William Lyon Phelps

William Lyon

American College Professor of English

Author Quotes

The fear of life is the favorite disease of the twentieth century.

The final test of a gentleman is his respect for those who can be of no possible service to him.

The habit of reading is one of the greatest resources of mankind; and we enjoy reading books that belong to us much more than if they are borrowed. A borrowed book is like a guest in the house; it must be treated with punctiliousness, with a certain considerate formality. You must see that it sustains no damage; it must not suffer while under your roof. You cannot leave it carelessly, you cannot mark it, you cannot turn down the pages, you cannot use it familiarly. And then, some day, although this is seldom done, you really ought to return it.

The happiest people are those who think the most interesting thoughts. Those who decide to use leisure as a means of mental development, who love good music, good books, good pictures, good company, good conversation, are the happiest people in the world. And they are not only happy in themselves, they are the cause of happiness in others.

The highest happiness on earth is marriage. Every man who is happily married is a successful man even if he has failed in everything else.

The principle of happiness should be like the principle of virtue: it should not be dependent of things, but be a part of personality [and character].

It is the final test of a gentleman?his respect for those who can be of no possible service to him.

There are of course no friends like living, breathing, corporeal men and women; my devotion to reading has never made me a recluse. How could it? Books are of the people, by the people, for the people. Literature is the immortal part of history; it is the best and most enduring part of personality. But book-friends have this advantage over living friends; you can enjoy the most truly aristocratic society in the world whenever you want it. The great dead are beyond our physical reach, and the great living are usually almost as inaccessible; as for our personal friends and acquaintances, we cannot always see them. Perchance they are asleep, or away on a journey. But in a private library, you can at any moment converse with Socrates or Shakespeare or Carlyle or Dumas or Dickens or Shaw or Barrie or Galsworthy. And there is no doubt that in these books you see these men at their best. They wrote for you. They "laid themselves out," they did their ultimate best to entertain you, to make a favorable impression. You are necessary to them as an audience is to an actor; only instead of seeing them masked, you look into their innermost heart of heart.

Mrs. Phelps and myself reduce our luggage as far as books are concerned to a minimum. If there are several in the party we all read not only the same book but the same copy of it. We purchase a cheap edition and I begin reading. As soon as I finish the first two pages I tear them out and hand them to the next member of the party. The last person to read the leaf then drops it out the train window and that at the end of a day's travel we are not encumbered with the book we have all read and are ready to discuss it at dinner.

There is a strange reluctance on the part of most people to admit they enjoy life.

My religious faith remains in possession of the field only after prolonged civil war with my naturally skeptical mind.

Those who decide to use leisure as a means of mental development, who love good music, good books, good pictures, good plays, good company, good conversation -- what are they? They are the happiest people in the world.

Nature makes boys and girls lovely to look upon so they can be tolerated until they acquire some sense.

Whenever it is in any way possible, every boy and girl should choose as his life work some occupation which he should like to do anyhow, even if he did not need the money.

Never try to outsmart a woman, unless you are another woman.

Whenever it is possible, a boy should choose some occupation which he should do even if he did not need the money.

People are happier, I believe when they are continually overworked at some type of work they can do and which interests them than they are merely taking care of their health. Humans can drive at tremendous pace, even over a long period of years, if they choose to drive. I run, work, and play largely by the watch and between them I have done little plain relaxing.

You can learn more about human nature by reading the Bible than by living in New York.

Physicians have told me that I should have one day a week when I have nothing to do. I have never done this at least in the last 30 years.

Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation.

The amazing activity of the cat is delicately balanced by his capacity for relaxation. Every household should contain a cat, not only for decorative and domestic values, but because the cat in quiescence is medicinal to irritable, tense, tortured men and women.

The average Englishman does not see why a stranger should accost him with jocosity - many Englishmen do not see why a stranger should accost them at all

A bibliophile of little means is likely to suffer often. Books don't slip from his hands but fly past him through the air, high as birds, high as prices.

If at first you don't succeed, find out if the loser gets anything.

A cat pours his body on the floor like water. It is restful just to see him.

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William Lyon
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American College Professor of English