Reference > Quotations > S. Austin Allibone, comp. > Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay
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S. Austin Allibone, comp.  Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay.  1880.
 
John Foster
 
  In the great majority of things, habit is a greater plague than ever afflicted Egypt; in religious character it is a grand felicity.
John Foster.    
  1
 
  The successes of intellectual effort are never so great as when aided by the affections that animate social converse.
John Foster: Journal.    
  2
 
  How every hostile feeling becomes mitigated into something like kindness, when its object, perhaps lately proud, assuming, unjust, is now seen oppressed into dejection by calamity! The most cruel wild beast, or more cruel man, if seen languishing in death and raising towards us a feeble and supplicating look, would certainly move our pity.
John Foster: Journal.    
  3
 
  Of all the kinds of writing and discourse, that appears to me incomparably the best which is distinguished by grand masses and prominent bulks; which stand out in magnitude from the tame ground-work, and impel the mind by a succession of separate strong impulses, rather than a continuity of equable sentiment.
John Foster: Journal.    
  4
 
  Mr. T. sees religion not as a sphere, but as a line; and it is the identical line in which he is moving. He is like an African buffalo,—sees right forward, but nothing on the right hand or the left. He would not perceive a legion of angels or of devils at the distance of ten yards on one side or the other.
John Foster: Journal.    
  5
 
  In books one takes up occasionally one finds a consolation for the impossibility of reading many books, by seeing how many might have been spared,—how little that is new or striking in the great departments of religion, morals, and sentiment.
John Foster: Journal.    
  6
 
  How large a portion of the material that books are made of, is destitute of any peculiar distinction! “It has,” as Pope said of women, just “no character at all.” An accumulation of sentences and pages of vulgar truisms and candle-light sense, which any one was competent to write, and which no one is interested in reading, or cares to remember, or could remember if he cared.
John Foster: Journal.    
  7
 
  Very advantageous exercise to incite attentive observation and sharpen the discriminating faculty, to compel one’s self to sketch the character of each person one knows.
John Foster: Journal.    
  8
 
  There is not on earth a more capricious, accommodating, or abused thing than Conscience. It would be very possible to exhibit a curious classification of consciences in genera and species. What copious matter for speculation among the varieties of—lawyer’s conscience—cleric conscience—lay conscience—lord’s conscience—peasant’s conscience—hermit’s conscience—tradesman’s conscience—philosopher’s conscience—Christian’s conscience—conscience of reason—conscience of faith—healthy man’s conscience—sick man’s conscience—ingenious conscience—simple conscience, &c., &c., &c., &c.
John Foster: Journal.    
  9
 
  Struck in two instances, with the immense importance, to a man of sense, of obtaining a conversational predominance in order to be of any use in any company exceeding the smallest number.
John Foster: Journal.    
  10
 
  A very important principle in education, never to confine children long to any one occupation or place. It is totally against their nature, as indicated in all their voluntary exercises.
John Foster: Journal.    
  11
 
  Interesting conversation with Mr. S. on education. Astonishment and grief at the folly, especially in times like the present, of those parents who totally forget, in the formation of their children’s habits, to inspire that vigorous independence which acknowledges the smallest possible number of wants, and so avoids or triumphs over the negation of a thousand indulgences, by always having been taught and accustomed to do without them. “How many things,” said Socrates, “I do not want!”
John Foster: Journal.    
  12
 
  I stoutly maintained in a company, lately, that the English are the most barbarous people in the world. I cited a number of prominent facts; among others, that bull-baiting was lately defended and sanctioned in the grand talisman of the national humanity and virtue,—the Parliament.
John Foster: Journal.    
  13
 
  Met a number of men one after another. My urbanity was not up to the point of saying “Good-morning,” till I had passed the last of them, who had nothing to attract civility more than the others, except his being the last. If a Frenchman and an Englishman were shown a dozen persons, and under the necessity of choosing one of them to talk an hour with, the Frenchman would choose the first in the row, and the Englishman the last.
John Foster: Journal.    
  14
 
  I have often contended that attachments between friends and lovers cannot be secured, strong, and perpetually augmenting, except by the intervention of some interest which is not personal, but which is common to them both, and towards which their attentions and passions are directed with still more animation than even towards each other.
John Foster: Journal.    
  15
 
 
 
  A man of genius may sometimes suffer a miserable sterility; but at other times he will feel himself the magician of thought. Luminous ideas will dart from the intellectual firmament, just as if the stars were falling around him; sometimes he must think by mental moonlight, but sometimes his ideas reflect the solar splendour.
John Foster: Journal.    
  16
 
  Let a man compare with each other, and also bring to the abstract scale, the sentiment which follows the performance of a kind action and that which follows a vindictive triumph; still more if the good was done in return for evil. How much pleasure then will that man ensure—yes, what a vast share of it!—whose deliberate system it is, that his every action and speech shall be beneficent!
John Foster: Journal.    
  17
 
  I know from experience that habit can, in direct opposition to every conviction of the mind and but little aided by the elements of temptation (such as present pleasure, etc.), induce a repetition of the most unworthy actions. The mind is weak where it has once given way. It is long before a principle restored can become as firm as one that has never been moved. It is as the case of a mound of a reservoir: if this mound has in one place been broken, whatever care has been taken to make the repaired part as strong as possible, the probability is that if it give way again, it will be in that place.
John Foster: Journal.    
  18
 
  After considering the effect which has been produced by the Iliad of Homer, I am compelled to regard it with the same sentiment as I should a knife of beautiful workmanship which had been the instrument used in murdering an innocent family. Recollect, as the instance, its influence on Alexander, and through him on the world.
John Foster: Journal.    
  19
 
  In eloquence, and even in poetry, which seems so much the lawful province of imagination, should imagination be ever so warm and redundant, yet unless a sound discriminating judgment likewise appear, it is not true poetry; no more than it would be painting if a man took the colours and brush of a painter and stained the paper or canvas with mere patches of colour. I can thus exhibit colours as well as he, but I cannot produce his forms, to which his colours are quite secondary.
John Foster: Journal.    
  20
 
  Are the powers—the capacity of human language limited by any other bounds than those which limit the mind’s powers of conception? Is there within the possibility of human conceptions a certain order of ideas which no combinations of language could express?… If a poet were to come into the world endowed with a genius, suppose ten times more sublime than Milton’s, must he not abandon the attempt at composition in despair, from finding that language, like a feeble tool, breaks in his hand—from finding that when he attempts to pour any of his mental fluid into the vessel of language, that vessel in a moment melts or bursts; from finding that, though he is Hercules every inch, he is armed but with a distaff, and cannot give his mighty strength its proportional effect without his club?
John Foster: Journal.    
  21
 
  You gladly now see life before you, but there is a moment which you are destined to meet when you will have passed across it and will find yourself at the farther edge. Are you perfectly certain that at that moment you will be in possession of something that will enable you not to care that life is gone? If you should not, what then?
John Foster: Journal.    
  22
 
  “Nothing new under the sun.” I compare life to a little wilderness, surrounded by a high dead wall. Within this space we muse and walk in quest of the new and happy, forgetting the insuperable limit, till, with surprise, we find ourselves stopped by the dead wall: we turn away, and muse and walk again, till, on another side, we find ourselves close against the dead wall. Whichever way we turn—still the same.
John Foster: Journal.    
  23
 
  Attachment must burn in oxygen, or it will go out; and by oxygen, I mean a mutual admiration and pursuit of virtue, improvement, utility, the pleasures of taste, or some other interesting concern, which shall be the element of their commerce, and make them love each other, not only for each other, but as devotees to some third object which they both adore.
John Foster: Journal.    
  24
 
  Their courtship was carried on in poetry. Alas! many an enamoured pair have courted in poetry, and after marriage lived in prose.
John Foster: Journal.    
  25
 
  When expressing a conjecture that, as in the previous course of love, so after marriage, it may be that reconciliations after disagreements are accompanied by a peculiar fascinating tenderness,—I was told by a very sensible experimentalist that the possibility of this feeling continues but for a while, and that it will be extremely perceptible when the period is come that no such felicitous charm will compensate for domestic misunderstandings. I, however, cannot but think that when this period is come, the sentimental enthusiasm is greatly subsided,—that its most enchanting interest is, indeed, quite gone off.
John Foster: Journal.    
  26
 
  A very respectable widow, remarking on matrimonial quarrels, said that the first quarrel that goes the length of any harsh or contemptuous language is an unfortunate epoch in married life, for that the delicate respectfulness being thus once broken down, the same kind of language much more easily comes afterwards; there is a feeling of having less to love than before.
John Foster: Journal.    
  27
 
  Among married persons of the common size and texture of minds, the grievances they occasion one another are rather feelings of irritated temper than of hurt sentiment: an important distinction. Of the latter perhaps they were never capable, or perhaps have long since worn out the capability. Their pain, therefore, is far less deep and acute than a sentimental observer would suppose, or would in the same circumstances, with their own feelings, suffer.
John Foster: Journal.    
  28
 
  How many of these minds are there to whom scarcely any good can be done! They have no excitability. You are attempting to kindle a fire of stones. You must leave them as you find them, in permanent mediocrity. You waste your time if you do not employ it on materials which you can actually modify, while such can be found. I find that most people are made only for the common uses of life.
John Foster: Journal.    
  29
 
  I have been reading some of Milton’s amazing descriptions of spirits, of their manner of life, their powers, their boundless liberty, and the scenes which they inhabit or traverse; and my wonted enthusiasm kindled high. I almost wished for death; and wondered with great admiration what that life, and what those strange regions, really are, into which death will turn the spirit free.
John Foster: Journal.    
  30
 
  I have often maintained that fiction may be much more instructive than real history. I think so still; but viewing the vast rout of novels as they are, I do think they do incalculable mischief. I wish we could collect them all together, and make one vast fire of them; I should exult to see the smoke of them ascend like that of Sodom and Gomorrah: the judgment would be as just.
John Foster: Journal.    
  31
 
  How little of our knowledge of mankind is derived from intentional accurate observation! Most of it has, unsought, found its way into the mind from the continual presentations of the objects to our unthinking view. It is a knowledge of sensation more than of reflection. Such knowledge is vague and superficial. There is no science of human nature in it.
John Foster: Journal.    
  32
 
  An observant man, in all his intercourse with society and the world, carries a pencil constantly in his hand, and, unperceived, marks on every person and thing the figure expressive of its value, and therefore instantly on meeting that person or thing again knows what kind and degree of attention to give it. This is to make something of experience.
John Foster: Journal.    
  33
 
  I suppose it never occurs to parents that to throw vilely educated young people on the world is, independently of the injury to the young people themselves, a positive crime, and of very great magnitude; as great, for instance, as burning their neighbour’s house, or poisoning the water in his well. In pointing out to them what is wrong, even if they acknowledge the justness of the statement, one cannot make them feel a sense of guilt, as in other proved charges. That they love their children extenuates to their consciences every parental folly that may at last produce in the children every desperate vice.
John Foster: Journal.    
  34
 
  The importance and necessity of a ruling passion—i.e. some grand object, the view of which kindles all the ardour the soul is capable of, to attain or accomplish it. Possibility of creating a ruling passion asserted.
John Foster: Journal.    
  35
 
  All pleasure must be bought at the price of pain: the difference between false pleasure and true is just this:—for the true, the price is paid before you enjoy it—for the false, after you enjoy it.
John Foster: Journal.    
  36
 
  All political institutions will probably, from whatever cause, tend to become worse by time. If a system were now formed that should meet all the philosopher’s and the philanthropist’s wishes, it would still have the same tendency; only I do hope that henceforward to the end of time, men’s minds will be extensively awake to the nature and operation of their institutions; so that after a new era shall commence, governments shall not slide into depravity without being keenly watched, nor be watched without the sense and spirit to arrest their deterioration.
John Foster: Journal.    
  37
 
  Few have been sufficiently sensible of the importance of that economy in reading which selects, almost exclusively, the very first order of books. Why should a man, except for some special reason, read a very inferior book at the very time that he might be reading one of the highest order?
John Foster: Journal.    
  38
 
  Readers in general who have an object beyond amusement, yet are not apprised of the most important use of reading, the acquisition of power. Their knowledge is not power; and, too, the memory retains but the small part of the knowledge of which a book should be full: the grand object, then, should be to improve the strength and tone of the mind by a thinking, analyzing, discriminating manner of reading.
John Foster: Journal.    
  39
 
  How often have I been struck at observing that no effect at all is produced by the noblest works of genius on the habits of thought, sentiment, and talk, of the generality of readers; their mental tone becomes no deeper, no mellower; they are not equal to a fiddle, which improves by being repeatedly played upon. I should not expect one in twenty, of even educated readers, so much as to recollect one singularly sublime, and by far the noblest, part of the poem in question: so little emotion does anything awake, even in the moment of reading: if it did, they would not forget it so soon.
John Foster: Journal.    
  40
 
  So in London lately, my acquaintance might happen, or might not happen, to make a slight inquiry about some subject deeply interesting to myself; and if they had happened, by the time that I had constructed the first sentence of reply, the question was forgotten and something else adverted to. So one does one’s self in the same case; so every one does: we are interested only about self, or about those who form a part of our self-interest. Beyond all other extravagances of folly is that of expecting or wishing to live in a great number of hearts.
John Foster: Journal.    
  41
 
  We have such an habitual persuasion of the general depravity of human nature, that in falling among strangers we always reckon on their being irreligious, till we discover some specific indication of the contrary.
John Foster: Journal.    
  42
 
  When we withdraw from human intercourse into solitude, we are more peculiarly committed in the presence of the Divinity; yet some men retire into solitude to devise or perpetrate crimes. This is like a man going to meet and brave a lion in his own gloomy desert, in the very precincts of his dread abode.
John Foster: Journal.    
  43
 
  Burke’s sentences are pointed at the end,—instinct with pungent sense to the last syllable. They are like a charioteer’s whip, which not only has a long and effective lash, but cracks, and inflicts a still smarter sensation at the end. They are like some serpents of which I have heard it vulgarly said, their life is the fiercest in the tail.
John Foster: Journal.    
  44
 
  Millions of valuable thoughts I suppose have passed through my mind. How often my conscience has admonished me! How many thousands of pious resolutions! How all nature has preached to me! How day and night, and solitude and the social scenes, and books and the Bible, the gravity of sermons and the flippancy of fools, life and death, the ancient world and the modern, sea and land, and the omnipresent God, have all concurred to instruct me! and behold the miserable result of all!! I wonder if the measure of effect be a ten-thousandth part of the bulk, to call it so, of this vast combination of causes?
John Foster: Journal.    
  45
 
  Casual thoughts are sometimes of great value. One of these may prove the key to open for us a yet unknown apartment in the palace of truth, or a yet unexplored tract in the paradise of sentiment that environs it.
John Foster: Journal.    
  46
 
  Time is the greatest of tyrants. As we go on towards age, he taxes our health, our limbs, our faculties, our strength, and our features.
John Foster: Journal.    
  47
 
  When the majestic form of Truth approaches, it is easier for a disingenuous mind to start aside into a thicket till she is past, and then reappearing say, “It was not Truth,” than to meet her, and bow, and obey.
John Foster: Journal.    
  48
 
  Every thinker, writer, and speaker, ought to be apprised that understanding is the basis of all mental excellence, and that none of the faculties projecting beyond this basis can be either firm or graceful. A mind may have great dignity and power whose basis of judgment, to carry on the figure, is broader than the other faculties that form the superstructure.
John Foster: Journal.    
  49
 
  How much I regret to see so generally abandoned to the weeds of vanity that fertile and vigorous space of life in which might be planted the oaks and fruit-trees of enlightened principle and virtuous habit, which growing up, would yield to old age an enjoyment, a glory, and a shade!
John Foster: Journal.    
  50
 
  I know no mortification so severe as that which accompanies the evinced inefficacy in one’s own conduct of a virtuous conviction so decisive that it can receive no additional cogency from the resources of either the judgment or the heart.
John Foster: Journal.    
  51
 
  I have observed that most ladies who have had what is considered as an education have no idea of an education progressive through life. Having attained a certain measure of accomplishment, knowledge, manners, &c., they consider themselves as made up, and so take their station: they are pictures which, being quite finished, are now put up in a frame—a gilded one, if possible—and hung up in permanence of beauty! in permanence, that is to say, till Old Time, with his rude and dirty fingers, soil the charming colours.
John Foster: Journal.    
  52
 
  It is a most amazing thing that young people never consider they shall grow old. I would, to young women especially, renew the monition of this anticipation every hour of every day. I wish we could make all the cryers, watchmen, ballad-singers, and even parrots, repeat to them continually, “You will be an old woman—you will” “and you.”—Then, if they have left themselves to depend almost entirely, as most of them do, on exterior and casual accommodations, they will be wretchedly neglected. No beaux will then draw a chair close to them, and sweetly simper, and whisper that the bowers of paradise did not afford so delightful a place.
John Foster: Journal.    
  53
 
  I have sometimes thought, if the sun were an intelligence he would be horribly incensed at the world he is appointed to enlighten: such a tale of ages, exhibiting a tiresome repetition of stupidity, follies, and crimes!
John Foster: Journal.    
  54
 
  Youth is not like a new garment, which we can keep fresh and fair by wearing sparingly. Youth, while we have it, we must wear daily, and it will fast wear away.
John Foster: Journal.    
  55
 
  The retrospect on youth is too often like looking back on what was a fair and promising country, but is now desolated by an overwhelming torrent, from which we have just escaped. Or is it like visiting the grave of a friend whom we had injured, and are precluded by his death from the possibility of making him an atonement?
John Foster: Journal.    
  56
 
  All reasoning is retrospect; it consists in the application of facts and principles previously known. This will show the very great importance of knowledge, especially that kind which is called Experience.
John Foster: Knowledge.    
  57
 
  Imagination, although a faculty of quite subordinate rank to intellect, is of infinite value for enlarging the field for the action of the intellect. It is a conducting and facilitating medium for intellect to expand itself through, where it may feel itself in a genial, vital element, instead of a vacuum.
John Foster: Life and Thoughts by W. W. Everts, 266.    
  58
 
  The universe, with all its splendours and magnitudes, ascertained, conjectured, or possible, may be regarded—not as a vehicle, not as an inhabitated form, or a comprehending sphere, of the Sovereign Spirit, but—as a type, which signifies, though by a faint, inadequate correspondence after all, that as great as the universe is in the material attributes of extension and splendour, so great is the Divine Being in the infinitely transcendent nature of spiritual existence.
John Foster: Life and Thoughts of John Foster, by W. W. Everts, N. York, 1849, 61.    
  59
 
  There is one question which combines with the interest of speculation and curiosity an interest incomparably greater, nearer, more affecting, more solemn. It is the simple question—“WHAT SHALL WE BE?” How soon it is spoken! but who shall reply? Think how profoundly this question, this mystery, concerns us—and in comparison with this, what are to us all questions of all sciences? What to us all researches into the constitution and laws of material nature? What—all investigations into the history of past ages? What to us—the future career of events in the progress of states and empires? What to us—what shall become of this globe itself, or all the mundane system? What WE shall be, we ourselves, is the matter of surpassing interest.
John Foster: Life and Thoughts, by W. W. Everts, 208.    
  60
 
  Think how completely all the griefs of this mortal life will be compensated by one age, for instance, of the felicities beyond the grave, and then think that one age multiplied ten thousand times is not so much to eternity as one grain of sand is to the whole material universe. Think what a state it will be to be growing happier and happier still as ages pass away, and yet leave something still happier to come!
John Foster: Life and Thoughts, by W. W. Everts, 215.    
  61
 
  Behold all the gloomy apartments opening, in which the wicked have died: contemplate first the triumph of iniquity, and here beheld their close; witness the terrific faith, the too late repentance, the prayers suffocated by despair and the mortal agonies! These once they would not believe; they refused to consider them; they could not allow that the career of crime and pleasure was to end. But now truth, like a blazing star, darts over the mind, and but shows the way to that “darkness visible” which no light can cheer. “Dying wretch!” we say in imagination to each of these, “is religion true? Do you believe in a God, and another life, and a retribution?”—“Oh, yes!” he answers, and expires.
John Foster: Life and Thoughts, by W. W. Everts, 217.    
  62
 
  “Without God in the world.” Think what a description, and applicable to individuals without number! If it had been “without friends—without food—without shelter”—that would have had a gloomy sound; but “without God!” without him!—that is, in no happy relation to him who is the very origin, support, and life of all things; without him who can make good flow to his creatures from an infinity of sources; without him whose favour possessed is the best, the sublimest, of all delights, all triumphs, all glories; without him who can confer an eternal felicity; without him, too, in a world where the human creature knows there is a mighty and continual conspiracy against his welfare. What do those who are under so sad a destitution value and seek instead? But what will anything or all things be worth in his absence?
John Foster: Life and Thoughts, by W. W. Everts, 218.    
  63
 
  How dangerous to defer those momentous reformations which conscience is solemnly preaching to the heart! If they are neglected, the difficulty and indisposition are increasing every month. The mind is receding, degree after degree, from the warm and hopeful zone; till, at last, it will enter the arctic circle, and become fixed in relentless and eternal ice!
John Foster: Life and Thoughts, by W. W. Everts, 222.    
  64
 
  We have long considered this distinguished counsellor [Curran] as possessed of a higher genius than any one in his profession within the British empire. The most obvious difference between these two great orators is, that Curran is more versatile, rising often to sublimity, and often descending to pleasantry, and even drollery; whereas Grattan is always grave and austere. They both possess that order of intellectual powers of which the limits cannot be assigned. No conception could be so brilliant or original that we should confidently pronounce that neither of these men could have uttered it. We regret to imagine how many admirable thoughts, which such men must have expressed in the lapse of many years, have been unrecorded, and are lost forever.
John Foster: Life and Thoughts, by W. W. Everts, 230.    
  65
 
  One important rule belongs to the composition of a fiction, which I suppose the writers of fiction seldom think of, viz., never to fabricate or introduce a character to whom greater talents or wisdom is attributed than the author himself possesses: if he does, how shall this character be sustained? By what means should my own fictitious personage think or talk better than myself?… We may easily imagine, then, how qualified the greatest number of novel-writers are for devising thought, speech, and action for heroes, sages, philosophers, geniuses, wits, &c.! Yet this is what they all can do.
John Foster: Life and Thoughts, by W. W. Everts, 241.    
  66
 
  Metaphysical inquiry attempts to trace things to the very first stage in which they can, even to the most penetrating intelligences, be the subjects of a thought, a doubt, or a proposition; that profoundest abstraction, where they stand on the first step of distinction from nonentity, and where that one question might be put concerning them, the answer to which would leave no further question possible. And having thus abstracted and penetrated to the state of pure entity, the speculation would come back, tracing it into all its modes and relations; till at last metaphysical truth, approaching nearer and nearer to the sphere of our immediate knowledge, terminates on the confines of distinct sciences and obvious realities. Now, it would seem evident that this inquiry into primary truth must surpass, in point of dignity, all other speculations. If any man could carry his discoveries as far, and make his proofs as strong, in the metaphysical world, as Newton did in the physical, he would be an incomparably greater man than even Newton.
John Foster: Life and Thoughts, by W. W. Everts, 295.    
  67
 
  It is impossible to hear with the slightest degree of respect or patience the expressions of doubt and anxiety about the truth of Christianity from any one who can delay a week to obtain this [Paley’s] celebrated View of its Evidences, or fail to read it through again and again. It is of no use to say what would be our opinion of the moral and intellectual state of his mind, if, alter this, he remained still undecided.
John Foster: Life and Thoughts, by W. W. Everts, 67.    
  68
 
  In eloquence, and even in poetry, which seems so much the lawful province of imagination, should imagination be ever so warm and redundant, yet unless a sound, discriminating judgment likewise appear, it is not true poetry; no more than it would be painting if a man took the colours and brush of a painter and stained the paper or canvas with mere patches of colour.
John Foster: Life and Thoughts, by W. W. Everts.    
  69
 
  He who would do some great thing in this short life must apply himself to the work with such a concentration of his forces as to idle spectators, who live only to amuse themselves, looks like insanity.
John Foster: On Decision of Character.    
  70
 
 
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