Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Richard Steele, fully Sir Richard Steele

Irish-born English Playwright, Essayist and Editor

"It is a secret known but to few, yet of no small use in the conduct of life, that when you fall into a man's conversation, the first thing you should consider is, whether he has a greater inclination to hear you, or that you should hear him."

"It is certainly a very important lesson, to learn how to enjoy ordinary things, and to be able to relish your being, without the transport of some passion, or the gratification of some appetite."

"It is not easy to surround life with any circumstances in which youth will not be delightful; and I am afraid that, whether married or unmarried, we shall find the vesture of terrestrial existence more heavy and cumbrous the longer it is worn."

"Men spend their lives in the service of their passions, instead of employing their passions in the service of their life."

"The envious man is in pain upon all occasions which ought to give him pleasure. The relish of his life is inverted; and the objects which administer the highest satisfaction to those who are exempt from this passion give the quickest pangs to persons who are subject to it. All the perfections of their fellow creatures are odious. Youth, beauty, valor and wisdom are provocations of their displeasure. What a wretched and apostate state is this! to be offended with excellence, and to hate a man because we approve him!"

"As for my labors, if they can but wear one impertinence out of human life, destroy a single vice, or give a morning’s cheerfulness to an honest mind - in short, if the world can be but one virtue the better, or in any degree less vicious, or receive from then the smallest addition to their innocent diversions - I shall not think my pains, or indeed my life, to have been spent in vain."

"Be obscure and innocent, rather than conspicuous and guilty."

"Each successive generation plunges into the abyss of passion, without the slightest regard to the fatal effects which such conduct has produced upon their predecessors; and lament, when too late, the rashness with which they slighted the advice of experience, and stifled the voice of reason."

"Extinguish vanity in the mind, and you naturally retrench the little superfluities of garniture and equipage. The blossoms will fall of themselves when the root that nourishes them is destroyed."

"I know no evil so great as the abuse of the understanding, and yet there is no one vice more common."

"The great foundation of civil virtue is self-denial."

"The world will never be in any manner of order or tranquillity until men are firmly convinced that conscience, honor and credit are all in one interest; and that without he concurrence of the former the latter are but impositions upon ourselves and others."

"These men (chronic fault-finders) should consider that it is their envy which deforms everything, and that the ugliness is not in the object, but in the eye."

"To have good sense and ability to express it are the most essential and necessary qualities in companions. When thoughts rise in us fit to utter among familiar friends, there needs but very little care in clothing them."

"Vanity makes men ridiculous, pride odious, and ambition terrible."

"Fire and sword are but slow engines of destruction in comparison with the babbler."

"I consider the soul of man as the ruin of a glorious pile of buildings; where, amidst great heaps of rubbish, you meet with noble fragments of sculpture, broken pillars and obelisks, and a magnificence in confusion."

"Pleasure, when it is a man's chief purpose, disappoints itself; and the constant application to it palls the faculty of enjoying it, and leaves the sense of our inability for that we wish, with a disrelish of everything else."

"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body."

"Simplicity, of all things, is the hardest to be copied."

"To give pain is the tyranny - to make happy the true empire of beauty."

"That man never grows old who keeps a child in his heart."

"A good name is fitly compared to a precious ointment, and when we are praised with skill and decency, it is indeed the most agreeable perfume; but if too strongly admitted into the brain of a less vigorous and happy texture, it will, like too strong an odor, overcome the senses, and prove pernicious to those nerves it was intended to refresh. A generous mind is of all others the most sensible of praise and dispraise; and a noble spirit is as much invigorated with its due proportion of honor and applause, as it is depressed by neglect and contempt. But it is only persons far above the common level who are thus affected with either of these extremes; as in a thermometer, it is only the purest and most sublimated spirit that is either contracted or dilated by the benignity or inclemency of the season."

"A gentleman, where I happened to be last night, fell into a discourse which I thought showed a good discerning in him. He took notice, that whenever men have looked into their heart for the idea of true excellence in human nature, they have found it to consist in suffering after a right manner and with a good grace. Heroes are always drawn bearing sorrows, struggling with adversities, undergoing all kinds of hardships, and having, in the service of mankind, a kind of appetite to difficulties and dangers."

"A man advanced in years that thinks fit to look back upon his former life, and call that only life which was passed with satisfaction and enjoyment, excluding all parts which were not pleasant to him, will find himself very young, if not in his infancy. Sickness, ill humor, and idleness will have robbed him of a great share of that space which we ordinarily call our life. It is therefore the duty of every man that would be true to himself, to obtain, if possible, a disposition to be pleased, and place himself in a constant aptitude for the satisfactions of his being. Instead of this, you hardly see a man who is not uneasy in proportion to his advancement in the arts of life."

"A nation may indeed abound with persons of such uncommon parts and worth as may make them rather a misfortune than a blessing to the public. Those, who singly might have been of infinite advantage to the age they live in, may, by rising up together in the same crisis of time, and by interfering in their pursuits of honor, rather interrupt, than promote, the service of their country. Of this we have a famous instance in the republic of Rome, when C‘sar, Pompey, Cato, Cicero, and Brutus, endeavored to recommend themselves at the same time to the admiration of their contemporaries. Mankind was not able to provide for so many extraordinary persons at once, or find out posts suitable to their ambition and abilities. For this reason they were all as miserable in their deaths as they were famous in their lives, and occasioned not only the ruin of each other, but also that of the commonwealth."

"A man that is treacherously dealt with in love may have recourse to many consolations. He may gracefully break through all opposition to his mistress, or explain with his rival; urge his own constancy, or aggravate the falsehood by which it is repaid. But a woman that is ill-treated has no refuge in her griefs but in silence and secrecy. The world is so unjust that a female heart which has been once touched is thought forever blemished."

"A true and genuine impudence is ever the effect of ignorance, without the least sense of it."

"A thorough Critic is a sort of Puritan in the polite world. As an enthusiast in religion stumbles at the ordinary occurrences of life, if he cannot quote Scripture examples on the occasion; so the Critic is never safe in his speech or writing, without he has, among the celebrated writers, an authority for the truth of his sentence."

"A wag is the last order even of pretenders to wit and good humor. He has generally his mind prepared to receive some occasion of merriment, but is of himself too empty to draw any out of his own set of thoughts; and therefore laughs at the next thing he meets, not because it is ridiculous, but because he is under a necessity of laughing. A wag is one that never in its life saw a beautiful object; but sees what it does see in the most low and most inconsiderable light it can be placed."

"According as the husband has disposed in himself, every circumstance in his life is to give him torment or pleasure. When the affection is well placed, and is supported by the considerations of duty, honor, and friendship, which are in the highest degree engaged in this alliance, there can nothing rise in the common course of life, or from the blows and favors of fortune, in which a man will not find matters of some delight unknown to a single condition."

"Among all the diseases of the mind, there is not one more epidemical or more pernicious than the love of flattery. For as where the juices of the body are prepared to receive the malignant influence, there the disease rages with most violence; so in this distemper of the mind, where there is ever a propensity and inclination to suck in the poison, it cannot be but that the whole order of reasonable action must be overturned; for, like music, it"

"Among others in that company we had Florio, who never interrupted any man living when he was speaking; or ever ceased to speak but others lamented that he had done. His discourse ever arises from a fullness of the matter before him, and not from ostentation or triumph of his understanding; for though he seldom delivers what he need fear being repeated, he speaks without having that end in view; and his forbearance of calumny or bitterness is owing rather to his good nature than his discretion; for which reason he is esteemed a gentleman perfectly qualified for conversation, in whom a general good will to mankind takes off the necessity of caution and circumspection."

"An easy manner of conversation is the most desirable quality a man can have; and for that reason coxcombs will take upon them to be familiar with people whom they never saw before. What adds to the vexation of it is, that they will act upon the foot of knowing you by fame; and rally with you, as they call it, by repeating what your enemies say of you; and court you, as they think, by uttering to your face, at a wrong time, all the kind things your friends speak of you in your absence."

"And are of love the food."

"As ceremony is the invention of wise men to keep fools at a distance, so good breeding is an expedient to make fools and wise men equal."

"As for the elegant writer of whom I am talking [Horace], his excellencies are to be observed as they relate to the different concerns of his life; and he is always to be looked upon as a lover, a courtier, or a man of wit. His admirable Odes have numberless instances of his merit in each of these characters. His Epistles and Satires are full of proper notices for the conduct of life in a court; and what we call good breeding is most agreeably intermixed with his morality. His addresses to the persons who favored him are so inimitably engaging, that Augustus complained of him for so seldom writing to him, and asked him, ?whether he was afraid posterity should read their names together?? Now, for the generality of men to spend much time in such writings is as pleasant a folly as any he ridicules. Whatever the crowd of scholars may pretend, if their way of life, or their own imaginations, do not lead them to a taste of him, they may read, may write, fifty volumes upon him, and be just as they were when they began."

"As I have all along persisted in it, that all the vicious in general are in a state of death; so I think I may add to the non-existence of Drunkards, that they died by their own hands. He is certainly as guilty of suicide who perishes by a slow, as he that is dispatched by an immediate, poison."

"Age is so unwelcome to the generality of mankind, and growth towards manhood so desirable to all, that resignation to decay is too difficult a task in the father; and deference, amidst the impulse of gay desires, appears unreasonable to the son. There are so few who can grow old with a good grace, and yet fewer that can come slow enough into the world, that a father, were he to be actuated by his desires, and a son, were he to consult himself only, could neither of them behave himself as he ought to the other."

"All pleasures that affect the body must needs weary, because they transport; and all transportation is a violence; and no violence can be lasting; but determines upon the falling of the spirits, which are not able to keep up that height of motion that the pleasure of the senses raises them to. And therefore how inevitably does an immoderate laughter end in a sigh, which is only nature?s recovering itself after a force done to it; but the religious pleasure of a well-disposed mind moves gently, and therefore constantly."

"Allow no man to be so familiar with you as to praise you to your face. Your vanity by this means will want its food; at the same time your passion for esteem will be more fully gratified: men will praise you in their actions: where you now receive one compliment you will then receive twenty civilities."

"As it is the part of justice never to do violence, it is of modesty never to commit offence. In the last particular lies the whole force of what is called decency; but this quality is more easily comprehended by an ordinary capacity than expressed with all his eloquence. This decency of behavior is generally transgressed among all orders of men; nay, the very women, though themselves created as it were for ornament, are often very much mistaken in this ornamental part of life."

"As our greatest pleasures and knowledge are derived from the sight, so has Providence been more curious in the formation of its seat, the eye, than in the organs of the other senses. That stupendous machine is composed, in a wonderful manner, of muscles, membranes, and humors. Its motions are admirably directed by the muscles; the perspicuity of the humors transmit the rays of light; the rays are regularly refracted by their figure; the black lining of the sclerotes effectually prevents their being confounded by reflection. It is wonderful indeed to consider how many objects the eye is fitted to take in at once, and successively, in an instant, and at the same time to make a judgment of their position, figure, and color. It watches against our dangers, guides our steps, and lets in all the visible objects, whose beauty and variety instruct and delight."

"As the love of praise is implanted in our bosoms as a strong incentive to worthy actions, it is a very difficult task to get above a desire of it for things that should be wholly indifferent. Women, whose hearts are fixed upon the pleasure they have in the consciousness that they are the objects of love and admiration, are ever changing the air of their countenances, and altering the attitude of their bodies, to strike the hearts of their beholders with new sense of their beauty. The dressing part of our sex, whose minds are the same with the sillier part of the other, are exactly in the like uneasy condition to be regarded for a well-tied cravat, a hat cocked with an uncommon briskness, a very well-chosen coat, or other instances of merit, which they are impatient to see unobserved."

"As to all the rational and worthy pleasures of our being, the conscience of a good fame, the contemplation of another life, the respect and commerce of honest men, our capacities for such enjoyments are enlarged by years. While health endures, the latter part of life, in the eye of reason, is certainly the more eligible. The memory of a well-spent youth gives a peaceable, unmixed, and elegant pleasure to the mind; and to such who are so unfortunate as not to be able to look back on youth with satisfaction they may give themselves no little consolation that they are under no temptation to repeat the follies, and that they at present despise them."

"As to the latter species of mankind, the beauties, whether male or female, they are generally the most untractable people of all others. You are so excessively perplexed with the particularities in their behavior, that to be at ease, one would be apt to wish there were no such creatures. They expect so great allowances, and give so little to others, that they who have to deal with them find, in the main, a man with a better person than ordinary, and a beautiful woman, might be very happily changed for such to whom nature has been less liberal. The handsome fellow is usually so much a gentleman, and the fine woman has something so becoming, that there is no enduring either of them. It has therefore been generally my choice to mix with cheerful ugly creatures, rather than gentlemen who are graceful enough to omit or do what they please, or beauties who have charms enough to do and say what would be disobliging in anybody but themselves."

"Beauty has been the delight and torment of the world ever since it began. The philosophers have felt its influence so sensibly that almost every one of them has left some saying or other which intimated that he knew too well the power of it. One has told us that a graceful person is a more powerful recommendation than the best letter that can be writ in your favor. Another desires the possessor of it to consider it is a mere gift of nature, and not any perfection of its own. A third calls it a ?short-lived tyranny;? a fourth, a ?silent fraud,? because it imposes upon us without the help of language. But I think Carneades spoke as much like a philosopher as any of them, though more like a lover, when he calls it ?royally without force.? It is not indeed to be denied but there is something irresistible in a beauteous form; the most severe will not pretend that they do not feel an immediate prepossession in favor of the handsome."

"Being of the number of those that have lately retired from the centre of business and pleasure, my uneasiness in the country where I am arises rather from the society than the solitude of it. To be obliged to receive and return visits from and to a circle of neighbors, who, through diversity of age or inclinations, can neither be entertaining nor serviceable to us, is a vile loss of time, and a slavery from which a man should deliver himself if possible: for why must I lose the remaining part of my life because they have thrown away the former part of theirs?"

"But however general custom may hurry us away in the stream of a common error, there is no evil, no crime, so great as that of being cold in matters which relate to the common good. This is in nothing more conspicuous than in a certain willingness to receive anything that tends to the diminution of such as have been conspicuous instruments in our service. Such inclinations proceed from the most low and vile corruption of which the soul of man is capable. This effaces not only the practice, but the very approbation of honor and virtue; and has had such an effect, that, to speak freely, the very sense of public good has no longer a part even of our conversations."

"But however spirits of a superficial greatness may disdain at first sight to do anything, but from a noble impulse in themselves, without any future regards in this or any other being; upon stricter inquiry they will find, to act worthily, and expect to be rewarded only in another world, is as heroic a pitch of virtue as human nature can arrive at. If the tenor of our actions have any other motive than the desire to be pleasing in the eye of the Deity, it will necessarily follow that we must be more than men, if we are not too much exalted in prosperity and depressed in adversity. But the Christian world has a Leader, the contemplation of whose life and sufferings must administer comfort in affliction, while the sense of his power and omnipotence must give them humiliation in prosperity."