About Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer and statesman. His works include: four novels; epic and lyric poetry; prose and verse dramas; memoirs; an autobiography; literary and aesthetic criticism; and treatises on botany, anatomy, and colour. Wikipedia

References:    Encyclopaedia Britannica

Goethe (life lessons)


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (quotes)

Principles to live by



  • A life without love, without the presence of the beloved, is nothing but a mere magic-lantern show. We draw out slide after slide, swiftly tiring of each, and pushing it back to make haste for the next.
  • Against great advantages in another, there are no means of defending ourselves except love.
  • Children, love one another, and if that is not possible-at least try to put up with one another.
  • He who can not learn to love must flatter.
  • If I love you, is that any of your business?
  • Love and desire are the spirit’s wings to great deeds.
  • Love can do much, but duty more.
  • Love does not dominate; it cultivates.
  • Love does not rule; but it trains, and that is more.
  • Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing; a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished.
  • Of the book of books most wondrous is the tender book of love.
  • There is a courtesy of the heart; it is allied to love. From its springs the purest courtesy in the outward behavior.
  • This is the true measure of love, When we believe that we alone can love, That no one could ever have loved so before us, And that no one will ever love in the same way after us.
  • To be loved for what one is, that is the greatest exception. The great majority love in others only what they lend him; their own selves, their version of him.
  • True love is love that stays constant for ever, whatever it’s fortune; whether requited or scored, filled or sent empty away.
  • Very few people love others for what they are; rather, they love what they lend them, their own selves, their own idea of them.
  • We don’t get to know anything but what we love.
  • You don’t love if you don’t take the beloved’s faults for virtues.


  • Be generous with kindly words, especially about those who are absent.
  • Kindness is the golden thread that holds society together.
  • Remembering that we all must die should move the hardest heart to tenderness; are we not required to show others the best kindness we ourselves have known?


  • Don’t judge anyone harshly until you yourself have been through his experiences.


  • Correction does much, but encouragement does more.
  • A person places themselves on a level with the ones they praise.
  • If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.
  • If you call a thing bad you do little, if you call a thing good you do much.
  • If you treat men the way they are you never improve them. If you treat them the way you want them to be, you do.
  • If you want someone to develop a specific trait, treat them as though they already had it.
  • If your treat an individual… as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.
  • Instruction does much, but encouragement does everything.
  • The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.
  • It makes no good to point the failures out without showing at the same time the remedy to address them.
  • Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.
  • When you take a man as he is, you make him worse. When you take a man as he can be, you make him better.


  • An absent friend gives us friendly company when we are well assured of his happiness.
  • Our friends show us what we can do; our enemies teach us what we must do.
  • The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone here and there who thinks and feels with us, and though distant, is close to us in spirit – this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.
  • It is better to be deceived by one’s friends than to deceive them.
  • Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you who you are.


  • A man doesn’t learn to understand anything unless he loves it.
  • A person hears only what they understand.
  • To understand one thing well is better than understanding many things by halves.
  • No one has ever understood another person; I never understood others and no one has ever understood me.


  • Happiness is a ball after which we run wherever it rolls, and we push it with our feet when it stops.
  • He is happy as well as great who needs neither to obey nor to command in order to be something.
  • He is the happiest man who can see the connection between the end and the beginning of life.
  • He is the happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.
  • He who enjoys doing and enjoys what he has done is happy.
  • One can be very happy without demanding that others agree with them.
  • Out of moderation a pure happiness springs.
  • The most happy man is he who knows how to bring into relation the end and beginning of his life.
  • The person born with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it.
  • It is not doing the thing we like to do, but liking the thing we have to do, that makes life blessed.

Embrace life today

  • Nothing is to be rated higher than the value of the day.
  • Nothing is worth more than this day.
  • One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.
  • Plunge boldly into the thick of life, and seize it where you will, it is always interesting.
  • Plunge boldly into the thick of life!
  • Rest not. Life is sweeping by; go and dare before you die. Something mighty and sublime, leave behind to conquer time.
  • Take life too seriously, and what is it worth? If the morning wake us to no new joys, if the evening bring us not the hopes of new pleasures, is it worth while to dress and undress? Does the sun shine on me today that I may reflect on yesterday? That I may endeavour to foresee and control what can neither be foreseen nor controlled – the destiny of tomorrow?
  • The day is for mistake and error, sequence of time for success and carrying out. The one who anticipates is master of the day.
  • The day is of infinite length for him who knows how to appreciate and use it.
  • The right man is the one who seizes the moment.
  • We usually lose today, because there has been a yesterday, and tomorrow is coming.


  • A joy shared is a joy doubled.

Serving and making a difference

  • A man is really alive only when he delights in the good-will of others.
  • What is my life if I am no longer useful to others.
  • Not the maker of plans and promises, but rather the one who offers faithful service in small matters. This is the person who is most likely to achieve what is good and lasting.


  • Don’t say that you want to give, but go ahead and give! You’ll never catch up with a mere hope.
  • One would give generous alms if one had the eyes to see the beauty of a cupped receiving hand.
  • Human life runs its course in the metamorphosis between receiving and giving.


  • Generosity wins favour for everyone, especially when it is accompanied by modesty.

Character and growth

  • A talent is formed in stillness, a character in the world’s torrent.
  • Character, in great and little things, means carrying through what you feel able to do.
  • Everybody wants to be somebody; nobody wants to grow.
  • Men show their character in nothing more clearly than what they think laughable.
  • One should not wish anyone disagreeable conditions of life; but for him who is involved in them by chance, they are touchstones of characters and of the most decisive value to man.
  • Talents are best nurtured in solitude: character is best formed in the stormy billows of the world.
  • Talent develops in quiet places, character in the full current of human life.
  • The formation of one’s character ought to be everyone’s chief aim.
  • Judge a man’s character by what he finds ridiculous.
  • You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.
  • Before you can do something, you must first be something.
  • Behavior is a mirror in which everyone shows his image.

Triumph over adversity

  • A man is not little when he finds it difficult to cope with circumstances, but when circumstances overmaster him.
  • Fresh activity is the only means of overcoming adversity.


  • Everything is hard before it is easy.
  • For I have been a man, and that means to have been a fighter.
  • In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm… in the real world all rests on perseverance.
  • There are but two roads that lead to an important goal and to the doing of great things: strength and perseverance. Strength is the lot of but a few privileged men; but austere perseverance, harsh and continuous, may be employed by the smallest of us and rarely fails of its purpose, for its silent power grows irresistibly greater with time.
  • Just begin and the mind grows heated; continue, and the task will be completed!


  • A useless life is an early death.
  • Be above it! Make the world serve your purpose, but do not serve it.
  • Every person above the ordinary has a certain mission that they are called to fulfill.
  • To the person with a firm purpose all men and things are servants.

The value of time

  • Be always resolute with the present hour. Every moment is of infinite value.
  • Every second is of infinite value.
  • Many people take no care of their money till they come nearly to the end of it, and others do just the same with their time.
  • Since Time is not a person we can overtake when he is gone, let us honor him with mirth and cheerfulness of heart while he is passing.
  • Time does not relinquish its rights, either over human beings or over mountains.
  • We always have time enough, if we will but use it aright.


  • Beware of dissipating your powers; strive constantly to concentrate them.
  • Devote each day to the object then in time and every evening will find something done.
  • Hold your powers together for something good and let everything go that is for you without result and is not suited to you.
  • Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.


  • I respect the man who knows distinctly what he wants.
  • I respect the man who knows distinctly what he wishes. The greater part of all mischief in the world arises from the fact that men do not sufficiently understand their own aims.


  • At the moment of commitment, the entire universe conspires to assist you.
  • Courage is the commitment to begin without any guarantee of success.
  • Difficulties increase the nearer we approach the goal.
  • He who is firm and resolute in will molds the world to himself.
  • The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. Whatever you think you can do, or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, power and grace.
  • Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.


  • Our passions are the true phoenixes; when the old one is burnt out, a new one rises from its ashes.
  • Passions are vices or virtues to their highest powers.


  • Progress has not followed a straight ascending line, but a spiral with rhythms of progress and retrogression, of evolution and dissolution.
  • The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.
  • He who moves not forward, goes backward.


  • What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
  • Doubt can only be removed by action.
  • How can we learn self-knowledge? Never by taking thought but rather by action. Try to do your duty and you’ll soon discover what you’re like.
  • How can you come to know yourself? Never by thinking, always by doing. Try to do your duty, and you’ll know right away what you amount to.
  • Never by reflection, but only by doing is self-knowledge possible to one.
  • Power should act and not talk.
  • The deed is everything, the glory is naught.
  • The highest cannot be spoken; it can only be acted.
  • There are few who have at once thought and capacity for action. Thought expands, but lames; action animates, but narrows.
  • There is nothing so terrible as activity without insight.
  • Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.
  • To act is easy, to think is hard; to act according to our thought is troublesome.
  • Words are good, but there is something better. The best cannot be explained by words. The spirit in which we act is the chief matter. Action can only be only understood and represented by the spirit.

Making a start

  • Each indecision brings its own delays and days are lost lamenting over lost days… What you can do or think you can do, begin it. For boldness has magic, power, and genius in it.
  • Every beginning is cheerful.
  • If you miss the first buttonhole, you will not succeed in buttoning up your coat.


  • Energy will do anything that can be done in this world.
  • Every man has enough power left to carry out that of which he is convinced.


  • The important thing in life is to have a great aim, and the determination to attain it.

Vision and dreaming

  • Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.

The power of nature

  • If nature is your teacher, your soul will awaken.
  • Nature goes her own way, and all that to us seems an exception is really according to order.
  • Nature knows no pause in progress and development, and attaches her curse on all inaction.
  • Nature is beneficent. I praise her and all her works. She is silent and wise. She is cunning, but for good ends. She has brought me here and will also lead me away. She may scold me, but she will not hate her work. I trust her.
  • Nature! We live in her midst and know her not. She is incessantly speaking to us, but betrays not her secret. We constantly act upon her, and yet have no power over her. Variant: NATURE! We are surrounded and embraced by her: powerless to separate ourselves from her, and powerless to penetrate beyond her.
  • The closer we are to Nature, the closer we are to God.
  • There is no trifling with nature; it is always true, dignified, and just; it is always in the right, and the faults and errors belong to us. Nature defies incompetence, but reveals its secrets to the competent, the truthful, and the pure.
  • Whatever Nature undertakes, she can only accomplish it in a sequence. She never makes a leap.
  • Why should we not recognize in the lightning, the thunder, and the storm wind, the approach of an overwhelming Power, and in the scent of flowers and the gently rustling zephyr the presence of a Being full of love?

An appreciation of life

  • All of us have life; few of us have an idea of it.
  • All theory is gray, my friend. But forever green is the tree of life.
  • The aim of living is life itself.
  • One can stand anything except a succession of ordinary days.
  • If you’ve never eaten while crying you don t know what life tastes like.


  • A man who cannot command himself will always be a slave.
  • Everything that frees our spirit without giving us control of ourselves is ruinous.
  • I will be lord over myself.


  • A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.
  • A vain man can never be altogether rude. Desirous as he is of pleasing, he fashions his manners after those of others.

Common sense

  • Common sense is the genius of humanity.


  • Conscience is the virtue of the observers not the agents of action.


  • A man’s foibles are what makes him lovable.
  • Certain defects are necessary for the existence of individuality.


  • Choose well. Your choice is brief, and yet endless.


  • A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the heart.
  • Every day look at a beautiful picture, read a beautiful poem, listen to some beautiful music, and if possible, say some reasonable thing.
  • Beauty is a manifestation of secret natural laws, which otherwise would have been hidden from us forever.
  • Beauty is at once the ultimate principle and the highest aim of art.
  • Beauty is everywhere a welcome guest.
  • The beautiful is a phenomenon which is never apparent of itself, but is reflected in a thousand different works of the creator.
  • The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone.
  • The useful may be trusted to further itself, for many produce it and no one can do without it; but the beautiful must be specially encouraged, for few can present it, while yet all have need of it.



  • Belief is not the beginning of knowledge – it is the end.
  • Man is made by his belief. As he believes, so he is.


  • Boldness has power, magic and genius in it.


  • Beware of a man of one book.
  • Belief is not the beginning of knowledge – it is the end.
  • If a man writes a book, let him set down only what he knows. I have guesses enough of my own.
  • Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.
  • One man’s word is no man’s word; we should quietly hear both sides.
  • The close and thoughtful observer more and more learns to recognize his limitations. He realizes that with the steady growth of knowledge more and more new problems keep on emerging.
  • The greater the knowledge, the greater the doubt.
  • The more one knows, the more one comprehends, the more one realizes that everything turns in a circle.
  • The real scholar learns how to evolve the unknown from the known, and draws near the master.
  • It is not enough to have knowledge; one must apply it. It is not enough to have wishes; one must also accomplish it.


  • Self-knowledge comes from knowing other men.
  • I do not know myself, and God forbid that I should.
  • No one has ever learned fully to know themselves.
  • How can we learn self-knowledge? Never by taking thought but rather by action. Try to do your duty and you’ll soon discover what you’re like.


  • By seeking and blundering we learn.
  • Everything that we encounter leaves traces behind. Everything contributes imperceptibly to our education.
  • Everywhere, we learn only from those whom we love.
  • To accept good advice is but to increase one’s own ability.
  • Only by joy and sorrow does a person know anything about themselves and their destiny. They learn what to do and what to avoid. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


  • All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience.
  • The further one advances in experience, the closer one comes to the unfathomable; the more one learns to utilize experience, the more one recognizes that the unfathomable is of no practical value.


  • The greatest joy of a thinking man is to have searched the explored and to quietly revere the unexplored.
  • The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive.


  • Mere curiosity adds wings to every step.


  • All truths are old, and all that we have to do is recognize and utter them anew.
  • In science it is a service of the highest merit to seek out those fragmentary truths attained by the ancients, and to develop them further.
  • Love of truth shows itself in this, that a man knows how to find and value the good in everything.
  • Nothing hurts a new truth more than an old error.
  • Nothing is true, but that which is simple.
  • The first and last thing required of genius is the love of truth.
  • The main thing is to have a soul that loves the truth and harbours it where he finds it. And another thing: truth requires constant repetition, because error is being preached about us all the time, and not only by isolated individuals but by the masses. In the newspapers and encyclopaedias, in schools and universities, everywhere error rides high and basks in the consciousness of having the majority on its side.
  • It is easier to perceive error than to find truth, for the former lies on the surface and is easily seen, while the latter lies in the depth, where few are willing to search for it.
  • Truth is a torch, but a huge one, and so it is only with blinking eyes what we all of us try to get past it, in actual terror of being burnt.


  • Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.
  • Experiments are mediators between nature and idea.
  • In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm… in the real world all rests on perseverance.
  • Originality provokes originality.
  • The mark of highest originality lies in the ability to develop a familiar idea so fruitfully that it would seem no one else would ever have discovered so much to be hidden in it.
  • There are but few who have ideas and are, at the same time, capable of action. Ideas enlarge but stymie, action enlivens but confines.
  • When ideas fail, words come in very handy.


  • All intelligent thoughts have already been thought; what is necessary is only to try to think them again.
  • Everything has been thought of before, but the problem is to think of it again.
  • People are always talking about originality, but what do they mean? As soon as we are born, the world begins to work upon us, and this goes on to the end.

Creativity and solitude

  • A creation of importance can only be produced when its author isolates himself, it is a child of solitude.
  • Nothing will change the fact that I cannot produce the least thing without absolute solitude.
  • Of the truly creative no one is ever master; it must be left to go its own way.
  • One can be instructed in society, one is inspired only in solitude.

The power of questions

  • If you want a wise answer, ask a reasonable question.
  • If you wish a wise answer, you must put a rational question.
  • Ignorant men raise questions that wise men answered a thousand years ago.


  • Being brilliant is no great feat if you respect nothing.


  • Every step of life shows much caution is required.


  • Higher aims are in themselves more valuable, even if unfulfilled, than lower ones quite attained.


  • Hope is the second soul of the unhappy.
  • In all things it is better to hope than to despair.
  • Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter. Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it.
  • Those who have no hope for a future life are already dead for the present one.


  • In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it and over it.


  • Piety is not a goal but a means to attain through the purest peace of mind the highest culture


  • Sin writes histories, goodness is silent.


  • Divide and command, a wise maxim; Unite and guide, a better.
  • Divide and rule, the politician cries; unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.


  • Excellence is rarely found, more rarely valued.


  • Perfection is the measure of heaven, and the wish to be perfect the measure of man.
  • The man with insight enough to admit his limitations comes nearest to perfection.


  • He who is and remains true to himself and to others has the most attractive quality of the greatest talent.


  • Humor is one of the elements of genius–admirable as an adjunct; but as soon as it becomes dominant, only a surrogate for genius.
  • Mediocrity has no greater consolation than in the thought that genius is not immortal.
  • The greatest genius will never be worth much if he pretends to draw exclusively from his own resources.
  • What you can do, or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
  • If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses.


  • Humor is one of the elements of genius–admirable as an adjunct; but as soon as it becomes dominant, only a surrogate for genius.


  • Reason can never be popular. Passions and feelings may become popular, but reason will always remain the sole property of a few eminent individuals.


The heart

  • All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own.
  • I am proud of my heart alone, it is the sole source of everything, all our strength, happiness and misery. All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own.
  • I let everyone follow his own bent, that I may be free to follow mine.
  • I treat my heart like a sick child and gratify its every fancy.


  • Desire is the presentiment of our inner abilities, and the forerunner of our ultimate accomplishments.
  • Our wishes are presentiments of the abilities that lie in us, harbingers of what we will be able to accomplish.


  • Destiny grants us our wishes, but in its own way, in order to give us something beyond our wishes.


  • Do the duty which lies nearest to thee.


  • Enjoy when you can, and endure when you must.


  • For a man to achieve all that is demanded of him he must regard himself as greater than he is.
  • If you are to accomplish all that one demands of you, you must overestimate your own worth.
  • Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.
  • The greatest evil that can befall man is that he should come to think ill of himself.
  • It is a great error to take oneself for more than one is, or for less than one is worth.


  • As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.
  • Trust yourself, then you will know how to live.


  • If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.
  • We cannot and must not get rid of nor deny our characteristics. But we can give them shape and direction.


  • Few people have the imagination for reality.

Certainty and doubt

  • Don’t give us your doubts, gives us your certainties, for we have doubts enough of our own.
  • Doubt can only be removed by action.
  • Doubt grows with knowledge.
  • I will listen to anyone’s convictions, but pray keep your doubts to yourself.
  • If you must tell me your opinions, tell me what you believe in. I have plenty of doubts of my own.
  • We know accurately only when we know little, with knowledge doubt increases.
  • The greater the knowledge, the greater the doubt.

The power of the present

  • The present moment is a powerful goddess.
  • The right man is the one who seizes the moment.


  • He alone deserves liberty and life who daily must win them anew.
  • He only earns his freedom and his life Who takes them every day by storm.
  • None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.
  • Only law can give us freedom.
  • The best slave is the one who thinks he is free.
  • This is the highest wisdom that I own; freedom and life are earned by those alone who conquer them each day anew.

Peace at home

  • He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.


  • I have possessed that heart, that noble soul, in whose presence I seemed to be more than I really was, because I was all that I could be.
  • I love those who yearn for the impossible.


  • The world is full of contradiction.

Merit and luck

  • It seems to never occur to fools that merit and good fortune are closely united.


  • Mysteries are not necessarily miracles.
  • Mysterious in the light of day, nature retains her veil, despite our clamours: That which she does not willingly display cannot be wrenched from her with levers, screws and hammers.
  • Mystery is truth’s dancing partner.
  • We all walk in mysteries. We are surrounded by an atmosphere about which we still know nothing at all.


  • One cannot develop taste from what is of average quality but only from the very best.
  • Nothing is more fearful than imagination without taste.


  • Take care of your body with steadfast fidelity. The soul must see through these eyes alone, and if they are dim, the whole world is clouded.
  • If you start to think of your physical and moral condition, you usually find that you are sick.


  • If you modestly enjoy your fame you are not unworthy to rank with the holy.


  • Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes.
  • We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.

Simplicity and complexity

  • Everything is both simpler than we can imagine and more entangled than we can conceive.


  • Life in its wholeness is expressed as a force not attributable to any individual part of an organism.
  • We experience the fullest sense of well-being when we are unaware of our parts and conscious only of the whole itself.

More advice for life

  • So long as you live and work, you will be misunderstood; to that you must resign yourself once and for all. Be silent!
  • Battle not with monsters, for then you become one.
  • Do not give in too much to feelings. A overly sensitive heart is an unhappy possession on this shaky earth.
  • If you want to make life easy, make it hard.
  • If you want to reach the infinite, then explore every aspect of the finite.
  • If you wish to know the mind of a man, listen to his words.
  • Investigate what is, and not what pleases.
  • Talk well of the absent whenever you have the opportunity.

Things that can limit us



  • To be pleased with one’s limits is a wretched state.
  • It is in self-limitation that a master first shows himself.
  • The close and thoughtful observer more and more learns to recognize his limitations. He realizes that with the steady growth of knowledge more and more new problems keep on emerging.
  • The man with insight enough to admit his limitations comes nearest to perfection.
  • The human mind will not be confined to any limits.

Conformity to majority opinion

  • People who think honestly and deeply have a hostile attitude towards the public.
  • The world is for thousands a freak show; the images flicker past and vanish; the impressions remain flat and unconnected in the soul. Thus they are easily led by the opinions of others, are content to let their impressions be shuffled and rearranged and evaluated differently.
  • Nothing is more odious than the majority, for it consists of a few powerful leaders, a certain number of accommodating scoundrels and submissive weaklings, and a mass of men who trot after them without thinking, or knowing their own minds.


  • Against criticism a man can neither protest nor defend himself; he must act in spite of it, and then it will gradually yield to him.
  • Deeply earnest and thoughtful people stand on shaky footing with the public.
  • Everything great and intelligent is in the minority.


  • Ingratitude is always a kind of weakness. I have never known men of ability to be ungrateful.


  • It is the strange fate of man, that even in the greatest of evils the fear of the worst continues to haunt him.
  • The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.


  • Then indecision brings its own delays, And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days. Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute; What you can do, or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.


  • Stupidity is without anxiety.
  • There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.


  • Nothing is more terrible than to see ignorance in action.
  • Nothing is worse than active ignorance.
  • There is nothing in the world more shameful than establishing one’s self on lies and fables.

Unhappiness and suffering

  • There would be far less suffering in the world if human beings – God knows why they are made like this-did not use their imaginations so busily in recalling the memories of past misfortunes, instead of trying to bear an indifferent present.
  • A man does not mind being blamed for his faults, and being punished for them, and he patiently suffers much for them; but he becomes impatient if he is required to give them up.
  • Hope is the second soul of the unhappy.
  • Do not give in too much to feelings. A overly sensitive heart is an unhappy possession on this shaky earth.
  • The really unhappy person is the one who leaves undone what they can do, and starts doing what they don’t understand.

Envy and hatred

  • Hatred is active displeasure, envy passive. We need not wonder that envy turns to soon to hatred.
  • Hatred is active, and envy passive dislike; there is but one step from envy to hate.
  • Hatred is something peculiar. You will always find it strongest and most violent where there is the lowest degree of culture.
  • The world of empirical morality consists for the most part of nothing but ill will and envy.

Excessive caution

  • The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.


  • Hell begins the day that God grants you the vision to see all that you could have done, should have done, and would have done, but did not do.


  • A man does not mind being blamed for his faults, and being punished for them, and he patiently suffers much for them; but he becomes impatient if he is required to give them up.
  • The best fortune that can fall to a man is that which corrects his defects and makes up for his failings.
  • By nature we have no defect that could not become a strength, no strength that could not become a defect.


  • Everything in the world may be endured except continual prosperity.


  • Habit is the most imperious of all masters.


  • Misunderstandings and neglect occasion more mischief in the world than even malice and wickedness.


  • Certain books seem to be written, not that we might learn from them, but in order that we might see how much the author knows.

The shadow

  • Every man bears something within him that, if it were publicly announced, would excite feelings of aversion.

Excessive striving

  • Man’s restlessness makes him strive.
  • Man must strive, and striving he must err.
  • One errs as long as one strives.

Thoughts on…



  • The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.
  • There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on how one looks at it.
  • Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking.
  • A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart.
  • The most difficult thing is what is thought to be the simplest; to really see the things which are before your eyes.


  • A teacher who can arouse a feeling for one single good action, for one single good poem, accomplishes more than he who fills our memory with rows and rows of natural objects, classified with name and form.
  • Alas! how much there is in education, and in our social institutions, to prepare us and our children for insanity.
  • They teach in academies far too many things, and far too much that is useless.
  • Some of our weaknesses are born in us, others are the result of education; it is a question which of the two gives us most trouble.

Government and democracy

  • To rule is easy, to govern difficult.
  • The best government is that which teaches us to govern ourselves.
  • Which government is the best? The one that teaches us to govern ourselves.
  • Democracy does not race, it reaches the finish slowly but surely.
  • A great revolution is never the fault of the people, but of the government.
  • I hate all bungling as I do sin, but particularly bungling in politics, which leads to the misery and ruin of many thousands and millions of people.


  • A wife is a gift bestowed upon a man to reconcile him to the loss of paradise.
  • Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing; a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished.
  • Marriage is the beginning and pinnacle of civilization.
  • The sum which two married people owe to one another defies calculation. It is an infinite debt, which can only be discharged through all eternity.
  • It is sometimes essential for a husband and a wife to quarrel – they get to know each other better.
  • When a wife has a good husband, it is easily seen on her face.


  • We cannot fashion our children after our desires, we must have them and love them as God has given them to us.
  • Children can scarcely be fashioned to meet with our likes and our purpose. Just as God did us give them, so must we hold them and love them, nurture and teach them to fullness and leave them to be what they are.
  • Children, like dogs, have so sharp and fine a scent that they detect and hunt out everything–the bad before all the rest. They also know well enough how this or that friend stands with their parents; and as they practice no dissimulation whatever, they serve as excellent barometers by which to observe the degree of favor or disfavor at which we stand with their parents.
  • One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste.


  • A genuine work of art usually displeases at first sight, as it suggests a deficiency in the spectator.
  • A great artist… must be shaken by the naked truths that will not be comforted. This divine discontent, this disequilibrium, this state of inner tension is the source of artistic energy.
  • Art is bad when ‘you see the intent and get put off.’
  • Beauty is at once the ultimate principle and the highest aim of art.
  • God help us — for art is long, and life so short.
  • He who possesses art and science has religion; he who does not possess them, needs religion.
  • In art, the best is good enough.
  • Personality is everything in art and poetry.
  • Science and art belong to the whole world, and before them vanish the barriers of nationality.
  • The artist alone sees spirits. But after he has told of their appearing to him, everybody sees them.
  • The artist has a twofold relation to nature; he is at once her master and her slave.
  • The artist who is not also a craftsman is no good; but, alas, most of our artists are nothing else.
  • The arts are the salt of the earth; as salt relates to food, the arts relate to technology.
  • The beautiful is a phenomenon which is never apparent of itself, but is reflected in a thousand different works of the creator.
  • The biggest problem with every art is by the use of appearance to create a loftier reality.
  • There is no surer method of evading the world than by following Art, and no surer method of linking oneself to it than by Art.
  • To create something you must be something.
  • It would be a lowly art that allowed itself to be understood all at once.
  • What matters in art is not thinking but making.
  • When Nature begins to reveal her open secret to a man, he feels an irresistible longing for her worthiest interpreter, Art.


  • Science arose from poetry… when times change the two can meet again on a higher level as friends.
  • The credit of advancing science has always been due to individuals and never to the age.


  • A great scholar is seldom a great philosopher.


  • It is quite beyond me how anyone can believe God speaks to us in books and stories. If the world does not directly reveal to us our relationship to it, if our hearts fail to tell us what we owe ourselves and others, we shall assuredly not learn it from books, which are at best designed but to give names to our errors.
  • It used to happen, and still happens, to me to take no pleasure in a work of art at the first sight of it, because it is too much for me; but if I suspect any merit in it, I try to get at it; and then I never fail to make the most gratifying discoveries – to find new qualities in the work itself and new faculties in myself.


  • Death is a commingling of eternity with time; in the death of a good man, eternity is seen looking through time.
  • Death is Nature’s expert advice to get plenty of Life.


  • As long as you are not aware of the continual law of Die and Be Again, you are merely a vague guest on a dark Earth.
  • I am certain that I have been here as I am now a thousand times before, and I hope to return a thousand times.


  • Superstition is part of the poetry of life.
  • Superstition is rooted in a much deeper and more sensitive layer of the psyche than skepticism.
  • Superstition is the poesy of practical life; hence, a poet is none the worse for being superstitious.


  • Riches amassed in haste will diminish; but those collected by hand and little by little will multiply.

Language and words

  • The limits of my language are the limits of my universe.
  • If you don’t know foreign languages, you don’t know anything about your own.
  • Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.
  • Words are mere sound and smoke, dimming the heavenly light.


  • If any man wish to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul.
  • If a man writes a book, let him set down only what he knows. I have guesses enough of my own.
  • The written word has this advantage, that it lasts and can await the time when it is allowed to take effect.
  • Writing is busy idleness.
  • The most original of authors are not so because they advance what is new, but more because they know how to say something, as if it had never been said before.


  • There is strong shadow where there is much light.
  • Where there is much light the shade is deepest.

Getting older

  • The old lose one of the greatest privileges of man, for they are no longer judged by their contemporaries.
  • The older I get the more I trust in the law according to which the rose and the lily bloom.
  • The older we grow, the greater become the ordeals.
  • Whoever, in middle age, attempts to realize the wishes and hopes of his early youth, invariably deceives himself. Each ten years of a man’s life has its own fortunes, its own hopes, its own desires.
  • Each ten years of a man’s life has its own fortunes, its own hopes, its own desires.
  • Error is acceptable as long as we are young; but one must not drag it along into old age.
  • So, lively brisk old fellow, don’t let age get you down. White hairs or not, you can still be a lover.


  • Beware of wishing for anything in youth, because you will get it in middle age.
  • Everyone believes in his youth that the world really began with him, and that all merely exist for his sake.
  • Girls we love for what they are; young men for what they promise to be.
  • Great endowments often announce themselves in youth in the form of singularity and awkwardness.
  • Youth is intoxication without wine.


  • Colors are the deeds and sufferings of light.
  • Colours are light’s suffering and joy.

More thoughts

  • After fifteen minutes nobody looks at a rainbow.
  • I think that I am better than the people who are trying to reform me.
  • Few are open to conviction, but the majority of men are open to persuasion.
  • Great thoughts and a pure heart, that is what we should ask from God.
  • He is dead in this world who has no belief in another.
  • I can promise to be sincere, but I cannot promise to be impartial.
  • That I be not as those are who spend the day in complaining of headache and the night in drinking the wine which gives the headache!
  • I hate all explanations; they who make them deceive either themselves or the other party, generally both.
  • I hate everything that merely instructs me without augmenting or directly invigorating my activity.
  • I have always paid attention to the merits of my enemies, and found it an advantage.
  • If a man or woman is born ten years sooner or later, their whole aspect and performance shall be different.
  • That is the way of youth and life in general: that we do not understand the strategy until after the campaign is over.
  • Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.
  • Mankind? That is an abstraction. There have always been and always will be only individuals.
  • Night is the other half of life, and the better half.
  • One can’t dull a project better than by discussing it repeatedly.
  • One is never deceived; one deceives oneself.
  • One never goes further than when they do not know where they are going.
  • People should talk less and draw more. Personally, I would like to renounce speech altogether and, like organic nature, communicate everything I have to say visually.
  • Sameness leaves us in peace but it is contradiction that makes us productive.
  • So divinely is the world organized that every one of us, in our place and time, is in balance with everything else.
  • The destiny of any nation at any given time depends on the opinion of its young people, those under twenty-five.
  • The follies of the wise man are known to himself, but hidden from the world.
  • The greatest difficulties lie where we are not looking for them.
  • The hero draws inspiration from the virtue of his ancestors.
  • The intelligent man finds almost everything ridiculous, the sensible man hardly anything.
  • The people who are absent are the ideal; those who are present seem to be quite commonplace.
  • The really unhappy person is the one who leaves undone what they can do, and starts doing what they don’t understand.
  • The solution of every problem is another problem.
  • There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.
  • There are people who pay attention to the weaknesses of their friends; that is to no avail. I have always closely watched and profited from the strengths of my adversaries.
  • There is no crime of which I do not deem myself capable.
  • We are never further from what we wish than when we believe that we have what we wished for.
  • We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe.
  • What by a straight path cannot be reached by crooked ways is never won.
  • You must either conquer and rule or serve and lose, suffer or triumph, be the anvil or the hammer.