Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Thomas Carlyle

Scottish Essayist, Historian, Biographer and Philosopher

"Today is not yesterday.-We ourselves change.-How then, can our works and thoughts, if they are always to be the fittest, continue always the same.-Change, indeed, is painful, yet ever needful; and if memory have its force and worth, so also has hope."

"Trust not the heart of that man for whom old clothes are not venerable."

"Truth, I cried, though the heavens crush me for following her; no falsehood, though a whole celestial Lubberland were the price of apostasy!"

"Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better. Silence is deep as Eternity; speech is shallow as Time."

"Unity, agreement, is always silent or soft-voiced; it is only discord that loudly proclaims itself."

"Venerable to me is the hard hand,--crooked, coarse,--wherein, notwithstanding, lies a cunning virtue, indispensably royal as of the sceptre of the planet."

"Virtue is, like health, the harmony of the whole man."

"Violence does even justice unjustly."

"Vain hope, to make people happy by politics!"

"We arc the miracle of miracles, the great inscrutable mystery of God."

"Variety is the condition of harmony."

"War is a quarrel between two thieves too cowardly to fight their own battle; therefore they take boys from one village and another village, stick them into uniforms, equip them with guns, and let them loose like wild beasts against one other."

"We are firm believers in the maxim that for all right judgment of any man or thing it is useful, nay, essential, to see his good qualities before pronouncing on his bad."

"We are to remember what an umpire Nature is; what a greatness, composure of depth and tolerance there is in her. You take wheat to cast into the Earth's bosom; your wheat may be mixed with chaff, chopped straw, barn-sweepings, dust and all imaginable rubbish; no matter: you cast it into the kind just Earth; she grows the wheat, — the whole rubbish she silently absorbs, shrouds it in, says nothing of the rubbish. The yellow wheat is growing there; the good Earth is silent about all the rest, — has silently turned all the rest to some benefit too, and makes no complaint about it! So everywhere in Nature! She is true and not a lie; and yet so great, and just, and motherly in her truth. She requires of a thing only that it be genuine of heart; she will protect it if so; will not, if not so. There is a soul of truth in all the things she ever gave harbor to. Alas, is not this the history of all highest Truth that comes or ever came into the world?"

"We are to take no counsel with flesh and blood; give ear to no vain cavils, vain sorrows and wishes; to know that we know nothing, that the worst and cruelest to our eyes is not what it seems, that we have to receive whatsoever befalls us as sent from God above, and say, It is good and wise,--God is great! Though He slay me, yet I trust in Him. Islam means, in its way, denial of self. This is yet the highest wisdom that heaven has revealed to our earth."

"We call it a Society; and go about professing openly the totalest separation, isolation. Our life is not a mutual helpfulness; but rather, cloaked under due laws-of-war, named fair competition and so forth, it is a mutual hostility."

"We do everything by custom, even believe by it; our very axioms, let us boast of free-thinking as we may, are oftenest simply such beliefs as we have never heard questioned."

"We have not read an author till we have seen his object, whatever it may be, as he saw it."

"We cannot look forward to our goal looms lackluster, but we must finish between our work and clear."

"We have chosen Mahomet not as the most eminent Prophet; but as the one we are freest to speak of. He is by no means the truest of Prophets; but I do esteem him a true one. Farther, as there is no danger of our becoming, any of us, Mahometans, I mean to say all the good of him I justly can. It is the way to get at his secret: let us try to understand what he meant with the world; what the world meant and means with him, will then be a more answerable question. Our current hypothesis about Mahomet, that he was a scheming Impostor, a Falsehood incarnate, that his religion is a mere mass of quackery and fatuity, begins really to be now untenable to any one. The lies, which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man, are disgraceful to ourselves only."

"We have our little theory on all human and divine things. Poetry, the workings of genius itself, which, in all times, with one or another meaning, has been called Inspiration, and held to be mysterious and inscrutable, is no longer without its scientific exposition. The building of the lofty rhyme is like any other masonry or bricklaying: we have theories of its rise, height, decline and fall -- which latter, it would seem, is now near, among all people."

"We must get rid of fear."

"We see not our own backs."

"We have oftener than once endeavoured to attach some meaning to that aphorism, vulgarly imputed to Shaftesbury, which however we can find nowhere in his works, that ridicule is the test of truth."

"We have not the love of greatness, but the love of the love of greatness."

"We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality."

"We were wise indeed, could we discern truly the signs of our own time; and by knowledge of its wants and advantages, wisely adjust our own position in it. Let us, instead of gazing idly into the obscure distance, look calmly around us, for a little, on the perplexed scene where we stand. Perhaps, on a more serious inspection, something of its perplexity will disappear, some of its distinctive characters and deeper tendencies more clearly reveal themselves; whereby our own relations to it, our own true aims and endeavors in it, may also become clearer."

"We touch heaven when we lay our hand on a human body! This sounds much like a mere flourish of rhetoric; but it is not so. If well meditated, it will turn out to be a scientific fact; the expression, in such words as can be had, of the actual truth of the thing. We are the miracle of miracles,--the great inscrutable mystery of God. We cannot understand it, we know not how to speak of it; but we may feel and know, if we like, that it is verily so."

"We will not praise Mahomet's moral precepts as always of the superfinest sort; yet it can be said that there is always a tendency to good in them; that they are the true dictates of a heart aiming towards what is just and true"

"Well might the ancients make silence a god; for it is the element of all godhood, infinitude, or transcendental greatness,--at once the source and the ocean wherein all such begins and ends."

"What gained we, little moth? Thy ashes, Thy one brief parting pang may show: And withering thoughts for soul that dashes, From deep to deep, are but a death more slow."

"What greater calamity can fall upon a nation than the loss of worship."

"Weak eyes are fondest of glittering objects."

"What are your historical Facts; still more your biographical? Wilt thou know a man by stringing-together beadrolls of what thou namest Facts?"

"What a wretched thing is all fame! A renown of the highest sort endures, say, for two thousand years. And then? Why, then, a fathomless eternity swallows it. Work for eternity; not the meagre rhetorical eternity of the periodical critics, but for the real eternity wherein dwelleth the Divine."

"What is all Knowledge too but recorded Experience, and a product of History; of which, therefore, Reasoning and Belief, no less than Action and Passion, are essential materials?"

"What the light of your mind, which is the direct inspiration of the Almighty, pronounces incredible, that, in God's name, leave uncredited. At your peril do not try believing that!"

"What unknown seas of feeling lie in man, and will from time to time break through!"

"What is nature? Art thou not the living government of God? O Heaven, is it in very deed He then that ever speaks through thee,--that lives and loves in thee, that lives and loves in me?"

"What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books."

"What we might call, by way of Eminence, the Dismal Science."

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do that with all thy might and leave the issues calmly to God."

"When I gaze into the stars, they look down upon me with pity from their serene and silent spaces, like eyes glistening with tears over the little lot of man. Thousands of generations, all as noisy as our own, have been swallowed up by time, and there remains no record of them any more. Yet Arcturus and Orion, Sirius and Pleiades, are still shining in their courses, clear and young, as when the shepherd first noted them in the plain of Shinar!"

"When we can drain the Ocean into mill-ponds, and bottle up the Force of Gravity, to be sold by retail, in gas jars; then may we hope to comprehend the infinitudes of man's soul under formulas of Profit and Loss; and rule over this too, as over a patent engine, by checks, and valves, and balances."

"What you see, but can't see over is as good as infinite."

"When words leave off, music begins."

"Who is there that, in logical words, can express the effect music has on us? A kind of inarticulate, unfathomable speech, which leads us to the edge of the Infinite and lets us for moments gaze into that!"

"When new turns of behavior cease to appear in the life of the individual, its behavior ceases to be intelligent."

"When you can do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world."

"Whoever has sixpence is sovereign over all men,--to the extent of the sixpence; commands cooks to feed him, philosophers to teach him, kings to mount guard over him,--to the extent of sixpence."