Life – part 2


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Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun. – Clifford Geertz

They are afraid of making fools of themselves, and are unaware that that transformation has already been triumphantly effected. – Chesterton, Varied Types, The Position of Sir Walter Scott

Men are not to be judged by what they do not know, but by what they know, and by the manner in which they know it. – Vauvenargues

Men ride on a thought, as if each bestrode an invisible horse, which, if it became visible, all their seemingly mad plunging motions would be explained. – Emerson, journals, VIII 522

Men go through the world each musing on a great fable, dramatically pictured and rehearsed before him. If you speak to the man, he turns his eyes from his own scene, and slower or faster endeavours to comprehend what you say. When you have done speaking, he returns to his private music. Men generally attempt early in life to make their brothers first, afterwards their wives, acquainted with what is going forward in their private theatre, but they soon desist from the attempt, or finding that they also have some farce, or perhaps some ear and heart-rending tragedy on their secret boards, on which they are intent, all parties acquiesce at last in a private box with the whole play performed before himself solus. – Emerson, journals, VII 75

MAN, n. An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

Man, left long to himself, is no better than a mere clod; or his activity, for want of some other vent, preys upon himself, or is directed to splenetic, peevish dislikes, or vexatious, harrassing persecutions of others. – Hazlitt, On Londoners and Country People

Mockery…is of all injuries the most unforgivable; it is the language of contempt…it attacks a man in his last stronghold, his self-respect. There is something monstrous about the delight and readiness with which we mock, criticize and despise other people, while at the same time feeling angry resentment towards those who mock, criticize and despise ourselves. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Man

Of that which man ought to be even the best of us knows little that can be relied on; of that which he is we can learn something from everybody. – Lichtenberg

…man the individual is not altogether quit of youth, when he is already old and honoured, and Lord Chancellor of England. – Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque

Men take more pains to hide than to mend themselves. – Halifax

People wish to be settled. It is only so far as they are unsettled that there is any hope for them. – Emerson, journals, V 401-2

No one generation improves much upon another; no one individual improves much upon himself. What we impart to others we have within us, and we have it almost from the first. The strongest insight we obtain into nature is that which we receive from the broad light thrown upon it by the sudden development of our own faculties and feelings. – Hazlitt, On Novelty and Familiarity

You may live with men and women through years, by day, by night, yet you will never know the whole about them. No human being knows the whole about himself. – J.A. Symonds

Man is not so hard to know as many a stay-at-home believes when in his dressing-gown he rejoices to discover that one of Rochefoucauld’s maxims is true. I believe, indeed, that most people know men better than they themselves are aware of, and that they make great use of their knowledge in everyday life… – Lichtenberg

What is called an acute knowledge of human nature is mostly nothing but the observer’s own weaknesses reflected back from others. – Lichtenberg

We know then, or we may know, the point of departure from which we each start towards the usual level of understanding; but who knows the other extreme? Each progresses more or less according to his genius, his taste, his needs, his talent, his zeal, and his opportunities for using them. No philosopher, as far as I know, has dared to say to man, “Thus far shalt thou go and no further.” We know not what nature allows us to be, none of us has measured the possible difference between man and man. – Rousseau, Emile, p29

I see not, if one be once caught in this trap of so-called sciences, any escape for the man from the links of the chain of physical necessity. Given such an embryo, such a history must follow. On this platform, one lives in a sty of sensualism, and would soon come to suicide. But it is impossible that the creative power should exclude itself. Into every intelligence there is a door which is never closed, through which the creator passes. The intellect, seeker of absolute truth, or the heart, lover of absolute good, intervenes for our succor, and at one whisper of these high powers, we awake from ineffectual struggles with this nightmare. We hurl it into its own hell, and cannot again contract ourselves to so base a state. – Emerson, Experience

From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things, and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all. A man is the façade of a temple wherein all wisdom and all good abide. …Him we do not respect, but the soul, whose organ he is, would he let it appear through his action, would make our knees bend. When it breathes through the intellect, it is genius; when it breathes through his will, it is virtue; when it flows through his affections, it is love. And the blindness of the intellect begins, when it would be something of itself. The weakness of the will begins, when the individual would be something of himself. All reform aims, in some one particular, to let the soul have its way through us; in other words, to engage us to obey. – Emerson, The Over-Soul

He is one of those terribly weak natures that are not susceptible to influence. – Wilde

Opportunity and occasion are the discoverer and ambition the improver, confidence in one’s own strength is strength, in marriage and in the world of learning. – Lichtenberg

Conscience is what your mother told you before you were six years old. – Dr Brock Chisholm

Home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in. – Robert Frost

…the two lives, of the understanding and of the soul, which we lead, really show very little relation to each other; one prevails now, all buzz and din; and the other prevails then, all infinitude and paradise. – Emerson

People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed. – Johnson

The way we exclaim in admiration of a few men who are outstanding for sincerity, disinterestedness and probity is not so much to their praise as to the discredit of the human race. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 79

To see how men love life, could one have suspected that there is something they love even better? and that glory, which they prefer to life, is often merely a certain opinion of themselves held by a host of people whom they do not know or for whom they have no esteem? – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 98

An old Man concludes from his knowing Mankind, that they know him, and that makes him very wary. – Halifax

To think ill of mankind and not wish ill to them, is perhaps the highest wisdom and virtue. – Hazlitt, Characteristics, 241

I like man, but not men. – Emerson

Men do not suspect faults which they do not commit. – Samuel Johnson

…man is not an abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the human world, the state, society. – Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, p131

Every man is a new method and distributes things anew. – Emerson, Natural History of Intellect

Children have neither past nor future; and unlike ourselves, they enjoy the present. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Man, 51

…a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to leave alone. – Thoreau

Men palliate and conceal their original qualities, but do not extirpate them. – Montaigne.

Humanity must wait for its physician still at the side of the road. – Emerson

…the populace think that your rejection of popular standards is a rejection of all standard, and mere antinomianism, and the bold sensualist will use the name of philosophy to gild his crimes. – Emerson

It is one of those fables which, out of an unknown antiquity, convey an unlooked-for wisdom, that the gods, in the beginning, divided Man into men, that he might be more helpful to himself; just as the hand was divided into fingers, the better to answer its end.
+++++The old fable covers a doctrine ever new and sublime; that there is One Man, – present to all particular men only partially, or through one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find the whole man. Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all…
+++++The fable implies that the individual, to possess himself, must sometimes return from his own labour to embrace all the other laborers. But, unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops and cannot be gathered. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters – a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.
+++++…The planter…sees his bushel and cart, and nothing beyond, and sinks into the farmer, instead of Man on the farm… – Emerson, The American Scholar

It is the air of modesty and independence, which will neither be put upon itself, nor put upon others, that they cannot endure – that excites all the indignation they should feel for pompous affectation, and all the contempt they do not show to meanness and duplicity. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On the Qualifications Necessary to Success in Life

…the old oracle said, “All things have two handles: beware of the wrong one.” – Emerson, The American Scholar

As no air-pump can by any means make a perfect vacuum, so neither can any artist entirely exclude the conventional, the local, the perishable from his book… Each age, it is found, must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the next succeeding. – Emerson, The American Scholar

‘Tis with us a flash of light, then a long darkness, then a flash again… What we want is consecutiveness. – Emerson, Inspiration

Moral dilemmas are only possible for those with strongly held principles… Often today we…take whatever value seems expedient in the moment to justify our actions. We then sanctimoniously elevate moral neglect into high duty by invoking the doctrine that all value assertions are unscientific and relative. In our efforts to rid ourselves of the responsibilities (and anguish) of moral dilemmas, we have thrown out our best chance to develop character. – Laurence Boldt, Zen and the Art of Making a Living

I have often been reproached with extravagance for considering things only in their abstract principles, and with heat and ill-temper, for getting into a passion about what in no ways concerned me. If any one wishes to see me quite calm, they may cheat me in a bargain, or tread upon my toes; but a truth repelled, a sophism repeated, totally disconcerts me, and I lose all patience. I am not, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, a good-natured man; that is, many things annoy me besides what interferes with my own ease and interest. I hate a lie; a piece of injustice wounds me to the quick, though nothing but the report of it reach me. Therefore I have made many enemies and few friends; for the public know nothing of well-wishers, and keep a wary eye on those that would reform them. Coleridge used to complain of my irascibility, and not without reason. Would that he had possessed a little of my tenaciousness and jealousy of temper; and then, with his eloquence to paint the wrong, and acuteness to detect it, his country and the cause of liberty might not have fallen without a struggle! – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On Depth and Superficiality

There are people who have an appetite for grief, pleasure is not strong enough and they crave pain. – Emerson

…the likelihood of a laterborn accepting a revolutionary idea was 3.1x higher than a firstborn, and for radical revolutions the likelihood was 4.7x higher. – Frank Sulloway, Born to Rebel, 1996


When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries of life disappear and life stands explained. – Mark Twain

A Man that steps aside from the World, and hath leisure to observe it without Interest or Design, thinks all Mankind as mad as they think him. – Halifax

Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal men in the last fifty years. – R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience, 1967


The plays of children are nonsense, but very educative nonsense. So it is with the largest and solemnest things… – Emerson, Experience

Everything the child says and does the man also does, in other matters in which he is and remains a child – for we are all children of more advanced years…To be sure, we no longer hit a table we have knocked ourselves against, but we have instead for different but similar knocks devised the word Fate against which we utter accusations. – Lichtenberg


Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours. – Richard Bach

In some cases faith in success could nerve us to bring success about, and so justify itself by its own operation. This is a thought typical of James at his worst – a worst in which there is always a good side. Here again psychological observation is used with the best intentions to hearten oneself and other people; but the fact observed is not at all understood, and a moral twist is given to it which (besides being morally questionable) almost amounts to falsifying the fact itself. Why does belief that you can jump a ditch help you to jump it? Because it is a symptom of the fact that you could jump it, that your legs were fit and that the ditch was two yards wide and not twenty. A rapid and just appreciation of these facts has given you your confidence, or at least has made it reasonable, manly, and prophetic; otherwise you would have been a fool and got a ducking for it. Assurance is contemptible and fatal unless it is self-knowledge. If you had been rattled you might have failed, because that would have been a symptom of the fact that you were out of gear; you would have been afraid because you trembled, as James at his best proclaimed. You would never have quailed if your system had been reacting smoothly to its opportunities, any more than you would totter and see double if you were not intoxicated. Fear is a sensation of actual nervousness and disarray, and confidence a sensation of actual readiness; they are not disembodied feelings, existing for no reason, the devil Funk and the angel Courage, one or the other of whom may come down arbitrarily into your body, and revolutionise it. That is childish mythology, which survives innocently enough as a figure of speech, until a philosopher is found to take that figure of speech seriously. Nor is the moral suggestion here less unsound. What is good is not the presumption of power, but the possession of it : a clear head, aware of its resources, not a fuddled optimism, calling up spirits from the vasty deep. Courage is not a virtue, said Socrates, unless it is also wisdom. Could anything be truer both of courage in doing and of courage in believing? But it takes tenacity, it takes reasonable courage, to stick to scientific insights such as this of Socrates or that of James about the emotions; it is easier to lapse into the traditional manner, to search natural philosophy for miracles and moral lessons, and in morals proper, in the reasoned expression of preference, to splash about without a philosophy. – Santayana, Character and Opinion in the US, Ch.3 William James


The mass of mankind is divided into two classes, the Sancho Panzas who have a sense for reality, but no ideals, and the Don Quixotes with a sense for ideals, but mad. The expedient of recognizing facts as facts and accepting ideals as ideals,…although apparently simple enough, seems to elude the normal human power of discrimination. – Santayana, Interpretations of Poetry and Religion, Preface

In the end everything comes down to the question: does thought originate in feeling or feeling in thought?…This is the ultimate principle of religion, and the answer to the question ‘is the power of feeling or the power of thought the ultimate reality?’ draws the final frontier between theism and atheism. – Lichtenberg

Intellect strips, affection clothes. – Emerson, journals, VIII 236

Great thoughts come from the heart. – Vauvenargues

I can understand no more than ever the world-wide gulf you put between “Head” and “Heart”; to me they are inextricably tangled together. – W James, letter to his father

Everybody speaks well of his own heart, but nobody dares do so of his mind. – La Rochefoucauld

There is nothing in the heart but comes presently to the lips. – Emerson, Thoughts on Modern Literature

Every hour is the slave of the last; and we are seldom masters either of our thoughts or of our actions. We are the creatures of imagination, passion, and self-will, more than of reason or self-interest. Rousseau, in his Emilius, proposed to educate a perfectly reasonable man, who was to have passions and affections like other men, but with an absolute control over them. He was to love and to be wise. This is a contradiction in terms. Even in the common transactions and daily intercourse of life, we are governed by whim, caprice, prejudice, or accident. – Hazlitt, Mind and Motive

What a discrepancy between the mind and the heart! The philosopher lives unhappily for all his precepts, and the politician, with his stock of schemes and maxims, fails to govern himself. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Man, 91

What does not touch the heart, or come home to the feelings, goes comparatively for little or nothing… A spectacle of deliberate cruelty, that shocks everyone that see and hears of it, is not to be justified by any calculations of cold-blooded self-interest – is not to be permitted in any case. It is prejudged and self-condemned. Necessity has therefore been called “the tyrant’s plea”. It is no better with the mere doctrine of utility, which is the sophist’s plea. Thus, for example, an infinite number of lumps of sugar put into Mr Bentham’s artificial ethical scales would never weigh against the pounds of human flesh, or drops of human blood, that are sacrificed to produce them. The taste of the former on the palate is evanescent; but the others sit heavy on the soul… A calculation of the mere ultimate advantages, without regard to natural feelings and affections, may improve the external face and physical comforts of society, but will leave it heartless and worthless in itself. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On Reason and Imagination


The formation of a cultivated and effectively operative good judgement or taste with respect to what is esthetically admirable, intellectually acceptable and morally approvable is the supreme task set to human beings by the incidents of experience… – Dewey, The Quest for Certainty

Instead of there being no disputing about tastes, they are the one thing worth disputing about, if by “dispute” is signified discussion involving reflective inquiry – Dewey, The Quest for Certainty

Taste is not only a part and index of morality, it is the only morality. The first, and last, and closest trial question to any living creature is “What do you like?” Tell me what you like, I’ll tell you what you are. – Ruskin

METROPOLIS, n. A stronghold of provincialism. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary


Use, use your powers: what now costs you effort will in the end become mechanical. – Lichtenberg

Reprehending (mildly) a certain chapter of my own on ‘Habit,’ he [Thomas Davidson] said that it was a fixed rule with him to form no regular habits. When he found himself in danger of settling into even a good one, he made a point of interrupting it. Habits and methods make a prisoner of a man, destroy his readiness, keep him from answering the call of the fresh moment. Individualist à outrance, Davidson felt that every hour was an unique entity, to whose claims one should lie open. Thus he was never abstracted or preoccupied, but always seemed, when with you, as if you were the one person whom it was then right to attend to. – W James, Memories and Studies, ch.5 Thomas Davidson: A Knight-Errant of the Intellectual Life


Consistency is a jewel; and, as in the case of other jewels, we may marvel at the price that some people will pay for it. – Santayana, Character and Opinion in the US, Ch.5


The great always introduce us to facts; small men introduce us always to themselves. – Emerson, Thoughts on Modern Literature

Whatever the man does, or whatever befalls him, opens another chamber in his soul, – that is, he has got a new feeling, a new thought, a new organ. – Emerson, Education

A chief event of life is the day in which we have encountered a mind that startled us by its larger scope. …The highest of these not so much give particular knowledge, as they elevate by sentiment and by their habitual grandeur of view. – Emerson, Character

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. – Buddha, Dhammapada

There are people who boast of how frank and candid they are: they ought to reflect, however, that frankness and candour must proceed from the nature of one’s character, or even those who would otherwise esteem it highly must regard it as a piece of insolence. – Lichtenberg

Rudeness, uncouthness and brutality may be the vices of an intelligent man. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 48

The very faults which in other men are oppressive and intolerable seem, in ourselves, to be in their element; they do not weigh upon us, we cannot feel them. A man may paint a shocking portrait of another without seeing that he is depicting himself.
Nothing would correct us of our faults more promptly than if we were capable of admitting them and recognizing them in others: at such a distance, seeing them as they really are, we should hate them as they deserve. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 72


Great men feel that they are so by sacrificing their selfishness and falling back on what is humane; in renouncing family, clan, country, and each exclusive and local connection, to beat with the pulse and breathe with the lungs of nations. – Emerson, Demonology

The great always introduce us to facts; small men introduce us always to themselves. – Emerson (XII 314)

The detection of small errors has always been the property of minds elevated little or not at all above the mediocre; notably elevated minds remain silent or say something only in criticism of the whole, while the great spirits refrain from censuring and only create. – Lichtenberg

A man, a personal ascendency, is the only great phenomenon. – Emerson


No occurrences are so unfortunate that the shrewd cannot turn them to some advantage, nor so fortunate that the imprudent cannot turn them to their own disadvantage. – La Rochefoucauld, Maxims, 59.

We all too often seek new opportunities so as not to seize existing ones. – Simon May, The Pocket Philosopher

In as complicated a machine as this world is, it seems to me that, all our little contributory efforts notwithstanding, we are in all essentials always participating in a lottery. – Lichtenberg

…a most important if not the most important object of early legislation was the enforcement of lucky rites. I do not like to say religious rites, because that would involve me in a great controversy as to the power, or even the existence, of early religions. But there is no savage tribe without a notion of luck; and perhaps there is hardly any which has not a conception of luck for the tribe as a tribe, of which each member has not some such a belief that his own action or the action of any other member of it – that he or the others doing anything which was unlucky or would bring a “curse” – might cause evil not only to himself, but to all the tribe as well. …the contagiousness of the idea of “luck” is remarkable. It does not at all, like the notion of desert, cleave to the doer. There are people to this day who would not permit in their house people to sit down thirteen to dinner. They do not expect any evil to themselves particularly for permitting it or sharing in it, but they cannot get out of their heads the idea that some one or more of the number will come to harm if the thing is done. This is what Mr. Tylor calls survival in culture. The faint belief in the corporate liability of these thirteen is the feeble relic and last dying representative of that great principle of corporate liability to good and ill fortune which has filled such an immense place in the world. – Bagehot, Physics and Politics, IV


It is the standing peculiarity of this curious world of ours that almost everything in it has been extolled enthusiastically and invariably extolled to the disadvantage of everything else.
One after another almost every one of the phenomena of the universe has been declared to be alone capable of making life worth living. Books, love, business, religion, alcohol, abstract truth, private emotion, money, simplicity, mysticism, hard work, a life close to nature, a life close to Belgrave Square are every one of them passionately maintained by somebody to be so good that they redeem the evil of an otherwise indefensible world. Thus, while the world is almost always condemned in summary, it is always justified, and indeed extolled, in detail after detail.
+++++Existence has been praised and absolved by a chorus of pessimists. The work of giving thanks to Heaven is, as it were, divided ingeniously among them. Schopenhauer is told off as a kind of librarian in the House of God, to sing the praises of the austere pleasures of the mind. Carlyle, as steward, undertakes the working department and eulogises a life of labour in the fields. Omar Khayyam is established in the cellar, and swears that it is the only room in the house. Even the blackest of pessimistic artists enjoys his art. At the precise moment that he has written some shameless and terrible indictment of Creation, his one pang of joy in the achievement joins the universal chorus of gratitude, with the scent of the wild flower and the song of the bird. – Chesterton, Varied Types, The Optimism of Byron

The popularity of pure and unadulterated pessimism is an oddity; it is almost a contradiction in terms. Men would no more receive the news of the failure of existence or of the harmonious hostility of the stars with ardour or popular rejoicing than they would light bonfires for the arrival of cholera or dance a breakdown when they were condemned to be hanged. When the pessimist is popular it must always be not because he shows all things to be bad, but because he shows some things to be good.
+++++Men can only join in a chorus of praise, even if it is the praise of denunciation. The man who is popular must be optimistic about something, even if he is only optimistic about pessimism. And this was emphatically the case with Byron and the Byronists. Their real popularity was founded not upon the fact that they blamed everything, but upon the fact that they praised something. They heaped curses upon man, but they used man merely as a foil. The things they wished to praise by comparison were the energies of Nature. Man was to them what talk and fashion were to Carlyle, what philosophical and religious quarrels were to Omar, what the whole race after practical happiness was to Schopenhauer, the thing which must be censured in order that somebody else may be exalted. It was merely a recognition of the fact that one cannot write in white chalk except on a blackboard. – Chesterton, Varied Types, The Optimism of Byron


There is a difference between one and another hour of life, in their authority and subsequent effect. Our faith comes in moments; our vice is habitual. Yet there is a depth in those brief moments which constrains us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences. For this reason, the argument which is always forthcoming, to silence those who conceive extraordinary hopes of man, namely, the appeal to experience, is for ever invalid and vain. We give up the past to the objector, and yet we hope. – Emerson, The Over-Soul

Hope, they say, deserts us at no period of our existence. From first to last, and in the face of smarting disillusions, we continue to expect good fortune, better health, and better conduct; and that so confidently, that we judge it needless to deserve them. – Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque

Hope is a kind Cheat; in the Minute of our Disappointment we are angry, but upon the whole matter there is no Pleasure without it.
+++++It is so much a pleasanter thing than Truth to the greatest Part of the World, that it hath all their Kindness, the other only hath their Respect.
+++++Hope is generally a wrong Guide, though it is very good Company by the way. It brusheth through Hedge and Ditch till it cometh to a great Leap, and there it is apt to fall and break its Bones. – Halifax


All our passions are deceitful: they wear a mask, as far as possible, in front of other people, and they hoodwink themselves. There is no vice which does not bear a misleading likeness to some virtue, and take advantage of this. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of the Heart, 72.

Few passions are constant, but many are sincere. – Vauvenargues

Nothing can be more untrue, than that the whole course of our ideas, passions, and pursuits, is regulated by a regard to self-interest. Our attachment to certain objects is much oftener in proportion to the strength of the impression they make on us, to their power of riveting and fixing the attention, than to the gratification we derive from them. We are, perhaps, more apt to dwell upon circumstances that excite disgust and shock our feelings, than on those of an agreeable nature. This, at least, is the case where this disposition is particularly strong, as in people of nervous feelings and morbid habits of thinking. …There are a thousand passions and fancies that thwart our purposes and disturb our repose. Grief and fear are almost as welcome inmates of the breast as hope or joy, and more obstinately cherished. We return to the objects which have excited them, we brood over them, they become almost inseparable from the mind, necessary to it; they assimilate all objects to the gloom of our own thoughts, and make the will a party against itself. This is one chief source of most of the passions that prey like vultures on the heart, and embitter human life. We hear moralists and divines perpetually exclaiming, with mingled indignation and surprise, at the folly of mankind in obstinately persisting in these tormenting and violent passions, such as envy, revenge, sullenness, despair, etc. This is to them a mystery; and it will always remain an inexplicable one, while the love of happiness is considered as the only spring of human conduct and desires. – Hazlitt, Mind and Motive

Sentimentality – that’s what we call the sentiment we don’t share. – Graham Greene

We are given to thinking of emotions as things as simple and compact as are the words by which we name them. Joy, sorrow, hope, fear, anger, curiosity, are treated as if each in itself were a sort of entity that enters full-made upon the scene, an entity that may last a long time or a short time, but whose duration, whose growth and career, is irrelevant to its nature. In fact emotions are qualities, when they are significant, of a complex experience that moves and changes. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p41

All emotions are qualifications of a drama and they change as the drama develops. Persons are sometimes said to fall in love at first sight. But what they fall into is not a thing of that instant. What would love be were it compressed into a moment in which there is no room for cherishing and for solicitude? The intimate nature of emotion is manifested in the experience of one watching a play on the stage or reading a novel. It attends the development of a plot; and a plot requires a stage, a space wherein to develop and time in which to unfold. Experience is emotional but there are no separate things called emotions in it. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p42

Emotion…belongs to the self that is concerned in the movement of events toward an issue that is desired or disliked. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p42


The man who acquires easily things for which he feels only a very moderate desire concludes that the attainment of desire does not bring happiness. – Russell, Conquest of Happiness, p30


It is a proverb, that “courtesy costs nothing;” but calculation might come to value love for its profit. Love is fabled to be blind; but kindness is necessary to perception; love is not a hood, but an eye-water. If you meet a sectary, or a hostile partisan, never recognize the dividing lines; but meet on what common ground remains – if only that the sun shines, and the rain rains for both; the area will widen very fast, and ere you know it, the boundary mountains, on which the eye had fastened, have melted into air. If they set out to contend, Saint Paul will lie, and Saint John will hate. What low, poor, paltry, hypocritical people an argument on religion will make of the pure and chosen souls! They will shuffle, and crow, and crook, and hide, feign to confess here, only that they may brag and conquer there, and not a thought has enriched either party, and not an emotion of bravery, modesty or hope. So neither should you put yourself in a false position with your contemporaries, by indulging in a vein of hostility and bitterness. Though your views are in straight antagonism to theirs, assume an identity of sentiment, assume that you are saying precisely what all think, and in the flow of wit and love roll out your paradoxes in solid column, with not the infirmity of a doubt. So at least shall you get an adequate deliverance. The natural motions of the soul are so much better than the voluntary ones, that you will never do yourself justice in dispute. The thought is then not taken hold of by the right handle, does not show itself proportioned, and in its true bearings, but bears extorted, hoarse, and half witness. But assume a consent, and it shall presently be granted, since, really, and underneath their external diversities, all men are of one heart and mind.
+++++Wisdom will never let us stand with any man or men on an unfriendly footing. We refuse sympathy and intimacy with people, as if we waited for some better sympathy and intimacy to come. But whence and when? To-morrow will be like today. Life wastes itself while preparing to live. – Emerson, Prudence

The best way of praising the living and the dead is to excuse their failings and to apply all one’s knowledge of human nature in doing so. – Lichtenberg

Every patriot hates foreigners; they are only men, and nothing to him. This defect is inevitable, but of little importance. The great thing is to be kind to our neighbours. Among strangers the Spartan was selfish, grasping and unjust, but unselfishness, justice and harmony ruled his home life. Distrust these cosmopolitans who search out remote duties in their books and neglect those that lie nearest. Such philosophers will love the Tartars to avoid loving their neighbour. – Rousseau, Emile, p7

One can always be kind to people about whom one cares nothing. – Wilde

I question whether we have the right to judge men by a single offence, and whether one should not make allowances for extreme need, or violent passions, or a hasty impulse. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 37


Love is the bright foreigner, the foreign self. – Emerson, journals, VIII 43

…it is impossible to love and to be wise. – Publilius Syrus

We must not ridicule a passion which he who never felt never was happy, and he who laughs at never deserves to feel – a passion which has caused the change of empires, and the loss of worlds – a passion which has inspired heroism and subdued avarice. – Samuel Johnson

Love is of all sentiments the most egoistic, and, as a consequence, when it is wounded, the least generous. – B. Constant

Even in the common affairs of life, in love, in friendship, and marriage, how little security have we when we trust our happiness in the hands of others. …He who looks at beauty to admire, to adore it, who reads of its wondrous power in novels, in poems, or in plays, is not unwise: but let no man fall of love, for from that moment he is “the baby of a girl.” – Hazlitt, On Living to One’s-Self

The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost. – Chesterton

Two people do not love one another but each would like to make the other love him or her to the point of dying of love or committing suicide: these two write one another letters. The result could be very amusing. – Lichtenberg

…any attempt to compel love produces hate. – Schopenhauer

The fly that sips treacle
Is lost in the sweets;
So he that tastes woman
Ruin meets. – Gay

Someone who is indifferent arouses our desire to be recognized; we want this person to feel we matter enough to be noticed. We may provoke or denounce him, but the point is getting him to respond. Afraid of his indifference, not understanding what it is which keeps him aloof, we come to be emotionally dependent. …Indifference elevates the loved one, Proust writes; the loved one’s sheer distance makes of him or her an unattainable ideal. Thus the narrator becomes Albertine’s “slave”. If the entreaty is noticed, the regard returned, then the spell is broken. Proust thinks of breaking the autonomy of another to be like recovery from a “disease” of submission. – Richard Sennett, Authority, p86-7

Just as it is customary for people to believe that pain and sadness should be avoided under all circumstances, they believe that love means the absence of any conflict. And they find good reasons for this idea in the fact that the struggles around them seem only to be destructive interchanges which bring no good to either one of those concerned. But the reason for this lies in the fact that the ‘conflicts’ of most people are actually attempts to avoid the real conflicts. They are disagreements on minor or superficial matters which by their very nature do not lend themselves to clarification or solution. Real conflicts between two people, those which do not serve to cover up or project, but which are experienced on the deep level of inner reality to which they belong, are not destructive. They lead to clarification, they produce a catharsis from which both persons emerge with more knowledge and more strength. …
+++++Love is possible only if two persons communicate with each other from the centre of their existence, hence if each one of them experiences himself from the centre of his existence. Only in this ‘central experience’ is human reality, only here is aliveness, only here is the basis for love. Love, experienced thus, is a constant challenge; it is not a resting place, but a moving, growing, working together; even whether there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness, is secondary to the fundamental fact that two people experience themselves from the essence of their existence, that they are one with each other by being one with themselves, rather than by fleeing from themselves. There is only one proof for the presence of love: the depth of the relationship, and the aliveness and strength in each person concerned; this is the fruit by which love is recognised. – Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, p74-5

No man ever saw a man he would be willing to marry if he were a woman. – George Gibbs, 1925

Will no one discover the art of winning the love of one’s wife? – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Women, 80.


Supreme beauty is foreign everywhere, yet everywhere has a right of domicile; it opens a window to heaven, and is a cause of suspended animation and, as it were, ecstatic suicide in the heart of mortals. – Santayana, The Mansions of Helen, Soliloquies in England, p237


The worst wasted of all days is that during which one has not laughed. – Chamfort

A critic once remonstrated with me saying, with an air of indignant reasonableness, “If you must make jokes, at least you need not make them on such serious subjects.” I replied with a natural simplicity and wonder, “About what other subjects can one make jokes except serious subjects?” It is quite useless to talk about profane jesting. All jesting is in its nature profane, in the sense that it must be the sudden realization that something which thinks itself solemn is not so very solemn after all. If a joke is not a joke about religion or morals, it is a joke about police-magistrates or scientific professors or undergraduates dressed up as Queen Victoria. And people joke about the police-magistrate more than they joke about the Pope, not because the police-magistrate is a more frivolous subject, but, on the contrary, because the police-magistrate is a more serious subject than the Pope. The Bishop of Rome has no jurisdiction in this realm of England; whereas the police-magistrate may bring his solemnity to bear quite suddenly upon us. Men make jokes about old scientific professors, even more than they make them about bishops – not because science is lighter than religion, but because science is always by its nature more solemn and austere than religion. It is not I; it is not even a particular class of journalists or jesters who make jokes about the matters which are of most awful import; it is the whole human race. If there is one thing more than another which any one will admit who has the smallest knowledge of the world, it is that men are always speaking gravely and earnestly and with the utmost possible care about the things that are not important, but always talking frivolously about the things that are. Men talk for hours with the faces of a college of cardinals about things like golf, or tobacco, or waistcoats, or party politics. But all the most grave and dreadful things in the world are the oldest jokes in the world – being married; being hanged. – Chesterton, Heretics, ch.16

Mr. McCabe thinks that I am not serious but only funny, because Mr. McCabe thinks that funny is the opposite of serious. Funny is the opposite of not funny, and of nothing else. The question of whether a man expresses himself in a grotesque or laughable phraseology, or in a stately and restrained phraseology, is not a question of motive or of moral state, it is a question of instinctive language and self-expression. Whether a man chooses to tell the truth in long sentences or short jokes is a problem analogous to whether he chooses to tell the truth in French or German. Whether a man preaches his gospel grotesquely or gravely is merely like the question of whether he preaches it in prose or verse. The question of whether Swift was funny in his irony is quite another sort of question to the question of whether Swift was serious in his pessimism. Surely even Mr. McCabe would not maintain that the more funny “Gulliver” is in its method the less it can be sincere in its object. The truth is, as I have said, that in this sense the two qualities of fun and seriousness have nothing whatever to do with each other, they are no more comparable than black and triangular. Mr. Bernard Shaw is funny and sincere. Mr. George Robey is funny and not sincere. Mr. McCabe is sincere and not funny. The average Cabinet Minister is not sincere and not funny.
+++++In short, Mr. McCabe is under the influence of a primary fallacy which I have found very common in men of the clerical type. Numbers of clergymen have from time to time reproached me for making jokes about religion; and they have almost always invoked the authority of that very sensible commandment which says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Of course, I pointed out that I was not in any conceivable sense taking the name in vain. To take a thing and make a joke out of it is not to take it in vain. It is, on the contrary, to take it and use it for an uncommonly good object. To use a thing in vain means to use it without use. But a joke may be exceedingly useful; it may contain the whole earthly sense, not to mention the whole heavenly sense, of a situation. … The people (as I tactfully pointed out to them) who really take the name of the Lord in vain are the clergymen themselves. The thing which is fundamentally and really frivolous is not a careless joke. The thing which is fundamentally and really frivolous is a careless solemnity. If Mr. McCabe really wishes to know what sort of guarantee of reality and solidity is afforded by the mere act of what is called talking seriously, let him spend a happy Sunday in going the round of the pulpits. Or, better still, let him drop in at the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Even Mr. McCabe would admit that these men are solemn – more solemn than I am. And even Mr. McCabe, I think, would admit that these men are frivolous – more frivolous than I am. Why should Mr. McCabe be so eloquent about the danger arising from fantastic and paradoxical writers? Why should he be so ardent in desiring grave and verbose writers? There are not so very many fantastic and paradoxical writers. But there are a gigantic number of grave and verbose writers; and it is by the efforts of the grave and verbose writers that everything that Mr. McCabe detests (and everything that I detest, for that matter) is kept in existence and energy. How can it have come about that a man as intelligent as Mr. McCabe can think that paradox and jesting stop the way? It is solemnity that is stopping the way in every department of modern effort. It is his own favourite “serious methods;” it is his own favourite “momentousness;” it is his own favourite “judgment” which stops the way everywhere. – Chesterton, Heretics, ch.16

Laughter is the primeval attitude towards life – a mode of approach that survives only in artists and criminals! – Wilde, In Conversation

We live in a land of abounding quackeries, and if we do not learn how to laugh we succumb to the melancholy disease which afflicts the race of viewers-with-alarm. – Mencken

Mirth is necessary to wisdom. – Martial [Ridi si sapis.]

There are three distinct classes of great satirists who are also great men – that is to say, three classes of men who can laugh at something without losing their souls. The satirist of the first type is the man who, first of all enjoys himself, and then enjoys his enemies. In this sense he loves his enemy, and by a kind of exaggeration of Christianity he loves his enemy the more the more he becomes an enemy. He has a sort of overwhelming and aggressive happiness in his assertion of anger; his curse is as human as a benediction. Of this type of satire the great example is Rabelais. This is the first typical example of satire, the satire which is voluble, which is violent, which is indecent, but which is not malicious. …There is a second type of mind which produces satire with the quality of greatness. That is embodied in the satirist whose passions are released and let go by some intolerable sense of wrong. He is maddened by the sense of men being maddened; his tongue becomes an unruly member, and testifies against all mankind. Such a man was Swift, in whom the saeva indignatio was a bitterness to others, because it was a bitterness to himself. …
+++++The third type of great satire is that in which he satirist is enabled to rise superior to his victim in the only serious sense which superiority can bear, in that of pitying the sinner and respecting the man even while he satirises both. Such an achievement can be found in a thing like Pope’s “Atticus” a poem in which the satirist feels that he is satirising the weaknesses which belong specially to literary genius. Consequently he takes a pleasure in pointing out his enemy’s strength before he points out his weakness. That is, perhaps, the highest and most honourable form of satire. – Chesterton, Heretics, ch.17, On the Wit of Whistler

…it’s always somehow comic though – in every bit of gravity there’s always levity, in Plato – there’s never “Let’s stop with the joking…and get on with it” – there’s always this ironic posture – something about the world is ridiculous; there’s something ridiculous about Socrates’ situation; and in a way that’s the problem with the most serious things – human life is somehow ridiculous, and the most serious things are serious, and the relationship between those two things leads to a mixture of levity and gravity. – Allan Bloom, Socrates lecture pt 2

Humour is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humour. For a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious; and a jest which will not bear a serious examination is certainly false wit. – ? (quoted by Aristotle)

RIDICULE, n. Words designed to show that the person of whom they are uttered is devoid of the dignity of character distinguishing him who utters them. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

Sudden glory is the passion which maketh those grimaces called laughter; and is caused either by some sudden act of their own that pleaseth them; or by apprehension of some deformed thing in another, by comparison whereof they suddenly applaud themselves. – Hobbes, Leviathan

Laughter arises from the view of two or more inconsistent, unsuitable, or incongruous parts or circumstances, considered as united in complex object or assemblage, or as acquiring a sort of mutual relation from the peculiar manner in which the mind takes notice of them. – James Beattie, 1776

Laughter is an affectation arising from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing. – Kant, 1790

[Humour] often occurs in this way: two or more real objects are thought through one concept; it then becomes strikingly apparent from the entire difference of the objects in other respects, that the concept was only applicable to them from a one-sided point of view. – Schopenhauer

[Laughter] is the consequence in man of the idea of his own superiority. And since laughter is essentially human, it is, in fact, essentially contradictory; that is to say that it is at once a token of an infinite grandeur and an infinite misery – the latter in relation to the absolute Being of whom man has an inkling, the former in relation to the beasts. It is from the perpetual collision of these two infinities that laughter is struck. The comic and the capacity for laughter are situated in the laugher and by no means in the object of the laugher. – Baudelaire, 1868

An atom of humor is an unpleasantness or a frustration taken playfully. A witty joke is made by combining this unpleasantness or frustration with some idea or attitude of feeling in which one can find momentary satisfaction. – Max Eastman, 1936

Any incident is comic that calls our attention to the physical in a person, when it is the moral side that is concerned. …We laugh every time a person gives the impression of being a thing. – Bergson

When people say Dickens exaggerates, it seems to me they can have no eyes and no ears. They probably have only notions of what things and people are; they accept them conventionally, at their diplomatic value. Their minds run on in the region of discourse, where there are masks only and no faces, ideas and no facts; they have little sense for those living grimaces that play from moment to moment upon the countenance of the world. The world is a perpetual caricature of itself; at every moment it is the mockery and the contradiction of what it is pretending to be. But as it nevertheless intends all the time to be something different and highly dignified, at the next moment it corrects and checks and tries to cover up the absurd thing it was; so that a conventional world, a world of masks, is superimposed on the reality, and passes in every sphere of human interest for the reality itself. Humour is the perception of this illusion, the fact allowed to pierce here and there through the convention, whilst the convention continues to be maintained, as if we had not observed its absurdity. Pure comedy is more radical, cruder, in a certain sense less human; because comedy throws the convention over altogether, revels for a moment in the fact, and brutally says to the notions of mankind, as if it slapped them in the face, There, take that! That’s what you really are! At this the polite world pretends to laugh, not tolerantly as it does at humour, but a little angrily. It does not like to see itself by chance in the glass, without having had time to compose its features for demure self-contemplation. “What a bad mirror,” it exclaims; “it must be concave or convex; for surely I never looked like that. Mere caricature, farce, and horse play. Dickens exaggerates; I never was so sentimental as that; I never saw anything so dreadful; I don’t believe there were ever any people like Quilp, or Squeers, or Serjeant Buzfuz.” But the polite world is lying; there are such people; we are such people ourselves in our true moments, in our veritable impulses; but we are careful to stifle and to hide those moments from ourselves and from the world; to purse and pucker ourselves into the mask of our conventional personality; and so simpering, we profess that it is very coarse and inartistic of Dickens to undo our life’s work for us in an instant, and remind us of what we are. And as to other people, though we may allow that considered superficially they are often absurd, we do not wish to dwell on their eccentricities, nor to mimic them. On the contrary, it is good manners to look away quickly, to suppress a smile, and to say to ourselves that the ludicrous figure in the street is not at all comic, but a dull ordinary Christian, and that it is foolish to give any importance to the fact that its hat has blown off, that it has slipped on an orange-peel and unintentionally sat on the pavement, that it has a pimple on its nose, that its one tooth projects over its lower lip, that it is angry with things in general, and that it is looking everywhere for the penny which it holds tightly in its hand. That may fairly represent the moral condition of most of us at most times; but we do not want to think of it; we do not want to see; we gloss the fact over; we console ourselves before we are grieved, and reassert our composure before we have laughed. We are afraid, ashamed, anxious to be spared. What displeases us in Dickens is that he does not spare us; he mimics things to the full; he dilates and exhausts and repeats; he wallows. He is too intent on the passing experience to look over his shoulder, and consider whether we have not already understood, and had enough. He is not thinking of us; he is obeying the impulse of the passion, the person, or the story he is enacting. This faculty, which renders him a consummate comedian, is just what alienated from him a later generation in which people of taste were aesthetes and virtuous people were higher snobs; they wanted a mincing art, and he gave them copious improvization, they wanted analysis and development, and he gave them absolute comedy. – Santayana, Soliloquies in England, Dickens

It is only courage (which Dickens had without knowing it) and universal kindness (which he knew he had) that are requisite to nerve us for a true vision of this world. And as some of us are cowards about crossing the Channel, and others about “crossing the bar,” so almost everybody is a coward about his own humanity. We do not consent to be absurd, though absurd we are. We have no fundamental humility. We do not wish the moments of our lives to be caught by a quick eye in their grotesque initiative, and to be pilloried in this way before our own eyes. For that reason we don’t like Dickens, and don’t like comedy, and don’t like the truth. Dickens could don the comic mask with innocent courage; he could wear it with a grace, ease, and irresistible vivacity seldom given to men. We must go back for anything like it to the very greatest comic poets, to Shakespeare or to Aristophanes. – Santayana, Dickens, Soliloquies in England, Dickens

…pure comedy is scornful, merciless, devastating, holding no door open to anything beyond. … Tastes are free; but we should not deny that in merciless and rollicking comedy life is caught in the act. The most grotesque creatures of Dickens are not exaggerations or mockeries of something other than themselves; they arise because nature generates them, like toadstools; they exist because they can’t help it, as we all do. The fact that these perfectly self-justified beings are absurd appears only by comparison, and from outside; circumstances, or the expectations of other people, make them ridiculous and force them to contradict themselves; but in nature it is no crime to be exceptional. Often, but for the savagery of the average man, it would not even be a misfortune. The sleepy fat boy in Pickwick looks foolish; but in himself he is no more foolish, nor less solidly self-justified, than a pumpkin lying on the ground. Toots seems ridiculous; and we laugh heartily at his incoherence, his beautiful waistcoats, and his extreme modesty; but when did anybody more obviously grow into what he is because he couldn’t grow otherwise? So with Mr. Pickwick, and Sam Weller, and Mrs. Gamp, and Micawber, and all the rest of this wonderful gallery; they are ridiculous only by accident, and in a context in which they never intended to appear. If Oedipus and Lear and Cleopatra do not seem ridiculous, it is only because tragic reflection has taken them out of the context in which, in real life, they would have figured. If we saw them as facts and not as emanations of a poet’s dream, we should laugh at them till doomsday; what grotesque presumption, what silly whims, what mad contradiction of the simplest realities! Yet we should not laugh at them without feeling how real their griefs were; as real and terrible as the griefs of children and of dreams. But facts, however serious inwardly, are always absurd outwardly; and the just critic of life sees both truths at once, as Cervantes did in Don Quixote. A pompous idealist who does not see the ridiculous in all things is the dupe of his sympathy and abstraction; and a clown, who does not see that these ridiculous creatures are living quite in earnest, is the dupe of his egotism. Dickens saw the absurdity, and understood the life; I think he was a good philosopher. – Santayana, Soliloquies in England, Dickens


We live in an atmosphere of shame. We are ashamed of everything that is real about us; ashamed of ourselves, of our relatives, of our incomes, of our accents, of our opinions, of our experience, just as we are ashamed of our naked skins… we are ashamed to walk, ashamed to ride in an omnibus, ashamed to hire a hansom instead of keeping a carriage, ashamed of keeping one horse instead of two and a groom-gardener instead of a coachman and footman. The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is. – Shaw, Man and Superman, p52


All men are snobs about something. – Aldous Huxley, Selected Snobberies

In everything the higher, when not the better, means what folly or vanity cannot bear to abandon. Higher is a word by which we defend the indefensible; it is a declaration of impenitence on the part of unreason, a cry to create prejudice in favour of all that tyrannizes over mankind. It is the watchword of the higher snob. The first to use it was Satan, when he declared that he was not satisfied to be anything but the highest; whereas the highest thinks it no derogation to take the form of the lowest since the lowest, too, has its proper perfection, and there is nothing better than that. – Santayana, Soliloquies in England, The Higher Snobbery


The human tendency to regard little things as important has produced very many great things. – Lichtenberg

There is nothing so pedantic as pretending not to be pedantic. No man can get above his pursuit in life: it is getting above himself, which is impossible. – Hazlitt, On the Conversation of Authors


Fear disenchants life and the world. If I have not my own respect I am an impostor, not entitled to other men’s, and had better creep into my grave. I admire the sentiment of Thoreau, who said, “Nothing is so much to be feared as fear; God himself likes atheism better.” For the world is a battle-ground; every principle is a war-note, and the most quiet and protected life is at any moment exposed to incidents which test your firmness. The illusion that strikes me as the masterpiece in that ring of illusions which our life is, is the timidity with which we assert our moral sentiment. – Emerson, Perpetual Forces

What have I gained, that I no longer immolate a bull to Jove, or to Neptune, or a mouse to Hecate; that I do not tremble before the Eumenides, or the Catholic Purgatory, or the Calvinistic Judgement-day, – if I quake at opinion, the public opinion, as we call it; or at the threat of assault, or contumely, or bad neighbours, or poverty, or mutilation, or at the rumour of revolution, or of murder? If I quake, what matters it what I quake at? Our proper vice takes form in one or another shape, according to the sex, age, or temperament of the person, &, if we are capable of fear, will readily find terrors. The covetousness or the malignity which saddens me, when I ascribe it to society, is my own. I am always environed by myself. On the other part, rectitude is a perpetual victory, celebrated not by cries of joy, but by serenity, which is joy fixed or habitual. – Emerson, Character

Fear can never make virtue. – Voltaire

No man is brave unless he is afraid. – AC Grayling, The Meaning of Things, p20

The fact is, we are much more afraid of life than our ancestors, and cannot find it in our hearts either to marry or not to marry. – RL Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque, I


There is a confidence necessary to human intercourse, without which men are often more injured by their own suspicions than they would be by the perfidy of others. – Burke, Nat. Assembly, IV 283

Early Suspicion is often an Injury, and late Suspicion is always a Folly.
A wise Man will keep his Suspicions muzzled, but he will keep them awake. – Halifax


OUTDO, v.t. To make an enemy. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary


HATRED, n. A sentiment appropriate to the occasion of another’s superiority. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary


MALE, n. A member of the unconsidered, or negligible sex. The male of the human race is commonly known (to the female) as Mere Man. The genus has two varieties: good providers and bad providers. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary


[Women] are poets who believe their own poetry. They emit from their pores a colored atmosphere, one would say, wave upon wave of rosy light, in which they walk evermore, and see all objects through this warm-tinted mist that envelops them. – Emerson, Woman

Bonnie Raitt has said of Aretha, “I learned way more about being a woman from listening to her sing “Respect” than I ever did from any man.” What is it about Aretha that makes people think of her as the embodiment of womanhood? I think it stems from the duality of her shy yet strong personality and the sheer elemental quality of her voice. She embodies two almost paradoxical extremes of femaleness: the shy girlish woman who lives to please her man, and the powerful, strong-willed woman who demands R-E-S-P-E-C-T. These are extremes that virtually all women identify with at various points (what woman hasn’t variously thought of herself as ultrafeminine, designed to delight her partner, and yet a proud, complex, self-reliant, calls-it-as-she-sees-it-person?). Aretha’s claim on these complementary yet divergent notions has added authority because of the almost mystical power of her voice. – Matt Dobkin, I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You

WEAKNESSES, Certain primal powers of Tyrant Woman wherewith she holds dominion over the male of her species, binding him to the service of her will and paralyzing his rebellious energies. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

Every woman is a rebel, and usually in wild revolt against herself. – Wilde

No woman ever hates a man for being in love with her, but many a woman hates a man for being a friend to her. – Pope, Thoughts on Various Subjects

Woman’s beauty, like men’s wit, is usually fatal to the owners. – Chesterfield

The trouble with her is that she lacks the power of conversation, but not the power of speech. – Shaw

A woman’s eyes are to me so essential a part of her, I often gaze at them and have so many thoughts, that if I were merely a head girls could for my part be nothing but eyes. – Lichtenberg


MOUTH, n. In man, the gateway to the soul; in woman, the outlet of the heart. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

A man’s women folk, whatever their outward show of respect for his merit and authority, always regard him secretly as an ass, and with something akin to pity. His most gaudy sayings and doings seldom deceive them; they see the actual man within, and know him for a shallow and pathetic fellow. In this fact, perhaps, lies one of the best proofs of feminine intelligence, or, as the common phrase makes it, feminine intuition. The marks of that so-called intuition are simply a sharp and accurate perception of reality, a habitual immunity to emotional enchantment, a relentless capacity for distinguishing clearly between the appearance and the substance. The appearance, in the normal family circle, is a hero, a magnifico, a demi-god. The substance is a poor mountebank. …
+++++Neither sex, without some fertilization of the complementary characters of the other, is capable of the highest reaches of human endeavor. Man, without a saving touch of woman in him, is too doltish, too naive and romantic, too easily deluded and lulled to sleep by his imagination to be anything above a cavalryman, a theologian, or a corporation director. And woman, without some trace of that divine innocence which is masculine, is too harshly the realist for those vast projections of the fancy which lie at the heart of what we call genius. The wholly manly man lacks the wit necessary to give objective form to his soaring and secret dreams, and the wholly womanly woman is apt to be too cynical a creature to dream at all. – Mencken

I have said that 95 per cent. of married men are faithful. I believe the real proportion is nearer 99 per cent. What women mistake for infidelity is usually no more than vanity. Every man likes to be regarded as a devil of a fellow, and particularly by his wife. On the one hand, it diverts her attention from his more genuine shortcomings, and on the other hand it increases her respect for him. Moreover, it gives her a chance to win the sympathy of other women, and so satisfies that craving for martyrdom which is perhaps woman’s strongest characteristic. A woman who never has any chance to suspect her husband feels cheated and humiliated. She is in the position of those patriots who are induced to enlist for a war by pictures of cavalry charges, and then find themselves told off to wash the general’s underwear. – Mencken, Damn!

The most disgusting cad in the world is the man who, on grounds of decorum and morality, avoids the game of love. He is one who puts his own ease and security above the most laudable of philanthropies. Women have a hard time of it in this world. They are oppressed by man-made laws, man-made social customs, masculine egoism, the delusion of masculine superiority. Their one comfort is the assurance that, even though it may be impossible to prevail against man, it is always possible to enslave and torture a man. – Mencken, Notes on a Tender Theme, 2

Needlework had a great and strenuous approver in Dr Johnson, who said, “that one of the great felicities of female life, was the general consent of the world, that they might amuse themselves with petty occupations, which contributed to the lengthening their lives, and preserving their minds in a state of sanity.” A man cannot hem a pocket-handkerchief (said a lady of quality to him one day), and so he runs mad, and torments his family, and friends. The expression struck him exceedingly, and when one acquaintance grew troublesome, and another unhealthy, he used to quote Lady Frances’s observation, “That a man cannot hem a pocket-handkerchief.” – Hesther Lynch Piozzi (Mrs Thrale), Anecdotes of Samuel Johnson, p121-2

A vain, indiscreet man, who is a great talker and a sorry joker, who speaks of himself with satisfaction and of everyone else with contempt, who is impetuous, haughty, enterprising, without morals or probity, a man of no judgement and of a licentious imagination, lacks nothing to make many women worship him but fine features and a handsome figure. – La Bruyere

…the most pressing concern of a woman whose affections are engaged, the one that troubles her most keenly, is not so much to convince a man that she loves him as to find out whether she is loved. – La Bruyere

Women find it easy enough to say things that they do not feel; men find it even easier to say what they do feel. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Women, 66

…Coleridge was wont to apply to a lady for her judgement in questions of taste, and accept it; but when she added – “I think so, because” – “Pardon me, madam,” he said, “leave me to find out the reasons for myself.” – Emerson, Woman

Marriage, in life, is like a duel in the midst of a battle. – Edmond About

…what is conscience to a wife? – Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque

Be not in haste to marry, nor to engage your affections, where there is no probability of a return. Do not fancy every woman you see the heroine of a romance…& yourself the potential hero of it… Avoid this error as you would shrink back from a precipice. All your fine sentiments and romantic notions will (of themselves) make no more impression on one of these delicate creatures, than on a piece of marble. …It is not what you think of them that determines their choice, but what they think of you. Endeavour, if you would escape lingering torments, and the gnawing of the worm that dies not, to find out this, and to abide by the issue. We trifle with, make sport of, and despise those who are attached to us, and follow those that fly from us. …Study first impressions, for everything depends upon them, in love especially. … Love in women (at least) is either vanity, or interest, or fancy. It is merely a selfish feeling. It has nothing to do (I am sorry to say) with friendship; or esteem, or even pity. …If you run away with a pedantic notion that they care a pin’s point about your head or your heart, you will repent it too late. – Hazlitt, On the Conduct of Life

Many women feel it is natural to consult with their partners at every turn, while many men automatically make more decisions without consulting their partners. This may reflect a broad difference in conceptions of decision making. Women expect decisions to be discussed first and made by consensus. They appreciate the discussion itself as evidence of involvement and communication. But many men feel oppressed by lengthy discussions about what they see as minor decisions, and they feel hemmed in if they can’t just act without talking first. – Deborah Tannen, YOU JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND, p27

276. How often! How unforeseen! – How many married men there are who have experienced the morning when it has dawned on them that their young wife is tedious and believes the opposite. Not to speak of those women whose flesh is willing but whose spirit is weak! – Nietzsche, Daybreak

Discovering reciprocal love should really disenchant the lover with regard to the beloved. “What! She is modest enough to love even you? Or stupid enough? Or – or -” – Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, IV 102

There is one thing infinitely more pathetic than to have lost the woman one is in love with, and that is to have won her and found out how shallow she is. – Wilde

[Thales] made answer to the question, when a man should marry: A young man, not yet, an elder man not at all. – Bacon, Of Marriage and Single Life

BRIDE, n. A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary


…a family is, in the first place, a system designed for keeping centrifugal forces from working within a group of people who have to stay together. – Clifford Geertz, remark to Jerome Bruner

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