Richard Whately


English Anglican Archbishop of Dublin , Philosopher, Logician, Economist and Theologian

Author Quotes

There is a heresy of indifference to revealed religion which is the most deadly of all heresies.

When complaints are made?often not altogether without reason?of the prevailing ignorance of facts on such or such subjects, it will often be found that the parties censured, though possessing less knowledge than is desirable, yet possess more than they know what to do with. Their deficiency in arranging and applying their knowledge, in combining facts, and correctly deducing, and rightly employing, general principles, will be perhaps greater than their ignorance of facts.

There is a strange difference in the ages at which different persons acquire such maturity as they are capable of, and at which some of those who have greatly distinguished themselves have done, and been, something remarkable. Some of them have left the world at an earlier age than that at which others have begun their career of eminence. It was remarked to the late Dr. Arnold by a friend, as a matter of curiosity, that several men who have filled a considerable page in history have lived but forty-seven years (Philip of Macedon, Joseph Addison, Sir William Jones, Nelson, Pitt), and he was told in a jocular way to beware of the forty-seventh year. He was at that time in robust health; but he died at forty-seven! Alexander died at thirty-two; Sir Stamford Raffles at forty-five. Sir Isaac Newton did indeed live to a great age; but it is said that all his discoveries were made before he was forty; so that he might have died at that age and been as celebrated as he is. On the other hand, Herschel is said to have taken to astronomy at forty-seven. Swedenborg, if he had died at sixty, would have been remembered by those that did remember him merely as a sensible worthy man, and a very considerable mathematician. The strange fancies which took possession of him, and which survive in the sect he founded, all came on after that age.

When first we practise to deceive.?

There is no more striking instance of the silent and imperceptible changes brought about by what is called ?Time,? than that of a language becoming dead. To point out the precise period at which Greek or Latin ceased to be a living language would be as impossible as to say when a man becomes old. And much confusion of thought and many important practical results arise from not attending to this.

Whenever men have become heartily wearied of licentious anarchy, their eagerness has been proportionality great to embrace the opposite extreme of rigorous despotism.

There is perhaps no one quality that can produce a greater amount of mischief than may be done by thoughtless good-nature. For instance, if any one, out of tenderness of heart and reluctance to punish or to discard the criminal and worthless, lets loose on society, or advances to important offices, mischievous characters, he will have conferred a doubtful benefit on a few, and done incalculable hurt to thousands. So, also, to take one of the commonest and most obvious cases, that of charity to the poor,?a man of great wealth, by freely relieving all idle vagabonds, might go far towards ruining the industry, and the morality, and the prosperity, of a whole nation.

While the children of the higher classes always call their parents ?papa? and ?mamma,? the children of the peasantry usually call them ?father? and ?mother.?

One very useful precept for students is, never to remain long puzzling out any difficulty; but lay the book and the subject aside, and return to it some hours after, or next day; after having turned the attention to something else. Sometimes a person will weary his mind for several hours in some efforts (which might have been spared) to make out some difficulty, and next day, when he returns to the subject, will find it quite easy.

The ?dark sayings,? on the contrary, of some admired writers may be compared to a fog-bank at sea, which the navigator at first glance takes for a chain of majestic mountains, but which, when approached closely, or when viewed through a good glass, proves to be a mere mass of unsubstantial vapours.

One way in which fools succeed where wise men fail is, that through ignorance of the danger they sometimes go coolly about some hazardous business. Hence the proverb that ?The fairies take care of children, drunken men, and idiots.?

The ?over-formal? often impede, and sometimes frustrate, business by a dilatory, tedious, circuitous, and (what in colloquial language is called) fussy way of conducting the simplest transactions. They have been compared to a dog, which cannot lie down till he has made three circuits round the spot.

Other things, then, being equal, an honest man has this advantage over a knave, that he understands more of human nature: for he knows that one honest man exists, and concludes that there must be more; and he also knows, if he is not a mere simpleton, that there are some who are knavish; but the knave can seldom be brought to believe in the existence of an honest man. The honest man may be deceived in particular persons, but the knave is sure to be deceived whenever he comes across an honest man who is not a mere fool.

The ancient despotism of France, detestable as it was, did not cause more misery in a century than the Reign of Terror did in a year. And, universally, the longer and the more grievously any people have been oppressed, the more violent and extravagant will be the reaction. And the people will often be in the condition of King Lear, going to and fro between his daughters, and deprived first of half his attendants, then of half the remainder, then of all.

Party spirit enlists a man?s virtues in the cause of his vices. He who would desire to have an accurate description of party spirit need only go through Paul?s description of charity, reversing every point in the detail.

The cunning are often deceived by those who have no such intention. When a plain, straightforward man declares plainly his real motives or designs, they set themselves to guess what these are, and hit on every possible solution but the right, taking for granted that he cannot mean what he says. Bacon?s remark on this we have already given in the ?Antitheta on Simulation and Dissimulation:? ?He who acts in all things openly does not deceive the less; for most persons either do not understand or do not believe him.?

Selfishness is not an excess of self-love, and consists not in an over-desire for happiness, but in placing your happiness in something which interferes with, or leaves you regardless of, that of others. Nor are we to suppose that selfishness and want of feeling are either the same or inseparable. For, on the one hand, I have known such as have had very little feeling, but felt for others as much nearly as for themselves, and were, therefore, far from selfish; and, on the other hand, some of very acute feelings feel for no one but themselves, and, indeed, are sometimes amongst the most cruel.

The decay which is most usually noticed in old people, both by others and by themselves, is a decay in memory. But this is perhaps partly from its being a defect easily to be detected and distinctly proved. When a decay of judgment takes place?which is perhaps oftener the case than is commonly supposed?the party himself is not likely to be conscious of it; and his friends are more likely to overlook it, and, even when they do perceive it, to be backward in giving him warning, for fear of being met with such a rebuff as Gil Blas received in return for his candour from the Archbishop, his patron.

Several different men, who have all had equal, or even the very same, experience, that is, have been witnesses or agents in the same transactions, will often be found to resemble so many different men looking at the same book: one, perhaps, though he distinctly sees black marks on white paper, has never learned his letters; another can read, but is a stranger to the language in which the book is written; another has an acquaintance with the language, but understands it imperfectly; another is familiar with the language, but is a stranger to the subject of the book, and wants power or previous instruction to enable him to fully take in the author?s drift; while another, again, perfectly comprehends the whole.

The declaimers on the incompatibility of wealth and virtue are mere declaimers, and nothing more. For you will often find them, in the next breath, applauding or condemning every measure or institution according to its supposed tendency to increase or diminish wealth. You will find them not only readily accepting wealth themselves from any honourable source, and anxious to secure from poverty their children and all most dear to them (for this might be referred to the prevalence of passion over principle), but even offering up solemn prayers to heaven for the prosperity of their native country, and contemplating with joy a flourishing condition of her agriculture, manufactures, or commerce,?in short, of the sources of her wealth. Seneca?s discourses in praise of poverty would, I have no doubt, be rivalled by many writers of this island, if one-half of the revenues he drew from the then inhabitants of it, by lending them money at high interest, were proposed as a prize. Such declaimers against wealth resemble the Harpies of Virgil, seeking to excite disgust at the banquet of which they are themselves eager to partake.

Sickness is a kind of adversity which is both a trial and a discipline; but much more of a discipline when short, and of a trial when very long. The kindness of friends during sickness is calculated, when it is newly called forth, to touch the heart, and call forth gratitude; but the confirmed invalid is in danger of becoming absorbed in self, and of taking all kinds of care and of sacrifice as a matter of course.

The depreciation of Christianity by indifferentism is a more insidious and a less curable evil than infidelity itself.

Sincerity and sincere have a twofold meaning of great moral importance. Sincerity is often used to denote mere reality of conviction, that a man believes what he professes to believe. Sometimes, again, it is used to denote unbiassed conviction, or, at least, an earnest endeavour to shake off all prejudices, and all undue influence of wishes and passions on the judgment, and to decide impartially.

The duty of Christian forgiveness does not require you, nor are you allowed, to look on injustice, or any other fault, with indifference, as if it were nothing wrong at all, merely because it is you that have been wronged.

Sir Matthew Hale, whenever he was convinced of the injustice of any cause, would engage no more in it than to explain to his client the grounds of that conviction; he abhorred the practice of misreciting evidence, quoting precedents in books falsely or unfairly, so as to deceive ignorant juries or inattentive judges; and he adhered to the same scrupulous sincerity in his pleadings which he observed in the other transactions of life. It was as great a dishonour as a man was capable of, that for a little money he was hired to say otherwise than he thought.

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English Anglican Archbishop of Dublin , Philosopher, Logician, Economist and Theologian