Men by their nature are impelled to action, and they require a moral guide for their feet. To wait, with our short lives, till reason has discovered the absolute moral law, would involve us in the dilemma of abstaining from action (which is an impossibility), or of acting without any rule of conduct. Reason bids us, then, seeing as we do “through a glass darkly,” to follow the immediate dictates of common sense, conscience, and revelation.
(William John Courthope, “Johnson and Carlyle,” The National Review, Vol. II, 1883–84, p. 321).
It is curious to remark that Dante’s Paradise — the farthest reach of the human imagination in picturing the unknown — is a soundless world. There are no harps or citherns or orchestras there. There is nothing but light, dancing, and philosophical discourses. Critics there have been who thought it grotesque; and unquestionably the spectacle of grave Doctors of the Church gyrating on one toe, or wheeling three times about Dante and his guide, or flocking together like cranes and writing out symbolical letters on the sky, might make a thoughtless reader smile. But philosophically speaking, Dante was quite right.
(Charles Leonard Moore, “Literature, Music and Morals,” The Dial, Vol. XXVII, 1899, p. 166).
Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it. This is an illusion, and one should recognise it as such, but one ought also to stick to one’s own world-view, even at the price of seeming old-fashioned: for that world-view springs out of experiences that the younger generation has not had, and to abandon it is to kill one’s intellectual roots.
(George Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Vol. 4. London: Secker & Warburg, 1968, p. 51).
“Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality.”
We kill ourselves to save time in order often to merely kill time.
(Samuel Davey, “Modern Civilization.” In: Darwin, Carlyle, Dickens. London: E. Bumpus, 1879, p. 195).
An element of exaggeration clings to the popular judgment: great vices are made greater, great virtues greater also; interesting incidents are made more interesting, softer legends more soft.
(Walter Bagehot, Literary Studies, Vol. 2. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1891, p. 171).
Sheep go in flocks for three reasons: First, because they are of a gregarious temper, and love to be together: Secondly, because of their cowardice; they are afraid to be left alone: Thirdly, because the common run of them are dull of sight, to a proverb, and can have no choice in roads; sheep can in fact see nothing; in a celestial Luminary, and a scoured pewter Tankard, would discern only that both dazzled them, and were of unspeakable glory. How like their fellow-creatures of the human species! Men, too, as was from the first maintained here, are gregarious; then surely faint-hearted enough, trembling to be left by themselves; above all, dull-sighted, down to the verge of utter blindness. Thus are we seen ever running in torrents, and mobs, if we run at all; and after what foolish scoured Tankards, mistaking them for suns! Foolish Turnip-lanterns likewise, to all appearance supernatural, keep whole nations quaking, their hair on end. Neither know we, except by blind habit, where the good pastures lie: solely when the sweet grass is between our teeth, we know it, and chew it; also when grass is bitter and scant, we know it, — and bleat and butt: these last two facts we know of a truth and in very deed. — Thus do Men and Sheep play their parts on this Nether Earth; wandering restlessly in large masses, they know not whither; for most part each following his neighbor, and his own nose.
(Thomas Carlyle, “Boswell’s Life of Johnson,” Fraser’s Magazine, Vol. V, No. 28, 1832, pp. 390–391).