Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Thomas Carlyle

Scottish Essayist, Historian, Biographer and Philosopher

"Sarcasm is the language of the devil, for which reason I have long since as good as renounced it."

"Sarcasm: intellect on the offensive."

"Scarcely two hundred years back can Fame recollect articulately at all; and there she but maunders and mumbles."

"Skepticism, as I said, is not intellectual only; it is moral also; a chronic atrophy and disease of the whole soul. A man lives by believing something; not by debating and arguing about many things. A sad case for him when all that he can manage to believe is something he can button in his pocket, and with one or the other organ eat and digest! Lower than that he will not get."

"Secrecy is the element of all goodness; even virtue, even beauty is mysterious."

"Science must have originated in the feeling that something was wrong."

"Shakespeare says, we are creatures that look before and after; the more surprising that we do not look round a little, and see what is passing under our very eyes."

"Show me the man you honor, and I will know what kind of a man you are, for it shows me what your ideal of manhood is, and what kind of a man you long to be."

"Should anyone attempt to deceive you by false expressions, and not be a true friend at heart, act in the same manner, and thus art will defeat art. [If you would catch a man let him think he is catching you.]"

"Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together; that at length they may emerge, full-formed and majestic, into the daylight of Life, which they are thenceforth to rule. Not William the Silent only, but all the considerable men I have known, and the most undiplomatic and unstrategic of these, forbore to babble of what they were creating and projecting. Nay, in thy own mean perplexities, do thou thyself but hold thy tongue for one day: on the morrow, how much clearer are thy purposes and duties; what wreck and rubbish have those mute workmen within thee swept away, when intrusive noises were shut out! Speech is too often not, as the Frenchman defined it, the art of concealing Thought; but of quite stifling and suspending Thought, so that there is none to conceal. Speech too is great, but not the greatest. As the Swiss Inscription says: Sprecfien ist silbern, Schweigen ist golden (Speech is silvern, Silence is golden); or as I might rather express it: Speech is of Time, Silence is of Eternity."

"Silence, the great Empire of Silence: higher than all stars; deeper than the Kingdom of Death! It alone is great; all else is small."

"Silence is the eternal duty of man."

"Silence is as deep as eternity, speech a shallow as time."

"Sometimes when reading Goethe I have the paralyzing suspicion that he is trying to be funny."

"Song is the heroics of speech."

"So here hath been dawning Another blue day; Think, wilt thou let it Slip useless away? Out of eternity This new day is born, Into eternity At night will return."

"Some comfort it would have been, could I, like a Faust, have fancied myself tempted and tormented of the Devil; for a Hell, as I imagine, without Life, though only Diabolic Life, were more frightful: but in our age of Downpulling and Disbelief, the very Devil has been pulled down, you cannot so much as believe in a Devil. To me the Universe was all void of Life, of Purpose, of Volition, even of Hostility: it was one huge, dead, immeasurable Steam-engine, rolling on, in its dead indifference, to grind me limb from limb."

"Speak not at all, in any wise, till you have somewhat to speak; care not for the reward of your speaking, but simply and with undivided mind for the truth of your speaking."

"Speech is human, silence is divine, yet also brutish and dead: therefore we must learn both arts."

"Speech is great; but silence is greater."

"Speech is the art of stifling and suspending thought."

"Stern accuracy in inquiring, bold imagination in describing, these are the cogs on which history soars or flutters and wobbles."

"Speech is silvern, silence is golden."

"Surely of all ‘rights of man’, this right of the ignorant man to be guided by the wiser, to be, gently or forcibly, held in the true course by him, is the indisputablest."

"Supply-and-demand, -- alas! For what noble work was there ever yet any audible demand in that poor sense? The man of Macedonia, speaking in vision to the Apostle Paul, Come over and help us, did not specify what rate of wages he would give."

"Superstition! that horrid incubus which dwelt in darkness, shunning the light, with all its racks, and poison chalices, and foul sleeping draughts, is passing away without return. Religion cannot pass away. The burning of a little straw may hide the stars of the sky; but the stars are there and will reappear."

"Such is the world. Understand it, despise it, love it; cheerfully hold on thy way through it, with thy eye on highest loadstars."

"Talk that does not end in any kind of action is better suppressed altogether."

"That a parliament, especially a Parliament with Newspaper Reporters firmly established in it, is an entity which by its very nature cannot do work, but can do talk only"

"That great mystery of Time, were there no other; the illimitable, silent, never-resting thing called Time, rolling, rushing on, swift, silent, like an all-embracing ocean tide, on which we and all the Universe swim like exhalations, like apparitions which are, and then are not: this is forever very literally a miracle; a thing to strike us dumb,--for we have no word to speak about it."

"Teaching school is but another word for sure and not very slow destruction."

"Sweep away the illusion of Time; glance, if thou have eyes, from the near moving-cause to the far-distant Mover. The stroke that came transmitted through a whole galaxy of elastic balls, was it less a stroke than if the last ball only had been struck, and sent flying? Oh, could I transport thee direct from the Beginnings to the Endings, how were thy eyesight unsealed, and thy heart set flaming in the Light-sea of celestial wonder! Then sawest thou that this fair Universe, were it in the meanest province thereof, is in very deed the star-domed City of God; that through every star, through every grass-blade, and most through every Living Soul, the glory of a present God still beams. But Nature, which is the Time-vesture of God and reveals Him to the wise, hides Him from the foolish."

"Teach a parrot the terms 'supply and demand' and you've got an economist."

"The Age of Miracles past? The Age of Miracles is forever here!"

"The actual well seen is ideal."

"The all-importance of clothes has sprung up in the intellect of the dandy, without effort, like an instinct of genius: he is inspired with cloth-a poet of clothing."

"The All of Things is an infinite conjugation of the verb To do."

"The all importance of clothes has sprung up in the intellect of the dandy without effort, like an instinct of genius; he is inspired with clothes, a poet of clothes."

"The archenemy is the arch stupid!"

"The best way to keep good acts in memory is to refresh them with new."

"The barrenest of all mortals is the sentimentalist"

"The battle that never ends is the battle of belief against disbelief"

"The Book had in a high degree excited us to self-activity, which is the best effect of any book."

"The beaten paths of literature lead safeliest to the goal, and the talent pleases us most which submits to shine with new gracefulness through old forms.-Nor is the noblest and most peculiar mind too noble or peculiar for working by prescribed laws."

"The chambers of the East are opened in every land, and the sun come forth to sow the earth with orient pearl. Night, the ancient mother, follows him with her diadem of stars. * * * Bright creatures! how they gleam like spirits through the shadows of innumerable eyes from their thrones in the boundless depths of heaven."

"The built house seems all so fit,- everyway as it should be, as if it came there by its own law and the nature of things,- we forget the rude disorderly quarry it was shaped from. The very perfection of the house, as if Nature herself had made it, hides the builder's merit. Perfect, more perfect than any other man, we may call Shakespeare in this: he discerns, knows as by instinct, what condition he works under, what his materials are, what his own force and its relation to them is. It is not a transitory glance of insight that will suffice; it is deliberate illumination of the whole matter; it is a calmly seeing eye; a great intellect, in short. How a man, of some wide thing that he has witnessed, will construct a narrative, what kind of picture and delineation he will give of it,- is the best measure you could get of what intellect is in the man. Which circumstance is vital and shall stand prominent; which unessential, fit to be suppressed; where is the true beginning, the true sequence and ending? To find out this, you task the whole force of insight that is in the man. He must understand the thing; according to the depth of his understanding, will the fitness of his answer be."

"The choking, sweltering, deadly, and killing rule of no rule; the consecration of cupidity and braying of folly, and dim stupidity and baseness, in most of the affairs of men. Slopshirts attainable three-halfpence cheaper by the ruin of living bodies and immortal souls."

"The civil authority, or that part of it which remained faithful to their trust and true to the ends of the covenant, did, in answer to their consciences, turn out a tyrant, in a way which the Christians in aftertimes will mention with honor, and all tyrants in the world look at with fear."

"The coldest word was once a glowing new metaphor."

"The condition of the most passionate enthusiast is to be preferred over the individual who, because of the fear of making a mistake, won't in the end affirm or deny anything."