Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

“H” Quotations



  • Habit, a particularly insidious thug who chokes passion and smothers love. Habit puts us on autopilot. Diane Ackerman, in A Natural History of Love (1994)

QUOTE NOTE: See the similar observation just below by Antoine-Dariaux and later by Balzac in MARRIAGE

  • Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit. Henry Brooks Adams, in The Education of Henry Adams (1907)
  • Habit is the chloroform of love. Habit is the cement that unites long-wedded couples. Genevieve Antoine-Dariaux, “Habit,” in The Men in Your Life (1968)

These were the opening lines of a short poem that continued this way: “Habit is getting stuck in the mud of daily routine./Habit is the fog that masks the most beautiful scenery./Habit is the end of everything.”

  • Every habit he’s ever had is still there in his body, lying dormant like flowers in the desert. Given the right conditions, all his old addictions would burst into full and luxuriant bloom. Margaret Atwood, the narrator describing the character Snowman, in Oryx and Crake (2004)
  • Habit is a compromise effected between an individual and his environment. Samuel Beckett, in Proust (1931)
  • The air is full of our cries. But habit is a great deadener. Samuel Beckett, the character Vladimir speaking, in Waiting for Godot (1955)
  • Habit, n. A shackle for the free. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Old habits are strong and jealous. Dorothea Brande, in Becoming a Writer (1934)
  • Habit is persistence in practice. Octavia Butler, “Furor Scribendi” (1993), in Bloodchild: And Other Stories (1996)

This was the conclusion to a passage that began: “Forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t.” Furor Scribendi is Latin for “A Rage for Writing.” Butler's essay, which presented six rules for aspiring writers, orginally appeared in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Vol. IX (1993)

  • Habit with him was all the test of truth,/“It must be right: I’ve done it from my youth.” George Crabbe, “The Vicar,” in The Borough (1810)
  • Habit has a kind of poetry. Simone de Beauvoir, in The Coming of Age (1970)
  • It seems, in fact, as though the second half of a man’s life is usually made up of nothing but the habits he has accumulated during the first half. Fyodor Dostoevsky, the character Nikolai speaking, in The Possessed (1872)

QUOTE NOTE: The novel was presented in installment form in The Russian Messenger in 1871-72. It was titled The Possessed when it first appeared in English, but recent translations have titled it The Devils, or simply Demons.

  • One nail drives out another; habit is overcome by habit. Desiderius Erasmus, the character Nephalius speaking, in Diluculum (1529)

QUOTE NOTE: Some translations present the final phrase as custom is overcome by custom.

  • ’Tis easier to prevent bad habits than to break them. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Oct., 1745)
  • People who appear to be resisting change may simply be the victim of bad habits. Habit, like gravity, never takes a day off. Paul Gibbons, in The Science of Successful Organizational Change (2015)
  • Things start as hopes and end up as habits. Lillian Hellman, in Days to Come (1936)
  • Habits are the shorthand of behavior. Julie Henderson, in The Lover Within (1986)
  • Habit is thus the enormous fly-wheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. William James, in The Principles of Psychology (1890)

James added: “It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance, and saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor.”

  • The chains of habit are too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. Dr. Samuel Johnson, widely attributed, but wrongly

ERROR ALERT: This observation is widely quoted, but has never appeared in this phrasing in any of Johnson’s works. It is, however, a faithful paraphrase of what Johnson believed. In the allegorical tale The Vision of Theodore: Hermit of Teneriffe (1748), Johnson wrote: “It was the peculiar artifice of Habit not to suffer her power to be felt at first.” And then, continuing to describe habit in feminine terms, he added: “(She) was continually doubling her chains upon her companions; which were so slender in themselves, and so silently fastened…they were not easily perceived. Each link grew tighter as it had been longer worn; and when, by continual additions, they became so heavy as to be felt, they were very frequently too strong to be broken.”

  • Habit is a cable. We weave a thread of it every day, and at last we cannot break it. Horace Mann, in Thoughts Selected from the Writings of Horace Mann (1872)
  • One will rarely err if extreme actions be ascribed to vanity, ordinary actions to habit, and mean actions to fear. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Human, All Too Human (1878)
  • Ill habits gather by unseen degrees—/As brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas. Ovid, in Metamorphoses (1st c. A.D.)
  • Youth is the seed-time of good habits, as well in nations as in individuals. Thomas Paine, in Common Sense (1776)
  • For the ordinary business of life, an ounce of habit is worth a pound of intellect. Thomas B. Reed, in speech at Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine; July 25, 1902)
  • Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. Gretchen Rubin, in a blog post (May 6, 2014)

This lovely metaphor came in a post in which Rubin presented the first in a series of web videos on habit-formation. For more, go to Rubin on Habits

  • But names, once they are in common use, quickly become mere sounds, their etymology being buried, like so many of the earth’s marvels, beneath the dust of habit. Salman Rushdie, the voice of the narrator, in The Satanic Verses: A Novel (1988)

A few moments later, the narrator added: “The commonplace eventually becomes invisible.”

  • To uproot an old habit is sometimes a more painful thing, and vastly more difficult, than to wrench out a tooth. Samuel Smiles, “Character: The True Gentleman,” in Self-Help (1856)
  • Powerful indeed is the empire of habit. Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae (1st c. B.C.)
  • Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar,” in Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)
  • It is the habit of having habits, of turning a trail into a rut, that must be incessantly fought against if one is to remain alive. Edith Wharton, in A Backward Glance: An Autobiography (1934)
  • Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame. Virginia Woolf, in Mrs. Dalloway (1925)



  • You cannot begin to preserve any species of animal unless you preserve the habitat in which it dwells. Disturb or destroy that habitat and you will exterminate the species as surely as if you had shot it. Gerald Durrell, in Two in the Bush (1966)

Durrell continued: “Conservation means that you have to preserve forest and grassland, river and lake, even the sea itself. This is vital not only for the preservation of animal life generally, but for the future existence of man himself—a point that seems to escape many people.”



  • As it does with so many other stimuli, the phenomenon known as “habituation” also operates when it comes to violence. The greater the level of detachment and numbing, the more of the stimulus is needed to bring about what marketing strategists call “arousal” and, in turn, to produce whatever pleasure the activity can bring. Sissela Bok, in Mayhem: Violence As Public Entertainment (1998)


(see also FOG and HAZE and MIST and RAIN and SNOW and WEATHER)

  • If the fog comes on little cat feet, then hail comes on wild pony hooves. Patricia Penton Leimbach, playing off the famous Carl Sandburg line about fog, in All My Meadows (1977)



  • Hair is sexy. Hair brings one’s self-image into focus; it is vanity’s proving ground. Shana Alexander, “Hair Is Terribly Personal,” in Life magazine (1966)

Alexander went on to add: “Hair is terribly personal, a tangle of mysterious prejudices.”

  • His hair stood upright like porcupine quills. Giovanni Boccaccio, describing a frightened Anastasio, in Decameron (1358)
  • People get real comfortable with their features. Nobody gets comfortable with their hair. Hair trauma. It’s the universal thing. Jamie Lee Curtis, quoted in U. S. magazine (Feb. 21, 1991)
  • Hair style is the final tip-off whether or not a woman really knows herself. Hubert de Givenchy, quoted in Vogue magazine (July, 1985)
  • I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair. Oscar Hammerstein II, title of song (1949)
  • One hair of a woman can draw more than a hundred pair of oxen. James Howell, letter to T. D,. Esquire (Dec. 4, 1637); reprinted in Epistolae Ho-Elianae: Familiar Letters (1655)
  • Beauty draws us with a single hair. Alexander Pope, in The Rape of the Lock (1712)


(see also BEARD and BLONDE and HAIR)

  • By common consent gray hairs are a crown of glory; the only object of respect that can never excite envy. George Bancroft, in Literary and Historical Miscellanies (1855)
  • Gray hair is God’s graffiti. Bill Cosby, remark made on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (March 13, 1984)
  • These gray bristles were, he knew, the advance scouts of a relentless, wintry invasion. And there would be no stopping the march of the hours, the days, the years. Irvin D. Yalom, in When Nietzsche Wept (1992)

QUOTE NOTE: Yalom was describing the reaction of the fictional Dr. Josef Breuer when examining his graying beard in a mirror.



  • Between the two poles of whole-truth and half-truth is slung the chancy hammock in which we all rock. Shana Alexander, in Talking Woman (1976)
  • The problem with half-truths, I’m discovering, is that they are also half-lies. Kimberly Belle, the narrator and protagonist Abigail Wolff speaking, in The Ones We Trust: A Novel (2015)
  • Half-truth is the coin of the Hollywood realm. John Gregory Dunne, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1996)
  • What a half-truth a diary presents. Käthe Kollwitz, a 1925 diary entry, in The Diaries and Letters of Käthe Kollwitz (1955; Hans Kollwitz, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the conclusion to the following larger passage: “Recently I began reading my old diaries. Back to before the war. Gradually I became very depressed. The reason for that is probably that I wrote only when there were obstacles and halts to the flow of life, seldom when everything was smooth and even. So there were at most brief notes when things went well with Hans [her son], but long pages when he lost his balance. And I wrote nothing when Karl [her husband] and I felt that we belonged intimately to one another and made each other happy, but long pages when we did not harmonize. As I read I distinctly felt what a half-truth a diary presents.”

  • A half-truth, like half a brick, is always more forcible as an argument than a whole one. It carries better. Stephen Leacock, in The Garden of Folly (1924)
  • The blind heart is worse than the blind eye,/And the half-truth more dangerous than the lie. Jan Struther, “For Stephen Vincent Benét,” in A Pocketful of Pebbles (1946)


(see also NAPS and RELAXATION and SIESTA and SUMMER)

  • Between the two poles of whole-truth and half-truth is slung the chancy hammock in which we all rock. Shana Alexander, in Talking Woman (1976)
  • “I sleep in a hammock, which requires no making up; I break an egg for my breakfast and sip it raw from the shell; I make lemonade in a glass and then rinse the glass—and my housework is done for the day.” Elizabet Ney, a sign in her sculptor’s studio in Austin, Texas (circa 1905), quoted in Louise Bernikow, The American Women’s Almanac (1997)
  • Tropical nights are hammocks for lovers. Anaïs Nin, a 1940 diary entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 3 (1969)
  • Naps are nature’s way of reminding you that life is really kind of…nice. Like a beautiful, softly swinging hammock strung between birth and infinity. Peggy Noonan, in a 1998 Good Housekeeping magazine (specific issue undetermined)

A bit earlier in the article, Noonan wrote: “I have always believed that a nap is a short vacation, and wherever I have worked, I have always considered 4:00 PM to be lie-down-and-check-out time.”

  • May we learn to honor the hammock, the siesta, the nap and the pause in all its forms. Alice Walker, in The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way (2013)

Walker introduced the subject by writing:“People who work hard often work too hard.”



  • And now let me ask you, my friend, whether you do not think, that many of our disappointments and much of our unhappiness arise from our forming false notions of things and persons. Abigail Adams, in letter to Mrs. H. Lincoln (Oct. 5, 1761)

Mrs. Adams continued: “We create a fairy land of happiness. Fancy is fruitful and promises fair, but, like the dog in the fable, we catch at a shadow, and when we find the disappointment, we are vexed, not with ourselves…but with the poor, innocent thing or person of whom we have formed such strange ideas.”

  • All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue. John Adams, in Thoughts on Government (1776)
  • The happiness of society is the end of government. John Adams, in Thoughts on Government (1776)
  • Happiness is a tide; it carries you only a little way at a time; but you have covered a vast space before you know that you are moving at all. Mary Adams (pen name of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps), in Confessions of a Wife (1902)
  • True happiness is of a retired nature, and an enemy to pomp and noise; it arises, in the first place, from the enjoyment of one’s self; and, in the next, from the friendship and conversation of a few select companions. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (March 17, 1711)

Addison continued: “It loves shade and solitude, and naturally haunts groves and fountains, fields and meadows; in short, it feels everything it wants within itself, and receives no addition from multitudes of witnesses and spectators.” Addison went on to contrast true and false happiness. Written more than three centuries ago, it’s still worth reading. Go to False Happiness.

  • He that is discontented in one place will seldom be happy in another. Aesop, “The Ass and His Masters,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • Rancor in the bosom is the foe of personal happiness. Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), in The Divine Propagandist (1962)

Beaverbrook preceded the thought by writing: “Hatred rarely does any harm to its object. It is the hater who suffers. His soul is warped and his life poisoned by dwelling on past injuries or projecting schemes of revenge.”

  • Happiness was simply something that occurred in a well-regulated life. Brian Aldiss, the voice of the narrator, in the short story “Steppenpferd,” in Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine (February 2000)
  • If you would have your home and your surroundings happy, be happy. You can transform everything around you if you will transform yourself. James Allen, in Above Life’s Turmoil (1910)
  • He who would be blest, let him scatter blessings. He who would be happy, let him consider the happiness of others. James Allen, in Above Life’s Turmoil (1910)
  • Happy domestic life is like a beautiful summer’s evening; the heart is filled with peace; and everything around derives a peculiar glory. The full heart says, “It is good to be here.” Hans Christian Andersen, in The True Story of My Life: A Sketch (1847)
  • Happiness is like the bluebird of Maeterlinck: try to catch it and it loses its color. It’s like trying to hold water in your hands. The more you squeeze it, the more it runs away. Michelangelo Antonioni, in Pierre Billard, “An Interview with Michelangelo Antonioni,” a Nov., 1965 interview in Cinéma 65; reprinted in English in L'Avventura: A Film by Michelangelo Antonioni (1969)
  • Virtue’s true reward is happiness itself, for which the virtuous work, whereas if they worked for honor, it would no longer be virtue, but ambition. Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Theologica (1265–1274)
  • If happiness is activity in accordance with excellence, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest excellence. Aristotle, in Nichomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)
  • One swallow does not make a summer, neither does one fine day; similarly, one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy. Aristotle, in Nichomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the origin of the proverb one swallow doesn’t make a summer, meaning that it is foolish to generalize from a single occurrence.

  • Happiness, whether consisting in pleasure or excellence, or both, is more often found with those who are most highly cultivated in their mind and in their character, and have only a moderate share of external goods, than among those who possess external goods to a useless extent but are deficient in higher qualities. Aristotle, in Politics (4th c. B.C.)
  • Happiness is doing it rotten your own way. Isaac Asimov, in I, Asimov (1994)
  • No human being can make another one happy. W. H. Auden, “PostScript: The Frivolous & the Earnest,” in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)

Auden preceded the thought by writing: “My duty towards God is to be happy; my duty towards my neighbor is to try my best to give him pleasure and alleviate his pain.”

  • A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of. Jane Austen, the character Fanny Price speaking, in Mansfield Park (1814)
  • If one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere. Jane Austen, the character Mrs. Grant speaking, in Mansfield Park (1814)

QUOTE NOTE: Mrs. Grant is attempting to challenge the thinking of her half-sister Mary Crawford, who has just asserted: “There is not one in a hundred of either sex who is not taken in when they marry.” This is true, Mary continued, because marriage is “of all transactions the one in which people expect most from others, and are least honest with themselves.” Mrs. Grant preceded her thought above by saying: “I beg your pardon, but I cannot quite believe you. Depend upon it, you see but half. There will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happiness fails….”

  • Most people in this world are about as happy as they have made up their minds to be. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: For more than a century this observation (in a number of similarly-worded versions) has been mistakenly attributed to Abraham Lincoln. In The Quote Verifier (2006), quotation expert Ralph Keyes wrote: “No evidence has been offered that he [Lincoln] ever said or wrote this.” For more on the history of the quotation, see this 2012 post by Garson O’Toole, the Quote Investigator.

  • Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites attribute this quotation to Nathaniel Hawthorne, but it has never been found in his works.

  • Never put the key to your happiness in someone else’s pocket. Author Unknown
  • One of the lessons to be learnt by humanity at the present time…is how few material things are really necessary to life and happiness. Alice Bailey, in The Reappearance of the Christ (1947)
  • Happiness is a small and unworthy goal for something as big and fancy as a whole lifetime, and should be taken in small doses. Russell Baker, “How to Get There From Here,” in The New York Times (June 27, 1978)

Baker introduced the thought by writing: “Stay away from all movements, faiths, philosophies, and people who threaten to help you find happiness.”

  • I tell you, my friend, all happiness depends on courage and work. I have had many periods of wretchedness, but with energy, and above all with illusions, I pulled through them all. That is why I still hope, and hope much. Honoré de Balzac, in letter to M. Laurent-Jan (Dec. 10, 1849); reprinted in Honoré de Balzac: A Memoir (1900; K. P. Wormeley, ed.)
  • Happiness sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open. John Barrymore, quoted in Coronet magazine (March, 1950)
  • The lovely thing about real happiness is that it is there all of a sudden, unexpected, weightless as a little summer cloud and just as radiant and intangible. Vicki Baum, in I Know What I’m Worth (1964)
  • The trouble is not that we are never happy—it is that happiness is so episodical. Ruth Benedict, journal entry (Oct., 1912), in An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict (1959; Margaret Mead, ed.)
  • The happiest excitement in life is to be convinced that one is fighting for all one is worth on behalf of some clearly seen and deeply felt good, and against some greatly scorned evil. Ruth Benedict, an undated journal entry (written between 1915–34), in An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict (1959; Margaret Mead, ed.)
  • Happiness is good health and a bad memory. Ingrid Bergman, quoted in Charlotte Chandler, Ingrid: Ingrid Bergman, A Personal Biography (2008)

QUOTE NOTE: In the bad memory portion of the observation, Bergman was thinking about the value of forgetting some of our more regrettable moments. She introduced the thought by saying: “I had it all—even if I did muddle some of it. Sometimes I hurt myself. That’s the way life is. I took the risks.”

  • When we are not rich enough to be able to purchase happiness, we must not approach too near and gaze on it in shop windows. Tristan Bernard, in Le Danseur Inconnu (1907)
  • Happiness, n. An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Human happiness consists in having what you want, and wanting what you have. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), “Plum Pits,” in “Affurisms” section of Everybody’s Friend, or; Josh Billing’s [sic] Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor (1874)

QUOTE NOTE: This perfect example of chiasmus was originally presented in Billings’s signature dialect style: “Human happiness konsists in having what yu want, and wanting what yu have.”

  • We are happy in this world just in proportion as we make others happy. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), “Parboils,” in “Affurisms” section of Everybody’s Friend, or; Josh Billing’s [sic] Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor (1874)

This observation was originally presented as: “We are happy in this world just in proporshun as we make others happy.”

  • Hunting after happiness is like hunting after a lost sheep in the wilderness, when you find it, the chances are that it is a skeleton. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), “Jews Harps,” in “Affurisms” section of Everybody’s Friend, or; Josh Billing’s [sic] Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor (1874)

This observation was originally presented in Billing’s signature style: “Hunting after happiness, iz like hunting after a lost sheep in the wilderness, when yu find it, the chances are, that it iz a skeleton.”

  • If you ever find happiness by hunting for it, you will find it, as the old woman did her spectacles, safe on her nose all the time. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), quoted in Moderator-Topics (Lansing, Michigan; Jan. 11, 1912)
  • The very first condition of lasting happiness is that a life should be full of purpose, aiming at something outside self. Hugh Black, in Culture and Restraint (1901)

Black preceded the thought by writing: “It is the paradox of life that the way to miss pleasure is to seek it first.”

  • The Fundamentally Sound, Sure-Fire Top Five Components of Happiness: (1) Be in possession of the basics—food, shelter, good health, safety. (2) Get enough sleep. (3) Have relationships that matter to you. (4) Take compassionate care of others and of yourself. (5) Have work or an interest that engages you. Amy Bloom, “The Rap on Happiness,” in The New York Times (Jan. 29, 2010)

QUOTE NOTE: This was Bloom’s attempt to summarize what she had learned after reviewing a number of popular happiness books and taking a birds-eye view of the happiness literature. She concluded: “I don’t see how even the most high-minded, cynical or curmudgeonly person could argue with that.”

  • The real problem with happiness is neither its pursuers nor their books; it’s happiness itself. Happiness is like beauty: part of its glory lies in its transience. It is deep but often brief (as Frost would have it), and much great prose and poetry make note of this.” Amy Bloom, “The Rap on Happiness,” in The New York Times (Jan. 29, 2010)

Bloom went on to write: “To hold happiness is to hold the understanding that the world passes away from us, that the petals fall and the beloved dies. No amount of mockery, no amount of fashionable scowling will keep any of us from knowing and savoring the pleasure of the sun on our faces or save us from the adult understanding that it cannot last forever.”

  • If you can be unaccountably sad, you can be unaccountably happy. Robert Brault, in Round Up the Usual Suspects (2014)
  • Happiness lies only in a divine unrest; and if you are lapped in comfort you stagnate and miss it. John Buchan, the character Mrs. Yorke speaking, in A Lodge in the Wilderness (1906)
  • There may be Peace without Joy, and Joy without Peace, but the two combined make Happiness. John Buchan, in Pilgrim’s Way: An Essay in Recollection (1940)
  • Growth itself contains the germ of happiness. Pearl S. Buck, in To My Daughters, With Love (1967)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this observation is mistakenly attributed to the English writer Joseph Addison, who wrote many interesting things on happiness, but nothing close to this. The problem originated in Tyron Edwards’s A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908), when the quotation—without any author attribution—appeared just before an Addison quotation. Many readers mistakenly assumed Addison was the author, and the error continues to the present day. Burnap (1802–59) was an American Unitarian clergyman who wrote a number of books explaining Unitarianism to an American audience.

  • A good martini, a good meal, a good cigar and a good woman…or a bad woman, depending on how much happiness you can stand. George Burns, defining happiness, in Dr. Burns’ Prescription for Happiness (1984)

QUOTE NOTE: Burns was fond of repeating this line in interviews, leading to a number of slightly varying versions in quotation compilations. In his Prescription book, he also offered this other popular definition of happiness: “Having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family; especially if they live in another city.”

  • Whatever mitigates the woes or increases the happiness of others, this is my criterion of goodness. Robert Burns, in letter to Mrs. Dunlop (June 21, 1789)

Burns continued: “And whatever injures society at large or any individual in it, this is my measure of iniquity.”

  • Happiness comes most to persons who seek her least, and think least about her. It is not an object to be sought; it is a state to be induced. It must follow and not lead. It must overtake you, and not you overtake it. John Burroughs, “The Secret of Happiness,” in Literary Values: And Other Papers (1902)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly have the phrasing seek it least, and think least about it. Burroughs preceded the thought by writing: “Few persons realize how much of their happiness, such as it is, is dependent upon their work, upon the fact that they are kept busy and not left to feed upon themselves.”

  • Happiness is a by-product of right living. Julia Cameron, in Prayers to the Great Creator (1997)
  • Youth is so insatiable of happiness, and has such sublimely insane faith in its own power to make happy and be happy! Jane Welsh Carlyle, in letter to Miss Barnes (Aug. 25, 1859); reprinted in Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle, Vol. 2 (1883; James Anthony Froude, ed.)
  • That is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. Willa Cather, in My Antonia (1918)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the passage appears in almost all quotation anthologies, and the words are inscribed in exactly this way on Cather’s gravestone in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. In My Antonia, however, the words appear at the conclusion of a longer passage that ends with nice little simile. As the character Jim sits down in the middle of a garden, he leans against a pumpkin and begins to experience “a new feeling of lightness and content” as he soaks in all of the elements of nature that surround him. Cather describes his thought process this way:

I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.

  • One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make happiness; one only stumbles upon them by chance, in a lucky hour, at the world’s end somewhere, and holds fast to the days, as to fortune or fame. Willa Cather, “Le Lavandou,” in Willa Cather in Europe (1956)
  • Some people pursue unhappiness because happiness is too mild a sensation. Coco Chanel, in a 1968 McCall’s magazine profile (specific issue undetermined); reprinted the following year in Lois Daniel, To Be A Woman (1969)

Chanel continued: “Unhappiness is more dramatic—or rather melodramatic—and they see themselves at the center of the stage. One should not seek happiness, but happy people.”

  • There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man some one standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her laws sooner or later, trouble will come for him—disease, poverty, losses, and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears others. Anton Chekhov, the narrator and protagonist Ivan Ivanovich speaking, in the short story “Gooseberries” (1898)

Ivanovich continued: “But there is no man with a hammer; the happy man lives at his ease, and trivial daily cares faintly agitate him like the wind in the aspen-tree-and all goes well.”

  • Happiness does not exist, nor should it, and if there is any meaning or purpose in life, they are not in our peddling little happiness, but in something reasonable and grand. Do good! Anton Chekhov, the narrator and protagonist Ivan Ivanovich speaking, in the short story “Gooseberries” (1898)
  • Happiness is a mystery, like religion, and should never be rationalized. G. K. Chesterton, in Heretics (1905)
  • No doubt about it: happiness is not about self-satisfaction; it is about the joy that comes with a sense of purpose. Joan Chittister, in The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life (2009)

Sister Joan continued: “It is not about self-aggrandizement; it is about living our lives immersed in the will of God. At the end of the day, life and joy, success and happiness are about otherness.”

  • Do not run after happiness, but seek to do good, and you will find that happiness will run after you. James Freeman Clarke, quoted in St Andrew’s Cross (Jan. 1918)
  • Stay close to those who sing, tell stories, enjoy life and whose eyes sparkle with happiness. Because happiness is contagious and will always manage to find a solution whereas logic can find only an explanation for the mistake made. Paulo Coelho, in Manuscript Found in Accra (2012)
  • The happiness of life, on the contrary, is made up of minute fractions—the little soon-forgotten charities of a kiss, a smile, a kind look, a heartfelt compliment in the disguise of playful raillery, and the countless other infinitesimals of pleasurable and genial feeling. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the character Friend speaking, in The Improvisatore (1827)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites and a number of reputable reference sources present the following incorrect version of the quotation: “The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions—the little soon forgotten charities of a kiss or smile, a kind look, a heartfelt compliment, and the countless infinitesimals of pleasurable and genial feeling.”

  • Happiness is a question of changing your troubles. Colette (pen name of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette), a 1937 remark, quoted in Robert Phelps, Belles Saisons: A Colette Scrapbook (1978)
  • Happiness, that grand mistress of the ceremonies in the dance of life, impels us through all its mazes and meanderings, but leads none of us by the same route. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)

A bit later in the book, Colton offered this other memorable observation on the subject: “To be obliged to beg our daily happiness from others bespeaks a more lamentable poverty than that of him who begs his daily bread.”

  • They must often change who would be constant in happiness or wisdom. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. B.C.)
  • We must select the illusion which appeals to our temperament and embrace it with passion, if we want to be happy. Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1944)
  • Happiness lies in the fulfilment of the spirit through the body. Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1944)
  • Thus happiness depends, as Nature shows,/Less on exterior things than most suppose. William Cowper, in Table Talk (1817)
  • It is not the smallest use to try to make people good, unless you try at the same time—and they feel that you are trying—to make them happy. And you rarely can make another happy, unless you are happy yourself. Dinah Craik, in A Woman’s Thoughts About Women (1858)

In her book, Craik also offered these thoughts on the subject:

“Happiness! Can any human being undertake to define it for another?”

“Happiness is not an end—it is only a means, and adjunct, a consequence.”

“The inevitable conclusion we must all come to is, that in the world happiness is quite indefinable. We can no more grasp it than we can grasp the sun in the sky or the moon in the water. We can feel it interpenetrating our whole being with warmth and strength; we can see it in a pale reflection shining elsewhere; or in its total absence, we, walking in darkness, learn to appreciate what it is by what it is not.”

  • Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. Robertson Davies, “The Table Talk of Robertson Davies,” in Maclean’s magazine (Sep., 1972); reprinted in The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies (1990)

Davies added about happiness: “But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.” For another happiness as a by-product observation, see Huxley below.

  • The ideal of happiness has always taken material form in the house, whether cottage or castle; it stands for permanence and separation from the world. Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex (1949)
  • At the heart of Epicureanism is the thought that we are as bad at answering the question “What will make me happy?” as “What will make me healthy?” Alain de Botton, in The Consolations of Philosophy (2000)
  • Action may not always be happiness; but there is no happiness without action. Benjamin Disraeli, the General speaking, in Lothair (1870)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often mistakenly presented as if it read may not always bring happiness.

  • Shall I give you my recipe for happiness? I find everything useful and nothing indispensable. I find everything wonderful and nothing miraculous. Norman Douglas, the character Mr. Keith speaking, in South Wind (1917)
  • I fancy that a man was not intended to be so easily made happy. Happiness resembles those palaces of the enchanted isles whose doors were guarded by dragons—you must fight in order to be victorious. Alexandre Dumas, père, the character Edmond Dantès speaking, in The Count of Monte Cristo (1845)

QUOTE NOTE: Given his view that happiness is to be won only after a hard-fought battle, Edmond confesses to friends that he is overwhelmed at the happiness he has found with his fiancée, the beautiful Mercedes. Edmond concludes the foregoing remark by saying: “And in truth I know not what I have done to merit the bliss of being Mercedes’ husband.” The wedding never happens, of course. Just prior to the nuptials, Edmond is arrested on trumped-up charges and later imprisoned (he ultimately goes on to exact revenge as the Count of Monte Cristo). The passage above has also been given this more modern translation: “I don’t think man was meant to attain happiness so easily. Happiness is like those palaces in fairy tales whose gates are guarded by dragons: we must fight in order to conquer it.”

  • For all the happiness mankind can gain/Is not in pleasure, but in rest from pain.John Dryden, in The Indian Emperor (1665)
  • If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or objects. Albert Einstein, quoted in A. P. French, Einstein: A Centenary Volume (1979)
  • To fill the hour—that is happiness. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)
  • The high prize of life, the crowning fortune of a man, is to be born with a bias to some pursuit which finds him in employment and happiness—whether it be to make baskets, or broadswords, or canals, or songs. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Considerations by the Way,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Happiness in the ordinary sense is not what one needs in life, though one is right to aim at it. The true satisfaction is to come through and see those whom one loves come through. E. M. Forster, in letter to Florence Barger (February 11, 1922).
  • My happiness goes in direct proportion to my acceptance and in inverse proportion to my expectations. Michael J. Fox, quoted in Brian Hiatt, “Michael J. Fox: The Toughest Man on TV,” Rolling Stone magazine (Sep. 26, 2013)

QUOTE NOTE: This has become one of Fox’s most frequently quoted observations, but it is unclear from Hiatt’s article whether the observation is original to Fox or a maxim he learned during his many years in recovery from alcoholism. At the time of the article, Fox had been sober for 21 years (about which, he quipped, “My sobriety is old enough to drink”).

  • Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. Viktor Frankl, in Preface to the 1992 edition of Man’s Search for Meaning (orig. pub. in 1946)

Frankl continued: “I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run—in the long run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”

QUOTE NOTE: In The Will to Meaning (1969), Frank expressed the thought more succinctly: “If there is a reason for happiness, happiness ensues, automatically and spontaneously, as it were. And that is why one need not pursue happiness, one need not care for it once there is a reason for it.”

  • Just as a cautious businessman avoids investing all his capital in one concern, so wisdom would probably admonish us also not to anticipate all our happiness from one quarter alone. Sigmund Freud, in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930; Joan Riviere, trans.)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s fascinating to see how different translators render the same passage in different ways. For an alternate translation that makes this an observation about goals and aspirations, see Freud in ASPIRATION.

  • Happiness is a moving target. Kinky Friedman, in Cowboy Logic: The Wit and Wisdom of Kinky Friedman (2006)
  • Happiness Makes Up in Height for What It Lacks in Length. Robert Frost, title of poem, in A Witness Tree (1942)
  • That is but a slippery Happiness which Fortune can give and can take away. Thomas Fuller, M.D. in Introductio ad Prudentiam (1727)
  • Why have you not understood that all happiness is a chance encounter and that every moment presents itself to you like a beggar by the roadside? André Gide, in Fruits of the Earth (1897)
  • Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. Elizabeth Gilbert, in Eat, Pray, Love (2006)
  • There are those who are sustained by their memory of one chance encounter with happiness; recalling again and again that occasion when they bumped into it by happenstance and how they tried to embrace it with both arms and hold it tight to their hearts for the rest of their lives. Boris Glikman, in a personal communication (Oct., 2017)
  • It is the law of life that if you are kind to someone you feel happy. If you are cruel you are unhappy. Cary Grant, quoted in Sheilah Graham Westbrook, “Love–That’s All Cary Grant Ever Thinks About,” in Motion Picture magazine (June 1964)
  • So often, happiness is the extent to which we balance our grandiose expectations with reality. Cathy Guisewite, in A Hand to Hold, An Opinion to Reject: A Cathy Collection (1987)
  • All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast. John Gunther, quoted in Newsweek magazine (April 14, 1958)
  • Dedicate yourself to the good you deserve and desire for yourself. Give yourself peace of mind. You deserve to be happy. Mark Victor Hansen, in Future Diary (198O).

QUOTE NOTE: Sixteen years later, in the 1996 book Out of the Blue: Delight Comes Into Our Lives (co-authored with Barbara Nichols and Patty Hansen, the same quotation appears, but this time with the words “You deserve delight” appended.

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, and in a number of popular books on the subject of happiness, this observation is mistakenly attributed to the philosopher Hannah Arendt. For more, see Garson O’Toole’s Quote Investigator post here.

  • Happiness in a storm is about both feeling happy and being happy when life is hard. Wendy Schlessel Harpham, in Happiness in a Storm: Facing Illness and Embracing Life as a Healthy Survivor (2005).

Harpham, a physician who was first diagnosed with chronic lymphoma in 1990, coined the term “healthy survivor” to describe patients who are able to live life to the fullest despite a serious medical condition. “Illness can feel like a fierce storm,” she writes, “entering your life uninvited and with little warning, indiscriminately threatening or destroying many pleasures and hopes you hold dear.” Happiness, while difficult during trying times, is still possible, according to Dr. Haprham. She went on to add:

“I offer the notion of ‘happiness is a storm’ as a metaphor for any happiness in the midst of difficulties accompanying your diagnosis, evaluation, treatment, recovery, or long-term survivorship. Without a doubt, illness is bad, yet, survivorship—from the time of diagnosis and for the balance of life—can includes times of great joy among the hardships. You can find happiness.”

  • Among the many paradoxes of human life, this is perhaps the most peculiar and consequential: We often behave in ways that are guaranteed to make us unhappy. Sam Harris, the opening words of Lying (2013)

In the remainder of the opening paragraph, Harris elaborated on his thesis by identifying one culprit in particular: “Many of us spend our lives marching with open eyes toward remorse, guilt, and disappointment. And nowhere do our injuries seem more casually self-inflicted, or the suffering we create more disproportionate to the needs of the moment, than in the lies we tell to other human beings. Lying is the royal road to chaos.”

  • Freud’s prescription for personal happiness as consisting of work and love must be taken with the proviso that the work has to be loved, and the love has to be worked at. Sydney J. Harris, in Pieces of Eight (1982). An example of chiasmus.
  • Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally. Make it the object of pursuit, and it leads us [on] a wild-goose chase, and is never attained. Nathaniel Hawthorne, an 1851 notebook entry (undated); reprinted in The Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne (Vol. IX, 1868)

QUOTE NOTE: This is not the first time that wild-goose chase was used to describe a fruitless undertaking. That honor goes to William Shakespeare, who first used the expression in Romeo and Juliet. In his notebook entry, Hawthorne continued:

Follow some other object, and very possibly we may find that we have caught happiness without dreaming of it; but likely enough it is gone the moment we say to ourselves, “Here it is!” like the chest of gold that treasure-seekers find.

  • Even in the common affairs of life, in love, friendship, and marriage, how little security have we when we trust our happiness in the hands of others! William Hazlitt, “On Living to One’s Self,” in Table-Talk (1821)
  • “Love” is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own. Robert Heinlein, the character Jubal attempting “an exact definition” of love, in Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
  • Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know. Ernest Hemingway, an unnamed female character speaking, in Garden of Eden (written 1946-1961; pub. posthumously in 1986)
  • The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955). Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • A happy life is made up of little things in which smiles and small favors are given habitually. A gift sent, a letter written, a call made, a recommendation given, transportation provided, a cake made, a book lent, a check sent—these should be done without hesitation. Carl E. Holmes, quoted in Think magazine (Nov. 1952)

Holmes continued: “Kindness isn’t sacrifice so much as it is being considerate for the feelings of others, sharing happiness, the unselfish thought, the spontaneous and friendly act, forgetfulness of our own present interests.”

QUOTE NOTE: Think magazine, a periodical publication of the IBM Corporation, first appeared in 1935 and continued until 1970, when it was folded into IBM Magazine. I've since learned that the Holmes quotation originally appeared in “Highways of Happiness,” a monthly publication of the Empire State Culvert Company. The publication, which was described as a “magazet” (presumably, a blend of magazine and pamphlet), began in the mid-1930s and continued until the early 1960s. An introduction to an early issue described the publication this way: “Meanders up and down the highways and byways once a month dispensing friendliness and cheer among the people wherever they may be found.” So far, I've been unable to find any biographical information on Carl Holmes.

ERROR ALERT: Many quotation anthologies and internet sites mistakenly attribute versions of the foregoing quotation to a “Carol Holmes.”

  • Love is the master key that unlocks the gates of happiness, of hatred, of jealousy, and most easily of all, the gate of fear. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in A Moral Antipathy (1885)
  • The great end of all human industry is the attainment of happiness. David Hume, “The Stoic,” in Essays, Moral, Political and Literary (1741-42)

Hume continued: “For this were arts invented, sciences cultivated, laws ordained, and societies modelled, by the most profound wisdom of patriots and legislators. Even the lonely savage, who lies exposed to the inclemency of the elements and the fury of wild beasts, forgets not, for a moment, this grand object, of his being.”

  • Happiness is not something you can catch and lock up in a vault like wealth. Happiness is nothing but everyday living seen through a veil. Zora Neale Hurston, the title character speaking, in Moses: Man of the Mountain (1939)
  • Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness; it is generally the by-product of other activities. Aldous Huxley, “Religion and Time,” in Vedanta for the Western World (1945; Christopher Isherwood, ed.)
  • Rob the average man of his life-illusion, and you rob him of his happiness at the same stroke. Henrik Ibsen, the character Relling speaking, in The Wild Duck (1884)
  • Happiness is positive cash flow. Carl C. Icahn, a saying inscribed on a throw pillow in his office, reported in The New York Times (Feb. 10, 1990)
  • Reason, Observation, and Experience—the Holy Trinity of Science—have taught us that happiness is the only good; that the time to be happy is now, and the way to be happy is to make others so. This is enough for us. In this belief we are content to live and die. Robert G. Ingersoll, in The Gods, and Other Lectures (1876)
  • Goodness and happiness are synonymous in a healthy animal. Holbrook Jackson, in Platitudes in the Making (1911)
  • Those who are careless of happiness are happy. Holbrook Jackson, in Platitudes in the Making (1911)
  • Happiness is a form of courage. Holbrook Jackson, “Maxims and Precepts,” in a circa 1920 issue of To-Day magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness, is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all they are willing to endure. William James, “The Religion of Healthy-Mindedness,” in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)

James preceded the observation by writing: “If we were to ask the question: ‘What is human life’s chief concern?” one of the answers we should receive would be: ‘It is happiness.’”

  • Among the many paradoxes of human life, this is perhaps the most peculiar and consequential: We often behave in ways that are guaranteed to make us unhappy. Sam Harris, the opening words of Lying (2013)
  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Thomas Jefferson, the second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776).

QUOTE NOTE: These are among the most famous words ever written, originally appearing in a document drafted by America’s Founding Fathers to formally declare their grievances against the government of King George III and sever ties with England. The notion that happiness was an inalienable right of citizens—as opposed to a personal dream or goal to which people might aspire—was truly a revolutionary idea. Historians have pointed out that Jefferson might easily have written “Life, Liberty, and Property” (following some earlier phraseology from John Locke). Happily, though, he submitted a first-draft to other delegates and incorporated a number of suggestions, including one to change the wording to the pursuit of happiness. That immortal phrase made its first formal appearance in the historic 1776 document, but a prior—and less elegant—expression of the sentiment appeared less than a month earlier in The Virginia Declaration of Rights (adopted June 12, 1776). The opening paragraph of that document, written by George Mason, reads as follows (italics mine):

“That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

  • With your talents and industry, with science, and that stedfast [sic] honesty which eternally pursues right, regardless of consequences, you may promise yourself every thing—but health, without which there is no happiness. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr. (July 6, 1787); reprinted in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Vol 11 (1955; J. P. Boyd, ed.)

Jefferson continued: “An attention to health then should take place of every other object. The time necessary to secure this by active exercises should be devoted to it in preference to every other pursuit.”

  • The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government. Thomas Jefferson, in letter “To the Republican Citizens of Washington County, Maryland” (March 31, 1809)
  • Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords. Samuel Johnson, in June 8, 1762 letter, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

Johnson continued: “But, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain; and expectation improperly indulged in must end in disappointment.”

  • Happiness is not an ideal of reason but of imagination. Immanuel Kant, in Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics (1785)
  • Morality is not properly the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness. Immanuel Kant, in Critique of Practical Reason (1788)
  • Happiness is the sum total of misfortunes avoided. Alphonse Karr, in Les Guêpes (Jan., 1842)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation is also commonly translated: “Happiness is composed of misfortunes avoided.”

  • Only when the happiness is past and we look back on it we do suddenly realize—sometimes with astonishment—how happy we had been. Nikos Kazantzakis, in Zorba the Greek (1946)
  • Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose. Happiness should be a means of accomplishment, like health, not an end in itself. Helen Keller, journal entry (Dec. 10, 1936), in Helen Keller’s Journal, 1936–1937 (1938)
  • When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us. Helen Keller, in The Open Door (1957)
  • I have given before to this group the definition of happiness of the Greeks, and I will define it again: it is full use of your powers along lines of excellence. John F. Kennedy, in White House press conference (Oct. 31, 1963)

President Kennedy continued: “I find, therefore, the Presidency provides some happiness.” In formulating his remarks, JFK was clearly inspired by a passage from Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way (1930): “‘The exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope’ is an old Greek definition of happiness.”

  • Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get. Charles F. Kettering, quoted in a 1964 issue of Show magazine

QUOTATION CAUTION: An original source for this observation has never been provided, so use with that in mind. So far, this is the earliest citation I’ve found. Also an example of chiasmus.

  • Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around. E. L. Konigsburg, the voice of the title character, in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967)
  • The sound of laughter is like the vaulted dome of a temple of happiness. Milan Kundera, in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1978; tr. 1980)
  • The happiest people I know are people who don’t even think about being happy. They just think about being good neighbors, good people. And then happiness sort of sneaks in the back window while they’re busy doing good. Harold Kushner, “To Love and Be Loved,” in Andrea Miller, ed., Right Here With You: Bringing Mindful Awareness Into Our Relationships (2011)
  • We are ourselves the stumbling-blocks in the way of our happiness. Place a common individual—by common, I mean with the common share of stupidity, custom, and discontent—place him in the garden of Eden, and he would not find it out unless he were told, and when told, he would not believe it. L. E. Landon, the character Edward Lorraine speaking, in Romance and Reality (1831)
  • For happiness one needs security, but joy can spring like a flower even from the cliffs of despair. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Locked Rooms and Open Doors (1974)
  • A sound mind in a sound body is a short but full description of a happy state in this World: he that has these two has little more to wish for; and he that wants either of them will be little the better for anything else. John Locke, the opening sentence of Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693)

QUOTE NOTE: Inspired by a famous saying from the Roman writer Juvenal (see his entry in HEALTH), Locke offers one of literary history’s most famous opening paragraphs. Note that he uses want in the sense of “to lack.”

  • Happiness, to some, elation;/Is, to others, mere stagnation. Amy Lowell, “Happiness,” in Sword Blades and Poppy Seeds (1914)
  • There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life—happiness, freedom, and peace of mind—are always attained by giving them to someone else. Gen. Peyton Conway March, quoted in The Journal of the Kansas Medical Society (Jan., 1953)
  • Happiness consists in the full employment of our faculties in some pursuit. Harriet Martineau, “On the Art of Thinking.” in Miscellanies, Vol. I (1836)
  • The first recipe for happiness is: Avoid too lengthy meditations on the past. André Maurois, quoted in Forbes Scrapbook of Thoughts on the Business of Life (1950)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This looks like the earliest appearance of this observation, which has become very popular despite its lack of authentication.

  • For the happiest life, days should be rigorously planned, nights left open to chance. Mignon McLaughlin, in Atlantic magazine (July, 1965)
  • Happiness is the china shop; love is the bull. H. L. Mencken, in A Little Book in C Major (1916)
  • A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found: for a happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy. Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island (1955)
  • Happiness consists in finding out precisely what the “one thing necessary” may be, in our lives, and in gladly relinquishing all the rest. For then, by a divine paradox, we find that everything else is given us together with the one thing we needed. Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island (1955)
  • We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony. Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island (1955)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites present the quotation as if it were worded: “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm, and harmony.”

  • Memory is so much better at unhappiness than happiness. Jane Miller, in Crazy Age: Thoughts on Being Old (2010)
  • The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us. Ashley Montagu, in Man Observed (1968). Also an example of chiasmus.

Continuing in a chiastic vein, Montagu added: “It is not so much the pursuit of happiness as the happiness of pursuit that is most likely to yield gratification, and then only occasionally.”

  • A face is too slight a foundation for happiness. Mary Wortley Montagu, in letter to her future husband (April 25, 1710); reprinted in Selected Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1970; R. Halsband, ed.)
  • Happiness is surely the best teacher of good manners: only the unhappy are churlish in deportment. Christopher Morley, in Where the Blue Begins (1922)
  • There is only one way to achieve happiness on this terrestrial ball,/And that is to have either a clear conscience, or none at all. Ogden Nash, “Inter-Office Memorandum,” in I’m a Stranger Here Myself (1938)
  • You can’t offer happiness until you have it for yourself. So build a home inside by accepting yourself and learning to love and heal yourself. Learn how to practice mindfulness in such a way that you can create moments of happiness and joy for your own nourishment. Then you have something to offer the other person. Thich Nhat Hanh, in How to Love (2014)

In his treatise of love, Nhat Hanh also offered these thoughts:

“When we feed and support our own happiness, we are nourishing our ability to love. That’s why to love means to learn the art of nourishing our happiness.”

“The most precious inheritance that parents can give their children is their own happiness. Our parents may be able to leave us money, houses, and land, but they may not be happy people. If we have happy parents, we have received the richest inheritance of all.”

  • Happiness hangs by a hair. Mary O’Hara, the voice of the narrator, in Thunderhead (1943)
  • Next to happiness, perhaps enmity is the most healthful stimulant of the human mind. Margaret Oliphant, the voice of the narrator, in The Perpetual Curate (1870)
  • Happiness, you’ll find, is the greatest magnet in the world. Patti Page, in Once Upon a Dream: A Personal Chat with All Teenagers (1960)
  • Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good. Thomas Paine, in The Rights of Man (1791)
  • It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Thomas Paine, in The Age of Reason (1794)

Paine added: “Infidelity does not consist in believing or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.”

  • When a small child…I thought that success spelled happiness. I was wrong. Happiness is like a butterfly which appears and delights us for one brief moment, but soon flits away. Anna Pavlova, “Pages of my life,” in A. H. Franks, Pavlova: A Biography (1956)
  • Where there is chance of gain, there is also chance of loss. Whenever one courts great happiness, one also risks malaise. Walker Percy, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist, Binx Bolling, in The Moviegoer (1961)
  • Ask me where happiness is/For there I am most myself,/As I walk from room to room/In a house where my wife/& my twin sons are sleeping,/My heart is on patrol. Louis Phillips, in the poem “Ask Me Where Happiness Is” (1998)
  • Happiness is not perfected till it is shared. Jane Porter, in Aphorisms of Sir Philip Sidney, With Remarks by Miss Porter (1807)

Porter preceded this thought by writing: “Happiness is a sunbeam which may pass through a thousand bosoms without losing a particle of its original ray: nay, when it strikes on a kindred heart, like the converged light on a mirror, it reflects itself with redoubled brightness.”

  • Happiness is a battle to be waged and not a feeling to be awaited. Dennis Prager, in Happiness is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual (1998)
  • Because gratitude is the key to happiness, anything that undermines gratitude must undermine happiness. And nothing undermines gratitude as much as expectations. Dennis Prager, in Happiness is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual (1998)

Prager continued: “There is an inverse relationship between expectations and gratitude. The more expectations you have, the less gratitude you will have. If you get what you expect, you will not be grateful for getting it.”

  • Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. Marcel Proust, in Pleasures and Regrets (1896)
  • The nicest thing about being happy is that you think you’ll never be unhappy again. Manuel Puig, the character Luis Molina speaking, in Kiss of the Spider Woman (1976).
  • Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby’s ear. Read in the backyard with the sun on your face. Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness, because, if your do, you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived. Anna Quindlen, in A Short Guide to a Happy Life (2000)

QUOTE NOTE: This comes from Quindlen’s bestselling (over a million copies sold) book, an expanded version of a commencement address she planned to deliver—but did not give—at Villanova University’s graduation ceremonies in 1999. Quindlen, a liberal-leaning Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, withdrew after learning that a group of conservative students were planning to demonstrate against her appearance (she explained that she didn’t want to “ruin the day or case a shadow” on the ceremonies, adding: “I don’t think you should have to walk through demonstrators to get to your college commencement”). After e-mailing the text of her speech to a Villanova student who expressed disappointment about not being able to hear it, the written address exploded in popularity on the internet. It is now often described as one of history’s best commencement speeches, even though it was never actually delivered. Elements of the speech—along with thoughtful commentary on it—may be seen at Quindlen Commencement Speech.

  • Don’t trade happiness for deferred gratification. Don’t give up adventure for safety and security. The safe is the enemy of the satisfying. Deferred gratification has a way of being deferred forever. Anna Quindlen, in commencement speech at Grinnell College (May 23, 2011)
  • Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s own values. Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” paper read at University of Wisconsin (Feb. 9, 1961); reprinted in The Virtue of Selfishness (1964)

Later in the paper, Rand wrote: “Man must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. To live for his own sake means that the achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose.”

  • There are only two roads that lead to something like human happiness. They are marked by the words: love and achievement. Theodor Reik, in A Psychologist Looks at Love (1957)

In his book, Reik also offered these thoughts on the subject:

“In order to be happy oneself it is necessary to make at least one other person happy.”

“The secret of human happiness is not in self-seeking but in self-forgetting.”

  • If one were to build the house of happiness, the largest space would be the waiting room. Jules Renard, in Journal, (1877-1910) (1925)
  • It is not an easy thing to be happy. It takes all the brains, and all the soul, and all the goodness we possess. Agnes Repplier, “The Spinster,” in Compromises (1904)
  • The key to self-generated happiness (the only reliable kind) is the refusal to take oneself too seriously. Tom Robbins, quoted in Gregory Daurer, “The Green Man: Tom Robbins,” in High Times (June 12, 2002)
  • Joy seems to me a step beyond happiness—happiness is a sort of atmosphere you can live in sometimes when you’re lucky. Joy is a light that fills you with hope and faith and love. /Adela Rogers St. Johns, in Some Are Born Great (1974)
  • The purpose of life is not to be happy. The purpose of life is to matter, to be productive, to have it make some difference that you lived at all. Happiness, in the ancient, noble sense, means self-fulfillment—and is given to those who use to the fullest whatever talents God or luck or fate bestowed upon them. Leo Rosten, “Words to Live By: The Real Reason for Being Alive,” in This Week magazine (Jan. 20, 1963)

QUOTE NOTE: Rosten continued: “Happiness, to me, lies in stretching, to the farthest boundaries of which we are capable, the resources of the mind and heart.”

  • The thirst after happiness is never extinguished in the heart of man. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in Confessions (1782)
  • Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best. Theodore Isaac Rubin, in Love Me, Love My Fool: Thoughts from a Psychoanalyst’s Notebook (1976)
  • Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling. Margaret Lee Runbeck, in Time for Each Other (1944)
  • In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: they must be fit for it; they must not do too much of it; and they must have sense of success in it. John Ruskin, in On the Old Road (1882)
  • To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness. Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness (1930)

This has become one of Russell’s most popular quotations. A bit earlier, he had written: “The human animal, like others, is adapted to a certain amount of struggle for life, and when by means of great wealth homo sapiens can gratify all his whims without effort, the mere absence of effort from his life removes an essential ingredient of happiness.”

  • The happiness that is genuinely satisfying is accompanied by the fullest exercise of our faculties, and the fullest realization of the world in which we live. Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness (1930)
  • Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness. Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness (1930)
  • True happiness for human beings is possible only to those who develop their godlike potentialities to the utmost. Bertrand Russell, in Human Society in Ethics and Politics (1962)
  • I believe four ingredients are necessary for happiness: health, warm personal relations, sufficient means to keep you from want, and successful work. Bertrand Russell, quoted in interview in Redbook magazine (Sep., 1964)
  • If you want to understand the meaning of happiness, you must see it as a reward and not as a goal. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in Carnets (1953; posthumously published)
  • There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved. George Sand, in letter to Lina Calamatta (March 31, 1862)
  • One is happy as a result of one’s own efforts, once one knows the necessary ingredients of happiness—simple tastes, a certain degree of courage, self denial to a point, love of work, and, above all, a clear conscience. George Sand, in letter to Charles Poncy (Nov. 16, 1866); quoted in André Maurois, Lélia: The Life of George Sand (1953)

Sand concluded: “Happiness is no vague dream, of that I now feel certain.”

  • A grateful environment is a substitute for happiness. It can quicken us from without as a fixed hope and affection, or the consciousness of a right life can quicken us from within. George Santayana, in The Sense of Beauty (1896)
  • Those who pursue happiness conceived merely in the abstract and conventional terms, as money, success, or respectability, often miss that real and fundamental part of happiness which flows from the senses and imagination. George Santayana, in The Sense of Beauty (1896)

Santayana continued: “This element is what aesthetics supplies to life; for beauty also can be a cause and a factor of happiness. Yet the happiness of loving beauty is either too sensuous to be stable, or else too ultimate, too sacramental, to be accounted happiness by the worldly mind.” Santayana’s thought leads to an inescapable conclusion—people who seek happiness in such worldly pursuits as success or money will never fully understand people who derive great happiness from, say, an absorption in great literature or art.

  • Happiness remains the only sanction of life; where happiness fails, existence remains a mad and lamentable experiment. George Santayana, “The Measure of Values in Reflection,” in The Life of Reason (1905)
  • Wealth must justify itself in happiness. George Santayana, in The Life of Reason (1905–06)
  • It is a new road to happiness, if you have strength enough to castigate a little the various impulses that sway you in turn. George Santayana, in Winds of Doctrine (1913)
  • Knowledge of what is possible is the beginning of happiness. George Santayana, “Industrial Idealism,” in Little Essays: Drawn from the Writings of George Santayana (1920)
  • The greatest happiness you can have is knowing that you do not necessarily require happiness. William Saroyan, in My Heart’s in the Highlands (1939)
  • I do not know what makes a writer, but it probably isn’t happiness. William Saroyan, in The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills (1952)
  • Money is human happiness in the abstract. Arthur Schopenhauer, in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)

Schopenhauer continued: “He, then, who is no longer capable of enjoying human happiness in the concrete devotes his heart entirely to money.”

  • Happiness is a warm puppy. Charles M. Schulz, the character Lucy speaking, in Peanuts cartoon strip (April 25, 1960)

QUOTE NOTE: The saying was later used as the title of the book Happiness is a Warm Puppy (1962), Schulz’s first compilation of Peanuts cartoon strips and the first of his many New York Times bestsellers. The original strip may be seen at “Warm Puppy”.

  • Lead the life that will make you kindly and friendly to every one about you, and you will be surprised what a happy life you will live. Charles M. Schwab, quoted in “Thoughts on Life and Business,” Forbes magazine (Feb. 15, 1922)
  • I don’t know what your destiny will be. Some of you will perhaps occupy remarkable positions. Perhaps some of you will become famous by your pens, or as artists. But I know one thing: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. Albert Schweitzer, in “The Meaning of Ideals in Life,” an address to students at Silcoates School, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England (Dec. 3, 1935); full text of speech in The Silcoatian (Dec. 1935)

This is one of Dr. Schweitzer’s most famous quotations. He preceded the observation by saying: “Learn to serve; and then only will you begin to find true happiness.”

  • Pleasure comes with the fulfillment of desire—getting what you want and wanting what you get. Happiness comes with the fulfillment of the person. Roger Scruton, “Do the Right Thing,” in Ian Christie and Lindsay Nash, The Good Life (1998)

Scruton continued: “And much of our moral confusion comes from the fact that we no longer know what happiness is, nor how to obtain it.”

  • The belief that we can rely on shortcuts to happiness, joy, rapture, comfort, and ecstasy, rather than be entitled to these feelings by the exercise of personal strength and virtues, leads to legions of people who in the middle of great wealth are starving spiritually. Martin Seligman, in Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment (2004)

This comes from Seligman’s landmark book in the happiness literature, which also contains these other observations:

“Happiness is not a competition. Authentic happiness derives from raising the bar for yourself, not rating yourself against others.”

“Authentic happiness comes from identifying and cultivating your most fundamental strengths and using them every day in work, love, play, and parenting.”

“Another barrier to raising your level of happiness is the ‘hedonic treadmill,’ which causes you to rapidly and inevitably adapt to good things by taking them for granted.”

“The good life consists in deriving happiness by using your signature strengths every day in the main realms of living. The meaningful life adds one more component: using these same strengths to forward knowledge, power, or goodness. A life that does this is pregnant with meaning, and if God comes at the end, such a life is sacred.”

“If you find yourself stuck in the parking lot of life, with few and only ephemeral pleasures, with minimal gratifications, and without meaning, there is a road out. This road takes you through the countryside of pleasure and gratification, up into the high country of strength and virtue, and finally to the peaks of lasting fulfillment: meaning and purpose.”

  • I'm trying to broaden the scope of positive psychology well beyond the smiley face. Happiness is just one-fifth of what human beings choose to do. Martin Seligman, “Happiness: One Part of Well-Being” (interview with Karen Weintraub), The Boston Globe (June 6, 2011)

QUOTE NOTE: In addition to happiness, which he has begun to describe as simply positive emotion, Seligman says there are a total of five classes of behavior that human beings freely choose to pursue. He uses the acronym PERMA to help people remember them: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning & purpose, and achievement, accomplishment, and mastery.

  • Ambition makes people but envy makes them unhappy. Claudia Senik, “Go for Ambition,” in The World Book of Happiness (2011; Leo Borman, ed.)
  • But O, how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes! William Shakespeare, the character Orlando speaking, in As You Like It (1599)
  • We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it. George Bernard Shaw, the character James Morell speaking, in Candida (1898)
  • This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. George Bernard Shaw, in “Epistle Dedicatory,” Man and Superman (1903)
  • Extreme happiness invites religion almost as much as extreme misery. Dodie Smith, the character known as the Vicar speaking, in I Capture the Castle (1948)
  • Happiness is a wine of the rarest vintage, and seems insipid to a vulgar taste. Logan Pearsall Smith, “Life and Human Nature,” in Afterthoughts (1931)
  • I believe that happiness consists in having a destiny in keeping with our abilities. Our desires are things of the moment, often harmful even to ourselves; but our abilities are permanent, and their demands never cease. Germaine de Staël, in Reflections on Suicide (1813)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation has also been translated in the following way: “It appears to me, that happiness consists in the possession of a destiny with our moral faculties. Our desires are fugitive and often fatal to our repose. But our faculties are as permanent as their necessities are unappeasable.”

  • The greatest happiness is to transform one’s feelings into actions. Germaine de Staël, a 1796 remark, quoted in J. Christopher Herold, Mistress to an Age: A Life of Madame de Staël (1958)
  • When large numbers of people share their joy in common, the happiness of each is greater because each adds fuel to the other’s flame. St. Augustine, in Confessions (397–398 A.D.)
  • Man wishes to be happy even when he so lives to make happiness impossible. St. Augustine, in The City of God (5th c. A.D.)
  • Beauty is only a promise of happiness. Stendhal (penname of Marie-Henri Beyle), in On Love (1822)
  • Happiness consumes itself like a flame. It cannot burn for ever, it must go out, and the presentiment of its end destroys it at its very peak. August Strindberg, the character of The Husband speaking, in A Dream Play (1907)
  • Never be so simple as to seek for happiness: it is not a bird that you can put in a cage. Caitlin Thomas, quoted in Paul Ferris, Caitlin: The Life of Caitlin Thomas (1995)
  • Man is the artificer of his own happiness. Henry David Thoreau, a journal entry (Jan. 21, 1838)

Thoreau, twenty-two when he wrote these wordS, added: “Let him beware how he complains of the disposition of circumstances, for it is his own disposition he blames.”

  • There are three words that convey the secret of the art of living, the secret of all success and happiness: One With Life. Eckhart Tolle, in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (2005)

Tolle continued: “Being one with life is being one with now. You then realize that you don’t live your life, but life lives you. Life is the dancer and you are the dance.”

  • America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy. John Updike, the unnamed narrator speaking, in “How to Love America and Leave It at the Same Time,” The New Yorker (Aug, 19, 1972); reprinted in Problems: And Other Stories (1979)
  • We all look for happiness, but without knowing where to find it: like drunkards who look for their house, knowing dimly that they have one. Voltaire, a entry in his Leningrad Notebook (c. 1850)
  • Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others. Booker T. Washington, in Up From Slavery (1901)
  • I am still determined to be cheerful and to be happy in whatever situation I may be, for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances; we carry the seeds of the one, or the other about with us, in our minds wherever we go. Martha Washington, in letter to Mercy Otis Warren (Dec. 26, 1789); original letter in Joseph E. Fields, Worthy Partner: The Papers of Martha Washington (1994)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the version of the letter that remains after biographers and historians corrected some original spelling errors (misary, for example).

  • Submission to unhappiness is the unpardonable sin against the spirit just as submission to poverty is the unpardonable sin against the body. Rebecca West, “The Divorce Commission,” in The Clarion (Nov. 29, 1912)
  • There are lots of ways of being miserable, but there’s only one way of being comfortable, and that is to stop running round after happiness. If you make up your mind not to be happy there's no reason why you shouldn’t have a fairly good time. Edith Wharton, an unnamed elderly American gentleman speaking to the character Paul Garnett, “The Last Asset,” in Scribner’s magazine (Aug., 1904)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is widely—but mistakenly—presented in an abridged form: “If only we’d stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time.”

  • Happiness is no laughing matter. Richard Whately, in Apophthegms (1854)

QUOTE NOTE: The title of the work is not misspelled; it’s an early version of apothegms (APP-uth-ems), a synonym of maxims or sayings.

  • When man is happy, he is in harmony with himself and his environment. Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism” (1891)

Wilde preceded the thought by writing: “Pleasure is nature’s test, her sign of approval.”

  • Modern Americans travel light, with little philosophic baggage other than a fervent belief in their right to the pursuit of happiness. George F. Will, in Introduction to The Pursuit of Happiness, and Other Sobering Thoughts (1978)
  • Now that I have all the things I once thought would make me happy, they have little meaning for me. Experience, and not just a little heartache, has taught me money buys convenience and conveniences. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Nellie Bly, Oprah: Up Close and Down Home (1993)
  • The way to choose happiness is to follow what is right and real and the truth for you. You can never be happy living someone else’s dream. Live your own. And you will for sure know the meaning of happiness. Oprah Winfrey, “What I Know for Sure,” in O, the Oprah Magazine (March, 2004)
  • Gratitude is the foundation of happiness. So if you want to start being happy, get grateful first. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Alison Ashton, “The World According to Oprah,” Parade magazine (April 16, 2017)
  • Perhaps happiness is created by the effort expended rather than being the ultimate outcome that results from the expended effort. Garrison Wynn, in The Real Truth About Success (2010)
  • Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness. Mark Zuckerberg, in commencement address at Harvard University (May 25, 2017)



  • To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships. W. E. B. Du Bois, in The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
  • The beginning of hardship is like the first taste of bitter food—it seems for a moment unbearable; yet, if there is nothing else to satisfy our hunger, we take another bite and find it possible to go on. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Adam Bede (1859)
  • Hardship is the native soil of manhood and self-reliance. He that cannot abide the storm, without flinching or quailing—strips himself in the sunshine, and lies down by the wayside, to be overlooked and forgotten. John Neal, quoted in William Hunt, The American Biographical Sketch Book, Vol. 1 (1848)

Neal preceded the thought by writing: “Let no man wax pale, therefore, because of opposition. Opposition is what he wants, and must have, to be good for anything.”

  • Adventure is hardship aesthetically considered. Barry Targan, the narrator, quoting an unnamed former teacher, in Kingdoms (1980)



  • Harmony between two individuals is never given, it must be worked for continually. Simone de Beauvoir, in The Prime of Life: The Autobiography of Simone De Beauvoir (1960)
  • Politeness is the cement that holds the social scheme together. It is the oil that eases the friction of daily life. It is the tune to which the hearts of the world vibrate in harmony. Lillian Eichler, in The New Book of Etiquette (1924)
  • Conformity is the ape of harmony. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a journal entry (May 10, 1840)
  • In crowds we have unison, in groups harmony. We want the single voice but not the single note; that is the secret of the group. Mary Parker Follett, in The New State (1918)
  • Harmony exists in difference, no less than in likeness, if only the same key-note govern both parts. Margaret Fuller, in Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845)
  • One must marry one’s feelings to one’s beliefs and ideas. That is probably the only way to achieve a measure of harmony in one's life. Etty Hillesum, in An Interrupted Life (1983)
  • To put everything in balance is good, to put everything in harmony is better. Victor Hugo, in Ninety-Three (1874)
  • There’s no such thing as life without bloodshed. I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Cormac McCarthy, quoted in Richard B. Woodward, “Cormac McCarthy’s Venemous Fiction,” in The New York Times (April 19, 1992)

McCarthy continued: “Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous.”

  • We must learn to endure what we cannot avoid. Our life is composed, like the harmony of the world, of contrary things, also of different tones, sweet and harsh, sharp and flat, soft and loud. Michel de Montaigne, “On Experience,” in Essays (1580-88)

Montaigne continued: “If a musician liked only one kind, what would he have to say? He must know how to use them together and blend them. And so must we do with good and evil, which are consubstantial with our life. Our existence is impossible without this mixture, and one element is no less necessary for it than the other.”

  • It is easy to speak words of love, or to meditate lovingly upon those people with whom you are in harmony. Catherine Ponder, in The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity (1962)

Ponder continued: “But it is those people who seem most difficult, who may even seem hostile, that need your radiation of love most. Their very hostility is but their soul's cry for loving recognition. When you generate sufficient love to them, the discord will fade away.”

  • For harmony makes small states great, while discord undermines the mightiest empires. Sallust, in Bellum lugurthinum (1st c. B.C.)



  • For the poison of hatred seated near the heart doubles the burden for the one who suffers the disease; he is burdened with his own sorrow, and groans on seeing another’s happiness. Aeschylus, in Agamemnon (5th c. B.C.)
  • Hatred rarely does any harm to its object. It is the hater who suffers. His soul is warped and his life poisoned by dwelling on past injuries or projecting schemes of revenge. Rancor in the bosom is the foe of personal happiness. Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), in The Divine Propagandist (1962)
  • We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves. Mitch Albom, in The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2003)

The words come from Ruby, one of the five people that Eddie, the story’s protagonist, meets in heaven. She preceded the thought by saying: “Learn this from me. Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside.”

  • The dangerous thing about hate is that it seems so reasonable. Enid Bagnold, the character Madrigal speaking, in The Chalk Garden: A Play (1956)
  • I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain. James Baldwin, in Notes of a Native Son (1955)

QUOTE NOTE: Baldwin was reflecting on his longstanding estrangement from his father. In 1943, a week before his nineteenth birthday, Baldwin returned to his Harlem home after a several-year absence to see his pregnant mother and check in on his ailing father. About the visit, he wrote: “The moment I saw him I knew why I had put off this visit so long. I had told my mother that I did not want to see him because I hated him. But this was not true. It was only that I ‘had’ hated him and I wanted to hold on to this hatred. I did not want to look on him as a ruin; it was not a ruin I had hated.” His father died a week later.

  • Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated and this was an immutable law. James Baldwin, in Notes of a Native Son (1955)
  • He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still. The Bible—1 John 2:9 (RSV)
  • Misery generates hate. Charlotte Brontë, the voice of the narrator, in Shirley: A Tale (1849)
  • Don’t try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer. Brené Brown, in Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012)
  • Hate is as all-absorbing as love, as irrational, and in its own way as satisfying. Frederick Buechner, in Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter's dictionary (1988)

Buechner continued: “As lovers thrive on the presence of the beloved, haters revel in encounters with the one they hate. They confirm him in all his darkest suspicions. They add fuel to all his most burning animosities. The anticipation of them makes the hating heart pound. The memory of them can be as sweet as young love.”

  • The major difference between hating and loving is perhaps that whereas to love somebody is to be fulfilled and enriched by the experience, to hate somebody is to be diminished and drained by it. Lovers, by losing themselves in their loving, find themselves, become themselves. Haters simply lose themselves. Theirs is the ultimately consuming passion. Frederick Buechner, in Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter's dictionary (1988)
  • What the common man cannot understand he hates. Pearl S. Buck, a reflection of the character William Lane, in God's Men (1951)
  • I tell you, there is such a thing as creative hate! A contempt that drives you through fire, makes you risk everything and lose everything, makes you a long sight better than you ever knew you could be. Willa Cather, the protagonist Thea Kronborg speaking, in The Song of the Lark (1915)
  • Hatred plays the same part in government as acid in chemistry. Winston Churchill, in Maxims and Reflections (1949)
  • The price of hating other human beings is loving oneself less. Eldridge Cleaver, “On Becoming,” in Soul on Ice (1968)
  • Hate is the consequence of fear; we fear something before we hate it; a child who fears noises becomes a man who hates noise. Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1944)
  • Envy and hatred fascinate the eyes and never make them see things as they are. Marguerite de Valois, in Memoirs of Marguerite de Valois (1628)
  • Hatred is a prolific vice; envy, a barren vice. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • Hatred is like fire—it makes even light rubbish deadly. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, “Janet’s Repentance,” in Scenes of Clerical Life (1857)
  • There are glances of hatred that stab, and raise no cry of murder. George Eliot, in Introduction to Felix Holt, The Radical (1866)

Eliot continued: “Robberies that leave man or woman for ever beggared of peace and joy, yet kept secret by the sufferer—committed to no sound except that of low moans in the night.” She went on to conclude: “Many an inherited sorrow that has marred a life has been breathed into no human ear.”

  • And the intensest form of hatred is that rooted in fear. George Eliot, the narrator describing the “hidden rites” that went on secretly in Gwendolen’s mind, in Daniel Deronda (1874)

Describing Gwendolen’s developing hatred for her emotionally abusive husband, Henleigh Grandcourt, the narrator begins the passage by writing: “The embitterment of hatred is often as unaccountable to onlookers as the growth of devoted love, and it not only seems but is really out of direct relation with any outward causes to be alleged.”

  • Hating people is like burning down your own house to get rid of a rat. Harry Emerson Fosdick, “The Wages of Hate,” in The American Magazine (May, 1928); reprinted in As I See Religion (1932)

QUOTE NOTE: Anne Lamott was almost certainly inspired by this observation when she wrote in Traveling Mercies (1999) “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”

  • I feel fairly certain that my hatred harms me more than the people whom I hate. Max Frisch, in Sketchbook 1966-1971 (1992)
  • Once, I discovered the skulls of two impala rams, their horns locked into an irreversible figure-of-eight; the two animals had been trapped in combat, latched to each other during the battle of the rut. The harder they had pulled to escape from each other, the more intractably stuck they were, until they had fallen exhausted, to their knees, in an embrace of hatred that had killed them both. Alexandra Fuller, in Don't Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood (2001)
  • What we need is hatred. From it our ideas are born. Jean Genet, epigraph, The Blacks (1959)
  • Hate is a dead thing. Who of you would be a tomb? Kahlil Gibran, in Sand and Foam: A Book of Aphorisms (1926)
  • You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,/You’ve got to be taught from year to year,/It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear./You’ve got to be carefully taught. Oscar Hammerstein II, lyrics from the song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” in the Broadway musical South Pacific (1949; music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

QUOTE NOTE: The words of the song are delivered by Lt. Joe Cable, who is attempting to explain the origins of racial prejudice to his friend Emile. The song was quite controversial at the time, and both Rodgers and Hammerstein strongly resisted numerous recommendations to drop it completely from the production. When the show went on tour in the American South, Georgia legislators attempted to halt its staging by introducing a bill outlawing any form of entertainment that contained “an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow” (happily, it failed to pass). Later in life, author James Michener (on whose 1947 novel the musical was based) reflected about Rodgers and Hammerstein’s decision to stick with the song: “The authors replied stubbornly that this number represented why they had wanted to do this play, and that even if it meant the failure of the production, it was going to stay in.”

  • The pleasure of hating, like a poisonous mineral, eats into the heart of religion, and turns it to rankling spleen and bigotry; It makes patriotism an excuse for carrying fire, pestilence, and famine into other lands. William Hazlitt, “On the Pleasure of Hating,” in The Plain Speaker (1826)
  • Never let yourself hate any person. It is the most devastating weapon of one’s enemies. Dr. Thomas N. Hepburn, in 1929 letter to daughter Katharine Hepburn, on her twenty-first birthday; reprinted in Hepburn’s autobiography Me (1991)
  • 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, in Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth (1919)
  • Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer (1951)
  • To wrong those we hate is to add fuel to our hatred. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer (1951)

Hoffer continued: “Conversely, to treat an enemy with magnanimity is to blunt our hatred for him.”

  • When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens, but as enemies–to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered. Robert F. Kennedy, in speech to the Cleveland City Club (April 5, 1968)
  • Hatred is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated. Coretta Scott King, in a speech in San Francisco (April 14, 1989)
  • Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Strength to Love (1963)

Dr. King added this lovely example of Double Chiasmus: “Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.”

  • Hate traps us by binding us too tightly to our adversary. Milan Kundera, in Immortality (1988)

QUOTE NOTE: Here, the narrator is describing the thoughts of the character Agnes, who is reflecting on feelings of hatred in her father’s life as well as in her own. The passage continues: “This is the obscenity of war: the intimacy of mutually shed blood, the lascivious proximity of two soldiers who, eye to eye, bayonet each other.”

  • I seem to hang on to my hates because they help take my mind off the cracked reflection in the mirror. Anne Lamott, in Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith (2007)

A short while later, Lamott went on to write about the cost of hate: “We’re not punished for our hatred…but by it.”

  • Hatred is like an acid. It can do more damage to the container in which it is stored than to the object on which it is poured. Ann Landers, in Since You Ask Me (1961)

ERROR ALERT: On almost all internet sites, this quotation is mistakenly presented as: “Hate is like acid. It can damage the vessel in which it is stored as well as destroy the object on which it is poured.”

  • When our hatred is too keen, it puts us beneath those we hate. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • The most deadly fruit is borne by the hatred which one grafts on an extinguished friendship. G. E. Lessing, the title character speaking, in Philotas (1759)
  • Hatred is a deathwish for the hated, not a lifewish for anything else. Audre Lorde, “Eye to Eye,” in Sister Outsider (1984)

Lorde added: “To grow up metabolizing hatred like daily bread means that eventually every human interaction becomes tainted with the negative passion and intensity of its by-products—anger and cruelty.”

  • Anger, used, does not destroy. Hatred does. Audre Lorde, “Eye to Eye,” in Sister Outsider (1984)
  • For hate is old as eagle peaks,/And hate is new as sunrise gulls,/And hate is ravening vulture beaks/Descending on a place of skulls. Amy Lowell, “The Revenge,” in The New Republic (July 12, 1922)

To see the entire poem, go to ”The Revenge”

  • A man who lives, not by what he loves but what he hates, is a sick man. Archibald MacLeish, quoted in Clifton Fadiman, in The American Treasury, 1455–1955 (1955)
  • The voice of the intelligence is soft and weak, said Freud. It is drowned out by the roar of fear. Karl A. Menninger, in The Progressive (Oct., 1955)

QUOTE NOTE: Dr. Menninger used his paraphrase of Freud’s thinking as a springboard for his own thoughts on the fragility of human intelligence. He continued: “It is ignored by the voice of desire. It is contradicted by the voice of shame. It is hissed away by hate, and extinguished by anger. Most of all it is silenced by ignorance.”

  • How easy it is, how dangerously easy it is to hate a man for one's own inadequacies. Grace Metalious, a reflection of the character Seth Buswell, in Peyton Place (1956)
  • Hatred is love frustrated. Ashley Montagu, in The Natural Superiority of Women (1952)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation typically appears on most internet sites. The full passage from the 1952 book is as follows: “Where hatreds exist in any persons within any society we may be sure that they, too, are due to the involvement with love, for hatred is love frustrated.”

  • One drop of hatred in your soul will spread and discolor everything like a drop of black ink in white milk. Alice Munro, the voice of the protagonist Euphemia, the title story, in The Progress of Love (1985)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally part of this fuller passage: “Hatred is always a sin, my mother told me. Remember that. One drop of hatred in your soul will spread and discolor everything like a drop of black ink in white milk. I was struck by that and meant to try it.”

  • Only love has clear vision. Hatred has cloudy vision. When we hate we know not what we do. Iris Murdoch, the character Douglas Swann speaking, in An Unofficial Rose: A Novel (1962)
  • Hatred, however apparently justifiable, excusable or inevitable, always damages the hater. Dervla Murphy, in Transylvania and Beyond (1992)
  • All hate is self-hate. A. S. Neill, in Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing (1960)

Neill preceded the observation by writing: “All self-hate tends to be projected, that is transferred to others. The mother of an illegitimate child will condemn sexual looseness in others. The teacher who has tried for years to conquer masturbation will cane children. The old maid who has sublimated sex, that is, repressed it, will show her self-hate in scandal-mongering and bitterness.”

  • But hate is all a lie, there is no truth in hate. Kathleen Norris, in Hands Full of Living: Talks with American Women (1931)
  • Hatred is a feeling which leads to the extinction of values. José Ortega y Gasset, “Preliminary Meditation,” in Meditations on Quixote (1914)
  • Hate is always a clash between our own spirit and someone else’s body. Cesare Pavese, diary entry (Nov. 11, 1938), in This Business of Living: Diaries, 1935-1950 (1952)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly present our spirit rather than our own spirit.

  • You must not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to hate. Not because your tormentors have not earned it. But if you allow hatred to take root, it would flourish and spread during your years in the camps, driving out everything else, and ultimately corrode and warp your soul. You will no longer be yourself, your identity will be destroyed, all that will remain will be a hysterical, maddened and bedevilled husk of the human being that once was. Irina Ratushinskaya, in Grey Is the Color of Hope (1988)

QUOTE NOTE: Ratushinskaya (1954-2017) was a Russian poet who, in 1953, was sentenced to seven years in a Soviet labor camp for “agitation carried on for the purpose of subverting or weakening the Soviet regime” After serving half her sentence (including one full year in solitary confinement), she was released on the eve of the 1986 Iceland summit meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. She lived in the U.S. and Britain from 1987 to 1998, when she and her husband returned to Russia.

  • In hatred as in love, we grow like the thing we brood upon. What we loathe, we graft into our very soul. Mary Renault, the character Dion speaking, in The Mask of Apollo (1966)

Dion began by saying: “To crave revenge is to fall down before one’s enemy and eat dust at his feet. What worse can we let him do to us?”

  • Hatred, for the man who is not engaged in it, is a little like the odor of garlic for one who hasn’t eaten any. Jean Rostand, “A Biologist’s Notebook,” in The Substance of Man (1962)
  • Man can be the most affectionate and altruistic of creatures, yet he’s potentially more vicious than any other. He is the only one who can be persuaded to hate millions of his own kind whom he has never seen and to kill as many as he can lay his hands on in the name of his tribe or his God. Benjamin Spock, in Decent and Indecent: Our Personal and Political Behavior (1970)
  • People hate as they love, unreasonably. William Makepeace Thackeray, the voice of the narrator, in The Newcomes (1855)
  • Hate smolders and eventually destroys, not the hated but the hater. Dorothy Thompson, in a 1943 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • Hate is the complement of fear and narcissists like being feared. It imbues them with an intoxicating sensation of omnipotence. Sam Vaknin, in Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited (1999)
  • One cannot overestimate the power of a good rancorous hatred on the part of the stupid. The stupid have so much more industry and energy to expend on hating. They build it up like coral insects. Sylvia Townsend Warner, a 1954 entry, The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner (1995; in Claire Harman, ed.)
  • I would permit no man, no matter what his color might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him. Booker T. Washington, in Up From Slavery (1901)

Washington added: “With God’s help, I believe that I have completely rid myself of any ill feeling toward the Southern white man for any wrong that he may have inflicted upon my race.”

ERROR ALERT: All over the Internet—and in far too many quotation anthologies—this quotation is mistakenly presented as if it were phrased: “I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him.”

  • I know that you cannot hate other people without hating yourself. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Brian Lanker, I Dream a World (1989)
  • Love is a great glue, but there is no cement like mutual hate. Lois Wyse, in The Rosemary Touch (1974)



  • Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. The Bible—Book of Proverbs 16:19
  • Hatred grows into insolence when we desire to excel the rest of mankind and imagine we do not belong to the common lot; we even severely and haughtily despise others as our inferiors. John Calvin, in Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life (1551)
  • Nobody who is Somebody looks down on anybody. Margaret Deland, the Captain speaking, in Captain Archer’s Daughter (1932)
  • How haughtily he cocks his nose,/To tell what every schoolboy knows. Jonathan Swift, on a contemporary, in letter to Mr. Cope (Oct. 9, 1722); later published in a 1723 issue of The Whitehall Journal



  • Men may be divided almost any way we please, but I have found the most useful distinction to be made between those who devote their lives to conjugating the verb “to be” and those who spend their lives conjugating the verb “to have.” Sydney J. Harris in For the Time Being (1972)


[Human] HEAD

(see also BODY and FACE and HEAD & HEART)

  • The human head is of the same approximate size and weight as a roaster chicken. I have never before had occasion to make the comparison, for never before today have I seen a head in a roasting pan. But here today are forty of them, one per pan, resting face-up on what looks to be a small pet-food bowl. The heads are for plastic surgeons, two per head, to practice on. Mary Roach, the opening words of “A Head Is a Terrible Thing to Waste,” in Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003)

QUOTE NOTE: This chapter of Roach’s book was about a Face-Lift Refresher Course for Plastic Surgeons.



  • Your heart often knows things before your mind does. Polly Adler, in A House Is Not a Home (1953)
  • Where the heart lies, let the brain lie also. Robert Browning, “One Word More,” in Men and Women (1855)
  • It is the heart always that sees, before the head can see. Thomas Carlyle, in Chartism (1839)
  • If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing. Marc Chagall, quoted in Roy McMullen, The World of Marc Chagall (1968)
  • People are governed with the head; kindness of heart is little use in chess. Nicolas Chamfort, in Maxims and Considerations (1796)
  • Some persons hold…that there is a wisdom of the Head, and that there is a wisdom of the Heart. Charles Dickens, the character Thomas Gradgrind speaking, in Hard Times (1854)
  • There are two distinct sorts of ideas, those that proceed from the head and those that emanate from the heart. Alexandre Dumas, père, the voice of the narrator, in The Count of Monte Cristo (1845)
  • The heart errs like the head; its errors are not any the less fatal, and we have more trouble getting free of them because of their sweetness. Anatole France, in Little Pierre (1918)
  • A woman’s head is always influenced by her heart, but a man’s heart is always influenced by his head. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), quoted in R. R. Madden, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, Vol. 1 (1855)
  • No creature can fly with just one wing. Gifted leadership occurs when heart and head—feeling and thought—meet. These are the two wings that allow a leader to soar. Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, & Annie McKee, in Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence (2013)
  • An honest heart being the first blessing, a knowing head is the second. Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Peter Carr (August 19, 1785)
  • For the reality of these [guiding] principles I appeal to the true fountains of evidence, the head and heart of every rational and honest man. It is there nature has written her moral laws, and where every man may read them for himself. Thomas Jefferson, in an official opinion while serving as Secretary of State (April 28, 1793); reprinted in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. III (1907; A. E. Bergh, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Seven years earlier, while serving as Ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson composed a remarkable dialogue between his head and his heart in an Oct. 12, 1786 love letter to Maria Cosway, a young French woman who had stolen his heart. The full letter, along with commentary on it, may be seen at: Founders Online.

  • A quick mind is worthless unless you can control the emotions with it as well. Laurie R. King, the character Sherlock Holmes, speaking to protagonist Mary Russell, in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994)
  • One day we will learn that the heart can never be totally right if the head is totally wrong. Only through the bringing together of head and heart—intelligence and goodness—shall man rise to a fulfillment of his true nature. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Strength to Love (1963)
  • The head is always the dupe of the heart. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination. Nelson Mandela, in letter to Fatima Meer (Jan. 1, 1976); in Notes to the Future: Words of Wisdom (2012)
  • The head never rules the heart, but just becomes its partner in crime. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
  • If my heart could do my thinking/And my head begin to feel/would I look upon the world anew,/And know what’s truly real. Van Morrison, lyrics from the song “I Forgot That Love Existed,” on the album Poetic Champions Compose (1987)
  • One ought to hold on to one’s heart; for if one lets it go, one soon loses control of the head too. Friedrich Nietzsche, the title character speaking, “On the Pitying,” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883)
  • The heart has reasons that the reason knows not of. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)
  • If any part of your uncertainty is a conflict between your heart and your mind—follow your mind. Ayn Rand, the character John Galt speaking, in Atlas Shrugged (1957)
  • I think that there is only one quality worse than hardness of heart and that is softness of head. Theodore Roosevelt, in speech at Redding, California (May 20, 1903); reprinted in The Strenuous Epigrams of Theodore Roosevelt (1904)
  • We distrust our heart too much, and our head not enough. Joseph Roux, in Meditations of a Parish Priest (1886)
  • Remember only this of our hopeless love/That never till Time is done/Will the fire of the heart and the fire of the mind be one. Edith Sitwell, in “Head and Heart” (1944); reprinted in full in “The Sitwells,” Life magazine (Dec. 6, 1948)

QUOTE NOTE: The full poem, along with fascinating pictures of Sitwell’s 1948 visit to New York City (accompanied by brother Osbert) appear in the Life article. It may be viewed at: The Sitwells.

  • The heart has such an influence over the understanding that it is worth while to engage it in our interest. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (June 21, 1748)
  • Pity me that the heart is slow to learn/What the swift mind beholds at every turn. Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Pity Me Not,” in The Harp-Weaver (1923)
  • You can’t reason with your heart; it has its own laws, and thumps about things which the intellect scorns. Mark Twain, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist Hank Morgan, in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889)
  • If your head tells you one thing, and your heart tells you another, before you do anything, you should first decide whether you have a better head or a better heart. Marilyn vos Savant, in a 1998 “Ask Marilyn” column, Parade magazine (specific date undetermined)
  • I am all for people having their heart in the right place; but the right place for a heart is not inside the head. Katharine Whitehorn, in Roundabout (1962)



  • Headmasters have powers at their disposal with which Prime Ministers have never yet been invested. Winston Churchill, in My Early Life (1930)



  • The words of kindness are more healing to a drooping heart than balm or honey. Sarah Fielding, in The Adventures of David Simple (1744)

AUTHOR NOTE: Sarah Fielding (1710–1768) was the younger sister of the English novelist Henry Fielding (1707–1754).

  • The wish for healing has ever been the half of health. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in Hippolytus (1st cent. B.C.)



  • Health and cheerfulness mutually beget each other. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (London; May 24, 1712)

Addison went on to add: “We seldom meet with a great degree of health which is not attended with a certain cheerfulness, but very often see cheerfulness where there is no great degree of health.” This observation quickly became popular, and almost certainly inspired a passage in a 1756 Arthur Murphy play (see the Murphy entry below).

  • Health is the first of all liberties, and happiness gives us the energy which is the basis of health. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in Journal Intime (April 3, 1865)

Amiel introduced the thought by writing: “What doctor possesses such curative resources as those latent in a spark of happiness or a single ray of hope? The mainspring of life is in the heart.”

  • The trouble about always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind. G. K. Chesterton, “On the Classics.” in Come to Think of It (1930)
  • Man does not live on soap alone; and hygiene, or even health, is not much good unless you can take a healthy view of it—or, better still, feel a healthy indifference to it. G. K. Chesterton, “On St. George Revivified,” in All I Survey (1933)
  • Thousands upon thousands of persons have studied disease. Almost no one has studied health. Adelle Davis, in Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit (1954)
  • In this society, dominated as it is by the profit-seeking ventures of monopoly corporations, health has been callously transformed into a commodity—a commodity that those with means are able to afford, but that is too often entirely beyond the reach of others. Angela Davis, in Women, Culture, & Politics (1989)
  • Give me health and a day, and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in Nature (1836; rev. 1849)
  • The first wealth is health. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Power,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • ’Tis an old saying: That an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Benjamin Franklin, in letter to Rev. Samuel Johnson (Sep. 13, 1750); reprinted in E. Edwards Beardsley, Life and Correspondence of Samuel Johnson, D.D. (1874)

ERROR ALERT: Many respected reference works date the origin of this American proverb as much later, some to 1795. Franklin’s letter to Johnson, however, suggests that it was already familiar by the middle of the century (The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations traces a forerunner saying prevention is better than cure to the early seventeenth century). Some works have mistakenly reported that Franklin offered the observation to the English man of letters, Dr. Samuel Johnson. In fact, he was writing to a similarly named Connecticut clergyman who went on to become president of King’s College, later Columbia College. Franklin’s full letter may be seen at: Ounce of Prevention.

  • Sickness is felt, but health not at all. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Those obsessed with health are not healthy; the first requisite of good health is a certain calculated carelessness about oneself. Sydney J. Harris, in his “Strictly Personal” syndicated column, Detroit Free Press (Dec. 3, 1959)
  • If you mean to keep as well as possible, the less you think about your health the better. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in Over the Teacups (1891)
  • People who don’t know how to keep themselves healthy ought to have the decency to get themselves buried, and not waste time about it. Henrik Ibsen, the character Ulfheim speaking, in When We Dead Awaken (1899)
  • With your talents and industry, with science, and that stedfast [sic] honesty which eternally pursues right, regardless of consequences, you may promise yourself every thing—but health, without which there is no happiness. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr. (July 6, 1787); reprinted in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Vol 11 (1955; J. P. Boyd, ed.)

Jefferson continued: “An attention to health then should take place of every other object. The time necessary to secure this by active exercises should be devoted to it in preference to every other pursuit.”

  • We should pray for a sound mind in a sound body. Juvenal, in Satires (c. 100 A.D.)

QUOTE NOTE: This saying—sometimes translated “a sane man in a sound body”—evolved into one of history’s most famous catchphrases. John Locke famously tweaked the saying in the opening words to a 1693 book (see his entry below).

  • Some people take pleasure in regaling one and all with details of their poor health. They are happy to give an organ recital to anyone who will listen. Ann Landers, in The Ann Landers Encyclopedia (1978)
  • To me good health is more than just exercise and diet. It’s really a point of view and a mental attitude you have about yourself. Angela Lansbury, in Angela Lansbury’s Positive Moves: My Personal Plan for Fitness & Well-Being (1991)
  • Preserving health by too strict a regimen is a wearisome malady. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • A sound mind in a sound body is a short but full description of a happy state in this World: he that has these two has little more to wish for; and he that wants either of them will be little the better for anything else. John Locke, the opening sentence of Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693)

QUOTE NOTE: Inspired by a famous saying from the Roman writer Juvenal (see his entry above), Locke offers one of literary history’s most famous opening paragraphs. Note that he uses want in the sense of “to lack.”

  • Cheerfulness, sir, is the principal ingredient in the composition of health. Arthur Murphy, the character Gargle speaking, in The Apprentice (1756)

QUOTE NOTE: Murphy was inspired by a popular Joseph Addison observation made several decades earlier (see the Addison entry above).

  • Use your health, even to the point of wearing it out. That is what it is for. Spend all you have before you die; and do not outlive yourself.George Bernard Shaw, in Preface to The Doctor’s Dilemma (1911)
  • The preservation of health is a duty. Herbert Spencer, in Education (1861)

Spencer continued: “Few seem conscious that there is such a thing as physical mortality.”

  • It is better to lose health like a spendthrift than to waste it like a miser. It is better to live and be done with it, then to die daily in the sick-room. Robert Louis Stevenson, in Virginibus Puerisque (1881)
  • Health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die. Larry Stimmell, quoted in a 1960 issue of Nursing Mirror magazine (specific issue un determined)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation—often with the phrasing good health and usually attributed to author unknown—has become quite popular in recent years. This is the earliest appearance of sentiment I’ve been able to find (no information has been found on the author).

  • He had had much experience of physicians, and said, “the only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d druther not.” Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” in Following the Equator (1897)
  • Lord save us all from old age and broken health and a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms. Mark Twain, in letter to Joe T. Goodman (April, 1891); reprinted in The Letters of Mark Twain, Vol. 4: 1886–1900 (A. B. Paine, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Twain was writing to console an old friend who had become ill. He preceded the thought by writing: “It is dreadful to think of you in ill health—I can’t realize it; you are always to me the same that you were in those days when matchless health and glowing spirits and delight in life were commonplaces with us.”

  • And, in the second place, look to your health; and if you have it, praise God, and value it next to a good conscience; for health is the second blessing that we mortals are capable of; a blessing that money cannot buy. Izaak Walton, in The Compleat Angler (1653)

QUOTE NOTE: If health is the “second blessing” human beings are capable of, what is the first? That, according to Walton, would be conscience. Walton preceded the foregoing observation by writing: “For is it well said by [17th c. French writer Nicolas] Caussin, ‘He that loses his conscience has nothing left that is worth keeping.’ Therefore be sure you look to that.” Walton went on to identify a third blessing as well: money.



  • The human heart harbors two conflicting sentiments. Everyone of course sympathizes with people who suffer misfortunes. Yet when those people manage to overcome their misfortunes, we feel a certain disappointment. We may even feel (to overstate the case somewhat) a desire to plunge them back into those misfortunes. And before we know it, we come (if only passively) to harbor some degree of hostility toward them. Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, the voice of the narrator, “The Nose,” in Roshomon: And Seventeen Other Stories (2006; Jay Rubin, trans.)
  • The heart, especially the Jewish heart, is a fiddle: you pull the strings, and out come songs, mostly plaintive. Sholem Aleichem, in Stempenyu (1888)
  • When the heart is full, the eyes overflow. Sholem Aleichem, in Dos Groise Gevins (1895)
  • The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews. W. H. Auden, “Death’s Echo” (1936) in Collected Shorter Poems, 1930-1944 (1950)
  • The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? The Bible―Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV)
  • The human heart has so many crannies where vanity hides, so many holes where falsehood works, is so decked out with deceiving hypocrisy, that it often dupes itself. John Calvin, in Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536)
  • The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one’s own. Willa Cather, a reflection of protagonist Godfrey St. Peter as he thinks about his wife Lillian, in The Professor’s House (1925)
  • There are strings in the human heart…that had better not be vibrated. Charles Dickens, the character Mr. Tappertit speaking, in Barnaby Rudge (1841)

QUOTE NOTE: In the book, Tappertit has a speech problem which has him say wibrated instead of vibrated

  • Many think they have good hearts who have only weak nerves. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • We do know that no one gets wise enough to really understand the heart of another, though it is the task of our life to try. Louise Erdrich, the voice of the narrator, in The Bingo Palace (1994)
  • Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold. Zelda Fitzgerald, quoted in Nancy Milford, Zelda (1970)
  • Beware the dark pool at the bottom of our hearts. In its icy, black depths swell strange and twisted creatures it is best not to disturb. Sue Grafton, a reflection of the novel’s protagonist, Kinsey Millhone, in “I” is for Innocent (1992)
  • My heart is like the ocean,/With tempest, ebb, and flow,/And many pearls full precious/Lie in its depths below. Heinrich Heine, in Return Home (1823)
  • When the heart is narrow, the tongue is wide. Solomon Ibn Gabriol, in Mibhar HaPeninim (c. 1050)
  • Look into any man’s heart you please, and you will always find, in every one, at least one black spot which he has to keep concealed. Henrik Ibsen, in Pillars of Society (1877)
  • The stomach is near the heart and one appetite pricks on another. Storm Jameson, in Three Kingdoms (1926)
  • A big heart is both a clunky and a delicate thing; it doesn’t protect itself and it doesn’t hide. It stands out like a baby’s fontanel, where you can see the soul pulse through. Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994)
  • The human heart is like a ship on a stormy sea driven about by winds blowing from all four corners of heaven. Martin Luther, in Preface to Psalms (1534)
  • There is a chord in every human heart than has a sigh in it if touched aright. Ouida (pen name of Maria Louise Ramé), the voice of the narrator, in Signa (1875)

The narrator continued: “When the artist finds the keynote which that chord will answer to, in the dullest as in the highest—then he is great.”

  • The heart has reasons that the reason knows not of. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)
  • In a full heart there is room for everything, and in an empty heart there is room for nothing. Antonio Porchia, in Voces (1943; translated into English as Voices in 1968 by W. S. Merwin)
  • Gratitude is the heart’s memory. Proverb (French)
  • A man falls in love through his eyes, a woman through her imagination, and then they both speak of it as an affair of “the heart.” Helen Rowland, in A Guide to Men (1922)
  • Whatever makes an impression on the heart seems lovely in the eye. Saadi, in Gulistan (1258)
  • It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in The Little Prince (1943)
  • O! Many a shaft at random sent/Finds mark the archer little meant!/And many a word, at random spoken,/May soothe or wound a heart that’s broken. Sir Walter Scott, in The Lord of the Isles (1815)
  • Most things break, including hearts. The lessons of a life amount not to wisdom but to scar tissue and callus. Wallace Stegner, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Joe Allston, in The Spectator Bird (1976)
  • To wear your heart on your sleeve isn’t a very good plan. You should wear it inside, where it functions best. Margaret Thatcher, in interview on ABC-TV (March 18, 1987)
  • Never Offer Your Heart to Someone who Eats Hearts. Alice Walker, title of 1978 poem


(see also EARS and EYES and SENSE & THE SENSES and SIGHT and SMELL and TASTE and TOUCH)

  • I found that of the senses, the eye is the most superficial, the ear the most arrogant, smell the most voluptuous, taste the most superstitious and fickle, touch the most profound and the most philosophical. Helen Keller, “Sense and Sensibility,” in a 1908 issue of Century magazine (specific issue undetermined)



  • Of all the aspects of social misery nothing is so heartbreaking as unemployment. Jane Addams, in Twenty Years at Hull House (1910)
  • Hollywood was always heartbreak town, though most of the world fancied it to be Shangri-La, King Solomon's mines, and Fort Knox rolled into one big ball of 24-karat gold. Hedda Hopper, in The Whole Truth and Nothing But (1963; with James Brough)
  • The best work is done with the heart breaking, or overflowing. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • Well, since my baby left me,/I found a new place to dwell./It’s down at the end of lonely street/At heartbreak hotel. Elvis Presley, opening lyrics of 1956 hit song “Heartbreak Hotel” (written by Tommy Durden & Mae Boren Axton)

QUOTE NOTE: For more on the song, which went to the top of both the country and pop charts, go to: Heartbreak Hotel.

  • Most things break, including hearts. The lessons of a life amount not to wisdom but to scar tissue and callus. Wallace Stegner, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Joe Allston, in The Spectator Bird (1976)



  • To children heaven is being an adult, and to adults heaven is being children again. Diane Ackerman, in Deep Play (1999). Also an example of chiasmus.

Ackerman preceded the thought by writing: “If cynicism is inevitable as one ages, so is the yearning for innocence.”

  • I never knew how much like heaven this world could be, when two people love and live for one another! Louisa May Alcott, the character Amy, in a letter about her recent engagement, in Little Women (1868)
  • In my Father’s house are many mansions. The Bible—John 14:2, Jesus speaking (KJV)
  • The kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. The Bible—Matthew 13:47-50, Jesus speaking (RSV)
  • The arrogance of some Christians would close heaven to them if, to their misfortune, it existed. Simone de Beauvoir, in All Said and Done (1972)
  • Earth’s crammed with heaven,/And every common bush afire with God:/But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,/The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,/And daub their natural faces unaware. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in Aurora Leigh (1856)
  • I never saw a moor,/I never saw the sea;/Yet know I how the heather looks,/And what a wave must be./I never spoke with God,/Nor visited in heaven;/Yet certain am I of the spot /As if the chart were given. Emily Dickinson, in the poem “I Never Saw a Moor” (1865)
  • Who has not found the Heaven—below—/Will fail of it above—/God’s residence is next to mine,/His furniture is love. Emily Dickinson, Poem No. 1544. in Poems (1896)
  • The Promised Land always lies on the other side of a wilderness. Havelock Ellis, in The Dance of Life (1923)
  • Heaven is large and affords space for all modes of love and fortitude. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • Modern man, if he dared to be articulate about his concept of heaven, would describe a vision which would look like the biggest department store in the world, showing new things and gadgets, and himself having plenty of money with which to buy them. Erich Fromm, in The Sane Society (1955)
  • Do not ask God the way to heaven; he will show you the hardest way. Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, in Unkempt Thoughts (1962)
  • To me heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera seats and a trout stream outside that no one else was allowed to fish in and two lovely houses in the town. Ernest Hemingway, in letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald (July 1, 1925); reprinted in Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters (1981)

About those two houses, Hemingway continued: “One where I would have my wife and children and be monogamous and love them truly and well and the other where I would have my nine beautiful mistresses on nine different floors.”

  • Heaven is not reached at a single bound;/But we build the ladder by which we rise/From the lowly earth to the vaulted skies,/ And we mount to its summit round by round. Josiah Gilbert Holland in the poem “Gradatim” (1872)
  • Heaven: The Coney Island of the Christian imagination. Elbert Hubbard, in The Roycroft Dictionary and Book of Epigrams (1923)
  • Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go there right away. Barbara Johnson, a chapter epigraph, in Boomerang Joy (1998)
  • The bottom line is in heaven. Edwin H. Land, remark at Polaroid Corporation shareholders meeting (April 26, 1977)

QUOTE NOTE: Land, founder of the company and Chairman of the Board at the time, said this in response to a question a shareholder had asked regarding the “bottom line” implications of a new product the company was launching. Land’s full remark was: “You think that the only thing that counts is the bottom line! What a presumptuous thing to say. The bottom line is in heaven.” That new product, by the way, was Polavision, an instant movie system that turned out to be a financial disaster. Land resigned as chairman three years later.

  • Joy is the serious business of Heaven. C. S. Lewis, in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (1964)
  • Of all the inventions of man I doubt whether any was more easily accomplished than that of a Heaven. G. C. Lichtenberg, in Aphorisms: Notebook L (written between 1793-96)

In an earlier notebook, containing thoughts written between 1776-79, Lichtenberg offered this additional thought on the subject: “There exists a species of transcendental ventriloquism by means of which men can be made to believe that something said on earth comes from Heaven.”

  • Religion attaches to heaven an idea of equality that stops the rich from being massacred by the poor. Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte), an 1806 remark, quoted in Opinions de Napoléon sur Divers Sujets (1833)
  • The “kingdom of heaven is within,” indeed, but we must also create one without, because we are intended to act upon our circumstances. Florence Nightingale, an 1860 tweak of Luke 17:21 (“the kingdom of God is within you”), in Suggestions for Thought (1994; Michael D. Calabria and Janet A. Macrae, eds.)
  • Heaven is neither a place nor a time. Florence Nightingale, quoted in Edward Tyas Cook, The Life of Florence Nightingale, Vol. 2 (1914)
  • We all long for heaven where God is, but we have it in our power to be in heaven with him right now—to be happy with him at this very moment. But being happy with him now means: loving as he loves, helping as he helps, giving as he gives, serving as he serves, rescuing as he rescues, being with him for all the twenty-four hours, touching him in his distressing disguise. Mother Teresa, in A Gift for God: Prayers and Meditations (1996)
  • Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads. Henry David Thoreau, “The Pond in Winter,” in Walden (1854)
  • We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. Desmond Tutu, quoted in the Sunday Times (London; April 15, 2001)
  • The human mind is inspired enough when it comes to inventing horrors; it is when it tries to invent a Heaven that it shows itself cloddish. Evelyn Waugh, the character Ambrose speaking, in Put Out More Flags (1942)
  • We cannot take a single step toward heaven. It is not in our power to travel in a vertical direction. If however we look heavenward for a long time, God comes and takes us up. Simone Weil, in Waiting for God (1950)
  • We cannot take a single step toward heaven. It is not in our power to travel in a vertical direction. If however we look heavenward for a long time, God comes and takes us up. Simone Weil, in Waiting for God (1950)
  • The doctrine of the Kingdom of Heaven, which was the main teaching of Jesus, and which plays so small a part in Christian Creeds, is certainly one of the most revolutionary doctrines that ever stirred and changed human thought. H. G. Wells, in The Outline of History (1920)

QUOTE NOTE: In A Short History of the World (1922), Wells presented the same observation, but this time without the and which plays so small a part in the Christian creeds portion. Today, it is the revised version which is the most widely quoted.



  • Heaven and hell seem out of proportion to me: the actions of men do not deserve so much. Jorge Luis Borges, quoted in Pilar Bravo and Mario Paoletti, Borges Verbal (1999)
  • To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven; the same key opens the gates of hell. Proverb (Buddhist)
  • Men have feverishly conceived a heaven only to find it insipid, and a hell to find it ridiculous. George Santayana, in The Life of Reason (1905-06)


(see also EARTH and MOON and SKY & SKIES and SPACE and STARS and SUN and UNIVERSE)

  • The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. The Bible—Psalms 19:1 (KJV)


(includes PLEASURE-SEEKING; see also PLEASURE)

  • The struggle which is not joyous is the wrong struggle. The joy of the struggle is not hedonism and hilarity, but the sense of purpose, achievement and dignity. Germaine Greer, in The Female Eunuch (1970)
  • An individualism which has got beyond the stage of hedonism tends to yield to the lure of the grandiose. André Malraux, in The Voices of Silence (1951)
  • Pleasure is a hedonistic reflex, a burning impulse to abandon rational thought altogether and immerse oneself in the moment. Gene Wallenstein, in The Pleasure Instinct (2009)


(see also WEIGHT)

  • I’m told that after the age of 60, one loses half an inch of height every five years. This doesn’t appear to be a problem for Biden, but it presents a challenge for me, considering that at my zenith, I didn’t quite make it to five feet. If I live as long as my father did, I may vanish. Robert Reich, “A Holiday Question: How Old is Old?” a Substack post (Dec. 25, 2023)



  • Hell has three gates: lust, anger, and greed. Bhagavad Gita (16)

QUOTE NOTE: Lord Krishna, speaking to Prince Arjuna, adds: “For your own sake, Arjuna, give up these three.”



  • The older I get, the greater power I seem to have to help the world; I am like a snowball—the further I am rolled, the more I gain. Susan B. Anthony, in interview with Nelly Bly, New York World (Feb. 2, 1896); reprinted in Ida Husted Harper, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, Vol. 2 (1898)
  • It is one of the beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another, without helping himself. Philip James Bailey, quoted in Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thought (1908)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this observation is mistakenly attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

  • Stay away from all movements, faiths, philosophies, and people who threaten to help you find happiness. Russell Baker, “How to Get There From Here,” in The New York Times (June 27, 1978)
  • The healthy, the strong individual, is the one who asks for help when he needs it. Whether he’s got an abscess on his knee or in his soul. Rona Barrett, in Miss Rona: An Autobiography (1977)
  • It’s so nice to be a spoke in the wheel, one that helps to turn, not one that hinders. Gertrude Bell, in a 1916 letter, quoted in Florence Bell, The Letters of Gertrude Bell, Vol. 1 (1927)
  • God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. The Bible: Psalms 46:1
  • The truest help we can render an afflicted man is not to take his burden from him, but to call out his best energy, that he may be able to bear the burden. Phillips Brooks, quoted in Louis Klopsch, in Many Thoughts of Many Minds (1896)
  • When a person’s down in the world, I think an ounce of help is better than a pound of preaching. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the character Roger Morton, in letter to his sister Catherine, in Night and Morning (1841)
  • He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper. Edmund Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
  • Everything one has forgotten cries for help in the dream. Elias Canetti, in The Human Province: 1942-1972 (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage has also been translated this way: “All the things one has forgotten scream for help in dreams.”

  • Infinite is the help man can yield to man. Thomas Carlyle, in Sartor Resartus (1836)
  • To me it seems that to give happiness is a far nobler goal that to attain it: and that what we exist for is much more a matter of relations to others than a matter of individual progress: much more a matter of helping others to heaven than of getting there ourselves. Lewis Carroll, in letter to Lilian Moxon (July 8, 1895); reprinted in The Letters of Lewis Carroll, Vol. II (M. N. Cohen, ed.)
  • One of the great truths of life is that you can’t do all alone. You need help along the way. Ben Carson, in Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (1990)
  • A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. Jimmy Carter, in speech at Liberal Party dinner, New York City (Oct. 14, 1976)

Carter continued: “It is a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity.”

  • We come to realize that other people’s welfare is just as important as our own. In helping them, we help ourselves. In helping ourselves, we help the world. Pema Chödrön, in Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change (2012)
  • We’re here to use our intelligence, yes, but that ain’t everything. It’s our duty to see through things, but also to see things through. Or I’ll put it another way. We're not primarily put on this earth to see through one another, but to see one another through. Peter De Vries, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Stanley Waltz, in Let Me Count the Ways (1965)

QUOTE NOTE: The final portion has become almost a signature saying for De Vries. Note the two separate examples of chiasmus in the full observation.

  • No one is useless in this world, retorted the Secretary, who lightens the burden of it for any one else. Charles Dickens, the protagonist John Harmon speaking (in the assumed role of a secretary named John Rokesmith), in Our Mutual Friend (serialized 1864-65; book form 1865)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all Internet sites mistakenly present the quotation this way: “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

  • Hail to the man who went through life always helping others, knowing no fear, and to whom aggressiveness and resentment are alien. Such is the stuff of which the great moral leaders are made. Albert Einstein, in Essays Presented to Leo Baeck on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday (1954); reported in The New Quotable Einstein (2005; Alice Calaprice, ed.)
  • The blessed work of helping the world forward, happily does not wait to be done by perfect men. George Eliot, a reflection of Janet Dempster, in “Janet’s Repentance,” from Scenes of Clerical Life (1857)
  • Love is all we have, the only way/that each can help the other. Euripides, in Orestes (5th c. B.C.)
  • I hate it in friends when they come too late to help. Euripides, in Rhesus (5th c. B.C.)
  • Often we can help each other most by leaving each other alone; at other times we need the hand-grasp and the word of cheer. Elbert Hubbard, in The Note Book (1927)
  • We know that we can help ourselves only as we help others, and that the love we give away is the only love we keep. Elbert Hubbard, in The Fra: A Magazine of Business Inspiration (April, 1915)
  • The person who sings only the blues is like someone in a deep pit yelling for help. Mahalia Jackson, in Movin’ on Up (1966; with E. M Wylie)

Jackson had earlier written: “I’ll never give up my gospel songs for the blues. Blues are the songs of despair, but gospel songs are the songs of hope. When you sing them you are delivered of your burden. You have a feeling that there is a cure for what’s wrong.”

  • We live in a society which salves its conscience more by helping the interestingly unfortunate than the dull deserving. P. D. James, protagonist Adam Dalgliesh speaking, in Cover Her Face (1962)
  • Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached ground encumbers him with help? Samuel Johnson, in letter to Lord Chesterfield (Feb. 7, 1955); reported in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

QUOTE NOTE: While Lord Chesterfield was officially listed as a patron of Dr. Johnson’s famous Dictionary of the English Language (first published in 1755), he offered very little assistance during the early years of the project. A few months before publication, however, he wrote two “puff” pieces endorsing the effort, From Johnson’s perspective, it was not simply a case of “too little, too late,” but an outright act of opportunism on Chesterfield’s part. Johnson preceded the thought above by writing: “Seven years, my lord, have now past since I waited in your outward rooms or was repulsed from your door, during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it at last to the verge of publication without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favor. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before.” Johnson's resentment toward Chesterfield even showed up in his dictionary's definition of patron: “Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery.”

  • The world is always going to be dangerous, and people get badly banged up, but how can there be more meaning than helping one another stand up in a wind and stay warm? Anne Lamott, in Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair (2013)
  • I get by with a little help from my friends. John Lennon & Paul McCartney, main lyric from the 1967 song “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
  • If you ever need a helping hand, you’ll find one at the end of your arm. Sam Levenson, quoting his father, in In One Era and Out the Other (1973)

QUOTE NOTE: In the book, Levenson said he was celebrating his fifth birthday when his father offered the advice. The saying went on to become very popular, with many celebrities (including Audrey Hepburn) adopting it as a kind of motto. In Diana Maychick’s biography Audrey Hepburn: An Intimate Portrait (1993) Hepburn is quoted as saying: “If you ever need a helping hand, it’s at the end of your arm. As you get older, you must remember you have a second hand. The first one is to help yourself, the second one is to help others.”

  • Sometimes people who need help look nothing like people who need help. Glennon Doyle Melton, in Carry On Warrior (2013)

Doyle Melton was thinking about herself in this observation, writing, “I was what they call a ‘highly functional addict.’”

  • To live is not to live for one’s self alone; let us help one another. Menander, quoted in S. H. Morse & J. B. Marvin, “Religious Ideas,” in The Radical (March, 1868)
  • An ounce of help is worth more than a pound of pity any day. Louise Jordan Miln, the voice of the narrator, in The Green Goddess (1922)
  • A certain amount of opposition is a great help to a man. Kites rise against, not with, the wind. Even a head wind is better than none. No man ever worked his passage anywhere in a dead calm. John Neal, quoted in William Hunt, The American Biographical Sketch Book, Vol. 1 (1848)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly attribute this quotation to Lewis Mumford.

  • I thank Heaven I have often had it in my power to give help and relief, and this is still my greatest pleasure. Bartold George Niebuhr, in an 1817 letter, quoted in F. von Bunsen, et. al., The Life and Letters of Barthold George Niebuhr (1854)

Niebuhr continued: “If I could choose my sphere of action now, it would be that of the most simple and direct efforts of this kind.”

  • It was while helping others to be free that I gained my own freedom. Anaïs Nin, quoted in Judy Oringer, “Anaïs Nin on Women,” in a 1971 issue of Ramparts magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • They have a right to censure, that have a heart to help. William Penn, in Some Fruits of Solitude (1693)
  • When men do the dishes it’s called helping. When women do dishes, it’s called life. Anna Quindlen, in New Woman magazine (Jan., 1993)
  • As for charity, it is injurious unless it helps the recipient become independent of it. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. quoted in S. J. Woolf, Drawn from Life (1932)
  • How we deal with the big disappointments in life depends a great deal on how the people who loved us helped us deal with smaller disappointments when we were little. Fred Rogers, in You Are Special (1994)
  • You must give some time to your fellow man. Even if it is a little thing, do something for those who have need of help, something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it. For remember, you don’t live in a world all your own. Your brothers are here too. Albert Schweitzer, in interview with Bernard Redmont, in 1951 issue of This Week magazine (specific issue undetermined)

Schweitzer preceded the thought by saying: “Every man has to seek in his own way to do some good. Every man has to seek in his own way to make himself more noble and to realize his own true worth.”

  • Hope is renewed each time that you see a person you know, who is deeply involved in the struggle of life, helping another person. You are the unaffected witness and must agree that there is hope for mankind. Albert Schweitzer, in Albert Schweitzer: Thoughts for Our Times (1975; Erica Anderson, ed.)
  • ’Tis not enough to help the feeble up, But to support him after. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in Timon of Athens (c. 1607)
  • We can’t help everyone, but our responsibility lies in not looking the other way when someone crosses our path that we can help. Anne E. Smith, in Getting Old is Not for Sissies: Memoir of a Caregiver (2018)
  • Those who loved you, and were helped by you, will remember you when forget-me-nots are withered. Carve your name on hearts, and not on marble. C. H. Spurgeon, in John Ploughman’s Talk: Or Plain Advice for Plain People (1869)

Spurgeon preceded the thought by writing: “A good character is the best tombstone.”

  • Generosity is luck going in the opposite direction, away from you. If you’re generous to someone, if you do something to help him out, you are in effect making him lucky. This is important. It’s like inviting yourself into a community of good fortune. Twyla Tharp, in The Creative Habit (2003; with Mark Reiter)
  • The earliest sensation at the onset of illness, often preceding the recognition of identifiable symptoms, is apprehension. Something has gone wrong, and a glimpse of mortality shifts somewhere deep in the mind. It is the most ancient of our fears. Lewis Thomas, in The Fragile Species (1992)

Thomas continued: “Something must be done, and quickly. Come, please, and help, or go, please, and find help. Hence, the profession of medicine.”

  • I have learned that the best way to lift one’s self up is to help someone else. Booker T. Washington, in The Story of My Life and Work, Vol. 1 (1900)
  • You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want. Zig Ziglar, in Secrets of Closing the Sale (1984)



  • We are all motivated far more than we care to admit by characteristics inherited from our ancestors which individual experiences of childhood can modify, repress, or enhance, but cannot erase. Agnes E. Meyer, in Out Of These Roots (1953)
  • Heredity is nothing but stored environment. Luther Burbank, quoted in W. H. Auden & Louis Kronenberger, The Viking Book of Aphorisms: A Personal Selection (1962)

QUOTATION CAUTION: I have not been able to find this observation in any of Burbank’s writings, but I’m not yet ready to view it as apocryphal.

  • Deep in the cavern of the infant’s breast/The father’s nature lurks, and lives anew. Horace, in Odes (1st c. B.C.)
  • Heredity is a splendid phenomenon that relieves us of responsibility for our shortcomings. Doug Larson, in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (Aug. 20, 1994)
  • The whelp of a wolf must prove a wolf at last, notwithstanding he may be brought up by a man. Saadi, in Gulistan (1258)



  • The genes load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger. Robin McKie, in The Genetic Jigsaw: The Story of the New Genetics (1988)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the first appearance of a sentiment that—in a variety of similar phrasings—is well on the way to becoming a modern proverb. For example:

“Genes load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger.” Cynthia Bulik, quoted in Woman’s Health magazine (July/August, 2006)

“In the end, genetics loads the gun, but your lifestyle pulls the trigger.” Mehmet C. Oz and Michael F. Roizen, in You: Staying Young (2007)

McKie, the science and technology editor for The Guardian newspaper, originally offered the observation in a discussion of a specific disease: Xeroderma. Here’s the full thought: “Xeroderma is an important example of inherited ailments that do not automatically manifest themselves. Often a factor in the environment must first combine with a genetic predisposition to cause illness. Genes load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger.”



  • When one loves God better than the Church is one called a heretic?

Marie Corelli, in The Master-Christian (1900)

  • Every new truth begins in a shocking heresy. Margaret Deland, the voice of the narrator, in The Kays (1924)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation is most commonly seen on most internet sites, but it was originally part of this larger observation: “Every new truth begins in a shocking heresy, and in those days it was an accepted fact that to continue to live with an immoral husband was the sign of a virtuous woman.”

  • In France, even heresy rapidly hardens into dogma. Storm Jameson, in Parthian Words (1970)
  • The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next. Helen Keller, in Optimism (1903)
  • The most interesting ideas are heresies. Susan Sontag, in interview in Salmagundi magazine (Fall 1975–Winter 1976



  • Hero worship has died with horses, and if someone bows down today, it is to pick up something. Natalie Clifford Barney, in Adventures of the Mind (1929)
  • Hero-worship exists, has existed, and will forever exist, universally among mankind. Thomas Carlyle, “Organic Filaments,” in Sartor Resartus (1833–34)
  • Worship of a hero is transcendent admiration of a great man. Thomas Carlyle, in Heroes and Hero-Worship (1840)
  • Worship your heroes from afar; contact withers them. Suzanne Curchod (Madame Necker), quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Treasury of Thought (1884)
  • Hero-worship is strongest where there is least regard for human freedom. Herbert Spencer, in Social Statics (1850)



  • He who says, “I know no fear,” is no hero. No man knows courage unless he does know fear, and has that in him which is superior to fear, and conquers it. Lyman Abbott, in The Theology of an Evolutionist (1897)
  • All men have a yearning curiosity to behold a man of heroic worth. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (March 31, 1712)
  • The hero is brave in deeds as well as words. Aesop, in “The Hunter and the Woodman,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • Heroism is the dazzling and glorious concentration of courage. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in his Journal Intime (Oct. 1, 1849)
  • How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes. Maya Angelou, quoted in Chris Orr, “Moms and Whoopi: Pioneers of Black Theater,” Plexus magazine (Nov. 1983)

QUOTE NOTE: Angelou wasn’t the first person to use the word she-ro or shero (the Merriam-Webster Dictionary tells us that the neologism for a female hero dates to 1836), but it is clear that she included both men and women under the rubric of hero.

  • Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story. John Barth, the unnamed Doctor speaking to protagonist Jacob Horner, in The End of the Road (1958; rev. ed, 1967)

The Doctor continued: “Hamlet could be told from Polonius’s point of view and called The Tragedy of Polonius, Lord Chamberlain of Denmark. He didn’t think he was a minor character in anything, I daresay. Or suppose you’re an usher in a wedding. From the groom’s viewpoint he’s the major character; the others play supporting parts, even the bride. From your viewpoint, though, the wedding is a minor episode in the very interesting history of your life, and the bride and groom both are minor figures.”

  • No man is a hero to his valet. Anne-Marie Bigot (Madame du Cornuel), quoted in a 1728 letter written by Charlotte Elizabeth Aissé, in Lettres de Mlle Aissé à Madame C. (1787)
  • He whom prosperity humbles, and adversity strengthens, is the true hero. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), “Stray Children,” in Everybody’s Friend (1874)
  • Heroes are unpredictable. They can make nonsense of almost any obstacle. Phyllis Bottome, in The Life Line (1946)
  • Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. Joseph Campbell, in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949)
  • A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. Joseph Campbell, in The Power of Myth (1988; with Bill Moyers)
  • I should say sincerity, a deep, great, genuine sincerity, is the first characteristic of all men in any way heroic. Thomas Carlyle, in On Heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History (1841)
  • Heroes do not easily tolerate the company of other heroes. Kenneth Clark, in Civilization (1969)
  • No man is a hero to his valet. Anne Bigot Cornuel, from a 1728 letter, in Lettres de Mlle Aïssé à Madame C (1787)
  • The legacy of heroes—the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example. Benjamin Disraeli, in House of Commons speech (Feb. 1, 1849)
  • The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else. Umberto Eco, “Why Are They Laughing in Those Cages?” in Travels in Hyperreality (1995; orig. published in 1985 as Faith in Fakes)

A moment earlier, Eco had written: “Real heroes, those who sacrifice themselves for the collective good, and who society recognizes as such…are always people who act reluctantly. They die, but they would rather not die; they kill, but they would rather not kill; and in fact afterwards they refuse to boast of having killed in a condition of necessity.” Regarding later attempts at glorification, Eco went on to write about the Hero: “He suffers and keeps his mouth shut; if anything, others then exploit him, making him a myth, while he, the man worthy of esteem, was only a poor creature who reacted with dignity and courage in an event bigger than he was.”

  • Heroism feels and never reasons and therefore is always right. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Heroism” in Essays: First Series (1841)

Emerson’s essay also included these other thoughts on the subject:

“Whoso is heroic will always find crises to try his edge. Human virtue demands her champions and martyrs, and the trial of persecution always proceeds.”

“The hero is a mind of such balance that no disturbances can shake his will, but pleasantly, and, as it were, merrily, he advances to his own music, alike in frightful alarms, and in the tipsy mirth of universal dissoluteness.”

“The characteristic of a genuine heroism is its persistency. All men have wandering impulses, fits and starts of generosity. But when you have chosen your part, abide by it, and do not weakly try to reconcile yourself with the world. The heroic cannot be the common, nor the common the heroic.”

  • Every hero becomes a bore at last. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Uses of Great Men,” in Representative Men (1850)
  • The hero is always a barometer to the national climate of opinion. Every hero mirrors the time and place in which he lives. He must reflect men's innermost hopes and beliefs in a public way. Marshall Fishwick, in The Hero, American Style (1969)
  • Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Notebooks E,” in The Crack-Up (1945; Edmund Wilson, ed.)
  • Most American heroes…are by now two men, the actual man and the romantic image. Some are even three men—the actual man, the image, and the debunked remains. Esther Forbes, in Paul Revere and the World He Lived In (1942)

QUOTE NOTE: I’ve slightly modified the observation to give it a more timeless quality. Forbes originally wrote: “Most American heroes of the Revolutionary period are by now two men….”

  • The human passions transform man from a mere thing into a hero, into a being that in spite of tremendous handicaps tries to make sense out of life. Erich Fromm, in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973)
  • The hero sees values beyond what’s possible. That's the nature of a hero. It kills him, of course, ultimately. But it makes the whole struggle of humanity worthwhile. John Gardner, the character Unferth speaking, in Grendel (1971)
  • Those who share my heroes are, in the deepest sense, of my own kind. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, in The Mind-Body Problem (1983)

In the book, Goldstein also offered this thought:

“Everyone loves a hero. What we differ on is the question of who the heroes are, because we differ over what matters. And who matters is a function of what matters.”

  • We continually want to unmask our heroes as if there were more to be learned from their nakedness than from their choice of clothing. Ellen Goodman, in At Large (1981)
  • God knows it must be tough to be a hero/To wake up in a hero’s state of mind/They say it’s hard to be heroic/Easier to blow it/Somebody’s watching all the time/ And you’re dancing on the thin edge of a dime. John Gorka, lyrics from the song “Heroes,” on the album After Yesterday (1998)

QUOTE NOTE: The song has an interesting history. Gorka wrote it in the 1980s, but forgot about it after his song notebook was stolen in a car break-in. Happily, just prior to theft, Gorka shared the song with fellow folksingers Hugh and Andrea Blumenfeld, who copied the lyrics. I’ll let Blumenfeld tell the rest of the story: “Andrea and I sang it at home from time to time during the next ten years—our own private little treasure. It never occurred to either of us to ask John about it, until I opened for him at Godfreys in 1997. It was only then I learned that the song had been lost in the notebook and that he’d forgotten it long ago. So I was able to play it for him downstairs in the dressing room before the gig and write him out a copy of his own lyric.” The song, which contains other metaphorical offerings on the subject of tarnished heroes, may be heard at “Heroes”.

  • A hero is somebody who voluntarily walks into the unknown. Tom Hanks, quoted in K. Heintzleman and J. R. Marquez, “Captain Courageous,” Parade magazine (Sep. 21, 2013)
  • The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one’s self a fool; the truest heroism is to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom, to know when it ought to be resisted, and when to be obeyed. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the narrator and protagonist Miles Coverdale reflecting on life’s challenges, in The Blithedale Romance (1852)
  • As you get older, it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary. Ernest Hemingway, quoted in Lillian Ross, Portrait of Hemingway (1961; originally published as a 1950 New Yorker magazine profile)
  • Everyone is the chief personage, the hero, of his own baptism, his own wedding, and his own funeral. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., “Some of My Early Teachers,” farewell lecture at Harvard Medical School (Nov. 28, 1882)
  • Life, misfortune, isolation, abandonment, poverty, are battlefields which have their heroes; obscure heroes, sometimes greater than the illustrious heroes. Victor Hugo, the narrator describing the situation of Marius Pontmercy, in Les Misérables (1862)

Hugo preceded the observation by hailing the “Noble and mysterious triumphs which no eye sees, which no renown rewards, which no flourish of trumpets salutes.”

  • When the will defies fear, when duty throws the gauntlet down to fate, when honor scorns to compromise with death—this is heroic. Robert G. Ingersoll, in New York City speech (May 29, 1882)
  • Heroes are created by popular demand, sometimes out of the scantiest materials, or none at all. Gerald White Johnson, in American Heroes and Hero-Worship (1943)
  • Heroism is endurance for one moment more. George Kennan, citing a proverb, in “The Problems of Suicide,” McClure’s magazine (June, 1908)

QUOTE NOTE: This saying is almost always attributed directly to Kennan, but he was clearly citing a proverbial saying he liked. Here’s the way he expressed the full thought:

“The Caucasian mountaineers have a proverb which says: ‘Heroism is endurance for one moment more.’ That proverb recognizes the fact that in this world the human spirit, with its dominating force, the will, may be and ought to be superior to all bodily sensations and all accidents of environment. We should not only feel, but we should teach, by our conversation and by our literature, that, in the struggle of life, it is essentially a noble thing and a heroic thing to die fighting.”

  • The lives of heroes have enriched history, and history has adorned the actions of heroes ; and thus I cannot say whether the historians are more indebted to those who provided them with such noble materials, or those great men to their historians. Jean de La Bruyère, “Of Works of the Mind,” in Characters (1688)
  • There are heroes in evil as well as of good. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Another definition of a hero is someone who is concerned about other people’s well-being, and will go out of his or her way to help them—even if there is no chance of a reward. That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero. Stan Lee, in an exclusive interview on the Cyberspacers web site (no date)

In that same interview, Lee also offered these thoughts on the subject:

“I’m a true believer that now, more than ever before, we need the heroic deeds of real people from the real world. These are the actual superheroes.”

“Heroism, in a sense, is doing something that is right—even if it’s difficult to do. It sometimes means choosing the toughest path instead of going the easy way. And that can apply to a variety of things on many levels, some personal, and some involving other people.”

“Heroism in the real world means, making a difficult choice at any time—and doing it because it is the right choice, the proper thing to do. And, that choice you make in doing something for others, that’s the same choice you would want them to make for you, too.”

“And those in this world of ours who are not the heroes, and who in fact may be the villains, are the ones who always follow the easy path. They are the ones who do not care about others.”

  • A hero in one age will be a hero in another. Charlotte Lennox, the voice of the narrator, in The Female Quixote, or The Adventures of Arabella (1752)

QUOTE NOTE: The Female Quixote, inspired by the famous Cervantes tale about the man from La Mancha, was one of history’s first great novels to feature a truly heroic heroine. Lennox’s novel was praised by many established writers (Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson, and Samuel Johnson), and Jane Austen was said to have used it as a model for her novel Northanger Abbey.

  • The law has no power over heroes. Charlotte Lennox, the voice of the narrator, in The Female Quixote, or The Adventures of Arabella (1752)
  • Ultimately a hero is a man who would argue with the Gods, and so awakens devils to contest his vision. Norman Mailer, in Preface to The Presidential Papers (1976)
  • Without heroes, we’re all plain people and don’t know how far we can go. Bernard Malamud, the character Iris speaking, in The Natural (1952)
  • The ordinary man is involved in action, the hero acts. Henry Miller, in The Books in My Life (1952)
  • Every man is the hero of his own story, however unheroic he may appear to himself or to others. Joy Mills, “The Quest for Meaning,” in The Theosophist (March, 1981)
  • Calculation never made a hero. John Henry Newman, in An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845)
  • What makes us heroic? Confronting simultaneously our supreme suffering and our supreme hope. Friedrich Nietzsche, Aphorism 268, in The Gay Science (1882)

QUOTE NOTE: The aphorism has also been translated: “What makes Heroic? To face simultaneously one’s greatest suffering and one’s highest hope.”

  • Heroes take journeys, confront dragons, and discover the treasure of their true selves. Carol S. Pearson, in The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By (1986)
  • We tend to value military heroes and Schwarzenegger types who are physically courageous. The heroics of doing the right thing every day even when it is dull and inconvenient are undervalued. Mary Pipher, quoted in Katherine Martin, Women of Courage (1999)
  • Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours. Ayn Rand, the character John Galt speaking, in Atlas Shrugged (1957)

QUOTE NOTE: This comes near the end of a long passage popularly known as “Galt’s speech.” What is less well known is that Rand borrowed the phrase the hero in your soul from Nietzsche, who had written in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883): “By my love and hope I conjure thee: cast not away the hero in thy soul! Maintain holy thy highest hope!”

  • Those who say that we’re in a time when there are no heroes, they just don’t know where to look. Ronald Reagan, in his First Inaugural Address (Jan. 20, 1981)
  • A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. Christopher Reeve, in Still Me (1998)

Reeve introduced the subject by writing: “When the first Superman movie came out, I gave dozens of interviews to promote it. The most frequent question was: ‘What is a hero?’ I remember how easily I’d talk about it, the glib response I repeated so many times. My answer was that a hero is someone who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences.” He then preceded his new conception of heroism by writing: “Now my definition is completely different.”

  • Heroism is neither being perfect, nor doing something spectacular. In fact, it’s just the opposite: it’s regular, flawed human beings choosing to put others before themselves, even at great cost, even if no one will ever know, even as they realize the walls might be closing in around them. Heather Cox Richardson, in a “Letters from an American” Substack post (Jan. 15, 2024)
  • When I was very young, most of my childhood heroes wore capes, flew through the air, or picked up buildings with one arm. They were spectacular and got a lot of attention. But as I grew, my heroes changed, so that now I can honestly say that anyone who does anything to help a child is a hero to me. Fred Rogers, in The World According to Mister Rogers (2003)
  • Heroing is one of the shortest-lifed [sic] professions there is. Will Rogers, in a 1925 syndicated column; repeated in The Autobiography of Will Rogers (1949)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly have shortest-lived rather than the humorist’s original wording.

  • This thing of being a hero, about the main thing to do is to know when to die. Prolonged life has ruined more men than it ever made. Will Rogers, in The Autobiography of Will Rogers (1949)
  • We can’t all be heroes, for someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by. Will Rogers, quoted in “Frankly Speaking” section of Coronet magazine (1953; Vol. 34, Issue 2)
  • A hero is a man who does what he can. Romain Rolland, “Youth,” the character Gottfried speaking, in Jean-Christophe: Dawn, Morning, Youth, Revolt (1911)
  • We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it as not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down. Eleanor Roosevelt, in You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life (1960)
  • It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle. Norman Schwarzkopf, in ABC television interview with Barbara Walters (March 15, 1991); later in Schwarzkopf’s It Doesn’t Take a Hero: The Autobiography of General Norman Schwarzkopf (1992; with Peter Petre)
  • “You want to be a hero,” he repeated. “You want to be one of those rare human beings who make history, rather than merely watch it flow around them like water around a rock.” Dan Simmons, the character Martin Silenus speaking to protagonist Raul Endymion, in Endymion (1995)
  • Whoe’er excels in what we prize,/Appears a hero in our eyes. Jonathan Swift, in “Cadenus and Vanessa” (written 1712; pub. 1726)
  • What is heroism? It is the deed of a great soul, capable of a great passion. Lady Morgan Sydney, in Woman: or, Ida of Athens (1809)
  • The hero obeys his own law. Henry David Thoreau, a journal entry (Feb. 1, 1852)
  • Could it be…that the hero is one who is willing to set out, take the first step, shoulder something? Perhaps the hero is one who puts his foot upon a path not knowing what he may expect from life but in some way feeling in his bones that life expects something of him. P. L. Travers, “The World of the Hero,” in a 1976 issue of Parabola magazine; reprinted in P. L. Travers, What the Bee Knows (1989)
  • Our heroes are the men who do things which we recognize, with regret, and sometimes with a secret shame, that we cannot do. Mark Twain, in Mark Twain’s Autobiography (1924; Albert Bigelow Paine, ed.)
  • To be a hero, one must give an order to oneself. Simone Weil, in The Notebooks of Simone Weil, Vol. I (1951)
  • Is society debasing the idea of heroism by using it to describe anyone who makes people feel good about themselves? Lena Williams, “What It Takes to Make a Hero,” in The New York Time (June 18, 1995)

Earlier in the article, Williams had written: “Increasingly, heroism has become open to interpretation, with little distinction given to personal achievement or the circumstances under which acts of valor occur.”

  • If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a hero without a cause. People like that just make trouble so that they can solve it. Jeanette Winterson, the character Gail speaking, in Written on the Body (1992)



  • The rich plankton of pop heroes and pop villains on which we Americans are accustomed to feed, the daily media soup of sports figures, ax murderers, politicians, and rock singers, the ever-running river of celebs, heavies, and oddballs that we use to spice up our own relatively humdrum lives has of late become a very watery gruel. Shana Alexander, in Talking Woman (1976)

Alexander continued: “Where have all the good guys and bad guys gone? Why does everyone out there look so gray?”

  • There are new words now that excuse everybody. Give me the good old days of heroes and villains. The people you can bravo or hiss. There was a truth to them that all the slick credulity of today cannot touch. Bette Davis, in The Lonely Life (1962)
  • Democracy produces both heroes and villains, but it differs from a fascist state in that it does not produce a hero who is a villain. Margaret Halsey, in Color Blind (1946)
  • Without will, without individuals, there are no heroes. But neither are there villains. And the absence of villains is as prostrating, as soul-destroying, as the absence of heroes. Gertrude Himmelfarb, “Of Heroes, Villains, and Valets,” in On Looking Into the Abyss (1994)
  • In the theater, as in life, we prefer a villain with a sense of humor to a hero without one. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)



  • There are many persons ready to do what is right because in their hearts they know it is right. But they hesitate, waiting for the other fellow to make the first move. Marian Anderson, in My Lord, What a Morning (1956)

Anderson went on to add: “The minute a person whose word means a great deal dares to take the open-hearted and courageous way, many others follow.”

  • On the Plains of Hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions who, at the Dawn of Victory, sat down to wait, and waiting—died! Advertising Slogan for International Correspondence Schools, first published in The American Magazine and Popular Science magazine (March 1923)

QUOTE NOTE: The slogan first appeared in a full-page advertisement that looked more like a short story titled “The Warning of the Desert,” by William A. Lawrence (the pen name of advertising copywriter George W. Cecil). The observation is a perfect example of how some advertising copy approaches the beauty of great literature. Today, many internet sites mistakenly attribute the quotation to Winston Churchill.

  • You must make up your mind to act decidedly and take the consequences. No good is ever done in this world by hesitation. T. H. Huxley, in letter to Anton Dohrn (Oct. 17, 1873); reprinted in Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, Vol. I (1900); Leonard Huxley, ed.)




(see SHOES)



  • When I got out of high school they retired my jersey, but it was for hygiene and sanitary reasons. George Carlin, from his comedy routine
  • High school—those are your prime suffering years. They don’t get better suffering than that. Steve Carrell, as the character Dr. Frank Ginsberg, in the film “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006; screenplay by Michael Arndt)
  • Today I discovered two kinds of people who go to high school: those who wear new clothes to show off on the first day, and those who wear their oldest clothes to show they think school is unimportant. Beverly Cleary, in Strider (1991)
  • We spend our whole lives recovering from high school. Paula Danziger, quoted in a 2004 Associated Press report
  • The one thing I would like to get across about my whole feeling regarding high school is how I was when I was fifteen. Gawky. Always a hem hanging down, or strap loose, or a pimple on my chin. I never knew what to do with my hair. I was a mess. And I still carry that fifteen-year-old girl around now. A piece of me still believes I'm the girl nobody dances with. Nora Ephron, in Ralph Keyes, Is There Life After High School? (1976)
  • Those who excel socially in high school are truly damned. The homecoming queen does indeed bear the mark of the beast. Craig Ferguson, in Between the Bridge and the River (2006)

Ferguson preceded the thought by writing: “High school is tough on anyone, an absolute rule of the Universe being that if high school is not a buttockclenchingly awkward, emotionally difficult, and unpleasant time of your life, then the rest of it will be a crushing disappointment. Academic success is desirable, popularity (the only thing that most students really desire) is not.”

  • Friends aren't any more important than breath or blood to a high school senior. Betty Ford, in The Times of My Life (1978; with Chris Chase)
  • What I've noticed is that almost no one who was a big star in high school is also a big star later in life. For us overlooked kids, it's so wonderfully fair. Mindy Kaling, in Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (2011)

Kaling preceded the though by writing: “Teenage girls, please don't worry about being super popular in high school.”

  • In high school, my desire for friendship far outweighed my talent for it. Beth Kephart, in a 2000 issue of Reader's Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • Is There Life After High School? Ralph Keyes, title of 1977 book
  • You write for the people in high school who ignored you. We all do it. Carolyn Kizer, quoted in a 1989 USA Today article (specific issue undetermined)
  • If you enjoyed high school, you were probably a psychopath or a cheerleader. Or possibly both. Jenny Lawson, in Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir) (2012)
  • You should enjoy and appreciate your days in high school, because you will remember them the rest of your life. Like when you're in prison, or you're getting mugged at gunpoint, you can say to yourself, “Well, at least I'm not in high school.” Jenny Lawson, in Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir) (2012)
  • Having been unpopular in high school is not just cause for book publication. Fran Lebowitz, in Metropolitan Life (1974)
  • High school and equality are forever incompatible. Sharyn McCrumb,in If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O (1990)
  • Life is just high school all over again, only with bigger bills to pay. Linda Palmer, in Love Is Murder (2004)
  • The American high school is a surrealistic institution. High school and real life coexist, side by side, like the simultaneously existing worlds in a Superman comic book. Lola Scobey, in Dolly, Daughter of the South (1977)

Scobey continued: “But high school is like real life thrown slightly out of whack. Everything is just enough askew that it's about impossible to do them both. It's like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time. You can hardly do real life and high school.”

  • When I look back at all the crap I learned in high school,/it's a wonder I can think at all. Paul Simon, the opening lyrics of “Kodachrome,” on the album There Goes Rhymin' Simon (1973)

In the opening Stanza, Simon continued: “And though my lack of education hasn't hurt me non/I can read the writing on the wall.”

  • I have a friend whose theory is that you’re from wherever you went to high school. I think that’s mostly true. Steven Soderbergh, in a TheRumpus.net interview with Scott Hutchins (Jan. 19, 2009)
  • You're leaving college now, and going out into real life. And you have to realize that real life is not like college. Real Life is actually a lot more like high school. Meryl Streep, in Vassar College commencement speech (1983)
  • At my high-school reunion, I learned how to summarize my life. Susan Allen Toth, in How to Prepare for Your High-School Reunion (1988)
  • High school is closer to the core of the American experience than anything else I can think of. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., in Introduction to Our Time is Now: Notes from the High School Underground (1970; John Birmingham, ed.)
  • True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country. Kurt Vonnegut, in If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young (2013; Dan Wakefield, ed.)


(see also PAST and PERSPECTIVE)

  • “Of all forms of wisdom, hindsight is by general consent the least merciful, the most unforgiving. John Fletcher, in the Introduction to Jean-Claude Favez, The Red Cross and the Holocaust (first published in France in 1988 under the title Une mission impossible)
  • Hindsight has repeatedly shown that we humans have a tendency to underestimate hazard, or to overestimate our ability to deal with it. Jill Fredston, in Rowing to Latitude: Journeys Along the Arctic’s Edge (2001)
  • Hindsight. It’s like foresight without a future. Kevin Kline, quoted in a 2004 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • Hindsight is the historian’s necessary vice. Hilary Mantel, a remark to Ilana Teitelbaum, in “Bring Up the Bodies : A Review and Interview With Booker Prize-winning Author Hilary Mantel,” Huffington Post (May 9, 2012)
  • Sorrow is only sweet when we experience it secondhand or in far hindsight. Carole Stewart McDonnell, quoted in Patricia Bell-Scott, Life Notes (1994)
  • Hindsight, usually looked down upon, is probably as valuable as foresight, since it does include a few facts. Grace Paley, in Just As I Thought (1998)
  • The wisdom of hindsight, so useful to historians and indeed to authors of memoirs, is sadly denied to practicing politicians. Margaret Thatcher, in Downing Street Years (1993)
  • Hindsight is not a strategy. Jane Bryant Quinn, in a 2001 issue of the St. Paul [Minnesota] Pioneer Press (specific issue undetermined)
  • Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. Billy Wilder, quoted in J. R. Colombo, Wit and Wisdom of the Moviemakers (1979)



  • [In primary school] I was introduced to the danger of not having your own story. There is that great proverb—that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. Chinua Achebe, in Paris Review interview (Winter, 1994)

QUOTE NOTE: Achebe, often described as the father of modern African literature, was reflecting on his early school experiences in 1930s Nigeria. Reading history books that celebrated the exploits of European explorers of the African continent, he found himself naturally siding with the heroic white people. It was only when he realized the bitter truth contained in the proverbial saying about lions and hunters that he found his calling. He continued: “Once I realized that, I had to be a writer. I had to be that historian. It’s not one man’s job. It’s not one person’s job. But it is something we have to do, so that the story of the hunt will also reflect the agony, the travail—the bravery, even, of the lions. “

  • History is an agreed-upon fiction. Diane Ackerman, in A Natural History of Love (1994)

In an earlier book, The Moon by Whale Light (1991), Ackerman offered a similar assessment: “That pious fiction we call history.”

  • History is a stern judge. Svetlana Alliluyeva, in Twenty Letters to a Friend (1967)
  • History, despite its wrenching pain,/Cannot be unlived, but if faced/With courage, need not be lived again. Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning,” poem read at inauguration of Bill Clinton (Jan. 20, 1993)
  • We can only know where we’re going if we know where we’ve been. Maya Angelou, quoted in Parade Magazine (Dec. 13, 1998)
  • If we do not know our own history, we are doomed to live it as though it were our private fate. Hannah Arendt, quoted in Carolyn Heilbrun, Writing a Woman’s Life (1988)
  • History to the defeated/May say Alas but cannot help or pardon. W. H. Auden, in “Spain 1937” (1937)
  • Man is a history-making creature who can neither repeat his past nor leave it behind. W. H. Auden, “D. H. Lawrence,” in The Dyer’s Hand (1963)
  • People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them. James Baldwin, an example of chiasmus from “Stranger in the Village,” in Notes of a Native Son (1955)
  • The truth that all historical writing, even the most honest, is unconsciously subjective, since every age is bound, in spite of itself, to make the dead perform whatever tricks it finds necessary for its own peace of mind. Carl L. Becker, in The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932)
  • Being an American means reckoning with a history fraught with violence and injustice. Ignoring that reality in favor of mythology is not only wrong but also dangerous. Ken Burns, in a Washington Post Op-Ed column (Nov. 22, 2021)

Burns continued: “The dark chapters of American history have just as much to teach us, if not more, than the glorious ones, and often the two are intertwined.”

  • We can think of history as a kind of layer cake in which a number of different layers run side by side through time, each with a dynamic of its own, and yet each from time to time profoundly penetrating and interacting with others. Kenneth E. Boulding, in Collected Papers: Toward a General Social Science, Vol. 4 (1974)
  • Every great turn of history’s wheel takes us in a new direction, but the destination is not easily discernible because the lessons of history are not fixed and immutable. Tom Brokaw, “Into an Unknowable Future,” in The New York Times (Sep. 28, 2001)
  • All true histories contain instruction; though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity that the dry, shriveled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut. Anne Brontë, the opening line of Agnes Grey (1847)
  • Those who are making history seldom have time to record it. Luther Burbank, “A Word to the Reader,” in How Plants Are Trained to Work for Man: Plant Breeding, Vol. 1 (1921)

QUOTE NOTE: This pithy observation was offered almost as an aside in Burbank’s book (the first in an eight-volume series). The fuller passage went this way: “Notwithstanding the fact that those who are making history seldom have time to record it, these records have been made for the benefit of those who follow.” Burbank began his “Word to the Reader” by writing: “There are two classes of mind, which, when earnestly employed, are rarely combined in the same person; the investigator and recorder.” He clearly saw himself as a person who could play both roles.

  • History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is also a compass that people use to find themselves on the map of human geography. John Henrik Clarke, in African People in World History (1993)
  • If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us! But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light which experience gives is a lantern on the stern, which shines only on the waves behind us. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Table Talk (March 18, 1831); published in Specimens of the Table Talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1835; Henry Nelson Coleridge, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Coleridge first advanced this idea more than a decade earlier, writing in October, 1820 : “To most men, experience is like the stern lights of a ship, which illumine only the track it has passed.” (Source: Letters and Conversations of S. T. Coleridge, Vol I (1836; Thomas Allsop, ed.)

  • History is a vast early warning system. Norman Cousins, quoted in Susan Schiefelbein, “Editor’s Odyssey: Gleanings from Articles and Editorials by N.C.” Saturday Review (April 15, 1978)
  • Professor Johnston often said that if you didn’t know history, you didn’t know anything. You were a leaf that didn’t know it was part of a tree. Michael Crichton, the character André Marek quoting history professor Edward Johnston, another character in the novel, in Timeline (1999)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites present a mistaken version of the quotation: “If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree.” Some sites even present the quotation as if it began If you don’t know your family’s history….

  • History is organized memory, and the organization is all important! Henry Steele Commager, in The Study of History (1966)
  • History’s like a story in a way: it depends on who’s telling it. Dorothy Salisbury Davis, the voice of the narrator, in “By the Scruff of the Soul,” Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (1963)
  • History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies. Alexis de Tocqueville, in The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856)
  • History is a novel whose author is the people. Alfred de Vigny, in Cinq-Mars (1826)
  • History’s biggest battles in the last analysis are fought in the hidden corners of our lives. Peter W. Dickson, in Kissinger and the Meaning of History (1978)
  • History smiles at all attempts to force its flow into theoretical patterns or logical grooves; it plays havoc with our generalizations, breaks our rules; history is baroque. Will & Ariel Durant, in The Lessons of History (1968)

QUOTE NOTE: In the book, the Durants also offered these other observations about history:

There is no humorist like history.

Most history is guessing, and the rest is prejudice

History assures us that civilizations decay quite leisurely.

One lesson of history is that religion has many lives, and a habit of resurrection.

History offers some consolation by reminding us that sin has flourished in every age.

History repeats itself in the large part because human nature changes with geological leisureliness.

  • We carry history in our bones. Our parents, our genetics, our cultures all shape what we become. Everything we decide to do is informed by what was done before us. Karen Fisher, “We Pioneers,” in High Desert Journal (2007)
  • Today is Yesterday’s Pupil. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (1751)
  • History never looks like history when you are living through it. It always looks confusing and messy, and it always feels uncomfortable. John W. Gardner, in No Easy Victories (1968)
  • History is the zoology of the human race. Franz Grillparzer, in Notebooks and Diaries (1837)
  • Just as philosophy is the study of other people’s misconceptions, so history is the study of other people’s mistakes. Philip Guedalla, in Supers and Superman: Studies in Politics, History, and Letters (1921)
  • We spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let's face it, is mostly the history of stupidity. Stephen Hawking, in Cambridge University speech, reported in The Guardian (London; Oct. 19, 2016)
  • What experience and history teach is this—that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, in Introduction to Lectures on the Philosophy of History (1837)
  • The History of the World is nothing but the development of the Idea of Freedom. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, in Introduction to Lectures on the Philosophy of History (1837)
  • A page of history is worth a volume of logic. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in N. Y. Trust Co. v. Eisner (May 16, 1921)
  • That’s the history of the world. His story is told, hers isn’t. Dolores Huerta, quoted in “Farm Workers’ Story is Hers,” an AP story in The Chicago Tribune (May 28, 1995)
  • That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach. Aldous Huxley, “A Case of Voluntary Ignorance,” in Collected Essays (1959)
  • That’s what history is: The story of everything that needn’t have been like that. Clive James, in Cultural Amnesia (2008)

QUOTE NOTE: The 4th edition of Lend Me Your Ears: Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations attributed, without citation, a similar observation to Konrad Adenauer: “History is the sum total of things that could have been avoided.”

  • History is a bath of blood. William James, in the pamphlet The Moral Equivalent of War (1910)
  • History is not, of course, a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. Henry Kissinger, in White Hour Years (1979)
  • The most persistent sound which reverberates through man’s history is the beating of war drums. Arthur Koestler, in Prologue to Janus: A Summing Up (1978)
  • The only thing one can learn from history is that actions have consequences and that certain actions and certain choices once made are irretrievable. Gerda Lerner, in Why History Matters (1997)
  • History, a mental construct which extends human life beyond its span, can give meaning to each life and serve as a necessary anchor for us. Gerda Lerner, in Why History Matters (1997)
  • History is the archives of human experiences and of the thoughts of past generations; history is our collective memory. Gerda Lerner, in Why History Matters (1997)
  • History may be read as the story of the magnificent rearguard action fought during several thousand years by dogma against curiosity. Robert Lynd, in The Pleasure of Ignorance (1921)
  • The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in The Communist Manifesto (1847)
  • History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are. David C. McCullough, in commencement address at Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT; June 3, 1984); reported in The New York Times (June 4, 1984)
  • Backward is just not a natural direction for Americans to look—historical ignorance remains a national characteristic. Larry McMurtry, in Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the American West: 1846–1890 (2005)

McMurtry preceded the observation by writing: “Americans’ lack of passion for history is well known. History may not quite be bunk, as Henry Ford suggested, but there’s no denying that, as a people, we sustain a passionate concentration on the present and the future.”

  • To live without history is to live like an infant, constantly amazed and challenged by a strange and unnamed world. Joan Nestle, in A Restricted Country (1987)
  • History is littered with the wars which everybody knew would never happen. Enoch Powell, in speech at Conservative Party Conference (Oct. 19, 1967)
  • For history is to the nation as memory rather as memory is to the individual. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., in The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society (1992)

Schlesinger continued: “As an individual deprived of memory becomes disoriented and lost, not knowing where he has been or where he is going, so a nation denied a conception of its past will be disabled in dealing with its present and its future.”

  • The politician performs upon the stage; the historian looks behind the scenery. A. J. P. Taylor, in Englishmen and Others (1956)
  • History gets thicker as it approaches recent times. A. J. P. Taylor, in English History, 1914–15 (1965)
  • Historians in general are great toadies of power. Hugh Trevor-Roper, in History and Imagination (1981)
  • What his imagination is to the poet, facts are to the historian. Barbara W. Tuchman, “Can History Be Served Up Hot?” in The New York Times Book Review (March 8, 1964)

Tuchman continued: “His exercise of judgment comes in their selection, his art in their arrangement.”

  • There is no such thing as a neutral or purely objective historian. Without an opinion a historian would be simply a ticking clock, and unreadable besides. Barbara W. Tuchman, “Can History Be Served Up Hot,” in The New York Times Book Review (March 8, 1964)
  • The poets have familiarized more people with history than have the historians. Barbara W. Tuchman, “Can History Be Served Up Hot,” in The New York Times Book Review (March 8, 1964)
  • The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” in Following the Equator (1897)
  • History is a conversation and sometimes a shouting match between present and past, though often the voices we most want to hear are barely audible. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, in Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History (2007)

Ulrich introduced the thought by writing: “Some history-making is intentional; much of it is accidental. People make history when they scale a mountain, ignite a bomb, or refuse to move to the back of the bus. But they also make history by keeping diaries, writing letters, or embroidering initials on linen sheets.”

  • History is all explained by geography. Robert Penn Warren, in interview in The Paris Review (Spring-Summer 1957)
  • Human history is in essence a history of ideas. H. G. Wells, in The Outline of History (1920)
  • Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. H. G. Wells, in The Outline of History (1920)
  • Judging from the main portions of the history of the world, justice is always in jeopardy, peace walks amid hourly pitfalls, and of slavery, meanness, the craft of tyrants, and the credulity of the populace…no voice can at any time say, “They are not.” Walt Whitman, in Democratic Vistas (1871)
  • If you know from history the danger, then part of the danger is over because it may not take you by surprise as it did your ancestors. Simon Wiesenthal, quoted in Alan Levy, The Wiesenthal File (1994)



  • A holiday isn’t a holiday, without plenty of freedom and fun. Louisa May Alcott, the character Mrs. Bhaer speaking, in Little Men (1871)
  • This is what holidays, travels, vacations are about. It is not really rest or even leisure we chase. We strain to renew our capacity for wonder, to shock ourselves into astonishment once again. Shana Alexander, “The Roman Astonishment,” in a 1967 issue of Life magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • As a kid, you await holidays with a wide-eyed, passionate, almost maniacal enthusiasm. Heavy breathing is involved. Regina Barreca, in Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful (2000)
  • Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice. Dave Barry, “Christmas Shopping: A Survivor’s Guide,” at www.davebarry.com
  • Christmas: It’s the only religious holiday that’s also a federal holiday. That way, Christians can go to their services, and everyone else can sit at home and reflect on the true meaning of the separation of church and state. Samantha Bee, in a 2008 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • Passover, I think, will always be my happiest holiday, because no matter how old I’ll be, at Passover time I’m always the little girl at my grandma’s house. Gertrude Berg, in The Molly Goldberg Jewish Cookbook (1955; with Myra Waldo)
  • I love the holidays! I hate the holidays! Patsy Clairmont, in Normal Is Just a Setting on Your Dryer (1993)
  • In America, Christmas is the king of all holidays. To be left out of Christmas is the ultimate minority experience. Firoozeh Dumas, in Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America (2003)
  • Sell before the holidays. Stock prices tend to rise on the last trading day before major holidays. Nancy Dunnan, in Never Call Your Broker on Monday (1997)
  • Uncles, and aunts, and cousins, are all very well, and fathers and mothers are not to be despised; but a grandmother, at holiday time, is worth them all. Fanny Fern, in Folly As It Flies (1868)
  • On a holiday lonely persons always feel their loneliness more keenly. Lucille Fletcher, in …And Presumed Dead (1963)
  • How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts! O! ’tis easier to keep holidays than commandments. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (1743)
  • We each have a litany of holiday rituals and everyday habits that we hold on to, and we often greet radical innovation with the enthusiasm of a baby meeting a new sitter. We defend against it and—not always, but often enough—reject it. Slowly we adjust, but only if we have to. Ellen Goodman, in Turning Points: How People Change, Through Crisis and Commitment (1979)
  • After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working. Kenneth Grahame, in The Wind in the Willows (1908)
  • Holiday time. The image of perfection, once a year. Jonellen Heckler, the opening words of A Fragile Peace (1986)
  • Drawbacks are good when you are on holiday. If the holiday were too good you might not want to go home again. Katharine Tynan Hinkson, in The Middle Years (1917)
  • There are no holidays for art; and that's just fine with the artist. Elfriede Jelinek, in The Piano Teacher (1983)
  • Holidays are enticing only for the first week or so. After that, it is no longer such a novelty to rise late and have little to do. Margaret Laurence, in A Jest of God (1966)
  • Holidays, if you enjoy them, have no history. Rosamond Lehmann, in A Letter to a Sister (1931)
  • The holiest of holidays are those/Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;/The secret anniversaries of the heart. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Holidays,” in The Mask of Pandora and Other Writings (1875)
  • Young and old come forth to play/On a sunshine holiday. John Milton, in “L’Allegro” (1631)
  • Holidays/Have no pity. Eugenio Montale, “Eastbourne,” in Selected Poems (1965)
  • The success of a holiday depends on what you find for yourself on the spot, not what you bring with you. Ellis Peters, in A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs (1965)
  • I don’t need a holiday or a feast to feel grateful for my children, the sun, the moon, the roof over my head, music, and laughter, but I like to take this time to take the path of thanks less traveled. Paula Poundstone, “Thanksgiving Is Not Just for Leftovers,” Huffington Post (Nov. 26, 2008)
  • I like to compare the holiday season with the way a child listens to a favorite story. The pleasure is in the familiar way the story begins, the anticipation of familiar turns it takes, the familiar moments of suspense, and the familiar climax and ending. Fred Rogers, in Mister Rogers Talks with Parents (1983)
  • A holiday gives one a chance to look backward and forward, to reset oneself by an inner compass. May Sarton, in At Seventy (1984)
  • If all the year were playing holidays,/To sport would be as tedious as to work. William Shakespeare, Prince Henry speaking, in King Henry IV, Part I (1596–97)
  • A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of hell. George Bernard Shaw, in Preface to Misalliance (1914)
  • One of the fallacies of summer holidays is that you are going to get some serious reading done while you are lying on the beach. Nancy Stahl, in If It’s Raining This Must Be the Weekend (1979)




  • Hollywood is a place where people from Iowa mistake each other for stars. Fred Allen, quoted in Maurice Zolotow, No People Like Show People (1951)
  • You can take all the sincerity in Hollywood, place it in the navel of a fruit fly, and still have room enough for three caraway seeds and a producer’s heart. Fred Allen, quoted in J. R. Colombo, Wit and Wisdom of the Moviemakers (1979)
  • Hollywood is like being nowhere and talking to nobody about nothing. Michelangelo Antonioni, in the Sunday Times (London; June 20, 1971)
  • Hollywood is a strange place. The class structure here is more rigid than almost anyplace I’ve ever experienced. It’s made more difficult by the fact that it’s constantly changing. You never know what class you belong to unless you’re one of the two or three people that have been in the same echelon for a long, long time. Alan Arkin, in Esquire: The Meaning of Life (2009; Ryan D’Agostino, ed.)
  • Hollywood is the only place in the world where an amicable divorce means each one gets fifty percent of the publicity. Lauren Bacall, in a 1988 issue of People magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Hollywood is more of an idea than a place. Kevin Bacon, “What I've Learned,” in Esquire magazine (March 2014)
  • What I like about Hollywood is that one can get along quite well by knowing two words of English—swell and lousy. Vicki Baum, quote in The Golden Book Magazine (Oct., 1931)
  • The most remarkable thing about Hollywood is that it does not exist. Vicki Baum, in I Know What I’m Worth (1964)

Baum went on to explain: “Hollywood, in a word, has no center, never had one, no city hall, court house, church, square, or rather it probably has some of those but they’re so aimlessly thrown in with the general jumble…that I, for one, never found them.”

  • Hollywood is the only place on earth that has more vampires, more undead, more resurrections than a month of Easter Sundays. Roseanne Barr, in My Lives (1994)
  • The place is unreal. The people are unreal. The flowers are unreal—they don’t smell. The fruit is unreal. Even the streets and buildings are unreal. I always expected to hear a carpenter shout “Strike“ and the whole place come down like a stage set. That’s what Hollywood is—a set, a glaring, gaudy, nightmarish set erected in the desert. Ethel Barrymore, quoted in Walter Monfried, “Queen Ethel Comes This Way Again,” The Milwaukee Journal (Mar 15, 1942)
  • Hollywood became a kind of Athens…as crowded with artists as Renaissance Florence. S. N. Behrman, in Tribulations and Laughter: A Memoir (1972)
  • Most of the successful people in Hollywood are failures as human beings. Marlon Brando quoted in Pete Martin, Pete Martin Calls on… (1962)
  • Fame is no sanctuary from the passing of youth. Suicide is much easier and more acceptable in Hollywood than growing old gracefully. Julie Burchill, in Damaged Gods: Cults and Heroes Reappraised (1986)
  • In Hollywood there are only two sins: to be dull and to be desperate. Linda Buzzell, in How to Make It in Hollywood (1992)

In her book, Buzzell also offered this thought: “Hollywood is tough for everyone. And if you’re a member of a minority group of some kind, not everything that happens to you will be the result of discrimination…. It isn’t easy for anyone to get a job in Hollywood, but when the industry gets a cold, members of the nondominant groups get pneumonia.”

  • In Hollywood, if you don’t have a shrink, people think you’re crazy. Johnny Carson, in a Tonight Show monologue; widely quoted, not verified
  • Los Angeles has Hollywood—and hates it. It ought to consider itself damn lucky. Without Hollywood, it would be a mail-order city. Everything else in the catalogue you could get better somewhere else.” Raymond Chandler, protagonist Philip Marlowe speaking, in The Little Sister (1949)
  • Hollywood grew to be the most flourishing factory of popular mythology since the Greeks. Alistair Cooke, in America (1973)
  • Hollywood was born schizophrenic. For 75 years it has been both a town and a state of mind, an industry and an art form. Richard Corliss, “Backing Into the Future,” Time magazine (Feb. 3, 1986)
  • If you say what you mean in this town you’re an outlaw. Kevin Costner, on Hollywood, in Time magazine (June 26, 1989)
  • I’m not very keen on Hollywood. I’d rather have a nice cup of cocoa really. Noël Coward, in a 1937 letter to his mother; quoted in Lesley Cole, The Life of Noël Coward (1976)
  • Half-truth is the coin of the Hollywood realm. John Gregory Dunne, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1996)
  • Hollywood is bounded on the north, south, east, and west by agents. William Fadiman, in Hollywood Now (1972)

QUOTE NOTE: Fadiman, a noted bibliophile, was almost certainly inspired by Philip Guedalla’s famous definition of biography (to be found in Biography & Biographers).

  • You can’t find any true closeness in Hollywood, she said, because everybody does the fake closeness so well. Carrie Fisher, the narrator quoting the protagonist Suzanne Vale, in Postcards From the Edge (1987)
  • Isn’t Hollywood a dump—in the human sense of the word. A hideous town, pointed up by the insulting gardens of its rich, full of the human spirit at a new low of debasement. F. Scott Fitzgerald, in letter to Alice Wooten (Jul 29, 1940)

QUOTE NOTE: This view of Hollywood, written a few months before Fitzgerald's death, represented a radical change of opinion. Four years earlier, in a Feb. 8, 1936 letter to Harold Ober, he wrote that Hollywood “is certainly one of the most romantic cities in the world.”

  • Working in Hollywood does give one a certain expertise in the field of prostitution. Jane Fonda, quoted in J. R. Colombo, Wit and Wisdom of the Moviemakers (1979)
  • In Hollywood the man who cleans your pool is an actor. The man who sells you your copy of Variety is an actor. I don’t think there’s a real person left in the place. Neil Gaiman, in Signal to Noise (1992; with Dave McKean)
  • It’s difficult in Hollywood to be allowed to try anything. It’s all a terrible compromise. There is no time for art. All that matters is what they call box office. Greta Garbo, in John Bainbridge, Garbo (1955)
  • Hollywood—that’s a place where love is viewed both pragmatically and philosophically in the saying, “’Tis better to have loved and divorced than never to have had any publicity at all.” Ava Gardner, quoted in Doug McClelland, Star Speak (1987)
  • Hollywood is strange when you’re in trouble. Everyone is afraid it’s contagious. Judy Garland, quoted in Simon Rose, Classic Film Guide (1995)

See the similar thought by Barry Norman below.

  • This is a town that doesn’t just want you to fail, it wants you to die. David Geffen, on Hollywood, quoted in Peter J. Boyer, “Katzenberg’s Seven-Year Itch,” Vanity Fair (Nov., 1991)
  • The early symptoms of the disease, which break out almost on arrival in Hollywood, are a sense of exaggerated self-importance and self-centeredness which naturally alienates all old friends. Elinor Glyn, a 1922 remark about a disease she called “The California Curse,” quoted in Anthony Glyn, Elinor Glyn: A Biography (1955)

Glyn continued: “Next comes a great desire for and belief in the importance of money above all else, a loss of the normal sense of humor and proportion and finally, in extreme cases, the abandonment of all previous standards of moral value.”

  • In Hollywood, no one knows anything. William Goldman, quoted in Jorja Prover, No One Knows Their Names: Screenwriters in Hollywood (1994)
  • Understand this: all the sleaze you’ve heard about Hollywood? All the illiterate scumbags who scuttle down the corridors of power? They are there, all right, and worse than you can imagine. William Goldman, in Which Lie Did I Tell: More Adventures in the Screen Trade (2000)
  • No one has a closest friend in Hollywood. Sheilah Graham, in The Rest of the Story (1964)
  • From the German tinzelle—literally, “to book a turkey into 1,200 theaters and make one’s money before word of mouth hits.” Charlie Haas, on Hollywood’s nickname Tinseltown, in People magazine (Feb. 9, 1987)
  • That’s what Hollywood’s all about: dreams. For as long as it’s existed, it’s been a destination for people who have aspired to better lives and better selves—a place of endless possibility, invention, and re-invention, of aspiration and inspiration. There’s an abundance of hope in Hollywood, as if it’s fueled by the sun, and maybe it is. Bonnie Hammer, “How Bonnie Hammer Conjures Hollywood Anytime, Anywhere,” in Vanity Fair magazine (Feb. 11, 2016)
  • The propaganda arm of the American Dream machine, Hollywood. Molly Haskell, “The Big Lie,” in From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies (1987; 1st ed., 1974)
  • I believe that God felt sorry for actors so He created Hollywood to give them a place in the sun and a swimming pool. The price they had to pay was to surrender their talent. Cedric Hardwicke, in A Victorian in Orbit: The Irreverent Memoirs of Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Told to James Brough (1961)
  • The honors Hollywood has for the writer are as dubious as tissue-paper cuff links. Ben Hecht, in Charlie: The Improbable Life and Times of Charles MacArthur (1957)
  • People’s sex habits are as well known in Hollywood as their political opinions, and much less criticized. Ben Hecht, quoted in the New York Mirror (April 24, 1959)
  • The convictions of Hollywood and television are made of boiled money. Lillian Hellman, in An Unfinished Woman (1969)
  • Hollywood was a silver-nitrate finishing school for a whole generation…with a faculty that included Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, John Gilbert, Pola Negri, Gloria Swanson, Clara Bow, Lon Chaney, Charlie Chaplin and Rudolf Valentino. C. David Heymann, in Poor Little Rich Girl: The Life and Legend of Barbara Hutton (1983)

Heymann introduced the finishing school metaphor by writing that 1930s youth went to see films “not just to be entertained or to escape the dreariness of their workaday lives, but to gain an education, to see the world, to learn table manners and interior decoration, how to dress, kiss, to laugh and cry, how to react to tragedy and happiness, how to be brave, evil, and good.”

  • No matter what you say about the town, and anything you say probably is true, there’s never been another like it. Hedda Hopper, on Hollywood, in From Under My Hat (1952)

Later in the book, Hopper added about the town she knew so well: “Smart writers never understand why their satires on our town are never successful. What they refuse to accept is that you can’t satirize a satire.”

  • Our town worships success, the bitch goddess whose smile hides a taste for blood. Hedda Hopper, on Hollywood, in The Whole Truth and Nothing But (1962; with James Brough)

Hopper continued: “She has a habit, before she destroys her worshipers, of turning them into spitting images of herself. She has an army of beauties in attendance at her shrine.”

  • Hollywood was always heartbreak town, though most of the world fancied it to be Shangri-La, King Solomon's mines, and Fort Knox rolled into one big ball of 24-karat gold. Hedda Hopper, in The Whole Truth and Nothing But (1963; with James Brough)

A bit earlier, Hopper had written: “Two of the cruelest, most primitive punishments our town deals out to those who have fallen from favor are the empty mailbox and the silent telephone.”

  • Hollywood has always been a cage…a cage to catch our dreams. John Huston, quoted in Sunday Times (London; Dec. 27, 1987)
  • Where is Hollywood located? Chiefly between the ears. In that part of the American brain lately vacated by God. Erica Jong, epigraph to “Hello to Hollywood” chapter, in How to Save Your Own Life (1977)
  • Every country gets the circus it deserves. Spain gets bullfights. Italy gets the Catholic Church. America gets Hollywood. Erica Jong, epigraph to “Take the Red-Eye” chapter, in How to Save Your Own Life (1977)
  • People in the land of LaLa look like expensive wax fruit. And they work hard to achieve that look. Erica Jong, a reflection of the narrator and title character, in Serenissima (1987; title later changed to Shylock’s Daughter)

Serenissima continued: “They have exercise coaches and psychic nutritionists, surgeons who specialize in tummy tucks and breast implants, lifts, and lipectomies, rhinoplasties, and rhytidectomies. Their clothes are scantier but in a way just as elaborate as the clothes of sixteenth-century Venice, for the, too, betrayed status.”

  • Writers who go to Hollywood still follow the classic pattern: either you get disgusted by “them” and you leave or you want the money and you become them. Pauline Kael, in Deeper Into Movies (1973)
  • Hollywood is the only place where you can die of encouragement. Pauline Kael, “The Current Cinema: Why Are Movies So Bad?” in The New Yorker (June 23, 1980)

QUOTE NOTE: Kael was describing the inordinate amount of time it took executives at the major studios to approve scripts and begin production of films. She added: “For the supplicant, it’s a matter of weeks, months, years, waiting for meetings at which he can beg permission to do what he was, at the start, eager to do. And even when he’s got a meeting, he has to catch the executive’s attention and try to keep it; in general the higher the executive, the more cruelly short his attention span.”

  • Hollywood is a place where there is no definition of your worth earlier than your last picture. Murray Kempton, “The Day of the Locust,” in Part of Our Time (1955)
  • To create what it does, Hollywood has to draw young people, often of unstable temperament, from all over the world. It plunges them into exacting work—surrounds them with a sensuous life—and cuts them off from the normal sources of living. Max Lerner, in America as a Civilization (1957)
  • Strip away the phony tinsel of Hollywood and you will find the real tinsel underneath. Oscar Levant, epigraph to Alvah Bessies’s Inquisition in Eden (1965). Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • Hollywood always had a streak of the totalitarian in just about everything it did. The old moguls were essentially hard-fisted authoritarians who had created a system of linked dictatorships to control the creative people. Shirley MacLaine, in You Can Get There From Here (1975)

MacLaine continued: “We were supposed to be the children; mad, tempestuous, brilliant, talented, not terribly smart children.”

  • No one ever really leaves Hollywood. No one really leaves unless they are called away by God. Even then, the impulse would be to come back again and make a movie about the experience. Shirley MacLaine, in My Lucky Stars: A Hollywood Memoir (1995)
  • Hollywood isn’t your cesspool, America. It’s your mirror. Bill Maher, on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher (Feb. 25, 2005)
  • You know, the only place in America where the millionaires and billionaires are predominantly liberal is here in Hollywood. Bill Maher, “The Great Thing About Having Been Poor,” HuffPost (March 1, 2012)
  • Being a writer in Hollywood in Hollywood is like going into Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest with a great idea for a bar-mitzvah. David Mamet, quoted in the Sunday Times (London; Aug. 1, 2004)
  • Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around. Herman Mankiewicz, in a 1925 telegram urging Ben Hecht to leave New York City and come to Hollywood as a screenwriter; quoted in Ben Hecht, A Child of the Century (1954)

QUOTE NOTE: A 1993 New York Times article gave this slightly different wording of the cable: “There are millions to be grabbed out here, and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around.”

  • Hollywood is the same as any other place when it comes to love, marriage, and divorce…some people have trouble staying married and some people have trouble staying single. Jayne Mansfield, in interview with syndicated columnist Sidney Skolsky, quoted in Raymond Strait, Here They Are—Jayne Mansfield (1992)
  • A trip through a sewer in a glass-bottomed boat. Wilson Mizner, a 1920s remark about Hollywood, quoted in Alva Johnson, The Legendary Mizners (1953)

QUOTE NOTE: Mizner’s observation was tweaked by New York City mayor James J. Walker, who used the underlying metaphor to describe reformers in a 1928 speech: “A reformer is a guy who rides through a sewer in a glass-bottomed boat.”

  • Hollywood is a sewer with service from the Ritz Carlton. Wilson Mizner, quoted in Debauched Proverbs and Other Miznerisms of Addison Mizner and Wilson Mizner (1979; Evanell K. Powell Brant, ed.)
  • Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul. Marilyn Monroe, in My Story (1974)

QUOTE NOTE: This famous Monroe observation was originally part of a larger thought: “In Hollywood a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hair-do. You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.”

QUOTATION CAUTION: Since My Story was first published a dozen years after Monroe's death, its authenticity has been questioned by many. For more, see this 2012 Quote Investigator post.

  • When you’re a failure in Hollywood—that’s like starving to death outside a banquet hall with the smells of filet mignon driving you crazy. Marilyn Monroe, quoted in Herb Boyd, Seductive Sayings: Marilyn Monroe Her Own Words (1994)
  • Hollywood, the Versailles of Los Angeles. Jan Morris, in Destinations (1980)
  • Hollywood is high school with money. Martin Mull, quoted by David Letterman, “The Late Show with David Letterman” (April 6, 1994)
  • Hollywood is a mirage factory. Anaïs Nin, a 1958 diary entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 6 (1976)
  • Failure is regarded in Hollywood as practically a contagious disease; people will literally cross the road to avoid someone who is tainted with it. Barry Norman, in The Film Greats (1979)

See there similar thought by Judy Garland above.

  • The most glaring misconception about Hollywood is that it is the romance capital of the world. Lynda Obst, in Hello, He Lied—And Other Truths From the Hollywood Trenches (1996)

Obst preceded the thought by writing: “The first thing you notice about women in Hollywood, besides their low percentage of body fat, is how few are married. And the number of great-looking, successful single women without a social life is staggering.” Obst also offered a number of other memorable observations about Hollywood, including the following:

“Ego problems are endemic in every walk of life, but in the movie business egomaniacs are megalomaniacs.”

“Subtext here is text. Don’t be shy about it; embrace the vulgar in your clothes and in your speech. Subtlety is wasted in Hollywood.”

“Love and friendship, two of life’s abiding rewards, are endangered species in Hollywood. People crave both, mistaking alliance for friendship, lust for love, and ambition for both.”

“Like the tectonic plate it sits upon, Hollywood is subject to seismic jolts and constant tremors. Each season erupts with a new champion, and every so often a genuine earthquake will tear down the apparently secure infrastructure.”

  • The only “ism” Hollywood believes in is plagiarism. Dorothy Parker, a signature line

QUOTE NOTE: While this remark now enjoys a kind of quotation immortality, the only person who appears to have heard her say it is Leo Rosten, and he presented it in the following way in his 1941 book The Movie Colony, The Movie Makers (1941): “The only ‘ism’ in which Hollywood believed, Dorothy Parker remarked, was plagiarism.” For more, see this 2014 Quote Investigator post.

  • Hollywood money isn’t money. It’s congealed snow, melts in your hand, and there you are. Dorothy Parker, in Paris Review interview (Summer 1956)

QUOTE NOTE: Parker likely reprised this sentiment on other occasions. In You Might As Well Live (1970). John Keats’s biography of Parker, this version was provided: “Sure, you make money writing on the coast, and God knows you earn it, but that money is like so much compressed snow. It goes so fast it melts in your hand.”

  • A dreary industrial town controlled by hoodlums of enormous wealth, the ethical sense of a pack of jackals, and taste so degraded that it befouled everything it touched. S. J. Perelman, on Hollywood, in Paris Review interview (Summer-Fall, 1963)

Perelman went on to add: “There were times, when I drove along the Sunset Strip and looked at those buildings, or when I watched the fashionable film colony arriving at some premier at Grauman’s Egyptian, that I fully expected God in his wrath to obliterate the whole shebang.”

  • The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a “feminist” story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist, that’s macho. Natalie Portman, in interview with Elaine Lipworth, The Telegraph (London; Oct. 29, 2013)
  • Hollywood, The Dream Factory. Hortense Powdermaker, title of 1950 book

QUOTE NOTE: Powdermaker, a respected American anthropologist who studied under Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics, subtitled her book: An Anthropologist Looks at the Movie-Makers. To this day, her book, remains the only significant anthropological examination of the film industry, Powdermaker offered many memorable observations about the culture she was investigating, including the following:

“In Hollywood, primitive magical thinking exists side by side with the most advanced technology.”

“Almost no one trusts anyone else, and the executives, particularly, trust no one, not even themselves.”

“Hollywood represents totalitarianism. Its basis is economic rather than political but its philosophy is similar to that of the totalitarian state.”

“Hollywood provides ready-made fantasies or daydreams; the problem is whether these are productive or nonproductive, whether the audience is psychologically enriched or impoverished.”

“The Hollywood atmosphere of crises and continuous anxiety is a kind of hysteria which prevents people from thinking, and is not too different from the way dictators use wars and continuous threats of war as an emotional basis for maintaining their power.”

  • You cannot live in Los Angeles for any period of time without eventually trying to write a screenplay. It’s like a flu bug that you catch. Gilda Radner, in It’s Always Something (1989)

Radner went on to add: “Even the plumber has a screenplay in his truck.”

  • No one goes Hollywood—they were that way before they came her. Hollywood just exposed it. Ronald Reagan, quoted in People magazine (Feb. 9, 1987)
  • In Hollywood, if you don’t have happiness, you send out for it. Rex Reed, quoted in J. R. Colombo, Colombo's Hollywood (1979)
  • Hollywood works continually to keep its standard of contempt for the audience. Muriel Rukeyser, in The Life of Poetry (1949)
  • They know only one word of more than one syllable here, and that is fillum. Louis Sherwin, a circa 1920 remark, quoted in H. L. Mencken, A New Dictionary of Quotations (1942)
  • A place where the inmates are in charge of the asylum. Laurence Stallings, a circa 1930 remark, quoted in H. L. Mencken, A New Dictionary of Quotations (1942)
  • Hollywood’s old trick: repeat a successful formula until it dies. Gloria Swanson, in Swanson on Swanson (1980)
  • This is the biggest electric train any boy ever had! Orson Welles, on Hollywood, quoted in Leo Rosten, Hollywood (1941)
  • Hollywood is the only industry, even taking in soap companies, which does not have laboratories for the purpose of experimentation. Orson Welles, quoted in Frank Brady, Citizen Welles (1989)
  • All agree that it is wrong to be bound to Hollywood; though no one has suspected that the bonds, instead of money or fleshpots or easy work, might be the joys of shared effort. Jessamyn West, in To See the Dream (1957)

West continued: “I give something which, though my own, becomes part of something beyond me; and Hollywood’s pull for me becomes the pull felt by the member of any order.”

  • The bite of existence did not cut into one in Hollywood. Mae West, in Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It! (1959)

West went on to add: “Life elsewhere was real and slippery and struggled in the arms like a big fish dying in air.”

  • Hollywood was like a mouse being followed by a cat called television. Mae West, in Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It! (1959)
  • Hollywood characters are supposed to have all the adventures for everybody in America, while everybody in America sits in a dark room and watches them have them. Tennessee Williams, the character Tom speaking, in The Glass Menagerie (1944)

QUOTE NOTE: When Tom’s friend Jim expresses surprise about Tom’s announcement that he is “tired of the movies,” Tom replies: “Yes, movies! Look at them. All of those glamorous people—having adventures—hogging it all, gobbling the whole thing up. You know what happens? People go to the movies instead of moving!” And then he continues with the observation above.

  • Hollywood didn’t kill Marilyn Monroe, It’s the Marilyn Monroes who are killing Hollywood. Billy Wilder, quoted in Earl Wilson, The Show Business Nobody Knows (1971). An example of chiasmus.

Wilder continued: “Marilyn was mean. Terribly mean. The meanest woman I have ever met around this town. I have never met anybody as as mean as Marilyn Monroe nor as utterly fabulous on the screen, and that includes Garbo.”


(see also FAMILY and HOUSE and PRIVACY)

  • The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned. Maya Angelou, in All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986)
  • You can never leave home. You take it with you no matter where you go. Home is between your teeth, under your fingernails, in the hair follicles, in your smile, in the ride of your hips, in the passage of your breasts. Maya Angelou, in Paris Review interview (Fall 1990)
  • I believe that one can never leave home. I believe that one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and dragons of home under one’s skin, at the extreme corners of one’s eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe. Maya Angelou, in A Letter to My Daughter (2008)

In the book, Angelou also wrote: “Home is that youthful region where a child is the only real living inhabitant. Parents, siblings, and neighbors are mysterious apparitions who come, go, and do strange unfathomable thing in and around the child, the region’s only enfranchised citizen.”

  • Ah! there is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort. Jane Austen, the character Mrs. Elton speaking, in Emma (1816)
  • No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home. L. Frank Baum, the character Dorothy speaking, in a conversation with the Scarecrow, in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
  • I was convinced you can’t go home again. Now I know better. Nothing is more untrue. I know you go back over and over again, seeking the self you left behind. Helen Bevington, in The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm (1971)

Bevington concluded: “Thomas Wolfe made a career of looking homeward to tell his story.”

  • Home never appears to us so beautiful as when we are remote from it. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. I (1862)
  • A good home is a place where children can do what they like…but not to somebody else. Marcelene Cox, in a 1993 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • When I can no longer bear to think of the victims of broken homes, I begin to think of the victims of intact ones. Peter De Vries, the character Augie Poole speaking, in The Tunnel of Love (1954)
  • Though home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke [sic], or spirit answered to, in the strongest conjuration. Charles Dickens, the voice of the narrator, in Martin Chuzzlewit (serialized 1842-44)
  • How does it feel/To be without a home/Like a complete unknown/Like a rolling stone? Bob Dylan, lyric in the song “Like A Rolling Stone” (1965)
  • Home is the dearest spot on earth, and it should be the center, though not the boundary, of the affections. Mary Baker Eddy, in Science and Health (1875)
  • Home! With what different sensations different people pronounce and hear that word pronounced! Maria Edgeworth, the voice of the narrator, in the short story “Out of Debt Out of Danger,” in Popular Tales (1804)
  • Home is the place where, when you have to go there/they have to take you in. Robert Frost, the character Warren speaking, in the poem “The Death of the Hired Man” (written 1905-06), published in North of Boston (1914)
  • A house is no home unless it contain food and fire for the mind as well as for the body. Margaret Fuller, in Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845)
  • Home is wherever I go. Indira Gandhi, quoted in Dorothy Norman, Indira Gandhi: Letters to An American Friend 1950-1984 (1985)
  • The home is the center and circumference, the start and the finish, of most of our lives. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in The Home (1903)

In the book, Gilman also offered these thoughts:

“The home is a human institution. All human institutions are open to improvement.”

“The best proof of man’s dissatisfaction with the home is found in his universal absence from it.”

  • Home is where your books are. Erica Jong, “Coming Home to Connecticut,” in What Do Women Want? (1998)
  • A man’s home may seem to be his castle on the outside: inside, it is more often his nursery. Clare Boothe Luce, quoted in The Bulletin of the Baldwin School, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, (September 1974)
  • Home is where you hang your architect. Clare Booth Luce, “Fast and Luce,” in Vanity Fair (March 1988)
  • A home is like a nest—it’s only useful for so long. David Lynch, in Lynch on Lynch (2005; with Chris Rodley)
  • Home ought to be our clearing house [sic], the place from which we go forth lessoned and disciplined, and ready for life. Kathleen Thompson Norris, in Home (1928)
  • Peace—that was the other name for home. Kathleen Norris, in Belle-Mère (1931)
  • Unkindness is death to the home. One unkind, unsocial, critical, eternally dissatisfied member can destroy any family. Kathleen Norris, in Hands Full of Living (1931)
  • Home is where the heart is. Proverb (American)
  • “Home” is any four walls that enclose the right person. Helen Rowland, in Reflections of a Bachelor Girl (1909)
  • Home is a symbol of the self. Caring for a home is caring for one’s self. Gloria Steinem, in My Life on the Road (2015)
  • Home is our little corner of eternity. Alexandra Stoddard, in Gracious Living in a New World (1996)
  • I don’t mean what other people mean when they speak of a home, because I don’t regard a home as a…well, as a place, a building…a house…of wood, bricks, stone. I think of a home as being a thing that two people have between them in which each can…well, nest—rest—live in, emotionally speaking [ellipses in original]. Tennessee Williams, the character Hannah speaking, in The Night of the Iguana (1959; based on his 1948 short story by the same title)
  • Everyone has something they don’t want anyone to see; that is one of the functions of a home, to provide a spot to keep such things. Rex Stout, Nero Wolfe speaking, in The Red Box (1936)
  • There is no comfort anywhere for anyone who dreads to go home. Laura Ingalls Wilder, the voice of the narrator, in Little Town on the Prairie (1941)



  • Home brings the ability to exhale. Having a roof over your head is the greatest relief. I can’t imagine not having sanctuary to be warm in the cold and comforted in the rain. John Bon Jovi, quoted in “Jon Bon Jovi is Fighting Poverty with JBJ Soul Kitchen,” Quota magazine (Nov. 29, 2020)

Bon Jovi continued: “You’ve got to put a roof over someone’s head and then you’ve got to give them the ability to provide so they can keep it over their head. You can’t just give the man a home and go, good luck. Because next month there’s a lighting bill coming.”

  • The first thing you lose when you become homeless is your dignity. Cindy Butler, in Street Spirit (2005)
  • How do you argue with someone who states that the people who are sleeping on the grates of the streets of America “are homeless by choice”? Patti Davis, on her father, Ronald Reagan, quoted in a 1990 issue of Newsweek magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • The deepest question, “How can homelessness happen in America?” has the simplest answer: Because we let it. Conor Dougherty, in Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America (2020)
  • Think of the worst experience you've ever had with a clerk in some government service job—motor vehicles, hospital, whatever—and add the life-threatening condition of impending starvation or homelessness to the waiting line, multiply the anxiety by an exponent of ten, and you have some idea of what it's like in a welfare center. Theresa Funiciello, in Tyranny of Kindness: Dismantling the Welfare System to End Poverty in America (1993)
  • When we bear witness, when we become the situation—homelessness, poverty, illness, violence, death—the right action arises by itself. Tetsugen Bernard Glassman, in Bearing Witness: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Making Peace (2013)

Glassman continued: “We don't have to worry about what to do. We don't have to figure out solutions ahead of time. Peacemaking is the functioning of bearing witness. Once we listen with our entire body and mind, loving action arises.”

  • Poor America, of what avail is all her wealth, if the individuals comprising the nation are wretchedly poor? If they live in squalor, in filth, in crime, with hope and joy gone, a homeless, soulless army of human prey. Emma Goldman, the title essay, in Anarchism (1910)
  • After all a homeless man has reason to cry, everything in the world is pointed against him. Jack Kerouac, a reflection of the character Ray Smith, in The Dharma Bums (1958)
  • Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me,/I lift my lamp beside the golden door! Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus,” inscription for the Statue of Liberty (1883); reprinted in The Poems of Emma Lazarus, Vol. 1 (1888)
  • When it comes to homelessness, you’ve got to ask yourself, “Does my behavior towards those without an address contribute to the invisibility that they face daily?” If your answer is yes, it might be time to change how you see those without an address. Terence Lester in a Tweet (July 7, 2021)
  • Fear is dangerous. It creates an environment in which it’s acceptable to treat those experiencing poverty and homelessness with anger and hate. The first step to stopping this is to realize that this fear is unfounded and dangerous. Terence Lester, in I See You: How Love Opens Our Eyes to Invisible People (2019)

In the book, Lester also wrote: “From the comfort of our own homes it’s hard to understand the complexities of something like poverty and homelessness.”

  • People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without houses. Sheila McKechnie, in a 1985 issue of The Christian Science Monitor (specific issue undetermined)
  • God has identified himself with the hungry, the sick, the naked, the homeless; hunger not only for bread, but for love, for care, to be somebody to someone. Mother Teresa in A Gift for God (1975)
  • The artistic reward for refuting the received national tradition is liberation. The price is homelessness. Interior exile. Carolyn D. Wright, in Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil (2012)



  • Homophobia: The Last “Respectable” Prejudice. William Sloane Coffin, title of essay, in The Heart is a Little to the Left: Essays on Public Morality (1999)



  • We know that priorities are amiss in the world when a man gets a military medal of honor for killing another man and a dishonorable discharge for loving one. Charlotte Bunch, “Speaking Out, Reaching Out,” in Passionate Politics (1987)
  • I am the love that dare not speak its name. Lord Alfred Douglas, the concluding line of the poem “Two Loves”, and now considered one of history’s most famous references to homosexuality, in The Chameleon (Dec. 1894)
  • For men who want to flee the Family Man America and never come back, there is a guaranteed solution: homosexuality is the new French Foreign Legion. Florence King, in Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye (1989)
  • If you removed all of the homosexuals and homosexual influence from what is generally regarded as American culture, you would be pretty much left with Let's Make a Deal. Fran Lebowitz, quoted in The New York Times (September 13, 1987)
  • Homosexuality was invented by a straight world dealing with its own bisexuality. Kate Millett, in Flying (1974)



  • The main thing about acting is honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made. George Burns, quoted in Playboy magazine (March, 1984)

QUOTE NOTE: Four years earlier, in The Third Time Around: An Autobiography (1980), Burns expressed the thought this way: “And remember this for the rest of your life: To be a fine actor, when you’re playing a role you’ve got to be honest. And if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Similar observations have been attributed to Groucho Marx and Samuel Goldwyn as well, but with no supporting evidence.

According to quotation researcher Garson O'Toole, the earliest appearance of the faking honesty sentiment was in 1962, when actress Celeste Holm attributed the following remark to an unnamed actor: “Honesty. That’s the thing in the theater today. Honesty…and just as soon as I can learn to fake that, I’ll have it made.” For more on the many iterations of the saying, see this informative 2011 Quote Investigator post.

  • There are very few honest friends—the demand is not particularly great. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • I have known a vast quantity of nonsense talked about bad men not looking you in the face. Don’t trust that conventional idea. Dishonesty will stare honesty out of countenance, any day in the week, if there is anything to be got by it. Charles Dickens, the voice of the narrator, in the short story “Hunted Down,” originally published in three installments in the New York Ledger (Aug-Sep, 1859)
  • You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man. W. C. Fields, title of 1939 movie.

QUOTE NOTE: This was a signature line for Fields, and it is believed he first uttered it in the 1923 stage production of Poppy.

  • “Honesty” without compassion and understanding is not honesty, but subtle hostility. Dr. Rose N. Franzblau, in a 1966 New York Post advice column (specific date undetermined)
  • The change of life is the time when you meet yourself at a crossroads and you decide whether to be honest or not before you die. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Journals and Letters of the Little Locksmith (1946)
  • Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Nathaniel Macon (Jan. 12, 1819)

QUOTE NOTE: This widely cited quotation was originally part of a larger observation, in which Jefferson wrote: “Whether the succeeding generation is to be more virtuous than their predecessors, I cannot say; but I am sure they will have more worldly wisdom, and enough, I hope, to know that honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

  • Men are able to trust one another, knowing the exact degree of dishonesty they are entitled to expect. Stephen Leacock, “The Woman Question,” in Essays and Literary Studies (1916)
  • What is more arrogant than honesty? Ursula K. Le Guin, the character Estraven speaking, in The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
  • It is never right to compromise with dishonesty. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., a 1952 remark, quoted in R. N. Smith, Thomas E. Dewey and His Times (1982)
  • Honesty is a virtue, but not the only one. If you’re in a courtroom you need the whole truth and nothing but the truth; in the living room, sometimes you need anything but. Often. Judith Martin, quoted in Susan Goodman, “Judith Martin,” a 1996 profile in Modern Maturity (specific issue undetermined)
  • Honesty has come to mean the privilege of insulting you to your face without expecting redress. Judith Martin, in Common Courtesy (1985)
  • Smart people duck when they hear the dread announcement “I’m going to be perfectly honest with you.” Judith Martin, in Miss Manners Rescues Civilization (1996)
  • An honest man’s the noblest work of God. Alexander Pope, in An Essay on Man (1733-34)
  • Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man, and our politicians take advantage of this prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature made them. Bertrand Russell, in New Hopes for a Changing World (1951)
  • Honesty is the best policy. Edwin Sandys, in Europae Speculum (1605)

QUOTE NOTE: Many of the world’s most famous proverbs were authored by a single individual, and that is the case here.

  • We may argue eloquently that “Honesty is the best Policy”— unfortunately, the moment honesty is adopted for the sake of policy it mysteriously ceases to be honesty. Dorothy L. Sayers, “The Other Six Deadly Sins,” in Creed or Chaos? (1949)
  • In short, honesty is more than a moral principle. It is also a major economic factor. Thomas Sowell, in Basic Economics (4th ed.;2010)

Sowell continued: “While government can do little to create honesty directly, in various ways it can indirectly either support or undermine the traditions on which honest conduct is based.”

  • There are numerous layers of honesty, and the deepest should not have a monopoly. Rex Stout, Nero Wolfe speaking, in The Second Confession (1949)



  • How is it possible, that the love of gain and the lust of domination should render the human mind so callous to every principle of honor, generosity, and benevolence? Abigail Adams, in letter to husband John Adams (July 25, 1775)
  • The sense of honor is of so fine and delicate a nature that it is only to be met with in minds which are naturally noble, or in such as have been cultivated by good examples, or a refined education. Joseph Addison, in The Guardian (Sep. 15, 1713).
  • Content thyself to be obscurely good./When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,/The post of honor is a private station. Joseph Addison, the title character speaking, in Cato (1713)
  • Better to die ten thousand deaths,/Than wound my honor. Joseph Addison, the character Juba speaking, in Cato, A Tragedy (1713)

Addison preceded the thought by writing: “What some men are prompted to by conscience, duty, or religion, which are only different names for the same thing, others are prompted to by honor.”

  • Life is my college. May I graduate well, and earn some honors. Louisa May Alcott, quoted in Ednah D. Cheney, Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters and Journals (1889)
  • Many have pursued honor, and in the pursuit lost more of it than ever they could gain. Lloyd Alexander, the character Annlaw speaking, in Taran Wanderer: The Chronicles of Prydain (1967)
  • At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice. Maya Angelou, in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970)
  • Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them. Aristotle

QUOTATION CAUTION: This quotation has been popular for more than two centuries, but has never been officially verified. I recommend using it with the caveat: “Attributed to Aristotle.”

  • There are circumstances which have to do with simple human honor. No matter the risk. To resist and not surrender. Antonin Artaud, in a letter to André Breton (Feb. 28, 1947)
  • Too many of our countrymen rejoice in stupidity, look upon ignorance as a badge of honor. They condemn everything they don’t understand. Tallulah Bankhead, in Tallulah: My Autobiography (1952)
  • Before honor is humility. The Bible, Proverbs 15:33 (KJV)
  • Honor shall uphold the humble in spirit. The Bible, Book of Proverbs 29:23 (KJV)
  • Leave not a stain in thine honor. The Bible, Ecclesiasticus 33:22 (KJV)
  • Honor thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. The Bible, Exodus 20:12 (KJV)
  • Honor is like an island, rugged and without a beach; once we have left it, we can never return. Nicolas Boileau, in Satires (1666)
  • If you would have your son to walk honorably through the world, you must not attempt to clear the stones from his path, but teach him to walk firmly over them—not insist upon leading him by the land, but let him learn to go alone. Anne Brontë, the character Gilbert Markham speaking, in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848)
  • There are no honorable rulers. Pearl S. Buck, the character Wang the Ruler speaking, in Sons (1932)
  • We know that priorities are amiss in the world when a man gets a military medal of honor for killing another man and a dishonorable discharge for loving one. Charlotte Bunch, “Speaking Out, Reaching Out,” in Passionate Politics (1987)
  • All honor's wounds are self-inflicted. Andrew Carnegie, in address at the University of St. Andrews (Oct. 17, 1905)
  • Living for a high purpose is as honorable as dying for it. Carrie Chapman Catt, a 1922 remark, quoted in Mary Gray Peck, Carrie Chapman Catt (1948)
  • My honor is dearer to me than my life. Miguel de Cervantes, the character Dorothea speaking, in Don Quixote (1605)
  • Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Winston Churchill, in speech at Harrow School, Harrow, England (Oct. 29, 1941)
  • The only guide to a man is his conscience, the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and the sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations; but with this shield, however the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honor. Winston Churchill, from a 1940 eulogy for Neville Chamberlain, in The Second World War: Their Finest Hour, Vol. 2 (1949)
  • Of all the properties which belong to honorable men, not one is so highly prized as that of character. Henry Clay, in a speech in Lexington, Kentucky (July 12, 1827)
  • Honor is the presence of God in man. Pat Conroy, the character General Bentley Durrell speaking, in The Lords of Discipline (1980)

Gen. Durrell preceded this observation by saying: “I have never had to look up a definition of honor. I knew instinctively what it was. It is something I had the day I was born, and I never had to question where it came from or by what right it was mine. If I was stripped of my honor, I would choose death as certainly and unemotionally as I clean my shoes in the morning.”

  • No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave. Calvin Coolidge, in a veto message to the Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives (June 6, 1919)
  • Who sows virtue reaps honor. Leonardo da Vinci, in Note-Books (1908; Edward McCurdy, ed.)
  • A woman of honor should not suspect another of things she would not do herself. Marguerite de Valois, quoted in J. De Finod, A Thousand Flashes of French Wit, Wisdom, and Wickedness (1886)
  • The honor of a nation is an important thing. It is said in the Scriptures, “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” It may be said, also, What doth it profit a nation if it gain the whole world, but lose its honor? Frederick Douglass, in “What the Black Man Wants.” an 1865 speech in Boston, Massachusetts
  • The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Worship,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)

QUOTE NOTE: In forging this thought, Emerson was almost certainly influenced by a 1763 remark from Samuel Johnson. Speaking to his biographer James Boswell, he said about a contemporary: “But if he does really think that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, why, Sir, when he leaves our houses let us count our spoons.”

  • If there is one thing the past years have taught us, it is the importance of a keen and high sense of honor in those who handle our governmental affairs. Millicent Fenwick, quoted in a 1976 issue of The New York Times (specific issue undetermined)
  • Titles of honor add not to his worth,/
Who is himself an honor to his titles. John Ford, in The Lady’s Trial (1638)
  • True honor is an attachment to honest and beneficent principles, and a good reputation; and prompts a man to do good to others, and indeed to all men, at his own cost, pains, or peril. False honor is a pretense to this character, but does things that destroy it. Thomas Gordon, “Of False Honor,” in Cato's Letter No. 57 (December 16, 1721)

Gordon added: “And the abuse of honor is called honor by those who from that good word borrow credit to act basely, rashly, or foolishly.”

  • In Washington it is an honor to be disgraced. By that I mean you have to have been somebody to fall. Meg Greenfield, in a 1986 issue of Newsweek magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • I believe if we can wait long enough that every honorable sorrow will become a kind of joy. Corra Harris, in My Book and Heart (1924)
  • Honor is not the exclusive property of any political party. Herbert Hoover, quoted in the Christian Science Monitor (May 21, 1964)
  • When there is a lack of honor in government, the morals of the whole people are poisoned. Herbert Hoover, quoted in The New York Times (Aug. 9, 1964)
  • The road to honor is paved with thorns; but on the path to truth, at every step you set your foot down on your own heart. Ralph Iron (the pen name of Olive Schreiner), the voice of the narrator, in The Story of an African Farm (1883)

The narrator preceded the thought by writing: “All things on earth have their price; and for truth we pay the dearest. We barter it for love and sympathy.”

  • The statesman who talks of honor—unless he means something else, quite different—is a rogue. Storm Jameson, in The Journal of Mary Hervey Russell (1945)
  • Nobody can acquire honor by doing what is wrong. Thomas Jefferson, in a formal address to Manchot, the Great War Chief of the Powtewatamies Nation (Dec. 21, 1808); reprinted in The writings of Thomas Jefferson (1854; H. A. Wahington, ed.)
  • I would lay down my life for America, but I cannot trifle with my honor. John Paul Jones, in letter to A. Livingston (Sep. 4, 1777)
  • Honor can be a troublesome thing, but if one has it one does not lightly yield it. Louis L’Amour, a reflection of narrator and protagonist, Mathurin Kerbouchard, in The Walking Drum: A Novel (1984)
  • Custom…changes the very nature of things; and what was honorable a thousand years ago, may probably be looked upon as infamous now. Charlotte Lennox, in The Female Quixote, or The Adventures of Arabella (1752)
  • One stumble is enough to deface the character of an honorable life. Roger L’Estrange
  • He has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so. Walter Lippmann, in A Preface to Morals (1929)
  • I could not love thee dear, so much,/Loved I not honor more. Richard Lovelace, in “To Lucasta, Going to the Warres” (1649)
  • It is not titles that honor men, but men that honor titles. Niccolò Machiavelli, in Discourses on Livy (1513-17)

The saying has also been commonly presented this way: “For titles do not reflect honor on men, but rather men on their titles.”

  • “Duty, Honor, Country”—those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn. Douglas MacArthur, in address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (May 12, 1962)
  • If we can genuinely honor our mother and father we are not only at peace with ourselves but we can then give birth to our future. Shirley MacLaine, in Dance While You Can (1991)
  • Honor is purchas’d by the deeds we do. Christopher Marlowe, in Hero and Leander (1598)
  • The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught. H. L. Mencken, in Prejudices: Fourth Series (1924)
  • It had been her experience that the liar was the hottest to defend his veracity, the coward his courage, the ill-bred his gentlemanliness, and the cad his honor. Margaret Mitchell, the narrator describing the experience of Scarlett O’Hara, in Gone With the Wind (1936)
  • Are you not ashamed that you give your attention to acquiring as much money as possible, and similarly with reputation and honor, and give no attention or thought to truth and understanding and the perfection of your soul? Plato, quoting Socrates, in Apology (4th c. B.C.)
  • Honor is self-esteem made visible in action. Ayn Rand, in the title essay of Philosophy: Who Needs It? (1982)

QUOTE NOTE: The title essay is a reprint of a March 6, 1974 speech Rand gave to the graduating class of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point. In the speech, she argued that philosophy can and should play a pivotal role in human life. In particular, she further argued that people needed to occasionally examine the assumptions that undergird their thoughts and actions if they are to live a productive and meaningful life.

  • An honorable human relationship…is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other. Adrienne Rich, “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying,” in On Lies, Secrets, and Silence (1979)
  • Honor is a term much used but little understood. Regina Maria Roche, in Nocturnal Visit (1800)
  • The man who makes a promise which he does not intend to keep, and does not try to keep, should rightly be adjudged to have forfeited in some degree what should be every man’s most precious possession—his honor. Theodore Roosevelt, in speech in San Francisco, CA (May 14, 1903)
  • How many sacrifice honor, a necessity, to glory, a luxury? Joseph Roux, in Meditations of a Parish Priest (1886)
  • To mention honor was to suggest its opposite. Dorothy L. Sayers, in Gaudy Night (1935)
  • Honor has not to be won; it must only not be lost. But there lies the difficulty! For by a single unworthy action, it is gone irretrievably. Arthur Schopenhauer, “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life,” in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)
  • And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds,/So honor peereth in the meanest habit. William Shakespeare, the character Petruchio speaking, in The Taming of the Shrew (1592)
  • Mine honor is my life, both grow in one. Take honor from me, and my life is done. William Shakespeare, the character Mowbray speaking, in Richard II (c. 1595)
  • O that estates, degrees, and offices,/Were not derived corruptly, and that clear honor/Were purchased by the merit of the wearer. William Shakespeare, the Prince of Aragon speaking, in The Merchant of Venice (1596)

QUOTE NOTE: The Prince is arguing that high standing should be based on merit rather than achieved through corrupt or ignoble means. He preceded the observation by saying: “Let none presume/To wear an undeserved dignity.”

  • If I lose mine honor,
 I lose myself. William Shakespeare, the character Antony speaking, in Antony and Cleopatra (c. 1607)
  • The most tragic thing in the world is a man of genius who is not also a man of honor. George Bernard Shaw, the character Colenso Ridgeon speaking, in The Doctor’s Dilemma (1906)
  • What is left when honor is lost? Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae (1st c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation has also been commonly translated as: “He who has lost honor can lose nothing more.”

  • How friendly we should all be with one another if nobody were interested in money and honor. Teresa of Avila, in Autobiography (1565)

QUOTE NOTE: Teresa also explored the theme in The Way of Perfection, a 1579 book in which she wrote that “honor and money nearly always go together.” In that book, she also wrote: “Seldom or never is a poor man honored by the world; however worthy of honor he may be, he is apt rather to be despised by it.”

  • Honor wears different coats to different eyes. Barbara W. Tuchman, in The Guns of August (1962)
  • On the whole it is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not deserve them. Mark Twain, in Mark Twain’s Notebook (1935 ed.)
  • Honor knows no statute of limitations. Mark Twain, quoting a remark from his nephew; quoted in Samuel E. Moffett, Mark Twain’s Autobiography (1924)
  • All you have the right to ask of life is to choose a battle in this war, make the best you can, and leave the field with honor. Leon Uris, the character Andrei speaking, in Mila 18 (1961)
  • When faith is lost, when honor dies,/The man is dead! John Greenleaf Whittier, in Ichabod (1850)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s possible that Whittier was inspired by a 1st c. B.C observation from Publilius Syrus, seen above.

  • The nation’s honor is dearer than the nation’s comfort; yes, then the nation’s life itself. Woodrow Wilson, in a Jan. 26, 1919 speech
  • If you seek what is honorable, what is good, what is the truth of your life, all the other things you could not imagine come as a matter of course. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Bill Adler, The Uncommon Wisdom of Oprah Winfrey (1997)
  • Do not confound noise with fame. The man who is remembered, is not always honored. Frances Wright, in A Few Days in Athens (1822)



  • Hope is a waking dream. Aristotle, quoted in Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (3rd c. A.D.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is also commonly translated as: “Hope is the dream of a waking man.”

  • I will never give up. I refuse to. Isn’t hope an incredible, a wonderfully demented thing? Lauren Bacall, in Now (1994)

QUOTE NOTE: Now, published 16 years after Bacall’s autobiography By Myself (1978), was not an updated autobiography, but rather a set of further reflections on her life and career. This thought came as a play she’d been starring in was coming to an end. As she found herself wondering—and worrying—about what would happen next, she realized that her “life-support system” (her mother and Humphrey Bogart) were no longer around to help her through such disquieting times. This reflection—so personal and so beautifully expressed—was one way of helping to pull herself up.

  • Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper. Francis Bacon, in Apophthegms (1624)
  • Hope is a risk that must be run. Georges Bernanos, “Why Freedom?” in The Last Essays of Georges Bernanos (1955)
  • Hope deferred maketh the heart sick. The Bible—Proverbs 13:12 (KJV)
  • When hope is taken away from a people moral degeneration follows swiftly after. Pearl S. Buck, in a letter to The New York Times (Nov. 15, 1941)
  • But what is Hope? Nothing but the paint on the face of Existence. Lord Byron (George Noel Gordon), in letter to the poet Thomas Moore (Oct. 28, 1815); reprinted in Byron’s Letters and Journals (1975, Leslie Marchand, ed.)

Byron continued: “The least touch of truth rubs it off, and then we see what a hollow-cheeked harlot we have got hold of.”

  • Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate. G. K. Chesterton, in Heretics (1905)
  • Hope knows no fear. Hope dares to blossom even inside the abysmal abyss. Hope secretly feeds and strengthens promise. Sri Chinmoy, in My Christmas-New Year-Vacation-Aspiration-Prayers (2003)
  • While there is life, there is hope. Marcus Tullius Cicero, in Ad Atticum (1st. c. B.C.)
  • As the days of spring arouse all nature to a green and growing vitality, so when hope enters the soul it makes all things new. It insures the progress which it predicts. James Freeman Clarke, in Self-Culture: Physical, Intellectual, Moral, and Spiritual (1880)
  • For like nothing else in the world, hope arouses a passion for the possible. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., in A Passion for the Possible (1993)

Coffin preceded the thought by writing: “If faith puts us on the road, hope is what keeps us there. It enables us to keep a steady eye on remote ends. It makes us persistent when we can’t be optimistic, faithful when results elude us.”

  • Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve,/And hope without an object cannot live. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in the poem “Work Without Hope” (written Feb. 21, 1827). The full poem may be seen at Work Without Hope
  • In the treatment of nervous cases, he is the best physician, who is the most ingenious inspirer of hope. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Table Talk (Jan. 2, 1833)
  • Hope costs nothing. Colette (pen name of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette), a reflection of the title character, in Claudine at School (1900)
  • Hope deceives more men than cunning does. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)
  • All hope abandon, ye who enter here. Dante Alighieri, an inscription at the gates of hell, in The Divine Comedy (circa 1310-21)

QUOTE NOTE: When this famous inscription is used in common parlance, it is often phrased: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

  • “Hope” is the thing with feathers—/That perches in the soul—/And sings the tune without the words—/
And never stops—/ at all. Emily Dickinson, Poem No. 254 (c. 1861)
  • A great Hope fell/You heard no noise/The Ruin was within. Emily Dickinson, Poem No. 1123 (c. 1868)

These lines capture the deeply private nature of much disappointment and despair. The poem continues: “Oh cunning Wreck/That told no tale/And let no witness in.”

  • Hope is the fuel that drives us into tomorrow. Brad Dixon, in a personal communication to the compiler (May 13, 2020)
  • When he has lost all hope, all object in life, man becomes a monster in his misery. Fyodor Dostoevsky, the voice of the narrator, in The House of the Dead (1862)

The narrator introduced the thought by saying: “Without some goal and some effort to reach it, no man can live.”

  • Never forget that until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in these two words—Wait and Hope. Alexandre Dumas, père, the title character in a letter to his friend Maximilian, in The Count of Monte Cristo (1845)
  • What is hope but a feeling of optimism, a thought that says things will improve, it won’t always be bleak, there’s a way to rise above the present circumstances. Wayne W. Dyer, in There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem (2001)

Dyer continued: “Hope is an internal awareness that you do not have to suffer forever, and that somehow, somewhere there is a remedy for despair that you will come upon if you can only maintain this expectancy in your heart.”

  • Those who are animated by hope can perform what would seem impossibilities to those who are under the depressing influence of fear. Maria Edgeworth, the voice of the narrator, in The Grateful Negro (1802)
  • You do not know what hope is, until you have lost it./You only know what it is not to hope:/You do not know what it is to have hope taken from you/Or to fling it away, to join the legion of the hopeless/Unrecognized by other men, though sometimes by each other. T. S. Eliot, the character Harry speaking, in The Family Reunion (1939)

QUOTE NOTE: Harry is responding to his friend Mary, who has just said to him: “But why should I talk about my commonplace troubles?/They must seem very trivial indeed to you./It’s just ordinary hopelessness.” Harry preceded his words above by saying: “One thing you cannot know:/The sudden extinction of every alternative,/The unexpected crash of the iron cataract.”

  • A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single hope. Epictetus, a second century fragment; reprinted in The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (1909; Hastings Crossley, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: See the Sigmund Freud ASPIRATION entry for a modern observation that may have been inspired by this Epictetus fragment.

  • Hope is both the earliest and the most indispensable virtue inherent in the state of being alive. Erik Erikson, “Human Strength and the Cycle of Generations,” from a 1960 address at San Francisco’s Psychoanalytic Institute; reprinted in The Erik Erikson Reader (2000)

Erikson went on to add: “If life is to be sustained hope must remain, even where confidence is wounded, trust impaired.”

  • Hope is the atheist’s prayer. It does all the good that prayer does, with none of the nonsense. Peter Flom, “What Should Humanists Do in the Age of Trump?” in Pique [Newsletter of the Secular Humanist Society of New York] (February 2017)
  • He that lives upon hope will die fasting. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Feb., 1758)
  • To hope means to be ready at every moment for that which is not yet born, and yet not become desperate if there is no birth in our lifetime. Erich Fromm, in The Revolution of Hope (1968)
  • There are many who feel consciously hopeful and unconsciously hopeless, and there are few for whom it is the other way around. Erich Fromm, in The Revolution of Hope (1968)
  • Life, that can shower you with so much splendor, is unremittingly cruel to those who have given up. Stephen Fry, in Moab is My Washpot: A Memoir (1997)

Fry continued: “Thank the gods there is such a thing as redemption, the redemption that comes in the form of other people the moment you are prepared to believe that they exist.”

  • If it were not for hopes, the heart would break. Thomas Fuller, in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • If there is such a thing as sin in this world, I think it must be shutting oneself up against hope. Gail Godwin, in The Odd Woman (1974)
  • Hope is a great falsifier of truth. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • I knew I wanted to write. I had dreamed about it for years. I wasn’t going to be one of those people who die wondering, “What if?” I would keep putting my dream to the test—even though it meant living with uncertainty and fear of failure. This is the Shadowland of hope, and anyone with a dream must learn to live there. Alex Haley, “The Shadowland of Dreams,” in Reader’s Digest (Aug., 1991)
  • Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. Vaclav Havel, in Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karel Hvizdala (1990)

Havel introduced the thought by saying hope is “a state of mind, not a state of the world,” adding: “Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation.” A moment later, Havel offered his most familiar words on the subject: “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

  • Things start as hopes and end up as habits. Lillian Hellman, in Days to Come (1936)
  • One thing we know for sure: you can’t live without hope. A person can live three weeks without food, three days without water, but not three seconds without hope. Richard C. Hertz, in Positive Judaism (1955)
  • When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets, it is well for the timid to lock doors, shutter windows, and lie low until the wrath has passed. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer (1951)

Hoffer continued: “There is often a monstrous incongruity between the hopes, however noble and tender, and the action which follows them. It is as if ivied maidens and garlanded youths were to herald the four horsemen of the apocalypse.”

  • It is the around-the-corner brand of hope that prompts people to action, while the distant hope acts as an opiate. Eric Hoffer, in The Ordeal of Change (1964)
  • Hope is the only bee that makes honey without flowers. Robert G. Ingersoll, quoted in “In Memoriam—Robert G. Ingersoll,” The Humanitarian Review (Aug. 1910)
  • Hope is a talent like any other. Storm Jameson, in Journey from the North: Autobiography of Storm Jameson, Vol. 2 (1970)

QUOTE NOTE: The thought came during a dark moment when Jameson was reflecting on her lack of success and critical reviews of her work. After admitting that she no longer expected anything for the future, she wrote: “In this instant I realized the exact difference between expecting and hoping. To expect nothing, or very little, does not mean to be without hope. Hope is a talent like any other. I have as stubborn a talent for hope as for going on living.”

  • Hope is necessary in every condition. The miseries of poverty, sickness, of captivity, would, without this comfort, be unsupportable. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (Nov. 6, 1750)
  • Where there is no hope, there can be no endeavor. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (April 6, 1751)
  • Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords. Samuel Johnson, in June 8, 1762 letter, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

Johnson continued: “But, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain; and expectation improperly indulged in must end in disappointment.”

  • Hope is a delicate suffering. LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka ), in Home: Social Essays (1966)
  • Hope/Is such a bait, it covers any hook. Ben Jonson, the character Mosca speaking, in Volpone, or the Fox (1605)
  • Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope. Helen Keller, in Optimism: An Essay (1903)
  • Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. Robert F. Kennedy, in “Day of Affirmation” speech, University of Cape Town South Africa (June 6, 1966)
  • Even in the inevitable moments when all seems hopeless, men know that without hope they cannot really live, and in agonizing desperation they cry for the bread of hope. Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Knock at Midnight,” in Strength to Love (1963)
  • Remember that hope is a good thing, Red, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. Stephen King, the protagonist Andy Dufresne writing in a note to a character known only as Red (to protect his identity, Dufresne signed it “Peter Stevens”), in the novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” in Different Seasons (1982)
  • The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance, but under its roof. Barbara Kingsolver, the character Hallie, in a letter to her sister, the protagonist Codie Noline, in Animal Dreams (1990)

Hallie, an American aide worker in Nicaragua, continued: “What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed. That’s about it. Right now I’m living in that hope, running down its hallway and touching the walls on both sides.”

  • If you run out of hope at the end of the day, rise in the morning and put it on again with your shoes. Hope is the only reason you won’t give in, burn what’s left of the ship, and go down with it—the ship of your natural life and your children’s only shot. Barbara Kingsolver, “How to Be Hopeful,” commencement speech at Duke University (May 11, 2008)

QUOTE NOTE: Kingsolver concluded her speech with a poem titled Hope: An Owner’s Manual. The poem, as well as the rest of the speech, may be seen at “How to Be Hopeful”.

  • When we don’t allow ourselves to hope, we don’t allow ourselves to have purpose. Without purpose, without meaning, life is dark. We’ve no light within, and we’re just living to die. Dean Koontz, the character Agnes Lampion speaking, in From the Corner of His Eye (2000)
  • When we hope, we usually hope for the wrong thing. Dean Koontz, a reflection of the title character, in Brother Odd: An Odd Thomas Novel (2006)
  • Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up. Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1995)
  • How Disappointment tracks/The steps of Hope. L. E. Landon, in “A History of the Lyre” (1829); reprinted in The Poetical Works of Miss Landon (1839)
  • Hope, deceitful as it is, serves at least to lead us to the end of our lives by an agreeable route. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • The setting of a great hope is like the setting of the sun. The brightness of our life is gone. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in Hyperion (1839)

QUOTE NOTE: These words appear on the very first page of the book, describing the experience of the protagonist, Paul Flemming. The narrator continues: “Shadows of evening fall around us, and the world seems but a dim reflection—itself a broader shadow. We look forward into the coming lonely night. The soul withdraws into itself. Then stars arise, and the night is holy.”

  • Expectation is hope colored by fancy. Lady Morgan (Sydney Owenson Morgan), in The Book of the Boudouir, Vol. 2 (1829)
  • A leader is a dealer in hope. Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte), in Napoleon in His Own Words (1916; Jules Bertaut, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: This has become one of the most popular observations ever made on the nature of leadership, appearing in almost every current anthology on the subject. According to Bertaut, Napoleon preceded the observation by saying: “One can lead a nation only by helping it see a bright outlook.”

  • Hope is the feeling we have that the feeling we have is not permanent. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is commonly misattributed to Jean Kerr, who borrowed the line from McLaughlin and put it into the mouth of the character Felicia in the 1973 play Finishing Touches (in Kerr’s play, however, both of the we words were changed to you).

  • When hope is hungry, everything feeds it. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • Where no hope is left, is left no fear. John Milton, in Paradise Regained (1671)
  • Ah, Hope! What would life be, stripped of thy encouraging smiles, that teach us to look behind the dark clouds of to-day, for the golden beams that are to gild the morrow. Susanna Moodie, in Life in the Clearing (1853)
  • In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world—the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. John Muir, in “Alaska Fragment” (1890)
  • Hope is a song in a weary throat. Pauli Murray, in Dark Testament and Other Poems (1970)
  • Man is a victim of dope/In the incurable form of hope. Ogden Nash, “Good-by Old Year, You Oaf,” in The Primrose Path (1935)
  • Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us. Barack Obama, in keynote address at the Democratic National Convention (July 27, 2004)
  • The absence of hope can rot a society from within. Barack Obama, in Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech; Oslo, Norway (Dec. 10, 2009)
  • Take hope from the heart of man and you make him a beast of prey. Ouida ((pen name of Maria Louise Ramé), in “A Village Commune” (1881); published in Wisdom, Wit and Pathos (1884)
  • Never give out while there is hope; but hope not beyond reason; for that shows more desire than judgment. William Penn, in Some Fruits of Solitude (1693)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly present the quotation as if it began never give up.

  • Hope springs eternal in the human breast. Alexander Pope, in An Essay on Man (1733-34)
  • In the factory, we make cosmetics; in the store we sell hope. Charles H. Revson, quoted in Andrew P. Tobias, Fire and Ice (1976)
  • Extreme hopes are born of extreme misery. Bertrand Russell, “The Future of Mankind,” in Unpopular Essays (1950)
  • To preserve hope in our world makes calls upon our intelligence and our energy. In those who despair it is frequently the energy that is lacking. Bertrand Russell, in The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (1975)
  • Hope is generally a wrong Guide, though it is very good Company along the way. George Savile (Lord Halifax), “Of Hope,” in Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections (1750)

Lord Halifax continued: “It brusheth through Hedge and Ditch till it cometh to a great Leap, and there it is apt to fall and break its bones.” Halifax’s brief reflections on hope, which began with the words “Hope is a kind Cheat,” contain several other memorable metaphors and are still worth reading today. Go to: ”Of Hope”

  • The miserable have no other medicine/But only hope. William Shakespeare, Claudio speaking, in Measure for Measure (1603)
  • A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love. Stendhal (penname of Marie-Henri Beyle), in On Love (1822)
  • In the absence of hope we must still struggle to survive, and so we do—by the skin of our teeth. William Styron, in Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness (1990)

In the book, Styron also wrote: “It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul.”

  • Lord save us all from old age and broken health and a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms. Mark Twain, in letter to Joe T. Goodman (April, 1891); reprinted in The Letters of Mark Twain, Vol. 4: 1886–1900 (A. B. Paine, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Twain was writing to console an old friend who had become ill. He preceded the thought by writing: “It is dreadful to think of you in ill health—I can’t realize it; you are always to me the same that you were in those days when matchless health and glowing spirits and delight in life were commonplaces with us.”

  • Just as man cannot live without dreams, he cannot live without hope. If dreams reflect the past, hope summons the future. Elie Wiesel, “Hope, Despair and Memory”, Nobel Lecture (Dec. 11, 1986)
  • Hope, like faith, is nothing if it is not courageous; it is nothing if it is not ridiculous. Thornton Wilder, in The Eighth Day: A Novel (1967)
  • Hope is like a road in the country; there never was a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence. Lin Yutang, in The Wisdom of China and India (1942)



  • So many tangles in life are ultimately hopeless that we have no appropriate sword other than laughter. Gordon W. Allport, in The Person in Psychology (1968)
  • No man was ever ruined from without; the final ruin comes from within, when you turn hopeless and lose courage. Amelia E. Barr, in All the Days of My Life: An Autobiography (1913)
  • You do not know what hope is, until you have lost it./You only know what it is not to hope:/You do not know what it is to have hope taken from you/Or to fling it away, to join the legion of the hopeless/Unrecognized by other men, though sometimes by each other. T. S. Eliot, the character Harry speaking, in The Family Reunion (1939)

QUOTE NOTE: Harry is responding to his friend Mary, who has just said to him: “But why should I talk about my commonplace troubles?/They must seem very trivial indeed to you./It’s just ordinary hopelessness.” Harry preceded his words above by saying: “One thing you cannot know:/The sudden extinction of every alternative,/The unexpected crash of the iron cataract.”

  • The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Crack-Up,” in Esquire magazine (Feb., 1936)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the observation is typically presented, but Fitzgerald immediately added a most interesting clarification: “One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” Fitzgerald’s full article may be seen at: The Crack-Up.

  • There are many who feel consciously hopeful and unconsciously hopeless, and there are few for whom it is the other way around. Erich Fromm, in The Revolution of Hope (1968)
  • Where there is no hope, there can be no endeavor. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (April 6, 1751)
  • Even in the inevitable moments when all seems hopeless, men know that without hope they cannot really live, and in agonizing desperation they cry for the bread of hope. Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Knock at Midnight,” in Strength to Love (1963)
  • Where no hope is left, is left no fear. John Milton, in Paradise Regained (1671)
  • Realize that there are no hopeless situations; there are only people who take hopeless attitudes. Norman Vincent Peale, in Have a Great Day (1984)

Peale introduced the thought by writing: “Remember, there is no situation so completely hopeless that something constructive cannot be done about it. When faced with a minus, ask yourself what you can do to make it a plus. A person practicing this attitude will extract undreamed-of outcomes from the most unpromising situations.”

  • It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. William Styron, in Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness (1990)

In the book, Styron also wrote: “In the absence of hope we must still struggle to survive, and so we do—by the skin of our teeth.”



  • Hospice means end-of-life care. The admission ticket is a diagnosis from a doctor that you have six months or less to live. Eleanor Clyft, quoted in Linda Spalla, Catch Your Breath: Tender Meditations for Caregivers (2014)
  • Hospice care is not a matter of giving up. It’s a decision to shift our efforts from shoring up a body on the verge of the end to providing solace to a soul that’s on the cusp of forever. Robin Givhan, in The Washington Point (Feb. 21, 2023)



  • To be attentive to our guests is not only true kindness, but true politeness; for if there is a virtue which is its own reward, hospitality is that virtue. Abigail Adams, in letter to granddaughter Caroline Smith (Aug. 30, 1808)

Adams continued: “We remember slight attentions, after we have forgotten great benefits.”

  • When hospitality becomes an art, it loses its very soul. Max Beerbohm, “Hosts and Guests,” in And Even Now (1920)

In that same essay, Beerbohm also wrote: “The hospitable instinct is not wholly altruistic. There is pride and egoism mixed up in it.”

  • Southern hospitality is a form of snow-covered, rancid manure. It is not how it appears. Leslye Colvin, “Learning to See Beyond the Normative,” in the journal Oneing: The Cosmic Egg (Fall, 2021)

Colvin continued: “If it were genuine for the majority of those living in the region, our history and present would be models for the study of human dignity.” A bit earlier in her essay, Colvin had written that, in the American south, public displays of faith were common and often “interwoven with the illusion of southern hospitality.” It was a clear suggestion that both were superficial, and therefore not genuine.

  • Hospitality is the key to new ideas, new friends, new possibilities. What we take into our lives changes us. Without new people and new ideas, we are imprisoned inside ourselves. Joan Chittister, in In a High Spiritual Season (1995)

Earlier in the book, Chittister had written: “Hospitality is simply love on the loose.”

  • The test of being a good host is how well the departing guest likes himself. Marcelene Cox, in a 1954 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • Hospitality, or flinging wide the door to friends and wayfarers alike, was once important, back in a world without motels or safety nets, where a friend might find his castle burnt down or a wayfarer find bandits on his trail. Barbara Holland, in Wasn’t the Grass Greener? (1999)
  • True hospitality is a delicate balance of warmth and form. Sheila Ostrander, in Etiquette, Etc. (1967)
  • A guest is really good or bad because of the host or hostess who makes being a guest an easy or a difficult task. Eleanor Roosevelt, in a 1947 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • True hospitality consists of giving the best of yourself to your guests. Eleanor Roosevelt, in Eleanor Roosevelt’s Book Of Common Sense Etiquette (1962)
  • There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be a hospitable person and have groups of people in your home touching your personables. Amy Sedaris, in I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence (2006)



  • I would rather be kept alive in the efficient if cold altruism of a large hospital than expire in a gush of warm sympathy in a small one. Aneurin Bevan, in a House of Commons speech (April 30, 1946)
  • For the world, I count it not an inn, but a hospital; and a place not to live, but to die in. Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici (1643)
  • How many desolate creatures on the earth/Have learnt the simple dues of fellowship/And social comfort, in a hospital. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in Aurora Leigh (1857)
  • Hospital rooms seem to have vastly more ceiling than any rooms people live in. Bertha Damon, in A Sense of Humus (1943)
  • The arts are the hospitals for our souls. Suzanne Farrell, in a 2003 issue of Bomb magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Death…so seldom happens nowadays in the awesome quiet of a familiar chamber. Most of us die violently, thanks to the advance of science and warfare. If by chance we are meant to end life in our beds, we are whisked like pox victims to the nearest hospital, where we are kept as alone and unaware as possible of the approach of disintegration. M. F. K. Fisher, quoted in Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste (1949)
  • For the patient who remained hospitalized a long time, an insidious metamorphosis took place—the outside world dimmed and faded like a watercolor exposed to the sun, while the hospital became the center and the only real part of the universe. Marjorie Kellogg, the voice of the narrator, in Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1968)

The novel also contained this other intriguing observation: “Doctors and nurses seemed to have been born and raised in the hospital, with only short punctuations of absenteeism for such things as schooling and marriage.”

  • One of the most difficult things to contend with in a hospital is the assumption on the part of the staff that because you have lost your gall bladder you have also lost your mind. Jean Kerr, in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1957)
  • Looking out of a hospital window is different from looking out of any other. Somehow you do not see outside. Carol Matthau, in Among the Porcupines: A Memoir (1992)
  • It may seem a strange principle to enunciate as the very first requirement in a Hospital that it should do the sick no harm. It is quite necessary nevertheless to lay down such a principle. Florence Nightingale, in Notes on Hospitals (1859)
  • Nowhere is inhumanity more revealed than in hospitals. Anaïs Nin, a 1950 diary entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 5 (1974)
  • Hospitals are a little like the beach. The next wave comes in, and the footprints of your pain and suffering, your delivery and recovery, are obliterated. Anna Quindlen, in One True Thing (1994)
  • In hospitals there was no time off for good behavior. Josephine Tey, a reflection of the protagonist, Scotland Yard inspector Allen Grant, in The Daughter of Time (1951)
  • It’s like a convent, the hospital. You leave the world behind and take vows of poverty, chastity, obedience. Carolyn Wheat, in the short story “Life, for Short,” in Marilyn Wallace, Sisters in Crime (1991)
  • A trip to the hospital is always a descent into the macabre. I have never trusted a place with shiny floors. Terry Tempest Williams, in Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (1991)



  • We are commanded to love our neighbor because our “natural” attitude toward the “other” is one of either indifference or hostility. W. H. Auden, “Neighbor, Love of One’s,” in A Certain World (1970:

Auden preceded the thought by writing: “We are not commanded (or forbidden) to love our mates, our children, our friends, our country because such affections come naturally to us and are good in themselves, although we may corrupt them.”

  • When you’re lecturing teenagers and they begin to hum and leave the room, you can sense there is hostility. Erma Bombeck, quoted in Jerry Dunn, Tricks of the Trade (1991)
  • Comedy is tragedy revisited or hostility. It is mock hostility, of course, or it would be ugly; we would have a war. Phyllis Diller, quoted in Denise Collier and Kathleen Beckett, Spare Ribs: Women in the Humor Biz (1980)
  • “Honesty” without compassion and understanding is not honesty, but subtle hostility. Rose N. Franzblau, quoted in a 1966 issue of the New York Post (specific date undetermined)
  • The best preparation [for war] is the one that disarms the hostility of other nations and makes friends of them. Helen Keller, “Menace of the Militarist Program,” in the New York Call (1915)
  • Hostility is expressed in a number of ways. One is laughter. Kate Millett, in Sexual Politics (1969)
  • It is easy to speak words of love, or to meditate lovingly upon those people with whom you are in harmony. But it is those people who seem most difficult, who may even seem hostile, that need your radiation of love most. Catherine Ponder, in The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity (1962)

Ponder continued: “Their very hostility is but their soul’s cry for loving recognition. When you generate sufficient love to them, the discord will fade away.”

  • The most destructive element in the human mind is fear. Fear creates aggressiveness; aggressiveness engenders hostility; hostility engenders fear—a disastrous circle. Dorothy Thompson, in The Courage to Be Happy (1957)



  • What is there/more kindly than the feeling between host and guest? Aeschylus, in The Libation Bearers (5th c. B.C.)
  • It is nothing won to admit men with an open door, and to receive them with a shut and reserved countenance. Francis Bacon, “Civil Knowledge,” in The Advancement of Learning (1605)
  • The test of being a good host is how well the departing guest likes himself. Marcelene Cox, in a 1954 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • Happy the man who never puts on a face, but receives every visitor with that countenance he has on. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (July 28, 1833)
  • “My evening visitors,” said the excellent Professor Fortinbras, “if they cannot see the clock should find the time in my face.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, in an 1842 journal entry (specific date unrecorded)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is almost always attributed directly to Emerson, with no mention of the mysterious Professor Fortinbras, who has never been identified (a character named Fortinbras appeared in Hamlet).

  • A guest is really good or bad because of the host or hostess who makes being a guest an easy or a difficult task. Eleanor Roosevelt, in a 1947 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • It is not the correct thing for the host to take advantage of the helpless position of his guests, and to retail to them all his old stories. Florence Howe Hall, in The Correct Thing (1902)



  • Horses have made civilization possible. Diane Ackerman, in Deep Play (1999)

QUOTE NOTE: Ackerman compared the horse to the airplane and electronics as a revolutionary force in human history, writing: “The domestication of the horse…vastly altered the culture, character, language, mobility, and even the look of human beings. With bridled horses, we galloped across continents and returned with a treasury of words, seeds, and in-laws.” For a marvelous description about how “Horses changed our lives irreversibly,” see Ackerman on Horses.

  • A woman never looks better than on horseback. Jane Austen, the character Lord Osborne speaking, in The Watsons (1804)
  • Whenever I doubt the existence of God or the Goddess, I look at horses. Only God could have made a horse. Rita Mae Brown, in Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser (1997)
  • Wonderful things, horses. Never know what they will do, or won't do. Agatha Christie, in Postern of Fate: A Tommy and Tuppence Mystery (1973)
  • We don’t know true friendship until we have made a horse into a friend. William A. Cummins, in a personal communication to the compiler (Feb. 12, 2017)
  • A horse is like a dream with a saddle on it. William A. Cummins, in a personal communication to the compiler (Oct. 10, 2021)
  • A horse is dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle. Ian Fleming, quoted in the Sunday Times (London; Oct. 9, 1966)
  • The tail of the white horse swished back and forth as he trotted down empty avenues and boulevards. He moved like a dancer, which is not surprising: a horse is a beautiful animal, but it is perhaps most remarkable because it moves as if it always hears music. Mark Helprin, the narrator describing a horse that had escaped from a Brooklyn stable, in Winter’s Tale (1983)
  • They say Princes learn no art truly but the art of horsemanship. The reason is, the brave beast is no flatterer. He will throw a prince as soon as his groom. Ben Jonson, “Illiteratus Princeps,” in Timber, or Discoveries Made Upon Men and Matter (1641)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the version of the thought that has become popular, but Jonson clearly “borrowed” the idea from the French essayist Michel de Montaigne, who attributed the original sentiment to the Roman philosopher Carneades (2nd c. B.C.). In his essay “Of the Incommodity of Greatness,” Montaigne presented the quotation this way: “Princes’ children learnt nothing aright but to manage and ride horses; forsomuch as in all other exercises every man yieldeth and giveth them the victory; but a horse, who is neither a flatterer nor a courtier, will as soon throw the child of a king as the son of a base porter.”

  • We had no word for the strange animal we got from the white man—the horse. So we called it šunka wakan, “holy dog.” For bringing us the horse we could almost forgive you for bringing us whiskey. Horses make a landscape look more beautiful. Lame Deer, quoted in John Fire/Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions: The Life of a Sioux Medicine Man (1972)

QUOTE NOTE: The town of Lame Deer, Montana is named after this influential Native American leader, who died in 1877. The final line of his observation inspired the title of a 1979 book of poetry by Alice Walker: Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful.

  • The horse, the horse! The symbol of surging potency and power of movement, of action, in man. D. H. Lawrence, in Apocalypse (1931)
  • It takes a good deal of physical courage to ride a horse. This, however, I have. I get it at about forty cents a flask, and take it as required. Stephen Leacock, “Reflections on Riding,” in Literary Lapses (1910)
  • There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse. John Lubbock, “Recreation,” in The Use of Life (1894)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the original version of a sentiment that has been misattributed to many others, including Henry Ward Beecher, Winston Churchill, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and Ronald Reagan. President Reagan, who often claimed the words of others as his own, offered the following version on August 13, 1987 as he headed for his California ranch for the holidays: “I’ve often said there’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.”

  • People on horses look better than they are. People in cars look worse than they are. Marya Mannes, in More in Anger (1958)
  • But there is a touch of divinity even in brutes, and a special halo about a horse, that should forever exempt him from indignities. Herman Melville, a reflection of the title character and narrator, in Redburn: His First Voyage (1849)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the portion of the observation that is most commonly quoted, but it began this way: “And after all, what is a horse, but a species of four-footed dumb man, in a leathern [sic] overall, who happens to live upon oats, and toils for his masters, half-requited or abused, like the biped hewers of wood and drawers of water?”

  • There’s damn few girls as well shaped as a fine horse. Christopher Morley, the title character, Kitty Foyle, and narrator of the novel quoting another character, in Kitty Foyle (1939)

QUOTE NOTE: Here’s the full passage in which this marvelous quotation appeared: “As a matter of fact I agree with Rosey Rittenhouse, there's damn few girls as well shaped as a fine horse. It’s a great piece of kidding Nature put over on men to give them the idea that females are so beautiful; but it’s mighty satisfying to hear it said.” Rosey is a minor fictional character (a man, by the way) who is simply being referred to in an observation made by Kitty.

ERROR ALERT: Shortly after the novel’s publication, the editors of Reader’s Digest cleaned up the quotation by dropping the damn portion and presenting a slightly altered version in a July, 1940 issue: “Few girls are as well shaped as a horse.”

The Reader’s Digest version ultimately supplanted Motley’s original words in the popular mind, and it is now the way the quotation almost always appears in quotation anthologies and on web sites. The most puzzling error associated with the quotation, however, it its extremely common misattribution to the American philosopher Hannah Arendt. I pretty sure Arendt never—in all of her writings—said anything about horses. Thanks to Garson O’Toole, the Quote Investigator, for his invaluable assistance in tracking down the original source of this quotation.

  • A man on a horse is spiritually as well as physically bigger than a man on foot. John Steinbeck, the voice of the narrator, in The Red Pony (1937)
  • Charles loathed horses; which he held to be animals of an invincible stupidity, uncontrolled imagination, and faulty deduction. Josephine Tey, the voice of the narrator, in Brat Farrar (1950)
  • When properly trained and cared for, the horse has about him an aristocratic air that is unmatched by any other animal, domesticated or wild. Marietta Whittlesey, in Majesty of the Horse (1989)



  • If a thing is to be done, there is no time like the hour that has not struck. Amelia E. Barr, the character Peter Van Ariens speaking, in The Maid of Maiden Lane (1900)
  • A writer’s working hours are his waking hours. He is working as long as he is conscious and frequently when he isn’t. Edna Ferber, in A Kind of Magic (1963)
  • I believe that everything has its own season, and each hour its law. If something anticipated arrives too late it finds us numb, wrung out from waiting, and we feel—nothing at all. The best things arrive on time. Dorothy Gilman, in A New Kind of Country (1978)
  • Her days had nothing in them now but hours. Hours that somebody else had gotten all the light and service out of and chunked them away. Zora Neale Hurston, the narrator describing Arvay’s state of oblivion after husband Jim has left her, in Seraph on the Suwanee: A Novel (1948)

The narrator continued: “Old, worn-out, lifeless marks on time. Like raw, bony, homeless dogs, they took to hanging around her doorway. They were there when she got up in the morning, and still whimpering and whining of their emptiness when she went to bed at night.”

  • According to the clock, all hours are the same, sixty minutes of sixty seconds each, every increment alike. But that is not how hours are lived. Hours shrink and stretch. Laurence Shames, the voice of the narrator, in The Paradise Gig (2020)

The narrator continued: “Some hours flash past so quickly that their duration barely registers, as if they’ve been somehow stolen from the day. Others slog and stumble like a fat man in soft sand.”


(see also FAMILY and HOME and HOUSEWORK and PRIVACY)

  • If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. The Bible—Mark 3:25

QUOTE NOTE: In an 1858 speech just before his nomination to become a U. S. Senate candidate, Abraham Lincoln famously presented the biblical passage this way: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

  • The ideal of happiness has always taken material form in the house, whether cottage or castle; it stands for permanence and separation from the world. Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex (1949)
  • If there is a single image to crystallize the American dream, it would be house ownership. William F. Buckley, “It’s Really Quite Simple,” his syndicated column (Jan. 19, 2008)
  • The house praises the carpenter. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a journal entry (Sep. 28, 1836)
  • A man’s house is really but his larger body, and expresses in a way his nature and character. Sarah Orne Jewett, the voice of the narrator, in The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896)
  • All the houses you can afford to buy are depressing. Jean Kerr, “Our Gingerbread Dream House,” in Ladies’ Home Journal (Nov., 1955)
  • A house is a machine for living in. Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris), in Toward an Architecture (1923)



  • Housekeeping ain’t no joke. Louisa May Alcott, in Little Women (1868)

QUOTE NOTE: Most people assume this wonderful quotation comes from one of the March sisters, or perhaps Mrs. March, but it is presented in the novel as a favorite saying of Hannah Mullet, the family’s maid and cook. Here’s the full passage: “In fact it was an immense relief to them all to have a little work, and they took hold with a will, but soon realized the truth of Hannah’s saying, ‘Housekeeping ain’t no joke.’”

  • Housekeeping makes you about as exciting as your food blender. The kids come in, look you in the eye, and ask if anybody’s home. Erma Bombeck, quoted in a 2005 issue of Forbes magazine
  • To some women, housekeeping is like being caught in a revolving door. Marcelene Cox, in a 1944 issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • There was no need to do any housework at all. After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse. Quentin Crisp, in The Naked Civil Servant (1968)
  • I think housework is the reason most women go to the office. Heloise Cruse, in her “Hints from Heloise” syndicated column, Editor & Publisher magazine (April 27, 1963)
  • Few tasks are like the torture of Sisyphus than housework. Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex (1949)
  • He taught me housekeeping; when I divorce I keep the house. Zsa Zsa Gabor, on her fifth husband, quoted in Ned Sherrin, Cutting Edge (1984)
  • It’s the perpetually unfinished quality of housework that makes it oppressive—it never ends, like bad psychoanalysis, or a dream interrupted. It is paradoxically true that it is exactly this daily re-creation of the world that lends housekeeping its nobility and romance. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, “Home Economics,” in An Accidental Autobiography (1996)
  • I think housework is far more tiring and frightening than hunting is, no comparison, and yet after hunting we had eggs for tea and were made to rest for hours, but after housework people expect one to go on just as if nothing special had happened. Nancy Mitford, The character Linda speaking, in The Pursuit of Love (1945)
  • Of all hateful occupations, housekeeping is to my mind the most hateful. Hannah Whitall Smith, a 1905 observation, quoted in Logan Pearsall Smith, Philadelphia Quaker (1950)
  • Housekeeping and homekeeping have gotten sadly mixed up and mistaken—one for the other. Lilian Whiting, in The World Beautiful (1894)



  • A hug is a handshake from the heart. Author Unknown
  • When someone hugs you, let them be the first to let go. H. Jackson Brown Jr., in lIfe’s Little Instruction Book (1991)
  • It’s okay for men to hug now. Adelaide Bry, in Friendship: How to Have a Friend and Be a Friend (1979)
  • Everybody needs a hug. It changes your metabolism. Leo Buscaglia, in Living, Loving & Learning (1982)
  • Everybody needs hugs. Princess Diana, quoted in Jayne Fincher, Diana: Portrait of a Princess (1998)
  • He was generous with his affection, given to great, awkward, engulfing hugs, and I can remember so clearly the smell of his hugs, all starched shirt, tobacco, Old Spice and Cutty Sark. Sometimes I think I’ve never been properly hugged since. Linda Ellerbee, on her father, in Move On (1991)
  • Everyone knows that by far the happiest and universally enjoyable age of man is the first. What is there about babies which makes us hug and kiss and fondle them, so that even an enemy would give them help at that age? Desiderius Erasmus, in In Praise of Folly (1509)
  • He was one of those guys who’d pronounce I’m a hugger as he came at you, neglecting to ask if the feeling was mutual. Gillian Flynn, the character Marybeth Elliott reflecting her husband Rand, in Gone Girl (2012)
  • When you hug someone, you want it to be a masterpiece of connection. Tess Gallagher, “The Hug,” in Willingly (1984)
  • Men greet each other with a sock on the arm, women with a hug, and the hug wears better in the long run. Edward Hoagland, “Heaven and Nature,” in Harper’s magazine (March, 1988); reprinted in Heart’s Delight (1988)
  • When you hug someone, you learn something else about them. An important something else. E. L. Konigsburg, the character Claudia speaking, in From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967)
  • You can’t fix things with a hug, but you can’t make them any worse either. Dean Koontz, the character Sister Miriam speaking, in Brother Odd: A Novel (2006)
  • A hug is like a strangle you haven’t finished yet. Jenny Lawson, in a 2013 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Praise is warming and desirable and it is what the human race lives on like bread. But praise is an earned thing. It has to be deserved like an honorary degree or a hug from a child. Phyllis McGinley, in a 1962 issue of The Saturday Evening Post (specific issue undetermined)

McGinley went on to write: “As a writer it delights me to find fan notes in the morning mail even when they are addressed, as they have been on occasion, variously to Mister McGinley, Miss McGill, or Phyllis McGinkley. My ego is repaired, my disposition softened, and I grow more agreeable to my near and dear.”

  • She had a lot of hugs to give, but not enough people to give them to. James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet, the narrator describing the character Jane, in Sundays at Tiffany’s (2008)
  • When we hug, our hearts connect and we know that we are not separate beings. Thich Nhat Hanh, in Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices (2005)

One of the many Mindfulness Practices advocated in the book was called “Hugging Meditation.” Nhat Hanh explained it this way: “Open your arms and begin hugging. Hold each other for three in- and out-breaths. With the first breath, you are aware that you are present in this very moment, and you are happy. With the second breath, you are aware that the other is present in this moment, and they are happy as well. With the third breath, you are aware that you are here together, right now on this Earth, and you feel deep gratitude and happiness for your togetherness. You then may release the other person and bow to each other to show your thanks.”

  • When you hug someone, you learn something else about them. An important something else. E. L. Konigsburg, in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967)
  • You need four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance, and 12 for growth. Virginia Satir, quoted in “By The Way” column of The Rotarian magazine (July 1981)

QUOTE NOTE: In the column, the magazine’s editors were quoting from an article Satir had recently written for Seventeen magazine (I’ve been unable to locate the original article online). According to the editors, Satir offered these two additional thoughts on the subject:

“The nicest thing about a hug is that you usually can’t give one without getting one.”

“The skin is the largest organ we have, and it needs a great deal of care. A hug can cover a lot of skin area and give the message that you care.”

  • She’s a good person to hug, because her body fills up all the empty spaces. Anita Shreve, in Light on Snow (2004)
  • I will not play at tug o’ war./I'd rather play hug o’ war./Where everyone hugs/Instead of tugs,/Where everyone giggles/And rolls on the rug,/Where everyone kisses,/And everyone grins,/and everyone cuddles,/And everyone wins. Shel Silverstein, the poem “Hug o’ War”, in Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings (1974)



  • Human beings are like timid punctuation marks sprinkled among the incomprehensible sentences of life. Jean Giraudoux, the title character speaking, in the play Siegfried (1928)

Speaking to the character Genevieve, Siegfried preceded the remark by saying, “Everything about you asks questions except your mouth and your words.”

  • Helpless, unknown, and unremembered, most human beings, however sensitive, idealistic, intelligent, go through life as passengers rather than chauffeurs. Ralph Harper, “Outside the Law,” in The World of the Thriller (1969)

Harper added: “Although we may pretend that it is the chauffeur who is the social inferior…most of us…would not mind a turn at the wheel ourselves.”

  • We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special. Stephen Hawking, on human beings, quoted in Der Spiegel (Oct. 17, 1988)
  • I think it is more important to recognize that another human being is a human being, than to recognize male and female. Most of our activities have no more to do with sex than they have to do with ancestors. Rose Wilder Lane, a 1929 remark, quoted in William Holtz, Dorothy Thompson and Rose Wilder Lane: Forty Years of Friendship (1991)

Lane preceded the observation by saying: “Most of the time it is much more important to a cat to recognize that another animal is a cat, not a dog, than it is to recognize that the other animal is a male cat or a female cat.”

  • One does not become fully human painlessly. Rollo May, in Foreword to Ronald S. Valle and Mark King, Existential-Phenomenological Alternatives for Psychology (1978)
  • Let’s face it, human beings look way more alike than different. True, they come in different colors and some people make a big deal out of that, though for the life of me, I can’t see why. Laurence Shames, a reflection of a chihuahua named Nacho, one of the novel’s narrators, in The Paradise Gig (2020)

Nacho went on to add: “But even allowing for the pigment thing, the fact is that humans don’t even come close to the variety you see in dogs, which is why us dogs do not need loud ties or feather boas or designer handbags to make us look distinctive.”

  • Understanding the limitations of human beings is the beginning of wisdom. Thomas Sowell, in Compassion Versus Guilt: And Other Essays (1987)


  • A man sooner or later discovers that he is the master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life. James Allen, in As a Man Thinketh (1903)
  • The goal of all inanimate objects is to resist man and ultimately to defeat him. Russell Baker, “The Plot Against People,” in The New York Times (June 18, 1968)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is usually presented, but it was originally part of this larger observation: “Inanimate objects can be classified scientifically into three major categories: those that don’t work, those that break down, and those that get lost. The goal of all inanimate objects is to resist man and ultimately to defeat him, and the three major classifications are based on the method each object uses to achieve its purpose. As a general rule, any object capable of breaking down at the moment when it is most needed will do so.”

  • People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned. James Baldwin, “No Name in the Street,” in The Price of the Ticket (1985)
  • The world is made of people who never quite get into the first team and who just miss the prizes at the flower show. Jacob Bronowski, in The Face of Violence (1954)
  • A little alarm now and then keeps life from stagnation. Fanny Burney, in Camilla (1796)
  • We play out our days as we play out cards, taking them as they come, not knowing what they will be, hoping for a lucky card and sometimes getting one, often getting just the wrong one. Samuel Butler, “The World,” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • The ordinary man looking at a mountain is like an illiterate person confronted with a Greek manuscript. Aleister Crowley, in The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autobiography (1970)
  • No soul is desolate as long as there is a human being for whom it can feel trust and reverence. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Romola (1862–63)
  • Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and trouble is to school an intelligence and make it a soul, a place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways? John Keats, in letter to George & Georgiana Keats (April 21, 1819)
  • From time to time there appear on the face of the earth men of rare and consummate excellence, who dazzle us by their virtue, and whose outstanding qualities shed a stupendous light. Jean de La Bruyère, “Of Personal Merit,” in Characters (1688)

La Bruyère continued: “Like those extraordinary stars of whose origins we are ignorant, and of whose fate, once they have vanished, we know even less, such men have neither forebears nor descendants: they are the whole of their race.”

  • Men resemble great deserted palaces: the owner occupies only a few rooms and has closed off wings where he never ventures. François Mauriac, in Second Thoughts: Reflections on Literature and on Life (1961)
  • The human soul is hospitable, and will entertain conflicting sentiments and contradictory opinions with much impartiality. George Sand, in Romola (1862)
  • Human relations just are not fixed in their orbits like the planets—they’re more like galaxies, changing all the time, exploding into light for years, then dying away. May Sarton, the character Philip speaking, in Crucial Conversations: A Novel (1975)
  • How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold? Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962)
  • We haven't yet learned how to stay human when assembled in masses. Lewis Thomas, in The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974)
  • Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance. Kurt Vonnegut, a musing of the protagonist Eugene Debs Hartke, in Hocus Pocus (1990)
  • If the whole human race lay in one grave, the epitaph on its headstone might well be: “It seemed a good idea at the time.” Rebecca West, quoted in Victoria Glendinning, “Talk with Rebecca West,” in The New York Times Book Review (Oct. 2, 1977)



  • Wherever there is human nature, there is drama. Agatha Christie, the narrator and protagonist Hercule Poirot speaking, in The King of Clubs (1926)
  • A man can never do anything at variance with his own nature. He carries within him the germ of his most exceptional action; and if we wise people make eminent fools of ourselves on any particular occasion, we must endure the legitimate conclusion that we carry a few grains of folly to our ounce of wisdom. George Eliot, the character Mr. Irwin speaking, in Adam Bede (1859)
  • Human nature is not black and white but black and grey. Graham Greene, “The Lost Childhood” (1951), in Collected Essays (1969)

Greene preceded the thought by writing: “Goodness has only once found a perfect incarnation in a human body and never will again, but evil can always find a home there.”

  • It is to the credit of human nature that, except where its selfishness is brought into play, it loves more readily than it hates. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the voice of the narrator, in The Scarlet Letter (1850)

The narrator continued: “Hatred, by a gradual and quiet process, will even be transformed into love, unless the change be impeded by a continually new irritation of the original feeling of hostility.”

  • You may drive out nature with a pitchfork, but she will always return. Horace, in Epistles (1st c. B.C.)
  • The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated. William James, in letter to his Philosophy 2A class at Radcliffe College (April 6, 1896)

QUOTE NOTE: James wrote the letter six years after he had come out with Psychology, the first textbook of psychology published in America. After receiving the gift of an azalea plant from the young women in his Philosophy 2A class, James was so moved by the gift and accompanying note of appreciation that he penned a letter to the class. The letter is so intriguing, I’m reproducing it in its entirety below:

“Dear Young Ladies, I am deeply touched by your remembrance. It is the first time anyone ever treated me so kindly, so you may well believe that the impression on the heart of the lonely sufferer will be even more durable than the impression on your minds of all the teachings of Philosophy 2A. I now perceive one immense omission in my Psychology—the deepest principle of Human Nature is the craving to be appreciated, and I left it out altogether from the book, because I had never had it gratified until now. I fear that you have let lose a demon in me, and that all my actions will now be for the sake of such rewards.”

  • Human nature is the same everywhere; the modes only are different. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his godson and heir, delivered after his own death in 1773, in Letters from a Celebrated Nobleman to His Heir (1783)


(see RIGHTS)



  • This is a book about Humanism. If you’re not familiar with the word Humanism, it is, in short, goodness without God. Greg M. Epstein, in Good without God (2009)



  • Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.

C. S. Lewis, on humanitarianism as a form of tyranny, in “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” God in the Dock (1970)

Lewis continued: “The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. Their very kindness stings with intolerable insult.”

  • No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well. Margaret Thatcher, in interview on London Weekend Television’s Weekend World (Jan. 6, 1980)



  • Be certain that you do not die without having done something wonderful for humanity. Maya Angelou, in A Letter to My Daughter (2008)
  • To suffer with the other and for others; to suffer for the sake of truth and justice; to suffer out of love and in order to become a person who truly loves—these are fundamental elements of humanity, and to abandon them would destroy man himself. Pope Benedict XVI, in in the Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi (Nov. 30, 2007)
  • The definition of humanity typically extols our cultural brilliance as manifest through millennia of mythology, religion, philosophy, art, music, literature, dance, architecture, and science. Steven Best, in The Politics of Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century (2014)

Best continued: “The praise of humanity’s multifaceted achievements is well deserved, but this stunning radiance also has a macabre and dark side that is an inseparable part of human history and nature. This underbelly of ‘civilization’ is barbarism—the unbroken timeline involving hierarchy, domination, colonization, violence, war, genocide, extinctions, and environmental ruination.”

  • I see humanity now as one vast plant, needing for its highest fulfillment only love, the natural blessings of the great outdoors, and intelligent crossing and selection. Luther Burbank, a 1907 remark to Paramahansa Yogananda, quoted in Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi (1946)
  • Love, hope, fear, faith—these make humanity;/These are its sign and note and character. Robert Browning, in the poem “Paracelsus” (1835)
  • An inadvertent step may crush the snail/That crawls at evening in the public path./But he that has humanity, forewarned,/Will turn aside and let the reptile live. William Cowper, in the poem “The Task” (1785)
  • On personal integrity hangs humanity’s fate. R. Buckminster Fuller, in Critical Path (1981)
  • You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. Mohandas Gandhi, quoted in Louis Fisher, Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World (1954)
  • Take upon yourself as much humanity as possible. That is the correct formula. André Gide, an 1894 journal entry, in The Journals of André Gide, 1889–1949 Vol. 1 (1987)

QUOTE NOTE: I’ve also seen this translated: “Take upon oneself as much humanity as possible. There is the correct formula.”

  • Humanity can be roughly divided into three sorts of people— those who find comfort in literature, those who find comfort in personal adornment, and those who find comfort in food. Elizabeth Goudge, the voice of the narrator, in The Little White Horse (1946)
  • Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made. Immanuel Kant, in Idea for a General History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose (1784)
  • In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute. Thurgood Marshall, in majority opinion in Furman v. Georgia (1972)

QUOTE NOTE: Furman v. Georgia was a U. S. Supreme Court decision that abolished all then-current death American penalty schemes (it resulted in a de facto moratorium that lasted until 1976). Marshall continued: “In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute. We achieve a major milestone in the long road up from barbarism and join the approximately seventy other jurisdictions in the world which celebrate their regard for civilization and humanity by banning capital punishment.”

  • Our humanity rests upon a series of learned behaviors, woven together into patterns that are infinitely fragile and never directly inherited. Margaret Mead, in Male and Female (1949)
  • The task of each family is also the task of all humanity. This is to cherish the living, remember those who have gone before, and prepare for those who are not yet born. Margaret Mead, in Margaret Mead and Ken Heyman, Family (1965)
  • I love humanity but I hate people. Edna St. Vincent Millay, in the poem “Aria da Capo” (1920)
  • How despicable is that humanity, which can be contented to pity, where it might assuage! Ann Radcliffe, the character St. Aubert sneaking, in The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)

QUOTE NOTE: A moment earlier, in warning Esther about the danger of simply having a heightened “sensibility” to the plight of others, St. Aubert says: “Remember too, that one act of beneficence, one act of real usefulness, is worth all the abstract sentiment in the world. Sentiment is a disgrace, instead of an ornament, unless it lead us to good actions.”

  • Stereotypes fall in the face of humanity. Anna Quindlen, “The Power of One,” in The New York Times (April 28, 1993)
  • Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature. Tom Robbins, the voice of the narrator, in Still Life with Woodpecker: A Novel (1980)





  • There is nothing so humiliating as to see blockheads succeed in undertakings in which we fail. Gustave Flaubert, the voice of the narrator, in Sentimental Education (1869)

The observation has also been translated this way: “Nothing is more humiliating than to see idiots succeed in enterprises we have failed in.”

  • The greatest humiliation in life is to work hard on something from which you expect great appreciation, and then fail to get it. E. W. Howe, “Miscellany of Life,” in Ventures in Common Sense (1919)
  • Nothing ought more to humiliate men who have merited great praise than the care they still take to boast of little things. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665) itoq:60
  • Humiliation changed people, for better or for worse. Either it beat them down so that they stayed down, pathetic but weirdly grateful to have their spirits killed and their hopes ended, or it whitened them into a froth off defiance, sent them skittering into realms of resource they didn’t know they had. Laurence Shames, the voice of the narrator, in Florida Straits (1992)
  • I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometime we must interfere. Elie Wiesel, in Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, Norway (Dec. 11, 1986)

Wiesel continued: “When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.”



  • You aspire to great things? Begin with little ones. You desire to erect a very high building? Think first of the foundation of humility. The higher one intends it, the deeper must the foundation be laid. St. Augustine, in De Verbis Domini, Sermon X (circa 395 A.D.)

QUOTE NOTE: Another popular translation of the first portion of the passage—likely a more generous one—goes this way: “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”

  • It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels. St. Augustine, quoted in Thomas Hibernicus, Manipulus Florum (written c. 1306; published 1483)
  • Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.Jane Austen, the character Darcy speaking, in Pride and Prejudice (1813)
  • All politicians are humble, and seldom let you forget it. They go around the country boasting about their humility. They are proud of their humility. Many are downright arrogant about their humility and insist that it qualifies them to be President. Russell Baker, “The Big Town,” in So This Is Depravity (1980)
  • Life is a long lesson in humility. J. M. Barrie, in The Little Minister (1891)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is almost always presented, but it is an abridgment of a fascinating larger passage in which Mr. Carfrae, an aging minister who is about to retire, offers some parting words of wisdom to his twenty-one-year old replacement, Gavin Dishart. He says: “The useless men are those who never change with the years. Many views that I held to in my youth and long afterwards are a pain to me now, and I am carrying away…memories of errors into which I fell at every stage of my ministry. When you are older you will know that life is a long lesson in humility.”

  • Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. The Bible—Matthew 23:12 (RSV). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • And the Devil did grin, for his darling sin/Is pride that apes humility. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in “The Devil's Thoughts,” Coleridge’s 1829 revision of a poem originally published anonymously ( but written by Coleridge and Robert Southey) in The Morning Post and Gazetteer (Sep. 6, 1799)

QUOTE NOTE: “The Devil’s Thoughts” was revised and edited by both authors a number of times over the years, and in one revision was even retitled as “The Devil’s Walk.” In the very first version, this couplet appeared as: “And he grinn’d at the sight, for his favorite vice/Is pride, that apes humility.” For more on the various versions, go to “The Devil’s Walk”

  • The higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk. Marcus Tullius Cicero, in De Officiis (1st. c. B.C.)
  • Humility has its origin in an awareness of unworthiness, and sometimes too in a dazzled awareness of saintliness. Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette), in 1935 remarks upon election to the Belgian Royal Academy, in Belles Saisons: A Colette Scrapbook (1955)
  • Pride sings and dances; humility sighs. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 7th Selection (1990)‬
  • The humble stumble, the proud fall. Jim DeKornfeld, in a personal communication to the compiler (May 28, 2018)
  • It is difficult to be humble. Even if you aim at humility, there is no guarantee that when you have attained the state you will not be proud of the feat. Bonamy Dobrée, in John Wesley (1933)
  • Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in speech in London (July 12, 1945)
  • Humility is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve; nothing dies harder than the desire to think well of oneself. T. S. Eliot, in “Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca,” address to The Shakespeare Association (March 18, 1927)
  • Humility makes us charitable toward our neighbor. Nothing will make us so generous and merciful to the faults of others as seeing our own faults. François Fénelon, from an undated letter (circa 1700), in The Complete Fénelon (2008; Robert Edmonson & Hal. M. Helms, eds.)

QUOTE NOTE: I’ve also seen the quotation translated this way: “Nothing will make us so charitable and tender to the faults of others as by self-examination thoroughly to know our own.”

  • Humility is not my forte, and whenever I dwell for any length of time on my own shortcomings, they gradually begin to seem mild, harmless, rather engaging little things, not at all like the staring defects in other people’s characters. Margaret Halsey, in With Malice Toward Some (1938)
  • Humility is so shy. If you begin talking about it, it leaves. Timothy Keller, “The Advent of Humility,” in Christianity Today (Dec., 2008)
  • Real excellence and humility are consequently not incompatible one with the other; on the contrary, they are twin sisters. Jean Baptiste Lacordaire, in Lacordaire’s Letters to Young Men (1865)
  • Humility is often only a feigned submissiveness by which men hope to bring other people to submit to them; it is a more calculated sort of pride. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • The moment that humility becomes self-conscious, it becomes hubris. One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time. Madeleine L’Engle, in A Circle of Quiet (1972)

L’Engle went on to add: “Humility is throwing oneself away in complete concentration on something or someone else.”

  • In 1969 I published a small book on Humility. It was a pioneering work which has not, to my knowledge, been superseded. Frank Longford (Lord Longford), the opening words to “Self-Esteem,” an article in The Tablet (Jan. 22, 1994). Also an example of Inadvertent Oxymoronica.
  • True humility does not know that it is humble. If it did, it would be proud from the contemplation of so fine a virtue. Martin Luther, “Visitation” sermon, in Martin Luther’s Christmas Book (1948; Roland H. Bainton, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the most succinct and memorable translation of Luther’s observation on true humility, and it comes from someone intimately familiar with the man. Bainton, a renowned Reformation scholar who taught at the Yale Divinity school for forty-two years, also authored the definitive biography on Luther, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (1950).

  • Genuine humility does not arise from the sense of our pitiable kinship with the dust that is unworthy of us but from the realization of an awful nearness to a magnificence of which we are unworthy. Alistair Maclean, quoted in John M. Drescher, Doing What Comes Spiritually (1993)
  • In artful boasting, one states all the information necessary to impress people, but keeps the facts decently clothed in the language of humility. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior: Freshly Updated (2005)
  • Humility, that low sweet root,/From which all heavenly virtues shoot. Thomas Moore, “The Loves of the Angels,” in The Poetical Works of Thomas Moore (1840–41)
  • Personally, I think humility is like underwear—essential, but indecent if it shows. Helen Nielsen, the character Sgt. Lansing speaking, in The Fifth Caller (1959)
  • Discourses on humility are a source of pride in the vain and of humility in the humble. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)
  • The primary condition for being sincere is the same as for being humble: not to boast of it, and probably not even to be aware of it. Henri Peyre, in Literature and Sincerity (1963)
  • Humility is a grace that shines in a high condition but cannot, equally, in a low one because a person in the latter is already, perhaps, too much humbled. Samuel Richardson, the protagonist speaking, in Pamela: Or, Vice Rewarded (1740)
  • Humility is like oxygen to the soul. You won’t get too far without it! Dina Rolle, in Adversities & Triumphs in the Midst of It All (2011)
  • The greatest minds are marked by nothing more distinctly than an inconceivable humility, and acceptance of work or instruction in any form, and from any quarter. They will learn from everybody, and do anything that anybody asks, so long as it involves only toil, or what other men would think degradation. John Ruskin, in A Joy for Ever (1857)
  • Those who travel the high road of humility are not troubled by heavy traffic. Alan Simpson, in remarks at the Alfalfa Club’s annual dinner, Washington, DC (Jan. 28, 1989); reported in Clyde Farnsworth, “For Insider Dinner, Bush, Well Done,” The New York Times (Jan. 30, 1989)
  • We come nearest to the great when we are great in humility. Rabindranath Tagore, in Stray Birds (1916)
  • Humility must always be doing its work like a bee making its honey in the hive: without humility all will be lost. St. Teresa of Avila, in The Interior Castle (1577)
  • Humility like darkness reveals the heavenly lights. Henry David Thoreau, in Walden (1854)
  • Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. Rick Warren, in The Purpose Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For? (2002)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites mistakenly attribute this quotation to C. S. Lewis, often citing Mere Christianity (1952) as the source. While Lewis wrote many things on the subject of humility, this was not one of them.

  • Humility: The Quiet Virtue. Everett L. Worthington, title of 2007 book



  • Among all kinds of writing, there is none in which authors are more apt to miscarry than in works of humor, as there is none in which they are more ambitious to excel. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (April 10, 1711)
  • Humor is a social lubricant that helps us get over some of the bad spots. Steve Allen, in How to Be Funny (1998, written with Jane Wollman)
  • Ghetto humor is the social twin of fantasy; together they sustain the powerless, who accomplish miracles through illusion. Sheila Ballantyne, the voice of the protagonist, in Norma Jean the Termite Queen (1975)
  • Humor is a show of both strength and of vulnerability: you are willing to make the first move but you are trusting in the response of your listener. Regina Barreca, in The Penguin Book of Women’s Humor (1996)
  • Humor tells you where the trouble is. Louise Bernikow, in Alone in America: The Search for Companionship (1986)
  • Humor is but another weapon against the universe. Mel Brooks, quoted in Maurice Yacowar, Method in Madness: The Comic Art of Mel Brooks (1981)
  • There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt. Erma Bombeck, in If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? (1971)
  • Humor comes from self-confidence. There’s an aggressive element to wit. Rita Mae Brown, in Starting from Scratch (1988)
  • Without humor, you cannot run a sweetie-shop, let alone a nation. John Buchan, the character Mr. McCunn speaking, in Castle Gay (1930)
  • People ask what I am really trying to do with humor. The answer is, “I’m getting even.” Art Buchwald, in Leaving Home: A Memoir (1993)
  • Total absence of humor renders life impossible. Colette (pen name of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette), the voice of the narrator, in Chance Acquaintances (1952)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation is now almost always presented as: “Total absence of humor makes life impossible.”

  • Humor, to me, is a crucial part of life in general. It’s such an incredibly subtle and passionate way of relating to people. Your sense of humor communicates what you are, your approach to life. You’re very vulnerable when you make a joke. Not when you’re telling a joke so much, but when you’re joking around. David Cronenberg, in “David Cronenberg by Bette Gordon,” Bomb magazine (Jan. 1, 1989)

Cronenberger continued: “To me, it’s just an instinctive, natural part of character development—showing what a character is. Also, you do it (I do it), when you’re under pressure, it’s a way of dealing with impossible situations. Untenable situations can only be dealt with through humor, if not despair and resignation. So, I prefer the humor. That’s how I like to use it in a horror film. But it’s not any different in how I would use it in any other film.”

  • Humor was for her a kind of social salt; and salt not only adds savor, it preserves. Bertha Damon, in Grandma Called It Carnal (1938)
  • Humor is by far the most significant activity of the human brain. Edward de Bono, quoted in the Daily Mail (London; Jan. 29, 1990)
  • Humor is one of the few things in life which we should take seriously. You may lose everything, but your sense of humor, never! Solar Forst, in Alphabet of Love (1967)
  • Humor is an affirmation of dignity, a declaration of man’s superiority to all that befalls him. Romain Gary, in Promise at Dawn (1961)
  • Humor has a tremendous place in this sordid world. It’s more than just a matter of laughing. If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack. Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), quoted in Miles Corwin, “Author Isn’t Just a Cat in the Hat,” The Los Angeles Times (Nov. 27, 1983)

Geisel preceded the observation by saying: “Nonsense wakes up the brain cells. And it helps develop a sense of humor, which is awfully important in this day and age.”

  • Humility + humor = humanity. Kathie Lee Gifford, in I Can’t Believe I Said That! (1992; with Jim Jerome)
  • When they’re offered to the world in merry guise,/Unpleasant truths are swallowed with a will—/For he who’d make his fellow-creatures wise/Should always gild the philosophic pill! W. S. Gilbert, the jester Jack Point speaking, in The Yeomen of the Guard (1888; music by Arthur Sullivan)
  • Humor is subversive. Penelope Gilliatt, in To Wit (1990)
  • Imagination is given to a man to console him for what he is not, as humor is given to him to console him for what he is. A man who has both is very near heaven already. Maud Wilder Goodwin, the character Fleming speaking, in the short story “Four Roads to Paradise,” first published in The Century Magazine (Nov., 1903)

ERROR ALERT: This is the original appearance of a sentiment that is commonly misattributed to other more famous figures, including Francis Bacon, Horace Walpole, and Oscar Wilde (and in these mistaken versions, the phrase sense of humor is often used). For example, in A Kick in the Seat of the Pants (1986), Roger von Oech quotes Walpole as saying: “Imagination was given to a man to compensate him for what he is not. A sense of humor was provided to console him for what he is.” And in Geary’s Guide to the World’s Great Aphorists (2007), James Geary quotes Francis Bacon as writing: “Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not, and a sense of humor to console him for what he is.”

  • Humor is a rubber sword—it allows you to make a point without drawing blood. Mary Hirsch, in View From the Loft (1994)
  • There’s nothing like a gleam of humor to reassure you that a fellow human being is ticking inside a strange face. Eva Hoffman, in Exit Into History: A Journey Through the New Eastern Europe (1993)
  • Humor is laughing at what you haven’t got when you ought to have it . . . what you wish in your secret heart were not funny, but it is, and you must laugh. Humor is your own unconscious therapy. Langston Hughes, “A Note on Humor”, in The Book of Negro Humor (1966)

Hughes concluded by writing: “Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air, and you.”

  • There are two kinds of humor. One kind that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity—like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to contempt and ridicule—that’s what I do. Molly Ivins, quoted in People magazine (Dec. 9, 1991)
  • How fatally the entire want of humor cripples the mind. Alice James, an 1889 remark, quoted in Anna Robeson Burr, Alice James: Her Brothers—Her Journal (1934)
  • Humor is an antidote to isolation. Elizabeth Janeway, in Improper Behavior (1987)
  • Humor helps us get through life with a modicum of grace. It offers one of the few benign ways of coping with the absurdity of it all. Diane Keaton, in Then Again (2011)
  • Humor, a good sense of it, is to Americans what manhood is to Spaniards and we will go to great lengths to prove it. Garrison Keillor, in We Are Still Married (1989)

Keillor added: “Experiments with laboratory rats have shown that, if one psychologist in the room laughs at something a rat does, all of the other psychologists in the room will laugh equally. Nobody wants to be left holding the joke.”

  • Humor is almost always anger with its makeup on. Stephen King, the voice of protagonist Mike Noonan, in Bag of Bones: A Novel (1996)
  • Humor simultaneously wounds and heals, indicts and pardons, diminishes and enlarges; it constitutes inner growth at the expense of outer gain, and those who possess and honestly practice it make themselves more through a willingness to make themselves less. Louis Kronenberger, in Company Manners: A Cultural Inquiry Into American Life (1954)
  • Humor is of the heart, and has its tears; but wit is of the head, and has only smiles—and the majority of those are bitter. L. E. Landon, in Francesca Carrara (1834)

Landon preceded the thought by writing: “It is a curious fact, but a fact it is, that your witty people are the most hard-hearted in the world. The truth is, fancy destroys feeling. The quick eye to the ridiculous turns every thing to the absurd side; and the neat sentence, the lively allusion, and the odd simile, invest what they touch with something of their own buoyant nature.”

  • Humor is essentially a comforter, reconciling us to things as they are in contrast to things as they might be. Stephen Leacock, in The Garden of Folly (1924)
  • Humor in its highest reach mingles with pathos: it voices sorrow for our human lot and reconciliation with it. Stephen Leacock, in Hellements of Hickonomics in Hiccoughs of Verse Done in Our Social Planning Mill (1936)
  • Humor is reason gone mad. Groucho Marx, quoted in Laurence J. Peter & Bill Dana, The Laughter Prescription (1982)
  • It is well known that Beauty does not look with a good grace on the timid advances of Humor. W. Somerset Maugham, in Cakes and Ale (1930)
  • Don’t try for wit. Settle for humor. You’ll last longer. Elsa Maxwell, in How to Do It, or The Lively Art of Entertaining (1957)
  • Among animals, one has a sense of humor./Humor saves a few steps, it saves years. Marianne Moore, “The Pangolin,” in What Are Years? (1941)
  • Humor is perhaps a sense of intellectual perspective: an awareness that some things are really important, others not; and that the two kinds are most oddly jumbled in everyday affairs. Christopher Morley, in Inward Ho! (1923)
  • Humor is hope’s companion in arms. It is not brash, it is not cheap, it is not heartless. Among other things I think humor is a shield, a weapon, a survival kit. Ogden Nash, in 1970 commencement address at his daughter’s boarding school graduation; quoted in Douglas M. Parker, Ogden Nash: The Life and Work of America's Laureate of Light Verse (2005)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Nash’s biographer, “The address was, in a sense, his own valedictory.” Suffering from Crohn’s disease and other ailments, he died the following year at age 68. In his address, he went on to add: “How are we to survive? Solemnity is not the answer, any more than witless and irresponsible frivolity is. I think our best chance lies in humor, which in this case means a wry acceptance of our predicament. We don’t have to like it but we can at least recognize its ridiculous aspects, one of which is ourselves.”

  • Humor is the shock absorber of life; it helps us take the blows. Peggy Noonan, quoting an unnamed psychologist, in What I Saw at the Revolution (1990)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This quotation is typically attributed directly to Noonan, but in her book she was clearly passing along an observation she admired. In her book, Noonan also offered this thought about wit and humor:

“Wit penetrates; humor envelops. Wit is a function of verbal intelligence; humor is imagination operating on good nature.”

  • Humor gives presidents the chance to be seen as warm, relaxed persons. Humor reaches out and puts its arm around the listener and says, “I am one of you, I understand,” and implicitly it promises, “I will do something about your problems.” Robert Orben, quoted in William Lowther, “Americans Laugh at Their Presidents—Not With Them,” in The Toronto Star (Sep. 21, 1986)
  • I had thought, on starting this composition, that I should define what humor means to me. However, every time I tried to, I had to go and lie down with a cold wet cloth on my head. Dorothy Parker, in the Introduction to The Most of S.J. Perelman (1958)

In her Introduction, Parker went on to add on the subject: “Humor to me, Heaven help me, takes in many things. There must be courage; there must be no awe. There must be criticism, for humor, to my mind, is encapsulated in criticism. There must be a disciplined eye and a wild mind. There must be a magnificent disregard of your reader, for if he cannot follow you, there is nothing you can do about it.”

  • Exaggeration is the cheapest form of humor. Elizabeth Peters, in Naked Once More (1989)
  • Humor is an excellent method of keeping a tight rein on unproductive displays of emotion. Elizabeth Peters, in The Hippopotamus Pool (1996)
  • The joy of joys is the person of light but unmalicious humor. Emily Post, in Etiquette: In Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home (1922)
  • Humor was one of the most seductive things about a man. Mary Jo Putney, in The Burning Point (2000)
  • For the heart of humor is a sense of the ridiculous. To live out one’s life without this sense—a leavening of the most doleful situation; the blessing of the laugh that rises despite oneself, despite stress, sorrow, terror or adversity—to have it missing altogether from one’s makeup, is to suffer a tragic deprivation. Richard Raymond III, in Foreword to Comic Ballads: A Little Bundle of Lightheartedness (2022; unpublished manuscript)

Raymond continued: “Such a person is to be pitied, as we pity one who must make his breakfast of cold porridge, while others are enjoying bacon and eggs, hot biscuits and honey.”

  • Humor distorts nothing, and only false gods are laughed off their earthly pedestals. Agnes Repplier, “A Plea for Humor,” in Points of View (1891)
  • Wit is artificial; humor is natural. Wit is accidental; humor is inevitable. Wit is born of conscious effort; humor, of the allotted ironies of fate. Agnes Repplier, “Wit and Humor,” in Essays in Idleness (1893)

Repplier continued: “Wit can be expressed only in language; humor can be developed sufficiently in situation.”

  • Humor, in one form or another, is characteristic of every nation; and reflecting the salient points of social and national life, it illuminates those crowded corners which history leaves obscure. Agnes Repplier, “Humor: English and American,” in In the Dozy Hours (1894)
  • The essence of humor is that it should be unexpected, that it should embody an element of surprise, that it should startle us out of that reasonable gravity which, after all, must be our habitual frame of mind. Agnes Repplier, “The Mission of Humor,” in Americans and Others (1912)
  • Humor hardens the heart, at least to the point of sanity. Agnes Repplier, “They Had Their Day,” in Under Dispute (1924)
  • Humor brings insight and tolerance. Irony brings a deeper and less friendly understanding. Agnes Repplier, in In Pursuit of Laughter (1936)
  • Where there’s life, there’s humor. Lillian Ross, in Takes: Stories From The Talk of the Town (1983)
  • Humor is the affectionate communication of insight. Leo Rosten, in The Many Worlds of L*e*o R*o*s*t*e*n (1964)

Rosten went on to add: “Humor is, I think, the subtlest and chanciest of literary forms. It is surely not accidental that there are a thousand novelists, essayists, poets, journalists for each humorist. It is a long, long time between James Thurbers.”

  • An emotional man may possess no humor, but a humorous man usually has deep pockets of emotion, sometimes tucked away or forgotten. Constance Rourke, in American Humor: A Study of the National Character (1931)
  • Humor is a universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life. Alan K. Simpson, in eulogy at the funeral of President George H. W. Bush (Washington, DC; Dec. 5, 2018)

QUOTE NOTE: In his eulogy, the former senator from Wyoming also reprised one of his most famous one-liners, believing it applicable to President Bush: “Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington, DC are not bothered by heavy traffic.” See the Simpson entry in HUMILITY for an early appearance of the remark.

  • Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility. James Thurber, quoted in The New York Post (Feb. 29, 1960)

QUOTE NOTE: Thurber was almost certainly inspired by a famous observation about poetry that William Wordsworth offered in the Preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1802): “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”

  • Humor in a living culture must not be put away in the attic with the flag, but should be flaunted, like the flag, bravely. James Thurber, in Preface to Lanterns & Lances (1961)

Thurber continued: “Every time is a time for comedy in a world of tension that would languish without it.”

  • The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” in Following the Equator (1897)

Twain preceded the observation by writing: “Everything human is pathetic,” and concluded it by adding, “There is no humor in heaven.”

  • Another instance of unconscious humor was of the Sunday school boy who defined a lie as “An abomination before the Lord and an ever present help in time of trouble.” Mark Twain, in a 1901 speech on “Scotch Humor” to the Sons of Scotland, reported in The New York Times (Dec. 1, 1901)

QUOTE NOTE: Twain offered this thought as he was making a distinction between conscious and unconscious humor. Instead of unconscious humor, a more appropriate term might have been inadvertent humor, for in this case the school boy was inadvertently conflating two biblical proverbs (Book of Proverbs—12:22 and Book of Psalms 46:1). About the schoolboy’s definition, Twain added: “That may have been unconscious humor, but it looked more like hard, cold experience and knowledge of facts.”

  • It occurred to him that perhaps she was trying to be funny; he knew that there is nothing more cryptic than the humor of the unhumorous. Edith Wharton, “The Mission of Jane,” in The Descent of Man (1904)
  • Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind. E. B. White, “Some Remarks on Humor,” in A Subtreasury of American Humor (1941)

QUOTE NOTE: This is White’s original observation on the subject, but most quotation anthologies and internet sites present the following paraphrased version: “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” In the Preface, White also offered this thought on humorous writing: “It plays close to the big hot fire which is Truth. And sometimes the reader feels the heat.”

  • Humor is the weapon of unarmed people: it helps people who are oppressed to smile at the situation that pains them. Simon Wiesenthal, quoted in Alan Levy, The Wiesenthal File (1994)
  • Humor is not a mood but a way of looking at the world. Ludwig Wittgenstein, journal entry (1948), in Culture and Value (1980)
  • Humor is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue. Virginia Woolf, “On Not Knowing Greek,” in The Common Reader (1925)

(Good) HUMOR

(see also DISPOSITION and [Sense of] HUMOR and [Good] NATURE and TEMPERAMENT)

  • Good humor may be said to be one of the very best articles of dress one can wear in society. William Makepeace Thackeray, “On Tailoring — And Toilettes in General,” in Sketches and Travels in London: Mr. Brown’s Letters to his Nephew (1856)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites and scores of quotation anthologies mistakenly present the quotation this way: “Good humor is one of the best articles of dress one can wear in society.”

(Sense of) HUMOR


  • Taste is like a sense of humor. I never met a person who didn't think they had one. Max Adams, in The Screenwriter’s Survival Guide (2001)
  • The most profound indication of social malignancy . . . no sense of humor. None of the monoliths could take a joke. Edward Albee, the character George speaking (ellipsis in original), in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962)
  • Of all the band of personal traitors the sense of humor is the most dangerous. Margery Allingham, the voice of the narrator, in The Fashion in Shrouds (1938)

The narrator continued: “Mrs. Fitch’s sense of humor disarmed her and made her careless.”

  • A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs: jolted by every pebble in the road. Author Unknown (but widely attributed to Henry Ward Beecher)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation was clearly inspired by a thought from Beecher's Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit: “A practical, matter-of-fact man is like a wagon without springs: every single pebble on the road jolts him; but a man with imagination has springs that break the jar and jolt.”

  • A sense of humor is a measurement of the extent to which we realize that we are trapped in a world almost totally devoid of reason. Laughter is how we express the anxiety we feel at this knowledge. Dave Barry, quoted in Bryan Curtis, “Dave Barry: Elegy for the Humorist,” Slate magazine (Jan. 12, 2005)
  • Nine-tenths of the value of a sense of humor in writing is not in the things it makes one write but in the things it keeps one from writing. Robert Benchley, quoted in Life Magazine (March 8, 1929)

Benchley continued: “It is especially valuable in this respect in serious writing, and no one without a sense of humor should ever write seriously. For without knowing what is funny, one is constantly in danger of being funny without knowing it.”

  • I think it’s terribly difficult to take sex seriously if you’ve got a sense of humor. Charlotte Bingham, in Coronet Among the Weeds (1963)
  • People will admit to arson and mayhem sooner than no sense of humor. Peg Bracken, in A Window Over the Sink (1981)
  • Comedy is a weird but very beautiful thing. Even though it seems foolish and silly and crazy, comedy has the most to say about the human condition. Because if you can laugh, you can get by. You can survive when things are bad when you have a sense of humor. Mel Brooks, in All About Me! (2021)
  • A woman with a good sense of humor is not a woman who makes jokes. A woman with a good sense of humor is a woman who laughs at jokes. Stephanie Brush, in Men: An Owner’s Manual (1984)
  • A sense of humor keen enough to show a man his own absurdities, as well as those of other people, will keep him from the commission of all sins, or nearly all, save those that are worth committing. Samuel Butler, “Lord, What is Man?” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • Do you know why God withheld the sense of humor from women? That we may love you, instead of laughing at you. Mrs. Patrick Campbell, in My Life and Some Letters (1921)

QUOTE NOTE: This was Mrs. Campbell’s famous reply to a man who had asked her why women had no sense of humor.

  • Never in History has the average American citizen found more need for a saving sense of humor. Bennett Cerf, in Foreword to Laughter Incorporated (1950)

Cerf continued: “Beset by threats of destruction by atomic bombs, inflation, mounting taxes, overcrowded cities, witch hunters, propagandists, caterwauling commentators, and the incessant clamor of radio and television commercials, he must laugh occasionally to keep from blowing his top altogether. It’s far too easy to see only the shadows, and ignore the patches of sunlight that remain.”

  • A sense of humor in marriage acts as a lightning rod on a building: grounds the sparks from the air. Marcelene Cox, in in a 1950 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • A sense of humor is regarded as a sign of mental health—apart from excessive punning, which is another matter entirely. Helen Cresswell, in Ordinary Jack: Being the First Part of The Bagthorpe Saga (1977)
  • Humor, to me, is a crucial part of life in general. It’s such an incredibly subtle and passionate way of relating to people. Your sense of humor communicates what you are, your approach to life. You’re very vulnerable when you make a joke. Not when you’re telling a joke so much, but when you’re joking around. David Cronenberg, in “David Cronenberg by Bette Gordon,” Bomb magazine (Jan. 1, 1989)

Cronenberger continued: “To me, it’s just an instinctive, natural part of character development—showing what a character is. Also, you do it (I do it), when you’re under pressure, it’s a way of dealing with impossible situations. Untenable situations can only be dealt with through humor, if not despair and resignation. So, I prefer the humor. That’s how I like to use it in a horror film. But it’s not any different in how I would use it in any other film.”

  • Certainly if there is any worldly talent worth cultivating, it’s a sense of humor. To possess a cheerful outlook may be the greatest gift of the gods, the distant second best being a taste for irony. Michael Dirda, in Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life (2005)

Dirda added: “Such temperaments allow one to step back from painful situations and view them with a little detachment…. To the genial-spirited anything that happens can be shrugged off as yet another part of ‘life’s rich pageant’.”

  • It is the ability to take a joke, not make one, that proves you have a sense of humor. Max Eastman, in Enjoyment of Laughter 1936)
  • But finally, there is one other quality I would mention among these that I believe will fit you for difficult and important posts. This is a healthy and lively sense of humor. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in Commencement Address at the U.S. Naval Academy (June 4, 1958)
  • What is a sense of humor? Surely not the ability to understand a joke. It comes rather from a residing feeling of one’s own absurdity. It is the ability to understand a joke, and that the joke is on oneself. Clifton Fadiman, quoted in G. L. Rico, Pain and Possibility: Writing Your Way Through Personal Crisis (1991)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This quotation is often presented in abridged form: “A sense of humor is the ability to understand a joke—and that the joke is on oneself.”

  • Humor is one of the few things in life which we should take seriously. You may lose everything, but your sense of humor, never! Solar Forst, in Alphabet of Love (1967)
  • Nonsense wakes up the brain cells. And it helps develop a sense of humor, which is awfully important in this day and age. Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), quoted in Miles Corwin, “Author Isn’t Just a Cat in the Hat,” The Los Angeles Times (Nov. 27, 1983)

Geisel added: “Humor has a tremendous place in this sordid world. It’s more than just a matter of laughing. If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.”

  • A sense of humor is a sense of proportion. Kahlil Gibran, in Sand and Foam: A Book of Aphorisms (1926)
  • The only thing I can recommend at this stage is a sense of humor, an ability to see things in their ridiculous and absurd dimensions, to laugh at others and at ourselves, a sense of irony regarding everything that calls out for parody in this world. Václav Havel, in speech accepting the Open Society Prize, Central European University (June 24, 1999)

Havel continued: “In other words, I can only recommend perspective and distance. Awareness of all the most dangerous kinds of vanity, both in others and in ourselves. A good mind. A modest certainty about the meaning of things. Gratitude for the gift of life and the courage to take responsibility for it. Vigilance of spirit.”

  • A sense of humor isn’t everything. It’s only 90 percent of everything. Cynthia Heimel, in Sex Tips for Girls (1983)
  • There is certainly no defense or water-proof garment against adverse fortune which is, on the whole, so effectual as an habitual sense of humor. The man who has it can rarely be cast down for a great while by external events; and it is much the same with a nation. Thomas W. Higginson, “The Perils of American Humor,” in The New World and the New Book: With Kindred Essays (1891)

ERROR ALERT: In most quotation anthologies—and on almost all internet sites—Higginson’s observation is presented in abridged form: “There is no defense against adverse fortune which is so effectual as an habitual sense of humor.”

  • If the gods have no sense of humor they must weep a great deal. John Oliver Hobbes (pen name of Pearl Mary Teresa Richards), in The Sinner’s Comedy (1982)
  • A sense of humor is so handy, isn’t it? It lets you see both sides of a question so that you never need do anything. Winifred Holtby, in Mandoa, Mandoa! (1933)
  • Common sense and a sense of humor are the same things, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing. Clive James, quoted in Robert Giddings, J. R. R. Tolkien: This Far Land (1983)

QUOTE NOTE: While I have yet to find an original source for this quotation, I do not question its authenticity. The remark goes back to at least the 1970s. In a December, 1979 issue of The New Scientist magazine, Roy Herbert wrote: “A sense of humor, Clive James said in a remark I envy, is common sense moving at a different speed.”

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites erroneously attribute the common sense dancing remark to the American philosopher William James. Even some otherwise respected quotation anthologies, like Geary’s Guide to the World’s Great Aphorists (2007), have made this mistake.

  • If you had to choose only two qualities to get you through times of change, the first should be a sense of self-worth and the second a sense of humor. Jennifer James, in Thinking in the Future Tense: Leadership Skills for a New Age (1996)
  • The more one suffers, the more, I believe, has one a sense for the comic. It is only by the deepest suffering that one acquires true authority in the use of the comic, an authority which by one word transforms as by magic the reasonable creature one calls man into a caricature. Søren Kierkegaard, in Stages on Life’s Way (1845)
  • There are two insults which no human being will endure: the assertion that he hasn’t a sense of humor, and the doubly impertinent assertion that he has never known trouble. Sinclair Lewis, the voice of the narrator, in Main Street (1920)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the first appearance of a sentiment that has been expressed by other American writers. In “Some Remarks on Humor” in his 1954 book The Second Tree From the Corner, E. B. White wrote: “Whatever else an American believes or disbelieves about himself, he is absolutely sure he has a sense of humor.” And in A Window Over the Kitchen Sink (1981), Peg Bracken wrote: “People will admit to arson and mayhem sooner than no sense of humor.”

  • Happiness for the average person may be said to flow largely from common sense—adapting oneself to circumstances—and a sense of humor. Beatrice Lillie, in Every Other Inch a Lady (1972)
  • Don’t wish me happiness—I don’t expect to be happy…. Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor—I will need them all. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Bring Me a Unicorn (1971)
  • A sense of humor is a major defense against minor troubles. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Complete Neurotic’s Notebook (1981)
  • The sense of humor has other things to do than to make itself conspicuous in the act of laughter. Alice Meynell, “Laughter,” in Essays (1914)
  • Among animals, one has a sense of humor. Marianne Moore, “The Pangolin,” in What Are Years? (1941)
  • Maintaining a sense of humor is crucial…. After all, angels fly because they take themselves lightly. Catherine Oxenberg, quoted in Linda Sivertsen, Lives Charmed (1998)
  • That's the great thing about a sense of humor and a sex drive, you can’t wait to share it with everybody else. Dolly Parton, in Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business (1994)
  • A sense of humor, properly developed, is superior to any religion so far devised. Tom Robbins, the voice of the narrator in Jitterbug Perfume (1984)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally part of a larger thought about how human beings can cope with the notion that “our impending death is always there, just behind the draperies.” About this sobering reality, the narrator writes: “If one has a religious life, one can rationalize one’s slide into the abyss; if one has a sense of humor (and a sense of humor, properly developed, is superior to any religion so far developed), one can minimalize [sic] it through irony and wit.”

  • Everybody fancies they have that rare thing, a sense of humor. Olivia Robertson, in The Golden Eye (1949)
  • That’s the first time I ever heard anyone, much less a chick, admit to not having a sense of humor. Most people would rather confess to murdering dear ole mum. Irma Walker, in The Murdoch Legacy (1975)
  • It’s dreadful when two people’s senses of humor are antagonistic. I don’t believe there’s any bridging that gulf! Jean Webster, in Daddy-Long-Legs (1912)
  • The real marriage of true minds is for any two people to possess a sense of humor or irony pitched in exactly the same key, so that their joint glances at any subject cross like interarching searchlights. Edith Wharton, reflecting on her friendship with Henry James, in A Backward Glance (1934)

Wharton, who said that James was “perhaps the most intimate friend I ever had,” introduced the thought by writing: “Perhaps it was our common sense of fun that first brought about our understanding.”

  • A sense of humor judges one’s actions and the actions of others from a wider reference and a longer view and finds them incongruous. It dampens enthusiasm; it mocks hope; it pardons shortcomings; it consoles failure. It recommends moderation. Thornton Wilder, in The Eighth Day: A Novel (1967)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation comes in a description of the character Roger, about whom the narrator said: “Roger possessed little sense of humor. There was no second Roger lodged within his head.”

  • The man with the real sense of humor is the man who can put himself in the spectator's place and laugh at his own misfortunes. That is what I am called upon to do every day. Bert Williams, “The Comic Side of Trouble,” in The American Magazine (January 1918)



  • The difference between satire and humor is that the satirist shoots to kill while the humorist brings his prey back alive—often to release him again for another chance. Peter De Vries, quoted in Harold Bloom, Twentieth-Century American Literature (1986)
  • They sit on the edge of literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats. Afraid of losing themselves in the larger flight of the two-volume novel, or even the one-volume novel, they stick to short accounts of their misadventures because they never get so deep into them that they feel they can get out. James Thurber, on humorous writers/humorists, “Preface to a Life”, in My Life and Hard Times (1933)

Thurber, who was specifically referring to “writers of light pieces,” went on to write: “To call such persons ‘humorists,’ a loose-fitting and ugly word, is to miss the nature of their dilemma and the dilemma of their nature. The little wheels of their invention are set in motion by the damp hand of melancholy.”



  • A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something. Frank Capra, quoted in Mary C. Johnson, The New Scriptwriter’s Journal (rev. ed., 2001; orig. pub. in 1995 as Scriptwriter’s Journal)



  • The most violent appetites in all creatures are lust and hunger; the first is a perpetual call upon them to propagate their kind, the latter to preserve themselves. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (July 18,1711)
  • Hunger makes you restless. You dream about food—not just any food, but perfect food, the best food, magical meals, famous and awe-inspiring, the one piece of meat, the exact taste of buttery corn, tomatoes so ripe they split and sweeten the air, beans so crisp they snap between the teeth, gravy like mother’s milk singing to your bloodstream. Dorothy Allison, The protagonist, Ruth Anne “Bone” Boatwright, speaking, in Bastard Out of Carolina: A Novel (1992)
  • Hungry people cannot be good at learning or producing anything, except perhaps violence. Pearl Bailey, in Pearl’s Kitchen (1973)
  • Viewed narrowly, all life is universal hunger and an expression of energy associated with it. Mary Ritter Beard, in Understanding Women (1931)
  • Hunger makes a thief of any man. Pearl S. Buck, in The Good Earth (1931)
  • There’s no sauce in the world like hunger. Miguel de Cervantes, the character Teresa Panza (Sancho’s wife) speaking, in Don Quixote (1615)

QUOTE NOTE: The sentiment is not original with Cervantes; he was simply putting the words of a familiar proverb into the mouth of his character. The earliest expression of the metaphor comes from Socrates, who was quoted by Cicero in De Finibus (1st c. B.C.) in the following way: “Socrates…says that the best sauce for food is hunger and the best flavoring for drink thirst.”

  • I can reason down or deny everything, except this perpetual Belly: feed he must and will, and I cannot make him respectable. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Montaigne, or the Skeptic,” in Representative Men (1850)
  • A poor man defended himself when charged with stealing food to appease the cravings of hunger, saying, the cries of the stomach silenced those of the conscience. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), quoted in R. R. Madden, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, Vol. 1 (1855)
  • Hunger can explain many acts. It can be said that all vile acts are done to satisfy hunger. Maxim Gorky, in Enemies (1906)
  • Hunger is insolent, and will be fed. Homer, in The Odyssey (9th c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is from the translation by Alexander Pope, published in 1726. Pope’s rendering of The Illiad several years earlier was lauded by many (including Samuel Johnson), but viewed by traditionalists as an extremely liberal translation. A respected classical scholar of the era, Richard Bentley, said of it: “It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer.”

  • Hunger also changes the world—when eating can’t be a habit, then neither can seeing. Maxine Hong Kingston, in The Woman Warrior (1976)
  • A hungry stomach has no ears. Jean de la Fontaine, “The Kite and the Nightingale,” in Fables, Book 9 (1678–79)
  • The belly is the reason why man does not mistake himself for a god. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Beyond Good and Evil (1886)
  • You cannot reason with a hungry belly; it has no ears. Proverb (Greek)
  • A hungry man is not a free man. Adlai Stevenson, in a campaign speech (Sep. 6, 1952)

QUOTE NOTE: Three years later, the American UN Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. might have been thinking about this Stevenson line when he said: “It has been well said that a hungry man is more interested is four sandwiches than four freedoms” (from a March 29, 1955 Time magazine article). The four freedoms reference from Lodge’s observation is from FDR’s legendary Four Freedoms Speech, originally delivered in his State of the Union Address on Jan. 6, 1941.


(see also ANIMALS and FISHING and SPORT)

  • Detested sport/That owes its pleasures to another’s pain;/That feeds upon the sobs and dying shrieks/Of harmless nature. William Cowper, on hunting, “The Garden,” in The Task (1785)
  • There is a passion for hunting something deeply implanted in the human breast. Charles Dickens, the voice of the narrator, in Oliver Twist (1838)
  • It is very strange, and very melancholy, that the paucity of human pleasures should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them. Samuel Johnson, quoted in Hester Lynch Piozzi (formerly Hester Thrale), Anecdotes of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1786)
  • Is it really a sport if you have all the equipment and your opponent doesn’t know a game is going on? Bill Maher, on hunting, in remarks at PETA’s Stand-Up for Animals fundraiser, The Comedy Store (Los Angeles; June 15, 2014)
  • I think housework is far more tiring and frightening than hunting is, no comparison, and yet after hunting we had eggs for tea and were made to rest for hours, but after housework people expect one to go on just as if nothing special had happened. Nancy Mitford, The character Linda speaking, in The Pursuit of Love (1945)
  • And as it was the saying of Bion, that, though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest; so in hunting and fishing, the fault is in the men delighting in the torments and cruel deaths of beasts, and tearing them without compassion from their whelps and their young ones. Plutarch, quoting the ancient Greek philosopher Bion and then building on his observation, in Moralia (1st. c. A.D.)
  • Hunting: the least honorable form of war on the weak. Paul Richard, in The Scourge of Christ (1929)
  • When a man wants to murder a tiger, he calls it sport: when the tiger wants to kill him, he calls it ferocity. George Bernard Shaw, “Maxims for Revolutionists,” in Man and Superman (1903)
  • The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun. P. G. Wodehouse, a reflection of the narrator, Mr. Mulliner, in the short story “Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court,” in Mr. Mulliner Speaking (1925)



  • No friend can supply the absence of a good husband. Abigail Adams, in a 1791 letter to her daughter; reprinted in Letters of Mrs. Adams (1848)
  • A husband is a cagey sort,/A smooth and clever article,/But I, for one, have yet to see/A wife who’s fooled a particle. Richard Armour, “Husbands Are Like That,” in Nights with Armour: Lighthearted Light Verse (1958)
  • A husband is indeed thought by both sexes so very valuable, that scarce a man who can keep himself clean and make a bow, but thinks he is good enough to pretend to any woman. Mary Astell, in Some Reflections on Marriage (1700)
  • It is beginning to look as if the nicest husband is always the one someone else is living with, no? Ama Ata Aidoo, the character Esi speaking, in Changes: A Love Story (1991)
  • The majority of husbands remind me of an orangutan trying to play the violin. Honoré de Balzac, in The Physiology of Marriage (1829)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way that Balzac's famous observation is usually presented, and it is one of the most popular observations about male clumsiness in their intimate relations with women. The popular version of the sentiment appears to be an abridgment of Balzac's original words. Here's his fuller thought: “Woman is a delicious instrument of pleasure, but it is necessary to know its quivering strings, study the pose of it, its timid keyboard, the changing and capricious fingering. How many orangs—men, I mean, marry without knowing what a woman is!”

  • Being a husband is a whole-time job. That is why so many husbands fail. They cannot give their entire attention to it. Arnold Bennett, the character Mr. Culver speaking, in The Title: A Comedy in Three Acts (1918)
  • Never marry a man who hates his mother, because he’ll end up hating you. Jill Bennett, a reference to husband Alan Bennett; quoted in the Observer (London; Sep. 12, 1982)
  • Even quarrels with one's husband are preferable to the ennui of a solitary existence. Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, quoted in Eugene L. Didier, The Life and Letters of Madame Bonaparte (1879)

QUOTE NOTE: Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte (1785-1879) was an American socialite who became the first wife of Jérôme Bonaparte, Napoleon’s youngest brother.

  • I was brought up among the sort of self-important woman who had a husband as one has an alibi. Anita Brookner, quoted in Sybil Steinberg, Writing for Your Life (1992)
  • I think a bad husband is far worse than no husband. Margaret Cavendish, in Sociable Letters: Written by the Thrice Noble, Illustrious, and Excellent Princess, the Lady Marchioness of Newcastle (1664)
  • All women, without in the least meaning it, consider every man they meet as a possible husband for themselves or for their best friend. Agatha Christie, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Anne Beddingfield, in The Man in the Brown Suit (1924)
  • In the marriages of celebrated literati throughout history, husband is to fame as wife is to footnote. Carmela Ciuraru, in Lives of the Wives: Five Literary Marriages (2023)
  • There was no need. I have three pets at home which answer the same purpose as a husband. I have a dog which growls every morning, a parrot which swears all the afternoon, and a cat that comes home late at night. Marie Corelli, her reply When asked why she had never married; quoted in James Crichton-Browne, What the Doctor Thought (1930)
  • I have the best husband one could dream of; I could never have imagined finding one like him. He is a true gift of heaven, and the more we live together the more we love each other. Marie Curie, an 1899 remark, quoted in Eve Curie, Madame Curie (1938)
  • Personally, I can’t see why it would be any less romantic to find a husband in a nice four-color catalogue than in the average downtown bar at happy hour. Barbara Ehrenreich, “Tales of the Man Shortage,” in 1986 issue of Mother Jones magazine; reprinted in The Worst Years of Our Lives (1991)
  • Few husbands (and the longer I observe, the more I am convinced of the truth of what I am about to say, and I make no exception in favor of education or station) have the magnanimity to use justly, generously, the power which the law puts in their hands. Fanny Fern, “Matrimonial Advertisements,” in Fresh Leaves (1857)
  • A good husband makes a good wife. John Florio, in Second Frutes (1591)

QUOTE NOTE: Three decades later, Robert Burton featured the same adage in his Anatomy of Melancholy/ (1621)

  • Husbands are like fires. They go out when unattended. Zsa Zsa Gabor, quoted in Newsweek magazine (March 28, 1960)
  • Getting a hat is like getting a husband. It doesn’t matter how decorative or smart they are if they don’t suit you. Anthony Gilbert (pen name of Lucy Beatrice Malleson), the voice of the narrator, in Out for the Kill (1960)
  • I have known many single men I should have liked in my life (if it had suited them) for a husband; but very few husbands have I ever wished was mine. Mary Ann Lamb, in letter to Sarah Stoddart (June 2, 1806)
  • A lover may be a shadowy creature, but husbands are made of flesh and blood. Amy Levy, in Reuben Sachs: A Sketch (1888)
  • Husbands never become good; they merely become proficient. H. L. Mencken, in A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)
  • Husbands are chiefly good as lovers when they are betraying their wives. Marilyn Monroe, “Weddings and Divorces,” in Marilyn Monroe in Her Own Words (1990)
  • The legal theory is that marriage makes the husband and wife one person, and that person is the husband. Lucretia Mott, in “Discourse on Women” (1849)
  • The calmest husbands make the stormiest wives. Proverb (English)
  • Changing husbands is only changing troubles. Kathleen Thompson Norris, in Hands Full of Living (1931)
  • The only way to make a husband over according to one’s ideas then would be to adopt him at an early age, say four. Mary Roberts Rinehart, in “Isn’t That Just Like a Man!” (1920)

Rinehart introduced the thought by writing: “A great many women believe that they can change men by marrying them. This is a mistake. Women make it because they themselves are pliable, but the male is firmly fixed at the age of six years, and remains fundamentally the same thereafter.”

  • When you see what some girls marry, you realize how they must hate to work for a living. Helen Rowland, in Reflections of a Bachelor Girl (1909)
  • A husband is what is left of a lover, after the nerve has been extracted. Helen Rowland, in Prelude to A Guide to Men (1922)
  • Before marriage, a man will go home and lie awake all night thinking about something you said; after marriage, he'll go to sleep before you finish saying it. Helen Rowland, “First Interlude,” in A Guide to Men (1922)
  • If I were cynical, I would say that a woman should have both a good husband and a lover. But I’m not cynical so I’ll just say that a woman should have a lover who’s a good husband and a husband who’s a good lover, perhaps both. Françoise Sagan, in Nightbird: Conversations With Françoise Sagan (1980; Jean-Jacques Pauvert, ed.).

QUOTE NOTE: This observation is also an example of chiasmus.

  • It seemed that the impulse to defend one’s husband could co-exist with the most bitter knowledge of his deficiencies. Margery Sharp, the voice of the narrator, in Britannia Mews: A Novel (1946)
  • I think every woman’s entitled to a middle husband she can forget. Adela Rogers St. Johns, quoted in The Los Angeles Times (Oct. 13, 1974)
  • A husband, Monsieur Marsac, is like a lobster salad. When it is good, it is very good, and when it is bad it is intolerable. Molly Elliott Seawell, the character Madame Fleury speaking, in The Sprightly Romance of Marsac (1899)

QUOTE NOTE: Seawell is not well remembered today, but she was quite popular in her era. She burst on the scene with The Sprightly Romance of Marsac, which was awarded the first prize of $3,000 as the “best novelette” in a New York Herald competition.

  • The husbands of very beautiful women belong to the criminal classes. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Henry speaking, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
  • They are horribly tedious when they are good husbands, and abominably conceited when they are not. Oscar Wilde, the character Mrs. Allonby speaking, in A Woman of No Importance (1893)
  • What she didn’t know was the loss of self when a husband dies. What she didn’t know was the cold side of the bed, the side that would never be warm again. What she didn’t know was the hollowness of the halls of her home. Where was the deep voice, the heavy walk? Lois Wyse, in The Rosemary Touch (1974)



  • Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. The Bible—Colossians 3:19
  • A man whose every exertion is bent upon showing up the flaws in his wife's character must be at least partially responsible for some of them. Phyllis Bottome, the voice of the narrator, in Survival (1943)
  • Men love their wives not because of their virtues, but in spite of them. Margaret Deland, the voice of the narrator, in the short story “Mr. Horace Shields,” in Old Chester Tales (1898)
  • An ideal wife is any woman who has an ideal husband. Booth Tarkington, “The Hopeful Pessimist,” in Looking Forward and Other Stories (1926)
  • The matter between husband and wife stands much the same as it does between two boys at the same school, two cocks in the same yard, or two armies on the same continent. The conqueror once is generally the conqueror for ever after. Anthony Trollope, the voice of the narrator, in Barchester Towers (1857)






  • The hypocrite’s crime is that he bears false witness against himself. Hannah Arendt, in On Revolution (1963)

Arendt continued: “What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.”

  • Psychologically speaking, one may say that the hypocrite is too ambitious; not only does he want to appear virtuous before others, he wants to convince himself. Hannah Arendt, in On Revolution (1963)
  • It is the wisdom of the crocodiles, that shed tears when they would devour. Francis Bacon, “Of Wisdom for a Man’s Self,” in Essays (1625)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the origin of the expression to shed crocodile tears, for a display of insincere grief.

  • Woe to you…hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Jesus Christ, in The Bible—Matthew 23:27

QUOTE NOTE: The opening sentence reads in full: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” This translation comes from the Revised Standard Version. The original King James Version, which had the archaic phrasing ye are like unto whited sepulchres, was in great need of being brought up to date.

  • Politeness, n. The most acceptable hypocrisy. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • A criminal is twice a criminal when he adds hypocrisy to his crime. Marie Corelli, “Unchristian Clerics,” in Free Opinions: Freely Expressed on Certain Phases of Modern Social Life and Conduct (1905)
  • Hypocrisy is fatal to religion. Mary Baker Eddy, in Science and Health (1875)
  • Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” in Essays: First Series (1841)

Emerson continued: “We parry and fend the approach of our fellow-man by compliments, by gossip, by amusements, by affairs. We cover up our thought from him under a hundred folds.”

  • The habitual hypocrite invariably ends up as the biggest dupe of all, by deluding himself that everyone is basically as self-serving and insincere as he. Sydney J. Harris in his “Strictly Personal” syndicated column (Feb 10 1973)
  • Sincerity that thinks it is the sole possessor of the truth is a deadlier sin than hypocrisy, which knows better. Sydney J. Harris, “Sincerity Can Be Dangerous,” in Clearing the Ground (1986)
  • No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the narrator describing the hypocritical Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, in The Scarlet Letter (1850)
  • A hypocrite despises those whom he deceives, but has no respect for himself. He would make a dupe of himself too, if he could. William Hazlitt, in Characteristics (1823)
  • The foulest sinner of all is the hypocrite who makes a racket of religion. Robert A. Heinlein, the character Jubal speaking, in Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
  • If it were not for the intellectual snobs who pay—in solid cash—the tribute which philistinism owes to culture, the arts would perish with their starving practitioners. Let us thank heaven for hypocrisy. Aldous Huxley, in Jesting Pilate: An Intellectual Holiday (1926)
  • Hypocrisy is the tribute which vice pays to virtue. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)

QUOTE NOTE: I regard this as the grandfather of all tribute metaphors. It is also commonly translated with the word homage replacing tribute.

  • Hypocrisy is not generally a social sin, but a virtue. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children (1985)
  • Hypocrisy is the most difficult and nerve-racking vice that any man can pursue; it needs an unceasing vigilance and a rare detachment of spirit. It cannot, like adultery or gluttony, be practiced at spare moments; it is a whole-time job. W. Somerset Maugham, the voice of narrator William Ashendon, in Cakes and Ale (1930)
  • For neither man nor angel can discern/Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks/Invisible, except to God alone. John Milton, in Paradise Lost (1667)
  • In our interactions with people, a benevolent hypocrisy is frequently required—acting as though we do not see through the motives of their actions. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Human, All-Too-Human (1878)
  • Most people sell their souls and live with a good conscience on the proceeds. Logan Pearsall Smith, “Other People,” in Afterthoughts (1931)
  • If there is one thing that is bipartisan in Washington, it is brazen hypocrisy. Thomas Sowell, “Supreme Hypocrisy,” in Townhall.com (March 29, 2016)
  • These things I do despise:/Hypocrisy and lies,/And anything at all that dims/The light in children’s eyes. Ruth T. Stamper, quoted in a 1976 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • Because hypocrisy stinks in the nostrils one is likely to rate it as a more powerful agent for destruction than it is. Rebecca West, “Sinclair Lewis Introduces Elmer Gantry,” in The Strange Necessity: Essays and Reviews (1928)

QUOTE NOTE: Rather than railing at hypocrites, West contended that it was far better to fight those who pose a more existential threat. “It is the creatures with longings so largely and vaguely evil,” she added, “who make the most dangerous opposition.”

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