Robertson Davies Quotations

-The world is burdened with young fogies. Old men with ossified minds are easily dealt with. But men who look young, act young and everlastingly harp on the fact that they are young, but who nevertheless think and act with a degree of caution that would be excessive in their grandfathers, are the curse of the world. Their very conservatism is secondhand, and they don’t know what they are conserving.

-Students today are a pretty solemn lot. One of the really notable achievements of the twentieth century has been to make the young old before their time.

-“Oho, now I know what you are. You are an advocate of Useful Knowledge.”
“Certainly.”
“You say that a man’s first job is to earn a living, and that the first task of education is to equip him for that job.”
“Of course.”
“Well, allow me to introduce myself to you as an advocate of Ornamental Knowledge. You like the mind to be a neat machine, equipped to work efficiently, if narrowly, and with no extra bits or useless parts. I like the mind to be a dustbin of scraps of brilliant fabric, odd gems, worthless but fascinating curiosities, tinsel, quaint bits of carving, and a reasonable amount of healthy dirt. Shake the machine and it goes out of order; shake the dustbin and it adjusts itself beautifully to its new position.”

-The young are often accused of exaggerating their troubles; they do so, very often, in the hope of making some impression upon the inertia and the immovability of the selfish old.

-People who talk a lot about their troubles never commit suicide; talk’s the greatest safety-valve there is. I always laugh at that bit in Hamlet where he pretends to despise himself because he unpacks his heart with words, and falls a-scolding like a very drab; that’s why the soliloquy about suicide is just Hamlet putting on intellectual airs. A chatterbox like that would never pop himself off with a bare bodkin. No, the suicides are the quiet ones, who can’t find the words to fit their misery.

-I wish you wouldn’t use words like “educational”, which have grown sour from being so much in the wrong people’s mouths…If formal education has any bearing on the arts at all, its purpose is to make critics, not artists. Its usual effect is to cage the spirit in other people’s ideas–the ideas of poets and philosophers, which were once splendid insights into the nature of life, but which people who have no insights of their own have hardened into dogmas.

-Weigh up your life once a year. If you find you are getting short weight, change your life. You will usually find that the solution lies in your own hands.

-Women understand the body better than men do. Men bully or neglect it but women take it into full partnership.

-Extreme pessimism is a luxury that only the very young can afford. As you become older, pessimism becomes much more spiritually expensive, and you don’t indulge in it unless you are really convinced of what you’re saying. When you’re a 25-year-old, it looks good to say that life is just a can of worms. When you’re 55, it’s not as funny. You’ve seen a few worms by that time.

-Women tell men things that men are not likely to find out for themselves.

-Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.

-A happy childhood has spoiled many a promising life.

-He was a genius – that is to say, a man who does superlatively and without obvious effort something that most people cannot do by the uttermost exertion of their abilities.

-Every man is wise when attacked by a mad dog; fewer when pursued by a mad woman; only the wisest survive when attacked by a mad notion.

-The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future is, in fact, a return to the idealised past.

-Few people can see genius in someone who has offended them.

-A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.
Robertson Davies