Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Samuel Butler

English Poet, Novelist, Scholar, Translator

"How is it, I wonder, that all religious officials, from God the Father to the parish beadle, should be so arbitrary and exacting."

"Human life is as evanescent as the morning dew or a flash of lightning."

"I am not now in fortune's power: He that is down can fall no lower."

"I am not sure that I do not begin to like the correction of a mistake, even when it involves my having shown much ignorance and stupidity, as well as I like hitting on a new idea."

"I believe that he was really sorry that people would not believe he was sorry that he was not more sorry."

"I can generally bear the separation, but I don't like the leave-taking."

"I care about truth, not for truth's sake but for my own."

"I consider being ill as one of the great pleasures of life, provided one is not too ill."

"I do not like books. I believe I have the smallest library of any literary man in London, and I have no wish to increase it. I keep my books at the British Museum and at Mudie's, and it makes me very angry if anyone gives me one for my private library."

"I do not mind lying, but I hate inaccuracy."

"I doubt whether any angel would find me very entertaining. As for myself, if ever I do entertain one it will have to be unawares. When people entertain others without an introduction they generally turn out more like devils than angels."

"I'll make the fur Fly 'bout the ears of the old cur."

"I never knew a writer yet who took the smallest pains with his style and was at the same time readable."

"I really do not see much use in exalting the humble and meek; they do not remain humble and meek long when they are exalted."

"I reckon being ill as one of the great pleasures of life, provided one is not too ill and is not obliged to work till one is better."

"I said to him one day that the very slender reward which God had attached to the pursuit of serious inquiry was a sufficient proof that He disapproved of it, or at any rate that he did not set much store by it nor wish to encourage it."

"I should like to like Schumann’s music better than I do; I dare say I could make myself like it better if I tried; but I do not like having to try to make myself like things; I like things that make me like them at once and no trying at all."

"I should not advise anyone with ordinary independence of mind to attempt the public ear unless he is confident that he can out-lung and out-last his own generation; for if he has any force, people will and ought to be on their guard against him, inasmuch as there is no knowing where he may not take them."

"I went to the Bach Choir concert and heard Mozart's Requiem. I did not rise warmly to it. Then I heard an extract from Parsifal which I disliked very much. If Bach wriggles, Wagner writhes..."

"Ideas and opinions, like living organisms, have a normal rate of growth which cannot be either checked or forced beyond a certain point. They can be held in check more safely than they can be hurried. They can also be killed; and one of the surest ways to kill them is to try to hurry them."

"Ideas are like shadows — substantial enough until we try to grasp them."

"If a man has not studied painting, or at any rate black and white drawing, his eyes are wild; learning to draw tames them. The first step towards taming the eyes is to teach them not to see too much."

"If a man would get hold of the public era, he must pay, marry, or fight"

"If a person would understand either the Odyssey or any other ancient work, he must never look at the dead without seeing the living in them, nor at the living without thinking of the dead. We are too fond of seeing the ancients as one thing and the moderns as another."

"If an art student is to do any good, his development will epitomize the history of painting."

"If God wants us to do a thing, he should make his wishes sufficiently clear. Sensible people will wait till he has done this before paying much attention to him."

"If I die prematurely, at any rate I shall be saved from being bored by my own success."

"If life must not be taken too seriously -- then so neither must death."

"If people like being deceived - and this can hardly be doubted - there can rarely have been a time during which they can have had more of the wish than now. The literary, scientific and religious worlds vie with one another in trying to gratify the public."

"If people would dare to speak to one another unreservedly, there would be a good deal less sorrow in the world a hundred years hence."

"If the headache would only precede the intoxication, alcoholism would be a virtue."

"If there is any moral in Christianity, if there is anything to be learned from it, if the whole story is not profitless from first to last, it comes to this: that a man should back his own opinion against the worlds."

"If we are asked what is the most essential characteristic that underlies this word, the word itself will guide us to gentleness, to absence of such things as brow-beating, overbearing manners and fuss, and generally to consideration for other people."

"If we attend continually and promptly to the little that we can do, we shall ere long be surprised to find how little remains that we cannot do."

"If you follow reason far enough it always leads to conclusions that are contrary to reason."

"If you tie Handel’s hands by debarring him from the rendering of human emotion, and if you set Bach’s free by giving him no human emotion to render — if, in fact, you rob Handel of his opportunities and Bach of his difficulties — the two men can fight after a fashion, but Handel will even so come off victorious."

"If, then, reason would be non-existent were there no such thing as unreason, surely it follows that the more unreason there is, the more reason there must be also? Hence the necessity for the development of unreason, even in the interests of reason herself. The Professors of Unreason deny that they undervalue reason: none can be more convinced than they are, that if the double currency cannot be rigorously deduced as a necessary consequence of human reason, the double currency should cease forthwith; but they say that it must be deduced from no narrow and exclusive view of reason which should deprive that admirable faculty of the one-half of its own existence. Unreason is a part of reason; it must therefore be allowed its full share in stating the initial conditions."

"In art, never try to find out anything, or try to learn anything until the not knowing it has come to be a nuisance to you for some time. Then you will remember it, but not otherwise. Let knowledge importune you before you will hear it. Our schools and universities go on the precisely opposite system."

"In books, it is the chief of all perfections to be plain and brief."

"In law, nothing is certain but the expense."

"In matrimony, to hesitate is sometimes to be saved."

"In old times people used to try and square the circle; now they try and devise schemes for satisfying the Irish nation."

"In the highest consciousness there is still unconsciousness, in the lowest unconsciousness there is still consciousness. If there is no consciousness there is no thing, or nothing. To understand perfectly would be to cease to understand at all."

"In the midst of vice we are in virtue, and vice versa."

"Independence is essential for permanent but fatal to immediate success."

"Inspiration is never genuine if it is known as inspiration at the time. True inspiration always steals on a person; its importance not being fully recognized for some time."

"Intellectual over-indulgence is the most gratuitous and disgraceful form which excess can take, nor is there any the consequences of which are more disastrous."

"Is life worth living? This is a question for an embryo not for a man."

"Is there any religion whose followers can be pointed to as distinctly more amiable and trustworthy than those of any other? If so, this should be enough. I find the nicest and best people generally profess no religion at all, but are ready to like the best men of all religions."

"It costs a lot of money to die comfortably."