Category Archives: Quotations

What Valuable Lesson Has Life Taught You?

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsWhen H. Brown Jackson turned 51, he sat down to write down what half century of living had taught him. It became a cherished weekly ritual and soon he began asking his family, friends, acquaintances, and students of all ages to answer this compelling question: what valuable lesson has life taught you?

Over time, he collected all these pearls of wisdom in a little book entitled Live and Learn and Pass It On published in 1992. “This book,” he writes in the introduction, “contains the combined wisdom of thousands of years of living… It is lessons learned from loving and winning and… losing, from the school of hard knocks, and the old method of trial and error… Regardless of how much we know, it is never enough… with every new experience, we are offered new opportunities for discovery and growth… School is always in session and life challenges us to excel at being both enthusiastic student and inspired teacher.” Amen, brother. And the beautiful thing about personal wisdom is that is priceless — and free. As Jackson pleasantly discovered, you just need to have the curiosity to ask — and the willingness to learn from it. Here are some highlights (age of contributor in parenthesis).

I’ve learned that deciding whom you marry is the most important decision you’ll ever make. (95)

I’ve learned that most of the things I worry about never happen. (64)

I’ve learned that the great challenge in life is to decide what’s important and disregard everything else. (51)

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t compare yourself to the best others can do, but to the best you can do. (68)

I’ve learned that it doesn’t cost anything to be nice. (66)

I’ve learned that nothing of value comes without effort. (64)

I’ve learned that even the simplest task can be meaningful if I do it in the right spirit. (72)

I’ve learned that enthusiasm is caught, not taught. (51)

I’ve learned that in every face-to-face encounter, regardless of how brief, we leave something behind. (45)

I’ve learned that you can’t hug your kids too much. (54)

What valuable lesson has life taught you?

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All Great Discoveries Have Involved a Leap of Intuition

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Certainly there are things worth believing. I believe in the brotherhood of man and the uniqueness of the individual. But if you ask me to prove what I believe, I can’t. You know them to be true but you could spend a whole lifetime without being able to prove them. The mind can proceed only so far upon what it knows and can prove. There comes a point where the mind takes a leap — call it intuition or what you will — and comes out upon a higher plane of knowledge, but can never prove how it got there. All great discoveries have involved such a leap.”

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) quoted in the Life Magazine article Death of a Genius (May 2, 1955). Einstein was a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist and poster boy for geniuses and bad hair days. As early as 1975, a variant of this quotation appears in The Human Side of Scientists by Ralph Oesper: “The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it intuition or what you will, the solution comes to you and you don’t know how or why.”

Read related posts: The Meaning of Life by Peter Gay
The Meaning of Life by Joseph Campbell
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Life’s Most Important Questions

Famous Phrases You Have Been Misquoting

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsQuoting famous authors or thinkers is presumably a reflection of one’s erudition. But what it does it say about the speaker, if they don’t even know that the quotation they are using is incorrect — specifically, it is a paraphrase of the actual text. A speaker who actually knows the original text would say, “To paraphrase Shakespeare, ‘methinks the lady doth protest too much'” rather than “To quote Shakespeare…” It doesn’t help that the internet functions like a global version game of telephone, where inaccuracies are disseminated in the time it takes to send a tweet — the twitterings of twits, as it were. Here are some famous misquoted quotes, for those who appreciate the nuances of the actual written words:

Misquote: “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”
Original quote: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
Source: William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (c. 1600), Act III, Scene II

Misquote: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Original quote: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are always bad men.”
Source: Lord John Acton

Misquote: “Blood, sweat, and tears.”
Original quote: “I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”
Source: Winston Churchill, speech to House of Commons, May 13, 1940

Misquote: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
Original quote: “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”
Source: William Congreve, The Mourning Bride (1697), Act III, Scene VIII

Misquote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Original quote: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”
Source: Edmund Burke, Thoughts in the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770), Volume I

Misquote: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
Original quote: “James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grow out of his illness; the report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Source: Mark Twain, note to a reporter, dated May 1897

Misquote: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.”
Original quote: “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”
Source: Mistakenly attributed to Gandhi. Actual writer was Nicholas Klein, speech to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, 1918

Misquote: “Money is the root of all evil.”
Original quote: “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”
Source: The Bible, 1 Timothy 6:10

Misquote: “No rest for the wicked.”
Original quote: “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”
Source: The Bible, Isaiah 15:21

Misquote: “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”
Original quote: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”
Source: The Bible, Proverbs 13:24

Misquote: “Pride comes before a fall.”
Original quote: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
Source: The Bible, Proverbs 16:18

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Read related posts: Most Common Shakespeare Misquotes
Famous Misquotations: Blood, Sweat, and Tears
Famous Misquotations: A Civilization is Measured by How It Treats Its Weakest Members
Famous Misquotations: The Two Most Important Days in Your Life
Famous Misquotations: The Triumph of Evil is That Good Men Do Nothing
Famous Misquotations: Blood, Sweat, and Tears

For further reading: Oxford Dictionary of Reference and Allusions by Andrew Delahunty

The Artist Remains Within or Behind His Handiwork

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThe artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.

From A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce published in 1916. Joyce’s first novel actually began on his birthday, February 2, 1904, as an autobiographical novel titled Stephen Hero. Initially, Joyce planned on writing 63 chapters, but after he reached the 25th chapter, he abandoned the work. He reworked the structure (switching from third-person to mainly first-person narration), themes, and the protagonist which resulted in the novel we recognize today. Although, were it not for his wife, Nora, and sister, Eileen, the novel would have never been published. In 1908, Joyce threw a hissy fit when publishers refused to publish one of his manuscripts, so he threw the manuscript into the fire. Eileen and Nora saved as much of the manuscript as they could — 518 pages were lost to the fire.

Read related posts: Why Did James Joyce Burn his Manuscript?
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For further reading: Stephen Hero by James Joyce edited by Theodore Spencer, Jonathan Cape (1960)
James Joyce by Richard Ellman, Oxford University Press (1983)
James Joyce: A to Z by A. Nicholas Fargnoli and Michael Gillespie, Facts on File (1995)

When We Fail to Speak Up About Corruption, We Strike a Blow Against Freedom, Decency, and Justice

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.”

Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968), American politician who served as a U.S. Attorney General (1961-1964) and Senator from New York (1965-1968). Kennedy was a passionate and eloquent advocate for social justice and human rights. Like his older brother, John F. Kennedy, he was assassinated — two deaths in a long succession of tragic misfortunes that have befallen the Kennedy family that gave rise to the term “Kennedy Curse.”

The Memory of a Departed Friend

alex atkins bookshelf literatureThere is an age-old truism that notes that although you cannot choose your family, friends are the family you choose for yourself. But what happens, when you are further along life’s journey and you lose a close friend? For many, that feels like a piece of them died, or expressed more eloquently “there falls along with him [or her] a whole wing of the palace of our life.” Part of the healing process of grieving and mourning is that those memories are intensified for a certain period of time. However, memories, being so precious but so fragile, can slip away forever, like tears in the rain; you must tend to memories like the gardener tends to his roses.

This sense of loss, as he walked through a graveyard, is what inspired Scottish novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson, best known for Treasure Island, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Kidnapped, to write one of the most beautiful and eloquent reflections about a recently departed friend, so that he would not lose those precious memories forever. Stevenson’s moving essay, found in Memories and Portraits (1912), also includes some of the most eloquent testimonies about true friendship in English literature. Although it is a lengthy excerpt, it is worth reading all the way through. I submit to you that this is the apotheosis of eulogies, for it is filled with such spectacular diction, brilliant insights, vivid images, and numerous quotable lines; to paraphrase Stevenson “in this place you will find the words of life” that will stir your soul:

I would fain strike a note that should be more heroical; but the ground of all youth’s suffering, solitude, hysteria, and haunting of the grave, is nothing else than naked, ignorant selfishness. It is himself that he sees dead; those are his virtues that are forgotten; his is the vague epitaph. Pity him but the more, if pity be your cue; for where a man is all pride, vanity, and personal aspiration, he goes through fire unshielded. In every part and corner of our life, to lose oneself is to be gainer; to forget oneself is to be happy; and this poor, laughable and tragic fool has not yet learned the rudiments; himself, giant Prometheus, is still ironed on the peaks of Caucasus. But by-and-by his truant interests will leave that tortured body, slip abroad and gather flowers. Then shall death appear before him in an altered guise; no longer as a doom peculiar to himself, whether fate’s crowning injustice or his own last vengeance upon those who fail to value him; but now as a power that wounds him far more tenderly, not without solemn compensations, taking and giving, bereaving and yet storing up.

The first step for all is to learn to the dregs our own ignoble fallibility. When we have fallen through storey after storey of our vanity and aspiration, and sit rueful among the ruins, then it is that we begin to measure the stature of our friends: how they stand between us and our own contempt, believing in our best; how, linking us with others, and still spreading wide the influential circle, they weave us in and in with the fabric of contemporary life; and to what petty size they dwarf the virtues and the vices that appeared gigantic in our youth. So that at the last, when such a pin falls out—when there vanishes in the least breath of time one of those rich magazines of life on which we drew for our supply—when he who had first dawned upon us as a face among the faces of the city, and, still growing, came to bulk on our regard with those clear features of the loved and living man, falls in a breath to memory and shadow, there falls along with him a whole wing of the palace of our life.

One such face I now remember; one such blank some half-a-dozen of us labour to dissemble. In his youth he was most beautiful in person, most serene and genial by disposition; full of racy words and quaint thoughts. Laughter attended on his coming. He had the air of a great gentleman, jovial and royal with his equals, and to the poorest student gentle and attentive. Power seemed to reside in him exhaustless; we saw him stoop to play with us, but held him marked for higher destinies; we loved his notice; and I have rarely had my pride more gratified than when he sat at my father’s table, my acknowledged friend. So he walked among us, both hands full of gifts, carrying with nonchalance the seeds of a most influential life.

The powers and the ground of friendship is a mystery; but, looking back, I can discern that, in part, we loved the thing he was, for some shadow of what he was to be. For with all his beauty, power, breeding, urbanity and mirth, there was in those days something soulless in our friend. He would astonish us by sallies, witty, innocent and inhumane; and by a misapplied Johnsonian pleasantry, demolish honest sentiment. I can still see and hear him, as he went his way along the lamplit streets, Là ci darem la mano on his lips, a noble figure of a youth, but following vanity and incredulous of good; and sure enough, somewhere on the high seas of life, with his health, his hopes, his patrimony and his self-respect, miserably went down.

From this disaster, like a spent swimmer, he came desperately ashore, bankrupt of money and consideration; creeping to the family he had deserted; with broken wing, never more to rise. But in his face there was a light of knowledge that was new to it. Of the wounds of his body he was never healed; died of them gradually, with clear-eyed resignation; of his wounded pride, we knew only from his silence. He returned to that city where he had lorded it in his ambitious youth; lived there alone, seeing few; striving to retrieve the irretrievable; at times still grappling with that mortal frailty that had brought him down; still joying in his friend’s successes; his laugh still ready but with kindlier music; and over all his thoughts the shadow of that unalterable law which he had disavowed and which had brought him low. Lastly, when his bodily evils had quite disabled him, he lay a great while dying, still without complaint, still finding interests; to his last step gentle, urbane and with the will to smile.

The tale of this great failure is, to those who remained true to him, the tale of a success. In his youth he took thought for no one but himself; when he came ashore again, his whole armada lost, he seemed to think of none but others. Such was his tenderness for others, such his instinct of fine courtesy and pride, that of that impure passion of remorse he never breathed a syllable; even regret was rare with him, and pointed with a jest. You would not have dreamed, if you had known him then, that this was that great failure, that beacon to young men, over whose fall a whole society had hissed and pointed fingers. Often have we gone to him, red-hot with our own hopeful sorrows, railing on the rose-leaves in our princely bed of life, and he would patiently give ear and wisely counsel; and it was only upon some return of our own thoughts that we were reminded what manner of man this was to whom we disembosomed: a man, by his own fault, ruined; shut out of the garden of his gifts; his whole city of hope both ploughed and salted; silently awaiting the deliverer. Then something took us by the throat; and to see him there, so gentle, patient, brave and pious, oppressed but not cast down, sorrow was so swallowed up in admiration that we could not dare to pity him. Even if the old fault flashed out again, it but awoke our wonder that, in that lost battle, he should have still the energy to fight. He had gone to ruin with a kind of kingly abandon, like one who condescended; but once ruined, with the lights all out, he fought as for a kingdom. Most men, finding themselves the authors of their own disgrace, rail the louder against God or destiny. Most men, when they repent, oblige their friends to share the bitterness of that repentance. But he had held an inquest and passed sentence: mene, mene; and condemned himself to smiling silence. He had given trouble enough; had earned misfortune amply, and foregone the right to murmur.

Thus was our old comrade, like Samson, careless in his days of strength; but on the coming of adversity, and when that strength was gone that had betrayed him — “for our strength is weakness” — he began to blossom and bring forth. Well, now, he is out of the fight: the burden that he bore thrown down before the great deliverer. We “In the vast cathedral leave him; / God accept him, / Christ receive him!”

If we go now and look on these innumerable epitaphs, the pathos and the irony are strangely fled. They do not stand merely to the dead, these foolish monuments; they are pillars and legends set up to glorify the difficult but not desperate life of man. This ground is hallowed by the heroes of defeat.

I see the indifferent pass before my friend’s last resting-place; pause, with a shrug of pity, marvelling that so rich an argosy had sunk. A pity, now that he is done with suffering, a pity most uncalled for, and an ignorant wonder. Before those who loved him, his memory shines like a reproach; they honour him for silent lessons; they cherish his example; and in what remains before them of their toil, fear to be unworthy of the dead. For this proud man was one of those who prospered in the valley of humiliation;—of whom Bunyan wrote that, “Though Christian had the hard hap to meet in the valley with Apollyon, yet I must tell you, that in former times men have met with angels here; have found pearls here; and have in this place found the words of life.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: Memories and Portraits by Robert Louis Stevenson

I Should Have Bookmarked That: “Where Lies the Final Harbor” from Moby Dick

alex atkins bookshelf literatureFine books are often bound with a ribbon bookmark. Bookmarks in books were introduced as early as 1 A.D., bound into some of the earliest codices found in libraries and monasteries of that period. The primary function of the bookmark, of course, is to the mark the reader’s place in the book as he or she reads it. However, once the book is read, the bookmark has a secondary and very important function: it can be placed in the location of a favorite or beautiful passage that you want to return to again and again.

Herman Melville’s magnum opus, Moby Dick,  is considered “The Great American Novel” however its themes and meaning transcend the shores of America. The novel is literally teeming with meaning and brilliant insights. One wishes the book were bound with two dozen ribbon bookmarks. If you have read and studied the novel you know what I mean. Recently I reached for one of my copies of Moby Dick, a beautiful deluxe leather-bound edition with gilded fore-edges published by Easton Press. The silk ribbon marks a passage in the book from Chapter 114, The Gilder. In this chapter, mesmerized by the calmness of the sea, Captain Ahab reflects on life’s journey:

“There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause: — through infancy’s unconscious spell, boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolescence’ doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more?”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related post: Why Read Moby
The Books That Shaped America
The Books that Influence Us
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For further reading: Moby-Dick or The Whale by Herman Melville
Melville: His World and Work by Andrew Delbanco

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