Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Richard Steele, fully Sir Richard Steele

Irish-born English Playwright, Essayist and Editor

"But if flattery be the most sordid act that can be complied with, the art of praising justly is as commendable; for it is laudable to praise well; as poets at one and the same time give immortality, and receive it themselves as a reward. Both are pleased; the one whilst he receives the recompense of merit, the other whilst he shows he knows how to discern it: but above all, that man is happy in this art, who, like a skillful painter, retains the features and complexion, but still softens the picture into the most agreeable likeness. There can hardly, I believe, be imagined a more desirable pleasure than that of praise unmixed with any possibility of flattery."

"But if there were no such consideration as the good effect which self-denial has upon the sense of other men towards us, it is of all qualities the most desirable for the agreeable disposition in which it places our own minds. I cannot tell what better to say of it, than that it is the very contrary of ambition; and that modesty allays all those passions and inquietudes to which that vice exposes us. He that is moderate in his wishes, from reason and choice, and not resigned from sourness, distaste, or disappointment, doubles all the pleasures of his life. The air, the season, a sunshiny day, or a fair prospect, are instances of happiness; and that which he enjoys in common with all the world (by his exemption from the enchantments by which all the world are bewitched), are to him uncommon benefits and new acquisitions. Health is not eaten up with care, nor pleasure interrupted by envy."

"But indeed I must do my female readers the justice to own that their tender hearts are much more susceptible of good impressions than the minds of the other sex. Business and ambition take up men?s too much to leave room for philosophy; but if you speak to women in a style and manner proper to approach them, they never fail to improve by your counsels."

"But it is not only public places of resort, but private clubs, and conversations over a bottle, that are infested with this loquacious kind of animal, especially with that species which I comprehend under the name of a story-teller. I would earnestly desire these gentlemen to consider that no point of wit or mirth at the end of a story can atone for the half-hour that has been lost before they come at it. I would likewise lay it home to their serious consideration, whether they think that every man in the company has not a right to speak as well as themselves? and whether they do not think they are invading another man?s property when they engross the time which should be divided equally amongst the company to their own private use?"

"But of all mankind, there are none so shocking as these injudicious civil people. They ordinarily begin upon something that they know must be a satisfaction; but then, for fear of the imputation of flattery, they follow it with the last thing in the world of which you would be reminded. It is this that perplexes civil persons. The reason that there is such a general outcry among us against flatterers is, that there are so very few good ones. It is the nicest art in this life, and is a part of eloquence which does not want the preparation that is necessary to all other parts of it, that your audience should be your well-wishers; for praise from an enemy is the most pleasing of all commendations."

"But the most unhappy circumstance of all is, where each party is always laying up fuel for dissension, and gathering together a magazine of provocations to exasperate each other with when they are out of humor."

"But those men only are truly great who place their ambition rather in acquiring to themselves the conscience of worthy enterprises, than in the prospect of glory which awaits them. These exalted spirits would rather be secretly the authors of events which are serviceable to mankind, than, without being such, to have the public fame of it. Where therefore an eminent merit is robbed by artifice or detraction, it does but increase by such endeavors of its enemies. The impotent pains which are taken to sully it, or diffuse it among a crowd to the injury of a single person, will naturally produce the contrary effect; the fire will blaze out, and burn up all that attempt to smother what they cannot extinguish."

"By this means it is that a cunning man is so far from being ashamed of being esteemed such, that he secretly rejoices in it. It has been a sort of maxim that the greatest art is to conceal art; but, I know not how, among some people we meet with, their greatest cunning is to appear cunning. There is Polypragon makes it the whole business of his life to be thought a cunning fellow, and thinks it a much greater character to be terrible than to be agreeable. When it has once entered a man?s head to have an ambition to be thought crafty, all other evils are necessary consequences. To deceive is the immediate endeavor of him who is proud of the capacity of doing it."

"Cheerfulness is always to be supported if a man is out of pain, but mirth to a prudent man should always be accidental. It should naturally arise out of the occasion, and the occasion seldom laid out for it: for those tempers who want mirth to be pleased are like the constitutions which flag without the use of brandy. Therefore I say, let your precept be, ?Be easy.? That mind is dissolute and ungoverned which must be hurried out of itself by loud laughter or sensual pleasure, or else be wholly inactive."

"Cicero, after having mentioned the great heroes of knowledge that recommended this divine doctrine of the immortality of the soul, calls those small pretenders to wisdom, who declared against it, certain minute philosophers, using a diminutive even of the word little, to express the despicable opinion he had of them. The contempt he throws upon them in another passage is yet more remarkable; where, to show the mean thoughts he entertains of them, he declares ?he would rather be in the wrong with Plato, than in the right with such company."

"Daily experience shows us that the most rude rustic grows humane as soon as he is inspired by this passion: it gives a new grace to our manners, a new dignity to our minds, a new visage to our persons. Whether we are inclined to liberal arts, to arms, or address in our exercise, our improvement is hastened by a particular object whom we would please. Cheerfulness, gentleness, fortitude, liberality, magnificence, and all the virtues which adorn men, which inspire heroes, are most conspicuous in lovers."

"Equality is the life of conversation; and he is as much out who assumes to himself any part above another, as he who considers himself below the rest of the society. Familiarity in inferiors is sauciness; in superiors, condescension; neither of which are to have being among companions, the very word implying that they are to be equal. When, therefore, we have abstracted the company from all considerations of their quality or fortune, it will immediately appear, that to make it happy and polite, there must nothing be started which shall discover that our thoughts run upon any such distinctions. Hence it will arise, that benevolence must become the rule of society, and he that is most obliging must be most diverting."

"Fidelia, on her part, as I was going to say, as accomplished as she is, with all her beauty, wit, air, and mien, employs her whole time in care and attendance upon her father. How have I been charmed to see one of the most beauteous women the age has produced, on her knees, helping on an old man?s slipper! Her filial regard to him is what she makes her diversion, her business, and her glory."

"First we flatter ourselves, and then the flattery of others is sure of success. It awakens our self-love within, a party which is ever ready to revolt from our better judgment and join the enemy without."

"For a man may flatter himself as he pleases; but he will find that the women have more understanding in their own affairs than we have, and women of spirit are not to be won by mourners. He that can keep handsomely within rules, and support the carriage of a companion to his mistress, is much more likely to prevail, than he who lets her see the whole relish of his life depends upon her. If possible, therefore, divert your mistress rather than sigh for her. The pleasant man she will desire for her own sake; but the languishing lover has nothing to hope from, but her pity."

"For the utter extirpation of these orators and story-tellers, which I look upon as very great pests of society, I have invented a watch which divides the minute into twelve parts, after the same manner that the ordinary watches are divided into hours; and will endeavor to get a patent, which shall oblige every club or company to provide themselves with one of these watches, that shall lie upon the table, as an hour-glass is often placed near the pulpit, to measure out the length of a discourse."

"He that can work himself into a pleasure in considering this being as an uncertain one, and think to reap an advantage by its discontinuance, is in a fair way of doing all things with a graceful unconcern and a gentlemanlike ease. Such a one does not behold his life as a short transient perplexing state, made up of trifling pleasures and great anxieties; but sees it in quite another light; his griefs are momentary, and his joys immortal. Reflection upon death is not a gloomy and sad thought of resigning everything that he delights in, but it is a short night followed by an endless day."

"His judgment is so good and unerring, and accompanied with so cheerful a spirit, that his conversation is a continual feast, at which he helps some, and is helped by others, in such a manner that the equality of society is perfectly kept up, and every man obliges as much as he is obliged; for it is the greatest and justest skill, in a man of superior understanding, to know how to be on a level with his companions."

"Human nature is not so much depraved as to hinder us from respecting goodness in others, though we ourselves want it. This is the reason why we are so much charmed with the pretty prattle of children, and even the expressions of pleasure or uneasiness in some parts of the brute creation. They are without artifice or malice; and we love truth too well to resist the charms of sincerity."

"I am married, and have no other concern but to please the man I love; he is the end of every care I have; if I dress, it is for him; if I read a poem, or a play, it is to qualify myself for a conversation agreeable to his taste; he is almost the end of my devotions; half my prayers are for his happiness."

"I am sure I do not mean it an injury to women when I say there is a sort of sex in souls. I am tender of offending them, and know it is hard not to do it on this subject; but I must go on to say that the soul of a man, and that of a woman, are made very unlike, according to the employments for which they are designed. The ladies will please to observe, I say, our minds have different, not superior, qualities to theirs. The virtues have respectively a feminine and masculine cast. What we call in men wisdom, is in women prudence. It is a partiality to call one greater than the other."

"I am sure it is not to exalt the commerce with an ingenious companion too high, to say that every new accident or object which comes into such a gentleman?s way gives his wife new pleasures and satisfactions. The approbation of his words and actions is a continual new feast to her; nor can she enough applaud her good fortune in having her life varied every hour, her mind more improved, and her heart more glad, from every circumstance which they meet with. He will lay out his invention in forming new pleasures and amusements, and make the fortune she has brought him subservient to the honor and reputation of her and hers. A man of sense who is thus obliged is ever contriving the happiness of her who did him so great a distinction; while the fool is ungrateful without vice, and never returns a favor because he is not sensible of it."

"I came home a little later than usual the other night; and, not finding myself inclined to sleep, I took up Virgil to divert me until I should be more disposed to rest. He is the author whom I always choose on such occasions; no one writing in so divine, so harmonious, nor so equal a strain, which leaves the mind composed and softened into an agreeable melancholy: the temper in which, of all others, I choose to close the day. The passages I turned to were those beautiful raptures in his Georgics, where he professes himself entirely given up to the Muses, and smit with the love of poetry, passionately wishing to be transported to the cool shades and retirements of the mountain H‘mus."

"I could not but reflect with myself, as I was going out, upon the talkative humor of old men, and the little figure which that part of life makes in one who cannot employ his natural propensity in discourses which would make him venerable. I must own, it makes me very melancholy in company, when I hear a young man begin a story; and have often observed that one of a quarter of an hour long in a man of five-and-twenty, gathers circumstances every time he tells it, until it grows into a long Canterbury tale of two hours by that time he is threescore."

"I do not doubt but England is at present as polite a nation as any in the world; but any man who thinks, can easily see that the affectation of being gay and in fashion has very near eaten up our good sense, and our religion. Is there anything so just as that mode and gallantry should be built upon exerting ourselves in what is proper and agreeable to the institutions of justice and piety among us? And yet is there anything more common than that we run in perfect contradiction to them? All which is supported by no other pretension than that it is done with what we call a good grace."

"I do not know anything which gives greater disturbance to conversation than the false notion some people have of raillery. It ought, certainly, to be the first point to be aimed at in society, to gain the good will of those with whom you converse: the way to that is, to show you are well inclined towards them. What then can be more absurd than to set up for being extremely sharp and biting, as the term is, in your expressions to your familiars? A man who has no good quality but courage is in a very ill way towards making an agreeable figure in the world, because that which he has superior to other people cannot be exerted without raising himself an enemy. Your gentleman of a satirical turn is in the like condition."

"I fancied it must be very surprising; to anyone who enters into a detail of fashions to consider how far the vanity of mankind has laid itself out in dress, what a prodigious number of people it maintains, and what a circulation of money it occasions. Providence in this case makes use of the folly which we will not give up, and it becomes instrumental to the support of those who are willing to labor."

"I have always been of opinion that virtue sinks deepest into the heart of man when it comes recommended by the powerful charms of poetry. The most active principle in our mind is the imagination; to it a good poet makes his court perpetually, and by this faculty takes care to gain it first. Our passions and inclinations come over next; and our reason surrenders itself with pleasure in the end. Thus the whole soul is insensibly betrayed into morality, by bribing the fancy with beautiful and agreeable images of those very things that in the books of the philosophers appear austere and have at the best but a kind of forbidding aspect. In a word, the poets do, as it were, strew the rough paths of virtue so full of flowers, that we are not sensible of the uneasiness of them; and imagine ourselves in the midst of pleasures, and the most bewitching allurements, at the time we are making progress in the severest duties of life."

"I have hardly ever observed the married condition unhappy, but from want of judgment or temper in the man. The truth is, we generally make love in a style and with sentiments very unfit for ordinary life: they are half theatrical, half romantic. By this means we raise our imaginations to what is not to be expected in human life; and because we did not beforehand think of the creature we are enamored of, as subject to dis-humor, age, sickness, impatience, or sullenness, but altogether considered her as the object of joy, human nature itself is often imputed to her as her particular imperfection, or defect."

"I have observed that under the notion of modesty men have indulged themselves in a spiritless sheepishness, and been forever lost to themselves, their families, their friends, and their country. When a man has taken care to pretend to nothing but what he may justly aim at, and can execute as well as any other, without injustice to any other, it is ever want of breeding, or courage, to be browbeaten, or elbowed out of his honest ambition. I have said often, modesty must be an act of the will, and yet it always implies self-denial: for if a man has an ardent desire to do what is laudable for him to perform, and from an unmanly bashfullness shrinks away, and lets his merit languish in silence, he ought not to be angry at the world that a more unskillful actor succeeds in his part, because he has not confidence to come upon the stage himself."

"I have often wondered how it should be possible that this turn to politics should so universally prevail to the exclusion of every other subject out of conversation; and, upon mature consideration, find it is for want of discourse. Look round you among all the young fellows you meet, and you see those who have the least relish for books, company, or pleasure, though they have no manner of qualities to make them succeed in those pursuits, shall make very passable politicians. Thus the most barren invention shall find enough to say to make one appear an able man in the top coffee-houses. It is but adding a certain vehemence in uttering yourself, let the thing you say be never so flat, and you shall be thought a very sensible man, if you were not too hot."

"I have very long entertained an ambition to make the word wife the most agreeable and delightful name in nature. If it be not so in itself, all the wiser part of mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, has consented in an error."

"I have very often lamented and hinted my sorrow in several speculations, that the art of painting is made so little use of to the improvement of our manners. When we consider that it places the action of the person represented in the most agreeable aspect imaginable, that it does not only express the passion or concern as it sets upon him who is drawn, but has under those features the height of the painter?s imagination, what strong images of virtue and humanity might we not expect would be instilled into the mind from the labors of the pencil?"

"I hope, Sir, you will not take this amiss: I can assure you, I have a profound respect for you, which makes me write this with the same disposition with which Longinus bids us read Homer and Plato. When in reading, says he, any of those celebrated authors, we meet with a passage to which we cannot well reconcile our reasons, we ought firmly to believe, that were those great wits present to answer for themselves, we should to our wonder be convinced that we are only guilty of the mistakes before attributed to them."

"I know no evil under the sun so great as the abuse of the understanding, and yet there is no one vice more common. It has diffused itself through both sexes, and all qualities of mankind, and there is hardly that person to be found who is not more concerned for the reputation of wit and sense, than of honesty and virtue. But this unhappy affectation of being wise rather than honest, witty than good natured, is the source of most of the ill-habits of life. Such false impressions are owing to the abandoned writings of men of wit, and the awkward imitation of the rest of mankind."

"I know no manner of speaking so offensive as that of giving praise and closing it with an exception; which proceeds (where men do not do it to introduce malice and make calumny more effectual) from the common error of considering man as a perfect creature. But, if we rightly examine things, we shall find that there is a sort of economy in Providence, that one shall excel where another is defective, in order to make men more useful to each other, and mix them in society. This man having this talent, and that man another, is as necessary in conversation, as one professing one trade, and another, is beneficial in commerce. The happiest climate does not produce all things; and it was so ordered, that one part of the earth should want the product of another, for uniting mankind in a general correspondence and good understanding. It is, therefore, want of sense as well as good nature, to say, Simplicius has a better judgment, but not so much wit as Latius; for that these have not each other?s capacities is no more a diminution to either, than if you should say, Simplicius is not Latius, or Latius not Simplicius."

"I must detain you a little longer, to tell you that I never enter this delicious retirement but my spirits are revived, and a sweet complacency diffuses itself over my whole mind. And how can it be otherwise, with a conscience void of offence, where the music of falling waters, the symphony of birds, the gentle humming of bees, the breath of flowers, the fine imagery of painting and sculpture, in a word, the beauties and the charms of nature and of art, court all my faculties, refresh the fibres of the brain, and smooth every avenue of thought? What pleasing meditations, what agreeable wanderings of the mind, and what delicious slumbers, have I enjoyed here! And when I turn up some masterly writer to my imagination, methinks here his beauties appear in the most advantageous light, and the rays of his genius shoot upon me with greater force and brightness than ordinary."

"I now take leave to address you in your character of Censor, and complain to you, that among the various errors in conversation which you have corrected, there is one which, though it has not escaped a general reproof, yet seems to deserve a more particular severity. It is a humor of jesting on disagreeable subjects, and insisting on the jest, the more it creates uneasiness; and this some men think they have a title to do as friends. Is the design of jesting to provoke? or does friendship give a privilege to say things with a design to shock? How can that be called a jest which has nothing in it but bitterness?"

"I remember to have heard a great painter say, ?There are certain faces for certain painters, as well as certain subjects for certain poets.? This is as true in the choice of studies; and no one will ever relish an author thoroughly well who would not have been fit company for that author, had they lived at the same time. All others are mechanics in learning, and take the sentiments of writers like waiting-servants, who report what passed at their master?s table, but debase every thought and expression, for want of the air with which they were uttered."

"I shall be willing to allow a man one round of my watch, that is, a whole minute, to speak in; but if he exceeds that time, it shall be lawful for any of the company to look upon the watch, or to call him down to order."

"I shall begin with him we usually call a Gentleman, or man of conversation."

"I shall therefore hereafter consider how the bravest men in other ages and nations have behaved themselves upon such incidents as we decide by combat; and show, from their practice, that this resentment neither has its foundation from true reason or solid fame, but is an imposture, made up of cowardice, falsehood, and want of understanding."

"I take it to be a rule, proper to be observed in all occurrences of life, but more especially in the domestic or matrimonial part of it, to preserve always a disposition to be pleased."

"I take it to be the highest instance of a noble mind, to bear great qualities without discovering in a man?s behavior any consciousness that he is superior to the rest of the world. Or, to say it otherwise, it is the duty of a great person so to demean himself, as that whatever endowments he may have, he may appear to value himself upon no qualities but such as any man may arrive at. He ought to think no man valuable but for his public spirit, justice, and integrity: and all other endowments to be esteemed only as they contribute to the exerting those virtues."

"I will not enter into the dispute between you, which I find his prudence put an end to before it came to extremity; but charge you to have a care of the first quarrel, as you tender your happiness; for then it is that the mind will reflect harshly upon every circumstance that has ever passed between you. If such an accident is ever to happen, which I hope never will, be sure to keep to the circumstance before you; make no allusions to what is passed, or conclusions referring to what is to come: do not show a hoard of matter for dissension in your breast; but, if it is necessary, lay before him the thing as you understand it, candidly, without being ashamed of acknowledging an error, or proud of being in the right. If a young couple be not careful in this point, they will get into a habit of wrangling; and when to displease is thought of no consequence, to please is always of as little moment."

"I would establish but one great general rule to be observed in all conversation, which is this, ?that men should not talk to please themselves, but those that hear them.? This would make them consider whether what they speak be worth hearing, whether there be either wit or sense in what they are about to say, and whether it be adapted to the time when, the place where, and the persons to whom it is spoken."

"I would fain ask a minute philosopher, what good he proposes to mankind by the publishing of his doctrines? Will they make a man a better citizen, or father of a family; a more endearing husband, friend, or son? Will they enlarge his public or private virtues, or correct any of his frailties or vices? What is there either joyful or glorious in such opinions? do they either refresh or enlarge our thoughts? do they contribute to the happiness or raise the dignity of human nature? The only good that I have ever heard pretended to, is that they banish terrors, and set the mind at ease. But whose terrors do they banish? It is certain, if there were any strength in their arguments, they would give great disturbance to minds that are influenced by virtue, honor, and morality, and take from us the only comforts and supports of affliction, sickness, and old age. The minds, therefore, which they set at ease, are only those of impenitent criminals and malefactors, and which, to the good of mankind, should be in perpetual terror and alarm."

"If a lawyer were to be esteemed only as he uses his parts in contending for justice, and were immediately despicable when he appeared in a cause which he could not but know was an unjust one, how honorable would his character be! And how honorable is it in such among us, who follow the profession no otherwise than as laboring to protect the injured, to subdue the oppressor, to imprison the careless debtor, and do right to the painful artificer! But many of this excellent character are overlooked by the greater number; who affect covering a weak place in a client?s title, diverting the course of an inquiry, or finding a skillful refuge to palliate a falsehood: yet it is still called eloquence in the latter, though thus unjustly employed: but resolution in an assassin is according to reason quite as laudable, as knowledge and wisdom exercised in the defense of an ill cause."

"If wit is to be measured by the circumstances of time and place, there is no man has generally so little of that talent as he who is a wit by profession. What he says, instead of arising from the occasion, has an occasion invented for bringing it in. Thus he is new for no other reason, but that he talks like nobody else; but has taken up a method of his own, without commerce of dialogue with other people."

"If, therefore, I were blessed with a son, in order to the forming of his manners, which is making him truly my son, I should be continually putting into his hand some fine poet. The graceful sentences and the manly sentiments so frequently to be met with in every great and sublime writer are, in my judgment, the most ornamental and valuable furniture that can be for a young gentleman?s head: methinks they show like so much rich embroidery upon the brain. Let me add to this, that humanity, and tenderness, without which there can be no true greatness in the mind, are inspired by the Muses in such pathetic language, that all we find in prose authors towards the raising and improving of these passions is, in comparison, but cold or lukewarm at the best. There is besides a certain elevation of soul, a sedate magnanimity, and a noble turn of virtue, that distinguishes the hero from the plain honest man, to which verse only can raise us."