Washington Irving

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There is a healthful hardiness about real dignity that never dreads contact and communion with others, however humble.

Washington Irving (1783-04-031859-11-28) was an American author of the early 19th century.


  • Whenever a man's friends begin to compliment him about looking young, he may be sure that they think he is growing old.
  • I am always at a loss to know how much to believe of my own stories.
  • There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in travelling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position, and be bruised in a new place.
    • Tales of a Traveler (1824).
  • The almighty dollar, that great object of universal devotion throughout our land, seems to have no genuine devotees in these peculiar villages; and unless some of its missionaries penetrate there, and erect banking houses and other pious shrines, there is no knowing how long the inhabitants may remain in their present state of contented poverty.
    • The Creole Village published in The Knickerbocker magazine (November 1836). This is origin of the expression almighty dollar. See Edward Bulwer-Lytton for "the pursuit of the almighty dollar". Compare: "Whilst that for which all virtue now is sold, And almost every vice,—almighty gold", Ben Jonson, Epistle to Elizabeth, Countess of Rutland.
  • Free-livers on a small scale, who are prodigal within the compass of a guinea.
  • There is an eloquence in true enthusiasm that is not to be doubted.
    • "The Adventure Of The German Student".

Knickerbocker's History of New York (1809)

  • How convenient it would be to many of our great men and great families of doubtful origin, could they have the privilege of the heroes of yore, who, whenever their origin was involved in obscurity, modestly announced themselves descended from a god.
    • Book II, ch. 3.
  • Who ever hears of fat men heading a riot, or herding together in turbulent mobs? — No — no, ‘tis your lean, hungry men who are continually worrying society, and setting the whole community by the ears.
Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o' nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.
  • His wife "ruled the roost," and in governing the governor, governed the province, which might thus be said to be under petticoat government.
    • Book IV, ch. 4.
  • They claim to be the first inventors of those recondite beverages, cocktail, stonefence, and sherry cobbler.
    • Book IV, ch. 241.

The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon (1819–1820)

  • There is in every true woman's heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity; but which kindles up, and beams, and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.
    • "The Wife".
  • Those men are most apt to be obsequious and conciliating abroad, who are under the discipline of shrews at home.
  • A tart temper never mellows with age, and a sharp tongue is the only edge tool that grows keener with constant use.
    • "Rip Van Winkle".
  • That happy age when a man can be idle with impunity.
    • "Rip Van Winkle".
  • Luxury spreads its ample board before their eyes; but they are excluded from the banquet. Plenty revels over the fields; but they are starving in the midst of its abundance: the whole wilderness has blossomed into a garden; but they feel as reptiles that infest it.
    • "Traits of Indian Character".
  • Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them.
    • "Philip of Pokanoket : An Indian Memoir".
    • A more extensive statement not found as such in this work is attributed to Irving in Elbert Hubbard's Scrap Book (1923) edited by Roycroft Shop:
Great minds have purposes, others have wishes. Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them.
  • The first part of this statement is quoted without attribution as early as 1897, and is widely attributed to Irving separately as well as in this joined form, but in research for Wikiquote, no original source has yet been found.
  • A woman's whole life is a history of the affections. The heart is her world: it is there her ambition strives for empire; it is there her avarice seeks for hidden treasures. She sends forth her sympathies on adventure; she embarks her whole soul on the traffic of affection; and if shipwrecked, her case is hopeless — for it is a bankruptcy of the heart.
    • "The Broken Heart".
  • Language gradually varies, and with it fade away the writings of authors who have flourished their allotted time; otherwise, the creative powers of genius would overstock the world, and the mind would be completely bewildered in the endless mazes of literature. Formerly there were some restraints on this excessive multiplication. Works had to be transcribed by hand, which was a slow and laborious operation; they were written either on parchment, which was expensive, so that one work was often erased to make way for another; or on papyrus, which was fragile and extremely perishable. Authorship was a limited and unprofitable craft, pursued chiefly by monks in the leisure and solitude of their cloisters. The accumulation of manuscripts was slow and costly, and confined almost entirely to monasteries. To these circumstances it may, in some measure, be owing that we have not been inundated by the intellect of antiquity; that the fountains of thought have not been broken up, and modern genius drowned in the deluge. But the inventions of paper and the press have put an end to all these restraints. They have made everyone a writer, and enabled every mind to pour itself into print, and diffuse itself over the whole intellectual world. The consequences are alarming. The stream of literature has swollen into a torrent — augmented into a river — expanded into a sea.
    • "The Mutabilities of Literature".
  • There rise authors now and then, who seem proof against the mutability of language, because they have rooted themselves in the unchanging principles of human nature. They are like gigantic trees that we sometimes see on the banks of a stream; which, by their vast and deep roots, penetrating through the mere surface, and laying hold on the very foundations of the earth, preserve the soil around them from being swept away by the ever-flowing current, and hold up many a neighboring plant, and perhaps worthless weed, to perpetuity.
    • "The Mutabilities of Literature".
  • The great British Library — an immense collection of volumes of all ages and languages, many of which are now forgotten, and most of which are seldom read: one of these sequestered pools of obsolete literature to which modern authors repair, and draw buckets full of classic lore, or “pure English, undefiled” wherewith to swell their own scanty rills of thought.
    • "The Art of Book-Making".
  • His [the author's] renown has been purchased, not by deeds of violence and blood, but by the diligent dispensation of pleasure.
    • "The Westminster Abbey [The Poets' Corner]".
  • The sorrow for the dead is the only sorrow from which we refuse to be divorced. Every other wound we seek to heal — every other affliction to forget: but this wound we consider it a duty to keep open — this affliction we cherish and brood over in solitude.
    • "Rural Funerals".
  • They who drink beer will think beer.
    • "Stratford-on-Avon".

Mahomet and his successors (1849)

  • In his private dealings he was just. He treated friends and strangers, the rich and poor, the powerful and weak, with equity, and was beloved by the common people for the affability with which he received them, and listened to their complaints.[...] His military triumphs awakened no pride nor vain glory, as they would have done had they been effected for selfish purposes. In the time of his greatest power he maintained the same simplicity of manners and appearance as in the days of his adversity. So far from affecting a regal state, he was displeased if, on entering a room, any unusual testimonials of respect were shown to him. If he aimed at a universal dominion, it was the dominion of faith; as to the temporal rule which grew up in his hands, as he used it without ostentation, so he took no step to perpetuate it in his family
    • Mahomet and his successors, George P. Putnam, 1850, p. 330-339.


  • A father may turn his back on his child, brothers and sisters may become inveterate enemies, husbands may desert their wives, wives their husbands. But a mother's love endures through all.
  • A kind heart is a fountain of gladness making everything in its vicinity freshen into smiles.
  • A woman never forgets her sex. She would rather talk with a man than an angel, any day.
  • Acting provides the fulfillment of never being fulfilled. You're never as good as you'd like to be. So there's always something to hope for.
  • Age is a matter of feeling, not of years.
  • An inexhaustible good nature is one of the most precious gifts of heaven, spreading itself like oil over the troubled sea of thought, and keeping the mind smooth and equable in the roughest weather.
  • Here's to your good health, and your family's good health, and may you all live long and prosper.
  • Kindness in women, not their beauteous looks, shall win my love.
  • Love is never lost. If not reciprocated, it will flow back and soften and purify the heart.
  • Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.
  • One of the greatest and simplest tools for learning more and growing is doing more.
  • Resolved — never to do anything which I should be afraid to do, if it were my last of life.
  • Society is like a lawn where every roughness is smoothed, every bramble eradicated, and where the eye is delighted by the smiling verdure of a velvet surface.
  • Some minds seem almost to create themselves, springing up under every disadvantage and working their solitary but irresistible way through a thousand obstacles.
  • The easiest thing to do, whenever you fail, is to put yourself down by blaming your lack of ability for your misfortunes.
  • The idol of today pushes the hero of yesterday out of our recollection, and will, in turn, be supplanted by his successor of tomorrow.
  • The natural effect of sorrow over the dead is to refine and elevate the mind.
  • The natural principle of war is to do the most harm to our enemy with the least harm to ourselves; and this of course is to be effected by stratagem.
  • There is a healthful hardiness about real dignity that never dreads contact and communion with others however humble.
  • There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.

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