Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Samuel Smiles

Engish Biographer, Author and Reformer

"Although genius always commands admiration, character most secures respect. The former is more the product of the brain, the latter of heart-power; and in the long run it is the heart that rules in life."

"Childhood is like a mirror, which reflects in after life the images first presented to it."

"Commonplace though it may appear, this doing of one’s duty embodies the highest ideal of life and character. There may be nothing heroic about it; but the common lot of men is not heroic."

"Conscience is that peculiar faculty of the soul which may be called the religious instinct."

"Courage is by no means incompatible with tenderness. On the contrary, gentleness and tenderness have been found to characterize the men, no less than the women, who have done the most courageous deeds."

"Good sense, disciplined by experience and inspired by goodness, issues in practical wisdom."

"It is a mistake to suppose that men succeed through success; they much oftener succeed through failure."

"Life is of little value unless it be consecrated by duty."

"The great and good do not die even in this world. Embalmed in books, their spirits walk abroad. The book is a living voice. It is an intellect to which one still listens."

"The great highroad of human welfare lies along the old highway of steadfast well-doing; and they who are the most persistent, and the work in the truest spirit, will invariably be the most successful; success treads on the heels of every right effort."

""Knowledge is power," but... knowledge of itself, unless wisely directed, might merely make bad men more dangerous."

"Good character is human nature in its best form. It is moral order embodied in the individual. Men of character are not only the conscience of society, but in every well governed state they are its best motive power; for it is moral qualities which, in the main, rule the world."

"He who recognizes no higher logic than that of the shilling may become a very rich man, and yet remain a very poor creature, for riches are no proof of moral worth, and their glitter often serves only to draw attention to the worthlessness of their possessor, as the glowworm's light reveals the grub."

"Steady employment... keeps one out of mischief, for truly an idle brain is the devil's workshop."

"The crown and glory of life is character. It is the noblest possession of a man, constituting a rank in itself, and estate in the general good will; dignifying every station, and exacting every position in society. It exercises a greater power than wealth and secures all the honor without the jealousies of fame. It carries with it an influence which always tells; for it is the result of proved honor, rectitude and consistency - qualities which, perhaps more than any others, command the general confidence and respect of mankind."

"The spirit of self-help is the root of all genuine growth in the individual; and, exhibited in the lives of many, it constitutes the true source of national vigor and strength. Help from without is often enfeebling in its effects, but help from within invariably invigorates."

"To be worth anything, character must be capable of standing firm upon its feet in the world of daily work, temptation, and trial; and able to bear the wear and tear of actual life. Cloistered virtues do not count for much."

"To think we are able is almost to be so; to determine upon attainment is frequently attainment itself; earnest resolution has often seemed to have about it almost a savor of omnipotence."

"It is the close observation of little things which is the secret of success in business, in art, in science, and in every pursuit in life. Human knowledge is but an accumulation of small facts, made by successive generations of men, the little bits of knowledge and experience carefully treasured up and growing at length into a mighty pyramid."

"It is not ease but effort, not facility, but difficulty, that makes men. There is, perhaps, no station in life in which difficulties have not to be encountered and overcome before any decided measure of success can be achieved."

"National progress is the sum of individual industry, energy, and uprightness, as national decay is of individual idleness, selfishness, and vice."

"No sweat, no sweet."

"The great lesson of biography is to show what man can be and do at his best. A noble life put fairly on record acts like an inspiration to others."

"There are words that strike even harder than blows."

"Though an inheritance of acres may be bequeathed, an inheritance of knowledge and wisdom cannot. The wealthy man may pay others for doing his work for him, but it is impossible to get his thinking done for him by another, or to purchase any kind of self-culture."

"We each day dig our graves with our teeth."

"Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their author’s mind, ages ago."

"We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success; we often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery."

"The most important results in daily life are to be obtained, not through the exercise of extraordinary powers, such as genius and intellect, but through the energetic use of simple means and ordinary qualities, with which nearly all human individuals have been more or less endowed."

"Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey toward it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us."

"Lost wealth may be replaced by industry, lost knowledge by study, lost health by temperance or medicine, but lost time is gone forever."

"To be worth anything, character must be capable of standing firm upon its feet in the world of daily work, temptation, and trial."

"Life will always be to a large extent what we ourselves make it."

"It will generally be found that men who are constantly lamenting their ill luck are only reaping the consequences of their own neglect, mismanagement, and improvidence, or want of application"

"A great deal of what passes by the name of patriotism in these days consists of the merest bigotry and narrow-mindedness; exhibiting itself in national prejudice, national conceit, and national hatred. It does not show itself in deeds, but in boastings--in howlings, gesticulations, and shrieking helplessly for help--in flying flags and singing songs--and in perpetual grinding at the hurdy-gurdy of long-dead grievances and long-remedied wrongs. To be infested by such a patriotism as this is perhaps among the greatest curses that can befall any country."

"A place for everything, and everything in its place"

""Give me a standing place," said Archimedes, "and I will move the world" - Goethe has changed the postulate into the precept. "Make good thy standing place, and move the world.""

""Heaven helps those who help themselves" is a well-tried maxim, embodying in a small compass the results of vast human experience. The spirit of self-help is the root of all genuine growth in the individual; and, exhibited in the lives of many, it constitutes the true source of national vigour and strength. Help from without is often enfeebling in its effects, but help from within invariably invigorates. Whatever is done for men or classes, to a certain extent takes away the stimulus and necessity of doing for themselves; and where men are subjected to over-guidance and over-government, the inevitable tendency is to render them comparatively helpless."

"An intense anticipation itself transforms possibility into reality; our desires being often but precursors of the things which we are capable of performing."

"Any number of depraved units cannot form a great nation."

"Commit a child to the care of a worthless, ignorant woman, and no culture in after-life will remedy the evil you have done."

"England was nothing, compared to continental nations until she had become commercial…until about the middle of the last century, when a number of ingenious and inventive men, without apparent relation to each other, arose in various parts of the kingdom, succeeded in giving an immense impulse to all the branches of the national industry; the result of which has been a harvest of wealth and prosperity, perhaps without a parallel in the history of the world."

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. But all play and no work makes him something worse."

"All experiences of life seems to prove that the impediments thrown in the way of the human advancement may for the most part be overcome by steady good conduct, honest zeal, activity, perseverance and above all, by a determined resolution to surmount."

"All life is a struggle.... Under competition the lazy man is put under the necessity of exerting himself; and if he will not exert himself, he must fall behind. If he do not work, neither shall he eat."

"Enthusiasm ... the sustaining power of all great action."

"Even happiness itself may become habitual. There is a habit of looking at the bright side of things, and also of looking at the dark side. Dr. Johnson has said that the habit of looking at the best side of a thing is worth more to a man than a thousand pounds a year. And we possess the power, to a great extent, of so exercising the will as to direct the thoughts upon objects calculated to yield happiness and improvement rather than their opposites."

"Biographies of great, but especially of good men, are most instructive and useful as helps, guides, and incentives to others. Some of the best are almost equivalent to gospels - teaching high living, high thinking, and energetic actions for their own and the world's good."

"Charles II hearing Vossius; a free­thinker, repeating some incredible stories of the Chinese, turned to those about him and said, "This learned divine is a very strange man; he believes everything but the Bible.""

"As steady application to work is the healthiest training for every individual, so is it the best discipline of a state. Honorable industry alway travels the same road with enjoyment and duty, and progress is altogether impossible without it."