Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Edward Gibbon

English Historian and Member of Parliament

"I was never less alone than when by myself."

"Personal interest is often the standard of our belief, as well as of our practice."

"I am indeed rich, since my income is superior to my expense, and my expense is equal to my wishes."

"In every step of the inquiry we are compelled to feel and acknowledge the immeasurable disproportion between the size of the object and the capacity of the human mind. We may strive to abstract the notions of time, of space, and of matter, which so closely adhere to all the perceptions of our experimental knowledge. But as soon as we presume to reason of infinite substance, of spiritual generation, as often as we deduce any positive conclusions from a negative idea, we are involved in darkness, perplexity, and inevitable contradiction."

"Books are those faithful mirrors that reflect to our mind the minds of sages and heroes."

"Everyone receives two educations; the education which he gets from others, and the other which he gives to himself. Of the two the second is the more important"

"Conversation enriches understanding, but solitude is the school of genius."

"In the purer ages of the commonwealth, the use of arms was reserved for those ranks of citizens who had a country to love, a property to defend, and some share in enacting those laws, which it was their interest, as well as duty, to maintain. But in proportion as the public freedom was lost in extent of conquest, war was gradually improved into an art, and degraded into a trade."

"History is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind."

"Every man who rises above the common level has received two educations: the first from his teachers; the second, more personal and important, from himself."

"Most of the crimes which disturb the internal peace of society are produced by the restraints which the necessary, but unequal, laws of property have imposed on the appetites of mankind, by confining to a few the possession of those objects that are coveted by many. Of all our passions and appetites, the love of power is of the most imperious and unsociable nature, since the pride of one man requires the submission of the multitude. In the tumult of civil discord, the laws of society lose their force, and their place is seldom supplied by those of humanity. The ardor of contention, the pride of victory, the despair of success, the memory of past injuries, and the fear of future dangers, all contribute to inflame the mind, and to silence the voice of pity. From such motives almost every page of history has been stained with civil blood."

"Every age, however destitute of science or virtue, sufficiently abounds with acts of blood and military renown."

"The principle of heredity succession is universal; but the order has been variously established by convenience or caprice, by the spirit of national institutions, or by some partial example which was originally decided by fraud or violence."

"The best and most important part of every man’s education is that which he gives himself."

"The love of study, a passion which derives fresh vigor from enjoyment, supplies each day and hour with a perpetual source of independent and rational pleasure."

"The two Antonines... governed the Roman world forty-two years, with the same invariable spirit of wisdom and virtue... Their united reigns are possible the only period of history in which the happiness of a great people was the sole object of government."

"War in its fairest form implies a perpetual violation of humanity and justice."

"The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators."

"All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance."

"The first and indispensable requisite of happiness is a clear conscience, unsullied by the reproach of remembrance of an unworthy action."

"Reform must come from within, not from without. You cannot legislate for virtue."

"The laws of probability: so true in general, so fallacious in particular."

"The first and indispensable requisite of happiness is a clear conscience."

"The urgent consideration of the public safety may undoubtedly authorize the violation of every positive law. How far that or any other consideration may operate to dissolve the natural obligations of humanity and justice, is a doctrine of which I still desire to remain ignorant."

"The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful."