THOUGHTS AND APHORISMS

By JONATHAN SWIFT ( 1667 - 1745 )




AN old miser kept a tame jackdaw, that used to steal pieces of money and hide them in a hole, which the cat observing, asked, "Why he would hoard up those round shilling things that he could make no use of?"
"Why," said the jackdaw, "my master has a whole chest full, and makes no more use of them than I."

If the men of wit and genius would resolve never to complain in their works of critics and detractors, the next age would not know that they ever had any.

I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.

Imaginary evils soon become real ones by indulging our reflections on them, as he who in a melancholy fancy sees something like a face on the wall or the wainscot can, by two or three touches with a lead pencil, make it look visible and agreeing with what he fancied.

Men of great parts are often unfortunate in the management of public business, because they are apt to go out of the common road by the quickness of their imagination. This I once said to my Lord Bolingbroke, and desired he would observe that the clerks in his office used a sort of ivory knife with a blunt edge to divide a sheet of paper, which never failed to cut it even, only requiring a steady hand; whereas if they should make use of a sharp penknife, the sharpness would make it often go out of the crease and disfigure the paper.

"He who does not provide for his own house," St. Paul says, "is worse than an infidel;" and I think he who provides only for his own house is just equal with an infidel.

When I am reading a book, whether wise or silly, it seems to me to be alive, and talking to me.

When I was young I thought all the world, as well as myself, was wholly taken up in discoursing upon the last new play.

I never yet knew a wag (as the term is) who was not a dunce.

A person reading to me a dull poem of his own making, I prevailed on him to scratch out six lines together; in turning over the leaf, the ink being wet, it marked as many lines on the other side; whereof the poet complaining, I bade him be easy, for it would be better if those were out too.

We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.

When we desire or solicit anything, our minds run wholly on the good side or circumstances of it; when it is obtained, our minds run wholly on the bad ones.

The latter part of a wise man's life is taken up in curing the follies, prejudices, and false opinions he had contracted in the former.

Would a writer know how to behave himself with relation to posterity, let him consider in old books what he finds that he is glad to know, and what omissions he most laments.

One argument, to prove that the common relations of ghosts and specters are generally false, may be drawn from the opinion held that spirits are never seen by more than one person at a time; that is to say, it seldom happens to above one person in a company to be possessed with any high degree of spleen or melancholy.

It is grown a word of course for writers to say, "This critical age," as divines say, "This sinful age."

It is pleasant to observe how free the present age is in laying taxes on the next: "Future ages shall talk of this: this shall be famous to all posterity;" whereas their time and thoughts will be taken up about present things, as ours are now.

I never heard a finer piece of satire against lawyers than that of astrologers, when they pretend by rules of art to tell when a suit will end, and whether to the advantage of the plaintiff or defendant; thus making the matter depend entirely upon the influence of the stars, without the least regard to the merits of the cause.

I have known some men possessed of good qualities, which were very serviceable to others but useless to themselves; like a sundial on the front of a house, to inform the neighbors and passengers, but not the owner within.

If a man would register all his opinions upon love, politics, religion, learning, etc., beginning from his youth, and so go on to old age, what a bundle of inconsistencies and contradictions would appear at last!

The stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our desires is like cutting off our feet when we want shoes.

The reason why so few marriages are happy is because young ladies spend their time in making nets, not in making cages.

The power of fortune is confessed only by the miserable, for the happy impute all their success to prudence or merit.

Ambition often puts men upon doing the meanest offices; so climbing is performed in the same posture with creeping.

Although men are accused for not knowing their own weakness, yet perhaps as few know their own strength. It is in men as in soils, where sometimes there is a vein of gold which the owner knows not of.

An idle reason lessens the weight of the good ones you gave before.

Arbitrary power is the natural object of temptation to a prince; as wine or women to a young fellow, or a bribe to a judge, or avarice to old age, or vanity to a woman.

The humor of exploding many things under the name of trifles, fopperies, and only imaginary goods, is a very false proof either of wisdom or magnanimity, and a great check to virtuous actions. For instance, with regard to fame; there is in most people a reluctance and unwillingness to be forgotten. We observe even among the vulgar how fond they are to have an inscription over their grave. It requires but little philosophy to discover and observe that there is no intrinsic value in all this; however, if it be founded in our nature, as an incitement to virtue, it ought not to be ridiculed.

Complaint is the largest tribute heaven receives, and the sincere part of our devotion.

The common fluency of speech in many men, and most women, is owing to a scarcity of matter, and a scarcity of words; for whoever is a master of language, and hath a mind full of ideas, will be apt in speaking to hesitate upon the-choice of both; whereas common speakers have only one set of ideas, and one set of words to clothe them in; and these are always ready at the mouth; so people come faster out of church when it is almost empty, than when a crowd is at the door.






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