Quotations about   shame

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Few love to hear the sins they love to act.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Pericles, Act 1, sc. 1 (1607)
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To jest at physical deformities is to prove Yourself Unfit to breathe the air of Decency.

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Minna Antrim (1861-1950) American epigrammatist, writer
Don’ts for Bachelors and Old Maids (1908)
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Nothing I accept about myself can be used against me to diminish me.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger,” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984)
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Men are willing to keep their evil characters if they can but get rid of their evil reputations. They are scrupulously studious of appearances.

Frank W. Boreham (1871-1959) Anglo-Australian preacher
“The Leopard’s Skin,” sec. 4, The Three Half-Moons (1929)
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There are crimes I don’t commit mainly because I don’t want to find out I could.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays #124 (2001)
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Our strength is often composed of the weakness that we’re damned if we’re going to show.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Second Neurotics Handbook (1966)
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Throughout our nervous history, we have constructed pyramidic towers of evil, ofttimes in the name of good. Our greed, fear and lasciviousness have enabled us to murder our poets, who are ourselves, to castigate our priests, who are ourselves. The lists of our subversions of the good stretch from before recorded history to this moment. We drop our eyes at the mention of the bloody, torturous Inquisition. Our shoulders sag at the thoughts of African slaves lying spoon-­fashion in the filthy hatches of slave-ships, and the subsequent auction blocks upon which were built great fortunes in our country. We turn our heads in bitter shame at the remembrance of Dachau and the other gas ovens, where millions of ourselves were murdered by millions of ourselves. As soon as we are reminded of our actions, more often than not we spend incredible energy trying to forget what we’ve just been reminded of.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“Facing Evil,” Interview by Bill Moyers (1982)
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Lots of people would be as cowardly as me if they were brave enough.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
The Last Hero (2001)

See also Fuller.
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Shame is not of his soul; nor understood,
The greatest evil and the greatest good.

[οὐδέ οἱ αἰδὼς
γίγνεται, ἥ τ᾽ ἄνδρας μέγα σίνεται ἠδ᾽ ὀνίνησι.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad [Ἰλιάς], Book 24, l. 44ff (24.44) [Apollo] (c. 750 BC) [tr. Pope (1715-20)]
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Speaking of Achilles' mistreatment of Hector's corpse. Pope footnotes: "This is obscure. The original is, 'He has no shame, shame which harms men much, and profits them much.' Dr. Leat, following an ancient critic, thinks the passage an interpolation."

Alternate translations:

And shame, a quality
Of so much weight, that both it helps and hurts excessively
Men in their manners, is not known, nor hath the pow’r to be,
In this man’s being.
[tr. Chapman (1611), l. 47ff]

Shame, man’s blessing or his curse.
[tr. Cowper (1791), l. 58]

Cowper footnotes: "His blessing, if he is properly influenced by it; his curse in its consequences if he is deaf to its dictates."

Nor in him is there sense of shame, which greatly hurts and profits men.
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

Conscience, arbiter of good and ill.
[tr. Derby (1864)]

Neither hath he shame, that doth both harm and profit men greatly.
[tr. Leaf/Lang/Myers (1891)]

That conscience which at once so greatly banes yet greatly boons him that will heed it.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

Neither is shame in his heart, the which harmeth men greatly and profiteth them withal.
[tr. Murray (1924)]

There is not in him any shame; which does much harm to men but profits them also.
[tr. Lattimore (1951)]

He has no shame -- that gift that hinders mortals but helps them, too.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1974)]

No shame in the man,
shame that does great harm or drives men on to good.
[tr. Fagles (1990), l. 52ff]

Shame and respect no
longer he has, which harm men greatly but profit them also.
[tr. Merrill (2007)]
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Oh friends, be men! Deep treasure in your hearts
An honest shame, and, fighting bravely, fear
Each to incur the censure of the rest.
Of men so minded more survive than die,
While dastards forfeit life and glory both.

[ὦ φίλοι ἀνέρες ἔστε, καὶ αἰδῶ θέσθ᾽ ἐνὶ θυμῷ,
ἀλλήλους τ᾽ αἰδεῖσθε κατὰ κρατερὰς ὑσμίνας.
αἰδομένων δ᾽ ἀνδρῶν πλέονες σόοι ἠὲ πέφανται:
φευγόντων δ᾽ οὔτ᾽ ἂρ κλέος ὄρνυται οὔτέ τις ἀλκή.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad [Ἰλιάς], Book 15, l. 561ff (15.561) [Ajax] (c. 750 BC) [tr. Cowper (1791), l. 679ff]
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Original Greek. Alternate translations:

Good friends, bring but yourselves to feel the noble stings of shame
For what ye suffer, and be men. Respect each other’s fame;
For which who strives in shame’s fit fear, and puts on ne’er so far,
Comes oft’ner off. Then stick engag’d; these fugitives of war
Save neither life, nor get renown, nor bear more mind than sheep.
[tr. Chapman (1611), l. 508ff]

O Greeks! respect your fame,
Respect yourselves, and learn an honest shame:
Let mutual reverence mutual warmth inspire,
And catch from breast to breast the noble fire.
On valour's side the odds of combat lie,
The brave live glorious, or lamented die;
The wretch that trembles in the field of fame,
Meets death, and worse than death, eternal shame.
[tr. Pope (1715-20)]

O my friends, be men, and set honour in your hearts, and have reverence for each other during the vehement conflicts. For more of those men who reverence each other are saved than slain; but of the fugitives, neither glory arises, nor any defence.
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

Brave comrades, quit ye now like men;
Bear a stout heart; and in the stubborn fight
Let each to other mutual succour give;
By mutual succour more are sav’d than fall;
In timid flight nor fame nor safety lies.
[tr. Derby (1864)]

My friends, be men, and fear dishonour; quit yourselves in battle so as to win respect from one another. Men who respect each other's good opinion are less likely to be killed than those who do not, but in flight there is neither gain nor glory.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

My friends, be men, and take ye shame in your hearts, and have shame each of the other in the fierce conflict. Of men that have shame more are saved than are slain; but from them that flee springeth neither glory nor any avail.
[tr. Murray (1924)]

Friends, respect yourselves as men,
respect each other in the moil of battle!
Men with a sense of shame survive
more often than they perish. Those who run
have neither fighting power nor any honor.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1974)]

Be men, my friends! Discipline fill your hearts!
Dread what comrades say of you here in bloody combat!
When men dread that, more men come through alive --
when soldiers break and run, good-bye glory,
good-bye all defenses!
[tr. Fagles (1990), l. 651ff]

Now, dear friends, be men, keep hold of your valorous spirit,
feel shame, each on account of the rest in the violent combats;
more of the men who feel such shame live safely than perish,
while from the ones who flee no glory nor any defense springs.
[tr. Merrill (2007), l. 529ff]
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Is there any stab as deep as wondering where and how much you failed those you love?

Florida Scott-Maxwell (1883-1979) American-British playwright, author, psychologist
The Measure of My Days (1968)
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“Why,” said La Belle Isode,”are ye a knight and are no lover? For sooth, it is a great shame to you; wherefore ye may not be called a good knight by reason but if ye make a quarrel for a lady.”

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Thomas Malory (c. 1415-1471) English writer
Le Morte d’Arthur, Book 10, ch. 56 (1485)
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Often paraphrased, "The very purpose of a knight is to fight on behalf of a lady."
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The pain others give passes away in their later kindness, but that of our own blunders, especially when they hurt our vanity, never passes away.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) Irish poet and dramatist
Journal entry #105 (18 Mar 1909)
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See also "Vacillation."
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I was a model child. It was the teacher’s mistake I am sure. The box was drawn on the blackboard and the names of misbehaving children were written in it. As I adored my teacher, Miss Smith, I was destroyed to see my name appear. This was just the first of the many humiliations of my youth that I’ve tried to revenge through my writing. I have never fully exorcised shames that struck me to the heart as a child except through written violence, shadowy caricature, and dark jokes.

Louise Erdrich (b. 1954) American author, poet
Interview with Lisa Halliday, “The Art of Fiction” #208, The Paris Review (Winter 2010)
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On the inspiration behind Dot Adare's 1st Grade teacher putting her into the "naughty box" in The Beet Queen (1986).
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You know, that might be the answer — to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That’s a trick that never seems to fail.

Joseph Heller (1923-1999) American novelist
Catch-22 [Col. Korn] (1961)
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I love being with people. But I need a script, a role, something that will help me overcome my fears of rejection and shame. Most religions and belief systems provide a blueprint for some sort of community. And the religion’s leaders model a way of being. For example, in my book Choke, a character enacts his own death and resurrection every night — as does the narrator in Fight Club. Here’s Jesus, allowing himself to look terrible in front of his peers. That’s the biggest purpose of religious gathering: permission to look terrible in public.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
“Those burnt tongue moments–Chuck Palahniuk in interview”, Interview by Andrew Lawless, Three Monkeys (May 2005)
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For the Communists offer one precious, fatal boon: they take away the sense of sin. It may or may not be debatable whether a man can live without God; but, if it were possible, we should pass a law forbidding a man to live without the sense of sin.

Murray Kempton (1917-1997) American journalist.
Part of Our Time: Some Ruins & Monuments of the Thirties, ch. 1 “The Sheltered Life” (1955)
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DORINE: Those who have the greatest cause for guilt and shame
Are quickest to besmirch a neighbor’s name.

[Ceux de qui la conduite offre le plus à rire
Sont toujours sur autrui les premiers à médire.]

Molière (1622-1673) French playwright, actor [stage name for Jean-Baptiste Poquelin]
Tartuffe, Act 1, sc. 1 (1664) [tr. Wilbur (1963)]
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Alt. trans.:
  • "They whose own conduct is the most ridiculous are always the first to slander others." [tr. Van Laun (1876)]
  • "Since they are always talked about, / They're sniffing other scandal out." [tr. Bolt (2002)]
  • "Those whose conduct gives room for talk / Are always the first to attack their neighbors." [Bartlett's]
Original French.
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Most of the great results of history are brought about by discreditable means.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
The Conduct of Life, “Considerations Along the Way” (1860)
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If you want to know who your friends are, get yourself a jail sentence.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) German-American author, poet
Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969)
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Nothing is more humiliating than seeing fools succeed where one has failed.

[Rien n’est humiliant comme de voir les sots réussir dans les entreprises où l’on échoue.]

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) French writer, novelist
Sentimental Education, Part 1, ch. 5 (1869) [tr. Baldick (1964)/Wall (2004)]
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Alt. trans.:
  • "Nothing is more humiliating than to see idiots succeed in enterprises we have failed in."
  • "There is nothing so humiliating to see as blockheads succeed in undertakings in which we ourselves fail." [Ranout ed. (1922)]
  • "There is nothing so humiliating as to see blockheads succeed in undertakings in which we fail." [tr. Bouvard ed. rev. (2003)]
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And the man who is arrogant belittles his victim. For arrogance is doing and saying things which bring shame to the victim, not in order that something may come out of it for the doer other than the mere fact it happened, but so that he may get pleasure. … The cause of the pleasure enjoyed by those who are arrogant is that they think that in doing ill they are themselves very much superior. That is why the young and the wealthy are arrogant. For they think that in being arrogant they are superior.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Rhetoric, Book 2, ch. 2 (1378b23-29)

Alt. trans.:
  • "Insolence is also a form of slighting, since it consists in doing and saying things that cause shame to the victim, not in order that anything may happen to yourself, or because anything has happened to yourself, but simply for the pleasure involved. ... The cause of the pleasure thus enjoyed by the insolent man is that he thinks himself greatly superior to others when ill-treating them. That is why youths and rich men are insolent; they think themselves superior when they show insolence." [tr. Roberts (1924)]
  • "And he who is insolent to someone also slights him, for insolence is doing and saying such things as are a source of shame to the person suffering them, not so that some other advantage may accrue to the insolent person or because something happened to him, but so that he may gain pleasure thereby .... And a cause of the pleasure the insolent feel is their supposing that, by inflicting harm, they themselves are to a greater degree superior. Hence the young and the wealthy are insolent, for they suppose that, by being insolent, they are superior." [tr. Bartlett (2019)]
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Makeup: Western equivalent of the veil. A daily reminder that something is wrong with women’s normal looks. A public apology.

Marie Shear (1940-2017) American writer and feminist activist
“Media Watch: Celebrating Women’s Words,” New Directions for Women (May/Jun 1986)
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A strong man must be militant as well as moderate. He must be a realist as well as an idealist. If I am to merit the trust invested in me by some of my race, I must be both of these things. This is why nonviolence is a powerful as well as a just weapon. If you confront a man who has long been cruelly misusing you, and say, “Punish me, if you will; I do not deserve it, but I will accept it, so that the world will know I am right and you are wrong,” then you wield a powerful and a just weapon. This man, your oppressor, is automatically morally defeated, and if he has any conscience, he is ashamed. Wherever this weapon is used in a manner that stirs a community’s, or a nation’s, anguished conscience, then the pressure of public opinion becomes an ally in your just cause.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Playboy interview (Jan 1965)
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By virtue of depression, we recall those misdeeds we buried in the depths of our memory. Depression exhumes our shames.

Emile Cioran (1911-1995) Romanian philosopher and essayist [E.M. Cioran]
Anathemas and Admirations, ch. 11 “That Fatal Perspicacity” (1986) [tr. R. Howard (1991)]
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There are several good protections against temptations, but the surest is cowardice.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator, ch. 36, epigraph (1897)
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Guilt hath very quick ears to an accusation.

Henry Fielding (1707-1754) English novelist, dramatist, satirist
Amelia, ch. 11 (1751)
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What do I believe after all? What manner of man am I after all? What sort of show would I make after all, if the people around me knew my heart and all my secret thoughts? What sort of show then do I already make in the sight of Almighty God, who sees every man exactly as he is?

Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) English clergyman, historian, essayist, novelist (pseud. "Parson Lot")
The Good News of God, Sermon 6 “Worship [Isaiah 1:12-13]” (1881)
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And from your policy do not wholly banish fear,
For what man living, freed from fear, will still be just?

aeschylus-freed-from-fear-will-still-be-just-wist_info-quote

Aeschylus (525-456 BC) Greek dramatist (Æschylus)
The Eumenides
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Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.

brown-character-no-one-is-looking-wist_info-quote

H. Jackson "Jack" Brown, Jr. (b. 1940) American writer
P.S. I Love You (1990)

Brown attributed this to a letter his mother wrote him.
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When you have discovered a stain in yourself, you eagerly seek for and gladly find stains in others.

Berthold Auerbach (1812-1882) German author
(Attributed)

Attributed in Maturin M. Ballou, Edge-Tools of Speech (1886).
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You couldn’t get hold of the things you’d done and turn them right again. Such a power might be given to the gods, but it was not given to women and men, and that was probably a good thing. Had it been otherwise, people would probably die of old age still trying to rewrite their teens.

Stephen King (b. 1947) American author
The Stand (1978)
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Under pressure, people admit to murder, setting fire to the village church, or robbing a bank, but never to being bores.

Maxwell - but never to being bores - wist_info quote

Elsa Maxwell (1883-1963) American gossip columnist, author, songwriter, professional hostess
How to Do It, or The Lively Art of Entertaining (1957)
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No man can humiliate me or disturb me. I won’t let him.

Bernard Baruch (1870-1965) American businessman and statesman
(Attributed)

Quoted in Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (1948). When asked by Carnegie if he was troubled by his enemies' attacks.
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If you derive pleasure from the good which you have performed and you grieve for the evil which you have committed, you are a true believer.

Muhammad (570-632) Arabian merchant, prophet, founder of Islam [Mohammed]
The Sayings of Muhammed, #67 [tr. Al-Suhrawardy (1941)]
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The man that blushes is not quite a brute.

Edward Young (1683-1765) English poet
“The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, & Immortality,” Part 7 “The Infidel Reclaimed, Part 2,” l. 496 (1742–1745)
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Man is the Only Animal that Blushes. Or needs to.

Twain - animal that blushes - wist_info quote

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator, ch. 27, epigraph (1897)
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It really hurts me very much to suppose that I have wronged anybody on earth.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Quincy, Illinois (13 Oct 1858)
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Those whom they have injured they also hate.

Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC-AD 65) Roman statesman, philosopher, playwright [Lucius Annaeus Seneca]
Moral Essays, “On Anger [De ira],” 2.33.1 [tr. Basore (1928)]
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A great many people feel “guilty” about things they shouldn’t feel guilty about, in order to shut out feelings of guilt about the things they should feel guilty about.

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
Column, Chicago Daily News (1971)
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If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.

Herman Hesse (1877-1962) German-born Swiss poet, novelist, painter
Demian, ch. 6 (1919)
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BRUTUS: The abuse of greatness is, when it disjoins
Remorse from power.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Julius Caesar, Act 2, Sc. 1, l. 18 (1599)
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The guilty think all talk is of themselves.

Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400) English poet, philosopher, astronomer, diplomat
The Canterbury Tales, “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue” (1390?) [tr. Coghill (1951)]
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Laziness is the sin most willingly confessed to, since it implies talents greater than have yet appeared.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays (2001)
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Things said or done long years ago,
Or things I did not do or say
But thought that I might say or do,
Weigh me down, and not a day
But something is recalled,
My conscience or my vanity appalled.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) Irish poet and dramatist
“Vacillation,” st. 4 (1932), The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933)
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Having been poor is no shame, but being ashamed of it, is.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Poor Richard’s Almanack (1749)
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Accepting praize that iz not our due iz not mutch better than tew be a receiver of stolen goods.

[Accepting praise that is not our due is not much better than to be a receiver of stolen goods.]

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, “Stray Children” (1874)
Added on 29-Apr-15 | Last updated 29-Apr-15
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The secret demerits of which we alone, perhaps, are conscious, are often more difficult to bear than those which have been publicly censured in us, and thus in some degree atoned for.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
Kavanagh: A Tale, ch. 30 (1849)
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Added on 14-Apr-15 | Last updated 16-Apr-21
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The awakenings of remorse, virtuous shame and indignation, the glow of moral approbation,– if they do not lead to action, grow less and less vivid every time they recur, till at length the mind grows absolutely callous.

Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743-1825) English woman of letters, educator, editor [née Aikin]
“An Inquiry into those Kinds of Distress which Excite Agreeable Sensations” (1773)
Added on 6-Apr-15 | Last updated 6-Apr-15
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Talking of the danger of being mortified by rejection, when making approaches to the acquaintance of the great, I observed, “I am, however, generally for trying, ‘Nothing venture, nothing have.'” JOHNSON. “Very true, sir; but I have always been more afraid of failing, than hopeful of success.”

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
Comment (22 Sep 1777)
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In Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) See Heywood.
Added on 13-Jan-15 | Last updated 5-Jan-16
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That what cannot be repaired is not to be regretted.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, ch. 4 (1759)
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Added on 13-Oct-14 | Last updated 13-Oct-14
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Bad rulers … are in constant fear lest others are conspiring to inflict upon them the punishment which they are conscious of deserving.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) Italian politician, philosopher, political scientist
The Discourses on Livy, Book 3, ch. 6 (1517) [tr. Detmold (1882)]
Added on 21-Aug-13 | Last updated 27-Jan-20
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It is always easier to hear an insult and not retaliate than have the courage to fight back against someone stronger than yourself; we can always say we’re not hurt by the stones others throw at us, and it’s only at night — when we’re alone and our wife or our husband or our school friend is asleep — that we can silently grieve over our own cowardice.

Paulo Coelho (b. 1947) Brazilian spiritual writer
The Devil and Miss Prym (2000)
Added on 14-Mar-13 | Last updated 3-Feb-20
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It is an embarrassment to the possessor to have more than he needs.

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
Sententiae [Moral Sayings], #1063 [tr. Lyman (1862)]
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Ignorance maketh most Men go into a Party, and Shame keepeth them from getting out of it.

George Savile, Marquis of Halifax (1633-1695) English politician and essayist
“Of Parties,” Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections (1750)
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Added on 4-May-12 | Last updated 30-Jan-20
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