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The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations

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Worth seeing, yes; but not worth going to see.

On the Giant’s Causeway, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 3, p. 410 (12 October 1779)

If you are idle, be not solitary; if you are solitary, be not idle.

Letter to Boswell, 27 October 1779, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 3, p. 415.

Among the anfractuosities of the human mind, I know not if it may not be one, that there is a superstitious reluctance to sit for a picture.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 4 (1780)

Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it. Martyrdom is the test.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 12 (1780)

They are forced plants, raised in a hot-bed; and they are poor plants; they are but cucumbers after all.

On Thomas Gray’s ‘Odes’, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 13 (1780)

A Frenchman must be always talking, whether he knows anything of the matter or not; an Englishman is content to say nothing, when he has nothing to say.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 15 (1780)

Sir, your wife, under pretence of keeping a bawdy-house, is a receiver of stolen goods.

During an exchange of coarse raillery customary among people travelling upon the Thames, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 26 (1780)

No man was more foolish when he had not a pen in his hand, or more wise when he had.

On Oliver Goldsmith, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 29 (1780).

Depend upon it, said he, that if a man talks of his misfortunes there is something in them that is not disagreeable to him; for where there is nothing but pure misery there never is any recourse to the mention of it.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 31 (1780)

I believe that is true. The dogs don’t know how to write trifles with dignity.

Reply to Fowke, who had observed that in writing biography Johnson infinitely exceeded his contemporaries, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 34, n. 5 (1781)

Mrs Montagu has dropt me. Now, Sir, there are people whom one should like very well to drop, but would not wish to be dropped by.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 73 (March 1781)

This merriment of parsons is mighty offensive.

James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 76 (March 1781)

Mr Long’s character is very short. It is nothing. He fills a chair. He is a man of genteel appearance, and that is all.

On Mr Dudley Long, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 81 (1 April 1781)

We are not here to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich, beyond the dreams of avarice.

At the sale of Thrale’s brewery, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 87 (6 April 1781).

Classical quotation is the parole of literary men all over the world.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 102 (8 May 1781)

Why, that is, because, dearest, you’re a dunce.

To Miss Monckton, later Lady Corke, who said that Sterne’s writings affected her, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 109 (May 1781)

Sir, I have two very cogent reasons for not printing any list of subscribers;—one, that I have lost all the names,—the other, that I have spent all the money.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 111 (May 1781)

Always, Sir, set a high value on spontaneous kindness. He whose inclination prompts him to cultivate your friendship of his own accord, will love you more than one whom you have been at pains to attach to you.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 115 (May 1781)

A wise Tory and a wise Whig, I believe, will agree. Their principles are the same, though their modes of thinking are different.

Written statement given to Boswell, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 117 (May 1781)

Officious, innocent, sincere,

Of every friendless name the friend.

Yet still he fills affection’s eye,

Obscurely wise, and coarsely kind.

On the death of Mr Levett, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 137 (20 January 1782)

Then, with no throbs of fiery pain, No cold gradations of decay, Death broke at once the vital chain, And freed his soul the nearest way.

On the death of Mr Levett, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 139 (20 January 1782)

Resolve not to be poor: whatever you have, spend less. Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable, and others extremely difficult.

Letter to Boswell, 7 December 1782, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 157

I hate a fellow whom pride, or cowardice, or laziness drives into a corner, and who does nothing when he is there but sit and growl; let him come out as I do, and bark.

On Jeremiah Markland, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 161, n. 3 (10 October 1782)

How few of his friends’ houses would a man choose to be at when he is sick.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 181 (1783)

There is a wicked inclination in most people to suppose an old man decayed in his intellects. If a young or middle-aged man, when leaving a company, does not recollect where he laid his hat, it

is nothing; but if the same inattention is discovered in an old man, people will shrug up their shoulders, and say, ‘His memory is going.’

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 181 (1783)

A man might write such stuff for ever, if he would abandon his mind to it.

Referring to Ossian, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 183 (1783)

Sir, there is no settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea.

On the relative merits of two minor poets, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 192 (1783)

When I observed he was a fine cat, saying, ‘Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this’; and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, ‘but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.’

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 197 (1783)

My dear friend, clear your mind of cant...You may talk in this manner; it is a mode of talking in Society: but don’t think foolishly.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 221 (15 May 1783)

As I know more of mankind I expect less of them, and am ready now to call a man a good man, upon easier terms than I was formerly.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 239 (September 1783)

If a man were to go by chance at the same time with Burke under a shed, to shun a shower, he would say—’this is an extraordinary man.’

On Edmund Burke, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 275 (15 May 1784)

It is as bad as bad can be: it is ill-fed, ill-killed, ill-kept, and ill-drest.

On the roast mutton he had been served at an inn, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 284 (3 June 1784)

[Johnson:] As I cannot be sure that I have fulfilled the conditions on which salvation is granted, I am afraid I may be one of those who shall be damned (looking dismally).

[Dr Adams:] What do you mean by damned?

[Johnson:] (passionately and loudly) Sent to Hell, Sir, and punished everlastingly.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 299 (12 June 1784)

Milton, Madam, was a genius that could cut a Colossus from a rock; but could not carve heads upon cherry-stones.

To Hannah More, who had expressed a wonder that the poet who had written ‘Paradise Lost’ should write such poor Sonnets, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 305 (13 June 1784)

It might as well be said ‘Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat.’

Parodying Henry Brooke, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 313 (June 1784).

Sir, I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find you an understanding.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 313 (June 1784)

No man is a hypocrite in his pleasures.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 316 (June 1784).

Talking of the Comedy of ‘The Rehearsal,’ he said, ‘It has not wit enough to keep it sweet.’

This was easy;—he therefore caught himself, and pronounced a more rounded sentence; ‘It has not vitality enough to preserve it from putrefaction.’

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 320

Who can run the race with Death?

Letter to Dr Burney, 2 August 1784, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 360

Sir, I look upon every day to be lost, in which I do not make a new acquaintance.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 374 (November 1784)

I will be conquered; I will not capitulate.

Talking of his illness, in James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 374 (November 1784)

Long-expected one-and-twenty, Ling’ring year, at length is flown; Pride and pleasure, pomp and plenty, Great [Sir John], are now your own.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 413 (December 1784)

An odd thought strikes me:—we shall receive no letters in the grave.

In James Boswell ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1791) vol. 4, p. 413 (December 1784)

A lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the cause which he undertakes, unless his client asks his opinion, and then he is bound to give it honestly. The justice or injustice of the cause is to be decided by the judge.

In James Boswell ‘Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides’ (1785) 15 August 1773

Let him go abroad to a distant country; let him go to some place where he is not known. Don’t let him go to the devil where he is known!

In James Boswell ‘Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides’ (1785) 18 August 1773 (Boswell having asked if someone should commit suicide to avoid certain disgrace)

I have, all my life long, been lying till noon; yet I tell all young men, and tell them with great sincerity, that nobody who does not rise early will ever do any good.

In James Boswell ‘Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides’ (1785) 14 September 1773

I inherited a vile melancholy from my father, which has made me mad all my life, at least not sober.

In James Boswell ‘Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides’ (1785) 16 September 1773

I am always sorry when any language is lost, because languages are the pedigree of nations.

In James Boswell ‘Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides’ (1785) 18 September 1773

I do not much like to see a Whig in any dress; but I hate to see a Whig in a parson’s gown.

In James Boswell ‘Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides’ (1785) 24 September 1773

A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing.

In James Boswell ‘Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides’ (1785) 5 October 1773

I am sorry I have not learned to play at cards. It is very useful in life: it generates kindness and consolidates society.

In James Boswell ‘Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides’ (1785) 21 November 1773

Madam, before you flatter a man so grossly to his face, you should consider whether or not your flattery is worth his having.

Remark to Hannah More, in ‘Diary and Letters of Madame D’Arblay’ [Fanny Burney] (1842) vol. 1, pt. 2, p. 55 (August 1778)

Every man has, some time in his life, an ambition to be a wag.

In ‘Diary and Letters of Madame D’Arblay’ [Fanny Burney] (1842) vol. 5, pt. 7, p. 307 (1 June 1792)

Love is the wisdom of the fool and the folly of the wise.

In William Cooke ‘Life of Samuel Foote’ (1805) vol. 2, p. 154

As with my hat upon my head I walked along the Strand,

I there did meet another man With his hat in his hand.

In ‘European Magazine’ January 1785 ‘Anecdotes by George Steevens’

Of music Dr Johnson used to say that it was the only sensual pleasure without vice.

In ‘European Magazine’ (1795) p. 82

Fly fishing may be a very pleasant amusement; but angling or float fishing I can only compare to a stick and a string, with a worm at one end and a fool at the other.

Attributed, in Hawker ‘Instructions to Young Sportsmen’ (1859) p. 197, though not found in Johnson’s works. ‘Notes and Queries’ 11 December 1915

I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in this conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight.

Of his conversation in taverns, in John Hawkins ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ (1787) p. 87

Corneille is to Shakespeare...as a clipped hedge is to a forest.

In Hester Lynch Piozzi ‘Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson’ (1786) p. 59

If the man who turnips cries, Cry not when his father dies, ’Tis a proof that he had rather Have a turnip than his father.

Burlesque of Lope de Vega’s lines ‘Si a quien los leones vence...’, in Hester Lynch Piozzi ‘Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson’ (1786) p. 67

Dear Bathurst (said he to me one day) was a man to my very heart’s content: he hated a fool, and he hated a rogue, and he hated a whig; he was a very good hater.

Hester Lynch Piozzi ‘Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson’ (1786) p. 83

One day at Streatham...a young gentleman called to him suddenly, and I suppose he thought disrespectfully, in these words: ‘Mr Johnson, would you advise me to marry?’ ‘I would advise no man to marry, Sir,’ returns for answer in a very angry tone Dr Johnson, ‘who is not likely to propagate understanding.’

Hester Lynch Piozzi ‘Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson’ (1786) p. 97

[Goldsmith] seeming to repine at the success of Beattie’s Essay on Truth—’Here’s such a stir (said he) about a fellow that has written one book, and I have written many.’ Ah, Doctor (says his friend [Johnson]), there go two-and-forty sixpences you know to one guinea.

Hester Lynch Piozzi ‘Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson’ (1786) p. 179

It is very strange, and very melancholy, that the paucity of human pleasures should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them.

In Hester Lynch Piozzi ‘Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson’ (1786) p. 206

Was there ever yet anything written by mere man that was wished longer by its readers, excepting Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, and the Pilgrim’s Progress?

In Hester Lynch Piozzi ‘Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson’ (1786) p. 281

Abstinence is as easy to me, as temperance would be difficult.

In William Roberts (ed.) ‘Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs Hannah More’ (1834) vol. 1, p. 251

What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.

In William Seward ‘Biographia’ (1799) p. 260

Difficult do you call it, Sir? I wish it were impossible.

On the performance of a celebrated violinist, in William Seward ‘Supplement to the Anecdotes of Distinguished Persons’ (1797) p. 267

Iam moriturus.

I who am about to die.

To Francesco Sastres, shortly before his death on 13 December 1784. W. Jackson Bate ‘Samuel Johnson’ (1978): ‘The words echo the ancient Roman salutation of the gladiators to Caesar’

10.37 John Benn Johnstone 1803-91

I want you to assist me in forcing her on board the lugger; once there, I’ll frighten her into marriage.

‘The Gipsy Farmer’ (performed 1845); since quoted: ‘Once aboard the lugger and the maid is mine’

10.38 Hanns Johst 1890-1978

Wenn ich Kultur höre...entsichere ich meinen Browning!

Whenever I hear the word culture...I release the safety-catch of my Browning!

‘Schlageter’ (1933) act 1, sc. 1 (often attributed to Hermann Goering, and quoted: ‘Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my pistol!’)

10.39 Al Jolson 1886-1950

You think that’s noise—you ain’t heard nuttin’ yet!

In a cafè prior to an encore, the applause for his previous rendering having been obliterated by the din from a neighbouring building site: in Martin Abramson ‘The Real Story of Al Jolson’ (1950) p. 12

10.40 Henry Arthur Jones 1851-1929 and Henry Herman 1832-94

O God! Put back Thy universe and give me yesterday.

‘The Silver King’ (1907) act 2, sc. 4

10.41 John Paul Jones 1747-92

I have not yet begun to fight.

On being hailed to know whether he had struck his flag, as his ship was sinking, 23 September 1779, in Mrs Reginald De Koven ‘The Life and Letters of John Paul Jones’ (1914) vol. 1, p. 455

10.42 LeRoi Jones

See Imamu Amiri Baraka (2.23)

10.43 Sir William Jones 1746-94

My opinion is, that power should always be distrusted, in whatever hands it is placed.

Letter to Lord Althorpe, 5 October 1782, in Lord Teignmouth ‘Life of Sir W. Jones’ (1835) vol. 1

Seven hours to law, to soothing slumber seven, Ten to the world allot, and all to Heaven.

Lines in substitution for Sir Edward Coke’s lines: ‘Six hours in sleep...’, in Lord Teignmouth ‘Life of Sir W. Jones’ (1835) vol. 2.

10.44 Erica Jong 1942—

The zipless fuck is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game. The man is not ‘taking’ and the woman is not ‘giving’...The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is. And it is rarer than the unicorn.

‘Fear of Flying’ (1973) ch. 1

10.45 Ben Jonson c.1573-1637

Fortune, that favours fools.

‘The Alchemist’ (1610) prologue

Neither do thou lust after that tawney weed tobacco.

‘Bartholomew Fair’ (1614) act 2, sc. 6

People: The Voice of Cato is the voice of Rome. Cato: The voice of Rome is the consent of heaven!

‘Catiline his Conspiracy’ (1611) act 3, sc. 1

Where it concerns himself,

Who’s angry at a slander makes it true.

‘Catiline his Conspiracy’ (1611) act 3, sc. 1

Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears: Yet, slower, yet; O faintly, gentle springs:

List to the heavy part the music bears,

Woe weeps out her division, when she sings.

‘Cynthia’s Revels’ (1600) act 1, sc. 1

So they be ill men,

If they spake worse, ’twere better: for of such To be dispraised, is the most perfect praise.

‘Cynthia’s Revels’ (1600) act 3, sc. 2

True happiness

Consists not in the multitude of friends, But in the worth and choice.

‘Cynthia’s Revels’ (1600) act 3, sc. 2

Queen and huntress, chaste and fair, Now the sun is laid to sleep, Seated in thy silver chair,

State in wonted manner keep: Hesperus entreats thy light, Goddess, excellently bright.

‘Cynthia’s Revels’ (1600) act 5, sc. 3

If he were

To be made honest by an act of parliament, I should not alter in my faith of him.

‘The Devil is an Ass’ (1616) act 4, sc. 1

This is Mab, the Mistress-Fairy That doth nightly rob the dairy.

‘The Entertainment at Althorpe’ (1603)

Still to be neat, still to be drest, As you were going to a feast;

Still to be powdered, still perfumed, Lady, it is to be presumed,

Though art’s hid causes are not found, All is not sweet, all is not sound.

Give me a look, give me a face, That makes simplicity a grace; Robes loosely flowing, hair as free: Such sweet neglect more taketh me, Than all the adulteries of art;

They strike mine eyes, but not my heart.

‘Epicoene’ (1609) act 1, sc. 1

Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care’ll kill a cat, up-tails all, and a louse for the hangman.

‘Every Man in His Humour’ (1598) act 1, sc. 3

Ods me, I marvel what pleasure or felicity they have in taking their roguish tobacco. It is good for nothing but to choke a man, and fill him full of smoke and embers.

‘Every Man in His Humour’ (1598) act 3, sc. 5

I do honour the very flea of his dog.

‘Every Man in His Humour’ (1598) act 4, sc. 2

Blind Fortune still

Bestows her gifts on such as cannot use them.

‘Every Man out of His Humour’ (1599) act 2, sc. 2

Ramp up my genius, be not retrograde; But boldly nominate a spade a spade.

‘The Poetaster’ (1601) act 5, sc. 1

Detraction is but baseness’ varlet;

And apes are apes, though clothed in scarlet.

‘The Poetaster’ (1601) act 5, sc. 1

Tell proud Jove,

Between his power and thine there is no odds: ’Twas only fear first in the world made gods.

‘Sejanus’ (1603) act 2, sc. 2

Calumnies are answered best with silence.

‘Volpone’ (1605) act 2, sc. 2

Come, my Celia, let us prove, While we can, the sports of love.

‘Volpone’ (1605) act 3, sc. 5.

Suns, that set, may rise again; But if once we lose this light, ’Tis with us perpetual night.

‘Volpone’ (1605) act 3, sc. 5.

Our drink shall be prepared gold and amber; Which we will take, until my roof whirl around With the vertigo: and my dwarf shall dance.

‘Volpone’ (1605) act 3, sc. 5

You have a gift, sir, (thank your education), Will never let you want, while there are men, And malice, to breed causes.

‘Volpone’ (1605) act 5, sc. 1 (to a lawyer)

Mischiefs feed

Like beasts, till they be fat, and then they bleed.

‘Volpone’ (1605) act 5, sc. 8

Have you seen but a bright lily grow, Before rude hands have touched it? Have you marked but the fall o’ the snow Before the soil hath smutched it?...

O so white! O so soft! O so sweet is she!

‘A Celebration of Charis’ (1640) no. 4 ‘Her Triumph’

She is Venus, when she smiles; But she’s Juno, when she walks, And Minerva, when she talks.

‘A Celebration of Charis’ (1640) no. 5 ‘His Discourse with Cupid’

What gentle ghost, besprent with April dew, Hails me so solemnly to yonder yew?

‘An Elegy on the Lady Jane Paulet, Marchion [ess] of Winton’ (1640)

Weep with me, all you that read This little story,

And know, for whom a tear you shed, Death’s self is sorry.

’Twas a child that so did thrive In grace and feature,

As heaven and nature seemed to strive Which owned the creature.

Years he numbered scarce thirteen When Fates turned cruel,

Yet three filled zodiacs had he been The stage’s jewel,

And did act (what now we moan) Old men so duly,

As, sooth, the Parcae thought him one, He played so truly.

So, by error, to his fate They all consented,

But viewing him since (alas, too late) They have repented;

And have sought, to give new birth, In baths to steep him;

But being so much too good for earth, Heaven vows to keep him.

‘Epitaph on Salomon Pavy, a Child of Queen Elizabeth’s Chapel’ (1616)

Underneath this stone doth lie As much beauty as could die; Which in life did harbour give To more virtue than doth live.

‘Epitaph on Elizabeth, L. H.’ (1616)

The voice so sweet, the words so fair, As some soft chime had stroked the air;

And though the sound were parted thence, Still left an echo in the sense.

‘Eupheme’ (1640) no. 4 ‘The Mind’

Greek was free from rhyme’s infection,

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