Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Walter Bagehot

English Economist, Critic, Businessman, Essayist, Social Darwinist and Journalist who wrote extensively about Literature, Government and Economic Affairs

"It is good to be without vices, but it is not good to be without temptations."

"Nothing is more unpleasant than a virtuous person with a mean mind."

"So long as there are earnest believers in the world, they will always wish to punish opinions, even if their judgment tells them it is unwise, and their conscience that is wrong."

"The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do."

"Public opinion is a permeating influence, and it exacts obedience to itself; it requires us to think other men's thoughts, to speak other men's words, to follow other men's habits."

"An inability to stay quiet... is one of the most conspicuous failings of mankind."

"One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea."

"Strong beliefs win strong men, and then make them stronger."

"The reason so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know something."

"There seems to be an unalterable contradiction between the human mind and its employments. How can a soul be a merchant? What relation to an immortal being have the price of linseed, the tare on tallow, or the brokerage on hemp? Can an undying creature debit petty expenses and charge for carriage paid? The soul ties its shoes; the mind washes its hands in a basin. All is incongruous."

"What we opprobriously call stupidity... is nature's favourite resource for preserving steadiness of conduct and consistency of opinion."

"The whole history of civilization is strewn with creeds and institutions which were invaluable at first and deadly afterwards."

"The whole history of civilization is strewn with creeds and institutions which were invaluable at first, and deadly afterward."

"A great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do."

"A bureaucracy is sure to think that its duty is to augment official power, official business, or official members, rather than to leave free the energies of mankind; it overdoes the quantity of government, as well as impairs its quality. The truth is, that a skilled bureaucracy is, though it boasts of an appearance of science, quite inconsistent with the true principles of the art of business."

"A cabinet is a combining committee, - a hyphen which joins, a buckle which fastens, the legislative part of the state to the executive part of the state. In its origin it belongs to the one, in its functions it belongs to the other."

"A constitutional statesman is in general a man of common opinions and uncommon abilities."

"A democratic despotism is like a theocracy: it assumes its own correctness."

"A family on the throne is an interesting idea. It brings down the pride of sovereignty to the level of petty life."

"A highly developed moral nature joined to an undeveloped intellectual nature, an undeveloped artistic nature, and a very limited religious nature, is of necessity repulsive. It represents a bit of human nature — a good bit, of course, but a bit only — in disproportionate, unnatural and revolting prominence."

"A man’s mother is his misfortune, but his wife is his fault."

"A Parliament is nothing less than a big meeting of more or less idle people."

"A political country is like an American forest; you have only to cut down the old trees, and immediately new trees come up to replace them."

"A princely marriage is the brilliant edition of a universal fact, and, as such, it rivets mankind."

"A schoolmaster should have an atmosphere of awe, and walk wonderingly, as if he was amazed at being himself."

"A severe though not unfriendly critic of our institutions said that the cure for admiring the House of Lords was to go and look at it."

"A slight daily unconscious luxury is hardly ever wanting to the dwellers in civilization; like the gentle air of a genial climate, it is a perpetual minute enjoyment."

"All the best stories in the world are but one story in reality - the story of escape. It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times, how to escape."

"All the inducements of early society tend to foster immediate action; all its penalties fall on the man who pauses; the traditional wisdom of those times was never weary of inculcating that delays are dangerous, and that the sluggish man — the man who roasteth not that which he took in hunting — will not prosper on the earth, and indeed will very soon perish out of it. And in consequence an inability to stay quiet, an irritable desire to act directly, is one of the most conspicuous failings of mankind."

"An ambassador is not simply an agent; he is also a spectacle."

"An element of exaggeration clings to the popular judgment: great vices are made greater, great virtues greater also; interesting incidents are made more interesting, softer legends more soft."

"An influential member of parliament has not only to pay much money to become such, and to give time and labour, he has also to sacrifice his mind too - at least all the characteristics part of it that which is original and most his own."

"Business is really more agreeable than pleasure: it interests the whole mind . . . but it does not look as if it did."

"But the mass of the old electors did not analyze very much: they liked to have one of their betters to represent them; if he was rich they respected him much; and if he was a lord, they liked him the better. The issue put before these electors was, which of two rich people will you choose? And each of those rich people was put forward by great parties whose notions were the notions of the rich — whose plans were their plans. The electors only selected one or two wealthy men to carry out the schemes of one or two wealthy associations."

"Civilized ages inherit the human nature which was victorious in barbarous ages, and that nature is, in many respects, not at all suited to civilized circumstances."

"Conquest is the missionary of valor, and the hard impact of military virtues beats meanness out of the world."

"Credit means that a certain confidence is given, and a certain trust reposed. Is that trust justified? and is that confidence wise? These are the cardinal questions. To put it more simply credit is a set of promises to pay; will those promises be kept?"

"Don't worry about life, you're not going to survive it anyway."

"Dullness in matters of government is a good sign, and not a bad one - in particular, dullness in parliamentary government is a test of its excellence, an indication of its success."

"Free government is self-government. A government of the people by the people. The best government of this sort is that which the people think best."

"He believes, with all his heart and soul and strength, that there is such a thing as truth; he has the soul of a martyr with the intellect of an advocate."

"History is strewn with the wrecks of nations which have gained a little progressiveness at the cost of a great deal of hard manliness, and have thus prepared themselves for destruction as soon as the movements of the world gave a chance for it."

"Honor sinks where commerce long prevails."

"I started out by believing God for a newer car than the one I was driving. I started out believing God for a nicer apartment than I had. Then I moved up."

"I wish the art of benefiting men had kept pace with the art of destroying them; for though war has become slow, philanthropy has remained hasty. The most melancholy of human reflections, perhaps, is that, on the whole, it is a question whether the, benevolence of mankind does most good or harm. Great good, no doubt, philanthropy does, but then it also does great evil. It augments so much vice, it multiplies so much suffering, it brings to life such great populations to suffer and to be vicious, that it is open to argument whether it be or be not an evil to the world, and this is entirely because excellent people fancy that they can do much by rapid action — that they will most benefit the world when they most relieve their own feelings; that as soon as an evil is seen something ought to be done to stay and prevent it."

"If you have to prove you are worthy of credit, your credit is already gone."

"In early times every sort of advantage tends to become a military advantage; such is the best way, then, to keep it alive. But the Jewish advantage never did so; beginning in religion, contrary to a thousand analogies, it remained religious."

"In every particular state of the world, those nations which are strongest tend to prevail over the others; and in certain marked peculiarities the strongest tend to be the best."

"In excited states of the public mind they have scarcely a discretion at all; the tendency of the public perturbation determines what shall and what shall not be dealt with. But, upon the other hand, in quiet times statesmen have great power; when there is no fire lighted, they can settle what fire shall be lit. And as the new suffrage is happily to be tried in a quiet time, the responsibility of our statesmen is great because their power is great too."

"In my youth I hoped to do great things; now I shall be satisfied to get through without scandal."