“Epigrams of a Cynic” by Ambrose Bierce
If every hypocrite in the United States were to break his leg to-day the country could be successfully invaded to-morrow by the warlike hypocrites of Canada.
To Dogmatism the Spirit of Inquiry is the same as the Spirit of Evil, and to pictures of the latter it appends a tail to represent the note of interrogation.
“Immoral” is the judgment of the stalled ox on the gamboling lamb.
In forgiving an injury be somewhat ceremonious, lest your magnanimity be construed as indifference.
True, man does not know woman. But neither does woman.
Age is provident because the less future we have the more we fear it.
Reason is fallible and virtue invincible; the winds vary and the needle forsakes the pole, but stupidity never errs and never intermits. Since it has been found that the axis of the earth wabbles, stupidity is indispensable as a standard of constancy.
In order that the list of able women may be memorized for use at meetings of the oppressed sex, Heaven has considerately made it brief.
Firmness is my persistency; obstinacy is yours.
Our vocabulary is defective; we give the same name to woman’s lack of temptation and man’s lack of opportunity.
“You scoundrel, you have wronged me,” hissed the philosopher. “May you live forever!”
The man who thinks that a garnet can be made a ruby by setting it in brass is writing “dialect” for publication.
“Who art thou, stranger, and what dost thou seek?” “I am Generosity, and I seek a person named Gratitude.” “Then thou dost not deserve to find her.” “True. I will go about my business and think of her no more. But who art thou, to be so wise?” “I am Gratitude—farewell forever.”
There was never a genius who was not thought a fool until he disclosed himself; whereas he is a fool then only.
The boundaries that Napoleon drew have been effaced; the kingdoms that he set up have disappeared. But all the armies and statecraft of Europe cannot unsay what you have said.
A conqueror arose from the dead. “Yesterday,” he said, “I ruled half the world.” “Please show me the half that you ruled,” said an angel, pointing out a wisp of glowing vapor floating in space. “That is the world.”
“Who art thou, shivering in thy furs?” “My name is Avarice. What is thine?” “Unselfishness.” “Where is thy clothing, placid one?” “Thou art wearing it.”
To be comic is merely to be playful, but wit is a serious matter. To laugh at it is to confess that you do not understand.
If you would be accounted great by your contemporaries, be not too much greater than they.
To have something that he will not desire, nor know that he has—such is the hope of him who seeks the admiration of posterity. The character of his work does not matter; he is a humorist.
Women, and foxes, being weak, are distinguished by superior tact.
To fatten pigs, confine and feed them; to fatten rogues, cultivate a generous disposition.
Every heart is the lair of a ferocious animal. The greatest wrong that you can put upon a man is to provoke him to let out his beast.
When two irreconcilable propositions are presented for assent the safest way is to thank Heaven that we are not as the unreasoning brutes, and believe both.
Truth is more deceptive than falsehood, for it is more frequently presented by those from whom we do not expect it, and so has against it a numerical presumption.
A bad marriage is like an electrical thrilling machine: it makes you dance, but you can’t let go.
Meeting Merit on a street-crossing, Success stood still. Merit stepped off into the mud and went around him, bowing his apologies, which Success had the grace to accept.
“I think,” says the philosopher divine, “Therefore I am.” Sir, here’s a surer sign: We know we live, for with our every breath we feel the fear and imminence of death.
The first man you meet is a fool. If you do not think so ask him and he will prove it.
He who would rather inflict injustice than suffer it will always have his choice, for no injustice can be done to him.
There are as many conceptions of a perfect happiness hereafter as there are minds that have marred their happiness here.
We yearn to be, not what we are, but what we are not. If we were immortal we should not crave immortality.
A rabbit’s foot may bring good luck to you, but it brought none to the rabbit.
Before praising the wisdom of the man who knows how to hold his tongue ascertain if he knows how to hold his pen.
The most charming view in the world is obtained by introspection.
Love is unlike chess, in that the pieces are moved secretly and the player sees most of the game. But the looker-on has one incomparable advantage: he is not the stake.
It is not for nothing that tigers choose to hide in the jungle, for commerce and trade are carried on, mostly, in the open.
We say that we love, not whom we will, but whom we must. Our judgment need not, therefore, go to confession.
Of two kinds of temporary insanity, one ends in suicide, the other in marriage.
If you give alms from compassion, why require the beneficiary to be “a deserving object?” No other adversity is so sharp as destitution of merit.
Bereavement is the name that selfishness gives to a particular privation.
The highest and rarest form of contentment is approval of the success of another.
What a woman most admires in a man is distinction among men. What a man most admires in a woman is devotion to himself.
Those who most loudly invite God’s attention to themselves when in peril of death are those who should most fervently wish to escape his observation.
When you have made a catalogue of your friend’s faults it is only fair to supply him with a duplicate, so that he may know yours.
How fascinating is Antiquity!—in what a golden haze the ancients lived their lives! We, too, are ancients. Of our enchanting time Posterity’s great poets will sing immortal songs, and its archaeologists will reverently uncover the foundations of our palaces and temples. Meantime we swap jack-knives.
Observe, my son, with how austere a virtue the man without a cent puts aside the temptation to manipulate the market or acquire a monopoly.
For study of the good and the bad in woman two women are a needless expense.
Hope is an explorer who surveys the country ahead. That is why we know so much about the Hereafter and so little about the Heretofore.
Remembering that it was a woman who lost the world, we should accept the act of cackling geese in saving Rome as partial reparation.
There are two classes of women who may do as they please; those who are rich and those who are poor. The former can count on assent, the latter on inattention.
When into the house of the heart Curiosity is admitted as the guest of Love she turns her host out of doors.
Happiness has not to all the same name: to Youth she is known as the Future; Age knows her as the Dream.
“Who art thou, there in the mire?” “Intuition. I leaped all the way from where thou standest in fear on the brink of the bog.” “A great feat, madam; accept the admiration of Reason, sometimes known as Dryfoot.”
In eradicating an evil, it makes a difference whether it is uprooted or rooted up. The difference is in the reformer.
The Audible Sisterhood rightly affirms the equality of the sexes: no man is so base but some woman is base enough to love him.
Having no eyes in the back of the head, we see ourselves on the verge of the outlook. Only he who has accomplished the notable feat of turning about knows himself the central figure in the universe.
Truth is so good a thing that falsehood can not afford to be without it.
If women did the writing of the world, instead of the talking, men would be regarded as the superior sex in beauty, grace and goodness.
Love is a delightful day’s journey. At the farther end kiss your companion and say farewell.
Let him who would wish to duplicate his every experience prate of the value of life.
The game of discontent has its rules, and he who disregards them cheats. It is not permitted to you to wish to add another’s advantages or possessions to your own; you are permitted only to wish to be another.
The creator and arbiter of beauty is the heart; to the male rattlesnake the female rattlesnake is the loveliest thing in nature.
Thought and emotion dwell apart. When the heart goes into the head there is no dissension; only an eviction.
If you want to read a perfect book there is only one way: write it.
“Where goest thou, Ignorance?” “To fortify the mind of a maiden against a peril.” “I am going thy way. My name is Knowledge.” “Scoundrel! Thou art the peril.”
A prude is one who blushes modestly at the indelicacy of her thoughts and virtuously flies from the temptation of her desires.
The man who is always taking you by the hand is the same who if you were hungry would take you by the cafe.
When a certain sovereign wanted war he threw out a diplomatic intimation; when ready, a diplomat.
If public opinion were determined by a throw of the dice, it would in the long run be half the time right.
The gambling known as business looks with austere disfavor upon the business known as gambling.
A virtuous widow is the most loyal of mortals; she is faithful to that which is neither pleased nor profited by her fidelity.
Of one who was “foolish” the creators of our language said that he was “fond.” That we have not definitely reversed the meanings of the words should be set down to the credit of our courtesy.
Rioting gains its end by the power of numbers. To a believer in the wisdom and goodness of majorities it is not permitted to denounce a successful mob.
Virtue is not necessary to a good reputation, but a good reputation is helpful to virtue.
When lost in a forest go always down hill. When lost in a philosophy or doctrine go up-ward.
We submit to the majority because we have to. But we are not compelled to call our attitude of subjection a posture of respect.
Pascal says that an inch added to the length of Cleopatra’s nose would have changed the fortunes of the world. But having said this, he has said nothing, for all the forces of nature and all the power of dynasties could not have added an inch to the length of Cleopatra’s nose.
Our luxuries are always masquerading as necessaries. Woman is the only necessary having the boldness and address to compel recognition as a luxury.
“I am the seat of the affections,” said the heart. “Thank you,” said the judgment, “you save my face.”
“Who art thou that weepest?” “Man.” “Nay, thou art Egotism. I am the Scheme of the Universe. Study me and learn that nothing matters.” “Then how does it happen that I weep?”
A slight is less easily forgiven than an injury, because it implies something of contempt, indifference, an overlooking of our importance; whereas an injury presupposes some degree of consideration. “The blackguards!” said a traveler whom Sicilian brigands had released without ransom; “did they think me a person of no consequence?”
The people’s plaudits are unheard in hell.
Generosity to a fallen foe is a virtue that takes no chances.
If there was a world before this we must all have died impenitent.
We are what we laugh at. The stupid person is a poor joke, the clever, a good one.
If every man who resents being called a rogue resented being one this would be a world of wrath.
Force and charm are important elements of character, but it counts for little to be stronger than honey and sweeter than a lion.
A popular author is one who writes what the people think. Genius invites them to think something else.
Asked to describe the Deity, a donkey would represent him with long ears and a tail. Man’s conception is higher and truer: he thinks of him as somewhat resembling a man.
Christians and camels receive their burdens kneeling.
The sky is a concave mirror in which Man sees his own distorted image and seeks to propitiate it.
Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long in the land, but do not hope that the life insurance companies will offer thee special rates.
Persons who are horrified by what they believe to be Darwin’s theory of the descent of Man from the Ape may find comfort in the hope of his return.
A strong mind is more easily impressed than a weak; you shall not so readily convince a fool that you are a philosopher as a philosopher that you are a fool.
A cheap and easy cynicism rails at everything. The master of the art accomplishes the formidable task of discrimination.
When publicly censured our first instinct is to make everybody a codefendant.
Men are polygamous by nature and monogamous for opportunity. It is a faithful man who is willing to be watched by a half-dozen wives.
The virtues chose Modesty to be their queen. “I did not know that I was a virtue,” she said. “Why did you not choose Innocence?” “Because of her ignorance,” they replied. “She knows nothing but that she is a virtue.”
It is a wise “man’s man” who knows what it is that he despises in a “ladies’ man.”
If the vices of women worshiped their creators men would boast of the adoration they inspire.
The only distinction that democracies reward is a high degree of conformity.
Slang is the speech of him who robs the literary garbage carts on their way to the dumps.
A woman died who had passed her life in affirming the superiority of her sex. “At last,” she said, “I shall have rest and honors.” “Enter,” said Saint Peter; “thou shalt wash the faces of the dear little cherubim.”
To woman a general truth has neither value nor interest unless she can make a particular application of it. And we say that women are not practical!
The ignorant know not the depth of their ignorance, but the learned know the shallowness of their learning.
He who relates his success in charming woman’s heart may be assured of his failure to charm man’s ear.
When among the graves of thy fellows, walk with circumspection; thine own is open at thy feet.
As the physiognomist takes his own face as the highest type and standard, so the critic’s theories are imposed by his own limitations.
“Heaven lies about us in our infancy,” and our neighbors take up the tale as we mature.
Love is a distracted attention: from contemplation of one’s self one turns to consider one’s dream.
“Halt!—who goes there?” “Death.” “Advance, Death, and give the countersign.” “How needless! I care not to enter thy camp tonight. Thou shalt enter mine.” “What! I a deserter?” “Nay, a great soldier. Thou shalt overcome all the enemies of mankind.” “Who are they?” “Life and the Fear of Death.”
The palmist looks at the wrinkles made by closing the hand and says they signify character. The philosopher reads character by what the hand most loves to close upon.
A noble enthusiasm in praise of Woman is not incompatible with a spirited zeal in defamation of women.
The money-getter who pleads his love of work has a lame defense, for love of work at money-getting is a lower taste than love of money.
He who thinks that praise of mediocrity atones for disparagement of genius is like one who should plead robbery in excuse of theft.
The most disagreeable form of masculine hypocrisy is that which finds expression in pretended remorse for impossible gallantries.
Any one can say that which is new; any one that which is true. For that which is both new and true we must go duly accredited to the gods and await their pleasure.
The test of truth is Reason, not Faith; for to the court of Reason must be submitted even the claims of Faith.
“Whither goest thou?” said the angel. “I know not.” “And whence hast thou come?” “I know not.” “But who art thou?” “I know not.” “Then thou art Man. See that thou turn not back, but pass on to the place whence thou hast come.”
If Expediency and Righteousness are not father and son they are the most harmonious brothers that ever were seen.
Train the head, and the heart will take care of itself; a rascal is one who knows not how to think.
Taunts are allowable in the case of an obstinate husband: balky horses may best be made to go by having their ears bitten.
Adam probably regarded Eve as the woman of his choice, and exacted a certain gratitude for the distinction of his preference.
A man is the sum of his ancestors; to reform him you must begin with a dead ape and work downward through a million graves. He is like the lower end of a suspended chain; you can sway him slightly to the right or the left, but remove your hand and he falls into line with the other links.
He who thinks with difficulty believes with alacrity. A fool is a natural proselyte, but he must be caught young, for his convictions, unlike those of the wise, harden with age.
These are the prerogatives of genius: To know without having learned; to draw just conclusions from unknown premises; to discern the soul of things.
Although one love a dozen times, yet will the latest love seem the first. He who says he has loved twice has not loved once.
Men who expect universal peace through invention of destructive weapons of war are no wiser than one who, noting the improvement of agricultural implements, should prophesy an end to the tilling of the soil.
To parents only, death brings an inconsolable sorrow. When the young die and the old live, nature’s machinery is working with the friction that we name grief.
Empty wine bottles have a bad opinion of women.
Civilization is the child of human ignorance and conceit. If Man knew his insignificance in the scheme of things he would not think it worth while to rise from barbarity to enlightenment. But it is only through enlightenment that he can know.
Along the road of life are many pleasure resorts, but think not that by tarrying in them you will take more days to the journey. The day of your arrival is already recorded.
The most offensive egotist is he that fears to say “I” and “me.” “It will probably rain”—that is dogmatic. “I think it will rain”—that is natural and modest. Montaigne is the most delightful of essayists because so great is his humility that he does not think it important that we see not Montaigne. He so forgets himself that he employs no artifice to make us forget him.
If thou wilt not laugh at a rich man’s wit thou art an anarchist, and if thou take not his word thou shalt take nothing that he hath. Make haste, therefore, to be civil to thy betters, and so prosper, for prosperity is the foundation of the state.
Death is not the end; there remains the litigation over the estate.
When God makes a beautiful woman, the devil opens a new register.
When Eve first saw her reflection in a pool, she sought Adam and accused him of infidelity.
“Why dost thou weep?” “For the death of my wife. Alas! I shall never again see her!” “Thy wife will never again see thee, yet she does not weep.”
What theology is to religion and jurisprudence to justice, etiquette is to civility.
“Who art thou that despite the piercing cold and thy robe’s raggedness seemest to enjoy thyself?” “Naught else is enjoyable—I am Contentment.” “Ha! thine must be a magic shirt. Off with it! I shiver in my fine attire.” “I have no shirt. Pass on, Success.”
Ignorance when inevitable is excusable. It may be harmless, even beneficial; but it is charming only to the unwise. To affect a spurious ignorance is to disclose a genuine.
Because you will not take by theft what you can have by cheating, think not yours is the only conscience in the world. Even he who permits you to cheat his neighbor will shrink from permitting you to cheat himself.
“God keep thee, stranger; what is thy name?” “Wisdom. And thine?” “Knowledge. How does it happen that we meet?” “This is an intersection of our paths.” “Will it ever be decreed that we travel always the same road?” “We were well named if we knew.”
Nothing is more logical than persecution. Religious tolerance is a kind of infidelity.
Convictions are variable; to be always consistent is to be sometimes dishonest.
The philosopher’s profoundest conviction is that which he is most reluctant to express, lest he mislead.
When exchange of identities is possible, be careful; you may choose a person who is willing.
The most intolerant advocate is he who is trying to convince himself.
In the Parliament of Otumwee the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed a tax on fools. “The right honorable and generous gentleman,” said a member, “forgets that we already have it in the poll tax.”
“Whose dead body is that?” “Credulity’s.” “By whom was he slain?” “Credulity.” “Ah, suicide.” “No, surfeit. He dined at the table of Science, and swallowed all that was set before him.”
Don’t board with the devil if you wish to be fat.
Pray do not despise your delinquent debtor; his default is no proof of poverty.
Courage is the acceptance of the gambler’s chance: a brave man bets against the game of the gods.
“Who art thou?” “A philanthropist. And thou?” “A pauper.” “Away! you have nothing to relieve my needs.”
Youth looks forward, for nothing is behind! Age backward, for nothing is before.