Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Sinclair Lewis, fully Harry Sinclair Lewis

American Novelist, Social Critic and Playwright, Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature

"It is, I think, an error to believe that there is any need of religion to make life seem worth living."

"There are two insults no human will endure: the assertion that he has no sense of humor and the doubly impertinent assertion that he has never known trouble."

"Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless."

"Every man is a king so long as he has someone to look down on."

"A dictator with something of the earthy American sense of humor of a Mark Twain, a George Ade, a Will Rogers, an Artemus Ward."

"A proper school should teach nothing but bookkeeping, agriculture, geometry, dead languages made deader by leaving out all the amusing literature, and the Hebrew Bible as interpreted by men superbly trained to ignore contradictions, men technically called "Fundamentalists"."

"A village in a country which is taking pains to become altogether standardized and pure, which aspires to succeed Victorian England as the chief mediocrity of the world, is no longer merely provincial, no longer downy and restful in its leaf-shadowed ignorance. It is a force seeking to conquer the earth... Sure of itself, it bullies other civilizations, as a traveling salesman in a brown derby conquers the wisdom of China and tacks advertisements of cigarettes over arches for centuries dedicate to the sayings of Confucius. Such a society functions admirably in the production of cheap automobiles, dollar watches, and safety razors. But it is not satisfied until the entire world also admits that the end and joyous purpose of living is to ride in flivvers, to make advertising-pictures of dollar watches, and in the twilight to sit talking not of love and courage but of the convenience of safety razors."

"A sensational event was changing from the brown suit to the gray the contents of his pockets. He was earnest about these objects. They were of eternal importance, like baseball or the Republican Party."

"Aaron was uncomfortable and a little afraid. This, he thought, is how God might pray to his God."

"All of the good-intentioners who wanted to 'do something for the common people' were insignificant, because the 'common people' were able to do things for themselves, and highly likely to, as soon as they learned the fact."

"All of them perceived that American Democracy did not imply any equality of wealth, but did demand a wholesome sameness of thought, dress, painting, morals, and vocabulary."

"Aaron began to learn the Dakota language. Isaac, like a newly ordained Doctor of Philosophy, after years of being nagged into learning, rejoiced to be invited to stand up and look important and teach. He was astonished by his own erudition and by the fact that his class of one did not walk out."

"Aaron had learned … from Mr. Fairlow's two-hour sermons on "The Jealousy of an Angry Jehovah Who Hath Weighed Sinners in the Balance and Found Them Wanting",...that God was a torturer who punished small boys for sins they might commit later."

"An ugly woodshed that's there, right on the ground, is handsomer to me than a ten-story temple that isn't there."

"Any two people who have spent more than two days together already have the material for a life-long feud, in traits which at first were amusing or admirable."

"Are they? I wonder! Don't cheerful agnostics, who know they are going to die dead, worry much less than good Baptists, who worry lest their sons and cousins and sweethearts fail to get into the Baptist heaven — or what is even worse, who wonder if they may not have guessed wrong — if God may not be a Catholic, maybe, or a Mormon or Seventh-day Adventist instead of a Baptist, and then they'll go to hell themselves. Consolation? No!"

"As they talked around the fire in the sitting-room, he was embarrassed by the nakedness of their piety."

"at an average cost of less than ten dollars a head."

"Author sees the congested idealism of the generally discontent as reservoir that will support centralized power even while disagreeing with many specific provisions."

"Babbit was an average father. He was affectionate, bullying, opinionated, ignorant, and rather wistful. Like most parents he enjoyed the game of waiting till the victim was clearly wrong, then virtuously pouncing."

"All this working land was turned into exuberance by the light. The sunshine was dizzy on open stubble; shadows from immense cumulus clouds were forever sliding across low mounds; and the sky was wider and loftier and more resolutely blue than the sky of cities... she declared. It's a glorious country; a land to be big in"

"Babbitt looked up irritably from the comic strips in the Evening Advocate. They composed his favorite literature and art, these illustrated chronicles in which Mr. Mutt hit Mr. Jeff with a rotten egg, and Mother corrected Father's vulgarisms by means of a rolling-pin. With the solemn face of a devotee, breathing heavily through his open mouth, he plodded nightly through every picture, and during the rite he detested interruptions. Furthermore, he felt that on the subject of Shakespeare he wasn't really an authority. Neither the Advocate-Times, the Evening Advocate, nor the Bulletin of the Zenith Chamber of Commerce had ever had an editorial on the matter, and until one of them had spoken he found it hard to form an original opinion."

"Being a man given to oratory and high principles, he enjoyed the sound of his own vocabulary and the warmth of his own virtue."

"But I am going to make you go to church. You’ll be a socialist or something like that if you get to be too much of a poet."

"Carl was drawn… into a dance regarding which he was sure only that it was either a waltz, a two step, or something else."

"Carol was discovering that the one thing that can be more disconcerting than intelligent hatred is demanding love. "She supposed that she was being gracefully dull and standardized in the Smails' presence, but they scented the heretic, and with forward-stooping delight they sat and tried to drag out her ludicrous concepts for their amusement. They were like the Sunday-afternoon mob starting at monkeys in the Zoo, poking fingers and making faces and giggling at the resentment of the more dignified race... They were staggered to learn that a real tangible person, living in Minnesota, and married to their own flesh-and-blood relation, could apparently believe that divorce may not always be immoral; that illegitimate children do not bear any special and guaranteed form of curse; that there are ethical authorities outside of the Hebrew Bible; that men have drunk wine yet not died in the gutter; that the capitalistic system of distribution and the Baptist wedding-ceremony were not known in the Garden of Eden... that there are Ministers of the Gospel who accept evolution; that some persons of intelligence and business ability do not always vote the Republican ticket straight;... that a violin is not inherently more immoral than a chapel organ... 'Where does she get all them the'ries?' marveled Uncle Whittier Smail."

"Damn the great executives, the men of measured merriment, damn the men with careful smiles, damn the men that run the shops, oh, damn their measured merriment."

"Deacon Uriel Gadd was a man of integrity, granite-rough and lichen-coated. The punishment in his rheumatism, clearly sent of God, and the defection of his son Elijah, had weakened him only in making him somewhat less contemptuous of his sentimental son Aaron. All other persons he divided into fools, scoundrels and the blessedly elect, with only himself indisputably in the last class."

"Don’t forget this, son: nothing outside of you can ever hurt you. It can chew up your toes, but it can’t reach you. Nobody but you can hurt you."

"Don't be a writer. Writing is an escape from something. You be a scientist."

"Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk."

"Even if some details of dogma aren't true — or even all of 'em — think what a consolation religion and the church are to weak humanity!"

"Every compulsion is put upon writers to become safe, polite, obedient, and sterile. In protest, I declined election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters some years ago, and now I must decline the Pulitzer Prize."

"Everything seemed confused and contradictory, and he longed for one clear command from a divine martinet."

"Except for half a dozen in each town the citizens are proud of that achievement of ignorance which is so easy to come by. To be 'intellectual' or 'artistic' or, in their own word, to be 'highbrow,' is to be priggish and of dubious virtue."

"Fine, large, meaningless, general terms like romance and business can always be related. They take the place of thinking, and are highly useful to optimists and lecturers."

"For many minutes, for many hours, for a bleak eternity, he lay awake, shivering, reduced to primitive terror, comprehending that he had won freedom, and wondering what he could do with anything so unknown and so embarrassing as freedom."

"Fortune has dealt with me rather too well. I have known little struggle, not much poverty, many generosities. Now and then I have, for my books or myself, been somewhat warmly denounced — there was one good pastor in California who upon reading my Elmer Gantry desired to lead a mob and lynch me, while another holy man in the state of Maine wondered if there was no respectable and righteous way of putting me in jail. And, much harder to endure than any raging condemnation, a certain number of old acquaintances among journalists, what in the galloping American slang we call the "I Knew Him When Club", have scribbled that since they know me personally, therefore I must be a rather low sort of fellow and certainly no writer. But if I have now and then received such cheering brickbats, still I, who have heaved a good many bricks myself, would be fatuous not to expect a fair number in return."

"Gentlemen, the most important part of living is not the living but the pondering upon it. And the most important part of experimentation is not doing the experiment but making notes, ve-ry accurate quantitative notes — in ink. I am told that a great many clever people feel they can keep notes in their heads. I have often observed with pleasure that such persons do not have heads in which to keep their notes. This is very good, because thus the world never sees their results and science is not encumbered with them."

"Good sense from a child was not necessarily contemptible beside foolishness from a grown-up."

"He explained that hatred was low. However, for the benefit of the more leathery and zealous deacons down front, he permitted them to hate all Catholics, all persons who failed to believe in hell and immersion, and all rich mortgage-holders, wantoning in the betraying smiles of scarlet women, each of whom wore silk and in her bejeweled hand held a ruby glass of perfidious wine."

"He fretted that he did not know anything. He sighed, 'I have sought the Kingdom of God a little, the Squire has sought it terribly, but we haven't even a map, and after what I saw this afternoon, I know the Sioux are as barbarous as we are. Is it possible that nobody has ever known— that there never has been a completely civilized man, and won't be for another thousand years?"

"He had enormous and poetic admiration, though very little understanding, of all mechanical devices. They were his symbols of truth and beauty. Regarding each new intricate mechanism — metal lathe, two-jet carburetor, machine gun, oxyacetylene welder — he learned one good realistic-sounding phrase, and used it over and over, with a delightful feeling of being technical and initiated."

"He had never been sure but that there might be something to the doctrines he had preached as an evangelist. Perhaps God really had dictated every word of the Bible. Perhaps there really was a hell of burning sulphur. Perhaps the Holy Ghost really was hovering around watching him and reporting. But he knew with serenity that all of his New Thoughts, his theosophical utterances, were pure and uncontaminated bunk. No one could deny his theories because none of his theories meant anything. It did not matter what he said, so long as he kept them listening; and he enjoyed the buoyancy of power as he bespelled his classes with long, involved, fruity sentences rhapsodic as perfume advertisements."

"He had unhappily noticed at the mission that when he had most hotly prayed, it had been a way of escaping a decision, of frivolously passing the lot to God."

"He had, in fact, got everything from the church and Sunday School, except, perhaps, any longing whatever for decency and kindness and reason."

"He heard them whispering — whispering... The independence seeped out of him and he walked the streets alone, afraid of men's cynical eyes and the incessant hiss of whispering."

"He is the only real revolutionary, the authentic scientist, because he alone knows how liddle he knows. He must be heartless. He lives in a cold, clear light. Yet dis is a funny t'ing: really, in private, he is not cold nor heartless — so much less cold than the Professional Optimists."

"He loved the people just as much as he feared and detested persons."

"He preached to himself, as Max Gottlieb had once preached to him, the loyalty of dissent, the faith of being very doubtful, the gospel of not bawling gospels, the wisdom of admitting the probable ignorance of one's self and of everybody else, and the energetic acceleration of a Movement for going very slow."