Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

William Lyon Phelps

American College Professor of English

"A student never forgets an encouraging private word, when it is given with sincere respect and admiration."

"Education means drawing forth from the mind latent powers and developing them, so that in mature years one may apply these powers not merely to success in one's occupation, but to success in the greatest of all arts - the art of living."

"He is the happiest who thinks the happiest thoughts."

"One of the chief reasons for success in life is the ability to maintain a daily interest in one's work, to have a chronic enthusiasm, to regard each day as important."

"One of the secrets of life is to keep our intellectual curiosity acute."

"The belief that youth is the happiest time of life is founded on a fallacy. The happiest person is the person who thinks the most interesting thoughts, and we grow happier as we grow older."

"This is the final test of a gentleman: His respect for those who can be of no possible service to him."

"You can be deprived of your money, your job and your home by someone else, but remember that no none can ever take away your honor."

"Every person in the world may not become a personage. But every person may become a personality. The happiest people are those who think the most interesting thoughts. Interesting thoughts can live only in cultivated minds. Those who decide to use leisure as a means of mental development, who love good music, good books, good pictures, good plays at the theater, good company, good conversation - what are they? They are the happiest people in the world; and they are not only happy in themselves, they are the cause of happiness in others."

"No one should make a statement like "youth is the happiest time of life" without being prepared to accept its intellectual consequences."

"Religion should be the motor of life, the central heating plant of personality, the faith that gives joy to activity, hope to struggle, dignity to humility, zest to living."

"In my life of professional teaching, I have never endeavored to make young men more efficient; I have tried to make them more interesting. If one is interested, one is usually interesting. The business of a teacher is not to supply information, it is to raise a thirst. I like to hang pictures on the walls of the mind, I like to make it possible for a man to live with himself, so that he will not be bored with himself. For my own part, I live everyday as if this were the first day I had ever seen and the last I were going to see."

"Life, with all its sorrows, cares, perplexities and heartbreaks, is more interesting than bovine placidity, hence more desirable. The more interesting it is, the happier it is."

"“The happiest person is the person who thinks the most interesting thoughts.” This definition places happiness where it belongs - within and not without. The principle of happiness should be like the principle of virtue: it should not be dependent upon things, but be a part of personality."

"He is the happiest man who thinks the most interesting thoughts."

"If the happiest person is the person who thinks the most interesting thoughts, we are bound to grow happier as we advance in years, because our minds have more and more interesting thoughts. A well-ordered life is like climbing a tower; the view halfway up is better than the view from the base, and it steadily becomes finer as the horizon expands."

"A bibliophile of little means is likely to suffer often. Books don't slip from his hands but fly past him through the air, high as birds, high as prices."

"A cat pours his body on the floor like water. It is restful just to see him."

"A well-ordered life is like climbing a tower; the view halfway up is better than the view from the base, and it steadily becomes finer as the horizon expands."

"At a certain age, people's minds close up. They live on their intellectual fat."

"But in a private library, you can at any moment converse with Socrates or Shakespeare or Carlyle or Dumas or Dickens or Shaw or Barrie or Galsworthy. And there is no doubt that in these books you see these men at their best. They wrote for you. They laid themselves out, they did their ultimate best to entertain you, to make a favorable impression. You are necessary to them as an audience is to an actor; only instead of seeing them masked, you look into their innermost heart of heart."

"Everyone should begin collecting a private library in youth; the instinct of private property, which is fundamental in human beings, can here be cultivated with every advantage and no evils. One should have one's own bookshelves, which should not have doors, glass windows, or keys; they should be free and accessible to the hand as well as to the eye. The best of mural decorations is books; they are more varied in color and appearance than any wallpaper, they are more attractive in design, and they have the prime advantage of being separate personalities, so that if you sit alone in the room in the firelight, you are surrounded with intimate friends. The knowledge that they are there in plain view is both stimulating and refreshing. You do not have to read them all. Most of my indoor life is spent in a room containing six thousand books; and I have a stock answer to the invariable question that comes from strangers. "Have you read all of these books?" "Some of them twice." This reply is both true and unexpected."

"God speaks to me not through the thunder and the earthquake, nor through the ocean and the stars, but through the Son of Man, and speaks in a language adapted to my imperfect sight and hearing."

"Herein lies the real value of education. Advanced education may or may not make men and women more efficient; but it enriches personality, increases the wealth of the mind, and hence brings happiness. It is the finest insurance against old age, against the growth of physical disability, against the lack and loss of animal delights. How essential it is, then, in youth to acquire some intellectual or artistic tastes, in order to furnish the mind, to be able to live inside a mind with attractive and interesting pictures on the walls."

"I am glad my ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, but I am gladder that there are nine generations between us."

"I cannot explain to another the joy and the happiness I get out of teaching. It is more than a profession, an occupation, a vocation, a struggle; it is a passion, for I love to teach.... I love to teach as a painter loves to paint, as a singer loves to sing, and as a musician loves to play. Every strong man loves to run a race."

"I confess I cannot read without squirming those passages in ?Great Expectations? where every visitor greeted the small boy by ruffling his hair, and I think most of us can remember without any difficulty and with a flush of joy those extremely rare cases in our own childhood when some grown-up visitor treated us with real, instead of with mock, respect. It is perhaps the final test of a gentleman?his attitude toward children."

"I decided that magazine articles which are opportune will soon cease to be so. Life and conditions are changing so rapidly that the most up-to-date articles soon cease to be important."

"I divide all readers into two classes: those who read to remember and those who read to forget."

"I find daily life not always joyous, but always interesting. I have some sad days and nights, but none that are dull. As I advance deeper into the vale of years, I live with constantly increasing gusto and excitement. I am sure it all means something; in the last analysis, I am an optimist because I believe in God. Those who have no faith are quite naturally pessimists and I do not blame them."

"I had to make a personal choice as to whether I should read books or magazines and I chose books. I couldn't do both."

"I thoroughly believe in a university education for both men and women, but I believe a knowledge of the Bible without a college course is more valuable than a college course without the Bible."

"If at first you don't succeed, find out if the loser gets anything."

"If happiness truly consisted in physical ease and freedom from care, then the happiest individual would not be either a man or a woman; it would be, I think, an American cow."

"If I didn't start painting, I would have raised chickens."

"If I were running the world I would have it rain only between 2 and 5 a.m. Anyone who was out then ought to get wet."

"If you develop the absolute sense of certainty that powerful beliefs provide, then you can get yourself to accomplish virtually anything, including those things that other people are certain are impossible."

"In a start-up company, you basically throw out all assumptions every three weeks."

"It is the final test of a gentleman?his respect for those who can be of no possible service to him."

"Mrs. Phelps and myself reduce our luggage as far as books are concerned to a minimum. If there are several in the party we all read not only the same book but the same copy of it. We purchase a cheap edition and I begin reading. As soon as I finish the first two pages I tear them out and hand them to the next member of the party. The last person to read the leaf then drops it out the train window and that at the end of a day's travel we are not encumbered with the book we have all read and are ready to discuss it at dinner."

"My religious faith remains in possession of the field only after prolonged civil war with my naturally skeptical mind."

"Nature makes boys and girls lovely to look upon so they can be tolerated until they acquire some sense."

"Never try to outsmart a woman, unless you are another woman."

"People are happier, I believe when they are continually overworked at some type of work they can do and which interests them than they are merely taking care of their health. Humans can drive at tremendous pace, even over a long period of years, if they choose to drive. I run, work, and play largely by the watch and between them I have done little plain relaxing."

"Physicians have told me that I should have one day a week when I have nothing to do. I have never done this at least in the last 30 years."

"Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation."

"The amazing activity of the cat is delicately balanced by his capacity for relaxation. Every household should contain a cat, not only for decorative and domestic values, but because the cat in quiescence is medicinal to irritable, tense, tortured men and women."

"The average Englishman does not see why a stranger should accost him with jocosity - many Englishmen do not see why a stranger should accost them at all"

"The fear of life is the favorite disease of the twentieth century."

"The final test of a gentleman is his respect for those who can be of no possible service to him."