Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Tom Stoppard, fully Sir Tom Stoppard, born Tomáš Straüssler

Czech-born English Playwright, Novelist and Writer for TV, Radio, Film and Stage

"A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense not to himself."

"All your life you live so close to the truth, it becomes a permanent blur in the corner of your eye, and when something nudges it into outline it is like being ambushed by a grotesque."

"Every exit is an entry somewhere else."

"Death is not anything... death is not... It's the absence of presence, nothing more... the endless time of never coming back... a gap you can't see, and when the wind blows through it, it makes no sound."

"For all the compasses in the world, there's only one direction, and time is its only measure."

"Eternity's a terrible thought. I mean, where's it all going to end?"

"We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered."

"Imagination without skills gives us modern art."

"A Chinaman of the T'ang Dynasty — and, by which definition, a philosopher — dreamed he was a butterfly, and from that moment he was never quite sure that he was not a butterfly dreaming it was a Chinese philosopher."

"A foreign correspondent is someone who lives in foreign parts and corresponds, usually in the form of essays containing no new facts. Otherwise he's someone who flies around from hotel to hotel and thinks that the most interesting thing about any story is the fact that he has arrived to cover it."

"A great production of a black comedy is better than a mediocre production of a comedy of errors."

"A healthy attitude is contagious but don't wait to catch it from others. Be a carrier."

"A man breaking his journey between one place and another at a third place of no name, character, population or significance, sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until--My God, says a second man, I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn. At which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience... Look, look! recites the crowd. A horse with an arrow in its forehead! It must have been mistaken for a deer."

"A movie camera is like having someone you have a crush on watching you from afar - you pretend it's not there."

"Actors! The mechanics of cheap melodrama! That isn't death! You scream and choke and sink to your knees but it doesn't bring death home to anyone- it doesn't catch them unawares and start the whisper in their skulls that says- 'One day you are going to die."

"A genuine love of learning is one of the two delinquencies which cause blindness and lead a young man to ruin."

"A scholar's business is to add to what is known. That is all. But it is capable of giving the very greatest satisfaction, because knowledge is good. It does not have to look good or even sound good or even do good. It is good just by being knowledge. And the only thing that makes it knowledge is that it is true. You can't have too much of it and there is no little too little to be worth having. There is truth and falsehood in a comma."

"Act first! The ideas will follow, and if not — well, it's progress"

"Age is a high price to pay for maturity."

"Alexander: How the world must have been changing while I was holding it still."

"Alexander: I myself was educated in Italy. My doctorate in philosophy is from the University of Padua. Renne: Really? Philosophy? Alexander: My dissertation was on worms. Renne: Worms the philosopher? Alexander: No, just worms. Renne: Ah, the philosophy of worms. Alexander: Not at all. Worms have no philosophy, as far as is known."

"Alexander: No spunk, simple as that! Your brother's an army deserter! Michael: Oh yes, I've resigned my commission. Alexander: He's refusing to return to duty. Michael: On grounds of ill health, Papa. I'm sick of the Army. Alexander: No discipline, that's the problem! Michael: No, it's riddled with discipline, that's the problem. That and Poland."

"All mystical experience is coincidence; and vice versa, of course"

"An artist is the magician put among men to gratify — capriciously — their urge for immortality. The temples are built and brought down around him, continuously and contiguously, from Troy to the fields of Flanders. If there is any meaning in any of it, it is in what survives as art, yes even in the celebration of tyrants, yes even in the celebration of nonentities. What now of the Trojan War if it had been passed over by the artist's touch? Dust. A forgotten expedition prompted by Greek merchants looking for new markets. A minor redistribution of broken pots. But it is we who stand enriched, by a tale of heroes, of a golden apple, a wooden horse, a face that launched a thousand ships — and above all, of Ulysses, the wanderer, the most human, the most complete of all heroes — husband, father, son, lover, farmer, soldier, pacifist, politician, inventor and adventurer."

"Art cannot be subordinate to its subject, otherwise it is not art but biography."

"An essentially private man who wished his total indifference to public notice to be universally recognized."

"And for the last three minutes on the wind of a windless day I have heard the sound of drums and flute..."

"Bakunin: Act first! The ideas will follow, and if not — well, it's progress"

"Audiences know what to expect, and that is all that they are prepared to believe in."

"Back in the East you can't do much without the right papers, but with the right papers you can do anything The believe in papers. Papers are power."

"Any revival in which I am involved is liable to change."

"As a playwright, you can cover a lot of waterfront without being able to hold your own against an expert in any of those areas. I have no illusions about that."

"Bakunin: Left to themselves people are noble, generous, uncorrupted, they'd create a completely new kind of society if only people weren't so blind, stupid and selfish. Herzen: Is that the same people or different people? Bakunin: The same people."

"Be happy -- if you're not even happy, what's so good about surviving?"

"Beauty is desired in order that it may be befouled; not for its own sake, but for the joy brought by the certainty of profaning it."

"Because children grow up, we think a child's purpose is to grow up. But a child's purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn't disdain what lives only for a day. It pours the whole of itself into the each moment. We don't value the lily less for not being made of flint and built to last. Life's bounty is in its flow, later is too late. Where is the song when it's been sung? The dance when it's been danced? It's only we humans who want to own the future, too. We persuade ourselves that the universe is modestly employed in unfolding our destination. We note the haphazard chaos of history by the day, by the hour, but there is something wrong with the picture. Where is the unity, the meaning, of nature's highest creation? Surely those millions of little streams of accident and willfulness have their correction in the vast underground river which, without a doubt, is carrying us to the place where we're expected! But there is no such place, that's why it's called utopia. The death of a child has no more meaning than the death of armies, of nations. Was the child happy while he lived? That is a proper question, the only question. If we can't arrange our own happiness, it's a conceit beyond vulgarity to arrange the happiness of those who come after us."

"Before Plato could describe love, the loved one had to be invented. We would never love anybody if we could see past our invention. Bosie is my creation, my poem. In the mirror of invention, love discovered itself."

"Bennett seems to be showing alarming signs of irony. I have always found that irony among the lower orders is the first sign of an awakening social consciousness. It remains to be seen whether it will grow into an armed seizure of the means of production, distribution and exchange, or spend itself in liberal journalism."

"Better a fallen rocket than never a burst of light."

"Buddy Holly was twenty-two. Think of what he might have gone on to achieve. I mean, if Beethoven had been killed in a plane crash at twenty-two, the history of music would have been very different. As would the history of aviation, of course."

"Belinsky: 'Who is this Moloch that eats his children?' Herzen: 'It's the Ginger Cat."

"Between "just desserts" and "tragic irony" we are given quite a lot of scope for our particular talent. Generally speaking, things have gone about as far as they can possibly go when things have got about as bad as they reasonably get."

"Carnal embrace is sexual congress, which is the insertion of the male genital organ into the female genital organ for purposes of procreation and pleasure. Fermat’s last theorem, by contrast, asserts that when x, y and z are whole numbers each raised to power of n, the sum of the first two can never equal the third when n is greater than 2."

"Chater: You dare to call me that. I demand satisfaction! Septimus: Mrs Chater demanded satisfaction and now you are demanding satisfaction. I cannot spend my time day and night satisfying the demands of the Chater family."

"Chater: You insulted my wife in the gazebo yesterday evening! Septimus: You are mistaken. I made love to your wife in the gazebo. She asked me to meet her there, I have her note somewhere, I dare say I could find it for you, and if someone is putting it about that I did not turn up, by God, sir, it is a slander."

"Can't you function unless you're losing?"

"Confession is an act of violence against the unoffending."

"Carnal embrace is the practice of throwing one's arms around a side of beef."

"Comparing what we're looking for misses the point. It's wanting to know that makes us matter. Otherwise we're going out the way we came in. That's why you can't believe in the afterlife, Valentine. Believe in the after, by all means, but not the life. Believe in God, the soul, the spirit, the infinite, believe in angels if you like, but not in the great celestial get-together for an exchange of views. If the answers are in the back of the book I can wait, but what a drag. Better to struggle on knowing that failure is final."

"Death followed by eternity the worst of both worlds. It is a terrible thought."