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Samuel Butler (novelist)

The man who lets himself be bored is even more contemptible than the bore.
Samuel Butler (novelist) self
"Words, words, words," he writes, "are the stumbling-blocks in the way of truth. Until you think of things as they are, and not of the words that misrepresent them, you cannot think rightly. Words produce the appearance of hard and fast lines where there are none. Words divide; thus we call this a man, that an ape, that a monkey, while they are all only differentiations of the same thing. To think of a thing they must be got rid of: they are the clothes that thoughts wear—only the clothes. I say this over and over again, for there is nothing of more importance. Other men's words will stop you at the beginning of an investigation. A man may play with words all his life, arranging them and rearranging them like dominoes. If I could think to you without words you would understand me better."
Samuel Butler (novelist) life
A hen is only an 's way of making another egg.
Samuel Butler (novelist)
Stowed away in a Montreal lumber room The Discobolus standeth and turneth his face to the wall; Dusty, cobweb-covered, maimed and set at naught, Beauty crieth in an attic and no man regardeth: O God! O Montreal!
Samuel Butler (novelist) man
The Discobolus is put here because he is vulgar — He has neither vest nor pants with which to cover his limbs.
Samuel Butler (novelist) wit
Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.
Samuel Butler (novelist) men
God's merits are so transcendent that it is not surprising his faults should be in reasonable proportion.
Samuel Butler (novelist) reason
It is the manner of gods and prophets to begin: "Thou shalt have none other God or Prophet but me." If I were to start as a God or a prophet I think I should take the line: "Thou shalt not believe in me. Thou shalt not have me for a God. Thou shalt worship any d_____d thing thou likest except me." This should be my first and great commandment, and my second should be like unto it.
Samuel Butler (novelist) god
The most important service rendered by the press and the magazines is that of educating people to approach printed matter with distrust.
Samuel Butler (novelist) people
One of the first businesses of a sensible man is to know when he is beaten, and to leave off fighting at once.
Samuel Butler (novelist) business
Sing, O goddess, the anger ofson of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.
Samuel Butler (novelist) god
To do great work a man must be very idle as well as very industrious.
Samuel Butler (novelist) work
The devil tempted Christ; yes, but it was Christ who tempted the devil to tempt him.
Samuel Butler (novelist) evil
First published in Universal Review (December 1890)
Samuel Butler (novelist)
We can see nothing face to face; our utmost seeing is but a fumbling of blind finger-ends in an overcrowded pocket.
Samuel Butler (novelist) end
The limits of the body seem well defined enough as definitions go, but definitions seldom go far.
Samuel Butler (novelist) body
We meet people every day whose bodies are evidently those of men and women long dead, but whose appearance we know through their portraits.
Samuel Butler (novelist) women
I do not like books. I believe I have the smallest library of any literary man in London, and I have no wish to increase it. I keep my books at the British Museum and at Mudie's, and it makes me very angry if anyone gives me one for my private library.
Samuel Butler (novelist) books
If a man would get hold of the public era, he must pay, marry, or fight.
Samuel Butler (novelist) man
I should not advise anyone with ordinary independence of mind to attempt the public ear unless he is confident that he can out-lung and out-last his own generation; for if he has any force, people will and ought to be on their guard against him, inasmuch as there is no knowing where he may not take them.
Samuel Butler (novelist) people
We do not know what death is. If we know so little about life which we have experienced, how shall be know about death which we have not — and in the nature of things never can?
Samuel Butler (novelist) life
All we know is, that even the humblest dead may live along after all trace of the body has disappeared; we see them doing it in the bodies and memories of these that come after them; and not a few live so much longer and more effectually than is desirable, that it has been necessary to get rid of them by Act of Parliament. It is love that alone gives life, and the truest life is that which we live not in ourselves but vicariously in others, and with which we have no concern. Our concern is so to order ourselves that we may be of the number of them that enter into life — although we know it not.
Samuel Butler (novelist) love
Slugs have ridden their contempt for defensive armour as much to death as the turtles their pursuit of it. They have hardly more than skin enough to hold themselves together; they court death every time they cross the road. Yet death comes not to them more than to the turtle, whose defences are so great that there is little left inside to be defended. Moreover, the slugs fare best in the long run, for turtles are dying out, while slugs are not, and there must be millions of slugs all over the world over for every single turtle.
Samuel Butler (novelist) death
Propositions prey upon and are grounded upon one another just like living forms. They support one another as plants and animals do; they are based ultimately on credit, or faith, rather than the cash of irrefragable conviction. The whole universe is carried on on the credit system, and if the mutual confidence on which it is based were to collapse, it must itself collapse immediately. Just or unjust, it lives by faith; it is based on vague and impalpable opinion that by some inscrutable process passes into will and action, and is made manifest in matter and in flesh; it is meteoric — suspended in mid-air; it is the baseless fabric of a vision to vast, so vivid, and so gorgeous that no base can seem more broad than such stupendous baselessness, and yet any man can bring it about his ears by being over-curious; when faith fails, a system based on faith fails also.
Samuel Butler (novelist) faith
Whether the universe is really a paying concern, or whether it is an inflated bubble that must burst sooner or later, this is another matter. If people were to demand cash payment in irrefragable certainty for everything that they have taken hitherto as paper money on the credit of the bank of public opinion, is there money enough behind it all to stand so great a drain even on so great a reserve?
Samuel Butler (novelist) people
By a merciful dispensation of Providence university training is almost as costly as it is unprofitable. The majority will thus be always unable to afford it, and will base their opinions on mother wit and current opinion rather than on demonstration.
Samuel Butler (novelist) mother
Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.
Samuel Butler (novelist) art
All progress is based upon a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income.
Samuel Butler (novelist) art
We play out our days as we play out cards, taking them as they come, not knowing what they will be, hoping for a lucky card and sometimes getting one, often getting just the wrong one.
Samuel Butler (novelist) time
There is an eternal antagonism of interest between the individual and the world at large. The individual will not so much care how much he may suffer in this world provided he can live in men’s good thoughts long after he has left it. The world at large does not so much care how much suffering the individual may either endure or cause in this life, provided he will take himself clean away out of men’s thoughts, whether for good or ill, when he has left it.
Samuel Butler (novelist) life
Life is the gathering of waves to a head, at death they break into a million fragments each one of which, however, is absorbed at once into the sea of life and helps to form a later generation which comes rolling on till it too breaks.
Samuel Butler (novelist) life
The true laws of God are the laws of our own well-being.
Samuel Butler (novelist) law
Intellectual over-indulgence is the most gratuitous and disgraceful form which excess can take, nor is there any the consequences of which are more disastrous.
Samuel Butler (novelist) grace
The extremes of vice and virtue are alike detestable; absolute virtue is as sure to kill a man as absolute vice is, let alone the dullnesses of it and the pomposities of it.
Samuel Butler (novelist) man
God does not intend people, and does not like people, to be too good. He likes them neither too good nor too bad, but a little too bad is more venial with him than a little too good.
Samuel Butler (novelist) people
Sin is like a mountain with two aspects according to whether it is viewed before or after it has been reached: yet both aspects are real.
Samuel Butler (novelist) wit
Morality turns on whether the pleasure precedes or follows the pain. Thus, it is immoral to get drunk because the headache comes after the drinking, but if the headache came first, and the drunkenness afterwards, it would be moral to get drunk.
Samuel Butler (novelist) war
Morality is the custom of one’s country and the current feeling of one’s peers. Cannibalism is moral in a cannibal country.
Samuel Butler (novelist) feeling
To love God is to have good health, good looks, good sense, experience, a kindly nature and a fair balance of cash in hand.
Samuel Butler (novelist) love
Is there any religion whose followers can be pointed to as distinctly more amiable and trustworthy than those of any other? If so, this should be enough. I find the nicest and best people generally profess no religion at all, but are ready to like the best men of all religions.
Samuel Butler (novelist) religion
is the work of the best and kindest men and women.is the work of prigs, pedants and professional truth-tellers. The world is an attempt to make the best of both.
Samuel Butler (novelist) truth
If we are asked what is the most essential characteristic that underlies this word, the word itself will guide us to gentleness, to absence of such things as brow-beating, overbearing manners and fuss, and generally to consideration for other people.
Samuel Butler (novelist) people
Money is the last enemy that shall never be subdued. While there is flesh there is money — or the want of money; but money is always on the brain so long as there is a brain in reasonable order.
Samuel Butler (novelist) money
We take it that when the state of things shall have arrived which we have been above attempting to describe, man will have become to the machine what the horse and the dog are to man. He will continue to exist, nay even to improve, and will be probably better off in his state of domestication under the beneficent rule of the machines than he is in his present wild state. We treat our horses, dogs, cattle and sheep, on the whole, with great kindness, we give them whatever experience teaches us to be best for them, and there can be no doubt that our use of meat has added to the happiness of the lower animals far more than it has detracted from it; in like manner it is reasonable to suppose that the machines will treat us kindly, for their existence is as dependent upon ours as ours is upon the lower animals.
Samuel Butler (novelist) happiness
Day by day, however, the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them; more men are daily bound down as slaves to tend them, more men are daily devoting the energies of their whole lives to the development of mechanical life. The upshot is simply a question of time, but that the time will come when the machines will hold the real supremacy over the world and its inhabitants is what no person of a truly philosophic mind can for a moment question.
Samuel Butler (novelist) life
Our opinion is that war to the death should be instantly proclaimed against them. Every machine of every sort should be destroyed by the well-wisher of his species. Let there be no exceptions made, no quarter shown; let us at once go back to the primeval condition of the race. If it be urged that this is impossible under the present condition of human affairs, this at once proves that the mischief is already done, that our servitude has commenced in good earnest, that we have raised a race of beings whom it is beyond our power to destroy and that we are not only enslaved but are absolutely acquiescent in our bondage.
Samuel Butler (novelist) death
To be is to think and to be thinkable. To live is to continue thinking and to remember having done so.
Samuel Butler (novelist) thinking
Memory and forgetfulness are as life and death to one another. To live is to remember and to remember is to live. To die is to forget and to forget is to die.
Samuel Butler (novelist) life
We are so far identical with our ancestors and our contemporaries that it is very rarely we can see anything that they do not see. It is not unjust that the sins of the fathers should be visited upon the children, for the children committed the sins when in the persons of their fathers.
Samuel Butler (novelist) children
All thinking is of disturbance, dynamical, a state of unrest tending towards equilibrium. It is all a mode of classifying and of criticising with a view of knowing whether it gives us, or is likely to give us, pleasure or no.
Samuel Butler (novelist) war
In the highest consciousness there is still unconsciousness, in the lowest unconsciousness there is still consciousness. If there is no consciousness there is no thing, or nothing. To understand perfectly would be to cease to understand at all.
Samuel Butler (novelist) consciousness
An energy is a soul — a something working in us.
Samuel Butler (novelist) soul
Animals and plants cannot understand our business, so we have denied that they can understand their own. What we call inorganic matter cannot understand the animals’ and plants’ business, we have therefore denied that it can understand anything whatever.
Samuel Butler (novelist) business
Feeling is an art and, like any other art, can be acquired by taking pains.
Samuel Butler (novelist) art
Moral influence means persuading another that one can make that other more uncomfortable than that other can make oneself.
Samuel Butler (novelist) self
When we go up to the shelves in the reading-room of the British Museum, how like it is to wasps flying up and down an apricot tree that is trained against a wall, or cattle coming down to drink at a pool!
Samuel Butler (novelist) reading
All eating is a kind of proselytising - a kind of dogmatising — a maintaining that the eater’s way of looking at things is better than the eatee’s.
Samuel Butler (novelist) sin
We can no longer separate things as we once could: everything tends towards unity; one thing, one action, in one place, at one time. On the other hand, we can no longer unify things as we once could; we are driven to ultimate atoms, each one of which is an individuality. So that we have an infinite multitude of things doing an infinite multitude of actions in infinite time and space; and yet they are not many things, but one thing.
Samuel Butler (novelist) war
Thought pure and simple is as near to God as we can get; it is through this that we are linked with God.
Samuel Butler (novelist) wit
Though analogy is often misleading, it is the least misleading thing we have.
Samuel Butler (novelist)
The mere fact that a thought or idea can be expressed articulately in words involves that it is still open to question; and the mere fact that a difficulty can be definitely conceived involves that it is open to solution.
Samuel Butler (novelist) art
Words impede and either kill, or are killed by, perfect thought; but they are, as a scaffolding, useful, if not indispensable, for the building up of imperfect thought and helping to perfect it.
Samuel Butler (novelist) thought
Words are like money; there is nothing so useless, unless when in actual use.
Samuel Butler (novelist) money
The written law is binding, but the unwritten law is much more so. You may break the written law at a pinch and on the sly if you can, but the unwritten law — which often comprises the written — must not be broken. Not being written, it is not always easy to know what it is, but this has got to be done.
Samuel Butler (novelist) law
[Ideas] are like shadows — substantial enough until we try to grasp them.
Samuel Butler (novelist) ideas
All things are like exposed photographic plates that have no visible image on them till they have been developed.
Samuel Butler (novelist) age
Always eatdownwards — that is, always eat the best grape first; in this way there will be none better left on the bunch, and each grape will seem good down to the last.
Samuel Butler (novelist) war
My notes always grow longer if I shorten them. I mean the process of compression makes them more pregnant and they breed new notes.
Samuel Butler (novelist)
There is nothing less powerful than knowledge unattached, and incapable of application. That is why what little knowledge I have has done myself personally so much harm. I do not know much, but if I knew a good deal less than that little I should be far more powerful.
Samuel Butler (novelist) knowledge
In art, never try to find out anything, or try to learn anything until the not knowing it has come to be a nuisance to you for some time. Then you will remember it, but not otherwise. Let knowledge importune you before you will hear it. Our schools and universities go on the precisely opposite system.
Samuel Butler (novelist) knowledge
Every new idea has something of the pain and peril of childbirth about it; ideas are just as mortal and just as immortal as organised beings are.
Samuel Butler (novelist) pain
Critics generally come to be critics by reason not of their fitness for this but of their unfitness for anything else. Books should be tried by a judge and jury as though they were crimes, and counsel should be heard on both sides.
Samuel Butler (novelist) reason
A great portrait is always more a portrait of the painter than of the painted.
Samuel Butler (novelist) pain
A man’s style in any art should be like his dress — it should attract as little attention as possible.
Samuel Butler (novelist) art
They say the test of this [literary power] is whether a man can write an inscription. I say “Can he name a kitten?” And by this test I am condemned, for I cannot.
Samuel Butler (novelist) power
When a man is in doubt about this or that in his writing, it will often guide him if he asks himself how it will tell a hundred years hence.
Samuel Butler (novelist) writing
If you tie ’s hands by debarring him from the rendering of human emotion, and if you set ’s free by giving him no human emotion to render — if, in fact, you rob Handel of his opportunities and Bach of his difficulties — the two men can fight after a fashion, but Handel will even so come off victorious.
Samuel Butler (novelist) men
Handel andhave left us the best that any have left us; yet, in spite of this, how much of their lives was wasted.
Samuel Butler (novelist) live
Honesty consists not in never stealing but in knowing where to stop in stealing, and how to make good use of what one does steal.
Samuel Butler (novelist) good
Sketching from nature is very like trying to put a pinch of salt on her tail. And yet many manage to do it very nicely.
Samuel Butler (novelist) nature
Art has no end in view save the emphasising and recording in the most effective way some strongly felt interest or affection.
Samuel Butler (novelist) sin
An artist’s touches are sometimes no more articulate than the barking of a dog who would call attention to something without exactly knowing what. This is as it should be, and he is a great artist who can be depended on not to bark at nothing.
Samuel Butler (novelist) time
One reason why it is as well not to give very much detail is that, no matter how much is given, the eye will always want more; it will know very well that it is not being paid in full. On the other hand, no matter how little one gives, the eye will generally compromise by wanting only a little more. In either case the eye will want more, so one may as well stop sooner or later. Sensible painting, like sensible law, sensible writing, or sensible anything else, consists as much in knowing what to omit as what to insist upon.
Samuel Butler (novelist) writing
Painters should remember that the eye, as a general rule, is a good, simple, credulous organ — very ready to take things on trust if it be told them with any confidence of assertion.
Samuel Butler (novelist) trust
After having spent years striving to be accurate, we must spend as many more in discovering when and how to be inaccurate.
Samuel Butler (novelist) man
The composer is seldom a great theorist; the theorist is never a great composer. Each is equally fatal to and essential in the other.
Samuel Butler (novelist) great
If a man has not studied painting, or at any rate black and white drawing, his eyes are wild; learning to draw tames them. The first step towards taming the eyes is to teach them not to see too much.
Samuel Butler (novelist) war
Think of and look at your work as though it were done by your enemy. If you look at it to admire it you are lost.
Samuel Butler (novelist) work
The youth of an art is, like the youth of anything else, its most interesting period. When it has come to the knowledge of good and evil it is stronger, but we care less about it.
Samuel Butler (novelist) knowledge
Nothing is so cruel as to try and force a man beyond his natural pace.
Samuel Butler (novelist) man
If I die prematurely, at any rate I shall be saved from being bored by my own success.
Samuel Butler (novelist) success
I doubt whether any angel would find me very entertaining. As for myself, if ever I do entertain one it will have to be unawares. When people entertain others without an introduction they generally turn out more like devils than angels.
Samuel Butler (novelist) war
People say that there are neither dragons to be killed nor distressed maidens to be rescued nowadays. I do not know, but I think I have dropped across one or two, nor do I feel sure whether the most mortal wounds have been inflicted by the dragons or by myself.
Samuel Butler (novelist) self
There are some things which it is madness not to try to know but which it is almost as much madness to try to know.
Samuel Butler (novelist) madness
He who would propagate an opinion must begin by making sure of his ground and holding it firmly. There is as little use in trying to breed from weak opinion as from other weak stock.
Samuel Butler (novelist) opinion
Ideas and opinions, like living organisms, have a normal rate of growth which cannot be either checked or forced beyond a certain point. They can be held in check more safely than they can be hurried. They can also be killed; and one of the surest ways to kill them is to try to hurry them.
Samuel Butler (novelist) living
The more unpopular an opinion is, the more necessary is it that the holder should be somewhat punctilious in his observance of conventionalities generally, and that, if possible, he should get the reputation of being well-to-do in the world.
Samuel Butler (novelist) world
Many, if not most, good ideas die young — mainly from neglect on the part of the parents, but sometimes from over-fondness. Once well started, an opinion had better be left to shift for itself.
Samuel Butler (novelist) time
Argument is generally waste of time and trouble. It is better to present one’s opinion and leave it to stick or no as it may happen. If sound, it will probably in the end stick, and the sticking is the main thing.
Samuel Butler (novelist) time
He [the Philosopher] should have made many mistakes and been saved often by the skin of his teeth, for the skin of one’s teeth is the most teaching thing about one. He should have been, or at any rate believed himself, a great fool and a great criminal. He should have cut himself adrift from society, and yet not be without society.
Samuel Butler (novelist) society

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