Great Throughts Treasury

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

Robertson Davies

Canadian Novelist, Playwright, Critic, Journalist and Professor

"If a man wants to be of the greatest possible value to his fellow creatures, let him begin the long, solitary task of perfecting himself."

"The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future is, in fact, a return to the idealized past."

"Holding-in creates horrid poisons which wear us out before our time. There are more deaths caused by ingrown, suppurating self-control than the medical profession know of."

"The whole world is burdened with young fogies. Old men with ossified minds are easily dealt with. But men who look young and everlasting harp on the fact that they are young, but who nevertheless think and act with a degree of caution that would be excessive in their grandfathers, are the curses of the world."

"Nothing is so easy to fake as the inner vision."

"A happy childhood has spoiled many a promising life."

"A Library goes on as far as thought can reach."

"A Librettist is a mere drudge in the world of opera."

"A life given to determining the best form for the letters of the alphabet "

"A pig can learn more tricks than a dog, but has too much sense to want to do it."

"A sense of wonder is in itself a religious feeling. But in so many people the sense of wonder gets lost. It gets scarred over. It's as though a tortoise shell has grown over it. People reach a stage where they're never surprised, never delighted. They're never suddenly aware of glorious freedom or splendour in their lives. This is very unhappy, very unfortunate. The attitude is often self-induced. It is fear. People are afraid to be happy."

"A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight."

"Adversity leads us to think properly of our state, and so is most beneficial to us."

"After all, we are human beings, and not creatures of infinite possibilities."

"Again he struck the harp and began the jig. But this time it was such music as never came from a harp. It was the wildest, strangest music you ever heard, full of the sound of birds and the cries of animals and the wind and the rain, and the thunder and the lightning, and the dashing of huge waves against the shores of a great cold ocean that was formed from ice that had made its way slowly down from Ultima Thule. It was the sound of a world before mankind. It was the sound of the great merriment God must have known during the long days of Creation."

"Agriculture not only gives riches to a nation, but the only riches she can call her own."

"All censure of a man's self is oblique praise. It is in order to show how much he can spare."

"All mothers think their children are oaks, but the world never lacks for cabbages."

"All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle."

"All the arguments which are brought to represent poverty as no evil show it evidently to be a great evil."

"All theory is against freedom of the will; all experience for it."

"All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it."

"All wonder is the effect of novelty on ignorance."

"Allow children to be happy in their own way, for what better way will they find?"

"Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble."

"Almost every man wastes part of his life attempting to display qualities which he does not possess."

"Although there may be nothing new under the sun, what is old is new to us and so rich and astonishing that we never tire of it. If we do tire of it, if we lose our curiosity, we have lost something of infinite value, because to a high degree it is curiosity that gives meaning and savour to life."

"Always set high value on spontaneous kindness. He whose inclination prompts him to cultivate your friendship of his own accord will love you more than one whom you have been at pains to attach to you."

"Among the most graceful of birds, they have the ugliest faces; in the countenance of a seagull we observe all the bitter hatred and malignance which we usually associate with the faces of money-lenders or book censors."

"An old friend of mine who died recently at a great age was, in infancy, held on the knee of an elderly godmother who had been, in her infancy, held on the knee of yet another godmother who had been held on the knee of Queen Anne, who died in 1714. Viewed unsympathetically, this is nothing, a chance association-by-knees; yet if we cherish life, and are not mere creatures of death and sepulcher, deluded by the notion that only our own experience is real and our demise the end of the world, we see in it a reminder that we are all beads on a string "

"And succour oppressed mankind. The rich, dear souls, are close around And it's easy work to skelp 'em; But the poor "

"And then, Sir, there is this consideration, that if the abuse be enormous, nature will rise up, and claiming her original rights, overturn a corrupt political system."

"Any enjoyment or profit we get from life, we get Now; to kill Now is to abridge our own lives."

"Any theologian understands martyrdom, but only the martyr experiences the fire."

"Anybody who has had experience of poetesses knows that they may forgive a punch on the jaw, but never a suggestion that they would be wiser to give up versifying."

"Are you going to be just kind of a walking monument to a job, or are you going to have some kind of really significant inner life of your own? Because the external things "

"Art is always at peril in universities, where there are so many people, young and old, who love art less than argument, and dote upon a text that provides the nutritious pemmican on which scholars love to chew."

"Art lies in understanding some part of the dark forces and bringing them under the direction of reason."

"As a general thing, people marry most happily with their own kind. The trouble lies in the fact that people usually marry at an age when they do not really know what their own kind is."

"As for an afterlife, there has been a general decline in the general acceptance of it as a certainty, and though a few rationalists may be pleased, to many people this has added a new terror to death. We are reluctant, in the main, to consider the disappearance of ourselves and consequently all we feel and know. Every man's death is, literally, the end of a world if he dies without hope. We have exchanged Gone Elsewhere for Gone Nowhere."

"As I know more of mankind I expect less of them, and am ready now to call a man a good man upon easier terms than I was formerly. ."

"As peace is the end of war, so to be idle is the ultimate purpose of the busy."

"As the Spanish proverb says, He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry the wealth of the Indies with him. So it is in travelling; a man must carry knowledge with him, if he would bring home knowledge."

"Authors like cats because they are such quiet, lovable, wise creatures, and cats like authors for the same reasons"

"Avarice is generally the last passion of those lives of which the first part has been squandered in pleasure, and the second devoted to ambition. He that sinks under the fatigue of getting wealth, lulls his age with the milder business of saving it."

"Bachelors have consciences, married men have wives."

"Be not another if thou canst be thyself."

"Being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned."

"Better to save a citizen than to kill an enemy."

"Between falsehood and useless truth there is little difference. As gold which he cannot spend will make no man rich, so knowledge which cannot apply will make no man wise."