Last modified on 2 November 2014, at 04:56

George MacDonald

To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.

George MacDonald (December 10, 1824September 18, 1905) was a Scottish author and Christian universalist minister most famous for his poetry, fairy tales and fantasy novels.

QuotesEdit

Two people may be at the same spot in manners and behaviour, and yet one may be getting better, and the other worse, which is the greatest of differences that could possibly exist between them.
Never be discouraged because good things get on so slowly here; and never fail daily to do that good which lies next to your hand.
Trust to God to weave your little thread into the great web, though the pattern shows it not yet.
In the midst of death we are in life. Life is the only reality; what men call death is but a shadow
  • I think the reason children get tired of their toys so soon is just that it is against human nature to be really interested in what is of no use. If you say that a beautiful thing is always interesting, I answer, that a beautiful thing is of the highest use. Is not the diamond that flashes all its colours into the heart of a poet as useful as the diamond with which the glazier divides the sheets of glass into panes for our windows?
    • The History of Gutta Percha Willie, the Working Genius (1873)
  • To receive honestly is the best thanks for a good thing.
    • Mary Marston (1881), Chapter V
  • Two people may be at the same spot in manners and behaviour, and yet one may be getting better, and the other worse, which is the greatest of differences that could possibly exist between them.
    • The Princess and Curdie (1883)
  • But God lets men have their playthings, like the children they are, that they may learn to distinguish them from true possessions. If they are not learning that he takes them from them, and tries the other way: for lack of them and its misery, they will perhaps seek the true!
    • Donal Grant (1883)
  • "In the midst of life we are in death," said one; it is more true that in the midst of death we are in life. Life is the only reality; what men call death is but a shadow — a word for that which cannot be — a negation, owing the very idea of itself to that which it would deny. But for life there could be no death. If God were not, there would not even be nothing. Not even nothingness preceded life. Nothingness owes its very idea to existence.
    • From "Life" in Unspoken Sermons Series II (1886)
  • I record the conviction that in one way or another, special individual help is given to every creature to endure to the end. It has been my own experience, that always when suffering, whether mental or bodily, approached the point where further endurance appeared impossible, the pulse of it began to ebb and a lull ensued.
    You are tender-hearted, and you want to be true, and are trying to be; learn these two things: Never be discouraged because good things get on so slowly here; and never fail daily to do that good which lies next to your hand. Do not be in a hurry, but be diligent. Enter into the sublime patience of the Lord. Trust to God to weave your little thread into the great web, though the pattern shows it not yet. When God's people are able and willing thus to labor and wait, remember that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day; the grand harvest of the ages shall come to its reaping, and the day shall broaden itself to a thousand years, and the thousand years shall show themselves as a perfect and finished day.
    • As quoted in The Way To Win : Showing How To Succeed In Life (1887) by John Thomas Dale, p. 89
  • If sin must be kept alive, then hell must be kept alive; but while I regard the smallest sin as infinitely loathsome, I do not believe that any being, never good enough to see the essential ugliness of sin, could sin so as to deserve such punishment. I am not now, however, dealing with the question of the duration of punishment, but with the idea of punishment itself; and would only say in passing, that the notion that a creature born imperfect, nay, born with impulses to evil not of his own generating, and which he could not help having, a creature to whom the true face of God was never presented, and by whom it never could have been seen, should be thus condemned, is as loathsome a lie against God as could find place in heart too undeveloped to understand what justice is, and too low to look up into the face of Jesus.
    • From ‘’Justice’’ in Unspoken Sermons Series III (1889)
  • I firmly believe people have hitherto been a great deal too much taken up about doctrine and far too little about practice. The word doctrine, as used in the Bible, means teaching of duty, not theory. I preached a sermon about this. We are far too anxious to be definite and to have finished, well-polished, sharp-edged systems — forgetting that the more perfect a theory about the infinite, the surer it is to be wrong, the more impossible it is to be right.
    • From a letter to his father, quoted in George MacDonald and His Wife (1924) by Greville MacDonald

Phantastes (1858)Edit

Why are all reflections lovelier than what we call the reality? — not so grand or so strong, it may be, but always lovelier?
All love will, one day, meet with its return. All true love will, one day, behold its own image in the eyes of the beloved, and be humbly glad.
  • Alas! how easily things go wrong!
    A sigh too deep or a kiss too long,
    And then comes a mist and a weeping rain,
    And life is never the same again.
  • What we call evil, is the only and best shape, which, for the person and his condition at the time, could be assumed by the best good.
  • That is always the way with you men; you believe nothing the first time; and it is foolish enough to let mere repetition convince you of what you consider in itself unbelievable.
  • What distressed me most — more even than my own folly — was the perplexing question, How can beauty and ugliness dwell so near?
  • "But tell me how it is that she could be so beautiful without any heart at all — without any place even for a heart to live in." "I cannot quite tell," she said; "but I am sure she would not look so beautiful if she did not take means to make herself look more beautiful than she is. And then, you know, you began by being in love with her before you saw her beauty … But the chief thing that makes her beautiful is this: that, although she loves no man, she loves the love of any man; and when she finds one in her power, her desire to bewitch him and gain his love (not for the sake of his love either, but that she may be conscious anew of her own beauty, through the admiration he manifests), makes her very lovely—with a self-destructive beauty..."
    • On the Alder Tree
  • Afterwards I learned, that the best way to manage some kinds of painful thoughts, is to dare them to do their worst; to let them lie and gnaw at your heart till they are tired; and you find you still have a residue of life they cannot kill.
  • So, then, as darkness had no beginning, neither will it ever have an end. So, then, is it eternal. The negation of aught else, is its affirmation. Where the light cannot come, there abideth the darkness. The light doth but hollow a mine out of the infinite extension of the darkness. And ever upon the steps of the light treadeth the darkness; yea, springeth in fountains and wells amidst it, from the secret channels of its mighty sea. Truly, man is but a passing flame, moving unquietly amid the surrounding rest of night; without which he yet could not be, and whereof he is in part compounded.
  • Why are all reflections lovelier than what we call the reality? — not so grand or so strong, it may be, but always lovelier?
  • There is no cheating in nature and the simple unsought feelings of the soul. There must be a truth involved in it, though we may but in part lay hold of the meaning.
  • All that man sees has to do with man. Worlds cannot be without an intermundane relationship. The community of the centre of all creation suggests an interradiating connection and dependence of the parts. Else a grander idea is conceivable than that which is already embodied.
  • Benefits conferred awaken love in some minds, as surely as benefits received in others.
  • Endurance must conquer, where force could not reach.
  • Thou goest thine, and I go mine —
    Many ways we wend;
    Many days, and many ways,
    Ending in one end.

    Many a wrong, and its curing song;
    Many a road, and many an inn;
    Room to roam, but only one home
    For all the world to win.
  • It is better, a thousand-fold, for a proud man to fall and be humbled, than to hold up his head in his pride and fancied innocence. I learned that he that will be a hero, will barely be a man; that he that will be nothing but a doer of his work, is sure of his manhood.
  • I knew now, that it is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come nearest the soul of another; yea, that, where two love, it is the loving of each other, and not the being loved by each other, that originates and perfects and assures their blessedness. I knew that love gives to him that loveth, power over any soul beloved, even if that soul know him not, bringing him inwardly close to that spirit; a power that cannot be but for good; for in proportion as selfishness intrudes, the love ceases, and the power which springs therefrom dies. Yet all love will, one day, meet with its return. All true love will, one day, behold its own image in the eyes of the beloved, and be humbly glad. This is possible in the realms of lofty Death.

The Disciple and Other Poems (1867)Edit

  • We must do the thing we must
    Before the thing we may;
    We are unfit for any trust
    Till we can and do obey.
    • Willie's Question
  • You would not think any duty small,
    If you yourself were great.
    • Willie's Question
  • The man that feareth, Lord, to doubt,
    In that fear doubteth thee.
    • The Disciple

Unspoken Sermons, First Series (1867)Edit

  • ...the regions where there is only life, and therefore all that is not music is silence.
    • ‘’The Hands of the Father’’
  • A condition which of declension would indicate a devil, may of growth indicate a saint.
    • ‘’The Consuming Fire’’
  • It may be an infinitely less evil to murder a man than to refuse to forgive him. The former may be the act of a moment of passion: the latter is the heart’s choice.
    • ‘’It Shall Not Be Forgiven’’
  • We are and remain such creeping Christians, because we look at ourselves and not at Christ; because we gaze at the marks of our own soiled feet, and the trail of our own defiled garments....Each, putting his foot in the footprint of the Master, and so defacing it, turns to examine how far his neighbor’s footprint corresponds with that which he still calls the Master’s, although it is but his own.
    • ‘’The Eloi’’

At the Back of the North Wind (1871)Edit

  • Where did you come from baby dear?
    Out of the everywhere into the here....
    Where did you get your eyes so blue?
    Out of the skies as I came through.
  • Diamond, however, had not been out so late before in all his life, and things looked so strange about him! — just as if he had got into Fairyland, of which he knew quite as much as anybody; for his mother had no money to buy books to set him wrong on the subject.
  • For that great Love speaks in the most wretched and dirty hearts; only the tone of its voice depends on the echoes of the place in which it sounds.
    • Chapter 18

The Marquis of Lossie (1877)Edit

  • Age is not all decay; it is the ripening,
    the swelling, of the fresh life within, that withers and bursts the husks.
  • A true friend is forever a friend.

Paul Faber, Surgeon (1879)Edit

God hides nothing. His very work from the beginning is revelation, — a casting aside of veil after veil, a showing unto men of truth after truth.
Full text online at Project Gutenberg
  • Afflictions are but the shadow of His wings.
    • Ch. 25
  • "Is it not a strange drift this of men," said the curate, "to hide what is under the veil of what is not? to seek refuge in lies, as if that which is not, could be an armor of adamant? to run from the daylight for safety, deeper into the cave? In the cave house the creatures of the night, — the tigers and hyenas, the serpent and the old dragon of the dark; in the light are true men and women, and the clear-eyed angels. But the reason is only too plain; it is, alas! that they are themselves of the darkness and not of the light. They do not fear their own. They are more comfortable with the beasts of darkness than with the angels of light. They dread the peering of holy eyes into their hearts; they feel themselves naked and fear to be shamed, therefore cast the garment of hypocrisy about them. They have that in them so strange to the light that they feel it must be hidden from the eye of day, as a thing hideous, that is, a thing to be hidden. But the hypocrisy is worse than all it would hide. That they have to hide again, as a more hideous thing still.
    • Ch. 31 : A Conscience
  • God hides nothing. His very work from the beginning is revelation, — a casting aside of veil after veil, a showing unto men of truth after truth. On and on, from fact to fact divine he advances, until at length in his Son Jesus he unveils his very face. Then begins a fresh unveiling, for the very work of the Father is the work the Son himself has to do, — to reveal. His life was the unveiling of himself, and the unveiling of the Son is still going on, and is that for the sake of which the world exists. When he is unveiled, that is, when we know the Son, we shall know the Father also. The whole of creation, its growth, its history, the gathering total of human existence, is an unveiling of the Father. He is the life, the eternal life, the Only. I see it — ah! believe me — I see it as I cannot say it. From month to month it grows upon me. The lovely home-light, the one essence of peaceful being, is God himself.
    He loves light and not darkness, therefore shines, therefore reveals. True, there are infinite gulfs in him, into which our small vision cannot pierce, but they are gulfs of light, and the truths there are invisible only through excess of their own clarity. There is a darkness that comes of effulgence, and the most veiling of all veils is the light. That for which the eye exists is light, but through light no human eye can pierce. — I find myself beyond my depth. I am ever beyond my depth, afloat in an infinite sea; but the depth of the sea knows me, for the ocean of my being is God. — What I would say is this, that the light is not blinding because God would hide, but because the truth is too glorious for our vision. The effulgence of himself God veiled that he might unveil it — in his Son. Inter-universal spaces, icons, eternities — what word of vastness you can find or choose — take unfathomable darkness itself, if you will, to express the infinitude of God, that original splendor existing only to the consciousness of God himself — I say he hides it not, but is revealing it ever, for ever, at all cost of labor, yea of pain to himself. His whole creation is a sacrificing of himself to the being and well-being of his little ones, that, being wrought out at last into partakers of his divine nature, that nature may be revealed in them to their divinest bliss. He brings hidden things out of the light of his own being into the light of ours.
    But see how different we are, — until we learn of him! See the tendency of man to conceal his treasures, to claim even truth as his own by discovery, to hide it and be proud of it, gloating over that which he thinks he has in himself, instead of groaning after the infinite of God! We would be forever heaping together possessions, dragging things into the cave of our finitude, our individual self, not perceiving that the things which pass that dreariest of doors, whatever they may have been, are thenceforth "but straws, small sticks, and dust of the floor." When a man would have a truth in thither as if it were of private interpretation, he drags in only the bag which the truth, remaining outside, has burst and left.
    • Ch. 31 : A Conscience

The Fantastic Imagination (1893)Edit

Of all fairytales I know, I think Undine the most beautiful.
A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean.
A meaning may be there, but it is not for you. If, again, you do not know a horse when you see it, the name written under it will not serve you much.
Preface to an American edition of MacDonald's Fairy Tales · Full text online
The greatest forces lie in the region of the uncomprehended.
The best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is — not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him; or say, to make him think things for himself.
One difference between God's work and man's is, that, while God's work cannot mean more than he meant, man's must mean more than he meant.
My tales may not be roses, but I will not boil them.
  • Were I asked, what is a fairytale? I should reply, Read Undine: that is a fairytale; then read this and that as well, and you will see what is a fairytale. Were I further begged to describe the fairytale, or define what it is, I would make answer, that I should as soon think of describing the abstract human face, or stating what must go to constitute a human being. A fairytale is just a fairytale, as a face is just a face; and of all fairytales I know, I think Undine the most beautiful.
  • Some thinkers would feel sorely hampered if at liberty to use no forms but such as existed in nature, or to invent nothing save in accordance with the laws of the world of the senses; but it must not therefore be imagined that they desire escape from the region of law. Nothing lawless can show the least reason why it should exist, or could at best have more than an appearance of life.
  • The natural world has its laws, and no man must interfere with them in the way of presentment any more than in the way of use; but they themselves may suggest laws of other kinds, and man may, if he pleases, invent a little world of his own, with its own laws; for there is that in him which delights in calling up new forms — which is the nearest, perhaps, he can come to creation. When such forms are new embodiments of old truths, we call them products of the Imagination; when they are mere inventions, however lovely, I should call them the work of the Fancy: in either case, Law has been diligently at work.
  • "Suppose my child ask me what the fairytale means, what am I to say?"
    If you do not know what it means, what is easier than to say so? If you do see a meaning in it, there it is for you to give him. A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean. If my drawing, on the other hand, is so far from being a work of art that it needs THIS IS A HORSE written under it, what can it matter that neither you nor your child should know what it means? It is there not so much to convey a meaning as to wake a meaning. If it do not even wake an interest, throw it aside. A meaning may be there, but it is not for you. If, again, you do not know a horse when you see it, the name written under it will not serve you much.
  • A fairytale is not an allegory. There may be allegory in it, but it is not an allegory. He must be an artist indeed who can, in any mode, produce a strict allegory that is not a weariness to the spirit.
  • A fairytale, like a butterfly or a bee, helps itself on all sides, sips at every wholesome flower, and spoils not one. The true fairytale is, to my mind, very like the sonata. We all know that a sonata means something; and where there is the faculty of talking with suitable vagueness, and choosing metaphor sufficiently loose, mind may approach mind, in the interpretation of a sonata, with the result of a more or less contenting consciousness of sympathy. But if two or three men sat down to write each what the sonata meant to him, what approximation to definite idea would be the result? Little enough — and that little more than needful. We should find it had roused related, if not identical, feelings, but probably not one common thought. Has the sonata therefore failed? Had it undertaken to convey, or ought it to be expected to impart anything defined, anything notionally recognizable?
    "But words are not music; words at least are meant and fitted to carry a precise meaning!"
    It is very seldom indeed that they carry the exact meaning of any user of them! And if they can be so used as to convey definite meaning, it does not follow that they ought never to carry anything else. Words are like things that may be variously employed to various ends. They can convey a scientific fact, or throw a shadow of her child's dream on the heart of a mother. They are things to put together like the pieces of a dissected map, or to arrange like the notes on a stave.
  • A fairytale, a sonata, a gathering storm, a limitless night, seizes you and sweeps you away: do you begin at once to wrestle with it and ask whence its power over you, whither it is carrying you? The law of each is in the mind of its composer; that law makes one man feel this way, another man feel that way. To one the sonata is a world of odour and beauty, to another of soothing only and sweetness. To one, the cloudy rendezvous is a wild dance, with a terror at its heart; to another, a majestic march of heavenly hosts, with Truth in their centre pointing their course, but as yet restraining her voice. The greatest forces lie in the region of the uncomprehended.
    I will go farther. The best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is — not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him; or say, to make him think things for himself. The best Nature does for us is to work in us such moods in which thoughts of high import arise. Does any aspect of Nature wake but one thought? Does she ever suggest only one definite thing? Does she make any two men in the same place at the same moment think the same thing? Is she therefore a failure, because she is not definite? Is it nothing that she rouses the something deeper than the understanding — the power that underlies thoughts? Does she not set feeling, and so thinking at work? Would it be better that she did this after one fashion and not after many fashions? Nature is mood-engendering, thought-provoking: such ought the sonata, such ought the fairytale to be.
  • "But a man may then imagine in your work what he pleases, what you never meant!"
     Not what he pleases, but what he can. If he be not a true man, he will draw evil out of the best; we need not mind how he treats any work of art! If he be a true man, he will imagine true things: what matter whether I meant them or not? They are there none the less that I cannot claim putting them there! One difference between God's work and man's is, that, while God's work cannot mean more than he meant, man's must mean more than he meant. For in everything that God has made, there is layer upon layer of ascending significance; also he expresses the same thought in higher and higher kinds of that thought: it is God's things, his embodied thoughts, which alone a man has to use, modified and adapted to his own purposes, for the expression of his thoughts; therefore he cannot help his words and figures falling into such combinations in the mind of another as he had himself not foreseen, so many are the thoughts allied to every other thought, so many are the relations involved in every figure, so many the facts hinted in every symbol. A man may well himself discover truth in what he wrote; for he was dealing all the time with things that came from thoughts beyond his own.
  •  "But surely you would explain your idea to one who asked you?"
    I say again, if I cannot draw a horse, I will not write THIS IS A HORSE under what I foolishly meant for one. Any key to a work of imagination would be nearly, if not quite, as absurd. The tale is there, not to hide, but to show: if it show nothing at your window, do not open your door to it; leave it out in the cold. To ask me to explain, is to say, "Roses! Boil them, or we won't have them!" My tales may not be roses, but I will not boil them.
    So long as I think my dog can bark, I will not sit up to bark for him.
  • If there be music in my reader, I would gladly wake it. Let fairytale of mine go for a firefly that now flashes, now is dark, but may flash again. Caught in a hand which does not love its kind, it will turn to an insignificant, ugly thing, that can neither flash nor fly.
    The best way with music, I imagine, is not to bring the forces of our intellect to bear upon it, but to be still and let it work on that part of us for whose it exists. We spoil countless precious things by intellectual greed. He who will be a man, and will not be a child, must — he cannot help himself — become a little man, that is, a dwarf. He will, however, need no consolation, for he is sure to think himself a very large creature indeed.
    If any strain of my "broken music" make a child's eyes flash, or his mother's grow for a moment dim, my labour will not have been in vain.

Lilith (1895)Edit

  • We are often unable to tell people what they need to know because they want to know something else.
    • Chapter 9
  • That which is in a man, not that which lies beyond his vision is the main factor in what is about to befall him: the operation upon him is the event.
    • Chapter 16

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)Edit

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).
  • Come, come to Him who made thy heart; Come weary and oppressed; To come to Jesus is thy part; His part, to give thee rest.
    • p. 152
  • All is loss that comes between us and Christ.
    • p. 95
  • Division has done more to hide Christ from the view of men than all the infidelity that has ever been spoken.
    • p. 148
  • God Himself — His thoughts, His will, His love, His judgments are men's home. To think His thoughts, to choose His will, to judge His judgments, and thus to know that He is in us, with us, is to be at home. And to pass through the valley of the shadow of death is the way home, but only thus, that as all changes have hitherto lead us nearer to this home, the knowledge of God, so this greatest of all outward changes — for it is but an outward change — will surely usher us into a region where there will be fresh possibilities of drawing nigh in heart, soul, and mind to the Father of us all.
    • p. 257

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