Back in high school, my mom bought me a book called The Book of Success. This book, edited by Richard Shea, was a quote book separated into twenty-three chapters, with the quotes in each chapter pertaining to that chapter’s title (for example, a chapter titled “How Much Money Do I Need?” included quotes about money). Still one of the most inspiring books that I own (and one that made me realize what a hell of a writer Melville was–though I still can’t get through Moby Dick), the book introduced me to the world of quotations. I have been collecting them ever since, through things I have found online, seen on TV, read in books, observed in movies, or heard in songs. I also received a second book of quotes in college (from my friends this time) called The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations, edited by Tony Augarde.
Most of the quotes that I collect are inspirational. Some have to do with literature, others politics, still others people. Some are just plain funny. All are filled with wisdom. And while it is impossible for me to share with you all of the quotes I have collected over the years (unless I want to spend most of my adult life writing this post), I will share with you some of my favorites.
Of course, no collection of quotes would be complete without some from Oscar Wilde. Possibly the wittiest man who ever lived, he is also one of the most quoted. Here are some of my favorites, and the names of the works in which they can be found (if known by me):
“All women become like their mothers, that is their tragedy; no man does, that is his.”
–The Importance of Being Earnest
“All great ideas are dangerous.”
“I sometimes think that God, in creating man, rather overestimated His ability.”
“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”
“Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious. Both are disappointed.”
–A Woman of No Importance
Lady Hunstanton: I don’t know how he made his money, originally.
Kelvil: I fancy in American dry goods.
Lady Hunstanton: What are American dry goods?
Lord Illingworth: American novels.
–A Woman of No Importance
Likewise, no collection of quotes would be complete without some from Mark Twain. A near contemporary of Wilde’s (he was 19 years older than Wilde but lived 10 years longer), he also could be witty, though his witticisms tended to have more “bite” than Wilde’s. Here are some of my favorites:
“Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she laid an asteroid.”
“Love your enemy; it will scare the hell out of them.”
“If you teach your people–as you teach me–to hide their opinions when they believe the flag is being abused and dishonored, lest the utterance do them and a publisher a damage, how do you answer for it to you conscience?”
-addressing Joseph Twichell (letter?)
On Jane Austen: “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”
-Letter to Joseph Twichell, Sept. 13, 1898
Like Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain also commented on writing. The following quote is often misquoted (as is Wilde’s about the comma). Here is the correct wording:
“The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
-Letter to George Bainton, Oct. 15, 1888
In fact, many of the quotes I collect deal with writing, writers, and art. Here are some of my favorites:
“Art is as real as life itself, and, as life itself, it has no goal or meaning, it exists because it must exist.”
-Lev Lunts, Russian author
“True literature can exist only when it is created, not by diligent and trustworthy officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels, and skeptics.”
-Yevgeny Zamyatin, “I Am Afraid” (1921)
“No man can write who is not first a humanist.”
“Fiction, because it is not about somebody who actually lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about ourself.”
-Orson Scott Card, Introduction to Ender’s Game
“Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything.”
“The artist believes in the future because he lives in the future.”
-Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881), dedication of Boris Godounov
Finally, here are some of my favorite nonliterary quotes:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
“An artist is never poor.”
-Babette, from the movie Babette’s Feast
“As long as one suffers one lives.”
-Graham Greene, The End of the Affair
“To die is nothing, but it is terrible not to live.”
-Jean Valjean, from Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
“We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.”
“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.”
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
-Eleanor Roosevelt, This is My Story
Feel free to share your favorites in the comments section.
Until next week!