Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

James Russell Lowell

American Poet, Critic, Editor, Diplomat

"A man's mind is known by the company it keeps."

"A sneer is the weapon of the weak. Like other devil’s weapons, it is always cunningly ready to our hand, and there is more poison in the handle than in the point."

"All men who know not where to look for truth, save in the narrow well of self, will find their own image at the bottom, and mistake it for what they are seeking."

"All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action."

"All thoughts that mould the age begin deep down within the primitive soul."

"Aspiration sees only one side of every question; possession, many."

"Blessed are they who have nothing to say, and who cannot be persuaded to say it."

"Compromise makes a good umbrella, but a poor roof; it is a temporary expedient, often wise in party politics, almost sure to be unwise in statesmanship."

"Each day the world is born anew for him who takes it rightly."

"Endurance is the crowning quality, and patience all the passion of great hearts."

"Enthusiasm begets enthusiasm, eloquence produces conviction for the moment; but it is only by truth to Nature and the everlasting institutions of mankind that those abiding influences are won that enlarge from generation to generation."

"Every man feels instinctively that all the beautiful sentiments in the world weight less than a single lovely action."

"Great truths are portions of the soul of man; great souls are portions of eternity."

"No man can produce great things who is not thoroughly sincere in dealing with himself, who would not exchange the finest show for the poorest reality, who does not so love his work that he is not only glad to give himself for it, but finds rather a gain than a sacrifice in the surrender."

"No man is born into the world, whose work is not born with him."

"No mud can soil us but the mud we throw."

"No sincere desire of doing good need make an enemy of a single human being; that philanthropy has surely a flaw in it which cannot sympathize with the oppressor equally as with the oppressed."

"Not failure, but low aim, is crime."

"One learns more metaphysics from a single temptation than from all the philosophers."

"Only by unlearning [comes] Wisdom."

"Practical application is the only mordant which will set things in the memory. Study without it is gymnastics, and not work, which alone will get intellectual bread."

"Pride and weakness are Siamese twins."

"Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is wholesome for the character."

"The foolish and dead alone never change their opinions."

"The greater your real strength and power, the quieter it will be exercised."

"The only conclusive evidence of a man’s sincerity is that he gives himself for a principle. Words, money, all things else, are comparatively easy to give away; but when a man makes a gift of his daily life and practice, it is plain that the truth whatever it may be, has taken possession of him."

"The only faith that wears well and holds its color in all weathers is that which is woven of conviction and set with the sharp mordant of experience."

"Have you ever rightly considered what the mere ability to read means? That it is the key which admits us to the whole world of thought and fancy and imagination? to the company of the saint and sage, of the wisest and the wittiest at their wisest and wittiest moment? That it enables us to see with the keenest eyes, hear with the finest ears, and listen to the sweetest voices of all time? More than that, it annihilates time and space for us."

"He who would be the tongue of this wide land must string his harp with chords of study iron and strike it with a toil-imbrowned hand."

"It is curious how tyrannical the habit of reading is, and what shifts we make to escape thinking. There is no bore we dread being left alone with so much as our own minds."

"It may be conjectured that it is cheaper in the long run to lift men up than to hold them down, and that the ballot in their hands is less dangerous to society than a sense of wrong is in their heads."

"Let us be of good cheer, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which never happen."

"Making one object, in outward or inward nature, more holy to a single heart is reward enough for a life; for the more sympathies we gain or awaken for what is beautiful, by so much deeper will be our sympathy for that which is most beautiful."

"Men have their intellectual ancestry, and the likeness of some one of them is forever unexpectedly flashing out in the features of a descendant, it may be after a gap of several centuries. In the parliament of the present every man represents a constituency of the past."

"Mishaps are like knives, that either serve us or cut us, as we grasp them by the blade or the handle."

"Most men make the voyage of life as if they carried sealed orders which they were not to open till they were fairly in mid-ocean."

"Imagination, where it is truly creative, is a faculty, not a quality; its seat is in the higher reason, and it is efficient only as the servant of the will. Imagination, as too often understood, is mere fantasy - the image-making power, common to all who have the gift of dreams."

"In general those who nothing have to say contrive to spend the longest time in doing it."

"In life’s small things be resolute and great to keep thy muscle trained: know’st thou when Fate thy measure takes, or when she’ll say to thee, “I find thee worthy; do this deed for me?”"

"Never did poesy appear so full of heaven to me as when I saw how it pierced through pride and fear to the lives of coarsest men."

"No man can produce great things who is not thoroughly sincere in dealing with himself."

"Poetry is not made out of the understanding. The question of common sense is always: "What is it good for?' a question which would abolish the rose, and be triumphantly answered by the cabbage."

"Poetry is something to make us wiser and better, by continually revealing those types of beauty and truth which God has set in all men's souls."

"Silence is sorrow's best food."

"The more sympathies we gain or awaken for what is beautiful, by so much deeper will be our sympathy for that which is most beautiful, the human soul."

"The nurse of full-grown souls is solitude."

"The opening of the first grammar-school was the opening of the first trench against monopoly in Church and State."

"There is no bore we dread being left alone with so much as our own minds."

"To make the common marvelous is the test of genius."

"To put more faith in lies and hate than truth and love is the true atheism."