Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Robert Aris Willmott

English Author, Scholar and Literary Historian, Edited the Poems of Robert Burns

"A little knowledge leads the mind from God. Unripe thinkers use their learning to authenticate their doubts. While unbelief has its own dogma, more peremptory than the inquisitor's, patient meditation brings the scholar back to humbleness. He learns that the grandest truths appear slowly."

"Art, not less eloquently than literature, teaches her children to venerate the single eye."

"Taste is not stationary. It grows every day, and is improved by cultivation, as a good temper is refined by religion. In its most advanced state it takes the title of judgment. Hume quotes Fontenelle's ingenious distinction between the common watch that tells the hours, and the delicately constructed one that marks the seconds and smallest differences of time."

"The advice of a scholar, whose piles of learning were set on fire by imagination, is never to be forgotten. Proportion an hour's reflection to an hour's reading, and so dispirit the book into the student."

"It is that faculty by which we discover and enjoy the beautiful, the picturesque, and the sublime in literature, art, and nature; which recognizes a noble thought, as a virtuous mind welcome a pure sentiment by an involuntary glow of satisfaction. While the principle of perception is inherent in the soul, it requires a certain amount of knowledge to draw out and direct it."

"Education is the apprenticeship of life."

"We are not only pleased, but turned, by a feather. the history of man is a calendar of straws. “If the nose of Cleopatra had been shorter,” said Pascal, in his brilliant way, “Antony might have kept the world.”"

"Whatever is pure is also simple. It does not keep the eye on itself. The observer forgets the window in the landscape it displays. A fine style gives the view of fancy--its figures, its trees, or its palaces,--without a spot."

"The exhibition of real strength is never grotesque. Distortion is the agony of weakness. It is the dislocated mind whose movements are spasmodic."

"A book becomes a mirror, with the author's face shining over it. Talent only gives an imperfect image,--the broken glimmer of a countenance. But the features of genius remain unruffled. Time guards the shadow. Beauty, the spiritual, Venus,--whose children are the Tassos, the Spensers, the Bacons,--breathes, the magic of her love, and fixes the face forever."

"A cultivated reader of history is domesticated in all families; he dines with Pericles, and sups with Titian."

"A first book has some of the sweetness of a first love."

"A discursive student is almost certain to fall into bad company. Ten minutes with a French novel or a German rationalist have sent a reader away with a fever for life."

"Addison acknowledged that he would rather inform than divert his reader; but he recollected that a man must be familiar with wisdom before he willingly enters on Seneca and Epictetus. Fiction allures him to the severe task by a gayer preface. Embellished truths are the illuminated alphabet of larger children."

"A good reader is nearly as rare as a good writer. People bring their prejudices, whether friendly or adverse. They are lamp and spectacles, lighting and magnifying the page."

"Association is the delight of the heart, not less than of poetry. Alison observes that an autumn sunset, with its crimson clouds, glimmering trunks of trees, and wavering tints upon the grass, seems scarcely capable of embellishment. But if in this calm and beautiful glow the chime of a distant bell steal over the fields, the bosom heaves with the sensation that Dante so tenderly describes."

"Books, of which the principles are diseased or deformed, must be kept on the shelf of the scholar, as the man of science preserves monsters in glasses. They belong to the study of the mind's morbid anatomy, and ought to be accurately labelled. Voltaire will still be a wit, notwithstanding he is a scoffer; and we may admire the brilliant spots and eyes of the viper, if we acknowledge its venom and call it a reptile."

"Attention makes the genius; all learning, fancy, and science depend on it. Newton traced back his discoveries to its unwearied employment. It builds bridges, opens new worlds, and heals diseases; without it Taste is useless, and the beauties of literature are unobserved; as the rarest flowers bloom in vain, if the eye be not fixed upon the bed."

"Every fresh acquirement is another remedy against affliction and time."

"Genius is nourished from within and without."

"Few footprints of the great remain in the sand before the ever-flowing tide. Long ago it washed out Homer's. Curiosity follows him in vain; Greece and Asia perplex us with a rival Stratford-upon-Avon. The rank of Aristophanes is only conjectured from his gift to two poor players in Athens. The age made no sign when Shakespeare, its noblest son, passed away."

"Criticism must never be sharpened into anatomy. The delicate veins of fancy may be traced, and the rich blood that gives bloom and health to the complexion of thought be resolved into its elements. Stop there. The life of the imagination, as of the body, disappears when we pursue it."

"Genius finds its own road and carries its own lamp."

"From numberless books the fluttering reader, idle and inconstant, bears away the bloom that only clings to the outer leaf; but genius has its nectaries, delicate glands, and secrecies of sweetness, and upon these the thoughtful mind must settle in its labor, before the choice perfume of fancy and wisdom is drawn forth."

"History is a great painter, with the world for canvas, and life for a figure. It exhibits man in his pride, and nature in her magnificence,--Jerusalem bleeding under the Roman, or Lisbon vanishing in flame and earthquake. History must be splendid. Bacon called it the pomp of business. Its march is in high places, and along the pinnacles and points of great affairs."

"Honest fiction may be made to supplement the pulpit."

"History presents the pleasantest features of poetry and fiction,--the majesty of the epic, the moving accidents of the drama, the surprises and moral of the romance. Wallace is a ruder Hector; Robinson Crusoe is not stranger that Croesus; the Knights of Ashby never burnish the page of Scott with richer lights of lance and armor than the Carthaginians, winding down the Alps, cast upon Livy."

"How deep is the magic of sound may be learned by breaking some sweet verses into prose. The operation has been compared to gathering dew-drops, which shine like jewels upon the flower, but run into water in the hand. The elements remain, but the sparkle is gone."

"Humor is the pensiveness of wit."

"In literature and art memory is a synonym for invention. It is the life-blood of imagination, which faints and dies when the veins are empty."

"It is the empiric who never fails."

"It is only dislocated minds whose movements are spasmodic."

"It is supposable that, in the eyes of angels, a struggle down a dark lane and a battle of Leipsic differ in nothing but excess of wickedness."

"Joy and grief are never far apart. In the same street the shutters of one house are closed, while the curtains of the next are brushed by shadow of the dance. A wedding-party returns from church, and a funeral winds to its door. The smiles and the sadness of life are the tragi-comedy of Shakespeare. Gladness and sighs brighten and dim the mirror he beholds."

"Many books belong to sunshine, and should be read out of doors. Clover, violets, and hedge roses breathe from their leaves; they are most lovable in cool lanes, along field paths, or upon stiles overhung by hawthorn, while the blackbird pipes, and the nightingale bathes its brown feathers in the twilight copse."

"Literature is the immortality of speech."

"No canvas absorbs color like memory."

"Newton found that a star, examined through a glass tarnished by smoke, was diminished into a speck of light. But no smoke ever breathed so thick a mist as envy or detraction."

"One interesting feature of criticism is seen in the ease with which it discovers what Addison called the specific quality of an author. In Livy, it will be the manner of telling the story; in Sallust, personal identification with the character; in Tacitus, the analysis of the deed into its motive. If the same test be applied to painters, it will find the prominent faculty of Correggio to be manifested in harmony of effect; of Poussin, in the sentiment of his landscapes; and of Raffaelle, in the general comprehension of his subject."

"Occasionally a single anecdote opens a character; a biography has its comparative anatomy, and a saying or a sentiment enables the skillful hand to construct the skeleton."

"Of many large volumes the index is the best portion and the usefullest. A glance through the casement gives whatever knowledge of the interior is needful. An epitome is only a book shortened; and as a general rule, the worth increases as the size lessens."

"Poetical taste is the only magician whose wand is not broken. No hand, except its own, can dissolve the fabric of beauty in which it dwells. Genii, unknown to Arabian fable, wait at the portal. Whatever is most precious from the loom or the mine of fancy is poured at its feet. Love, purified by contemplation, visits and cheers it; unseen musicians are heard in the dark; it is Psyche in the palace of Cupid."

"Poetry deserves the honor it obtains as the eldest offspring of literature, and the fairest. It is the fruitfulness of many plants growing into one flower and sowing itself over the world in shapes of beauty and color, which differ with the soil that receives and the sun that ripens the seed. In Persia, it comes up the rose of Hafiz; in England, the many-blossomed tree of Shakespeare."

"Philosophical studies are beset by one peril, a person easily brings himself to think that he thinks; and a smattering of science encourages conceit. He is above his companions. A hieroglyphic is a spell. The gnostic dogma is cuneiform writing to the million. Moreover, the vain man is generally a doubter. It is Newton who sees himself in a child on the sea shore, and his discoveries in the colored shells."

"Romance is the truth of imagination and boyhood. Homer's horses clear the world at a bound. The child's eye needs no horizon to its prospect. The oriental tale is not too vast. Pearls dropping from trees are only falling leaves in autumn. The palace that grew up in a night merely awakens a wish to live in it. The impossibilities of fifty years are the commonplaces of five."

"Some gifted adventurer is always sailing round the world of art and science, to bring home costly merchandise from every port."

"Some imitation is involuntary and unconscious."

"Taste is often one of the aspects of fashion."

"Talents, to strike the eye of posterity, should be concentrated. Rays, powerless while they are scattered, burn in a point."

"Taste is improved by cultivation."