Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Robertson Davies

Canadian Novelist, Playwright, Critic, Journalist and Professor

"I do not 'get' ideas; ideas get me."

"I do not trust any advice which is given in bad prose."

"I don't really care how time is reckoned so long as there is some agreement about it, but I object to being told that I am saving daylight when my reason tells me that I am doing nothing of the kind. I even object to the implication that I am wasting something valuable if I stay in bed after the sun has risen. As an admirer of moonlight I resent the bossy insistence of those who want to reduce my time for enjoying it. At the back of the Daylight Saving scheme I detect the bony, blue-fingered hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier, and get them up earlier, to make them healthy, wealthy and wise in spite of themselves."

"I don't suppose God laughs at the people who think He doesn't exist. He's above jokes. But the devil isn't. That's one of his most endearing qualities."

"I expect that Hell is very heavily populated with just exactly that sort of person [who feels he's accomplished all his goals early in life] because, you know, somebody who fears that he has exhausted what there is for him to do and what he can do at thirty-five, is a fool. What he means is that he's become the sales manager of International Widgets or some wretched thing. That's not a life, that's not a thing that should occupy a man. People drive themselves terribly hard at these jobs, and they develop a sort of mystique about something which does not admit of a mystique. A thing to have a mystique must necessarily have many aspects, many corridors, many avenues, many things that open up. Well, this is not to be found in the business world, and I've known a lot of first-class businessmen and they all tell you this. People have told me that in their particular business there's nothing to be learned that an intelligent man can't learn in eighteen months. But if you've learned it in eighteen months and if you're exhausted by the time you're thirty-five, it's nobody's fault but your own if you haven't found something else to do."

"I feel that what is wrong with scores of modern novels which show literary quality, but which are repellent and depressing to the spirit is not that the writers have rejected a morality, but that they have one which is unexamined, trivial, and lopsided. They have a base concept of life; they bring immense gusto to their portrayals of what is perverse, shabby, and sordid, but they have no clear notion of what is Evil; the idea of Good is unattractive to them, and when they have to deal with it, they do so in terms of the sentimental or the merely pathetic. Briefly, some of them write very well, but they write from base minds that have been unimproved by thought or instruction. They feel, but they do not think. And the readers to whom they appeal are the products of our modern universal literacy, whose feeling is confused and muddled by just such reading, and who have been deluded that their mental processes are indeed a kind of thought."

"I had rather see the portrait of a dog that I know, than all the allegorical paintings they can show me in the world."

"I hate a fellow whom pride, or cowardice, or laziness drives into a corner, and who does nothing when he is there but sit and growl; let him come out as I do, and bark."

"I hate mankind, for I think of myself as one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am."

"I have already enjoyed too much; give me something to desire."

"I have always considered it as treason against the great republic of human nature, to make any man's virtues the means of deceiving him."

"I have found men to be more kind than I expected, and less just."

"I have known far too many university graduates, in this country and in my own, who, as soon as they have received the diploma which declares them to be of Certified Intelligence, put their brains in cold storage and never use them again until they are hauled away to the mortuary."

"I have never consciously used humor in my life. Such humor as I may have is one of the elements in which I live. I cannot recall a time when I was not conscious of the deep, heaving, rolling ocean of hilarity that lies so very near the surface of life in most of its aspects. If I am a moralist "

"I have no skills with machines. I fear them, and because I cannot help attributing human qualities to them, I suspect that they hate me and will kill me if they can."

"I have thought of a pulley to raise me gradually; but that would give me pain, as it would counteract my natural inclination. I would have something that can dissipate the inertia and give elasticity to the muscles. We can heat the body, we can cool it; we can give it tension or relaxation; and surely it is possible to bring it into a state in which rising from bed will not be a pain."

"I heard his library burned down and both books were destroyed and one of them hadn't even been colored in yet."

"I knew that he prayed a great deal, of course for help in the examinations. But subsequent clinical experience has convinced me that God is not particularly interested in examinations, just as he won't be dragged into the Stock Market, or being a backer in show business."

"I like long and unusual words, and anybody who does not share my tastes is not compelled to read me. Policemen and politicians are under some obligation to make themselves comprehensible to the intellectually stunted, but not I. Let my prose be tenebrous and rebarbative; let my pennyworth of thought be muffled in gorgeous habilements; lovers of Basic English will look to me in vain."

"I literally never meet anybody who ever talks about God as something other than a kind of big man. I think God is a wondrous spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, but only interested in men as part of a giant creation which is pulsing with life."

"I never heard of anyone who was really literate or who ever really loved books who wanted to suppress any of them. Censors only read a book with great difficulty, moving their lips as they puzzle out each syllable, when someone tells them that the book is unfit to read."

"I once had a dispute with a group of Swedish professors at the University of Uppsala as to which country, Sweden or Canada, was the dullest in the world. It was a draw; they claimed superiority because of their long history, and I claimed it because of Canada's immense land mass, which gives us space for tremendous expansion, even of such things as dullness."

"I seemed to be the only person I knew without a plan that would put the world on its feet and wipe the tear from every eye."

"I think a great many marriages would be saved if people would behave toward one another with the same courtesy that they would extend to someone whom they really didn't know as well as a marriage necessarily implies. ... It's not very easy to do, but it is surely easier to do than to haggle and nag and fight and bitch and yelp at one another as you hear a lot of married people doing ... They seem to feel that the familiarity of affection permits anything, including insult."

"I think a lot of people have unreasonable expectations because they never stop to consider what life actually has to offer them. They're always looking for some great epiphany from the skies. They never stop to consider the fact which human beings find hardest to recognize: Maybe I'm not worthy of an epiphany."

"I think of an author as somebody who goes into the marketplace and puts down his rug and says, ''I will tell you a story,'' and then he passes the hat."

"I think possibly the final sophistication is the recovery of innocence. Where you really get where you take things rather simply. You can't have the innocence of peasants; you are not a peasant; you can't be one of them. But you have to work awfully hard to recover that with a few additional hot licks, by getting smart, wise. I think the final gift of sophistication would be a kind of innocent, clean view of things "

"I think we should see whether we are wise trying to educate everybody to a high standard the way we are trying to do now. There has to be a high level of education so everybody is literate, but whether university education is necessary for everyone is open to question."

"I think we're living in an age which despises humanity and despises bravery and doesn't need bravery because modern warfare has rather gone beyond bravery. It is a kind of warfare where people are fighting enemies they never see, killing people of whom they know nothing."

"I was afraid and did not know what I feared, which is the worst kind of fear."

"I was not sure I wanted to issue orders to life; I rather liked the Greek notion of allowing Chance to take a formative hand in my affairs."

"If I had my way books would not be written in English, but in an exceedingly difficult secret language that only skilled professional readers and story-tellers could interpret. Then people like you would have to go to public halls and pay good prices to hear the professionals decode and read the books aloud for you. This plan would have the advantage of scaring off all amateur authors, retired politicians, country doctors and I-Married-a-Midget writers who would not have the patience to learn the secret language."

"If I had to describe my remarks this evening frankly "

"If I tended toward frivolity as a boy, I am incorrigibly settled in it now."

"If our age is not distinguished for a greatly increased number of happy marriages and a more intelligent approach to the problems of sex, we may surely assert that some forms of misery in the sexual realm are less widespread than they used to be; and of the many people who are unhappy, thousands have some idea of what lies at the root of their unhappiness, and thus far they are better off than their forefathers, who had none, or attributed their distress to sin."

"If people need a book to tell them that in marriage kindness and forbearance are necessary, and that the sexual act is happier when it is undertaken to give pleasure as well as to receive it, these books are what they want. Possibly people so lacking in understanding of themselves and others do not mind being addressed in the coarse, grainy prose of the marriage counselor."

"If we seek the pleasures of love, passion should be occasional and common sense continual."

"If you are an intellectual, your best course is to relax and enjoy it."

"If you can, and if you are a playgoer and a filmgoer, you should be able to find voices for all the characters in the books you read."

"If you cling frantically to the good, how are you to find out what the good really is?."

"Imagination is a good horse to carry you over the ground not a flying carpet to set you free from probability."

"In an age where public health has never been better provided for, and medical men enjoy a respect formerly reserved for the aristocracy and the clergy, millions of people are unwell, or merely feel unwell, or are in dread lest at some future time they may become unwell."

"In my collection, to me at least, the theatre of the past lives again and those long-dead playwrights and actors have in me an enthralled audience of one, and I applaud them across the centuries."

"In my experience tact is usually worse than the brutalities of truth"

"In too many modern churches there is no emphasis on theology at all. There is a kind of justification by works or by keeping up with modern trends "

"Inactivity and deprivation of all accustomed stimulus is not rest; it is a preparation for the tomb"

"It is in this matter that I fall foul of so many American writers on writing; they seem to think that writing is a confidence game by means of which the author cajoles a restless, dull-witted, shallow audience into hearing his point of view. Such an attitude is base, and can only beget base prose."

"It is lost, lovely child, somewhere in the ragbag that I laughingly refer to as my memory."

"It is mankind's discovery of language which more than any other single thing has separated him from the animal creation. Without language, what concept have we of past or future as separated from the immediate present? Without language, how can we tell anyone what we feel, or what we think? It might be said that until he developed language, man had no soul, for without language how could he reach deep inside himself and discover the truths that are hidden there, or find out what emotions he shared, or did not share, with his fellow men and women. But because this greatest gift of all gifts is in daily use, and is smeared, and battered and trivialized by commonplace associations, we too often forget the splendor of which it is capable, and the pleasures that it can give, from the pen of a master."

"It is not always easy to diagnose. The simplest form of stupidity - the mumbling, nose-picking, stolid incomprehension - can be detected by anyone. But the stupidity which disguises itself as thought, and which talks so glibly and eloquently, indeed never stops talking, in every walk of life is not so easy to identify, because it marches under a formidable name, which few dare attack. It is called Popular Opinion..."