Quotes on Life
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17. Diversion; Life
"Surely life, if it be not long, is tedious, since we are forced to call in the assistance of so many trifles to rid us of our time, of that time which never can return."
Johnson: Letter to Baretti (June 10, 1761)
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71. Career Choices; Life
"Life is not long, and too much of it should not be spent in idle deliberation how it shall be spent: deliberation, which those who begin it by prudence, and continue it with subtilty, must, after long expence of thought, conclude by chance. To prefer one future mode of life to another, upon just reasons, requires faculties which it has not pleased our Creator to give us."
Boswell: Life
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145. Charity; Life; Poverty
What signifies, says some one, giving halfpence to beggars? they only lay it out in gin or tobacco. "And why should they be denied such sweeteners of their existence (says Johnson)? it is surely very savage to refuse them every possible avenue to pleasure, reckoned too coarse for our own acceptance. Life is a pill which none of us can bear to swallow without gilding; yet for the poor we delight in stripping it still barer, and are not ashamed to shew even visible displeasure, if ever the bitter taste is taken from their mouths."
Piozzi: Anecdotes
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222. Happiness; Life
"That man is never happy for the present is so true, that all his relief from unhappiness is only forgetting himself for a little while. Life is a progress from want to want, not from enjoyment to enjoyment."
Boswell: Life
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242. Life; Wealth
"Getting money is not all a man's business: to cultivate kindness is a valuable part of the business of life."
Boswell: Life
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362. Life
"But it must be remembered, that life consists not of a series of illustrious actions, or elegant enjoyments; the greater part of our time passes in compliance with necessities, in the performance of daily duties, in the removal of small inconveniencies, in the procurement of petty pleasures; and we are well or ill at ease, as the main stream of life glides on smoothly, or is ruffled by small obstacles and frequent interruption. The true state of every nation is the state of common life."
Johnson: Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland
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374. Life; Misery
"Misery is caused for the most part, not by a heavy crush of disaster, but by the corrosion of less visible evils, which canker enjoyment, and undermine security. The visit of an invader is necessarily rare, but domestic animosities allow no cessation."
Johnson: Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland
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394. History; Life
"It seems to be almost the universal errour of historians to suppose it politically, as it is physically true, that every effect has a proportionate cause. In the inanimate action of matter upon matter, the motion produced can be but equal to the force of the moving power; but the operations of life, whether private or publick, admit no such laws. The caprices of voluntary agents laugh at calculation. It is not always that there is a strong reason for a great event. Obstinacy and flexibility, malignity and kindness, give place, alternately, to each other; and the reason of these vicissitudes, however important may be the consequences, often escapes the mind in which the change is made."
Johnson: Thoughts on the Late Transactions Respecting Falkland's Islands
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403. Life
"To improve the golden moment of opportunity, and catch the good that is within our reach, is the great art of life. Many wants are suffered, which might once have been supplied; and much time is lost in regretting the time which had been lost before."
Johnson: The Patriot
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439. Humanity; Life
"The Europeans ... are less unhappy than we, but they are not happy. Human life is everywhere a state in which much is to be endured, and little to be enjoyed."
Johnson: Rasselas [Imlac]
Note: If you haven't read it yet, please read this note of caution regarding quotes from Rasselas.
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465. Life
"On necessary and inevitable evils, which overwhelm kingdoms at once, all disputation is vain; when they happen, they must be endured. But it is evident that these bursts of universal distress are more dreaded than felt; thousands and ten thousands flourish in youth and wither in age, without the knowledge of any other than domestic evils, and share the same pleasures and vexations, whether their kings are mild or cruel, whether the armies of their country pursue their enemies or retreat before them. While courts are disturbed with intestine competitions, and ambassadors are negotiating in foreign countries, the smith still plies his anvil, and the husband man drives his plow forward; the necessaries of life are required and obtained; and the successive business of the seasons continues to make its wonted revolutions."
Johnson: Rasselas [Rasselas]
Note: If you haven't read it yet, please read this note of caution regarding quotes from Rasselas.
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485. Choice; Life
"Do not suffer life to stagnate; it will grow muddy for want of motion: commit yourself again to the current of the world."
Johnson: Rasselas [Imlac]
Note: If you haven't read it yet, please read this note of caution regarding quotes from Rasselas.
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688. Biography; Humanity; Life
"I have often thought that there has rarely passed a life of which a judicious and faithful narrative would not be useful; for not only every man has, in the mighty mass of the world, great numbers in the same condition with himself, to whom his mistakes and miscarriages, escapes and expedients, would be of immediate and apparent use; but there is such a uniformity in the state of man, considered apart from adventitious and separable decorations and disguises, that there is scarce any possibility of good or ill but is common to human kind."
Johnson: Rambler #60 (October 13, 1750)
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732. Life
"The main of life is ... composed of small incidents and petty occurrences: of wishes for objects not remote, and grief for disappointments of no fatal consequence; of insect vexations, which sting us and fly away; impertinencies, which buzz a while about us, and are heard no more; of meteorous pleasures, which dance before us and are dissipated; of compliments, which glide off the soul like other music, and are forgotten by him that gave, and him that received them."
Johnson: Rambler #68 (November 10, 1750)
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733. Life
"As the chymists tell us, that all bodies are resolvable into the same elements, and that the boundless variety of things arises from the different proportions of very few ingredients; so a few pains and a few pleasures are all the materials of human life, and of these the proportions are partly allotted by Providence, and partly left to the argument of reason and of choice."
Johnson: Rambler #68 (November 10, 1750)
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797. Corruption; Life; Moral Instruction
"Those who exalt themselves into the chair of instruction, without inquiring whether any will submit to their authority, have not sufficiently considered how much of human life passes in little incidents, cursory conversation, slight business, and casual amusements; and therefore they have endeavoured only to inculcate the more awful virtues, without condescending to regard those petty qualities which grow important only by their frequency, and which, though they produce no single acts of heroism, nor astonish us by any great events, yet are every moment exerting their influence upon us, and make the draught of life sweet or bitter by imperceptible instillations. They operate unseen and unregarded, as change of air makes us sick or healthy, though we breathe it without attention, and only know the particles that impregnate it by their salutary or malignant effects."
Johnson: Rambler #72 (November 24, 1750)
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912. Life; Superficiality
"Life is commonly considered as either active or contemplative; but surely this division, how long soever it has been received, is inadequate and fallacious. There are mortals whose life is certainly not active, for they do neither good nor evil; and whose life cannot be properly called contemplative, for they never attend either to the conduct of men or the works of nature, but rise in the morning, look round them till night in careless stupidity, go to bed and sleep, and rise again in the morning."
Johnson: Idler #24 (September 30, 1758)
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913. Life; Superficiality
"How frequent soever may be the examples of existence without thought, it is certainly a state not much to be desired. He that lives in torpid insensibility, wants nothing of a carcase but putrefaction. It is the part of every inhabitant of the earth to partake the pains and pleasures of his fellow-beings; and as, in a road through a country desert and uniform, the traveller languishes for want of amusement, so the passage of life will be tedious and irksome to him who does not beguile it by diversified ideas."
Johnson: Idler #24 (September 30, 1758)
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963. Advice; Goodness; Happiness; Life
"Little would be wanting to the happiness of life, if every man could conform to the right as soon as he was shown it."
Johnson: Rambler #87 (January 15, 1751)
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1,004. Life
"Life passes, for the most part, in petty transactions... Our hours glide away in trifling amusements and slight gratifications; and there very seldom emerges any occasion that can call forth great virtue or great abilities."
Johnson: Rambler #98 (February 23, 1751)
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1,097. Life; Satisfaction
"Many of our hours are lost in a rotation of petty cares, in a constant recurrence of the same employments; many of our provisions for ease or happiness are always exhausted by the present day; and a great part of our existence serves no other purpose than that of enabling us to enjoy the rest."
Johnson: Rambler #108 (March 30, 1751)
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1,107. Life; Satisfaction
"A perpetual conflict with natural desires seems to be the lot of our present state."
Johnson: Rambler #111 (April 9, 1751)
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1,120. Equanimity; Life; Moderation; Myopia; Perspective
"The province of prudence lies between the greatest things and the least; some surpass our power by their magnitude, and some escape our notice by their number and their frequency. But the indispensable business of life will afford sufficient exercise to every human understanding; and such is the limitation of the human powers that, by attention to trifles, we must let things of importance pass unobserved; when we examine a mite with a glass, we see nothing but a mite."
Johnson: Rambler #112 (April 13, 1751)
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1,173. Apathy; Humanity; Identification; Life
"Every class of society has its cant of lamentation, which is understood or regarded by none but themselves; and every part of life has its uneasiness, which those who do not feel them will not commiserate. An event which spreads distraction over half the commercial world, assembles the trading companies in councils and committees, and shakes the nerves of a thousand stockjobbers, is read by the landlord and the farmer with frigid indifference."
Johnson: Rambler #128 (June 8, 1751)
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1,331. Life; Mortality; Satisfaction
"That life is short we are all convinced, and yet suffer not that conviction to repress our projects or limit our expectations; that life is miserable we all feel, and yet we believe that the time is near when we shall feel it no longer. But to hope happiness and immortality is equally vain. Our state may indeed be more or less imbittered as our duration may be more or less contracted; yet the utmost felicity which we can ever attain will be little better than alleviation of misery, and we shall always feel more pain from our wants than pleasure form our enjoyments."
Johnson: Rambler #165 (October 15, 1751)
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1,332. Life
"To destroy the effect of all our success, it is not necessary that any signal calamity should fall upon us, that we should be harassed by implacable persecution, or excruciated by irremediable pains; the brightest hours of prosperity have their clouds, and the stream of life, if it not ruffled by obstructions, will grow putrid by stagnation."
Johnson: Rambler #165 (October 15, 1751)
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1,401. Complaining; Life; Locus of Control
"Many complaints are made of the misery of life; and indeed it must be confessed that we are subject to calamities by which the good and bad, the diligent and slothful, the vigilant and heedless are equally afflicted. But surely, though some indulgence may be allowed to groans extorted by inevitable misery, no man has a right to repine at evils which, against warning, against experience, he deliberately and leisurely brings upon his own head; or to consider himself as debarred from happiness by such obstacles as resolution may break, or dexterity may put aside."
Johnson: Rambler #178 (November 30, 1751)
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1,409. Humanity; Life
"We are unreasonably desirous to separate the goods of life from those evils which Providence has connected with them, and to catch advantages without paying the price at which they are offered to us. Every man wishes to be rich, but very few have the powers necessary to raise a sudden fortune, either by new discoveries, or by superiority of skill in any necessary employment; and among lower understandings many want the firmness and industry requisite to regular gain and gradual acquisitions."
Johnson: Rambler #182 (December 14, 1751)
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1,457. Happiness; Life; Old Age; Youth
"Such is the condition of life that something is always wanting to happiness. In youth we have warm hopes, which are soon blasted by rashness and negligence, and great designs which are defeated by inexperience. In age, we have knowledge and prudence, without spirit to exert, or motives to prompt them; we are able to plan schemes, and regulate measures, but have not time remaining to bring them to completion."
Johnson: Rambler #196 (February 1, 1752)
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1,474. Happiness; Life; Mortality
"Every period of life is obliged to borrow its happiness from the time to come. In youth we have nothing to entertain us, and in age we derive little from retrospect but hopeless sorrow. Yet the future likewise has its limits, which the imagination dreads to approach, but which we see to be not far distant. The loss of our friends and companions impresses hourly upon the necessity of our own departure; we know that the schemes of man are quickly at an end, that we soon must lie down in the grave with the forgotten multitudes of former ages, and yield our place to others, who, like us, shall be driven a while by hope and fear about the surface of the earth, and then like us be lost in the shades of death. Beyond this termination of our material existence, we are therefore obliged to extend our hopes..."
Johnson: Rambler #203 (February 25, 1752)
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1,575. Change; Life; Satisfaction
"Such ... is the state of life, that none are happy but by the anticipation of change; the change itself is nothing; when we have made it, the next wish is to change again."
Johnson: Rasselas (said by the Princess Nekayeh)
Note: If you haven't read it yet, please read this note of caution regarding quotes from Rasselas.
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1,585. Faith; Fallibility; Life
"Life is not the object of science: we see a little, very little; and what is beyond we can only conjecture. If we enquire of those who have gone before us, we receive small satisfaction; some have travelled life without observation, and some willingly mislead us. The only thought, therefore, on which we can repose with comfort, is that which presents to us the care of Providence, whose eye takes in the whole of things, and under whose direction all involuntary errours will terminate in happiness."
Johnson: Adventurer #107 (November 13, 1753)
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1,591. Life; Procrastination
"We see every day the unexpected death of our friends and our enemies, we see new graves hourly opened for men older and younger than our selves, for the cautious and the careless, the dissolute and the temperate, for men who like us were providing to enjoy or improve hours now irreversibly cut off: we see all this, and yet, instead of living, let year glide after year in preparations to live."
Johnson: Adventurer #108 (November 17, 1753)
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1,596. Ambition; Life
"Life affords no higher pleasure, than that of surmounting difficulties, passing from one step of success to another, forming new wishes, and seeing them gratified. He that labours in any great or laudable undertaking, has his fatigues first supported by hope, and afterwards rewarded by joy; he is always moving to a certain end, and when he has attained it, an end more distant invites him to a new pursuit."
Johnson: Adventurer #111 (November 27, 1753)
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1,598. Life; Complacency; Effort
"To strive with difficulties, and to conquer them, is the highest human felicity; the next is, to strive, and deserve to conquer: but he whose life has passed without a contest, and who can boast neither success nor merit, can survey himself only as a useless filler of existence; ad if he is content with his own character, must owe his satisfaction to insensibility."
Johnson: Adventurer #111 (November 27, 1753)
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1,631. Delusion; Life; Satisfaction
"The world, in its best state, is nothing more than a larger assembly of beings, combining to counterfeit happiness which they do not feel, employing every art and contrivance to embellish life, and to hide their real condition from the eyes of one another."
Johnson: Adventurer #120 (December 29, 1753)
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1,652. Learning: Practicality; Life
"No man can become qualified for the common intercourses of life, by private meditation; the manners of the world are not a regular system, planned by philosophers upon settled principles, in which every cause has a congruous effect, and one part has a just reference to another."
Johnson: Adventurer #131 (February 5, 1754)
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1,721. Life; Vanity
"In the present state of the world man may pass through Shakespeare's seven stages of life, and meet nothing singular or wonderful. But such is every man's attention to himself, that what is common and unheeded when it is only seen, becomes remarkable and peculiar when we happen to feel it."
Johnson: Idler #50 (March 31, 1759)
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1,783. Life
"That every day has its pains and sorrows is universally experienced, and almost universally confessed: but let us not attend only to mournful truths; if we look impartially about us, we shall find that every day has likewise its pleasures and its joys."
Johnson: Idler #80 (October 27, 1759)
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1,835. Happiness; Life
"That kind of life is most happy which affords us most opportunities of gaining our own esteem."
Johnson: Adventurer #111 (November 27, 1753)
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