Bartlett's Words to Live By

Advice and Inspiration for Everyday Life


Foreword by Kurt Vonnegut

By John Bartlett

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For 150 years people have looked to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations for wisdom, inspiration, and pure fun. Here now is an elegant new collection of the best advice ever given, inspiring words from the world’s wisest men and women.

In 1855, Massachusetts bookseller John Bartlett self-published a small collection of prose and verse quotations. Since then, his volume has been continuously expanded and published to reflect the ever-changing cultural climate. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations remains the most authoritative, thought-provoking, and entertaining book of quotations available.

Readers will be delighted by insights that span almost five thousand years of human history, from ancient Egypt to the modern day, capturing the differences-and the similarities-of human thought over time.

With its thoughtful and entertaining selection of quotes, Bartlett’s Words to Live By is an enlightening gift for the graduate or the student of life and a splendid addition to the reference shelf.

“There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.” -George Santayana

“Truth is great and its effectiveness endures.” -Ptahhotpe

From such varied sources as the Bible, Jane Austen, and John F. Kennedy, everyone is sure to find a gem.

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” -Muhammad Ali

“In my end is my beginning.” -Mary, Queen of Scots

Bartlett City’s Familiar Quotations is an admirable work, and I studied it intently.” -Sir Winston Churchill



Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, Seventeenth Edition

Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes

Bartlett's Roget's Thesaurus

Bartlett's Poems for Occasions

Bartlett's Bible Quotations

Bartlett's Shakespeare Quotations

Bartlett's Words to Live By


Foreword copyright © 2006 by Kurt Vonnegut

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Little, Brown and Company

Warner Books, Inc.

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at

First eBook Edition: October 2009

The quotations in this book are from Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, Seventeenth Edition, Justin Kaplan, General Editor.

ISBN: 978-0-316-08669-1


A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.

The Bible, The Proverbs

The meek shall inherit the earth.

The Bible, The Book of Psalms

Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.

The Bible, The Book of Psalms

The ear of jealousy heareth all things.

The Bible, The Apocrypha, The Wisdom of Solomon

Many are in high place, and of renown: but mysteries are revealed unto the meek.

The Bible, The Apocrypha, The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus

Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you.

The Bible, The Gospel According to Saint John

There is a strength in the union even of very sorry men.

Homer, Iliad

A small rock holds back a great wave.

Homer, Odyssey

The softest things in the world overcome the hardest things in the world.

Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.

Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu

All men know the utility of useful things; but they do not know the utility of futility.

Chuang-tzu, This Human World

Those who aim at great deeds must also suffer greatly.

Marcus Licinius Crassus, From Plutarch, Lives

Never find your delight in another's misfortune.

Publilius Syrus, Maxim

Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Moral Essays

Nothing happens to anybody which he is not fitted by nature to bear.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Meditations

He said not "Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased" but he said, "Thou shalt not be overcome."

Juliana of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

For he that naught n' assaieth, naught n' acheveth.

Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde

In the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king.

Desiderius Erasmus, Adagia

A hard beginning maketh a good ending.

John Heywood, Proverbs

Nothing is impossible to a willing heart.

John Heywood, Proverbs

Better is half a loaf than no bread.

John Heywood, Proverbs

In my end is my beginning.

Mary, Queen of Scots, Motto

Prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue.

Francis Bacon, Essays

Fight till the last gasp.

William Shakespeare, King Henry the Sixth, Part I

To fear the worst oft cures the worse.

William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida

The worst is not, So long as we can say, "This is the worst."

William Shakespeare, King Lear

The way to bliss lies not on beds of down, And he that had no cross deserves no crown.

Francis Quarles, Esther

When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.

Thomas Jefferson, A Decalogue of Canons for Observation in Practical Life

For I have been a man, and that means to have been a fighter.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Divan of East and West

Nothing, I am sure, calls forth the faculties so much as the being obliged to struggle with the world.

Mary Wollstonecraft, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters

You write to me that it's impossible; the word is not French.

Napoleon L, Letter to General Lemarois

Look not thou down but up!

Robert Browning, Rabbi Ben Ezra

Out of the wreck I rise.

Robert Browning, Ixion

It's a mad world. Mad as Bedlam.

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle.… If there is no struggle, there is no progress.

Frederick Douglass, Speech at Canandaigua, New York

Mishaps are like knives, that either serve us or cut us, as we grasp them by the blade or the handle.

James Russell Lowell, Literary Essays

The minority is always right.

Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People

Simply by being compelled to keep constantly on his guard, a man may grow so weak as to be unable any longer to defend himself.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

You can't hold a man down without staying down with him.

Booker T. Washington, Attributed

There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight.

Woodrow Wilson, Address to Foreign-Born Citizens

When a just cause reaches its flood tide… whatever stands in the way must fall before its overwhelming power.

Carrie Catt, Speech at Stockholm, Is Woman Suffrage Progressing?

The Promised Land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.

Havelock Ellis, The Dance of Life

The humblest citizen of all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of Error.

William Jennings Bryan, Speech at the National Democratic Convention, Chicago

Too long a sacrifice

Can make a stone of the heart.

O when may it suffice?

William Butler Yeats, Michael Robartes and the Dancer

Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.

Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, First Statement as Prime Minister, House of Commons

"Not in vain" may be the pride of those who have survived and the epitaph of those who fell.

Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, Speech in the House of Commons

It is not enough to fight. It is the spirit which we bring to the fight that decides the issue.

It is morale that wins the victory.

George C. Marshall, Military Review

I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.

Alfred Noyes, The Highwayman

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt, This Is My Story

I long ago came to the conclusion that all life is 6 to 5 against.

Damon Runyon, Money from Home

Fortunately [psychoanalysis is not the only way to resolve inner conflicts. Life itself still remains a very effective therapist.

Karen Homey, Our Inner Conflicts

We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors' victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that anything will triumph.

T S. Eliot For Lancelot Andrews

I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.

William Faulkner, Speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize

A man can be destroyed but not defeated.

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

In a dark time, the eye begins to see.

Theodore Roethke, In a Dark Time

In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo-clock.

Orson Welles, Speech written into The Third Man

For of those to whom much is given, much is required. And when at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each of us, recording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities to the state, our success or failure, in whatever office we hold, will be measured by the answers to four questions: First, were we truly men of courage… Second, were we truly men of judgment… Third, were we truly men of integrity… Finally, were we truly men of dedication?

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Speech to the Massachusetts State Legislature

There is always inequity in life. Some men are killed in a war and some men are wounded, and some men never leave the country… Life is unfair.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Press conference

It ain't over till it's over.

Yogi Berra, Comment on National League pennant race

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Maya Angelou, Still I Rise

You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this.

Raymond Carver, Cathedral

It's not that easy bein' green.

Sesame Street, Bein' Green, Sung by Kermit the Frog

We shall overcome, we shall overcome,

We shall overcome some day

Oh, deep in my heart I do believe

We shall overcome some day.

Anonymous, Adapted for the civil rights movement from an old religious song

You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs.

Anonymous, French proverb

Art and Beauty

Painting is silent poetry, and poetry painting that speaks.

Simonides, From Plutarch, De Gloria Atheniensium

Whatever is in any way beautiful hath its source of beauty in itself, and is complete in itself; praise forms no part of it. So it is none the worse nor the better for being praised.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Meditations

Too late I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient and ever new!
Too late I loved you! And, behold, you were within me, and I out of myself, and there I searched for you.

Saint Augustine, Confessions

If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a hyacinth.

Anonymous, Persian saying

There are Six Essentials in painting. The first is called spirit; the second, rhythm; the third, thought; the fourth, scenery; the fifth, the brush; and the last is the ink.

Ching Hao, Notes on Brushwork

Much is the force of heaven-bred poesy.

William Shakespeare, The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Beauty's but skin deep.

John Davies of Hereford, A Select Second Husband for Sir Thomas Overburie's Wife

Art hath an enemy called Ignorance.

Benjonson, Every Man out of His Humour

Beauty stands

In the admiration only of weak minds

Led captive.

John Milton, Paradise Regained

What passion cannot Music raise and quell?

John Dryden, A Song for Saint Cecilia's Day

One and the same thing can at the same time be good, bad, and indifferent, e.g., music is good to the melancholy, bad to those who mourn, and neither good nor bad to the deaf.

Benedict Spinoza, Ethics

Choose an author as you choose a friend.

Wentworth Dillon, Earl of Roscommon, Essay on Translated Verse

Books, the children of the brain.

Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub

Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.

Jonathan Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects

Books are the legacies that a great genius leaves to mankind, which are delivered down from generation to generation, as presents to the posterity of those who are yet unborn.

Joseph Addison, The Spectator

A true critic ought to dwell rather upon excellencies than imperfections, to discover the concealed beauties of a writer, and communicate to the world such things as are worth their observation.

Joseph Addison, The Spectator

Criticism is easy, art is difficult.

Philippe Destouches, Le Glorieux

Women who are either indisputably beautiful, or indisputably ugly, are best flattered upon the score of their understandings; but those who are in a state of mediocrity are best flattered upon their beauty, or at least their graces; for every woman who is not absolutely ugly thinks herself handsome.

Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, Letters to His Son

Handsome is that handsome does.

Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield

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.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship

In art the best is good enough.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey

Individuality of expression is the beginning and end of all art.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Proverbs in Prose

Poetry fettered fetters the human race. Nations are destroyed, or flourish, in proportion as their poetry, painting, and music are destroyed or flourish!

William Blake, Jerusalem

Life is earnest, art is gay.

Johann Friedrich von Schiller, Wallenstein 's Camp

Art! Who comprehends her? With whom can one consult concerning this great goddess?

Ludwig van Beethoven, Letter to Bettina von Arnim

Beauty without grace is the hook without the bait.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Conduct of Life

Every genuine work of art has as much reason for being as the earth and the sun.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Society and Solitude

You know who the critics are? The men who have failed in literature and art.

Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, Lothair

Art for art's sake is an empty phrase. Art for the sake of the true, art for the sake of the good and the beautiful, that is the faith I am searching for.

George Sand, Letter to Alexandre Saint-Jean

All good things which exist are the fruits of originality.

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

Of all the needs a book has, the chief need is that it be readable.

Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography

The perception of beauty is a moral test.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal

Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance.

John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice

All great art is the work of the whole living creature, body and soul, and chiefly of the soul.

John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice

Life without industry is guilt, industry without art is brutality.

John Ruskin, Lectures on Art

To have great poets, there must be great audiences, too.

Walt Whitman, Collect

One must not always think that feeling is everything. Art is nothing without form.

Gustave Flaubert, Letter to Madame Louise Colet

Art is a human activity having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which men have risen.

Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoi, What Is Art?

If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

William Morris, The Beauty of Life

Art should be independent of all claptrap—should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism, and the like. All these have no kind of concern with it.

fames McNeill Whistler, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies

The mortality of all inanimate things is terrible to me, but that of books most of all.

William Dean Howells, Letter to Charles Eliot Norton

Right now a moment of time is fleeting by! Capture its reality in paint! To do that we must put all else out of our minds. We must become that moment, make ourselves a sensitive recording plate… give the image of what we actually see, forgetting everything that has been seen before our time.

Paul Cézanne, From Joachim Gasquet, Paul Cézanne

Art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass.

Walter Pater, Studies in the History of the Renaissance

You don't make a poem with ideas, but with words.

Stéphane Mallarmé, From Paul Valéry, Degas, Danse, Dessin

It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance, for our consideration and application of these things, and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.

Henry James, Letter to H. G. Wells

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, Molly Bawn

Aesthetic emotion puts man in a state favorable to the reception of erotic emotion. Art is the accomplice of love. Take love away and there is no longer art.

Remy de Gourmont, Décadence

Every artist writes his own autobiography.

Havelock Ellis, The New Spirit

Dancing is the loftiest, the most moving, the most beautiful of the arts, because it is no mere translation or abstraction from life; it is life itself.

Havelock Ellis, The Dance of Life

Beauty as we feel it is something indescribable: what it is or what it means can never be said.

George Santayana, The Sense of Beauty

What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers.

Logan Pearsall Smith, Afterthoughts

The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.

G. K. Chesterton, Preface to Dickens, Pickwick Papers


On Sale
Oct 31, 2009
Page Count
288 pages

John Bartlett

About the Author

Geoffrey O'Brien is the editor-in-chief of The Library of America, and author of fifteen books, most recently The Fall of the House of Walworth, and other works including Hardboiled America, Dream Time, The Phantom Empire, The Times Square Story, The Browser's Ecstasy, Castaways of the Image Planet, and Sonata for Jukebox. He has contributed frequently to The New York Review of Books, Artforum, Film Comment, and other publications. He lives in New York City.

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