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Quotes of the day: Samuel Butler

Published Thursday, December 04, 2014 @ 11:36 PM EST
Dec 04 2014

Samuel Butler (December 4, 1835 - June 18, 1902) was an iconoclastic Victorian-era English author who published a variety of works, including the Utopian satire Erewhon and a semi-autobiographical novel published posthumously, The Way of All Flesh. He also examined Christian orthodoxy, and published substantive studies of evolutionary thought, Italian art, and works of literary history and criticism. Butler's prose translations of the Iliad and Odyssey remain in use to this day. (Click here for full Wikipedia article)


A hen is only an egg's way of making another egg.

All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it.

All men can do great things, if they know what great things are.

All progress is based upon a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income.

And when one comes to think of it, death and birth are so closely correlated that one could not destroy either without destroying the other at the same time. It is extinction that makes creation possible.

Any fool can tell the truth, but it requires a man of some sense to know how to lie well.

Cleanliness is almost as bad as godliness.

Dullness is so much stronger than genius because there is so much more of it, and it is better organised and more naturally cohesive.

Every new idea has something of the pain and peril of childbirth about it; ideas are just as mortal and just as immortal as organised beings are.

God's merits are so transcendent that it is not surprising his faults should be in reasonable proportion.

He is greatest who is most often in men's good thoughts.

Heaven is the work of the best and kindest men and women. Hell is the work of prigs, pedants and professional truth-tellers. The world is an attempt to make the best of both.

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

I do not mind lying, but I hate inaccuracy.

I find the nicest and best people generally profess no religion at all, but are ready to like the best men of all religions.

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.

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

Inspiration is never genuine if it is known as inspiration at the time.

It does not matter much what a man hates provided he hates something.

Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.

Life is one long process of getting tired.

Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.

Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims that he intends to eat until he eats them.

Man is the only animal that laughs and has a state legislature.

Memory and forgetfulness are as life and death to one another. To live is to remember and to remember is to live. To die is to forget and to forget is to die.

Men are seldom more commonplace than on supreme occasions.

Moral influence means persuading another that one can make that other more uncomfortable than that other can make oneself.

Morality is the custom of one's country and the current feeling of one's peers. Cannibalism is moral in a cannibal country.

Morality turns on whether the pleasure precedes or follows the pain.

One great reason why clergymen's households are generally unhappy is because the clergyman is so much at home or close about the house.

One of the first businesses of a sensible man is to know when he is beaten, and to leave off fighting at once.

Parents are the last people on earth who ought to have children.

People are lucky and unlucky not according to what they get absolutely, but according to the ratio between what they get and what they have been led to expect.

Silence is not always tact and it is tact that is golden, not silence.

Some men love truth so much that they seem to be in continual fear lest she should catch cold on over-exposure.

The best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way.

The difference between God and the historians consists above all in the fact that God cannot alter the past.

The extremes of vice and virtue are alike detestable; absolute virtue is as sure to kill a man as absolute vice is, let alone the dullnesses of it and the pomposities of it.

The great characters of fiction live as truly as the memories of dead men. For the life after death it is not necessary that a man or woman should have lived.

The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too.

The man who lets himself be bored is even more contemptible than the bore.

The most important service rendered by the press and the magazines is that of educating people to approach printed matter with distrust.

The Will-be and the Has-been touch us more nearly than the Is. So we are more tender towards children and old people than to those who are in the prime of life.

The world is a gambling table so arranged that all who enter the casino must play and all must lose more or less heavily in the long run, though they win occasionally by the way.

The world will, in the end, follow only those who have despised as well as served it.

There are two classes of people in this world, those who sin, and those who are sinned against; if a man must belong to either, he had better belong to the first than to the second.

There is nothing less powerful than knowledge unattached, and incapable of application. That is why what little knowledge I have has done myself personally so much harm. I do not know much, but if I knew a good deal less than that little I should be far more powerful.

There is nothing which at once affects a man so much and so little as his own death.

Think of and look at your work as though it were done by your enemy. If you look at it to admire it you are lost.

Though analogy is often misleading, it is the least misleading thing we have.

Time is the only true purgatory.

To do great work a man must be very idle as well as very industrious.

To live is like to love- all reason is against it, and all healthy instinct for it.

To try to live in posterity is to be like an actor who leaps over the footlights and talks to the orchestra.

Truth consists not in never lying but in knowing when to lie and when not to do so.

We can see nothing face to face; our utmost seeing is but a fumbling of blind finger-ends in an overcrowded pocket.

We do not know what death is. If we know so little about life which we have experienced, how shall be know about death which we have not- and in the nature of things never can?

We play out our days as we play out cards, taking them as they come, not knowing what they will be, hoping for a lucky card and sometimes getting one, often getting just the wrong one.

Words are like money; there is nothing so useless, unless when in actual use.

You can do very little with faith, but you can do nothing without it.

Youth is like spring, an overpraised season.

Categories: Quotes of the day, Samuel Butler (novelist)


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