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John Bartlett (1820–1905). Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. 1919.

Thomas Babington

      That is the best government which desires to make the people happy, and knows how to make them happy.
          On Mitford’s History of Greece. 1824.
      Free trade, one of the greatest blessings which a government can confer on a people, is in almost every country unpopular.
          On Mitford’s History of Greece. 1824.
      Wherever literature consoles sorrow or assuages pain; wherever it brings gladness to eyes which fail with wakefulness and tears, and ache for the dark house and the long sleep,—there is exhibited in its noblest form the immortal influence of Athens.
          On Mitford’s History of Greece. 1824.
      We hold that the most wonderful and splendid proof of genius is a great poem produced in a civilized age.
          On Milton. 1825.
      Nobles by the right of an earlier creation, and priests by the imposition of a mightier hand.
          On Milton. 1825.
      Our academical Pharisees.
          On Milton. 1825.
      The dust and silence of the upper shelf.
          On Milton. 1825.
      Perhaps no person can be a poet, or even enjoy poetry, without a certain unsoundness of mind.
          On Milton. 1825.
      Out of his surname they have coined an epithet for a knave, and out of his Christian name a synonym for the Devil. 1 
          On Niccolo dei Machiavelli. 1825.
      Nothing is so useless as a general maxim.
          On Niccolo dei Machiavelli. 1825.
      The English Bible,—a book which if everything else in our language should perish, would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power.
          On John Dryden. 1828.
      His imagination resembled the wings of an ostrich. It enabled him to run, though not to soar.
          On John Dryden. 1828.
      A man possessed of splendid talents, which he often abused, and of a sound judgment, the admonitions of which he often neglected; a man who succeeded only in an inferior department of his art, but who in that department succeeded pre-eminently.
          On John Dryden. 1828.
      He had a head which statuaries loved to copy, and a foot the deformity of which the beggars in the streets mimicked.
          On Moore’s Life of Lord Byron. 1830.
      We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.
          On Moore’s Life of Lord Byron. 1830.
      From the poetry of Lord Byron they drew a system of ethics compounded of misanthropy and voluptuousness,—a system in which the two great commandments were to hate your neighbour and to love your neighbour’s wife.
          On Moore’s Life of Lord Byron. 1830.
      That wonderful book, while it obtains admiration from the most fastidious critics, is loved by those who are too simple to admire it.
          On Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. 1831.
      The conformation of his mind was such that whatever was little seemed to him great, and whatever was great seemed to him little.
          On Horace Walpole. 1833.
      What a singular destiny has been that of this remarkable man!—To be regarded in his own age as a classic, and in ours as a companion! To receive from his contemporaries that full homage which men of genius have in general received only from posterity; to be more intimately known to posterity than other men are known to their contemporaries!
          On Boswell’s Life of Johnson (Croker’s ed.). 1831.
      Temple was a man of the world amongst men of letters, a man of letters amongst men of the world. 2 
          On Sir William Temple. 1838.
      He was a rake among scholars and a scholar among rakes.
          Review of Aiken’s Life of Addison.
      She [the Roman Catholic Church] may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s. 3
          On Ranke’s History of the Popes. 1840.
      The chief-justice was rich, quiet, and infamous.
          On Warren Hastings. 1841.
      In that temple of silence and reconciliation where the enmities of twenty generations lie buried, in the great Abbey which has during many ages afforded a quiet resting-place to those whose minds and bodies have been shattered by the contentions of the Great Hall.
          On Warren Hastings. 1841.
      In order that he might rob a neighbour whom he had promised to defend, black men fought on the coast of Coromandel and red men scalped each other by the great lakes of North America.
          On Frederic the Great. 1842.
      We hardly know an instance of the strength and weakness of human nature so striking and so grotesque as the character of this haughty, vigilant, resolute, sagacious blue-stocking, half Mithridates and half Trissotin, bearing up against a world in arms, with an ounce of poison in one pocket and a quire of bad verses in the other.
          On Frederic the Great. 1842.
      Men are never so likely to settle a question rightly as when they discuss it freely.
          Southey’s Colloquies.
      Nothing is so galling to a people, not broken in from the birth, as a paternal or, in other words, a meddling government, a government which tells them what to read and say and eat and drink and wear.
          Southey’s Colloquies.
      The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm.
          On Hallam’s Constitutional History.
      Intoxicated with animosity.
          On Hallam’s Constitutional History.
      Those who compare the age in which their lot has fallen with a golden age which exists only in imagination, may talk of degeneracy and decay; but no man who is correctly informed as to the past, will be disposed to take a morose or desponding view of the present.
          History of England. Vol. i. Chap. i.
      I shall cheerfully bear the reproach of having descended below the dignity of history. 4 
          History of England. Vol. i. Chap. i.
      There were gentlemen and there were seamen in the navy of Charles II. But the seamen were not gentlemen, and the gentlemen were not seamen.
          History of England. Vol. i. Chap. ii.
      The Puritan hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators. 5 
          History of England. Vol. i. Chap. iii.
      An acre in Middlesex is better than a principality in Utopia. 6 
          On Lord Bacon.
      I have not the Chancellor’s encyclopedic mind. He is indeed a kind of semi-Solomon. He half knows everything, from the cedar to the hyssop. 7 
          Letter to Macvey Napier, Dec. 17, 1830.
    These be the great Twin Brethren
  To whom the Dorians pray.
          The Battle of Lake Regillus.
    To every man upon this earth
  Death cometh soon or late;
And how can man die better
  Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
  And the temples of his gods?
          Lays of ancient Rome. Horatius, xxvii.
    The Romans were like brothers
In the brave days of old.
          Lays of ancient Rome. Horatius, xxxii.
    How well Horatius kept the bridge.
          Lays of ancient Rome. Horatius, lxx.
    The sweeter sound of woman’s praise.
          Lines written in August, 1847.
    Oh! wherefore come ye forth in triumph from the north,
  With your hands and your feet and your raiment all red?
And wherefore doth your rout send forth a joyous shout?
  And whence be the grapes of the wine-press which ye tread?
          The Battle of Naseby.
    Ye diners-out from whom we guard our spoons. 8 
          Political Georgics.
Note 1.
I wish I were as sure of anything as Macaulay is of everything. William Windham (1750–1810). [back]
Note 2.
See Pope, pages 331–332. [back]
Note 3.
The same image was employed by Macaulay in 1824 in the concluding paragraph of a review of Mitford’s Greece, and he repeated it in his review of Mill’s “Essay on Government” in 1829.
  What cities, as great as this, have … promised themselves immortality! Posterity can hardly trace the situation of some. The sorrowful traveller wanders over the awful ruins of others…. Here stood their citadel, but now grown over with weeds; there their senate-house, but now the haunt of every noxious reptile; temples and theatres stood here, now only an undistinguished heap of ruins.—Goldsmith: The Bee, No. iv. (1759.) A City Night-Piece.
  Who knows but that hereafter some traveller like myself will sit down upon the banks of the Seine, the Thames, or the Zuyder Zee, where now, in the tumult of enjoyment, the heart and the eyes are too slow to take in the multitude of sensations? Who knows but he will sit down solitary amid silent ruins, and weep a people inurned and their greatness changed into an empty name?—Volney: Ruins, chap. ii.
  The next Augustan age will dawn on the other side of the Atlantic. There will, perhaps, be a Thucydides at Boston, a Xenophon at New York, in time a Virgil at Mexico, and a Newton at Peru. At last some curious traveller from Lima will visit England, and give a description of the ruins of St. Paul’s, like the editions of Balbec and Palmyra.—Horace Walpole: Letter to Mason, Nov. 24, 1774.
  Where now is Britain?
      .      .      .      .
  Even as the savage sits upon the stone
  That marks where stood her capitols, and hears
  The bittern booming in the weeds, he shrinks
  From the dismaying solitude.
    Henry Kirke White: Time.
  In the firm expectation that when London shall be a habitation of bitterns, when St. Paul and Westminster Abbey shall stand shapeless and nameless ruins in the midst of an unpeopled marsh, when the piers of Waterloo Bridge shall become the nuclei of islets of reeds and osiers, and cast the jagged shadows of their broken arches on the solitary stream, some Transatlantic commentator will be weighing in the scales of some new and now unimagined system of criticism the respective merits of the Bells and the Fudges and their historians.—Shelley: Dedication to Peter Bell the Third. [back]
Note 4.
See Bolingbroke, page 304. [back]
Note 5.
Even bear-baiting was esteemed heathenish and unchristian: the sport of it, not the inhumanity, gave offence.—Hume: History of England, vol. i. chap. lxii. [back]
Note 6.
See Tennyson: “Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.” [back]
Note 7.
I wish I were as sure of anything as Macaulay is of everything.
William Windham (1750–1810). [back]
Note 8.
Macaulay, in a letter, June 29, 1831, says “I sent these lines to the ‘Times’ about three years ago.” [back]