Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Sinclair Lewis, fully Harry Sinclair Lewis

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

"That’s a swell line of baggage, all right – one toothbrush, a change of socks, and ninety-seven thousand books."

"The author says one character's definition of a classic is any book he'd heard of before he was thirty."

"The cocktail filled him with a whirling exhilaration behind which he was aware of devastating desires—to rush places in fast motors, to kiss girls, to sing, to be witty. ... He perceived that he had gifts of profligacy which had been neglected."

"The content of his theology was that there was a supreme being who had tried to make us perfect, but presumably had failed; that if one was a Good Man he would go to a place called Heaven... Upon this theology he rarely pondered. The kernel of his practical religion was that it was respectable, and beneficial to one's business, to be seen going to services; that the church kept the Worst Elements from being still worse; and that the pastor's sermons, however dull they might seem at the time of taking, yet had a voodooistic power which 'did a fellow good — kept him in touch with higher things.'"

"The dinner was the best style of women's-magazine art, whereby the salad was served in hollowed apples, and everything but the invincible fried chicken resembled something else."

"The doctor asserted, 'Sure religion is a fine influence — got to have it to keep the lower classes in order — fact, it's the only thing that appeals to a lot of these fellows and makes 'em respect the rights of property. And I guess this theology is O.K.; lot of wise old coots figured it out, and they knew more about it than we do.' He believed in the Christian religion, and never thought about it; he believed in the church, and seldom went near it; he was shocked by Carol's lack of faith, and wasn't quite sure what was the nature of the faith that she lacked. Carol herself was an uneasy and dodging agnostic. When she ventured to Sunday School and heard the teachers droning that the genealogy of Shamsherai was a valuable ethical problem for children to think about; when she experimented with the Wednesday prayer-meeting and listened to store-keeping elders giving unvarying weekly testimony in primitive erotic symbols and such gory Chaldean phrases as 'washed in the blood of the lamb' and 'a vengeful God...' then Carol was dismayed to find the Christian religion, in America, in the twentieth century, as abnormal as Zoroastrianism — without the splendor. But when she went to church suppers a felt the friendliness, saw the gaiety with which the sisters served cold ham and scalloped potatoes; when Mrs. Champ Perry cried to her, on an afternoon call, 'My dear, if you just knew how happy it makes you to come into abiding grace,' then Carol found the humanness behind the sanguinary and alien theology."

"The driver of the wagon swaying through forest and swamp of the Ohio wilderness was a ragged girl of fourteen."

"The game (baseball) was a custom of his clan, and it gave outlet for the homicidal and sides-taking instincts which Babbitt called patriotism and love of sport."

"The grateful savants had accepted, and they were spending the rest of their lives reading fifteenth-hand opinions, taking pleasant naps, and drooling out to yawning students the anemic and wordy bookishness which they called learning."

"The greatest mystery about a human being is not his reaction to sex or praise, but the manner in which he contrives to put in twenty-four hours a day. It is this which puzzles the longshoreman about the clerk, the Londoner about the bushman."

"The Maker of the universe with stars a hundred thousand light-years apart was interested, furious, and very personal about it if a small boy played baseball on Sunday afternoon."

"The men leaned back on their heels, put their hands in their trouser-pockets, and proclaimed their views with the booming profundity of a prosperous male repeating a thoroughly hackneyed statement about a matter of which he knows nothing whatever."

"The middle class, that prisoner of the barbarian 20th century."

"The more the Dakota have to do with the white, the worse. The whites give him whiskey to get his furs and bimeby he don't want to trap so many furst but he want plenty more whiskey. The white traders take his girl, and all he get in swap is a disease. They take his land, and all he get is a leetle annuity so he don't do any work and starve slow. The Indian gets white man's gun an he is drunk and kill his own brother and they call him sinful. That's what he get from the white man— fine kettle, fine gun, fine blanket, the big pox, the small pox and religion."

"The outhouse was so overmodestly masked with vines and lattice that it was not concealed at all. The greatest mystery about a human being is not his reaction to sex or praise, but the manner in which he contrives to put in twenty-four hours a day. It is this which puzzles the longshoreman about the clerk, the Londoner about the bushman."

"The poor we have always with us, and the purpose of the Lord in providing the poor is to enable us of the better classes to amuse ourselves by investigating them and uplifting them and at dinners telling how charitable we are. The poor don't like it much. They have no gratitude. They would rather be uplifters themselves. But if they are taken firmly in hand they can be kept reasonably dependent and interesting for years."

"The reason for it all, nobody who is actually engaged in it can tell you, except the bosses, who believe that these sacred rites of composing dull letters and solemnly filing them away are observed in order that they may buy the large automobiles in which they do not have time to take the air."

"The Reverend Elmer Gantry was reading an illustrated pink periodical devoted to prize fighters and chorus girls in his room at Elizabeth J. Schmutz Hall late of an afternoon when two large men walked in without knocking. Why, good evening, Brother Bains—Brother Naylor! This is a pleasant surprise. I was, uh— Did you ever see this horrible rag? About actoresses. An invention of the devil himself. I was thinking of denouncing it next Sunday. I hope you never read it—won't you sit down, gentlemen?—take this chair— I hope you never read it, Brother Floyd, because the footsteps of—"

"The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods."

"The trouble with this country is that there are too many people going about saying, "The trouble with this country is...”"

"There are dozens of young poets and fictioneers most of them a little insane in the tradition of James Joyce, who, however insane they may be, have refused to be genteel and traditional and dull."

"There are two races of people, only two, and they live side by side. His calls mine 'neurotic'; mine calls his 'stupid'."

"There had to be one man in town independent enough to sass the banker!"

"There was much conversation, most of which sounded like the rest of it."

"There’s no stronger bulwark of sound conservatism than the evangelical church, and no better place to make friends who’ll help you to gain your rightful place in the community than in your own church-home!"

"They all had the same ideas and expressed them always with the same ponderous and brassy assurance. If it was not Babbitt who was delivering any given verdict, at least he was beaming on the chancellor who did deliver it."

"They decided now, talking it over in their tight little two-and-quarter room flat, that most people who call themselves 'truth seekers' - persons who scurry about chattering of Truth as though it were a tangible separable thing, like houses or salt or bread - did not so much desire to find Truth as to cure their mental itch. In novels, these truth-seekers quested the 'secret of life' in laboratories which did not seem to be provided with Bunsen flames or reagents; or they went, at great expense and much discomfort from hot trains and undesirable snakes, to Himalayan monasteries, to learn from unaseptic sages that the Mind can do all sorts of edifying things if one will but spend thirty or forty years in eating rice and gazing on one's navel. To these high matters Martin responded, 'Rot!' He insisted that there is no Truth but only many truths; that Truth is not a colored bird to be chased among the rocks and captured by its tail, but a skeptical attitude toward life."

"They were newly rich contractors who, having bought houses, motors, hand-painted pictures, and gentlemanliness, were now buying a refined ready-made philosophy. It had been a tossup with them whether to buy New Thought, Christian Science, or a good standard high-church model of Episcopalianism. 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."

"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 mushrooms are as edible as corn-beef hash; that the word dude is no longer frequently used; that there are Ministers of the Gospel who accept evolution; that some persons of apparent intelligence and business ability do not always vote the Republican ticket straight; that it is not a universal custom to wear scratchy flannels next the skin in winter; that a violin is not inherently more immoral than a chapel organ; that some poets do not have long hair; and that Jews are not always peddlers or pants-makers."

"They've worked out elaborate charts classifying all intellectual occupations and interests, with the methods and materials and tools, and especially the goals — the aims, the ideals, the moral purposes — that are suited to each of them. Really tremendous! Why, a musician or an engineer, for example, could look at his chart and tell accurately whether he was progressing fast enough, at his age, and if not, just what his trouble was, and the remedy."

"Think how much better it is to criticize conventional customs if you yourself live up to them, scrupulously. Then people can't say you're attacking them to excuse your own infractions. Yes, I've heard that plea... To word it differently, 'You must live up to the popular code if you believe in it; but if you don't believe in it, then you must live up to it!'"

"This age, which should adjudge happiness to be as valuable as soap or munitions, would never come so long as the workers accepted the testimony of paid spokesmen... to the effect that they were contented and happy, rather than the evidence of their own wincing nerves to the effect that they live in a polite version of hell."

"Though Frank Shallard might have come to admire pictures, great music, civilized furniture, he had been trained to regard them as worldly, and to content himself with art which 'presented a message,' to regard 'Les Miserables' as superior because the bishop was a kind man, and 'The Scarlet Letter' as a poor book because the heroine was sinful and the author didn't mind."

"Thus Carol hit upon the tragedy of old age, which is not that it is less vigorous than youth, but that it is not needed by youth."

"To a true-blue professor of literature in an American university, literature is not something that a plain human being, living today, painfully sits down to produce. No; it is something dead."

"To one who had never made more than five thousand a year himself, it was inspiring to explain before dozens of popeyed and admiring morons how they could make ten thousand — fifty thousand — a million a year, and all this by the Wonder Power of Suggestion, by Aggressive Personality, by the Divine Rhythm, in fact by merely releasing the Inner Self-shine."

"Under a tyranny, most friends are a liability. One quarter of them turn "reasonable" and become your enemies, one quarter are afraid to speak, and one quarter are killed and you die with them. But the blessed are the final quarter keep you alive."

"War is a horrible thing, to be prevented as far as possible."

"We have the power to bore people long after we are dead."

"We'd get sick on too many cookies, but ever so much sicker on no cookies at all."

"Well, if that’s what you call being at peace, for heaven’s sake just warn me before you go to war, will you?"

"What are these unheard of sins you condemn so much - and like so well?"

"What had he learned? Enough Hebrew and Greek to be able to crawl through the Bible by using lexicons — so that, like all his classmates once they were out of the seminary, he always read it in English. A good many of the more condemnatory texts of the Bible — rather less than the average Holy Roller carpenter-evangelist. The theory that India and Africa have woes because they are not Christianized, but that Christianized Bangor and Des Moines have woes because the devil, a being obviously more potent than omnipotent God, sneaks around counteracting the work of Baptist preachers."

"What I fight in Zenith is the standardization of thought, and, of course, the traditions of competition. The real villains of the piece are the clean, kind, industrious Family Men who use every known brand of trickery and cruelty to insure the prosperity of their cubs. The worst thing about these fellows is that they're so good and, in their work at least, so intelligent. You can't hate them properly, and yet their standardized minds are the enemy."

"What is Love — the divine Love of which the—the great singer teaches us in Proverbs? It is the rainbow that comes after the dark cloud. It is the morning star and it is also the evening star, those being, as you all so well know, the brightest stars we know. It shines upon the cradle of the little one and when life has, alas, departed, to come no more, you find it still around the quiet tomb. What is it inspires all great men—be they preachers or patriots or great business men? What is it, my brethren, but Love? Ah, it fills the world with melody, with such sacred melodies as we have just indulged in together, for what is music? What, my friends, is music? Ah, what indeed is music but the voice of Love! - Elmer Gantry's famous speech"

"What is love? It is the morning and the evening star."

"Whatever poet, orator or sage may say of it, old age is still old age."

"Whatever the misery, he could not regain contentment with a world which, once doubted, became absurd."

"When America becomes a military autocracy, she will be Lady Carter or the Countess of Grimsby."

"When audiences come to see us authors lecture, it is largely in the hope that we'll be funnier to look at than to read."