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Share to Pinterest50 Quotes You Should Recognize From Classic Books

50 Quotes You Should Recognize From Classic Books

By Alicia Smith
Share to Pinterest50 Quotes You Should Recognize From Classic Books

These classic quotes might remind you of some of your favorite novels or authors. They might also be appetizers, encouragement to read a book you've heard about but never sought out. In all events, a glimpse into the thoughts of some of our greatest English writers is bound to be illuminating.


“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.”

Share to PinterestScott Shepherd at the theater play "The Wooster Group - Hamlet"

William Shakespeare is probably the best-known literary figure, and Hamlet is one of his most popular plays. The skull scene is often parodied, but do you know the impressive address Hamlet says while holding the skull?

In one of the most famous scenes in theatrical history, the Prince of Denmark takes the skull and delivers the following address:

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rims at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now, to mock your own grinning? Quite chap-fallen? Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come; make her laugh at that. Prithee, Horatio, tell me one thing..


“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

Share to Pinterestman relaxing in rocking-chair & reading red book in summer garden

Jane Austen is one of the most popular English authors in the USA. Northanger Abbey expresses well her brilliant analysis of high society and its foibles.

"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe's works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; -- I remember finishing it in two days -- my hair standing on end the whole time."

"Yes," added Miss Tilney, "and I remember that you undertook to read it aloud to me, and that when I was called away for only five minutes to answer a note, instead of waiting for me, you took the volume into the Hermitage Walk, and I was obliged to stay till you had finished it."

"Thank you, Eleanor; - a most honourable testimony. You see, Miss Morland, the injustice of your suspicions."


“Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him.”

Share to PinterestCostumed participants at the Dickens Festival

Charles Dickens expresses in this novel his brilliant understanding of English character types and Mr. Micawber of David Copperfield is one of his most endearing characterizations.

'I say,' returned Mr. Micawber, quite forgetting himself, and smiling again, 'the miserable wretch you behold. My advice is, never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time. Collar him!'

'My poor papa's maxim,' Mrs. Micawber observed.

'My dear,' said Mr. Micawber, 'your papa was very well in his way, and Heaven forbid that I should disparage him. Take him for all in all, we ne'er shall—in short, make the acquaintance, probably, of anybody else possessing, at his time of life, the same legs for gaiters, and able to read the same description of print, without spectacles. But he applied that maxim to our marriage, my dear; and that was so far prematurely entered into, in consequence, that I never recovered the expense.' Mr. Micawber looked aside at Mrs. Micawber, and added: 'Not that I am sorry for it. Quite the contrary, my love.' After which, he was grave for a minute or so.


“You know, Watson, I don't mind confessing to you that I have always had an idea that I would have made a highly efficient criminal”

Share to PinterestThe Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is seen as the prototype detective story, but the popularity of this story format has not diminished Holmes’s greatness. People at the time and still some today believe he is a real, living detective!

Holmes had looked annoyed, but his brow cleared, and he clapped me on the shoulder.

"Well, well, my dear fellow, be it so. We have shared this same room for some years, and it would be amusing if we ended by sharing the same cell. You know, Watson, I don't mind confessing to you that I have always had an idea that I would have made a highly efficient criminal. This is the chance of my lifetime in that direction. See here!" He took a neat little leather case out of a drawer, and opening it he exhibited a number of shining instruments. "This is a first-class, up-to-date burgling kit, with nickel-plated jemmy, diamond-tipped glass-cutter, adaptable keys, and every modern improvement which the march of civilization demands. Here, too, is my dark lantern. Everything is in order. Have you a pair of silent shoes?"


“The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!”

Share to PinterestLady Looking out to the valley

Jane Austen’s short life was rich in literary production and Sense and Sensibility (1811) her first published novel. This quote illustrates both the richness and thoughtfulness of her writing.

“To hear those beautiful lines which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness, such dreadful indifference!"

"He would certainly have done more justice to simple and elegant prose. I thought so at the time; but you would give him Cowper."

"Nay, mama, if he is not to be animated by Cowper! -- but we must allow for difference of taste. Elinor has not my feelings, and therefore she may overlook it, and be happy with him. But it would have broke my heart had I loved him, to hear him read with so little sensibility. Mama, the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much! He must have all Edward's virtues, and his person and manners must ornament his goodness with every possible charm."


“We can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.”

Share to PinterestA used postage stamp printed in Britain celebrating Famous Authoresses, showing George Eliot and The Mill on the Floss

In The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot enables Hunchbacked Philip Wakem to make up for his physical limitations with his intellect and so win the affections of the tragic heroine, Maggie.

“We can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them. How can we ever be satisfied without them until our feelings are deadened? I delight in fine pictures; I long to be able to paint such. I strive and strive, and can’t produce what I want. That is pain to me, and always will be pain, until my faculties lose their keenness, like aged eyes. Then there are many other things I long for,”—here Philip hesitated a little, and then said,—“things that other men have, and that will always be denied me. My life will have nothing great or beautiful in it; I would rather not have lived.”


“Nurture your mind with great thoughts. To believe in the heroic makes heroes."

Share to PinterestOld engraved portrait of Benjamin Disraeli, British conservative statesman

Benjamin Disraeli is best-known as the mid-nineteenth century British Prime Minister who made Queen Victoria Empress of India. He was an accomplished novelist and also used this medium to communicate his political views. From Coningsby:

His countenance was serious. He said in a voice of almost solemn melody: “Nurture your mind with great thoughts. To believe in the heroic makes heroes.” “You seem to me a hero,” said Coningsby in a tone of real feeling, which, half ashamed of his emotion, he tried to turn into playfulness. “I am, and must ever be,” said the stranger, “but a dreamer of dreams.” Then going towards the window and changing into a * familiar tone, as if to divert the conversation, he added: “What a delicious afternoon! I look forward to my ride with delight. You rest here?” “No, I go on to Nottingham, where I shall sleep.” “And I in the opposite direction.” And he rang the bell and ordered his horses. “I long to see your mare again,” said Coningsby. “She seemed to me so beautiful.”


“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”

Share to PinterestA young woman is sitting by a window and is looking out and day dreaming

Edgar Allen Poe's short story Eleonora is considered autobiographical, as Poe expresses his own feelings of marital guilt and mental instability. It was first published in 1842.

“I am come of a race noted for vigor of fancy and ardor of passion. Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence — whether much that is glorious — whether all that is profound — does not spring from disease of thought — from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect. They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. In their gray visions they obtain glimpses of eternity, and thrill, in waking, to find that they have been upon the verge of the great secret. In snatches, they learn something of the wisdom which is of good, and more of the mere knowledge which is of evil.”


“Let him then have powers commensurate with his utmost possible need, only let him be held strictly responsible for the exercise of them. Any other course would be injustice as well as bad policy”

Share to PinterestSailing ship

Henry Dana’s tale of a nineteenth-century voyage around Cape Horn, Two Years Before the Mast, is written in such beautiful English that you don’t need to be interested in the sea to enjoy it.

It has been found necessary to vest in every government, even the most democratic, some extraordinary, and, at first sight, alarming powers; trusting in public opinion, and subsequent accountability to modify the exercise of them. These are provided to meet exigencies, which an hope may never occur, but which yet by possibility may occur, and if they should, and there were no power to meet them instantly, there would be an end put to the government at once.

So it is with the authority of the shipmaster. It will not answer to say that he shall never do this and that thing, because it does not seem always necessary and advisable that it should be done. He has great cares and responsibilities; is answerable for everything; and is subject to emergencies which perhaps no other man exercising authority among civilized people is subject to. Let him, then, have powers commensurate with his utmost possible need; only let him be held strictly responsible for the exercise of them. Any other course would be injustice, as well as bad policy.


“Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes.”

Share to PinterestParents giving piggyback ride to children

In Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby, he explores the cruelty of a private schoolmaster in northern England and the struggles of a teacher to correct the injustices he encounters.

You have heard him speak, and have looked upon his face. Reflect, reflect, before it is too late, on the mockery of plighting to him at the altar, faith in which your heart can have no share—of uttering solemn words, against which nature and reason must rebel—of the degradation of yourself in your own esteem, which must ensue, and must be aggravated every day, as his detested character opens upon you more and more.

Shrink from the loathsome companionship of this wretch as you would from corruption and disease. Suffer toil and labour if you will, but shun him, shun him, and be happy. For, believe me, I speak the truth; the most abject poverty, the most wretched condition of human life, with a pure and upright mind, would be happiness to that which you must undergo as the wife of such a man as this!


“There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.”

Share to PinterestMany old books in a book shop or library

The story of Oliver Twist is one of the most popular of Dickens’s works, with the successful screen adaption playing a big part in this. Twist’s experience in the workhouse was based on the author’s own miserable childhood experience.

'There are a good many books, are there not, my boy?' said Mr. Brownlow, observing the curiosity with which Oliver surveyed the shelves that reached from the floor to the ceiling.

'A great number, sir,' replied Oliver. 'I never saw so many.'

'You shall read them, if you behave well,' said the old gentleman kindly; 'and you will like that, better than looking at the outsides,--that is, some cases; because there are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.'

'I suppose they are those heavy ones, sir,' said Oliver, pointing to some large quartos, with a good deal of gilding about the binding.

'Not always those,' said the old gentleman, patting Oliver on the head, and smiling as he did so; 'there are other equally heavy ones, though of a much smaller size. How should you like to grow up a clever man, and write books, eh?'


“How can we live without our lives? How will we know it's us without our past?”

Share to PinterestClose up hourglass or sand glass in living room

The Grapes of Wrath is a poignant 1930s portrait of the sharp divides between the dirt poor and wealthy during the Great Depression. The novel helped propel John Steinbeck to international literary fame.

How can we live without our lives? How will we know it's us without our past? No. Leave it. Burn it. They sat and looked at it and burned it into their memories. How'll it be not to know what land’s outside the door? How if you wake up in the night and know — and know the willow tree’s not there? Can you live without the willow tree? Well, no, you can’t. The willow tree is you. The pain on that mattress there — that dreadful pain — that’s you. And the children—if Sam takes his Injun bow an' his long roun' stick, I get to take two things. I choose the fluffy pilla. That's mine. Suddenly they were nervous. Got to get out quick now. Can't wait. We can't wait. And they piled up the goods in the yards and set fire to them.


“She burned too bright for this world.”

Share to PinterestAbstract image of night traffic in the city

The Victorian tale Wuthering Heights runs the gamut of emotions in its lively account of the stormy relationship between chief protagonists Heathcliff and Catherine. The only novel by Emily Bronte, it is a firm favorite with lovers of English lit.

"One time, however, we were near quarrelling. He said the pleasantest manner of spending a hot July day was lying from morning till evening on a bank of heath in the middle of the moors, with the bees humming dreamily about among the bloom, and the larks singing high up overhead, and the blue sky and bright sun shining steadily and cloudlessly.

That was his most perfect idea of heaven’s happiness: mine was rocking in a rustling green tree, with a west wind blowing, and bright white clouds flitting rapidly above; and not only larks, but throstles, and blackbirds, and linnets, and cuckoos pouring out music on every side, and the moors seen at a distance, broken into cool dusky dells; but close by great swells of long grass undulating in waves to the breeze; and woods and sounding water, and the whole world awake and wild with joy."


“The poor man with rich spirit is in all ways superior to the rich man with a poor spirit.”

Share to Pinterestold poor man walking by the streets of Amsterdam

Samuel Smiles was a Victorian clergyman who published what many consider the prototype guide to encourage people to make the most of their own talents. Selt Help was said to be one of the favorite books of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“Riches and rank have no necessary connexion with genuine gentlemanly qualities. The poor man may be a true gentleman,—in spirit and in daily life. He may be honest, truthful, upright, polite, temperate, courageous, self-respecting, and self-helping,—that is, be a true gentleman. The poor man with a rich spirit is in all ways superior to the rich man with a poor spirit. o borrow St. Paul’s words, the former is as “having nothing, yet possessing all things,” while the other, though possessing all things, has nothing. The first hopes everything, and fears nothing; the last hopes nothing, and fears everything. Only the poor in spirit are really poor. He who has lost all, but retains his courage, cheerfulness, hope, virtue, and self-respect, is still rich. For such a man, the world is, as it were, held in trust; his spirit dominating over its grosser cares, he can still walk erect, a true gentleman”


“What's the good of a home, if you are never in it?

Share to PinterestNorth American Home in the suburbs

George Grossmith was a leading Victorian comic actor and musician. Despite the century and more that has passed since publication of The Diary of a Nobody, its satirical portrayal of lower middle class suburban life still brings readers to laughter.

After my work in the City, I like to be at home. What’s the good of a home, if you are never in it? “Home, Sweet Home,” that’s my motto. I am always in of an evening. Our old friend Gowing may drop in without ceremony; so may Cummings, who lives opposite. My dear wife Caroline and I are pleased to see them, if they like to drop in on us.

But Carrie and I can manage to pass our evenings together without friends. There is always something to be done: a tin-tack here, a Venetian blind to put straight, a fan to nail up, or part of a carpet to nail down—all of which I can do with my pipe in my mouth; while Carrie is not above putting a button on a shirt, mending a pillow-case, or practising the “Sylvia Gavotte” on our new cottage piano (on the three years’ system).


“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

Share to PinterestCalves on the field

George Orwell, Animal Farm


“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

Share to Pinterestwoman painting "Past | Future" in the wall

George Orwell, 1984


"‘I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection."

Share to PinterestPrivate Detective Tools On The Wood Table Background

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes


“Some folks want their luck buttered."

Share to Pinterestbutter on knife

Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge


“There’s nothing––absolutely nothing––half so much worth doing as messing about in boats.”

Share to PinterestFishing boat and fisherman in ocean at dawn

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind In The Willows


“Granny Trill and Granny Wallon were traditional ancients of a kind we won’t see today, the last of that dignity of grandmothers to whom age was its own embellishment”

Share to PinterestSmiling grandmother

Laurie Lee, Cider with Rosie


"My hour for tea is half-past five, and my buttered toast waits for nobody."

Share to PinterestHot buttered toast slices on white background

Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White


“We had our breakfasts--whatever happens in a house, robbery or murder, it doesn't matter, you must have your breakfast.”

Share to PinterestHealthy breakfast on the kitchen table

Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone


“It is a law of nature we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble.”

Share to Pinterestmultipurpose pocket knife on wood

H.G.Wells, The Time Machine


“Perhaps it is impossible for a person who does no good not to do harm.”

Share to PinterestPoster for an 1899 theatrical production of Harriett Beecher Stowe's, Uncle Tom's Cabin showing Uncle Tom and Eva reading

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin


“Poetry makes life what lights and music do the stage.”

Share to PinterestVintage book of poetry outdoors with fallen leaves on it, under a tree in front of blurred sunset


"All the world‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances”

Share to PinterestTheater curtain and stage with dramatic lighting

William Shakespeare, As You Like It


“Now is the Winter of our discontent.”

Share to PinterestWinter landscape

William Shakespeare, Richard III


“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Share to Pinterestwoman have her arms up during sunset

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night


“To thine own self be true.”

Share to PinterestPort young brunette looking at huge bread in hamletic pose vintage

William Shakespeare, Hamlet


“A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity.”

Share to PinterestDignity written on desert road

Winston S. Churchill, The River War


“It is only when you meet someone of a different culture from yourself that you begin to realise what your own beliefs really are.”

Share to Pinterestbollards on the dock closeup
Sergiy1975 / Getty Images

George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier


“It is never too late to be wise.”

Share to PinterestEuropean Eagle Owl

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe


"A human spirit may find no insufficiency of food fit for it, even in the Custom House."

Share to PinterestThe Custom House in Dublin

Nathaniel Hawthorne, the House of the Seven Gables


“I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance.”

Share to Pinterestthoughtful man full of questions

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest


“Ideas! There is no occasion for them; all that class of ideas which can be available in such a case has a language of representative feelings.”

Share to Pinterestcrumped paper lighbulb

Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater


“Revenge, the sweetest morsel to the mouth that ever was cooked in hell.”

Share to Pinterest3D image of a person holding the words "Forgive" and "Revenge"

Walter Scott, The Heart of Mid-Lothian


“We are like the herb which flourisheth most when trampled upon”

Share to PinterestFresh herbs from garden on wooden rustic background

Walter Scott, Ivanhoe


“I know you despise me; allow me to say, it is because you don't understand me.”

Share to PinterestTwo angry men looking at each other

Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South


“I would always rather be happy than dignified.”

Share to PinterestWoman riding bicycle with her legs in the air

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre


“Remember, we can judge better by the conduct of people towards others than by their manner towards ourselves.”

Share to PinterestGrumpy old judge with wig holding hammer and book

Maria Edgeworth, The Absentee


“All we can know is that we know nothing. And that's the height of human wisdom.”

Share to Pinterestman thinking or solving problem

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace


“The virtue which requires to be ever guarded is scarcely worth the sentinel.”

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mbolina / Getty Images

Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield


"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

Share to PinterestSilhouettes of People Holding the Flag of USA

James Boswell, Life of Johnson


"No people can be great who have ceased to be virtuous."

Share to Pinterestsword

Dr. Samuel Johnson, An Introduction To The Political State of Great Britain


“What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?...Was ever anything so civil?”

Share to PinterestCup of coffee with book on sofa in living room

Anthony Trollope, The Warden


“I believe everything out of the common. The only thing to distrust is the normal.”

Share to PinterestWooden Blocks with the text: Normal

John Buchan, The 39 Steps


“Some people care too much. I think it's called love.”

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A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh


“He who studies old books will always find in them something new, and he who reads new books will always find in them something old.”

Share to Pinterestantique books on aged white table

Edward Bulwer-Lytton, The Coming Race


“Leave something for someone but don’t leave someone for something.”

Share to Pinterestlittle sad boy is sitting on a case and wait for someone or something

Enid Blyton, Five on a Hike Together



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