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Quotations about Literature

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The Literature of Man...
When Plato – was a Certainty –
And Sophocles – a Man –
When Sappho – was a living Girl –
And Beatrice wore
The Gown that Dante – deified –
Facts Centuries before...
~Emily Dickinson, 1863

Literature is the echo of life. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847), paraphrase

I... was seized very early with a passion for literature, which has been the ruling passion of my life, and the great source of my enjoyments. ~David Hume (1712–1776)

[L]iterature is a garden of weeds as well as flowers... ~Henry Hallam, Introduction to the Literature of Europe in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries, c.1836

Literature—our great archive of human expression... ~Sven Birkerts (b.1951), "Resisting the Kindle," The Atlantic, 2009 March 2nd

I am always pleased when I see literature made useful... ~Sophron (Samuel Johnson), The Rambler, No. LVII., 1750 October 2nd

The extent of a palace is measured from east to west, or from north to south; but that of a literary work, from the earth to heaven; so that there may be found as much range and power of mind in a few pages... as in a whole epic poem. ~Joseph Joubert (1754–1824), translated from French by George H. Calvert, 1866

Literature is the question minus the answer. ~Roland Barthes

Literature is news that stays news. ~Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading, 1934

Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree. ~Ezra Pound

A fine layer of dust must settle on literature before it's truly complete. ~Terri Guillemets

The power of persuasion is mighty, but perishable: its life, for the most part, passes with the life of the speaker. It darkens with his eye; it stiffens with his hand; it freezes with his tongue. The swords of these champions of eloquence are buried with them in the grave.... But in that speech, which is created by the printing-press into literature, dwells a principle never to be quenched. Literature is the immortality of speech. ~Robert Aris Willmott, "Glimpses of the Pageant of Literature," c.1844

A taste for literature is one of the most substantial sources of enjoyment with which the human race is acquainted.... In opulence or poverty, whether free to roam over the world or confined in a prison—still, if he has within his reach a few favorite authors, he can banish the troubles and trials of the present, and be happy within the world of mind. ~Charles Lanman, "Thoughts on Literature," 1840

Literature does not begin till emotion has begun. ~Arnold Bennett, Literary Taste: How To Form It, 1908

When once the itch of literature comes over a man, nothing can cure it but the scratching of a pen. But if you have not a pen, I suppose you must scratch any way you can. ~Samuel Lover, Handy Andy, 1842

Every man's memory is his private literature. ~Aldous Huxley

To literature belongs the mighty privilege of embalming, for all ages, the departed kings of intellect. There they repose within the eternal pyramids of their fame. ~Robert Aris Willmott, "Glimpses of the Pageant of Literature," c.1844

What is wonderful about great literature is that it transforms the man who reads it towards the condition of the man who wrote. ~E.M. Forster, Two Cheers for Democracy, 1951

There is a certain class of men in almost every community, who take pleasure in sneering at those who follow literature as a profession.... They look upon the man of letters as one prone to build airy castles, continually longing for pleasures which can never be realized, or as a mere day-dreamer. They think it would be better if all men were mechanics, or merchants, or farmers, and that man was made to plod through life with no higher aim than to satisfy his sensual desires! How foolish, how despicable are such ideas. ~Charles Lanman, "Thoughts on Literature," 1840

...her absent-minded father, who lived mainly in the past among the Greek poets... ~R. A. Dick (Josephine A. Campbell Leslie, 1898–1979), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, 1945

The thing that teases the mind over and over for years, and at last gets itself put down rightly on paper — whether little or great, it belongs to Literature. ~Sarah Orne Jewett, letter to Willa Cather

Timeless literature keeps infinitely expanding, like the universe. ~Terri Guillemets

He got up and began to shave. It was his custom while shaving to prop up before him a ten-cent copy of King Lear for memorization. His teacher at college had once remarked that King Lear was the greatest work in English literature, and the Encyclopædia Britannica seemed to be of the same opinion. Brush had read the play ten times without discovering a trace of talent in it, and was greatly worried about the matter. He persevered, however, and was engaged in committing the whole work to memory. ~Thornton Wilder, Heaven's My Destination, 1935

He who has not been "presented to the freedom" of literature has not wakened up out of his prenatal sleep. He is merely not born. He can't see; he can't hear; he can't feel in any full sense. He can only eat his dinner. ~Arnold Bennett (1867–1931)

The literary man mostly lives in company with the mighty spirits of the past, and the beings of his own mind. True, he studies the human heart in his daily walks, but the greater part of his knowledge is gathered from the past, and from thence his mind reaches forward into futurity, so that the field over which his soul may roam in search of wisdom is boundless as the universe. ~Charles Lanman, "Thoughts on Literature," 1840

Books talk to you for an afternoon.
Literature speaks for generations.
~Terri Guillemets

Experts and pedagogues (chiefly pedagogues) have, for the purpose of convenience, split literature up into divisions and sub-divisions — such as prose and poetry; or imaginative, philosophic, historical; or elegiac, heroic, lyric; or religious and profane, etc., ad infinitum. But the greater truth is that literature is all one — and indivisible. The idea of the unity of literature should be well planted and fostered in the head. All literature is the expression of feeling, of passion, of emotion, caused by a sensation of the interestingness of life.... Even Johnson's Dictionary is packed with emotion. ~Arnold Bennett, Literary Taste: How To Form It, 1908

I doubt if anything learnt at school is of more value than great literature learnt by heart. ~Richard Winn Livingstone (1880–1960), "On Education," 1945

[T]here are few mental exercises better than learning great poetry or prose by heart. ~"Mind Calisthenics," 1906

Literature — a lighthouse to lost souls. ~Terri Guillemets

What a sense of security in an old book which time has criticized for us! ~James Russell Lowell

The duty of literature is to note what counts, and to light up what is suited to the light. If it ceases to choose and to love, it becomes like a woman who gives herself without preference. ~Anatole France

The object of literature is to make man a wiser and happier being. The poet makes us happy because he tells us how we may become so. ~Charles Lanman, "Thoughts on Literature," 1840

[L]iterature is the record of the best thoughts. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, address at the opening of the Concord Free Public Library

Literature, along with all other forms of fine art, is the product of the soul's effort to realize in consciousness its ideal and true self.... the experience the soul has with itself in striving for the realization of its own true worth.... Thus literature is life primarily, and not form. The form is only the manifestation of the life. ~Arnold Tompkins, "The Nature of Literature," c.1896

When you re-read a classic you do not see in the book more than you did before.  You see more in you than there was before.  ~Clifton Fadiman

For me, literature is a form of play. But I've always added that there are two forms of play: football, for example, which is basically a game, and then games that are very profound and serious. When children play, though they're amusing themselves, they take it very seriously. It's important. It's just as serious for them now as love will be ten years from now. I remember when I was little and my parents used to say, "Okay, you've played enough, come take a bath now." I found that completely idiotic, because, for me, the bath was a silly matter. It had no importance whatsoever, while playing with my friends was something serious. Literature is like that—it's a game, but it's a game one can put one's life into. One can do everything for that game. ~Julio Cortázar (1914–1984), interview with Jason Weiss, "The Art of Fiction No. 83," The Paris Review, Fall 1984

Essays are vegetables
in the garden of literature,
fairy tales the orchard fruit,
poetry — the flowers.
~Terri Guillemets, "Reading in the Garden," 2009

[L]iterature is only a part of the great whole—the soul's being—a single form of its development, and one among the thousand offices to which the versatile mind is called. ~Henry T. Tuckerman, "Characteristics of Lamb," in American Quarterly Review, March 1836

The difference between journalism and literature is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read. ~Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891

Romance is the literature of hope. ~Damon Suede

...on account of a misspent youth in which I learned a lot about literature... ~Gerald Raftery (1905–1986), "Horatius on Route 7," 1974

The sermon is now the true poppy of literature. ~David Swing

[L]earning... helps us to conquer our own infirmities... and without the assistance of literature, is a kind of death to the soul, and, in a manner the grave of a man alive. ~"General reflexions on the advantages of a good education," in The Scots Magazine, April 1749

Literature — Brain-fruit. ~Charles Searle, Look Here!, 1885

The test of real literature is that it will bear repetition. We read over the same pages again and again, and always with fresh delight. ~Samual McChord Crothers

A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say. ~Italo Calvino, The Literature Machine

Literature lights the ages. ~Terri Guillemets

Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” has perhaps the most memorable opening line in all of Western literature: “I hope you m0therf*@%ers like reading about whales.” ~@pixelatedboat, 2018 tweet

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