Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Robertson Davies

Canadian Novelist, Playwright, Critic, Journalist and Professor

"The reader cannot create; that has been done for him by the author. The reader can only interpret, giving the author a fair chance to make his impression."

"The really great eccentrics are all inimitable; they are not possessed by a single oddity; they are, in their deepest selves, unlike the generality of mankind."

"The reclusive man who marries the gregarious woman, the timid woman who marries the courageous man, the idealist who marries the realist "

"The search for the sense of humor is as fruitless and as enduring as the hunt for the unicorn; the really wise man knows that the unicorn, being no reality but a life-enhancing myth, must never be hunted, and may only be glimpsed by the well-disposed and the lucky; it cannot be captured, and it is encountered only by indirection."

"The stones were dancing now. O yes, they were dancing! But it was not hopping and skipping like jigs or reels, nor was it the dismal revolving of a ballroom. Not a stone moved from its place, but they rocked and turned, slowly and with the greatest dignity, as if to say: We are the lords of the earth and of the water. We shall stand when all has gone. We shall endure until better things come. But what can be better than we? So we shall endure forever."

"The true realist is he who believes in both God and the Devil, and is prepared to attempt, with humility, to sort out some corner of the extraordinary tangle of their works which is our world. He cannot use his feeling alone, he must use his intellect."

"The truth is that art does not teach; it makes you feel, and any teaching that may arise from the feeling is an extra, and must not be stressed too much. In the modern world, and in Canada as much as anywhere, we are obsessed with the notion that to think is the highest achievement of mankind, but we neglect the fact that thought untouched by feeling is thin, delusive, treacherous stuff."

"The U.S., for historical reasons, mistrusts the concept of a welfare state, and this mistrust shows itself nakedly under present US government, which commits uncounted billions of the national wealth to what it calls defense, and is close-fisted in giving money to plans which would ameliorate the grinding poverty of a great part of its people. Quite simply, in Canada you could not get away with that."

"The usual thing "

"The Victorians have been immoderately praised, and immoderately blamed, and surely it is time we formed some reasonable picture of them? There was their courageous, intellectually adventurous side, their greedy and inhuman side, their superbly poetic side, their morally pretentious side, their tea and buttered toast side, and their champagne and Skittles side. Much like ourselves, in fact, though rather dirtier."

"The whole world is burdened with young fogies. Old men with ossified minds are easily dealt with. But men who look young, act young, and everlastingly harp on the fact they are young, but who nevertheless think and act with a degree of caution which would be excessive in their grandfathers, are the curses of the world."

"The word religion just means law, the consideration of law and consequence. That's what interests me: what happens as a result of what people do. Also the reluctance people have to learn that certain actions will bring certain consequences ... people don't learn. Over and over again they do the same stupid things without having learned what happens. ... We are not wise because we are always looking for causes for things which are outside ourselves."

"The world does so well without me, that I am moved to wish that I could do equally well without the world."

"The world is burdened with young fogies. Old men with ossified minds are easily dealt with. But men who look young, act young and everlastingly harp on the fact that they are young, but who nevertheless think and act with a degree of caution that would be excessive in their grandfathers, are the curse of the world. Their very conservatism is secondhand, and they don't know what they are conserving."

"Never neglect the charms of narrative for the human heart. "

"Their very conservatism is secondhand, and they don't know what they are conserving."

"There are great numbers of people to whom the act of reading a book "

"There are times when I think that the reading I have done in the past has had no effect except to cloud my mind and make me indecisive."

"There are, one presumes, tone-deaf readers."

"There is absolutely no point in sitting down to write a book unless you feel that you must write that book, or else go mad, or die."

"There is no democracy in the world of intellect, and no democracy of taste."

"There is no disputing about tastes, says the old saw. In my experience there is little else."

"There is no nonsense so gross that society will not, at some time, make a doctrine of it and defend it with every weapon of communal stupidity."

"There is no reason to suppose that people today feel less than their grandfathers, but there is good reason to think that they are less able to read in a way which makes them feel. It is natural for them to blame books rather than themselves, and to demand fiction which is highly peppered, like a glutton whose palate is defective."

"There must be times, in the world of business, when two Peale-powered personalities find themselves in opposition. Number One is determined to achieve success by selling Number Two a great gross of non-molting dust mops; Number Two is equally determined not to have the mops. Both have affirmed an equal number of times that he can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth him. What happens? Theologians will scratch their heads over this, and Immensity itself may feel a tremor."

"They [say] everybody's creative. Well, everybody is. But any real creativity has to rest on a basis of an acquired technique and an acquired knowledge; you can't be creative in a void, or you just get a mess."

"They live and laugh who know the better part "

"This evening heard Carmen on the radio, and reflected how hard it was to vamp a man while singing at the top of one's voice. That is the operatic problem; the singer must keep up a head of stream while trying to appear secretive, or seductive, or consumptive. Some ingenious composer should write an opera about a group of people who were condemned by a cruel god to scream all the time; it would be an instantaneous success, and a triumph of verisimilitude."

"This is an age of groups, clubs, associations, and whatnot; most members of the clerisy belong to enough of these already. It is within the groups to which they already belong that they can best assert the values of the humanist "

"This is the Great Theater of Life. Admission is free but the taxation is mortal. You come when you can, and leave when you must. The show is continuous. Goodnight."

"This strengthens a belief which I have long cherished, that in a few centuries women will be the larger, stronger sex, admired for their biceps and superfluous hair, and that men will be their toys and domestic comforters, exciting tenderness in the female breast by their small feet, pretty soft hands, and general helplessness. I do not think I have a heart, for I have never been able to locate my pulse, or any other symptom of a circulatory system, but I am willing to share any of the benefits of male delicacy."

"This was a distilled essence of life; this was the way people behaved when they took off the masks which all adults seemed to me to wear; this was noble. A veil had been rent between the greatness of mankind and myself, and I knew that I would never be the same again. Nor was I. Since that night I have made some progress in my attempt to understand mankind, but I have never made another such giant leap."

"Thought and reason, unless matched by feelings, are empty, delusive things."

"To ask an author who hopes to be a serious writer if his work is autobiographical is like asking a spider where he buys his thread. The spider gets his thread right out of his own guts, and that is where the author gets his writing."

"To be a book-collector is to combine the worst characteristics of a dope fiend with those of a miser."

"To be apt in quotation is a splendid and dangerous gift. Splendid, because it ornaments a man's speech with other men's jewels; dangerous, for the same reason."

"To which god must I sacrifice in order to heal? To which of the warring serpents should I turn with the problem that now faces me? It is easy, and tempting, to choose the god of Science. Now I would not for a moment have you suppose that I am one of those idiots who scorns Science, merely because it is always twisting and turning, and sometimes shedding its skin, like the serpent that is its symbol. It is a powerful god indeed but it is what the students of ancient gods called a shape-shifter, and sometimes a trickster."

"Today I live in the gray, muffled, smelless, puffy, tasteless half-world of those who have colds."

"Too much traffic with a quotation book begets a conviction of ignorance in a sensitive reader. Not only is there a mass of quotable stuff he never quotes, but an even vaster realm of which he has never heard."

"Try some Symbolic Logic on your little Couch Potato when you go home, and see what happens."

"Very often when I am introduced to women, I think, What is she really like behind the disguise which she wears? And very often I discover that she is pleasant enough, and probably would expand and glow if she received enough affection."

"Was driving through the countryside today with some people who insisted upon frequent recourse to a roadmap in order to discover, as they put it, Just where they were. Reflected that for my part I generally have a pretty shrewd idea of just where I am; I am enclosed in the somewhat vulnerable fortress which is my body, and from that uneasy stronghold I make such sorties as I deem advisable into the realm about me. These people seemed to think that whizzing through space in a car really altered the universe for them, but they were wrong; each one remained right in the centre of his private universe, which is the only field of knowledge of which he has any direct experience."

"We all have slumbering realms of sensibility which can be coaxed into wakefulness by books."

"We are approaching a millennium; the year 2000 draws on apace. The last time mankind had this experience a chaos comparable to our own was observable in many parts of the world; monsters and portents were reported from all quarters of the globe. We need not believe in these monsters and portents as actualities any more than we need believe the reports of flying saucers today; what is significant is that men yielded to an inner compulsion to fancy such things, and in this sense they were artistic creations rooted in fear much as are the pictures and images which we have been discussing."

"We have educated ourselves into a world from which wonder, and he fear and dread and splendor and freedom of wonder have been banished. Of course wonder is costly. You couldn't incorporate it into a modern state, because it is the antithesis of the anxiously worshiped security which is what a modern state is asked to give. Wonder is marvelous but it is also cruel, cruel, cruel. It is undemocratic, discriminatory and pitiless."

"We live in a world where bulk is equated with quality."

"We mistrust anything that too strongly challenges our ideal of mediocrity."

"We wanted to meet him, for though we were neither of us naive people we had not wholly lost our belief that it is delightful to meet artists who have given us pleasure."

"Well, I haven't got wealth or fame, but I really think I might say, and I know how dangerous it is to say this "

"What might we profitably do on Halloween? Look backward, and consider those who went before us. The road ahead is inevitably dark, but to see where we have been may offer unexpected hints about who we are, and where we should be heading. Triviality about the past leads certainly toward a trivial future."