Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Richard Steele, fully Sir Richard Steele

Irish-born English Playwright, Essayist and Editor

"In a word, to be a fine gentleman is to be a generous and a brave man. What can make a man so much in constant good humor, and shine, as we call it, than to be supported by what can never fail him, and to believe that whatever happens to him was the best thing that possibly could befall him, or else He on whom it depends would not have permitted it to have befallen him at all?"

"In all the marriages I have ever seen, most of which have been unhappy ones, the great cause of evil has proceeded from slight occasions; and I take it to be the first maxim in a married condition, that you are to be above trifles. When two persons have so good an opinion of each other as to come together for life, they will not differ in matters of importance, because they think of each other with respect; and in regard to all things of consideration that may affect them, they are prepared for mutual assistance and relief in such occurrences. For less occasions, they form no resolutions, but leave their minds unprepared."

"In conversation, the medium is neither to affect silence or eloquence; not to value our approbation, and to endeavor to excel us who are of your company, are equal injuries. The great enemies therefore to good company, and those who transgress most against the laws of equality, which is the life of it, are the clown, the wit, and the pedant."

"In order to look into any person?s temper, I generally make my first observations upon his laugh, whether he is easily moved, and what are the passages which throw him into that agreeable kind of convulsion. People are never so much unguarded as when they are pleased; and laughter being a visible symptom of some inward satisfaction, it is then, if ever, we may believe the face. There is, perhaps, no better index to point us to the particularities of the mind than this, which is itself one of the chief distinctions of our rationality. For, as Milton says,"

"Indolence is, methinks, an intermediate state between pleasure and pain; and very much unbecoming any part of our life after we are out of the nurse?s arms. Such an aversion to labor creates a constant weariness, and one would think should make existence itself a burden. The indolent man descends from the dignity of his nature, and makes that being which was rational merely vegetative. His life consists only in the mere increase and decay of a body, which, with relation to the rest of the world, might as well have been uninformed, as the habitation of a reasonable mind."

"Inquisitive people are the funnels of conversation; they do not take in anything for their own use, but merely to pass it to another."

"It has been from age to age an affectation to love the pleasure of solitude, among those who cannot possibly be supposed qualified for passing life in that manner. This people have taken up from reading the many agreeable things which have been written on that subject, for which we are beholden to excellent persons who delighted in being retired, and abstracted from the pleasures that enchant the generality of the world. This way of life is recommended indeed with great beauty, and in such a manner as disposes the reader for the time to pleasing forgetfulness or negligence of the particular hurry of life in which he is engaged, together with a longing for that state which he is charmed with in description. But when we consider the world itself, and how few there are capable of a religious, learned, or philosophic solitude, we shall be apt to change a regard to that sort of solitude, for being a little singular in enjoying time after the way a man himself likes best in the world, without going so far as wholly to withdraw from it."

"It has been thought we are not generally so ignorant as ill-taught, or that our sex does not so often want wit, judgment, or knowledge, as the right application of them. You are so well-bred, as to say your fair readers are already deeper scholars than the beaux, and that you could name some of them that talk much better than several gentlemen that make a figure at Will?s. This may possibly be, and no great compliment, in my opinion, even supposing your comparison to reach Tom?s and the Grecian. Surely you are too wise to think that the real commendation of a woman. Were it not rather to be wished we improved in our own sphere, and approved ourselves better daughters, better wives, mothers, and friends?"

"It is a certain sign of an ill heart to be inclined to defamation. They who are harmless and innocent can have no gratification that way: but it ever arises from a neglect of what is laudable in a man?s self, and an impatience of seeing it in another."

"It is a lamentable thing that every man is full of complaints and constantly uttering sentences against the fickleness of Fortune, when people generally bring upon themselves all the calamities they fall into, and are constantly heaping up matter for their own sorrow and disappointment. That which produces the greatest part of the delusions of mankind is a false hope which people indulge with so sanguine a flattery to themselves, that their hearts are bent upon fantastical advantages which they have no reason to believe should ever have arrived to them. By this unjust measure of calculating their happiness, they often mourn with real affliction for imaginary losses."

"It is a melancholy fact, verified by every day?s observation, that the experience of the past is totally lost both upon individuals and nations. A few persons, indeed, who have attended to the history of former errors, are aware of the consequences to which they invariably lead, and lament the progress of national violence in the same way as they do the career of individual intemperance. But upon the great mass of mankind?the young, the active, and the ambitious?such examples are wholly thrown away. 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 stilled the voice of reason."

"It is a melancholy thing to consider, that the most engaging sort of men in conversation are frequently the most tyrannical in power, and the least to be depended upon in friendship. It is certain this is not to be imputed to their own disposition; but he, that is to be led by others, has only good luck if he is not the worst, though in himself the best, man living."

"It is a particular observation I have always made, that of all mortals a Critic is the silliest; for, by inuring himself to examine all things, whether they are of consequence or not, he never looks upon anything but with a design of passing sentence upon it; by which means he is never a companion, but always a censor. This makes him earnest upon trifles and dispute on the most indifferent occasions with vehemence. If he offers to speak or write, that talent, which should approve the work of the other faculties, prevents their operations."

"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. The latter is the more general desire, and I know very able flatterers that never speak a word in praise of the persons from whom they obtain daily favors, but still practice a skillful attention to whatever is uttered by those with whom they converse."

"It is a very common expression, that such a one is very good-natured, but very passionate. The expression, indeed, is very good natured, to allow passionate people so much quarter; but I think a passionate man deserves the least indulgence possible. It is said, it is soon over; that is, all the mischief he does is quickly despatched, which, I think, is no great recommendation to favor."

"It is a very melancholy reflection that men are usually so weak that it is absolutely necessary for them to know sorrow and pain, to be in their right senses. Prosperous people (for happy there are none) are hurried away with a fond sense of their present condition, and thoughtless of the mutability of fortune. Fortune is a term which we must use, in such discourses as these, for what is wrought by the unseen hand of the Disposer of all things. But methinks the disposition of a mind which is truly great is that which makes misfortunes and sorrows little when they befall ourselves, great and lamentable when they befall other men. The most unpardonable malefactor in the world going to his death and bearing it with composure would win the pity of those who should behold him; and this not because his calamity is deplorable, but because he seems himself not to deplore it. We suffer for him who is less sensible of his own misery, and are inclined to despise him who sinks under the weight of his distresses."

"It is a wonderful thing that so many, and they not reckoned absurd, shall entertain those with whom they converse, by giving them a history of their pains and aches, and imagine such narrations their quota of the conversation. This is of all other the meanest help to discourse, and a man must not think at all, or think himself very insignificant, when he finds an account of his headache answered by another?s asking what news by the last mail. Mutual good-humor is a dress we ought to appear in whenever we meet, and we should make no mention of what concerns ourselves, without it be of matters wherein our friends ought to rejoice."

"It is an assertion which admits of much proof, that a stranger of tolerable sense, dressed like a gentleman, will be better received by those of quality above him, than one of much better parts whose dress is regulated by the rigid notions of frugality. A man?s appearance falls within the censure of every one that sees him; his parts and learning very few are judges of; and even upon these few they cannot at first be well intruded; for policy and good breeding will counsel him to be reserved among strangers, and to support himself only by the common spirit of conversation."

"It is an unreasonable thing some men expect of their acquaintance. They are ever complaining that they are out of order, or displeased, or they know not how, and are so far from letting that be a reason for retiring to their own homes, that they make it their argument for coming into company. What has anybody to do with accounts of a man?s being indisposed but his physician? If a man laments in company, where the rest are in humor to enjoy themselves, he should not take it ill if a servant is ordered to present him with a porringer of caudle or posset-drink, by way of admonition that he go home to bed."

"It is generally thought, that warmth of imagination, quick relish of pleasure, and a manner of becoming it, are the most essential qualities for forming this sort of man. But any one that is much in company will observe, that the height of good breeding is shown rather in never giving offence, than in doing obliging things; thus he that never shocks, you, though he is seldom entertaining, is more likely to keep your favor, than he who often entertains, and sometimes displeases you. The most necessary talent therefore in a man of conversation, which is what we ordinarily intend by a fine Gentleman, is a good judgment. He that hath this in perfection is master of his companion, without letting him see it; and has the same advantage over men of any other qualifications whatsoever, as one that can see would have over a blind man of ten times his strength."

"It is impossible for a man to have this relish of being, this exquisite taste of life, who does not come into the world before it is in all its noise and hurry; who loses the rising of the sun, the still hours of the day, and, immediately upon his first getting up, plunges himself into the ordinary cares or follies of the world."

"It is indeed the greatest insolence imaginable, in a creature who would feel the extremes of thirst and hunger if he did not prevent his appetites before they call upon him, to be so forgetful of the common necessities of human nature as never to cast an eye upon the poor and needy. The fellow who escaped from a ship which struck upon a rock in the west, and joined with the country people to destroy his brother sailors and make her a wreck, was thought a most execrable creature; but does not every man who enjoys the possession of what he naturally wants, and is unmindful of the unsupplied distress of other men, betray the same temper of mind?"

"It is necessary to any easy and happy life, to possess our minds in such a manner as to be always well satisfied with our own reflections. The way to this state is to measure our actions by our own opinion, and not by that of the rest of the world. The sense of other men ought to prevail over us in things of less consideration, but not in concerns where truth and honor are engaged."

"It is owing to the forbidding and unlovely constraint with which men of low conceptions act when they think they conform themselves to religion, as well as to the more odious conduct of hypocrites, that the word Christian does not carry with it at first view all that is great, worthy, friendly, generous, and heroic. The man who suspends his hopes of the reward of worthy actions till after death, who can bestow unseen, who can overlook hatred, do good to his slanderer, who can never be angry at his friend, never revengeful to his enemy, is certainly formed for the benefit of society. Yet these are so far from heroic virtues, that they are but the ordinary duties of a Christian."

"It is possible you may not believe there are such tyrants in the world; but, alas, I can tell you of a man who is ever out of humor in his wife?s company, and the pleasantest man in the world everywhere else; the greatest sloven at home when he appears to none but his family, and most exactly well dressed in all other places. Alas, sir, is it of course, that to deliver one?s self wholly into a man?s power without possibility of appeal to any other jurisdiction but his own reflections, is so little an obligation to a gentleman, that he can be offended and fall into a rage, because my heart swells tears into my eyes when I see him in a cloudy mood?"

"It is the most beautiful object the eyes of man can behold to see a man of worth and his son live in an entire, unreserved correspondence. The mutual kindness and affection between them, give an inexpressible satisfaction to all who know them. It is a sublime pleasure which increases by the participation. It is as sacred as friendship, as pleasurable as love, and as joyful as religion. This state of mind does not only dissipate sorrow which would be extreme without it, but enlarges pleasures which would otherwise be contemptible. The most indifferent thing has its force and beauty when it is spoke by a kind father, and an insignificant trifle has its weight when offered by a dutiful child. I know not how to express it, but I think I may call it a ?transplanted self-love.?"

"It is therefore a particular happiness to a people when the men of superior genius and character are so justly disposed in the high places of honor, that each of them moves in a sphere which is proper to him, and requires those particular qualities in which he excels."

"It is this passion alone, when misapplied, that lays us so open to flatterers; and he who can agreeably condescend to soothe our humor or temper finds always an open avenue to our soul; especially if the flatterer happen to be our superior."

"It is to be noted that modesty in a man is never to be allowed as a good quality, but a weakness, if it suppresses his virtue, and hides it from the world, when he has at the same time a mind to exert himself. A French author says, very justly, that modesty is to the other virtues in a man, what shade in a picture is to the parts of the thing represented. It makes all the other beauties conspicuous, which would otherwise be but a wild heap of colors. This shade in our actions must, therefore, be very justly applied: for if there be too much, it hides our good qualities, instead of showing them to advantage."

"It is very commonly observed, that the most smart pangs which we meet with, are in the beginning of wedlock, which proceed from ignorance of each other?s humor, and want of prudence to make allowances for a change from the most careful respect, to the most unbounded familiarity. Hence it arises, that trifles are commonly occasions of the greatest anxiety; for contradiction being a thing wholly unusual between a new-married couple, the smallest instance of it is taken for the highest injury; and it very seldom happens, that the man is slow enough in assuming the character of a husband, or the woman quick enough in condescending to that of a wife. It immediately follows, that they think they have all the time of their courtship been talking in masks to each other, and therefore begin to act like disappointed people. Philander finds Delia ill-natured and impertinent; and Delia, Philander surly and inconstant."

"It is with some so hard a thing to employ their time, that it is a great good fortune when they have a friend indisposed, that they may be punctual in perplexing him, when he is recovered enough to be in that state which cannot be called sickness or health; when he is too well to deny company, and too ill to receive them. It is no uncommon case, if a man is of any figure or power in the world, to be congratulated into a relapse."

"It may be remarked, in general, under this head, that the laugh of men of wit is for the most part but a faint constrained kind of half-laugh, as such persons are never without some diffidence about them; but that of fools is the most honest, natural, open laugh in the world."

"It would be a good appendix to ?The Art of Living and Dying,? if any one would write ?The Art of Growing Old,? and teach men to resign their pretensions to the pleasures and gallantries of youth, in proportion to the alteration they find in themselves by the approach of age and infirmities. The infirmities of this stage of life would be much fewer, if we did not affect those which attend the more vigorous and active part of our days; but instead of studying to be wiser, or being contented with our present follies, the ambition of many of us is also to be the same sort of fools we formerly have been. I have often argued, as I am a professed lover of women, that our sex grows old with a much worse grace than the other does; and have ever been of opinion that there are more well-pleased old women than old men. I thought it a good reason for this, that the ambition of the fair sex being confined to advantageous marriages, or shining in the eyes of men, their parts were over sooner, and consequently the errors in the performance of them."

"It would be a noble improvement, or rather a recovery, of what we call good-breeding, if nothing were to pass amongst us for agreeable which was the least transgression against that rule of life called decorum, or a regard to decency. This would command the respect of mankind, because it carries in it deference to their good opinion, as humility lodged in a worthy mind is always attended with a certain homage, which no haughty soul, with all the arts imaginable, will ever be able to purchase."

"Laughter is a vent of any sudden joy that strikes upon the mind, which, being too volatile and strong, breaks out in this tremor of the voice. The poets make use of this metaphor when they would describe nature in her richest dress; for beauty is never so lovely as when adorned with the smile, and conversation never sits easier upon us than when we now and then discharge ourselves in a symphony of laughter, which may not improperly be called the chorus of conversation."

"Learning, wit, gallantry, and good breeding are all but subordinate qualities in society, and are of no value, but as they are subservient to benevolence, and lend to a certain manner of being or appearing equal to the rest of the company; for conversation is composed of an assembly of men, as they are men, and not as they are distinguished by fortune."

"Let any one who is conversant in the variety of human life reflect upon it, and he will find the man who wants mercy has a taste of no enjoyment of any kind. There is a natural disrelish of everything which is good in his very nature, and he is born an enemy to the world. He is ever extremely partial to himself in all his actions, and has no sense of iniquity but from the punishment which shall attend it. The law of the land is his gospel, and all his cases of conscience are determined by his attorney."

"Marriage is an institution calculated for a constant scene of as much delight as our being is capable of. Two persons who have chosen each other out of all the species, with design to be each other?s mutual comfort and entertainment, have in that action bound themselves to be good-humored, affable, discreet, forgiving, patient, and joyful, with respect to other?s frailties and perfections, to the end of their lives. The wiser of the two (and it always happens one of them is such) will, for her or his own sake, keep things from outrage with the utmost sanctity. When this union is thus preserved (as I have often said), the most indifferent circumstance administers delight. Their condition is an endless source of new gratifications."

"Men would come into company with ten times the pleasure they do, if they were sure of hearing nothing that would shock them, as well as expected what would please them. When we know every person that is spoken of is represented by one who has no ill will, and everything that is mentioned described by one that is apt to set it in the best light, the entertainment must be delicate, because the cook has nothing brought to his hand but what is the most excellent in its kind. Beautiful pictures are the entertainments of pure minds, and deformities of the corrupted. It is a degree towards the life of angels when we enjoy conversation wherein there is nothing presented but in its excellence: and a degree towards that of demons, wherein nothing is shown but in its degeneracy."

"Methinks it is a misfortune, that the marriage state, which in its own nature is adapted to give us the completest happiness this life is capable of, should be so uncomfortable a one to so many as it daily proves. But the mischief generally proceeds from the unwise choice people make for themselves, and an expectation of happiness from things not capable of giving it. Nothing but the good qualities of the person beloved can be a foundation for a love of judgment and discretion; and whoever expects happiness from anything but virtue, wisdom, good humor, and a similitude of manners will find themselves widely mistaken."

"Methusalem might be half an hour in telling what o?clock it was; but as for us post-diluvians, we ought to do everything in haste; and in our speeches, as well as actions, remember that our time is short. A man that talks for a quarter of an hour together in company, if I meet him frequently, takes up a great part of my span. A quarter of an hour may be reckoned the eight-and-fortieth part of a day, a day the three hundred and sixtieth part of a year, and a year the threescore and tenth part of life. By this moral arithmetic, supposing a man to be in the talking world one-third part of the day, whoever gives another a quarter of an hour?s hearing makes him a sacrifice of more than the four hundred thousandth part of his conversable life."

"My ingenious kinsman, Mr. Humphry Wagstaff, used to say ?the life of man is too short for a story-teller.?"

"Nothing is more silly than the pleasure some people take in ?speaking their minds.? A man of this make will say a rude thing for the mere pleasure of saying it, when an opposite behavior, full as innocent, might have preserved his friend, or made his fortune."

"Of all the monstrous passions and opinions which have crept into the world there is none so wonderful as that those who profess the common name of Christians should pursue each with rancor and hatred for differences in their way of following the example of their Savior. It seems so natural that all who pursue the steps of any leader should form themselves after his manners, that it is impossible to account for effects so different from what we might expect from those who profess themselves followers of the highest pattern of meekness and charity, but by ascribing such effects to the ambition and corruption of those who are so audacious, with souls full of fury, to serve at the altars of the God of Peace."

"Of the like turn are all your marriage-haters, who rail at the noose, at the words ?for ever and aye,? and at the same time are secretly pining for some young thing or other that makes their hearts ache by her refusal. The next to these are such as pretend to govern their wives, and boast how ill they use them; when at the same time, go to their houses, and you shall see them step as if they feared making a noise, and as fond as an alderman."

"On the contrary, the persons who now set up for Free-thinkers are such as endeavor, by a little trash of words and sophistry, to weaken and destroy those very principles, for the vindication of which freedom of thought at first became laudable and heroic. These apostates from reason and good sense can look at the glorious frame of nature without paying an adoration to Him that raised it; can consider the great revolutions in the universe without lifting up their minds to that superior Power which hath the direction of it; can presume to censure the Deity in his ways toward men; can level mankind with the beasts that perish; can extinguish in their own minds all the pleasing hopes of a future state, and lull themselves into a stupid security against the terrors of it. If one were to take the word priestcraft out of the mouths of these shallow monsters, they would be immediately struck dumb. It is by the help of this single term that they endeavor to disappoint the good works of the most learned and venerable order of men, and harden the hearts of the ignorant against the very light of nature and the common received notions of mankind. We ought not to treat such miscreants as these upon the foot of fair disputants; but to pour out contempt upon them, and speak of them with scorn and infamy, as the pests of society, the revilers of human nature, and the blasphemers of a Being whom a good man would rather die than hear dishonored."

"People are not aware of the very great force which pleasantry in company has upon all those with whom a man of that talent converses. His faults are generally overlooked by all his acquaintance; and a certain carelessness that constantly attends all his actions carries him on with greater success than diligence and assiduity does others who have no share of this endowment."

"Pleasure seizes the whole man who addicts himself to it, and will not give him leisure for any good office in life which contradicts the gaiety of the present hour. You may indeed observe in people of pleasure a certain complacency and absence of all severity, which the habit of a loose unconcerned life gives them; but tell the man of pleasure your secret wants, cares, or sorrows, and you will find that he has given up the delicacy of his passions to the cravings of his appetites. He little knows the perfect joy he loses, for the disappointing gratifications which he pursues. He looks at Pleasure as she approaches, and comes to him with the recommendation of warm wishes, gay looks, and graceful motion; but he does not observe how she leaves his presence with disorder, impotence, downcast shame, and conscious imperfection. She makes our youth inglorious, our age shameful."

"Pride, in some particular disguise or other (often a secret to the proud himself), is the most ordinary spring of action among men. You need no more than to discover what a man values himself for: then of all things admire that quality, but be sure to be failing in it yourself in comparison of the man whom you court."

"Provided, however, that if any one can make it appear that he is turned of threescore, he may take two, or, if he pleases, three rounds of the watch, without giving offence. Provided, also, that this rule be not construed to extend to the fair sex, who shall still be at liberty to talk by the ordinary watch that is now in use. I would likewise earnestly recommend this little automaton, which may be easily carried in the pocket without any encumbrance, to all such as are troubled with this infirmity of speech, that upon pulling out their watches they may have frequent occasion to consider what they are doing, and by that means cut the thread of their story short, and hurry to a conclusion."