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SAMUEL BUTLER QUOTES


The Way of All Flesh (1903)

We must judge men not so much by what they do, as by what they make us feel that they have it in them to do.

--Chapter 1

It is one thing ... to resolve that one's son shall win some of life's larger prizes, and another to square matters with fortune in this respect.

--Chapter 2

Fortune, we are told, is a blind and fickle foster-mother, who showers her gifts at random upon her nurslings. But we do her a grave injustice if we believe such an accusation. Trace a man's career from his cradle to his grave and mark how Fortune has treated him. You will find that when he is once dead she can for the most part be vindicated from the charge of any but very superficial fickleness. Her blindness is the merest fable; she can espy her favourites long before they are born. We are as days and have had our parents for our yesterdays, but through all the fair weather of a clear parental sky the eye of Fortune can discern the coming storm, and she laughs as she places her favourites it may be in a London alley or those whom she is resolved to ruin in kings' palaces. Seldom does she relent towards those whom she has suckled unkindly and seldom does she completely fail a favoured nursling.

--Chapter 5

The successful man will see just so much more than his neighbours as they will be able to see too when it is shown them, but not enough to puzzle them.

--Chapter 5

It is far safer to know too little than too much. People will condemn the one, though they will resent being called upon to exert themselves to follow the other.

--Chapter 5

Adversity, if a man is set down to it by degrees, is more supportable with equanimity by most people than any great prosperity arrived at in a single lifetime.

--Chapter 5

A certain kind of good fortune generally attends self-made men to the last. It is their children of the first, or first and second, generation who are in greater danger, for the race can no more repeat its most successful performances suddenly and without its ebbings and flowings of success than the individual can do so, and the more brilliant the success in any one generation, the greater as a general rule the subsequent exhaustion until time has been allowed for recovery.

--Chapter 5

Well-to-do parents seldom eat many sour grapes; the danger to the children lies in the parents eating too many sweet ones.

--Chapter 6

I grant that at first sight it seems very unjust, that the parents should have the fun and the children be punished for it, but young people should remember that for many years they were part and parcel of their parents and therefore had a good deal of the fun in the person of their parents. If they have forgotten the fun now, that is no more than people do who have a headache after having been tipsy overnight. The man with the headache does not pretend to be a different person from the man who got drunk, and claim that it is his self of the preceding night and not his self of this morning who should be punished; no more should offspring complain of the headache which it has earned when in the person of its parents, for the continuation of identity, though not so immediately apparent, is just as real in one case as in the other. What is really hard is when the parents have the fun after the children have been born, and the children are punished for this.

--Chapter 6

It is always the same story ... the more young people have the more they want, and the less thanks one gets.

--Chapter 6

Point to the young people of some acquaintances as models of perfection and impress your own children with a deep sense of their own inferiority.

--Chapter 6

Every man's work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself, and the more he tries to conceal himself the more clearly will his character appear in spite of him.

--Chapter 14

He has spent his life best who has enjoyed it most.

--Chapter 19

The world has long ago settled that morality and virtue are what bring men peace at the last. "Be virtuous," says the copy-book, "and you will be happy." Surely if a reputed virtue fails often in this respect it is only an insidious form of vice, and if a reputed vice brings no very serious mischief on a man's later years it is not so bad a vice as it is said to be. Unfortunately, though we are all of a mind about the main opinion that virtue is what tends to happiness, and vice what ends in sorrow, we are not so unanimous about details.

--Chapter 19

Theobold had never liked children. He had always got away from them as soon as he could, and so had they from him; oh, why, he was inclined to ask himself, could not children be born into the world grown up? If Christina could have given birth to a few full-grown clergymen in priest's orders--of moderate views, but inclining rather to Evangelicism, with comfortable livings and in all respects facsimiles of Theobold himself--why, there might have been more sense in it; or if people could buy ready-made children at a shop of whatever age and sex they liked, instead of always having to make them at home and to begin at the beginning with them--that might do better, but as it was he did not like it.

--Chapter 20

The advantage of doing one's praising for oneself is that one can lay it on so thick and exactly in the right places.

--Chapter 34

Professions are all very well for those who have connection and interest as well as capital, but otherwise they are white elephants. How many men do not you and I know who have talent, assiduity, excellent good sense, straightforwardness, every quality in fact which should command success, and who yet go on from year to year waiting and hoping against hope for the work which never comes? How, indeed, is it likely to come unless to those who either are born with interest, or who marry in order to get it?

--Chapter 34

Truth might be heroic, but it was not within the range of practical domestic politics.

--Chapter 39

The best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way.

--Chapter 39

It is in the uncompromisingness with which dogma is held and not in the dogma or want of dogma that the danger lies.

--Chapter 68

I know it is the fashion to say that young people must find out things for themselves, and so they probably would if they had fair play to the extent of not having obstacles put in their way. But they seldom have fair play; as a general rule they meet with foul play, and foul play from those who live by selling them stones made into a great variety of shapes and sizes so as to form a tolerable imitation of bread.

--Chapter 72

Some are lucky enough to meet with few obstacles, some are plucky enough to override them, but in the greater number of cases, if people are saved at all they are saved so as by fire.

--Chapter 72

An empty house is like a stray dog or a body from which life has departed. Decay sets in at once in every part of it, and what mould and wind and weather would spare, street boys commonly destroy.

--Chapter 72

A man's friendships are, like his will, invalidated by marriage--but they are also no less invalidated by the marriage of his friends. The rift in friendship which invariably makes its appearance on the marriage of either of the parties to it was fast widening, as it no less invariably does, into the great gulf which is fixed between the married and the unmarried.

--Chapter 75

Christianity was true in so far as it had fostered beauty, and it had fostered much beauty. It was false in so far as it had fostered ugliness, and it had fostered much ugliness. It was therefore not a little true and not a little false; on the whole one might go farther and fare worse; the wisest course would be to live with it, and make the best and not the worst of it.

--Chapter 85

We should be churchmen, but somewhat lukewarm churchmen, inasmuch as those who care very much about either religion or irreligion are seldom observed to be very well bred or agreeable people.

--Chapter 85

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