselves lasts as long as possible. [tr. Woodman (2007)]
 
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All things pass in time. We are far less significant than we imagine ourselves to be. All that we are, all that we have wrought, is but a shadow, no matter how durable it may seem. One day, when the last man has breathed his last breath, the sun will shine, the mountains will stand, the rain will fall, the streams will whisper — and they will not miss him.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Princeps’ Fury (2008)
 
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Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
(Spurious)


Widely attributed to Marcus Aurelius, but no actual citation found, and with some discrepancies to his philosophy. The closest match appears to be Meditations 2.11, but it is a very poor match.

More information:
 
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Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; riches take wings; the only earthly certainty is oblivion ….

Horace Greeley (1881-1872) American newspaper editor, reformer, politician
Recollections of a Busy Life, ch. 18 (1868)
    (Source)


Quoted by Mark Twain in his Notebook (1869), and often attributed to him. Frequently misquoted as "Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; riches take wings; those who cheer today will curse tomorrow; only one thing endures: character." More discussion of this quotation here.
 
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Next to God, we are indebted to women, first for life itself, and then for making it worth having.

Christian Nestell Bovee (1820-1904) American epigrammatist, writer, publisher
Thoughts, Feelings, and Fancies (1857)
 
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For of those to whom much is given, much is required. And when at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each of us — recording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities to the state — our success or failure, in whatever office we hold, will be measured by the answers to four questions:

First, were we truly men of courage — with the courage to stand up to one’s enemies — and the courage to stand up, when necessary, to one’s associates — the courage to resist public pressure, as well as private greed?

Secondly, were we truly men of judgment — with perceptive judgment of the future as well as the past — of our mistakes as well as the mistakes of others — with enough wisdom to know what we did not know and enough candor to admit it.

Third, were we truly men of integrity — men who never ran out on either the principles in which we believed or the men who believed in us — men whom neither financial gain nor political ambition could ever divert from the fulfillment of our sacred trust?

Finally, were we truly men of dedication — with an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group, and comprised of no private obligation or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest?

Courage — judgment — integrity — dedication — these are the historic qualities … which, with God’s help … will characterize our Government’s conduct in the four stormy years that lie ahead.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Address to the Massachusetts legislature (9 Jan 1961)
    (Source)


As President-elect. The reference is to Luke 12:48.
 
Added on 18-Jan-08 | Last updated 14-Oct-19
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When a tiger dies, it leaves its skin behind. When a person dies, he leaves his name behind.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Chinese proverb
 
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One generation plants the trees, and another gets the shade.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Chinese proverb
 
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When we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) American political philosopher and writer
Common Sense (14 Feb 1776)


Source essay
 
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If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) American political philosopher and writer
“The American Crisis” #1 (19 Dec 1776)


Source essay
 
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