Hoyt & Roberts, comps. Hoyt’s New Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations. 1922.


An ounce of wit is worth a pound of sorrow.
Richard Baxter—Of Self-Denial.

Que les gens d’esprit sont bêtes.
What silly people wits are!
Beaumarchais—Barbier de Séville. I. 1.

Good wits will jump.
Buckingham—The Chances. Act IV. Sc. 1. John Byrom—The Winners. L. 39. Cervantes—Don Quixote. Pt. II. Ch. XXXVIII. Sterne—Tristram Shandy.

Aristotle said***melancholy men of all others are most witty.
Burton—Anatomy of Melancholy. Pt. I. Sec. III. Memb. 1. Subsect. 3.

We grant, although he had much wit,
H’ was very shy of using it,
As being loth to wear it out,
And therefore bore it not about;
Unless on holy days or so,
As men their best apparel do.
Butler—Hudibras. Pt. I. Canto I. L. 45.

Great wits and valours, like great states,
Do sometimes sink with their own weights.
Butler—Hudibras. Pt. II. Canto I. L. 269.

Votre esprit en donne aux autres.
Your wit makes others witty.
Catherine II—Letter to Voltaire.

Don’t put too fine a point to your wit for fear it should get blunted.
Cervantes—The Little Gypsy.

I am a fool, I know it; and yet, Heaven help me, I’m poor enough to be a wit.
Congreve—Love for Love. Act I. Sc. 1.

His wit invites you by his looks to come,
But when you knock, it never is at home.
Cowper—Conversation. L. 303.

Wit, now and then, struck smartly, shows a spark.
Cowper—Table Talk. L. 665.

Great wits are sure to madness near allied,
And thin partitions do their bounds divide.
Dryden—Absalom and Achitophel. Pt. I. L. 163.

Ev’n wit’s a burthen, when it talks too long.
Dryden—Sixth Satire of Juvenal. L. 573.

Wit will shine
Through the harsh cadence of a rugged line.
Dryden—To the Memory of Mr. Oldham.

Their heads sometimes so little that there is no room for wit; sometimes so long, that there is no wit for so much room.
Fuller—The Holy and Profane States. Bk. IV. Ch. XII. Of Natural Fools. Maxim I.

Mit wenig Witz und viel Behagen
Dreht jeder sich im engen Zirkeltanz
Wie junge Katzen mit dem Schwanz.
With little wit and ease to suit them,
They whirl in narrow circling trails,
Like kittens playing with their tails.
Goethe—Faust. I. 5. 94.

As a wit, if not first, in the very first line.
Goldsmith—Retaliation. L. 96.

Les beaux esprits lernen einander durch dergleichen rencontre erkennen.
It is by such encounters that wits come to know each other.
Andreas Gryphius—Horribilicribfax. Act IV. Sc. 7. Voltaire—Letter to Thieriot, June 30, 1760, used the expression. See Büchmann—Geflügelte Worte. Ed. 10. P. 123.

Wit is the salt of conversation, not the food.
Hazlitt—Lectures on the English Comic Writers. Lecture I.

Wit’s an unruly engine, wildly striking
Sometimes a friend, sometimes the engineer:
Hast thou the knack? pamper it not with liking;
But if thou want it, buy it not too deare
Many affecting wit beyond their power,
Have got to be a deare fool for an houre.
Herbert—Temple. Church Porch. St. 41.

At our wittes end.
Heywood—Proverbs. Pt. I. Ch. VIII. Psalms CVII. 27. (“Their wits.”)

Wit is the clash and reconcilement of incongruities; the meeting of extremes round a corner.
Leigh Hunt—Wit and Humour.

Wit, like money, bears an extra value when rung down immediately it is wanted. Men pay severely who require credit.
Douglas Jerrold—Specimens of Jerrold’s Wit. Wit.

This man [Chesterfield] I thought had been a lord among wits; but I find he is only a wit among lords.
Samuel Johnson—Boswell’s Life of Johnson. (1764).

Je n’ai jamais d’esprit qu’au bas de l’escalier.
I never have wit until I am below stairs.
La Bruyère, according to J. J. Rousseau. Esprit de l’escalier, backstair wit, is credited to M. de Treville by Pierre Nicole. For use of this phrase see The King’s English. P. 32. Note.

He must be a dull Fellow indeed, whom neither Love, Malice, nor Necessity, can inspire with Wit.
La Bruyère—The Characters or Manners of the Present Age. Ch. IV.

A man does not please long when he has only one species of wit.
La Rochefoucauld—Maxims. No. 438.

A small degree of wit, accompanied by good sense, is less tiresome in the long run than a great amount of wit without it.
La Rochefoucauld—Maxims. No. 529.

On peut dire que son esprit brille aux dépens de sa mèmoire.
One may say that his wit shines at the expense of his memory.
Le Sage—Gil Blas. III. XI. Of Carlos Alonso de la Ventoleria.

Medio de fonte leporum
Surgit amari aliquid quod in ipsis floribus angat.
In the midst of the fountain of wit there arises something bitter, which stings in the very flowers.
Lucretius. IV. 1,133.

Mother Wit. (Nature’s mother wit.)
Marlowe—Prologue to Tamerlaine the Great. Pt. I. Middleton—Your five Gallants. Act I. Sc. 1. Dryden—Ode to St. Cecilia. Spenser—Faerie Queene. Bk. IV. Canto X. St. 21. Taming of the Shrew. Act II. Sc. 1.

Have you summoned your wits from wool-gathering?
Thos. Middleton—The Family of Love. Act V. Sc. 3.

Nul n’aura de l’esprit, hors nous et nos amis.
No one shall have wit save we and our friends.
Moliére—Let Femmes Savantes. III. 2.

L’impromptu est justement la pierre de touche de l’esprit.
Repartee is precisely the touchstone of the man of wit.
Moliére—Les Prècieuses Ridicules. X.

La raillerie est un discours en faveur de son esprit centre son bon naturel.
Raillery is a mode of speaking in favor of one’s wit at the expense of one’s better nature.
Montesquieu—Pensèes Diverses.

Whose wit, in the combat, as gentle as bright,
Ne’er carried a heart-stain away on its blade.
Moore—Lines on the Death of Sheridan. St. 11.

Wit is the most rascally, contemptible, beggarly thing on the face of the earth.
Murphy—The Apprentice.

Sal Atticum.
Attic wit.
Pliny—Natural History. 31. 7. 41.

A wit with dunces, and a dunce with wits.
Pope—Dunciad. Bk. IV. L. 92.

You beat your pate, and fancy wit will come;
Knock as you please, there’s nobody at home.
Pope—Epigram. Last phrase in Dickens—Nicholas Nickleby.

For wit and judgment often are at strife,
Though meant each other’s aid, like man and wife.
Pope—Essay on Criticism. L. 82.

So modest plainness sets off sprightly wit,
For works may have more wit than does ’em good,
As bodies perish through excess of blood.
Pope—Essay on Criticism. L. 302.

How the wit brightens! how the style refines!
Pope—Essay on Criticism. L. 421.

If faith itself has different dresses worn,
What wonder modes in wit should take their turn?
Pope—Essay on Criticism. L. 446.

True wit is nature to advantage dress’d,
What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.
Pope—Essay on Criticism. Pt. II. L. 97. “Wit is that which has been often thought, but never before was well expressed.” As paraphrased by Johnson—Life of Cowley.

Some men’s wit is like a dark lantern, which serves their own turn and guides them their own way, but is never known (according to the Scripture phrase) either to shine forth before men, or to glorify their Father in heaven.
Pope—Thoughts on Various Subjects.

Generally speaking there is more wit than talent in this world. Society swarms with witty people who lack talent.
De Rivarol—On Mme. de Staël.

Fine wits destroy themselves with their own plots, in meddling with great affairs of state.
John Selden—Table Talk. Wit.

You have a nimble wit; I think it was made of Atalanta’s heels.
As You Like It. Act III. Sc. 2. L. 292.

Make the doors upon a woman’s wit and it will out at the casement; shut that and ’twill out at the key-hole; stop that, ’twill fly with the smoke out at the chimney.
As You Like It. Act IV. Sc. 1. L. 162.

Since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.
Hamlet. Act II. Sc. 2. L. 90.

They have a plentiful lack of wit.
Hamlet. Act II. Sc. 2. L. 201.

I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men.
Henry IV. Pt. II. Act I. Sc. 2. L. 11.

Rudeness is a sauce to his good wit,
Which gives men stomach to digest his words,
With better appetite.
Julius Cæsar. Act I. Sc. 2. L. 304.

His eye begets occasion for his wit;
For every object that the one doth catch,
The other turns to a mirth-moving jest.
Love’s Labour’s Lost. Act II. Sc. 1. L. 69.

Your wit’s too hot, it speeds too fast, ’twill tire.
Love’s Labour’s Lost. Act II. Sc. 1. L. 120.

Great men may jest with saints; ’tis wit in them;
But, in the less, foul profanation.
Measure for Measure. Act II. Sc. 2. L. 127.

He doth, indeed, show some sparks that are like wit.
Much Ado About Nothing. Act II. Sc. 3. L. 193.

A good old man, sir: he will be talking, as they say, When the age is in, the wit is out.
Much Ado About Nothing. Act III. Sc. 5. L. 36.

Sir, your wit ambles well; it goes easily.
Much Ado About Nothing. Act V. Sc. 1. L. 159.

Thy wit is as quick as the greyhound’s mouth; it catches.
Much Ado About Nothing. Act V. Sc. 2. L. 11.

To leave this keen encounter of our wits,
And fall somewhat into a slower method.
Richard III. Act I. Sc. 2. L. 115.

Thy wit is a very bitter sweeting: it is most sharp sauce.
Romeo and Juliet. Act II. Sc. 4. L. 87.

Look, he’s winding up the watch of his wit; by and by it will strike.
Tempest. Act II. Sc. 1. L. 12.

Those wits that think they have thee, do very oft prove fools; and I, that am sure I lack thee, may pass for a wise man; for what says Quinapalus? “Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.”
Twelfth Night. Act I. Sc. 5. L. 37.

Man could direct his ways by plain reason, and support his life by tasteless food; but God has given us wit, and flavour, and brightness, and laughter, and perfumers, to enliven the days of man’s pilgrimage, and to “charm his pained steps over the burning marle.”
Sydney Smith—Dangers and Advantages of Wit.

Surprise is so essential an ingredient of wit that no wit will bear repetition;—at least the original electrical feeling produced by any piece of wit can never be renewed.
Sydney Smith—Lectures on Moral Philosophy, No. 10.

One wit, like a knuckle of ham in soup, gives a zest and flavour to the dish, but more than one serves only to spoil the pottage.
Smollett—Humphrey Clinker.

Wit consists in knowing the resemblance of things which differ, and the difference of things which are alike.
Madame de Staël—Germany. Pt. III. Ch. VIII.

It is having in some measure a sort of wit to know how to use the wit of others.
Stanislaus (King of Poland)—Maxims and Moral Sentences.

It is with wits as with razors, which are never so apt to cut those they are employed on as when they have lost their edge.
Swift—Tale of a Tub: Author’s Preface.

Too much wit makes the world rotten.
Tennyson—Idylls of the King. The Last Tournament.

And wit its honey lent, without the sting.
Tennyson—To the Memory of Lord Talbot.

He had too thoughtful a wit: like a penknife in too narrow a sheath, too sharp for his body.
Izaak Walton—Life of George Herbert. Reported as Herbert’s saying about himself.

Nae wut without a portion o’ impertinence.
John Wilson—Noctes Ambrosianæ.

Though I am young, I scorn to flit
On the wings of borrowed wit.
George Wither—The Shepherd’s Hunting.

Against their wills what numbers ruin shun,
Purely through want of wit to be undone!
Nature has shown by making it so rare,
That wit’s a jewel which we need not wear.
Young—Epistle to Mr. Pope. Ep. II. L. 80.

As in smooth oil the razor best is whet,
So wit is by politeness sharpest set;
Their want of edge from their offence is seen,
Both pain us least when exquisitely keen.
Young—Love of Fame. Satire II. L. 118.