3 March 1756|
Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England, Great Britain
|Died||7 April 1836
London, England, UK
|Occupation||Journalist, political philosopher, novelist|
|Spouse||Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Jane Clairmont|
|Children||Mary Shelley, William Godwin the Younger|
We cannot, any of us, do all the things of which mankind stand in need; we must have fellow-labourers.
The mind of a child is no less vagrant than his steps; it pursues the gossamer and flies from object to object, lawless and unconfined, and it is equally necessary to the development of his frame that his thoughts and his body should be free from fetters.
Perseverance is an active principle, and cannot continue to operate but under the influence of desire.
The man who plays his part upon the theatre of life almost always maintains what may be called an artificial character.
Invisible things are the only realities; invisible things alone are the things that shall remain.
Above all we should not forget that government is an evil, a usurpation upon the private judgement and individual conscience of mankind.
How nations and races of men are to be so governed as may be most conducive to the improvement and happiness of all is one of the most interesting questions that can be offered to our consideration.
In infamy, it is wisely provided that he who stands highest in the ranks of society has the heaviest load to sustain.
Law is made for man and not man for the law. Wherever we can be sure that the most valuable interests of a nation require that we should decide one way, that way we ought to decide.
To diminish the cases in which the assistance of others is felt absolutely necessary is the only genuine road to independence.
What indeed is life, unless so far as it is enjoyed? It does not merit the name.
Occupation – pressing occupation that will not be said nay – is a sovereign remedy for grief.
While my mother lived, I always felt to a certain degree as if I had somebody who was my superior and who exercised a mysterious protection over me. I belonged to something – I hung to something – there is nothing that has so much reverence and religion in it as affection to parents.
In the summer of 1791, I gave up my concern in the 'New Annual Register,' the historical part of which I had written for seven years, and abdicated, I hope forever, the task of performing a literary labour, the nature of which should be dictated by anything but the promptings of my own mind.
It is necessary for him who would endure existence with patience that he should conceive himself to be something – that he should be persuaded he is not a cipher in the muster-roll of man.
It is questionless desirable in all ordinary cases, wherever positive law is established, to restrain ourselves within the letter of that law and to allow the criminal all the benefit, if benefit to him shall result, of any evasion or escape that the law shall afford him.
Let no man despise the oracles of books! A book is a dead man, a sort of mummy, embowelled and embalmed, but that once had flesh and motion and a boundless variety of determinations and actions.
Enthusiasm is always an interesting spectacle. When it expresses itself with an honest and artless eloquence, it is difficult to listen to it and not, in some degree, to catch the flame.
Hope is in some respects a thing more brilliant, more vivifying, than fruition. What we have looked forward to with eager and earnest aspiration is never in all respects equal to the picture we had formed of it. The very uncertainty enhances the enjoyment.
The proper method for hastening the decay of error is by teaching every man to think for himself.
In contemplation and reverie, one thought introduces another perpetually; and it is by similarity, or the hooking of one upon the other, that the process of thinking is carried on.
The evils that arise to us from the structure of the material universe are neither trivial nor few, yet the history of political society sufficiently shows that man is, of all other beings, the most formidable enemy to man.
Sympathy is one of the principles most widely rooted in our nature: we rejoice to see ourselves reflected in another; and, perversely enough, we sometimes have a secret pleasure in seeing the sin which dwells in ourselves existing under a deformed and monstrous aspect in another.
When the calamity we feared is already arrived, or when the expectation of it is so certain as to shut out hope, there seems to be a principle within us by which we look with misanthropic composure on the state to which we are reduced, and the heart sullenly contracts and accommodates itself to what it most abhorred.
One of the prerogatives by which man is eminently distinguished from all other living beings inhabiting this globe of earth, consists in the gift of reason.
The most desirable state of mankind is that which maintains general security with the smallest encroachment upon individual independence.
Everything in the world is conducted by gradual process. This seems to be the great principle of harmony in the universe.
I am most peremptorily of opinion against putting children extremely forward. If they desire it themselves, I would not balk them, for I love to attend to these unsophisticated indications. But otherwise, 'festina lente' is my maxim in education.
As the true object of education is not to render the pupil the mere copy of his preceptor, it is rather to be rejoiced in, than lamented, that various reading should lead him into new trains of thinking.
The question now afloat in the world respecting 'things as they are' is the most interesting that can be presented to the human mind. While one party pleads for reformation and change, the other extols in the warmest terms the existing constitution of society.
Human creatures, living in the circle of their intimates and friends, are too apt to remain in ignorance of the comments and instructions which may be made of what they say and do in the world at large. I entertain a great horror of this ignorance.
Great changes cannot take place in the minds of generations of men without a corresponding change in their external symbols. There must be a harmony between the inner and the outward condition of human beings, and the progress of the one must keep pace with the progress of the other.
We cannot do justice to the deeds of former times if we do not in some degree remove ourselves from the circumstances in which we stand and substitute those by which the real actors were surrounded.
How are the faculties of man to be best developed and his happiness secured? The state of a king is not favorable to this, nor the state of the noble and rich men of the earth. All this is artificial life, the inventions of vanity and grasping ambition, by which we have spoiled the man of nature and of pure, simple, and undistorted impulses.
Religion is the most important of all things: the great point of discrimination that divides the man from the brute. It is our special prerogative that we can converse with that which we cannot see and believe in that the existence of which is reported to us by none of our senses.
It is probable that there is no one thing that it is of eminent importance for a child to learn.
The four principal oral instructors to whom I feel my mind indebted for improvement were Joseph Fawcet, Thomas Holcroft, George Dyson, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
The real or supposed rights of man are of two kinds, active and passive; the right in certain cases to do as we list; and the right we possess to the forbearance or assistance of other men.
God is a being who is himself the cause of his own existence. His prerogative is to perceive before there was anything to be perceived. He is the creator of the universe; He operated upon nothing and turned it into something.
A world of derived beings, an immense, wide creation, requires an extended scale with various ranks and orders of existence.
My temper is of a recluse and contemplative cast; had it been otherwise, I should, perhaps, on some former occasions, have entered into the active concerns of the world and not have been connected with it merely as a writer of books.
The admission of one man, either hereditarily or for life only, into the place of chief of a country, is an evidence of the infirmity of man. Nature has set up no difference between a king and other men; a king, therefore, is purely the creation of our own hands.
There is a class of persons whose souls are essentially non-conductors to the electricity of sentiment, and whose minds seem to be filled with their own train of thinking, convictions, and purposes to the exclusion of everything else.
Study with desire is real activity; without desire it is but the semblance and mockery of activity.
I am now in the full maturity of my age and vigor of my mind. Persons of various descriptions have repeatedly solicited me to turn my mind to dramatical composition. It was, indeed, the first amusement of my thoughts in my school-boy cell.
A just and a brave man acts fearlessly and with explicitness; he does not shun, but court, the scrutiny of mankind; he lives in the face of day, and the whole world confesses the clearness of his spirit and the rectitude of his conduct.
Perhaps the majority of human beings never think of standing by themselves, and choosing their own employments, till the sentence has been regularly promulgated to them, 'It is time for you to take care of yourself.'
Social man regards all those by whom he is surrounded as enemies, or beings who may become such. He is ever on his guard lest his plain speaking should be willfully perverted, or should assume a meaning he never thought of, through the animosity or prejudice of the individual that hears him.
Was ever a great discovery prosecuted or an important benefit conferred upon the human race by him who was incapable of standing and thinking and feeling alone?
There is nothing that human imagination can figure brilliant and enviable that human genius and skill do not aspire to realize.
Soundness of understanding is connected with freedom of enquiry; consequently, opinion should, as far as public security will admit, be exempted from restraint.
Till 1782, I believed in the doctrine of Calvin: that is, that the majority of mankind were objects of divine condemnation and that their punishment would be everlasting. The 'Systeme de la Nature,' read about the beginning of that year, changed my opinion and made me a Deist.
I know nothing worth the living for but usefulness and the service of my fellow-creatures. The only object I pursue is to increase, as far as lies in my power, the quantity of their knowledge and goodness and happiness.
There can be no passion, and by consequence no love, where there is not imagination.
Innocence is not virtue. Virtue demands the active employment of an ardent mind in the promotion of the general good. No man can be eminently virtuous who is not accustomed to an extensive range of reflection.
In the two novels I have published, it was my fortune at different times, and from different persons, to hear the most unqualified censure long before it was possible for me to hear the voice of the public. But my temper was not altered, nor my courage subdued.
No one can display or can cultivate a fervent zeal in the mere repetition of a form.
The execution of any thing considerable implies in the first place previous persevering meditation.
The value of a man is in his intrinsic qualities: in that of which power cannot strip him and which adverse fortune cannot take away. That for which he is indebted to circumstances is mere trapping and tinsel.
Men who do not contend in earnest can have little warmth and fervor in what they undertake, and are more than half prepared to betray the cause, in the vindication of which they have engaged their services.
Woe to the man who is always busy – hurried in a turmoil of engagements, from occupation to occupation, and with no seasons interposed of recollection, contemplation and repose! Such a man must inevitably be gross and vulgar, and hard and indelicate – the sort of man with whom no generous spirit would desire to hold intercourse.
Extraordinary circumstances often bring along with them extraordinary strength. No man knows, till the experiment, what he is capable of effecting.
Religion is among the most beautiful and most natural of all things – that religion which 'sees God in clouds and hears Him in the wind,' which endows every object of sense with a living soul, which finds in the system of nature whatever is holy, mysterious and venerable, and inspires the bosom with sentiments of awe and veneration.
I was brought up in great tenderness, and though my mind was proud to independence, I was never led to much independence of feeling.
What is there so offensive to which habit has not the power to reconcile us?
The lessons of their early youth regulated the conduct of their riper years.
Without imagination, there can be no genuine ardor in any pursuit or for any acquisition, and without imagination, there can be no genuine morality, no profound feeling of other men's sorrow, no ardent and persevering anxiety for their interests.
Man is the only creature we know, that, when the term of his natural life is ended, leaves the memory of himself behind him.
I believe in this being, not because I have any proper or direct knowledge of His existence, but I am at a loss to account for the existence and arrangement of the visible universe, and, being left in the wide sea of conjecture without a clue from analogy or experience, I find the conjecture of a God easy, obvious, and irresistible.
There must be room for the imagination to exercise its powers; we must conceive and apprehend a thousand things which we do not actually witness.
The great model of the affection of love in human beings is the sentiment which subsists between parents and children.
Harshness and unkindness are relative. The appearance of them may be the fruits of the greatest kindness.
Tenderness is the name for a lover's most exquisite sensation; protection is implied in his most generous and heart-thrilling impulse.
I am an enemy to revolutions. I abhor, both from temper and from the clearest judgment I am able to form, all violent convulsions in the affairs of men.
There is an indescribable something that ties us to life. For this purpose, it is not necessary that we should be happy. Though our life be almost without enjoyment, we do not consent to part with it.
It is one of the oldest maxims of moral prudence: Do not, by aspiring to what is impracticable, lose the opportunity of doing the good you can effect!
It is the misfortune of those who are concerned in conducting human affairs that, however pure and capacious their own conceptions may be, they must accommodate themselves to the circumstances with which they are environed and use the instruments that are within their reach.
What is high birth to him to whom high birth has never been the theme of his contemplation? What is a throne to him who has never dreamed of a throne?
Duty is that mode of action which constitutes the best application of the capacity of the individual to the general advantage.
Government will not fail to employ education, to strengthen its hands, and perpetuate its institutions.
The soul of man is one of those subtle and evanescent substances that, as long as they remain still, the organ of sight does not remark; it must become agitated to become visible.
What can be more clear and sound in explanation, than the love of a parent to his child?
We covet experience; we have a secret desire to learn, not from cold prohibition, but from trial, whether those things, which are not without a semblance of good, are really so ill as they are described to us.
Every boy learns more in his hours of play than in his hours of labor. In school, he lays in the materials of thinking, but in his sports, he actually thinks: he whets his faculties, and he opens his eyes.
The diligent scholar is he that loves himself, and desires to have reason to applaud and love himself.
Let us not, in the eagerness of our haste to educate, forget all the ends of education.
Since it is one of the great attributes of our species to be susceptible of improvement and capable of experiencing the most beneficial changes, for this reason what are vulgarly called 'venerable establishments' will often range themselves in opposition to the best interests of the community.
I know not how it is: there are some businesses for which dullness seems to be a qualification.
During my academical life, and from this time forward, I was indefatigable in my search after truth. I read all the authors of greatest repute, for and against the Trinity, original sin, and the most disputed doctrines, but I was not yet of an understanding sufficiently ripe for impartial decision, and all my inquiries terminated in Calvinism.
The love of independence and dislike of unjust treatment is the source of a thousand virtues.
Make men wise, and by that very operation you make them free. Civil liberty follows as a consequence of this; no usurped power can stand against the artillery of opinion.
There is scarcely an instant that passes over our heads that may not have its freight of infamy. How ought we to watch over our thoughts, that we may not so much as imagine any enormity!
It is indeed specially characteristic of the passion of love that it has the faculty of giving a perpetual flow to the interchange of sentiments and reflections in conversation.
If he who employs coercion against me could mould me to his purposes by argument, no doubt he would. He pretends to punish me because his argument is strong; but he really punishes me because his argument is weak.
He has no right to his life when his duty calls him to resign it. Other men are bound… to deprive him of life or liberty, if that should appear in any case to be indispensably necessary to prevent a greater evil.
Man is a being of a mixed nature; and, as there is no integrity without its flaws, so is there no man so knavish but that in some things he may be trusted.
Government was intended to suppress injustice, but its effect has been to embody and perpetuate it.
Self-deception is so far from impossible that it is one of the most ordinary phenomena with which we are acquainted. Nothing is more usual than for a man to impute his actions to honorable motives when it is nearly demonstrable that they flowed from some corrupt and contemptible force.
Government, as it was forced upon mankind by their vices, so has it commonly been the creature of their ignorance and mistake.
I was famous in our college for calm and impassionate discussion; for one whole summer, I rose at five and went to bed at midnight, that I might have sufficient time for theology and metaphysics.
The true object of moral and political disquisition is pleasure or happiness.
But the watchful care of the parent is endless. The youth is never free from the danger of grating interference.
Revolution is engendered by an indignation with tyranny, yet is itself pregnant with tyranny.
The Italian character in general is full of animation, and the natives enter into the interests and welfare of the stranger before them with a fervor that forbids all doubt of its sincerity and that is truly surprising.
In cases where every thing is understood, and measured, and reduced to rule, love is out of the question.
With respect to my religious sentiments, I have the firmest assurance and tranquillity. I have faithfully endeavoured to improve the faculties and opportunities God has given me, and I am perfectly easy about the consequences.
I never did, and I never will, thank any man for altering any one word of my compositions without my privity.
Every man has a certain sphere of discretion which he has a right to expect shall not be infringed by his neighbours. This right flows from the very nature of man.
My thoughts will be taken up with the future or the past, with what is to come or what has been. Of the present there is necessarily no image.
What are gold and jewels and precious utensils? Mere dross and dirt. The human face and the human heart, reciprocations of kindness and love, and all the nameless sympathies of our nature – these are the only objects worth being attached to.
We cannot perform our tasks to the best of our power, unless we think well of our own capacity.
England has been called, with great felicity of conception, 'the land of liberty and good sense.' We have preserved many of the advantages of a free people, which the nations of the Continent have long since lost.
When we look on the roses and gaiety of youth, the mournful idea of mortality is altogether alien to our thoughts. We have heard of it as a speculation and a tale, but nothing but experience can bring it home to us.
The cause of justice is the cause of humanity. Its advocates should overflow with universal good will. We should love this cause, for it conduces to the general happiness of mankind.
We have, all of us, our duties. Every action of our lives, and every word that we utter, will either conduce to or detract from the discharge of our duty.
In the graver and more sentimental communication of man and man, the head still bears the superior sway; in the unreserved intimacies of man and woman, the heart is ever uppermost. Feeling is the main thing, and judgment passes for little.
Love conquers all difficulties, surmounts all obstacles, and effects what to any other power would be impossible.
The world is all alike. Those that seem better than their neighbours are only more artful. They mean the same thing, though they take a different road.
It is of no consequence whether a man of genius have learned either art or science before twenty-five: all that is necessary, or even desirable, is that his powers should be unfolded, his emulation roused, and his habits conducted into a right channel.
Learning is the ally, not the adversary of genius… he who reads in a proper spirit, can scarcely read too much.
The philosophy of the wisest man that ever existed, is mainly derived from the act of introspection.
No man knows the value of innocence and integrity but he who has lost them.