If you cannot write well, you cannot think well; if you cannot think well, others will do your thinking for you…. You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know.... There are no more than two rules for writing: having something to say, and saying it.
Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?... Actions are the first tragedy in life, words are the second. Words are perhaps the worst. Words are merciless.
The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame…. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all…. If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.… It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.
I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my works…. The very essence of romance is uncertainty…. Knowledge would be fatal. It is the uncertainty that charms one. A mist makes things wonderful…. Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes…. I am not young enough to know everything.
It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in such an inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, their absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack of style. They affect us just as vulgarity affects us. They give us an impression of sheer brute force, and we revolt against that. Sometimes, however, a tragedy that possesses artistic elements of beauty crosses our lives. If these elements of beauty are real, the whole thing simply appeals to our sense of dramatic effect. Suddenly we find that we are no longer the actors, but the spectators of the play. Or rather we are both. We watch ourselves, and the mere wonder of the spectacle enthralls us…. The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.
A writer is someone who has taught his mind to misbehave…. An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all…. A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it…. The truth is rarely pure and never simple…. Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.… All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be inartistic…. I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them…. Make some sacrifice for your art, and you will be repaid, but ask of art to sacrifice herself for you and a bitter disappointment may come to you…. No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist…. All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril…. Art is the only serious thing in the world. And the artist is the only person who is never serious. The only artists I have ever known who are personally delightful are bad artists. Good artists exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are. A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realize.
If you want to be a grocer, or a general, or a politician, or a judge, you will invariably become it; that is your punishment. If you never know what you want to be, if you live what some might call the dynamic life but what I will call the artistic life, if each day you are unsure of who you are and what you know you will never become anything, and that is your reward…. I won't tell you that the world matters nothing, or the world's voice, or the voice of society. They matter a good deal. They matter far too much. But there are moments when one has to choose between living one's own life, fully, entirely, completely -- or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands. You have that moment now. Choose!... Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.… To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.
Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation…. They are always asking a writer why he does not write like somebody else, or a painter why he does not paint like somebody else, quite oblivious of the fact that if either of them did anything of the kind he would cease to be an artist.… Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative…. The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates…. Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.
Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. And unselfishness is letting other people's lives alone, not interfering with them. Selfishness always aims at creating around it an absolute uniformity of type. Unselfishness recognizes infinite variety of type as a delightful thing, accepts it, acquiesces in it, enjoys it. It is not selfish to think for oneself. A man who does not think for himself does not think at all. It is grossly selfish to require of one's neighbor that he should think in the same way, and hold the same opinions. Why should he? If he can think, he will probably think differently. If he cannot think, it is monstrous to require thought of any kind from him. A red rose is not selfish because it wants to be a red rose. It would be horribly selfish if it wanted all the other flowers in the garden to be both red and roses.
Because to influence a person is to give him one's own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else's music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's nature perfectly -- that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one's self. Of course they are charitable. They feed the hungry, and clothe the beggar. But their own souls starve, and are naked. Courage has gone out of our race. Perhaps we never really had it. The terror of society, which is the basis of morals, the terror of God, which is the secret of religion -- these are the two things that govern us. And yet, I believe that if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream -- I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of medievalism, and return to the Hellenic ideal -- to something finer, richer, than the Hellenic ideal, it may be. But the bravest man amongst us is afraid of himself. The mutilation of the savage has its tragic survival in the self-denial that mars our lives. We are punished for our refusals. Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind, and poisons us. The body sins once, and has done with its sin, for action is a mode of purification. Nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure, or the luxury of a regret. The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful. It has been said that the great events of the world take place in the brain. It is in the brain, and the brain only, that the great sins of the world take place also.
It is a sad thing to think of, but there is no doubt that genius lasts longer than beauty. That accounts for the fact that we all take such pains to over-educate ourselves. In the wild struggle for existence, we want to have something that endures, and so we fill our minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place. The thoroughly well-informed man--that is the modern ideal. And the mind of the thoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like a bric-a-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above its proper value.
We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.... Life is a question of nerves, and fibres, and slowly built-up cells in which thought hides itself and passion has its dreams. You may fancy yourself safe and think yourself strong. But a chance tone of colour in a room or a morning sky, a particular perfume that you had once loved and that brings subtle memories with it, a line from a forgotten poem that you had come across again, a cadence from a piece of music that you had ceased to play.... I tell you, that it is on things like these that our lives depend.
Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer.… Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future…. You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit…. We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars…. Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world…. With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?