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Quote On Life Biography.


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136. Biography
On biography: "It is rarely well executed. They only who live with a man can write his life with any genuine exactness and discrimination; and few people who have lived with a man know what to remark about him. The chaplain of a late bishop, whom I was to assist in writing some memoirs of his Lordship, could tell me scarcely any thing."
Boswell: Life

236. Biography
I said, in writing a life, a man's peculiarities should be mentioned, because they mark his character. Johnson: "Sir, there is no doubt as to peculiarities: the question is, whether a man's vices should be mentioned; for instance, whether it should be mentioned that Addison and Parnell drank too freely: for people will probably more easily indulge in drinking from knowing this; so that more ill may be done by example than good by telling the whole truth." Here was an instance of his varying from himself in talk; for when Lord Hailes and he sat one morning calmly conversing in my house at Edinburgh, I well remember that Dr. Johnson maintained, that "If a man is to write A Panegyrick, he may keep vices out of sight; but if he professes to write A Life, he must represent it really as it was:" and when I objected to the danger of telling that Parnell drank to excess, he said, that "it would produce an instructive caution to avoid drinking, when it was seen, that even the learning and genius of Parnell could be debased by it." And in the Hebrides he maintained, as appears from my Journal, that a man's intimate friend should mention his faults, if he writes his life.
Boswell: Life

278. Biography
"If nothing but the bright side of characters should be shewn, we should sit down in despondency, and think it utterly impossible to imitate them in any thing."
Boswell: Life 

336. Biography
"I esteem biography, as giving us what comes near to ourselves, what we can turn to use."
Boswell: Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides

686. Biography; Moral Instruction
"Those parallel circumstances and kindred images to which we readily conform our minds are, above all other writings, to be found in narratives of the lives of particular persons; and therefore no species of writing seems more worthy of cultivation than biography, since none can be more delightful or more useful, none can more certainly enchain the heart by irresistible interest, or more widely diffuse instruction to every diversity of condition."
Johnson: Rambler #60 (October 13, 1750)

688. Biography; Humanity; Life
"I have often thought that there has rarely passed a life of which a judicious and faithful narrative would not be useful; for not only every man has, in the mighty mass of the world, great numbers in the same condition with himself, to whom his mistakes and miscarriages, escapes and expedients, would be of immediate and apparent use; but there is such a uniformity in the state of man, considered apart from adventitious and separable decorations and disguises, that there is scarce any possibility of good or ill but is common to human kind."
Johnson: Rambler #60 (October 13, 1750)

690. Biography; Moral Instruction
"It is frequently objected to relations of particular lives, that they are not distinguished by any striking or wonderful vicissitudes. The scholar who passed his life among his books, the merchant who conducted only his own affairs, the priest whose sphere of action was not extended beyond that of his duty, are considered as no proper objects of public regard, however they might have excelled in their several stations, whatever might have been their learning, integrity, and piety. But this notion arises from false measures of excellence and dignity, and must be eradicated by considering that, in the esteem of uncorrupted reason, what is of most use is of most value."
Johnson: Rambler #60 (October 13, 1750)

692. Biography
"Biography has often been allotted to writers who seem very little acquainted with the nature of their task, or very negligent about the performance. They rarely afford any other account than might be collected from public papers, but imagine themselves writing a life when they exhibit a chronological series of actions or preferments; and so little regard the manners or behavior of their heroes that more knowledge may be gained of a man's real character, by a short conversation with one of his servants, than from a formal and studied narrative, begun with his pedigree and ended with his funeral."
Johnson: Rambler #60 (October 13, 1750)

693. Biography
"There are, indeed, some natural reasons why these narratives are often written by such as were not likely to give much instruction or delight, and why most accounts of particular persons are barren and useless. If a life [biography] be delayed till interest and envy are at an end, we may hope for impartiality, but must expect little intelligence; for the incidents which give excellence to biography are of a volatile and evanescent kind, such as soon escape the memory, and are rarely transmitted by tradition."
Johnson: Rambler #60 (October 13, 1750)

694. Biography
"If the biographer writes from personal knowledge, and makes haste to gratify the public curiosity, there is danger lest his interest, his fear, his gratitude, or his tenderness overpower his fidelity, and tempt him to conceal, if not to invent. There are many who think it an act of piety to hide the faults or failings of their friends, even when they can no longer suffer by their detection; we therefore see whole ranks of characters adorned with uniform panegyric, and not to be known from one another but by extrinsic and casual circumstances."
Johnson: Rambler #60 (October 13, 1750)

695. Biography
"If we owe regard to the memory of the dead, there is yet more respect to be paid to knowledge, to virtue, and to truth."
Johnson: Rambler #60 (October 13, 1750)

735. Appearance; Biography; Character
"It is ... at home that every man must be known by those who would make a just estimate either of his virtue or felicity; for smiles and embroidery are alike occasional, and the mind is often for show in painted honour and fictitious benevolence."
Johnson: Rambler #68 (November 10, 1750)

736. Appearance; Biography; Character
"The most authentic witnesses of any man's character are those who know him in his own family, and see him without any restraint or rule of conduct, but such as he voluntarily prescribes to himself. If a man carries virtue with him into his private apartments, and takes no advantage of unlimited power or probable secrecy; if we trace him through the round of time, and find that his character, with those allowances which mortal frailty must always want, is uniform and regular, we have all the evidence of his sincerity that one man can have with regard to another; and, indeed, as hypocrisy cannot be its own reward, we may, without hesitation, determine that his heart is pure."
Johnson: Rambler #68 (November 10, 1750)

758. Biography; Criticism
"To judge rightly of an author, we must transport ourselves to his time, and examine what were the wants of his contemporaries, and what were his means of supplying them. That which is easy at one time was difficult at another."
Johnson: Dryden (Lives of the Poets)

1,021. Biography; Teachers
"They [Milton's biographers] are unwilling that Milton should be degraded to a schoolmaster; but, since it cannot be denied that he taught boys, one finds out that he taught for nothing, and another that his motive was only zeal for the propagation of learning and virtue; and all tell what they do not know to be true, only to excuse an act which no wise man will consider as in itself disgraceful. His father was alive, his allowance was not ample, and he supplied its deficiencies by an honest and useful employment."
Johnson: Milton (Lives of the Poets)

1,289. Biography
"Not to name the school or the masters of men illustrious for literature, is a kind of historical fraud, by which honest fame is injuriously diminished."
Johnson: Addison (Lives of the Poets)

1,294. Biography
"The necessity of complying with times and of sparing persons is the great impediment of biography. History may be formed from permanent monuments and records; but Lives can only be written from personal knowledge, which is growing every day less, and in a short time is lost forever. What is known can seldom be immediately told, and when it might be told it is no longer known. The delicate features of the mind, the nice discriminations of character, and the minute peculiarities of conduct are soon obliterated; and it is surely better that caprice, obstinacy, frolick, and folly, however they might delight in the description, should be silently forgotten than that by wanton merriment and unseasonable detection a pang should be given to a widow, a daughter, a brother, or a friend."
Johnson: Addison (Lives of the Poets)

1,329. Biography; Influence
"It is particularly the duty of those who consign illustrious names to posterity, to take care lest their readers be misled by ambiguous examples. That writer may be justly condemned as an enemy to goodness, who suffers fondness or interest to confound right with wrong, or to shelter the faults which even the wisest and best have committed from that ignominy which guilt ought always to suffer, and with which it should be more deeply stigmatized when dignified by its neighbourhood to uncommon worth, since we shall be in danger of beholding it without abhorrence, unless its turpitude be laid open, and the eye secured from the deception of surrounding splendour."
Johnson: Rambler #164 (October 12, 1751)

1,759. Biography; History
"He that records transactions in which himself was engaged, has not only an opportunity of knowing innumerable particulars which escape spectators, but has his natural powers exalted by that ardour which always rises at the remembrance of our own importance, and by which every man is enabled to relate his own actions better than another's."
Johnson: Idler #65 (July 14, 1759)

1,793. Biography
"Biography is, of the various kinds of narrative writing, that which is most eagerly read, and most easily applied to te purposes of life."
Johnson: Idler #84 (November 24, 1759)

1,797. Biography; Moral Instruction
"The mischievous consequences of vice and folly, of irregular desires and predominant passions, are best discovered by those relations which are levelled with the general surface of life, which tell not how any man became great, but how he was made happy; not how he lost the favour of his prince, but how he became discontented with himself."
Johnson: Idler #84 (November 24, 1759)

1,798. Biography
"Those relations are ... commonly of most value in which the writer tells his own story. He that recounts the life of another, commonly dwells most upon conspicuous events, lessens the familiarity of his tale to increase its dignity, shews his favourite at a distance, decorated and magnified like the ancient actors in their tragick dress, and endeavours to hide the man that he may produce a hero. But if it be true, which was said by a French prince, 'that no man was a hero to the servants of his chamber,' it is equally true, that every man is yet less a hero to himself."
Johnson: Idler #84 (November 24, 1759)

1,799. Biography
"The writer of his own life has at least the first qualification of an historian, the knowledge of the truth; and thought it may be plausibly objected that his temptations to disguise it are equal to his opportunities of knowing it, yet I cannot but think that impartiality may be expected with equal confidence from him that relates the passage of his own life, as from him that delivers the transactions of another."
Johnson: Idler #84 (November 24, 1759)

1,800. Biography
"Love of virtue will animate panegyrick, and hatred of wickedness embitter censure."
Johnson: Idler #84 (November 24, 1759)

1,861. Biography; Writing
"It very seldom happens to man that his business is his pleasure. What is done from necessity is so often to be done when against the present inclination, and so often fills the mind with anxiety, that an habitual dislike steals upon us, and we shrink involuntarily from the remembrance of our task. This is the reason why almost everyone wishes to quit his employment; he does not like another state, but is disgusted with his own.

"From this unwillingness to perform more than is required of that which is commonly performed with reluctance, it proceeds that few authors write their own lives. Statesmen, courtiers, ladies, generals, and seamen, have given to the world their own stories, and the events with which their different stations have made them acquainted. They retired to the closet as to a place of quiet and amusement, and pleased themselves with writing, because they could lay down the pen whenever they were weary. But the author, however conspicuous, or however important, either in the publick eye or in his own, leaves his life to be related by his successors, for he cannot gratify his vanity but by sacrificing his case."
Johnson: Idler #102 (March 29, 1760)

1,864. Biography; Humanity; Writing
It is commonly supposed that the uniformity of a studious life affords no matter for narration: but the truth is, that of the most studious life a great part passes without study. An author partakes of the common condition of humanity; he is born and married like another man; he has hopes and fears, expectations and disappointments, griefs and joys, and friends and enemies, like a courtier or a statesman; nor can I conceive why his affairs shuld not excite curiosity as much as the whisper of a drawing-room, or the factions of a camp.
Johnson: Idler #102 (March 29, 1760)

1,865. Biography; Reading; Writing
Nothing detains the reader's attention more powerfully than deep involutions of distress, or sudden vicissitudes of fortune; and these might be abundantly afforded by memoirs of the sons of literature. They are entangled by contracts which they know not how to fulfill, and obliged to write on subjects which they do not understand. Every publication is a new period of time, from which some increase or declension of fame is to be reckoned. The gradations of a hero's life are from battle to battle, and of an author's from book to book.
Johnson: Idler #102 (March 29, 1760)

Writer Virginia Woolf is a key figure in the modernist literary movement. She is best known for her writings between World War I and World War II including the 1929 essay, "A Room of One's Own," and novels Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando. Interest in Virginia Woolf and her writings revived with the feminist criticism of the 1970s.

Selected Virginia Woolf Quotations

On Women

• A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

• As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, I want no country. As a woman, my country is the world.

• I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.

• The history of men's opposition to women's emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.

• If one could be friendly with women, what a pleasure - the relationship so secret and private compared with relations with men. Why not write about it truthfully?

• The truth is, I often like women. I like their unconventionality. I like their completeness. I like their anonymity.

• This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room.

• Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.

• It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple: one must be a woman manly, or a man womanly.

On Women in Literature

• [W]omen have burnt like beacons in all the works of all the poets from the beginning of time.

• If woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some think even better.

• Have you any notion how many books are written about women in the course of one year? Have you any notion how many are written by men? Are you aware that you are, perhaps, the most discussed animal in the universe?

On History

• Nothing has really happened until it has been recorded.

• For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.

On Life and Living

• To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face, and to know it for what it last, to love it for what it is, and then to put it away.

• One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.

• When you consider things like the stars, our affairs don't seem to matter very much, do they?

• The beauty of the world, which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.

• Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by his heart, and his friends can only read the title.

• It's not catastrophes, murders, deaths, diseases, that age and kill us; it's the way people look and laugh, and run up the steps of omnibuses.

• Life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning.

• Someone has to die in order that the rest of us should value life more.

On Freedom

• To enjoy freedom we have to control ourselves.

• Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.

On Time

• I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don't have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.

• The mind of man works with strangeness upon the body of time. An hour, once it lodges in the queer element of the human spirit, may be stretched to fifty or a hundred times its clock length; on the other hand, an hour may be accurately represented by the timepiece of the mind by one second.

On Age

• The older one grows, the more one likes indecency.

• One of the signs of passing youth is the birth of a sense of fellowship with other human beings as we take our place among them.

• These are the soul's changes. I don't believe in ageing. I believe in forever altering one's aspect to the sun. Hence my optimism.

On War and Peace

• We can best help you to prevent war not by repeating your words and following your methods but by finding new words and creating new methods.

• If you insist upon fighting to protect me, or "our" country, let it be understood soberly and rationally between us that you are fighting to gratify a sex instinct which I cannot share; to procure benefits where I have not shared and probably will not share.

On Education and Intelligence

• The first duty of a lecturer is to hand you after an hour's discourse a nugget of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on the mantelpiece forever.

• If we help an educated man's daughter to go to Cambridge are we not forcing her to think not about education but about war? - not how she can learn, but how she can fight in order that she might win the same advantages as her brothers?

• There can be no two opinions as to what a highbrow is. He is the man or woman of thoroughbred intelligence who rides his mind at a gallop across country in pursuit of an idea.

On Writing

• Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.

• Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.

• It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

• Masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice.

• A biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves, whereas a person may well have as many as a thousand.

• Odd how the creative power at once brings the whole universe to order.

• When the shriveled skin of the ordinary is stuffed out with meaning, it satisfies the senses amazingly.

• A masterpiece is something said once and for all, stated, finished, so that it's there complete in the mind, if only at the back.

• I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.

• I was in a queer mood, thinking myself very old: but now I am a woman again - as I always am when I write.

• Humour is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue.

• Language is wine upon the lips.

On Reading

• When the Day of Judgment dawns and people, great and small, come marching in to receive their heavenly rewards, the Almighty will gaze upon the mere bookworms and say to Peter, "Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them. They have loved reading."

On Work

• Occupation is essential.

On Integrity and Truth

• If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.

• This soul, or life within us, by no means agrees with the life outside us. If one has the courage to ask her what she thinks, she is always saying the very opposite to what other people say.

• It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.

On Public Opinion

• On the outskirts of every agony sits some observant fellow who points.

• It is curious how instinctively one protects the image of oneself from idolatry or any other handling that could make it ridiculous, or too unlike the original to be believed any longer.

On Society

• Inevitably we look upon society, so kind to you, so harsh to us, as an ill-fitting form that distorts the truth; deforms the mind; fetters the will.

• Great bodies of people are never responsible for what they do.

• Those comfortably padded lunatic asylums which are known, euphemistically, as the stately homes of England.

On People

• Really I don't like human nature unless all candied over with art.

On Friendship

• Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends.

On Money

• Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for.

On Clothes

• There is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us, and not we, them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking.

On Religion

• I read the book of Job last night, I don't think God comes out well in it.

More About Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf Biography
Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
Books about Virginia Woolf
More Women's Quotes by Name:

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About These Quotes

Quote collection assembled by Jone Johnson Lewis. Each quotation page in this collection and the entire collection © Jone Johnson Lewis 1997-2011. This is an informal collection assembled over many years. I regret that I am not be able to provide the original source if it is not listed with the quote.

Citation information:
Jone Johnson Lewis. "Virginia Woolf Quotes." About Women's History. URL: . Date accessed: (today)..

Quote On Life Quotes Life Tumblr Lessons Goes on Is Short and Love God is Too Short is LIke a Camera is good.
Quote On Life Quotes Life Tumblr Lessons Goes on Is Short and Love God is Too Short is LIke a Camera is good. 
Quote On Life Quotes Life Tumblr Lessons Goes on Is Short and Love God is Too Short is LIke a Camera is good. 
Quote On Life Quotes Life Tumblr Lessons Goes on Is Short and Love God is Too Short is LIke a Camera is good. 
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Quote On Life Quotes Life Tumblr Lessons Goes on Is Short and Love God is Too Short is LIke a Camera is good. 
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Quote On Life Quotes Life Tumblr Lessons Goes on Is Short and Love God is Too Short is LIke a Camera is good. 

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