Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Robertson Davies

Canadian Novelist, Playwright, Critic, Journalist and Professor

"It is not always easy to diagnose. The simplest form of stupidity "

"It is not as though Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law was a precept from which splendid fiction could not be drawn; it is rather that what these small-time rebels choose to do is so trivial, so cheap, and in the end, so dreary."

"It is not my intention to denounce modern education. If it is bad, it may be said that all education is bad which is not self-education, and quite a lot of self-education is going on today "

"It is particularly displeasing to hear professional critics using the term layman to describe people who are amateurs and patrons of those arts with which they are themselves professionally concerned. The fact that the critic gets money for knowing something, and giving public expression to his opinion, does not entitle him to consider the amateur, who may be as well informed and as sensitive as himself, an outsider."

"It is popularly believed that our grandmothers were unathletic, but no girl who operated a parlour organ lacked exercise, pumping with her feet, clawing at the Vox Humana and Celeste stops with her hands and wagging her head to keep time. But the parlour organ went out when short skirts came in. Many a young fellow of the nineties, charmed by his girl's command of her organ, married her, only to discover on his wedding night that she had legs like an eight-day bicycle racer "

"It isn't everybody who is the hero of his own romance, and when we meet one he is likely to be a fascinating monster"

"It seemed to me as if the stones sang, in the strangest voices, in the language of Ultima Thule."

"It seems to me that most of us get all the adventure we are capable of digesting. Personally, I have never had to fight a dozen pirates single-handed, and I have never jumped from a moving express-train onto the back of a horse, and I have never been discovered in the harem of the Grand Turk. I am glad of all these things. They are too rich for my digestion, and I do not long for them. I have all the close shaves and narrow squeaks in my life that my constitution will stand, and my daily struggles with bureaucrats, taxgatherers and uplifters are more exhausting than any encounters with mere buccaneers on the Spanish Main."

"It was as though she was an exile from a world that saw things her way."

"It was easier to keep myself from becoming a success as an actor. Critics were careful not to outrage my modesty by their praise, and the public scrupulously refused to debauch me with applause. I have thought about it a good deal, and my conclusion is that I was ahead of my time. Or behind it."

"It was from him I learned that the stage is too coarse a medium for the works of the supreme poet; Shakespeare's depths can only be plumbed in the solitude of the study. So I used to shut myself up and plumb away for hours, and I acquired such aptitude that for a time there was a belief that I might pipe Shakespeare into young minds of the rest of my days, as a full-fledged academic plumber."

"It would be nice to be unfailingly, perpetually, remorselessly funny, day in and day out, year in and year out until somebody murdered you, now wouldn't it?"

"It would certainly be better if a writer like Leacock knew always what was best to do and what would look best in the eyes of posterity, but such unnatural foresight cannot be required of any man."

"Let people alone. Let them find their way. Let them find their level and you may sometimes be delighted and astonished at the extraordinary high level to which they'll rise if they're let alone."

"Life itself is too great a miracle for us to make so much fuss about potty little reversals of what we pompously assume to be the natural order."

"Like it or not, to reach middle age with less money or less prestige than our father had is somewhat to lose face. Stupid of course, when put like that, but who is prepared to argue that we are not stupid in several important ways?"

"Literary critics, however, frequently suffer from a curious belief that every author longs to extend the boundaries of literary art, wants to explore new dimensions of the human spirit, and if he doesn't, he should be ashamed of himself."

"Long toil and short leisure are part of the heavy price we pay for our North American standard of living. It is reputed to be the highest in the world, and so it should be, for it is bought at an inordinate price."

"Many a promising career has been wrecked by marrying the wrong sort of woman. The right sort of woman can distinguish between Creative Lassitude and plain shiftlessness."

"Marriage is a framework to preserve friendship. It is valuable because it gives much more room to develop than just living together. It provides a base from which a person can work at understanding himself and another person."

"May I make a suggestion, hoping it is not an impertinence? Write it down: write down what you feel. It is sometimes a wonderful help in misery."

"Men of action, I notice, are rarely humble, even in situations where action of any kind is a great mistake, and masterly inaction is called for."

"Moderation, the Golden Mean, the Aristonmetron, is the secret of wisdom and of happiness. But it does not mean embracing an unadventurous mediocrity: rather it is an elaborate balancing-act, a feat of intellectual skill demanding constant vigilance. Its aim is a reconciliation of opposites."

"Modern disillusion is unlikely to last forever, and nothing rings so hollow as the angst of yesterday."

"Motherhood and all the sentimentality that goes with Mother's Day was not congenial to the Greek mind. They were a remarkably unsentimental people; they had no particular reverence for children, nor did they regard them as a special and privileged portion of society. It would not have occurred to them to erect a vast temple to Mickey Mouse. They left that for us."

"My curiosity was in no way cruel. Deviations from the commonplace attracted me strongly, as they still do; and to me the hermaphrodite and the living skeleton were interesting for the same reason as was Creator, or the resplendent Guardsmen of the bands "

"My position was a common one; I wanted to do the right thing but could not help regretting the damnable expense."

"Naked anger may sometimes be seen in priests of the Church of Rome, but the Church of England prefers the icy smile, the false bonhomie, the sword concealed in the palm-branch."

"No people on earth can make you feel so small as the English."

"No, the Golden Mean is not a sunny, untroubled nullity, but a deep awareness of possibilities, with one eye cocked toward Comedy and the other eye skewed toward Tragedy, and out of this feat of balanced observation emerges Humor, not as a foolish amusement or an escape from reality, but as a breadth of perception, and what Heracleitus called an attunement of opposite tensions, like that of the bow and the lyre. A reconciliation of opposites, indeed."

"Nobody can find fault with legitimate ambition, but when the wealth of the spiritual and intellectual life is reduced to a formula for overcoming sales resistance, we protest."

"Nobody who looks as though he enjoyed life is ever called distinguished, though he is a man in a million."

"Not all readers are prepared, at all times, to make independent judgments. But the failure of modern education to equip them to do so even when they have the inclination creates a serious gap in modern culture."

"Not enough attention is paid to the negative side of fashion. Great effort is exerted to make people look smart, but somebody should face the fact that a lot of people never will be smart, and that they should be given some assistance in maintaining their fascinating dowdiness."

"Not long ago a friend of mine opened the door of the garage at her summer cottage, and found a man inside who had hanged himself about two months before; what is more he had been cut down. She is deeply anxious to know (a) why he hanged himself; (b) if he hanged himself or was hanged; (c) who cut him down; (d) what it was about her garage that appealed to his morbid fancy. She will probably never know any of these things. It is thus that life falls short of the movies."

"Nothing grows old fashioned so fast as modernity."

"Nothing is more dangerous to maidenly delicacy of speech than the run of a good library."

"Now, very few [physicians] are men of science in any very serious sense; they're men of technique."

"Of course, fairies are all imported in North America. We have no native fairies. The Little People do not long survive importation "

"Once or twice I have tried to talk to film people about my ugly heroine. I explain to them the extraordinary psychological fascination of the medieval legend of the Loathly Damsel, whose splendor of spirit is confined within a hideous body, and she becomes beautiful only when she is understood and loved. I advise you not to talk to resolutely Hollywood minds about the Loathly Damsel. Their eyes glaze, and their cigars go out, and behind the lenses of their horn-rimmed spectacles I see the dominating symbol of their inner life: it is a dollar sign."

"One learns one's mystery at the price of one's innocence."

"One of the most difficult tasks for the educated and sophisticated mind is to recognize that some clich"

"One of the things that puzzles me is that so few people want to look at life as a totality and to recognize that death is no more extraordinary than birth. When they say it's the end of everything they don't seem to recognize that we came from somewhere and it would be very, very strange indeed to suppose that we're not going somewhere."

"One receives the impression from his writings that he made it his plan to read any book whatever that no one else can bear to read."

"Only a fool expects to be happy all the time."

"Only in the theatre was it possible to see the performers and to be warmed by their personal charm, to respond to their efforts and to feel their response to the applause and appreciative laughter of the audience. It had an intimate quality; audience and actors conspired to make a little oasis of happiness and mirth within the walls of the theatre. Try as we will, we cannot be intimate with a shadow on a screen, nor a voice from a box."

"Other-directed appears to be nothing more than a sociological term for weakminded."

"Our age has robbed millions of the simplicity of ignorance, and has so far failed to lift them to the simplicity of wisdom."

"Our fate lies in your hands, to you we pray For an indulgent hearing of our play; Laugh if you can, or failing that, give vent In hissing fury to your discontent; Applause we crave, from scorn we take defense But have no armor 'gainst indifference."

"Our forebears are deserving of tribute for one indisputable reason, if for no other: without them we should not be here. Let us recognize that we are not the ultimate triumph but rather we are beads on a string. Let us behave with decency to the beads that were strung before us and hope modestly that the beads that come after us will not hold us of no account simply because we are dead."